Showing posts with label Cooking From Scratch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cooking From Scratch. Show all posts

Oct 13, 2014

How to Make Small Batch Fermented Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

small batch sauerkrautEarlier this year, I read that fermented foods contain 100 times more probiotics (substances that stimulate the growth of microorganisms that have great health benefits once consumed) than probiotic supplements. I knew then I really needed to try my hand at making sauerkraut. The happy news is, making fermented sauerkraut is really, really easy. Even though fermented foods may seem strange and new to us today, the fact is that people have been making and eating fermented foods for thousands of years - and without a bunch of fancy gadgets!

I considered buying a fermenting crock for this project - but frankly, they are pricey. And no one in my family had ever eaten fermented sauerkraut before (the stuff you buy in the store is heated and canned, and therefore all the probiotics are dead). If it turned out no one would eat my sauerkraut, I didn't want to spend much money on it. So I decided to use what I already have on hand - canning (mason) jars. (Don't have canning jars? You can use any clean glass jar - for example, an empty mayo jar.) A bonus to using mason jars is that the kraut ferments more quickly - so you can have ready-to-eat food within just a few days.

The results were terrific. Everyone in my family - including the kids! - loved the sauerkraut. I'll definitely be making more.

What You Need to Make Small Batch, Fermented Sauerkraut

Cutting board
Large bowl
Wide mouth quart mason (canning) jar
8 oz. jelly jar
Marbles or clean pebbles
Cloth (I used cheesecloth, but a clean dishtowel or large fabric scrap works, too)
Rubber band or string

1 cabbage head, any type, approximately 3 lbs., hard outer leaves removed and set aside (If you buy your cabbage without the harder, outer leaves - which is common if you're shopping at a grocery store - that's fine.)
1 tablespoon canning or kosher salt

Check out my video how-to:

How to Make Small Batch Fermented Sauerkraut in a Mason Jar

1. Make sure everything you use - from the Mason jar to the cutting board - has just been cleaned in hot, soapy water. Or, you can run all your tools through the dishwasher.

2. Cut the cabbage head in half, then cut each half in half again. Cut away the core, then slice the quarters thinly. (You can use a mandolin or cabbage slicer for this job - but from experience I can tell you that mandolins with plastic spikes in the handle don't work well with cabbage; they simply don't hold the cabbage firmly enough to make using the mandolin safe.)

The cabbage after slicing.
3. Place the cabbage slices into a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt on top. Use your hands to massage and squeeze the cabbage. Within 5 - 10 minutes, the cabbage will look limp and there will be liquid in the bowl. The contents of the bowl should look something like coleslaw.
The massaged coleslaw will produce liquid in the bowl.
At this point, you may add seasonings, if you desire. I added 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds; next time I'll reduce that amount by about half. Other common sauerkraut seasonings include mustard seeds, bay leaves, and coriander. But remember, seasonings are totally optional.

4. Pack the cabbage into the mason jar. I found it was easiest to pick up about a tablespoon of sliced cabbage at a time, then drop it in the jar. Occasionally, press down firmly on the cabbage in the jar. You want to get as much as possible in there - without making the juices (or the cabbage) overflow the jar. My cabbage head was a bit larger (about 4 lbs.), so I had a little too much for one mason jar. If you have this problem, simply use an additional jar for the excess.
The sliced cabbage, packed in jars.
5. Pour the liquid in the bowl over the cabbage in the jar. Press down on the cabbage again.

6. If you have the harder, outer leaves of the cabbage, place part of one over the top of the sliced cabbage in the mason jar. This step is optional, but does help keep the sliced cabbage under the liquid in the jar - the key to getting fermented sauerkraut and not moldy cabbage.
Covering the sliced cabbage with a hard, outer cabbage leaf. (An optional step.)
7. Fill the jelly jar with marbles and place the jar inside the larger mason jar, on top of the cabbage. This jelly jar will weigh down the sliced cabbage, keeping it under the liquid in the mason jar.
Jelly jars filled with marbles or clean rocks keep the cabbage under the liquid.
8. Cover both jars with a cloth, secured in place with a rubber band or string. This keeps bugs, dust, and so forth, out of the sauerkraut.
Keep the jars covered.
9. For the next 24 hours, check on the sauerkraut occasionally and press down on the jelly jar. This helps release more liquid from the cabbage. I used a just-harvested cabbage, and had plenty of liquid in my jars. But if, after 24 hours, liquid does not cover the cabbage in the jar, make your own liquid: Dissolve 1 teaspoon of canning or kosher salt in 1 cup of warm water and add it to the mason jar. Again, keeping the cabbage under liquid makes sure it's fermenting, not rotting.

10. Ferment. When the sauerkraut is done is mostly a matter of personal taste. Because you're fermenting in a small jar, your kraut might be done in as little as three days. (UPDATE: My kraut usually takes about a week before I'm satisfied with the flavor - but it takes longer when the temperature in the house is cooler.)

During fermenting, keep the sauerkraut out of direct sunlight and at a cool temperature - about 65 - 75 degrees F. Check the jar every day to ensure the cabbage is under the liquid. (If it's not, press down on the jelly jar until the liquid rises, or add more liquid, as in step 9.) It is normal - in fact, a sign that the cabbage is fermenting - to see bubbles in the jar and white scum on top of the cabbage. You should not see mold, however. (If you do, scoop it out right away and discard the cabbage that touched it. The rest of the kraut is fine.)

11. Refrigerate. When the sauerkraut tastes good to you, remove the jelly jar, put a lid on the mason jar, and refrigerate it. The sauerkraut will stay good in the refrigerator for at least a couple of months.

You can also make larger batches of sauerkraut - with more mason jars, or with a fermenting crock. Just be sure to keep the proportion of cabbage and salt the same.

What about Canning Sauerkraut? Kraut can be canned - but canning it kills all those good-for-you bugs. And since sauerkraut lasts a long time in the fridge (and since cabbage keeps for many months in the fridge or a cool location), I prefer not to can it.

Sep 8, 2014

How to Make Bone Broth or Beef Stock

I've written before about making stock - from chicken, vegetables, fish, and beef - but recently we purchased half a steer, and I found myself with a lot of wonderful beef bones. And since more and more people are buying their beef in bulk and have far more access to beef bones than they used to, I felt a new - more detailed - post was warranted on making your own beef stock. (Not buying part of a steer anytime soon? You can still make your own beef stock. Just find a real butcher's shop and request some beef "soup bones." These are bones that still have some meat on them, and which are full of good marrow. They will be inexpensive - or the butcher might give them to you for free.)

Please note that all you really need to make stock is bones and water. All the other ingredients are optional - but do improve the flavor of the stock and the nutrition of the finished product. So feel free to vary the ingredients, depending upon what you have on hand. However, I do highly recommend using the recommended vinegar, as detailed below; it really does help get all those good nutrients out of the bone marrow.

What You Need to Make Beef Stock or Broth

Roasting pan
Large pot
Cutting board
Slotted spoon
Containers for freezing or canning the stock

about 5 - 8 lbs. beef soup bones, cut into pieces (the butcher will do that for you)
5 carrots, cut into 3 inch pieces
5 stalks celery, cut into 3 inch pieces
2 onions, quartered (leave the papery skins on)
2 - 3 cloves garlic, cut in half (leave the papery skins on)
handful of parsley
4 - 5 sprigs of fresh thyme
2 - 3 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon peppercorns
Vinegar (I use Braggs apple cider vinegar)

How to Make Beef Stock

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

2. Place the beef bones in the roasting pan. Most likely, you'll get frozen bones from the butcher. You don't need to defrost them - just stick them in the pan, frozen. Add the carrots, celery, onions, and garlic to the pan. Once the oven is fully preheated, place the pan in the oven and roast, stirring occasionally, until the meat on the bones looks cooked through. With frozen bones, this takes approximately 60 minutes. If the bones weren't frozen when you put them in the oven, it will take about 30 - 40 minutes. (NOTE: The roasting stage is also optional, but greatly improves the flavor of the stock.)
Before roasting. You'll notice I absentmindedly added the herbs at the roasting stage. This by no means ruined the stock, but I do think it's better to leave the herbs out until the simmering stage.
After roasting.
3. Pour the contents of the roasting pan into a large pot. Be sure to include any fat and liquid in the pan. Add the parsley, thyme, bay leaves, and peppercorns.

4. Add 1/2 cup of water to the roasting pan and use a spoon to scrap the bits of beef off the bottom of the pan. Pour into the stock pot. Add enough cold water to cover the contents of the pot. Add a splash of vinegar.

5. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently about 4 hours.

6. Strain the contents of the pot, reserving the liquid. (The vegetables can be composted or given to your chickens. Any meat on the bones can be picked off and frozen for soup made at a later date. Or you can give them to the chickens. It's possible to re-use the bones for stock making, but they won't make as fine a stock as the first batch; still, if you want to do this, it's okay to re-freeze the bones so you can use them another day.)

7. Place the stock in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, skim off any congealed fat you find on top of the stock. It should be firm enough that you can just lift it out with your fingers.
Overnight, all the fat rises to the top and becomes firm enough to lift out.
The stock is finished. This batch turned out beautifully gelatinous.
8. The stock may now be frozen or canned. To can, leave 1 inch headspace and process in a pressure canner: pints 20 minutes, quarts 25 minutes*.

I chose not to can this batch because it turned out really gelatinous. While that makes it questionable for canning (because it's thicker and therefore might not heat all the way through, killing any bad bugs during processing), gelatinous is a good thing! In fact, it's what gourmet chefs want. (What is the trick to getting it gelatinous? I'm not absolutely sure, but I think it's simmering it very low, and not adding any water to the pot once it comes to a boil.)

* NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Aug 22, 2014

An Old Fashioned Trick for Measuring Butter, Peanut Butter, and More: Water Displacement

When I was a girl, cooking and baking alongside my mother, she taught me to measure shortening and margarine with a method seldom seen today. This, no doubt, is due in part to the fact that we now know how bad margarine and shortening are for us. But it's also due to the fact that most of our fats are packaged with measurements on them. Take, for example, a stick of butter, with its tablespoon and cup measurements printed on the wax paper covering it.

But there are still times I prefer the method my mother taught me (called the water displacement method). It's terrific for measuring homemade butter, or for all those smaller chunks of butter that end up in the fridge, or for measuring butter that no longer has its wrapping, or that was purchased in bulk, without measurements on the packaging. You can also use it to measure coconut oil (in it's solid state), peanut butter, or other solid nut butters. (This method won't work for runny nut butters.)

To use the water displacement method, fill a 2 cup liquid measuring cup with 1 cup of cold water. (It's important to use cold water so whatever you're measuring doesn't melt.) Now add whatever you are measuring to the cup, a bit at a time.

For instance, let's say you need 1/2 cup of butter. You've filled the measuring cup with 1 cup of cold water, and now you add butter until the water level reaches the 1 1/2 mark (as seen in the photo above). That means the measuring cup contains 1 cup of water AND 1/2 cup of butter.

Remove the butter, shaking off the water, and add it to your recipe. As an added bonus, this measuring method makes for easy clean up; little or no butter sticks to the measuring cup.

Tip: Be sure that whatever you're measuring is totally immersed in the water. If you're measuring a lot of an item (say, 1 cup or more), you'll need a larger measuring cup and more water - say 2 cups of water, instead of one.

Aug 20, 2014

The Easy Way to Make Butter

I had leftover cream from making buttercream cake frosting for my daughter's horse party, so this week, I did what I always do when I have extra heavy cream: I made butter.

When you imagine making butter, maybe you envision working hard with a butter churn. Or maybe you think of kids shaking a jar endlessly. Or maybe you picture big, stainless steel machines doing the work in a factory. But there's actually a very easy, quick way to make butter at home. The only "special" equipment you need is a mixer. (UPDATE 8-20-14: Several readers have asked if hand mixers will work for making butter. Yes, they will, though the process will probably take a bit longer. Also, you may use a food processor instead of a mixer.)

The Easy Way to Make Butter at Home:

1. Pour 16 oz.* of chilled heavy cream into the bowl of an electric mixer. Optionally, add ½ teaspoon of salt to help make the butter stay fresh longer. Mix on high. (The higher the mixer setting, the quicker you'll have butter. But setting the mixer too fast will make a mess of your kitchen!)

2. After about 2-5 minutes, depending upon how fast you're mixing, the cream will look thicker - like whipping cream. After another 1-3 minutes, it will look clumpy - kind of like white scrambled eggs; keep mixing, and within a minute or so the water will separate from the fat. This watery stuff is buttermilk.

3. Place a strainer (or a colander lined with cheesecloth of coffee filters) over a small bowl. Pour the contents of the mixer bowl into the strainer. The buttermilk will drain into the bowl below the strainer; use it for baking (or give it to the chickens as a special treat).

4. What's left in the strainer is butter. Place under cold, running water, then squeeze the butter into a ball and massage while continuing to let cold water run over it. When the water coming from below the strainer is clear, the butter is done.

* You can use more or less heavy cream, as you desire. Too much cream, though, will be difficult to mix. And if you use less cream, you'll also want to use less salt.

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Jan 27, 2014

How to Freeze Waffles and Pancakes - It's SO Easy!

For many years now, I've been freezing pancakes and waffles. And, really, it's one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your dependence on unhealthy, expensive, processed food! In fact, it's so easy, for years I didn't write a blog post about it; I thought: "Well, the post would be all of one sentence!" But because so many people don't know about this, I decided to write up some tips and point you toward some from scratch recipes, in addition to giving you the really easy info on how to freeze pancakes and waffles at home.

How to Freeze Pancakes and Waffles

1. First, choose a good time to make waffles and/or pancakes. I like to pick an unhurried morning, cooking up enough that I can feed my family and make tons of extra to freeze. If that doesn't work for you, just choose a time when you can whip up a big batch of pancakes or waffles. The freezing part takes no more than 5 minutes, TOPS - so you really just need time for the actual cooking.

2. Next, choose a really good recipe. You can certainly make your waffles or pancakes with a product like Bisquick, but it's cheaper, healthier - and so easy! - to make them from scratch! I also recommend you try making your pancakes and waffles with some wheat flour. Not only does this make the end product considerably healthier, with more nutrients, but it makes the pancakes and waffles much more flavorful. Plus, pancakes and waffles made with wheat flour fill tummies far more quickly!

My recipes for whole wheat pancakes and whole wheat waffles are very simple. Even my husband, who chooses white bread over wheat bread every time, prefers my wheat pancakes and waffles to those made with white flour.

3. Once you have your recipe and ingredients together, just whip up the batter and start cooking. For pancakes, it might be nice to have a large electric skillet - but if you don't, no worries. I don't have one, yet I'm able to cook up quite a lot of pancakes in a short amount of time.

As the pancakes come off the skillet (or the waffles come out of the waffle iron), set them onto a plate to cool. It's fine to stack them.

The pancakes or waffles need to completely cool, so don't be afraid to leave the kitchen at this point and do other things. It won't hurt the waffles or pancakes to sit on the counter for a while.

4. Once the pancakes or waffles are completely cool, you have a few options:

* Place one each into half pint freezer bags.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, separated by pieces of wax paper.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, without anything to separate them.

Honestly, after years of doing this, I do the latter: I just throw them into a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer. Occasionally, some will stick together, but it's usually easy to just pull them apart. For those that aren't as easy to separate, I stick a butter knife between them - and they pop apart right away.

That's it! I told you it was SO EASY!

To heat homemade, frozen pancakes, I suggest using a microwave. To heat waffles, I suggest sticking them in a toaster or toaster oven. There is absolutely no need to defrost the pancakes or waffles before reheating.

Jan 20, 2014

Easy Homemade Hash Browns

There are three reasons you might want to make homemade hash browns:

* DIY hash browns are healthier. Sadly, most frozen, store-bought hash browns contain GMO ingredients, soy, extra oils, preservatives, etc. (For example, see the ingredients in these Walmart brand hash browns, or in these Ore-Ida hash browns.)

* From scratch hash browns are more frugal than prepared, frozen hash browns, saving about $2 - 3 per pound.

* It's helpful to know how to make hash browns in case you run out of the frozen kind and don't want to spend the money and time to run to the store.

Besides, making hash browns from scratch is really easy.

What You'll Need:

Scrubbed potatoes
A large pot
A colander or strainer
A cheese grater

And if you want to freeze them for later use, you'll need:
wax paper or parchment paper
rimmed baking sheet
freezer bags

How to Make Homemade Hash Browns:

1. Place scrubbed potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. (How many potatoes you need depends upon the size of the potatoes. To give you an idea, though, four very large, baking style potatoes makes enough hash browns to fill about two full gallon-sized freezer bags)

2. Boil the potatoes until they are "al dante." You should be able to prick them with a fork, but the potatoes should still feel firm.

3. Drain, but DO NOT rinse. Allow the potatoes to cool in the colander. Once they are cool enough to handle, remove the peels; they will slide off easily. Let the potatoes cool completely in the refrigerator. (If you try to grate the potatoes when they are still warm, you may end up with something that looks more like mashed potatoes than hash browns.)

For simplicity's sake, I recommend either boiling the potatoes in the morning and finishing them in the afternoon or evening, or boiling the potatoes the day before, placing them in the  frige overnight, and finishing them in the morning.

4. Grate the potatoes using a cheese grater (or food processor).

How to Freeze Homemade Hash Browns:

1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with wax paper or parchment paper. Spread the hash browns over the paper in a thin layer.
2. Place the baking sheet in the freezer until the potatoes are firm. Transfer to freezer bags, breaking into smaller chunks, as needed. Store in the freezer.

How to Cook Homemade Hash Browns:
1. Place a dab of butter, bacon drippings, or a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Set the skillet over medium to medium high heat.
2. When you can flick a little water in the skillet and it sizzles, add the hash browns. Season with salt, pepper, or other seasonings. Brown on both sides, until the desired crispiness and color is reached. Serve right away.


Jan 13, 2014

A Simple Way to Make Homemade Bread Better - with an electric knife

Last year I read somewhere that cutting homemade bread with an electric knife made cutting easier - and made the slices much less crumbly. I thought that made sense, since commercial sandwich bread is cut with, essentially, band saws. So I put an electric knife on my wish list.

Inexpensive electric knives - which are just fine for cutting bread - aren't expensive. You can easily buy one for about $20. But then I noticed something: Local thrift stores were inundated with electric knives! Most were in terrific condition, looking as if they'd been used only a handful of times (probably at Thanksgiving and Christmas for a couple of years). Best of all, they were only $2 - $3 a piece! (Most thrift stores also allow you to return electronic items if they don't work the way they you don't even have to worry about loosing $3.)

So yes, I can now confirm that using an electric knife to cut homemade bread is easier - and it makes the bread far less crumbly to eat. And if you browse the thrift stores to buy your electric knife, you'll save a bundle, too!

Jan 6, 2014

The BEST Cinnamon Roll Recipe Ever

We don't eat a ton of cinnamon rolls, but we do love them as a special, once-in-a-while treat. For years I've tried to find the perfect cinnamon roll recipe - and last month I finally found it. These are quite simply the best cinnamon rolls we've ever eaten. Period. The recipe comes from my Cuisinart breadmaker manual, but you can very easily make these cinnamon rolls without a bread maker. Here's how.

The Best Cinnamon Roll Recipe Ever*

For the dough: **

2/3 cup milk, warmed to 80 - 90 degrees F. (use a meat or candy thermometer to make sure the temperature is just right)
3 eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1/2 in. pieces
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups bread flour (yes, it must be bread flour!)
2/3 cup cornstarch
2 1/4 teaspoons fresh dry active yeast, at room temperature

For the filling:

1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Raisins (optional)

For the frosting:

4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk

1. Begin by making sure all the ingredients (except the dough's milk) are room temperature. This makes a big difference in the finished cinnamon rolls!

2. Make the dough: Place the warm milk, eggs, butter, granulated sugar, salt, vanilla, flour, cornstarch, and yeast in a large mixing bowl. You may either stir them together by hand, stir them together with the dough hook of an electric mixer, or pop them into a 2 lb. bread maker (making sure to follow the manufacturer's directions about which ingredients should go into the pan first; usually all the wet ingredients go on the bottom of the pan and the yeast must not touch the liquid.) If using the breadmaker, turn it to the dough setting, so it will mix and rise the dough by itself, and skip to step 4.

3.If not using a bread maker, cover the dough with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and place in a warm location until it doubles in size.

4. Punch down the dough and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Lightly grease two 10-inch round cake pans and set aside.

5. In a small bowl, combine the filling ingredients until well blended. (If you like raisins in your cinnamon rolls, I recommend placing the desired amount in a bowl, covering them with water, and allowing them to soak for 10-15 minutes. Then drain and add to the filling.) Set filling aside.

6. Roll out the dough into a rectangle about 1/2 inch thick, or a little less. If desired, you may divide the dough in half and roll each part out separately, for easier handling.

7. Brush the rectangle with the melted butter. Evenly sprinkle the filling mixture on top. Take one short end of the rectangle and begin rolling the dough into a cigar shape. Pinch along the opposite end to "seal" the roll. Use a serrated knife to cut the roll into equally-sized cinnamon rolls. (You should get about 24 cinnamon rolls total.)

8. Place the cinnamon rolls in the prepared cake pans. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm location to rise for 40 minutes.

9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

10. Once the rolls have risen, bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the rolls sound hallow when you tap them. Allow the rolls to cool for about 20 minutes.

11. In a small bowl, whisk together all the frosting ingredients. Brush the frosting onto the cinnamon rolls. (The frosting recipe makes a generous amount; apply according to your family's tastes and don't worry about using it all up - unless you like a lot of frosting!)

* If desired, you may cut this recipe in half.

** Throughout this recipe, it's fine to use lower-fat dairy products, if desired.

Nov 13, 2013

Easy Homemade Garlic Bread Recipe

Looking for a light-textured, garlicy bread to round off meals? I've got the recipe for you! It's based on a much more naughty cheese bread featured at Lauren's Latest, but with a few important changes. Even if you've never made bread before, you can make this bread. Just allow yourself about an hour and a half before dinner is ready to get started on it.

Easy Homemade Garlic Bread Recipe

1 cup warm water
1 tablespoon real honey
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
Olive oil
½ cup butter
3 - 5 garlic cloves, minced

1. In the bowl of am electric mixer with a dough hook attachment (or simply in a large mixing bowl), pour in the water, honey, and yeast. Stir with a fork just a bit, to combine. Allow to sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, the mixture should be foamy. If its not, the yeast is no longer good.

2. Add the salt, then add a little of the flour. Mix, gradually adding in the rest of the flour. (If you're using a mixer, keep the speed on low.)

3. When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, allow the mixer to keep churning away for 5 minutes. (If not using a mixer, knead the dough by hand until smooth but tacky.)

4. Remove the dough from the bowl. Spray the bowl lightly with oil, return the dough, and cover with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Set in a warm location for 1 hour. The dough should double in size.

5. Punch down the dough and cut into two pieces of about equal size.

6. Shape each dough piece into a baguette. If you twist the dough, it won't shrink as badly - plus it looks nice. Place the baguettes onto a baking sheet and cover with plastic wrap or a clean dishrag. Turn the oven to 400 degrees F. and place the baking sheet on top of (not in!) the stove. Allow the dough to rise for half an hour.

7. Meanwhile, melt the butter and stir in the minced garlic.

8. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut deep slits into the bread every inch or so. Brush the garlic butter into them and all along the top of the bread.

9. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees F. and place the baguettes inside. Bake 20-25 minutes, or until bread is golden.

Best served warm.

Aug 16, 2013

The Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

A few years ago, I posted instructions for making applesauce - an annual tradition at our house. But last year I discovered an even easier - and yes, more tasty and nutritious - way to make applesauce. I think it warrants it's own post.

Before I begin, I'd like to note that there are many different ways to make applesauce. Some people swear by a food mill, for example. I don't use one for applesauce because:

1) It removes most of the skin, and the skin adds a ton of nutrition and flavor.

2) It involves cooking the apples with their seeds. Apple seeds contain arsenic, and the idea of having that cook into the applesauce just doesn't appeal to me!

The method I now use is just as easy as using a food mill (maybe easier!), but doesn't have problems number one and two, above.

AND you don't need any special equipment. If you like your applesauce lumpy, an ordinary potato masher will do. If you like it nice and smooth, I recommend using an immersion blender; I bought a $25 Oster and have used it successfully for years. In fact, I like it so well, I got rid of my traditional blender. (Immersion blenders are stick like, and you put them directly in the pot you are using; this saves time - and cleanup.)

The Apples

I usually use free apples I find in public areas, the wilderness, or neighbor's yards. It's amazing how many people have old apple trees but don't have the time or desire to pick the apples. And they are usually thrilled if someone wants to come pick them; it saves them from cleaning up a big mess under their tree.

For applesauce, you really can use any type of apple. If they are scabby or wormy, that's fine! (That just proves they are organic!) If they are apples the wind has sent to the ground, that's fine! (In fact, windfall apples are traditionally what applesauce is made from.) If they are crab apples - even the type that taste awful to eat raw - that's fine! (My family's favorite applesauce is made with crab apples. One note, though: If the crab apples are so small you could eat them in one bite, they are a real pain to core. Instead, I'd use other apples for applesauce and can those tiny crab apples whole and spiced. Click here for other things to do with crab apples.)

Also, I do recommend organic apples. Yes, you can remove the peels of non-organic apples, but that's a pain, removes much of the nutrition, and frankly, doesn't remove all the pesticides. Especially since you'll be cooking down and concentrating the apples, you'll want them chemical free.

How to Make the Best Tasting, Easiest Applesauce Ever

You will need:
A cutting board and knife
A large pot
Potato masher (optional, but recommended)
A blender (optional, but recommended; an immersion blender makes the job really easy)
Sugar (optional)
Cinnamon (optional, but recommended)
Bottled lemon juice (optional, unless you plan to can the applesauce)
Boiling water bath canning equipment or freezer bags

1. Set up the cutting board and get out your knife. Have a handy place to put cores and bad sections of the apples; I use my counter top compost bin, but a large bowl works fine, too.

2. Wash a few apples at a time, then, one at a time, cut them in quarters. Slice off the cores on each quarter and cut away any bad spots. Toss the cores and bad spots into the compost bin or bowl. (Note: It's okay to give a little of these to the chickens, but their eggs will start tasting "off" if they eat too many fruit peels. I prefer to compost apple scraps.) For
large apples, it's a good idea to cut the quarters into smaller chunks.
Removing the cores.
(NOTE: One of my friends read this post and asked why I don't use an apple corer/slicer instead of a knife. I find that when using non-commercial apples - that is, apples that don't come from a grocery store - they are too irregular to work with this type of device. Crab apples are also too small for an apple corer/slicer. And if the apples are windfall or from a purely organic tree, you'll need to cut away bad parts, anyway. However, if YOU have consistently regular apples, an apple corer/slicer may be just the thing.)

3. Place the apple pieces into a measuring cup. When you have a total of 9 or 10 cups, toss them all into the large pot.

4. Add 3 cups of water to the pot and place over medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the apples are tender.

5. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon. If you like, add sugar. (If you're using crab apples, you'll definitely want sugar. Use about 2 cups. For non-crab apples, I usually start with 1/2 cup of sugar, then add more to taste, if necessary.)
Cooking down the apples.
6. If you'll be canning the applesauce, add 4 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice. If you won't be canning the sauce, you may still want to add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of bottled or fresh lemon juice.

PLEASE NOTE: Lemon juice is not optional if you are canning applesauce! If you don't add bottled lemon juice, your jars may become a breeding ground for botulism.

7. Stir and keep cooking until the sauce is thickened a little. Remove from the stove and allow to cool slightly. (IMPORTANT NOTE: If you're canning the applesauce, don't let it get too thick; that can mean the applesauce doesn't get heated through during canning, which can lead to an unsafe product. The applesauce should be a bit runny. Add water, if you need to.)

8. If you like lumpy applesauce, carefully use the potato masher on the cooled mixture until you're happy with the consistency. Otherwise, use the immersion blender to make the sauce smooth. (If you use a traditional blender, add the apple mixture in batches.)
Pureeing the applesauce with a stick blender.
9. If the applesauce is the correct consistency, move on to step 10. Otherwise, you can thicken it by cooking it a bit more. (Do not add thickeners, like flour or cornstarch, if you'll be canning the applesauce. Neither is safe in home canned products. In fact, I don't recommend adding thickeners at all; they just aren't necessary. Cook the sauce to thicken it, or add a few more apples.)

10. If you want to freeze the applesauce, allow it to cool before spooning it into freezer bags or jars.

To can the applesauce, working one jar at a time, ladle into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 in. headspace. Bubble and add a lid and ring. Repeat until the jars are full, then process pint or quart jars for 20 minutes in a boiling water bath canner. * (If you aren't an advanced canner, please review the basic canning guidelines here.)

Makes about 5 pints.

NOTE: I usually double this recipe because I make large quantities of applesauce at this time of year, and a double batch fits my canner just about perfectly.
 * NOTE: If you live at a high altitude, read this important information about adjusting canning times.

Feb 25, 2013

DIY Ranch Dressing

I always said I'd never make our condiments. Most of them (with perhaps the exception of catsup, which can be safely home canned) take too much time for too little product, I always said. Then I ran out of Ranch  and couldn't get to the store.

If your kids are anything like mine, Ranch is a food group. So I decided to try my hand at making a batch.

There are a ton of different Ranch recipes out there, but I settled on one featured over at Pennies on a Platter - solely because I had all the ingredients on hand. The end result didn't taste exactly like store bought tasted much, much better!

Time it takes: About 5 minutes
Yield: about 2 cups
Cost: about $3.16 (scroll down for a complete cost breakdown)

DIY Ranch Dressing:

1/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 handful of chopped chives
1 handful of chopped parsley leaves
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Measure out the milk and add the vinegar to the cup. Set aside.

2. Using a blender (I use an immersion blender, but a traditional blender works, too), puree the ingredients until only small bits of the herbs can be seen. Add the milk, a little at a time, until the desired consistency is reached. (I usually use 1/4 cup.) The Ranch dressing will thicken once chilled.

This Ranch lasts a couple of weeks in the fridge - but more than likely, it will be gone before then!

Cost Breakdown:

1/4 cup milk = .06 cents (at $1/L)
1 teaspoon white vinegar = .003 cent (at $2.82/gal)
3/4 cup mayonnaise = .78 cents (.13 cents/oz.)
3/4 cup sour cream = .65 cents (at $1.72/lb.)
1 tablespoon olive oil = .11 cents (at .23/oz.)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice = .56 cents (at .56 cents per lemon)
1 handful of chopped chives (free, since I grow them)
1 handful of chopped parsley leaves (free, since I grow them)
1 garlic clove (free, since I grow it)
1 teaspoon salt (less than 1 cent)
Freshly ground black pepper (less than 1 cent)

Negatives: I usually purchase Hidden Valley Ranch dressing at Walmart for $1.25 per cup. This homemade Ranch dressing costs $1.58 per cup - more, if I had to purchase certain ingredients I grow.

Positives: This Ranch tastes amazing! Plus there are no unhealthy preservatives or processed ingredients. An added bonus is that you could use lower fat dairy to make the dressing more healthy. Some folks substitute yogurt for the milk/vinegar mixture.

Feb 4, 2013

How to Make Flour Tortillas

Filling a homemade tortilla.
Flour tortillas are a staple in my household. Without them, I think my picky eater would starve. Knowing that tortillas are "peasant food," I knew they couldn't be too difficult to make from scratch, so I finally tried my hand at them. I was right! They are easy to make, and cost just pennies.

It turns out it's a myth that you must have a tortilla press to make descent tortillas. I had no trouble at all without one. The resulting tortillas were thin and soft - although I did have to dust off the excess flour when I was done.

I should also note that initially I tried rolling the tortillas between two pieces of flour-dusted wax paper. In the end, though, I found it considerably easier to roll them out on the counter.

From start to finish (and stopping to take photos along the way), this recipe took me about 10 minutes.

What You Need:

2 cups+ of flour (I used all purpose, which results in the softest tortilla. If desired, you could use 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose flour)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 ½ tablespoons melted butter (you could also use olive oil, melted coconut oil, or traditional lard)
About ¾ cup of water
Cooking oil

Rolling pin
Pot lid (optional)
Knife (optional)
Skillet (I used a cast iron skillet, but any skillet will do)

How to Do It:

1. Place the skillet on the stove over medium heat.

2. In a bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and melted butter. (Traditionally this is done by hand.) Add water, a little bit at a time. Add just enough water to keep the dough from being dry, but enough to keep it sticky. 3/4 cup total is about right.

3. Grab a handful of dough and shape it into a ball of about 2 inches around. Initially, I started out with larger dough-balls, as you can see below. These were a bit too big.
4. Flour the counter-top (or other work surface), place the dough-ball on the counter, and flatten slightly with your hand. Dust the top of the dough-disc and roll out with a rolling pin. Make the tortilla thin (but not see through), and roll from the center out, going in different directions, to get a basic circle-shape.
 5. If you want a perfect circle, roll the tortilla out larger than desired and use a pot lid as a template for cutting the tortilla out with a knife.
6. Spray the skillet with cooking spray, then gently lift the tortilla off the counter and transfer to the skillet. Don't worry if the tortilla doesn't end up perfectly flat in the skillet. Carefully use your fingers (or tongs) to remove any wrinkles in the tortilla.

7. Cook the tortilla for up to one minute, pressing down a little with a spatula. If it takes longer than this, your skillet isn't hot enough.

8. When the bottom of the tortilla is golden, turn over and cook 1 minute more.

9. Transfer the tortilla to a plate or a clean dishtowel, covering to keep warm. Repeat steps 4 through 8 until all the dough is used up.
I got about 5 tortillas from this recipe. If desired, you may place extra tortillas in a large, seal-able bag and store int he refrigerator, but because they don't contain a lot of preservatives, they are best eaten fresh.