Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Can the Can: Tomato Soup From Scratch

This soup did not come out of a can with a red and white label on it.  This soup was made from scratch, in my kitchen.  It looks like the soup that comes from a red and white can.  It does not, however, cost quite as much as the soup that comes from a red and white can, and it tastes better than the soup that comes from a can.

If you've ever made a white sauce from scratch--you know: melt butter, stir in flour, salt, pepper, broth and/or milk. . . you can make tomato soup from scratch with no problem.  If you've never made white sauce before, your soup might turn out a little lumpy the first time or two, but stick with it and I guarantee you'll get the hang of it.

You can either use tomato juice purchased from the store or from tomatoes that you grew yourself and cooked down into juice (we just made 3 gallons of tomato juice this past weekend!)

To give credit where credit is due, the recipe comes from The Best of Amish Cooking by Phyllis Pellman Good, which is one of my go-to cookbooks for from scratch recipes.

Tomato Soup
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp minced onions
3 Tbsp flour
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1 quart tomato juice
2 cups milk

It all begins by melting some butter over medium-low heat in a sauce pan.  Then you add some minced onions (aka onions chopped as small as you can manage), stir in some flour, salt and pepper, then slowly stir in half your tomato juice.  Keep stirring so that everything stays smooth and you don't develop lumps from that flour.  Meanwhile warm up the milk in a separate pan just until scalding--don't boil the milk!  Once the milk is scalded, stir in the rest of the tomato juice to the mixture in your first sauce pan, then stir in the warm milk. Continue heating the soup until it comes not quite to a boil, then serve!

We like ours best with grilled cheese sandwiches on the side.  However, big crusty toasted slices of that spent grain bread I made went well with the soup too.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Homemade Hot Cocoa Mix

Just in time for the chilly fall weather to move in--had to cover plants in the garden again last night--I mixed up the first batch of hot cocoa mix for the season.  It's not complicated, but it does call for some ingredients the average kitchen might not have on hand.  I'm guessing, though, that most loyal readers of this little place here are a bit above average in their kitchens.  I'm guessing that their kitchens get used a bit more frequently than the average American kitchen, and contain a few more staple ingredients.

Without further ado, the recipe I use for hot cocoa mix.

2 3/4 cups powdered milk
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup powdered coffee creamer (optional, but does make a smoother product)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
pinch of salt

Five simple ingredients.  Sift all together, stir well to distribute the cocoa evenly, and put into an airtight container.

When I want a mug of cocoa, I use a heaping soup spoon of mix (roughly 3 Tbsp, I guess), then toss in a small handful of miniature marshmallows and stir in water that's been heated on the stove just until it steams.  I don't like boiling hot cocoa.  You can, of course, heat your water to boiling if you want..

This is a bit less sweet than the cocoa mixes you're probably used to from the store.  So, at first, your kids  might even say it's slightly bitter.  But after retraining your palate, you'll think this is tasty and the 'conventional' hot cocoa is way too sugary.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Canning Beets Makes Me Laugh

Yep, it does.  If you've ever canned beets, you're probably trying to figure out what's so humorous, since they really aren't a funny vegetable.  Nor is the canning process particularly entertaining.

It's one of those you had to be there kind of things.  You see, years ago, when DD1 was about twelve or so, I didn't grow beets.  But we had a neighbor down the road who had a stand at the end of her driveway where she sold her excess veggies, and I would buy a bag of freshly harvested beets from her for just a dollar.  The first time I did this, I gave DD1 the dollar and instructed her to jump out of the Suburban and get me a bag of beets. We were on the way home from my kids' parochial school and I just pulled off the road in front of the neighbor's house, not wanting to park the truck and shut off the engine to get them myself.

Feeling very important for transacting business, DD1 did just that, and when she got back into the passenger seat, she was grinning from ear to ear.  She held out the bag of beets for me to examine.

"Look!"  She said proudly.  "They even still have their testicles on them."

Dead silence, until her 13yo brother started snickering in the backseat.  And her 9 year old sister asked him  what was so funny.

"Their what?"  I asked, trying not to burst out laughing myself.

"Their testicles.  You know, like an octopus."  She said, pointing to the multiple thin roots on the bottoms of the beets.

More snickering from the backseat.

"You mean tentacles."  Her brother informed her, deadpan, when he had regained his composure.

It was then that she realized her faux pas. At which point she turned as deep red as the beets.

So, yesterday, when I was cutting off the roots I couldn't help laughing.  And texting DD1 in college to tell her I was currently neutering beets.  This time, she thought it was as funny as I did.  We still haven't decided if we're going to text DS2 at his college and let him in on the joke.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ghosts in the Garden

Looking a little eerie in the garden as the sun came up this morning.  Low temperature last night was supposed to be 40 degrees, and knowing how much tender plants like tomatoes and peppers dislike anything less than that, I picked what was ripe or mostly ripe and covered the rest in old sheets and blankets just in case.

When I rose, before dawn, the thermometer on the back deck read 34 degrees.  I'm really glad I took the time (working until after dark) to cover the tomato plants that were still loaded with large green tomatoes.  I had all ready picked any that were red, orange, or yellow, and that came out to about two and a half bushel.  Not wanting to have to store the green ones too, and banking on the fact that we shouldn't have very many nights under forty for the next several weeks, I choose to cover the most productive 'mater plants.

I did find one small patch of frost this morning.  Not in the garden.  But a patch of frost all the same.

 Meanwhile, the harvested tomatoes and peppers await my attention in the garage.

About a bushel of the tomatoes are ripe enough to process now.  The remainder will need another week or so in order to be useful.

I have canned enough hot peppers and jalapenos to last us quite a while, being as DH is the only one here who likes them.  I think I will take most of what I picked yesterday to the farmers market on Thursday and see if I can sell them.

The bell peppers and paprikas, I'll keep for use at this little place here.

I was really hoping to be able to leave the paprikas on the plants until they all turned red (most of them are still in the yellow stage), but apparently it just wasn't to be this year.  Since this is the first time I've grown them (trying to make my own paprika powder here), I'm hoping that they will turn red even though they are no longer on the plant.  Otherwise I'll have to come up with some recipes for hot paprikas, since apparently the yellow stage is the hottest and the red ripe stage is the sweetest.

Oh, and the green beans don't like cold temperature either.  But, seeing as we have a year's supply all ready canned up and in the cellar, I just picked all that was ripe yesterday (another bushel!) and left the plants uncovered.  If they make it, I'll pick more beans.  If they don't make it, I won't cry or feel bad.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

99 Pints of Tomatoes

On Sunday, DH and I canned up roughly a bushel of tomatoes we'd picked earlier in the week.  Came out to twenty-one quarts.  Yesterday, as I was transferring the cooled, sealed, and labeled jars from my kitchen island down to the shelves in the cellar, I did a count of how many jars of tomatoes I've put up in the last month. 36 quarts, 27 pints.  Started with pints, then ran out of jars and switched to quarts.

If you tally that up, 36 quarts equals 72 pints, so all together I have 99 pints of tomatoes in the cellar.  I do believe that is enough to last us for at least the next twelve months, so I am now done canning tomatoes as diced tomatoes.  I will use the final ones the garden produces this season to make sauce, salsa, and juice.

When I informed DH of the number of tomatoes we had on hand, he got a mischievous twinkle in his eye and began to sing "Ninety-nine pints of tomatoes in the cellar, ninety-nine pints of tomatoes. . . Take one down, pass it around, ninety-eight pints of tomatoes in the cellar. . ."

Ha ha.  Funny guy.  It is a really nice feeling to know that we won't have to spend any money on buying canned tomatoes from the grocery store for a long, long time.  Such a nice feeling that I can't quite hold myself back from joining in the singing.

"Ninety-nine pints of tomatoes in the cellar, ninety-nine pints of tomatoes. . . "  :0)

Monday, September 17, 2012

I Tried Making Spent Grain Bread

Several years ago, DH found a recipe for bread using the 'spent grains' leftover from making wort when you are doing all grain brewing (as opposed to using powdered malt or liquid malt in a can).  We've done all grain brewing for, hmm let me think back, six or seven years now.  Usually we let the grains cool after mashing and sparging, then feed them to the chickens.

This weekend, however, after DH was done sparging, I dug up that bread recipe, and gave it a try.

Let me say here and now that this post will not contain that recipe for you to make in your own home.  Because it's not quite right.  I read through it, thought it sounded a bit off on some of the ingredients and the baking temperature but followed it to the letter anyway.  That's what I do when I try a new recipe: make it exactly as told.  It's after than initial test batch that I begin tweaking.  And this one definitely needs some tweaking.  Someday, in the future (after the next batch of homebrew when I have spent grains again. . .) I'll give you the improved recipe.  But for now, you just get to hear my foray into making spent grain bread.

First, I didn't think the amount of yeast sounded sufficient.  But I followed the recipe anyway, using the small amount called for.  The dough took forever and a day (okay, over an hour and a half) to double in size.

Once it had finally swelled to the correct size, I punched it down and divided in two--the recipe didn't really say to divide, but referred to baking "loaves" not "loaf", so I inferred I should divide it. Each dough ball I shaped roughly into loaf form, and put on a greased cookie sheet. Given the lack of rapid growth on the first rise, I elected to not place my loaves into 9" x 5" x 3" bread pans, but make flatter 'artisan bread' shaped loaves.

These I covered with a cloth and let rise.  For some reason, the loaves doubled in size in about half an hour versus the hour and a half plus it took on the first rise.  No, my kitchen was not warmer then, in fact, given that the first rise happened next to the stove while I was cooking dinner and the second rise happened on the island (more room for the cookie sheet), I'd wager the immediate area of the dough was a bit cooler on the second rise.

Okay, whatever, I can go with it.  So I heated the oven to the prescribed temp of 375 degrees (hmm, all my other yeast bread recipes go on 400 or 425. . . ) and then baked the loaves on the bottom rack of the oven for 35 minutes.

Tapping the top of the loaves, they gave that familiar 'thunk' of cooked bread ready to come of out of the oven, and had a golden brown crust.  So I took them out and set them on a cooling rack to cool.

Crust much more golden in person than it looks in this picture!  
(Darn lighting anyway. . . )

Verdict upon slicing the mostly cooled bread: very dense, and chewy, but almost doughy/gooey still inside.  Delicious flavor, and definitely edible.  I'm thinking next time, though, I'll increase the baking temperature up to at least 400 and decrease the baking time accordingly (25-30 minutes total).

DH decided it wasn't really something he wanted to eat as toast or as bread and butter.  Which meant I now had to figure out how to use two loaves of yummy but gooey bread.  Here's what I came up with:

tomato cheese 'bruschetta'!

Thick slice (at least 1" thick) the spent grain bread, top with swiss or provolone cheese, and add sliced tomatoes fresh from the garden.  Broil for approx. 3 minutes.  MMMMMMM!

All we have left now is half of one loaf of bread.  :0)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Ugly Pickles

This week, I made the last of the cukes from this year's garden into about the ugliest dill pickles you will ever see.  Ugly, because end of the season cukes have the tendency to not grow straight and cylindrical, but rather to twist and contort and have one end fatter than the other.  Maybe it's the cooler nights that do it?  Or maybe the dying vines just can't make normal fruit anymore?  Whatever the reason, I now have two quart jars of strange looking pickles.  Good thing taste counts for more than looks, when it comes to pickles; these two quarts will get eaten just as readily as the pickles that look more like what you'd find on the shelves of the grocery store.

Beauty aside, these ugly pickles are a huge savings from pickles purchased at the store.  Considering that the cucumbers, dill, and garlic I used were homegrown (basically free), my only expense was the vinegar, canning salt, celery seed, and mustard seed that went into each jar.  Those are pretty cheap, making each quart jar of pickles cost just a small fraction of a jar of dill pickles from the store.

I'm pretty happy with my cukes this season.  It's been years since I was able to grow enough cucumbers to make pickles with.  My tally in the cellar this afternoon is 11 pints of hamburger dills, 6 quarts of dill spears (I use the ones that get away from me and get fat to quarter into spears, saving the smaller cukes for whole dills), and 15 quarts 1 pint of whole dill pickles.  :0)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Using Leftover Pork

Back in June, when we held DD1's graduation open house, I talked about how we roast a pig for each of our children's open houses.  I mentioned that there is always leftover--mainly because Mother-in-Law raises the pig for us, and she doesn't quite get "it only needs to be about 120 pounds", so we usually end up with a porker that was 250-300 pounds on the hoof.  That's a lot of pork for one meal, even if you are feeding 100 guests!

None of the leftover roast pork goes to waste, however.  We put it all in freezer bags, send some home with relatives and friends, and put the rest in our own freezer to enjoy throughout the next several months.

Well, now that there is just one child left at home, I've made an important discovery: a gallon of pork only stays good so long once you thaw it.  Used to be I could take a gallon bag of pork out of the freezer, and three days later it would be all gone.  Not any more.  Especially with DH traveling more frequently for work.

Late last week, I thawed a bag of pork, thinking it sounded good since we hadn't had any in over a month.  And it was, at first.  For the first two days, the three of us had pork for dinner and pork sandwiches for lunch.  Then DH had to go out of town.  Suddenly I was looking at trying to finish a half-gallon of pork between just two of us!!  No way was I about to waste good food by letting it spoil in the fridge.

DD2 was all ready on the verge of pork burnout, and I was approaching that stage myself.  So, it was time to get creative.  I started experimenting with our roasted pork.  BBQ pork over boiled potatoes, and pulled pork sandwiches weren't going to cut it; we'd all ready eaten them too recently.  I had to branch out and try coming up with something new featuring leftover pork.

I'll share the two best recipes I came up with.

Roast Pork Quesadillas
For each quesadilla you will need
  • two large tortillas
  • some roast pork
  • shredded colby jack cheese
  • salsa
This is an easy one to make.  It's pretty much all by feel, so heap as much on as you want.  Heat your oven to 400 degrees.  Put one tortilla on a cookie sheet or pizza pan.  Top with shredded roast pork, as thick as you wish.  Cover pork with shredded cheese.  Top the cheese with salsa.  Then place the remaining tortilla on top.  Cook for 8-10 minutes, longer for really thick quesadillas, shorter for thinner ones.  When the top tortilla starts to brown on the edges, should be hot enough in the center to be done.

Not Your Mama's Pork and Beans
The inspiration for this one came from my current abundance of green beans in the garden, and thinking that if green beans cooked with a ham taste really good (they do!  If you've never tried it, next time you bake a smoked ham, pour a can of green beans into the pan the last 1/2 hour of cooking.  MMMM, ham beans!), maybe beans cooked with smoky roast pork would taste good too.

Here's what I did:

  • topped, tailed, and snapped the quantity of green beans I wanted to serve.
  • cooked them in my steamer until they were tender
  • put about 1/2 inch of water into my 8" skillet
  • added the amount of leftover pork I wanted
  • sprinkled the pork with some of the Pig Rub you can find the recipe for in my post on June 11th "Life Goes On"
  • stirred my steamed beans into the pork
  • put a lid on the skillet, and simmered the whole thing about 20 minutes.

It was just 'pork and beans', but man, was it delicious!

So, there you (and I!) have it.  Two new ways to use up leftover pork.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Junk Man Cometh

Our friend with the junk hauling business caught us after church last Sunday and said he had another load of useful stuff, with a lot of 4" x 4" lumber, if we were interested in it.  Imagining what he could use those 4-by-4's for, DH said bring it on!

It took him a few days, but the junk man came, and dropped a load of scrap wood.

Looks like a pile of junk, but wait!  Look closer.  There's a usable door that would be great for my future garden shed.

There's some split rail fence pieces, both rails and posts, that appear to be in good shape.  Aged, but not rotten.  Have to wait until we sort through the pile to know how many there are and if that will be enough to maybe put up a decorative fence somewhere.

Peering around some more, I was excited to spot pieces of a martin house.  I've wanted a martin house for a long time, and from what I can tell so far, the pieces are still intact, just disassembled.  So hopefully DH and I can put it back together this winter and find a pole to put it up on.  All flying bug eaters are welcome here.

Another cool find is several landscape timbers.  I can't wait to dig into the pile and see just how many there are.  Landscape timbers are handy things.  You can not only do landscaping with them, they also make great trot poles for working horses over.  :o)

Along with the big stuff like the 4 by 4's, the door, the martin house, the landscape timbers, the split rail fence, I spotted some other stuff that has potential for re-use.  Like spikes (aka really big long nails):

and electric fence insulators:

big old hinges:

a number of 1" x 10" white spruce boards:

as well as pieces of paneling that would be useful for building deer blinds:

What was someone else's worthless trash last week has taken on a Christmas present-like persona this week at this little place here.  As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure.  We get excited when the junk man cometh!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Foggy Mornings

That's what we've been having at this little place here.  Fall is in the air, even if the mid-afternoon temperature is in the upper 80's.  Mornings have been cool and foggy more often than not.

The garden is still going strong, I can't keep up with the harvesting, canning, and weeding too.  But now there is an urgency, the cool nights and morning fogs say that all this production will come to an end soon.  About three weeks from now is when we usually get a couple of hard frosts that put the beans, peppers, tomatoes and other heat-lovers in their graves.  For now, I have to buckle down, and preserve as much as I can before the cool weather comes.  In the winter, I'll appreciate the abundance of the season; right now I'm too busy!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

What I Did on Labor Day

Most people, I think, spend Labor Day either picnicking with friends and family, or just hanging out at home relaxing and enjoying their day off from work.

At this little place here, we're not most people.  A day off from our normal (ie. paying) jobs, means a day to work at home.  Here's what DH and I did yesterday:

We took the one and a half bushels of Roma tomatoes that were ripe in our garden, (raised organically, at least, as organic as you can get without Uncle Sam's expensive seal of approval) and cooked them down into tomato sauce.  Thirty-five pints of sauce.

And how long, you ask, does it take to make one and a half bushels of tomatoes into thirty five pints of tomato sauce?  Well, in my kitchen, with three large pots on the stove (because I couldn't fit more) and two canners going (once I could take two of the three big pots off) it took eleven and a half hours.

Labor Day?  Yes, we labored.  And now all winter long we can enjoy the fruits, or should I say, sauce, of our labor.