REAPING THE REWARDS

I always feel a sense of satisfaction and contentment when my efforts pay off. It may seem a little thing but today I felt like eating peach cobbler. So, I made peach cobbler…because I have all the ingredients on hand. I even made it a bit more special by making:

Blueberry Peach Cobbler

  • 12 cups flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 12 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup canned peach
  • Cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Add milk and stir well (I mixed 3 T of milk powder in the dry goods and added a cup of water). Lightly spray casserole dish (I used 11 x 7) and pour batter into dish. Sprinkle a little cinnamon on top of the batter. Place blueberries (that I put in my freezer last summer) and peaches (that I canned) on top of the batter. Bake 1 hour until golden brown and set. Serve hot or cold.

Yes, it was very Yummy!

TAKE STOCK – WEEK 4

Preparing meals, or even just single ingredients, ahead of time is a great way to build your food supply with homemade convenience foods. Once-a-Month or freezer cooking, Make-a-Mix Cooking, making more than one meal’s worth of a dish to store and serve on another day, all fall into this category. This of course means you need to have the supplies and containers to keep that food.

This week let’s Take Stock of our supply of kitchen storage supplies.

As with anything, each household may look a bit different but take time this week to inventory your supply of:

Tupperware-type containers

Plastic baggies (snack, sandwich, quart, and gallon size)

Plastic wrap

Wax paper

Parchment paper

Aluminum foil

Additionally, if you are into canning, now is the time to inventory your supply of jars and lids. If you vacuum-pack foods for the freezer or pantry shelf, make sure you have sufficient bags. Instead of keeping bags of flour, sugar, rice, baking mix, pancake mix, etc. on the shelf, extend their useful life by keeping those in air-tight containers.

Now that you know how much you have, determine how much of each you use in six months or a year and work toward keeping a supply that will be there when you need it.

Another thought – these wraps and many of the containers are one-use/disposable items. Do you want to get away from throwing all that money in the trash and filling up the landfill and waterways with plastic? There are reusable versions of almost all these food storage products!

HOW SWEET IT IS

If you’ll remember, I purchased fifty pounds of sweet potatoes back in November. This was a welcome addition to my food supply.

Sweet potatoes are versatile. They can be prepared in both sweet and savory dishes. They are often used as a substitute for pumpkin and other squashes.

Sweet potatoes are nutritious. They provide an excellent source of beta carotene which the body converts to vitamin A, an essential nutrient. Studies have shown that vitamin A deficiency increases gut inflammation and reduces the ability of the immune system to respond properly to potential threats. Sweet potatoes also contain a good amount vitamin C, potassium, and manganese in each serving and are a decent source of many other vitamins and minerals. Sweet potatoes have a variety of benefits, including improved blood sugar regulation, reduced oxidative damage, anti-cancer properties and improved immune function, gut health, brain function, and eye health.

While properly cured and stored sweet potatoes can last six to eight months, there are other ways to extend their life even further. Canning them is one way to do that and canning means they become part of my convenience food pantry.

Today I canned sweet potatoes

I washed and peeled five pounds of sweet potatoes. My canning guide indicated 11 pounds is needed for 9 pints so, since I was only doing 5 pints, I thought 5 pounds would be about right. See below for the results of that math.*

Will five pounds of potatoes be enough for 5 pints?

Peeling all those sweet potatoes would have been oh-so-tedious which made me grateful, once again, that I have an electric peeler.

My Rotato Express made short work of the peeling job

The chickens and worms are going to enjoy these peelings!

Yummy chicken and worm food

The next step was to cut the potatoes into chunks. I then soaked them for a bit. This wasn’t part of the instructions, but I needed a break. When I was ready to go again, I drained and covered them with fresh water and boiled them for 10 minutes. I used a slotted spoon to load them into the jars, covered them with boiling water, put the lids and rings on and put them in my electric canner to pressure can for 65 minutes.

There you go, homemade convenience food

I had never canned sweet potatoes before this. It was more work than canning chicken but not too much so. Certainly not as much work as peaches. I wouldn’t be able to do a load of sweet potatoes when I come home from work, but it was a pretty straightforward process, so worth the time and effort.

*Epilogue

Since I rarely get the math right, I was not surprised to learn that five pounds was too much for five pints. I only needed to prepare four pounds. I had enough left over for another two and a half jars. I didn’t have another load in me though, so I put the rest of the boiled sweet potato cubes in the fridge. I used part of them to try a new recipe tonight and will figure out what to do with the rest in another meal.

Sweet Potato Hash

1 large sweet potato, diced

1 T water, or as needed

Salt to taste

1 T olive oil

1 small onion, diced

1 c diced ham steak

1/4 t cinnamon

1/4 t cayenne pepper

1 T brown sugar or to taste

Microwave diced sweet potato cubes in water and salt 2-3 minutes or until partially softened. (Since mine were already partially softened I was able to skip this step.) Cook and stir onion in hot oil until slightly softened 3-4 minutes. Stir in sweet potato, ham, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt into the onion, cover skillet with lid. Cook stirring occasionally until sweet potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes. If mixture begins to stick to the skillet, add a few tablespoons of water. Sprinkle with brown sugar. Cook and stir until brown sugar is dissolved, 1-2 more minutes.

Result: This was tasty and a nice change from my usual use of sweet potatoes. In the future I will make one change to the directions. I will mix the seasoning (cinnamon, cayenne, and salt) into the brown sugar so it will spread evenly. As written, there were hot spots in the dish instead of a nice blend of sweet and spicy.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES

Usually by the time the weekend arrives, at least in the winter, I am drooping with exhaustion, especially when the weather is gloomy and cold. This weekend started out no differently – but this time, I got to take Monday as an extra day off! That meant I could get more than the bare minimum of chores done.

Sometimes during the week, I don’t feel like cooking. On those days I often end putting a frozen pizza in the oven for dinner. I recently commented, “I need to can some soup, so I have some better no-effort meal options.” With my extra day off, I put thought into action.

I pulled a bunch of chicken out of the freezer and put it in the crockpot Sunday. Monday, I pulled the meat off the bones, chopped up carrots, celery, and onions, and added seasoning and water to make a massive pot of soup. After putting the jars of soup into my electric canner, I cooked down the bones, skin, etc. for broth.

I ended up canning four quarts of soup and ten pints of broth:

This was the first time I processed quarts in my electric canner. I don’t normally can in quart jars simply because of household size. One thing to be mindful of when using an electric canner is that canning jars from different manufacturers come in various sizes. The volume they hold is correct, but they can have varying height and width. When canning with quarts, I needed to use shorter quart jars. The regular mouth quart jars are too tall as were some wide mouth jars. The electric canner can handle 4 wide mouth quarts, 5 regular mouth pints, 4 wide mouth pints, or 16 – 4 oz jelly jars (in two layers) in a load. The other thing to be aware of with an electric canner is that quart jars cannot be used with the Water Bath function, only for Pressure Canning.

After a full and tiring day, what did we have for dinner? Sigh: frozen pizza.

Oscar also had a bit of a productive day off.

Last Spring, to create a space for the Three Sister’s Garden, I put down a layer of cardboard and topped it with two truckloads of garden soil. I’m expanding the garden area this year and, while a repeat of that method would be preferred, I don’t think the truck will be ready to use in time to do that (it’s currently getting some engine work done).

We removed the tarps we’d placed over the old and new spaces this fall to kill off unwanted plant material and Oscar ran the rototiller over both sections. He will need to do a couple more passes with the tiller another weekend, but he’s definitely made a solid start.

Look how much richer last year’s section (top of picture) is compared to the native soil in the new section (bottom of picture)!

TAKE STOCK – WEEK 3

This week let’s Take Stock of our supply of Condiments.

A condiment is a supplemental food, such as a sauce or powder that is added to some foods to impart a particular flavor, enhance its flavor, or, to complement the dish, but that cannot stand alone as a dish.

Different countries and cultures use different condiments, but the ones frequently found in the American refrigerator include:

Steak sauce

Worcestershire sauce

Barbecue sauce

Ketchup

Mayonnaise

Mustard

Pickles and pickle relish

Salsa

Tartar and cocktail sauces

Horseradish and/or wasabi

Salad dressings

Soy sauce and other sauces used in Asian-inspired dishes

Tabasco, taco, and other hot sauces

WHY INCLUDE CONDIMENTS IN OUR FOOD STORAGE?

1) Condiments tend to be kind of pricey. What else would you buy that you need to pay nearly what a whole meal would cost – well, at least a home-cooked meal? Keeping extra condiments would mean you are able to buy them when they are on sale, or at least at a time more able to spend your grocery budget that way.

2) While it wouldn’t be the end of your world if you ran out of one of these items, they sure make your food more enjoyable. Having a backup on hand ensures you can always “have it your way” as Burger King used to advertise.

3) Studies have shown that, during difficult times, keeping your food familiar really does make things easier.

The amount you keep of each condiment will vary with each household. For my household, I’ve learned to keep two or three of the condiments we use frequently on the shelf. Otherwise, I keep only one spare on the shelf.

HOW OLD IS IT?

Another reason to Take Stock of our condiments is that we tend to keep opened containers of condiments in the refrigerator longer than we should. I was told I should discard open condiments after a year. A recent Google search gave such varying results that I think I’ll just stick with that as a rule of thumb.

The problem of course is, we open various bottles and jars throughout the year so when do you clear them out? I certainly don’t advocate emptying your refrigerator door every January – that would be expensive and wasteful.

At the same time, does anyone enjoy the anxiety of looking at a jar that smells okay while wondering if the color looks right or if the crusties in the lid mean you could use it or should throw it away?

To resolve that particular source of angst I started writing the “opened” date on the jar(s). Doing that means I don’t have to count on my memory to recall that I opened that seldom-used tartar sauce last March when I bought some shrimp on sale at the grocery store.

My mom left behind containers of spices that I remembered from my childhood. Don’t let your refrigerator door become a graveyard of old condiments.

Now’s a good time to Take Stock of your Condiments

BONUS!

Last weekend, my son-in-law, Oscar’s dad, came to the homestead. The two of them worked on his 1986 GMC C-2500 pickup truck in my barn/garage.

I don’t go in the barn often as it’s usually full of unsightly piles of gear/supplies/junk Oscar has stuffed in there “for now” instead of putting away. Bonus 1: they had to deal with that mess before they could do their own work.

That wasn’t the best part though.

Later in the afternoon, after letting the chickens out for a bit of a walk-about, I stopped in to see how the guys were getting on. As I was admiring how much better it looked in there, I spied something of great value.

Canning jars! Quite a lot of canning jars.

I had Oscar bring them to the porch this weekend (the boxes were too dirty to bring into the house) and I am getting them cleaned out and sterilized.

BONUS FIND!!

This was a Bonus and a Blessing. My supply of pint jars was getting pretty measly.

Only 9 wide-mouth, 8 regular-mouth, and 10 jelly jars available for use on the shelf!

While I’m working on cleaning the new-found jars, I have ten pounds of chicken thawing to fill those jars.

My canned meat supply is about to become a bit more respectable!

WORM BIN REBOOT – PART 3

This will seem anti-climactic but, the worm bin reboot is Done.

If you’ll remember from Part 2, having scooped out all the old bedding (except the wood), I left the bin looking like this:

I was fussy while re-hydrating the coconut coir bricks this time. I didn’t want a repeat of Part 1, where I ended up with it being too wet and had to dry it out in the oven. This time I used a 5-gallon bucket, so I’d have plenty of room to stir it. I added only a couple cups of water two or three times a day, followed by a good fluff with my hand trowel. It took four days, but I ended up with perfectly hydrated bedding.

Now, the bin looks like this:

I gave the whole bin a good stir, verified that the moisture, temperature, and Ph were where they needed to be, buried some turnip greens, said, “Goodnight wormies,” and closed the lid.

I hope they are Happy Wormies.

TAKE STOCK – WEEK 2

The Holidays are over and, by now, even the leftovers have been consumed. If your kitchen was as heavily used as is traditional in November and December, your baking supplies may be getting low.

This week, continue your efforts to review where you are in your temporal preparedness by taking stock of the essential building blocks in your baking pantry. Be sure to have plenty of supplies on hand and check that they are not close to their expiration date!

1. Flour: All-purpose flour is the baking staple that can be used to create everything from cookies to pancakes to muffins to bread, and beyond. However, you can also stock whole grain flours (wheat, spelt, quinoa, einkorn, etc.) , cornmeal, gluten-free flours, and other specialty flours depending on your dietary needs and the type of baking you do.

2. Leaveners: baking soda, baking powder, and yeast give your baked goods the lift they need.

3. Sugars: Granulated sugar,powdered sugar, and brown sugar are the basics but you might also stock up on other sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, molasses, corn syrup.

4. Salt: standard granulated table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt.

5. Dairy: butter, eggs, and milk. While these ingredients are generally kept in the refrigerator, not the cupboard, maybe it’s time to add shelf-stable versions of these ingredients to your pantry. Alternative milks (coconut, soy, almond, oat, etc.) keep for a pretty decent time on the shelf. Even better, include powdered milk, powdered butter, powdered buttermilk, powdered cream cheese, powdered eggs, and powdered sour cream for more long term storage. You’ll be surprised at how easy these powdered ingredients are to use in baking and they store so much longer than the fresh ingredients.

6. Fats: vegetable oil, butter (see above), shortening (this comes in powdered form too!), and lard.

7. Extracts and Flavorings: pure vanilla extract is a basic pantry item but don’t forget there’s a whole world of flavorings to explore – almond extract, lemon extract, mint extract, the list goes on.

8. Spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, and ginger are basic spices used to make your baked goods sing but you don’t have to stop there.

9. Add-Ins: chocolate, unsweetened cocoa powder, dried fruits such as raisins and cranberries, nuts (store in the freezer to extend their shelf life), jams and jellies, peanut butter, coconut, etc. take your food from blah to yum so they definitely have a place in your pantry.

What else can you suggest we add to our baking pantries?

WORM BIN REBOOT – PART 2

I am in the midst of rebooting my worm bin. If you missed Part 1, click HERE.

Is it necessary to re-boot your worm bin? No. I just hadn’t harvested worm poop in quite a while or added new dirt and my brain got stuck on imagining those poor wormies living in their own poop and knew I needed to do better for them. Yes, a bit dramatic on the imagined injustice but it just seemed like a re-freshening would be nice.

In Part 1, I moved all of the existing bedding to one end of the bin and put in fresh coconut coir for bedding on the newly emptied side. I’ve been feeding them on that side for a couple of weeks to get them to move from the old side. Worms are the ultimate definition of “food-motivated” and they definitely moved!

Today, I started Part 2 – sifting and removing the old bedding that I had piled up on one end of the bin.

I need to remove all bedding on this end

As I dug and sifted colander upon colander of bedding, I recycled a goodly amount of the wood bits back into the bin. The wood has several purposes: 1) moisture – the wood stays moist longer than the “dirt” so it helps keep the moisture level in the bin steady, 2) aeration – the wood keeps the bedding from getting too compacted, 3) nutrition – wood balances the carbon-to-nitrogen ratio, supporting a healthier environment for the worms, 4) entertainment – what worm wants to wiggle in a straight line when it can twist and turn around bits of wood obstacles? I mean, how boring would that be?

LOL, I’m just kidding about the last one!

Wood is a valuable addition to the worm bin

It took some doing but I finally got down to the bottom of the bin.

I found the bottom!

I wish I could show you the difference in the richness of the “dirt” I removed compared to the new dirt I put in a couple of weeks ago. The camera just couldn’t pick it up though so you’ll just have to believe me when I say I can just envision some future plant closing its eyes in wonder and saying “AHHHH” when I use this stuff in the garden.

In the end, I got 4 gallon-size bags of lovely, luscious worm poop and 8 – 10 gallons of some of the loveliest compost ever. I’ll mix the compost into my garden soil at the beginning of the season and use the Gold as side dressing for my herbs, trees, and other perennials.

Four gallons of Pure Gold

In preparation for the final step of this refreshening, I am re-hydrating two more bricks of coconut coir. Having learned lessons from Part 1, I put these bricks in a nice, roomy 5-gallon bucket. It will take a couple of days before I can go on to Part 3.

A five-gallon bucket will give the coconut coir plenty of room to “grow”

This project is almost done!

ONE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS

Last night, after I got home from work, I got to do one of my favorite things.

I canned Chicken!

I think it’s a favorite thing to can because it’s also the easiest thing to can. Now that I’m using my Nesco Smart Pressure Canner, it’s even easier, too!

Here’s all it takes to can chicken:

COLLECT THE SUPPLIES

4 wide-mouth pint canning jars (that’s how many fit in my canner)

4 pounds (ish) of boneless, skinless chicken breast (you can do thighs too)

Salt

I’ve been buying boneless breasts and thighs over the past few months for this project.

PACK THE JARS

Shove a whole chicken breast in each jar – squish it in there real good – leaving an inch of space at the top of the jar. Add some smaller pieces if the jar isn’t quite full. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to each jar.

Packed with chicken

Wipe the rims and put on the lid and the ring.

Put the jars in the Nesco electric canner. Add 8 cups of water to canner. Set the timer to 75 minutes (90 for quarts).

PROCESS

Once the canner is up to pressure, the Canner will beep to indicate when to switch the valve from Exhaust to Airtight. At that point, my work is done! I don’t need to do anything else for 2 1/2 hours or so — when it’s time to unload the jars from the canner.

Quick and easy, ready to eat!

With so little effort, I have shelf stable meat to use in any recipe that calls for cooked chicken. Each pint jar holds about a pound of chicken (a quart holds two pounds).

Do you see why it’s my favorite thing to can?