Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Quote of the Day

"Our house is clean enough to be healthy, and dirty enough to be happy"

- Author Unknown

teaser for a future post

Maggy and I have spent hours discussing the pros and cons of different pressure cookers. We both found we we are going to buy. One of the other of us is sure to give a product rating. I am heading to my parents for spring break. While there I am going to scour Moms cookbooks for recipes. I already have instructions for bottling fish, deer, beef, chicken and turkey. Pickels and whatever else I can find will be next on the list. Instructions when I return!! (I know thats evil but hey, its who I am. buahahahahah)

Homemade Cream Cheese

I'm not a big cream cheese person (although I am a big cheesecake person) but I saw an article on making your own cream cheese on Little House in the Suburbs and since I'm always down for easy ways to create new things, I figured I'd give it a shot.

I went to Wally World and purchased some plain active culture yogurt. I forget with brand, but I basically picked the one that had only "Milk" and "acidophilus" as ingredients. I picked up two cartons, and also got some cheese cloth. I snagged several yards of cheese cloth as it's used for a lot, and well it's cheap so why not.

When I got home, I realized I still had an unreasonable amount of strawberries left over from the Jam Wars, and decided to try and make myself some strawberry cream cheese. I admit I pretty much set myself up for another good-intention-gone-awry but it all worked out in the end. I cut up, mashed and drained about a cup of strawberries (My intent was to add this to 32 oz. of the plain yogurt), then toss them and said yogurt into a blender.

This is the step I will scratch off on my next batch. My thinking at the time was blenders are for blending, therefore I will have uniform strawberry cream cheese. The theory worked, but also thinned down the yogurt ridiculously. I ended up adding the other portion of yogurt to try and get a somewhat thicker consistency, which didn't work. I just ended up with more strawberry milk-like stuff. Next time I do this, I'm going to directly mix the strawberries in with the yogurt. No blending.

I pour a small amount of the strawberry smoothie into a bowl lined with cheese cloth. Gathered the edges (so much as I could) wrapped it around a wooden spoon, being sure that the bottom of my ball was about 2 inches off the bowl bottom to allow it to drain. Obviously this wasn't the most secure, so I threw on another spoon for balance and threw a heavy glass lid on top just to be sure. It looked fairly ghetto, but hey it worked.

NOTE: I started with a fairly small amount as I was unsure of my success, and I'd rather screw up small, then big.

I let this hang over night (the longer you hang it, the thicker it gets) and was very surprised by how good it look this morning. I didn't get a ton of cheese from it, as a lot seemed to be trapped in my ineffectual cheese clothing. It tasted good, sweeter then I figured from the initial smoothie-thing tasting which was a pleasant surprise. Nice texture, and overall very yummy.

This foray gave me enough confidence to tackle the remaining smoothie-thing. I had it in a regular mixing bowl covered in my fridge, so it had a chance to re-establish a bit of it's yogurt like qualities. I tossed in a couple tablespoons of sugar because I like my flavored cream cheese sweet. Well really, I like anything sweet. I also decided to switch out the cheese cloth in favor of a tea towel. I haven't used cheese cloth enough to really know my way around it, and I seemed to lose a couple of tablespoons of the original batch that way.

I plopped the whole mess into a bowl, this time when I gathered the fabric I rolled it hobo-pack style before tying it on the spoon. This worked much much better. In hind sight considering how much smoothie-thing I used, I probably should have used my crawfish pot, seeing as it's much deeper, so I don't have to drain the whey occasionally.

Overall, I think it worked pretty well. And I will definitely add this to my regular to-make list.

Monday, March 30, 2009

War of the Jams, The Frozen Finale

My second round of jam went much better then the first. I followed the plain ol' strawberry jam recipe from inside the box of pectin I bought. It went something like THIS.

I won't bore you with the gory details, seeing as I've done that for the last two posts. The fact of the matter is, I followed the recipe to the tee, didn't fudge with the amounts, and very carefully washing and sanitized everything in between batches. The results were wonderfully colored and textured jam that tastes as great as it looks.

Each batch (aka amount described for one package of pectic) yielded about 4 total pints. I chose to split them into both pint and half pint jars, and also into the screw-lid 2-cup Ziploc Tupperware things. I didn't bother with fancy-smancy jelly jars since this was mostly a test-run I plan to eat myself and pawn off on friends and family until I can perfect the method.

Today I grabbed some bread, toasted it in the oven (I'm a sucker for oven toast, don't ask me why. Well, that and I can't find my toaster) slathered it with whipped butter and smeared on some jam. This was the result...

The Boy and I managed to polish off the 4 pieces in about 15 seconds. Which left this...

All in all, I think the Freezer Jam experiment can be considered a success. Now I just have to figure out what to do with the other 6 pounds of strawberries.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

War of the Jams, Part 2

So I gave up and tossed my original attempt at the strawberry freezer jam. I hate to do that, but I really had no way to salvage it.

For round 2 of the Jam War I wanted to be ready to battle. I went to the local big box store and stocked up on some things I decided I should have. A colander for washing/draining the fruit, dry good measuring cups, table/teaspoons, an egg timer and a veggie peeler. I'm trying to get everything in a non-reactive form (i.e, plastic, coated ceramic, or wood) so if I lose my mind and decide to make pickles I don't have to buy all new stuff. I also picked up Canning for Dummies which sadly didn't have an actual freezer jam section (their own loss, in my opinion).

I went to the still local, but much bigger grocery store, because frankly our little "Ma and Pa" mart is seriously lacking in the fresh fruits and veggies. I managed to pick up very very nice strawberries for about $2.50 a pound so I bought a lot more then I needed, but oh well. They also had a really good variety of jars from quart mason jars clear down to the fancy quilted jelly jars. Ironically, there was only about $1.00 difference in the flats of jars regardless of size.

I prefer wide mouth jars for just about everything you have to dig out. Sauces are one thing, but I hate trying to scrape around for that last bit of jelly and having it be just out of reach. And well, I like highest reward for the least amount of work. I picked up two flats of the wide mouth mason jars; one half-pint and one pint sized. I figure these are pretty good sizes for myself, and for smaller jars to give away to friends.

I was much more careful this time around about which pectin I chose, and I ended up just getting the regular ball "cook for 1 min" pectin. I trust something more when it has been used for decades, and I wasn't about to filch it again this time around.

I ended up making almost 20 jars of jam last night, and it turned out amazing. I'm very very proud of myself, and tomorrow I'll write a bit more to explain that process.

In the meantime, you can rest assured knowing that the Boy has been promised Belgium waffles in the morning.

Friday, March 27, 2009

I'm obviously in the wrong career field.

Today, the Boy had a dentist appointment I've been trying to get him to for 6 weeks or so. The issue at this point is my Ex-hole who is court-ordered to have dental insurance for our son (he's currently in the Armed Forces) has not done so. It will only cost about $12 a month, but you know Ex-hole has other things to buy. Like a new truck. The receptionist at the dentist office called this morning to tell me he still hadn't signed the Boy up. She was ready to re-schedule. I told her to forget it, and I would just pay out of pocket.

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal. I'm usually really good about keeping a cushion in my savings (I'll blog about that later) but I've had a couple purchases/expenditures that are no where near my budget plans. This has depleted my bank account enough to make me a little anxious. And I really had no idea of a price range for this appointment.

We get to the office, and the Boy is called in. Now, he did amazingly well for a 3 y/o. He sat perfect, didn't squirm or complain at all. They took x-rays of his teeth, cleaned them and that was about it. The Dentist came in for about 3 secs to tell me the Boy needs a filling (which I'd actually figured he would) and that's it. Took maybe 20 mins, 30 mins tops. I go to pay, and the nurse hands me an estimate for the fillings... almost $600! I'm not super surprised, but a little shocked seeing as his teeth are the size of tic-tacs.

Then she hands me the bill for this visit, $194.65. For 20 mins of work. Almost 200 bucks to find out my son needs 600 bucks worth of dental work. Nice.

I'm in the wrong career field.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food storage

So, I am Mormon and therefore have heard about food storage all my life. I am not nearly as prepared as I would like to be. I had always had a hard time trying to decide what I needed and how much. Money was also always an issue. One day at church we were given a list of things to put in our food storage, how much, and a weekly list of things to buy. You are supposed to be able to do all of this for $5 a week. I have since decided that list was created quite some time ago as NOTHING I have bought in these quantities have been $5. Still a very good start and not really expensive, just more than the $5 it states. When you are done, you should have a two year supply for two people. For anyone as clueless as I am, here it is:

Food Storage for $5.00 a Week
Week 1: 6 1 lbs. salt
Week 2: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 3: 20 lbs. of sugar
Week 4: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 5: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 6: 6lbs. macaroni
Week 7: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 8: 8 cans tuna
Week 9: 6lbs. yeast
Week 10: 50 lbs.wheat
Week 11: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 12: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 13: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 14: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 15: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 16: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 17: 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 18: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 19: 5 cans cream mushroom soup
Week 20: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 21: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 22: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 23: 8 cans tuna
Week 24: 6 lbs. shortening
Week 25: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 26: 51 lbs. honey
Week 27: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 28: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 29:5 lbs. peanut butter
Week 30: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 31: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 32: 10 lbs. powdered milk
Week 33: 1 bottle 500 aspirin
Week 34: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week 35: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 36: 7 boxes macaroni and cheese
Week 37: 6lbs. salt
Week 38: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 39: 8 cans tomato soup
Week 40: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 41: 5 cans cream chicken soup
Week 42: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 43: 1 bottle 500 multi-vitamins
Week 44: 8 cans tuna
Week 45: 50 lbs. wheat
Week 46: 6lbs. macaroni
Week 47: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 48: 5 cans cream mushroom soup
Week 49: 5 lbs. honey
Week 50: 20 lbs. sugar
Week 51: 8 tomato soup
Week 52: 5 lbs. wheat

Some weeks you will have leftover change. Save the change each week in a kitty to be used for the weeks you may exceed $5.00 (like wheat or milk). You will end up with: 500 pounds of wheat 180 pounds of sugar 40 pounds of powdered milk 12 pounds of salt 10 pounds of honey 5 pounds peanut butter 45 cans of tomato soup 15 cans of cream of mushroom soup 15 cans of cream of chicken soup 24 cans of tuna 21 boxes of macaroni and cheese 500 aspirin 1000 multi-vitamins 6 pounds of yeast 6 pounds of shortening 12 pounds of macaroni This should be enough to sustain two people for one year. For every two people in your family add $5.00 more and double or triple the amount of the item you are buying that week.

Quote of the Day

"You're only young once because that's all society can stand" -Anon.

-from Gracie

Freezer Jam 1, Maggy 0

I headed to the local grocery store last night after work to grab some groceries I needed for dinner, and since my dad had informed me that they have strawberries on sale I figured I'd take a shot at the freezer jam. I wandered through the various aisles, scoring some great reusable twist seal containers (2 cups, perfect jam size IMO), a ginormous bag of sugar and worked my way down to the small canning section.

Now let's get this out right off, using pectin scares the hebee's out of me. I've had trouble making functional jello in the past. I can cook my pants off, and love every second of it. I'm a fly by the seat of my pants chef, I add what I want and what I think will work out. 99% of the time, it does. But the whole "this has to set properly, don't screw up the portions, yata yata" freaks me out a bit. So I'm scanning the aisle and see about 18 types of pectin, and my confidence is starting to shutter a bit. Then BAM! The miracle occurs! Right in front of my face is pectin just for freezer jam! Pre-portioned? Perfect! No cook? Even better! I throw a few packages in my cart and move on.

I get home and set to the task of cleaning and cutting the strawberries. Find a potato masher, and set to work making myself some crushed strawberries. This part was actually my favorite. Worked out quite a bit of aggression and was productive at the same time. I remember from when my grandma made freezer jam that's it's pretty straight forward. 2 cups sugar to each cup of fruit, let stand to soften, add pectin and POOF! Wonderful Freezer Jam. I mix the strawberries and sugar and set aside to work it's special magic. I grab the pectin, and start to read the directions.

I know what your thinking, I should have read them before I started all this. In hindsight I agree with that completely. The recipe on the box not only calls for Splenda (?!) but says to mix the sugar and pectin, then add the fruit. Um, a bit too late for that. After my initial moment of sheer panic, and keep reading, and notice in another recipe it says to mix the ingredients and just add the pectin, stirring for 3 mins.

I follow directions #2, and set the containers aside to chill out. I've also had some conflicting stuff with this, some says overnight, POS pectic package says 30 mins. I settled for a bedtime as a middle ground, and chuck them in the freezer about 9:30.

The next morning I realize I forgot to take pictures of this whole process (as was my plan) so I whip some out to do a mini photo shoot. At that point, I realize my jam endeavor was an epic fail. Not only has it not set at all, but the jam has completely separated into fruit on the top, goo in the middle, pectin/sugar goo on the bottom.

Although I'm sure my novice is slightly to blame for this, I was completely unimpressed with the Freezer Jam Pectin. The portion is great, but I didn't have 4 cups of fruit, I had 6. And it seemed that each container I had made about 1.25 cups of fruit. So unless I feel like tossing some of it (no way) or making a 12 cup batch, it was not actually helpful. The recipes on the back of the container called only for Splenda, and had no alternative amounts to people using good ol' white sugar.

Tonight, I'm going to the store (again) buying (more) strawberries, real honest to goodness pectic, pitching the old and starting over.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Composting on the Small Scale

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not looking for some sort of rotting trash pile hanging around my house. Especially because I rent, and I can see my landlord having an issue with it. I found an interesting blog on Little House in the Suburbs, but it seems a bit more of a large scale operation that what I'm looking for.

My dad has a 'compost pile' (and I'm using that in the loosest terms, because I'm not sure what he thinks that actually entails.) but what he adds to it seems to me to be pretty haphazard.To me, it just looks like a giant mound of mole-hole dirt, dead Christmas trees and random rotting food.

I'm looking to do something very small, I'm just sick of throwing away egg shells and everything else because my place doesn't have a garbage disposal. From my research, it seems everyone suggests having a compost be at least 3x3x3, which really seems a bit ridiculous for me. Our family is 1.5 (The Boy only counts as half) and since I generally cook from scratch, most our food doesn't go to waste. I don't really drink coffee anymore, and tea bags seem fairly innocuous.

However, I am planning on doing some gardening this year, and having some nearby insta-plant food cannot be a bad idea. Another friend of mine is very nicely offering to donate a chuck of his land to me for use as my own personal garden as long as he gets a portion of the spoils (I'll detail this out in another blog). So it might be nice to be able to throw some compost at that endeavor as well. I even have a friend who owns a coffee stand (this is the Pacific NW) so I'm sure I could ask from some of their grounds.

I'm going to roll this idea around a bit more, I'll be sure to keep you updated.

Quote of the Day

"Why don't parents get presents on their kids birthdays? They do all the work." - Anon.

I agree! The Boy is 3, and hasn't managed to do a single thing yet to show me he has any sense of self preservation! His being alive for another year as little to nothing to do with anything he has accomplished.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Canning for Dummies, or more specifically... Me.

One of the strongest memories I have from my early childhood is of my grandmother's strawberry freezer jam. Sadly, I wasn't smart enough to be interested in how she did it before she passed away, but now it seems to me like something I should know how to do.

I started out by google-ing 'freezer jam' and got a lot of mixed information. Lots of recipes, not enough of 'start with a jar, you idiot'. I stumbled around a bit until I found Canning Pantry and Canning Food Recipes. Both of these have fairly straight forward 'how-to' sections, and Canning Pantry has all the supplies you would need, from pressure cookers to jars themselves. Canning Food Recipes has (as obvious from the title) tons of recipes from basic fruits and veggies to salsa and spaghetti sauces.

Canning veggies and most fruits seems fairly straight forward once you have the supplies and a general know-how. Water Boiling and Pressure Canning seem to be the two big methods, the method varying with the PH level of whatever you are canning. the general pattern I'm seeing is: Fruit is water boiled, everything else (veggies, meat, dairy etc.) needs to be pressure cooked. The canners themselves run quite a gamete, from about $70-300. This doesn't include any of the extra supplies like jars, lids and such.

I would love to make my own spaghetti sauce, as it's something I use a lot, and frankly I'm sick of shelling out $5 a pop for a bottle of spaghetti sauce when I can make it myself for a fraction of the cost. The same goes for salsa and jams. Pickling also seems interesting and fairly simple, and who doesn't love a nice pickle?