Sunday, June 27, 2010

Canning - Tomatoes

There is magic in a morning on my deck. Weary, wilted leaves from yesterdays' scorching heat are revived. The plants look healthy and happy and flowers holding promise continue to appear. They show no sign of earlier battles against the wind, invading insects or bent and broken branches trimmed away or tied in place while nature makes repairs.Perhaps the sweet satisfaction that comes with a harvest is made possible because of the care and watching and work along the way.
I've chosen a heritage variety of tomato that matures relatively small, about the size of tennis balls. At this size, it will take about 9 tomatoes to fill a quart jar or about 10-12 pounds of tomatoes for a 7 quart "batch". Always begin your canning with clean, sterilized jars, rings and lids ready and waiting, submerged in simmering water.
Wash tomatoes in cold water, eliminating any with blemishes or soft spots. Remember that your finished product will be only as good as the ingredients you use.
Peeling the tomatoes is a bit of an assembly line project. A few are being peeled and placed in a jar while the next next few are getting a hot bath. To begin, place only 3 or 4 tomatoes in a large pot of simmering water for a minute or two. Each time they are removed from the hot water, replace them with 3 or 4 more to be heating while you are coring and peeling the previous batch.
Remove the tomatoes from the hot water with a slotted spoon or strainer and plunge them immediately into a container of ice cold water. This will stop them from "cooking", make them cool enough to handle.
With the tip of a small paring knife, cut out core and cut away any blemishes and under-ripe areas. The skins will slip off easily once the core is cut away. Tomatoes may be cut in half or quartered or left whole. Add tomatoes to jar, one at a time, cut side down...
pressing them into place on occasion to pack tight, help remove air bubbles and begin to extract natural juice.
When a jar is filled, slide a narrow spatula around sides to remove air bubbles. Adjust surface level to make sure there is 1/2" of head space by removing some of the contents or by adding a bit of boiling water. Add salt and lemon juice to each completed jar: 1 Tbsp of non-iodized, canning or pickling Salt and 1 Tbsp bottled Lemon Juice per quart (1 tsp. each for pints). With clean damp cloth, wipe jar rim and threads. Put on hot, sterilized lids and rings and tighten, comfortably tight. Continue with next jar.
When all jars are filled and capped, put them in canning rack and lower into boiling water. Be sure water level is 1"-2" over top of jars. Cover pot. Begin timing when water returns to boil. Process for 45 minutes at 1,000 ft elevation or below. (Check with your extension office for higher elevation instructions) Place processed jars on a folded towel to cool, leaving room between jars for air to circulate. Do not tighten loose rings while jars are hot as it may break the seal. When jars are completely cool, remove rings and wash each jar with a warm, soapy cloth, rinse, dry, mark date on lid and move to storage. Rings may be reused.

Chocolate, Banana, Nut Muffins - 10 cents each

Every once in a while things just fall into place. I stumbled on a 99 cent sale of items that were almost to their expiration date and grabbed a few. As I was unloading my groceries, out came the box of banana nut muffin mix, with fiber, followed by the box of chocolate cupcake mix. Hummmm?!?!? I started thinking about combining them. Checking the instructions for oven temperatures and baking times, I found that they were not terribly different. I decided to take the average of the baking time and the average of the oven temperature and give it a try. I followed the required amounts of oil, water and eggs for both mixes, combining everything in one bowl.
To the mixture, I added a handful of my dehydrated banana slices and one of chopped pecans from the freezer. The result was 24 super-sized muffins that are among the best I've ever eaten. The taste and texture are perfect...and, they have added fiber. But the best part is that my cost was only $2, plus 4 eggs, or right at 10 cents each. Most of them have been individually wrapped and are waiting in the freezer to be served with morning coffee next weekend when I have guests.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

4th of JULY...

For 4th of July decorating ideas, recipes, activities and related links, click on "Holidays and Special Occasions" to the left, under the heading "Labels"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Canning - Della's Sweet and Sour Dill Pickles

This recipe is very sentimental to me. It's the one I have made faithfully for 33 years - wow, that long! It's the one my children love above all others. It was shared with me by a dear elderly woman who has long since left us. I give it to you exactly as it was taught to me...with love. Enjoy!
Makes 9 Pints (or Double the Recipe for Quarts)
Always start with freshly sterilized jars, lids and rings and have your canning water heating. Wash and boil 9 pint jars, lids & rings.
Mix the first 4 ingredients in a pan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil.
  • 4 c. Sugar
  • 1/2 scant c. Salt - Not Iodized
  • 1 qt. Vinegar
  • 2 c. Water
While waiting for syrup to boil, prep vegetables in the following amounts.
  • 1 thick onion slice per pint - (2 per quart)
  • 1 (2 inch) piece of celery per pint - (2 per quart)
  • 1 head fresh dill per pint - (2 per quart)
  • 4+ lbs Cucumbers in chunks - cut in half lengthwise, then in 2" pieces Fill each jar with the vegetable ingredients in the following order: For Pint Jars - place 1 onion slice, 1 piece celery and 1 head dill in bottom of jar and fill with cucumber pieces. For Quart Jars - place onion celery and dill in bottom of jar and also on top of cucumber pieces.Pour the hot liquid into the packed jars. Wipe the jar rims with a clean damp cloth, add lids and rings and screw down only 'comfortably tight'. Put sealed jars into canning rack and lower into hot canning water - enough to cover the tops by about an inch. Bring to the boiling point. Do not boil. Immediately, take the jars from the hot water and set them close together on a folded towel. Cover with an old coat until they are cold. Let age 30 days before using.
Now that I'm in Florida, there are no "old coats" so a heavy, old bedspread, folded in many layers makes a cozy cover. Once the jars are completely cool, often 18-24 hours, check to make sure all the lids are properly sealed, remove the metal rings and wash the jar threads before putting them away.
Just a couple of personal notes: For storing the jar rings, I've taken a single strand of wire, a coat hanger would do, and twisted a loop for hanging on one end and attached a jar ring with a hook of the wire at the other end. All the rings thread onto the wire and hang within easy reach during the canning season. For winter storage, the two ends of the wire are brought together and the hook is pinched around the loop, making a neat bundle. Also, since my kitchen storage space is limited and because I really, really like looking at my handiwork, the filled jars are stored on display above the cabinets.

The University of Colorado has a "quick-read" overview of the pickling/canning process with a couple of recipes. Link HERE.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hot Dog Variations

Slaw Dog:
Fill toasted bun with grilled wiener, edge with a line of mustard and one of ketchup. Sprinkle with chopped onions and pile high with Coleslaw.

Bacon/Kraut Dog:
Slice wiener lengthwise so that it will open but not be cut all the way through. Grill open side down. Fill with well drained sauerkraut and a slice of crisp, pre-cooked bacon. Serve in soft bun topped with a slice of Swiss cheese, brown mustard and additional Sauerkraut.

Chili Cheese Dog:
Grill one side of wiener. Cut a pocket slit on the grilled side and fill with strips of American or Cheddar cheese. Return to grill to cook bottom side. Place in toasted bun and top with Chili, chopped onions and jalapeno slices.

Plain Ol' American Hot Dog:
Place boiled or grilled wiener on soft bun, top with yellow mustard, ketchup, sweet pickle relish and chopped onion.

Photos will be posted after the 4th of July

Sugar Cookies

This cookie dough can be rolled into balls and pressed flat but I'm rolling it out, chilling it and cutting it into shapes.
  • 1 stick Margarine
  • 1/2 c. Oil
  • 1 c. Sugar
  • 1 Egg
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla
  • 2 1/2 c. Flour
  • 2 tsp Baking Powder
  • 3/4 tsp. Salt
Cream together first 5 ingredients. Then sift next 3 ingredients into mixture. Roll between sheets of wax paper to 1/4" thick. Leave between paper and refrigerate 2 hours. Remove top paper. Cut star shapes with cookie cutter. Remove excess cookie dough. Turn dough and paper upside down on cookie sheet. Remove paper. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with colored sugar before baking or apply icing after cookies cool.

Homemade Ice Cream - no cook

This is a family recipe at least 4 generations old. My siblings and my children fondly remember hot summer days, swimming at the lake and taking turns on the old hand-crank ice cream maker. My father liked this recipe because it didn't start with a cooked, custard base. The flavor is incredible, the texture, crisp and I remember the brain-numbing cold. My arms are not so strong these days and electric makers are certainly quick and convenient but the delight of my memories are so tied to the shared labor, the sweet summer smells and the melting salt that I cannot imagine giving that up for the sake of convenience.
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 1/2 c Sugar
  • 1 can Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • 1 can Evaporated Milk
  • 1 Tbsp. Vanilla Extract

Blend ingredients in blender. Pour into freezer canister. Fill canister with milk to the "fill" line. Freeze in Ice Cream Freezer until hard.
NOTE: Strawberries, Blueberries, chopped Peaches etc. can be added before filling canister with milk.

Easy Baked Beans

Thoroughly drain cans of the least expensive pork and beans you can buy. Pour beans into bean pot or cassarole that has been prepared with cooking spray.
Stir in the following:

  • Chopped Onions
  • Ketchup - a good amount
  • Yellow Mustard - about 1/4 the amount of Ketchup
  • Brown Sugar - equal to the amount of Ketchup
Top with
  • Strips of uncooked Bacon
Bake uncovered at 350 for 1 to 1 1/2 hours - until sauce thickens but is not dry.

Photos will be posted after the 4th of July

My Southern Potato Salad

  • 5 lbs Russet Potatoes - Peel, cube and boil in well salted water until done. Drain. Cool.
  • 1/2 - 1 c. finely chopped Onion - according to preference and strength of the onions
  • 1 doz. Hardboiled Eggs - peeled & chopped
  • 1 c. Dill Pickles - chopped
  • 1 large jar Pimento - diced
  • 2 tsp Celery Seed
  • 1 tsp Hot Pepper Sauce OR 1/2 tsp Cayenne
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 c. Ketchup
  • 1/4 c. yellow Mustard
  • 1 c. Mayonnaise (plus)

Put ingredients in large bowl in reverse order from listing (starting with Mayonnaise). Stir well after each item is added. Once potatoes are finally added, continue mixing in additional Mayonnaise until everything is well moistened and the texture is to your liking. Transfer to serving bowl. Sprinkle surface with Paprika. Cover and refrigerate several hours before serving. Best if made the day before use.

Photos will be posted next week.

Coleslaw Recipe #1

Best Coleslaw for Hot Dogs
  • 1 small head Cabbage - shredded fine
  • 1 small onion - chopped very fine
  • 2 Tbsp. Sweetened Condensed Milk
  • Mayonnaise to properly moisten

OR use a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw and reduce amount of onion and cut Sweetened Condensed Milk to 1 Tbsp.
Stir all ingredients thoroughly and chill at least 3 hours before serving. Best if made the day before.

Other Coleslaw Recipes will be posted over time.

Sauerkraut Plus

As a Hot Dog garnish, sauerkraut directly from the grocery store is adequate. I serve two variations, one simply heated "as is" and a second to which I add a sprinkling of Caraway Seeds. With the Caraway Seed variation, I like to add the seeds, heat just to the boiling point, cover, remove from heat and let stand for the flavor to blend. Yummy.

Chili for Hot Dogs

In a crock pot, combine:
  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 2 cans Tomato Paste
  • 2 tomato paste cans of Water
  • 1 tomato paste can of Ketchup
  • 3/4 c. Onion - chopped fine
  • 2 Tbsp. Chili Powder
  • 1/4 tsp. Garlic Powder
  • 1/2 tsp. Salt
  • 1 Tbsp Cocoa Powder

Cook on High 4 hours or until thick. Will make 2 dozen Chili Dogs.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Resisting the "I Want" Temptation

I had to run into a big chain store today while we were in the city. Unfortunately, from the front door, to the garden center, to housewares and beyond, my "I want" bells were going off at every turn. There was red, white and blue everything. Beautiful things. Ordinary things. Useful things. Frivolous things...and I wanted them all. I could see my 4th of July table set with the stemware and hard plastic dinnerware. I could almost
taste the lemonade from the decorative pitchers

and jugs, see the red, white and blue lanterns hanging from the trees. In fact, I don't think I saw anything that I didn't want. I wanted it all. And I really had to fight with myself to resist.

The truth is that I do have the money. I could have splurged. I could have rationalized and I came so close to giving in. Then I reminded myself that I am into this blog thing for real, that my ability to be helpful is no better than my ability to practice what I preach.

I left the store with only the few items that were on my list and sadly admit that it did not make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I felt somehow deprived. On the 40 mile trip home, I thought about my pitiably small stash of patriotic parts and pieces and how I planned to turn my initial $26 splurge into anything remotely approaching the majesty I had just denied myself. Truthfully, $13 worth of that $26 has already been used to decorate the front porch.

But I still have table cloths and plates and bowls and flowers and flags that I was thrilled to have until I saw today what I was missing. But as I write this, suddenly NOW, I have that warm fuzzy feeling. Now, I remember how it felt to make a home-made wreath with my granddaughter. Now, I remember that I'm painting patriotic T-shirts with 6 more little "grands" next weekend. Now, I'm excited again about the "doing" and not the "having"...and you can't buy that at any store.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Trick to a Lazy/Busy Day

One of my favorite things is accomplishing a lot without doing much and yesterday was one of those days. As the temperatures outside climbed into triple digits, I enjoyed a day of air conditioning and took advantage of it get the freezer filled with quick meal starters and main dishes.
Over the years I've developed a method of bulk-cooking that not only cuts food and utility costs, it saves tons of time, both on the day it's done and for weeks to come. The bottom line is that it's my way of using all the methods of cooking, found in my kitchen, at one time....a "get-in and get-out", mass production sort of thing where the kitchen does the work and I basically supervise...saving money and time.
Click on menu items below to be linked to recipes.
After one hour in the kitchen, yesterday morning, I spent the day relaxing with a book, playing on the computer and watching a movie marathon, returning to the kitchen only occasionally during commercials. In a half hour, in the late afternoon, I packaged and filled the freezer with 40 single servings of
Classic 1040's Southern Meatloaf (30) and Old-Fashioned Bottom Round Steak Stew (10), plus 5 - one pound packages of good old Home Baked Ham and 18 yummy Muffins. Total cost - $29. Total Time - less than 2 hours.
As soon as the evening temperatures drop enough to cool the house at night, the air conditioner will be turned off again and I won't have to worry about cooking in a hot kitchen. Mealtime preparation will be a simple matter of using the microwave to defrost and heat - quick - quick - quick. Cool - cool - cool. A lazy day with a lot accomplished.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Oh no! The A/C is ON - June 12

Well, I gave in. This morning the air conditioner finally got turned on. Today, Saturday, through Monday evening our temperatures will again be in the high 90's with lows only dipping to the low 80's and high 70's. Add high humidity into the mix and we are well into the 100+ range for most of the daylight hours.
The good news is that Monday evening, our overnight lows should drop back into the 60's and I intend to get our windows open again as quickly as possible. Wish me luck. It's a lot easier to put up with the heat when you are used to it than it is to re-acclimate after you're accustomed to being cool. Yuk!

In the meantime, I bought a ham, several bottom round steaks, a large package of ground beef and a bag of potatoes. What does that have to do with our mini-heat wave, you ask?!?! Quick, while the house is cool, I'm going to do some serious cooking. I should be able to get 30 to 40 servings out of a couple large meatloaves, fresh baked and sliced ham for several meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and a great deal of beef stew from the not-so-tender steaks. Everything will go in the freezer along with scalloped and au gratin potatoes in single serving portions. Then when it's hot or I'm in a hurry for a meal or just too tired to stand over the stove, dinner will require only a matter of minutes in the microwave. The money and time saved almost makes up for having the air conditioner running.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Summer Plans for the Blog

Well, I think it's about time I get organized on the blog. Everyone's advice is that I should find a niche and fill it. Unfortunately, the word "niche" has never fit me very well and I honestly can't settle on any one thing that I want to do or share but I have found the common thread in my wandering from recipes to yard sale finds to sewing and art and leaving the A/C off when the temp's in the high 90's.

The common thread is that I'm still finding cash the old-fashioned spending as little of what I have as possible and enjoying every minute of it. Maybe that's just a nice way of admitting that I'm cheap. Whatever! I have fun and over the summer I'll be getting the blog organized into fewer categories that are easier to access and posting a great many of the things that make my world turn:
  • Gardening - is already started and updates will include successes and failures and things I already know and things I learn along the way. I just noticed this afternoon that my tomato plants are taller than I am but the tomatoes are just getting started.
  • Holidays & Special Occasions - will focus on a patriotic theme for a while
  • Recipes - in general will continue as things cross my mind but over the summer I will concentrate on one of my favorite pastimes: the almost-lost art of home Canning.
  • Children's Activities - There will be a few as I have some planned with the grandchildren
  • Trash to Treasure - because I can't stop myself from trying to make silk purses out of sow's ears, and
  • General Thrift - because I'm particularly dedicated to finding new ways to NOT spend on necessities this summer so that I can splurge on a couple of things like going para-sailing. Oh yes, I will surely share that, especially since I will be in the skies over the Gulf...with the oil spill...during hurricane season. (I never claimed to have a good sense of timing.)
By the end of summer, I hope to have mastered the art of adding video to the blog. The first few things I hope to cover are:
  • How to cook on a campfire
  • How to hang laundry on a clothesline
  • How to save time folding laundry
  • How to fold fitted sheets
I really, really, truly welcome your comments and tips especially in terms of how I can do a better job of bring information to you in a way that makes sense and is easy to navigate. Thanks for sticking with me.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Garden Update - Early June

After being twisted, torn and laid-flat by the storm, and surviving my unorthodox rescue, I have HAPPY TOMATOES! Bless their sweet hearts. I am sooooooo looking forward to them.
The Basil began to bolt (flower) so I snipped the tips. It is now branching out and producing leaves abundantly. I'll have plenty to use fresh and plenty to dehydrate and crush for winter use.
The Pickling Cucumbers, started from seed are coming along really well in their egg carton seed beds. I will transplant them next week and keep you informed of their progress.
Having so many Jalapeno plants in a single pot doesn't seem to be hampering their growth at all. Maybe it's because I've used this old strawberry pot or maybe they just like having company. Whatever the reason, it looks like we'll have a bumper crop. A dozen or more are ready to eat now. When I accumulate enough to make my Roasted Garlic Jalapenos, I'll post the instructions.

Filtering Sunlight for Free

The Wisteria on my little pergola began life 6 years ago as a single twig cutting from a neighbor, planted at just one corner. Each spring, it has been a source of wonder, watching it grow and spread and bloom wildly, the bare vines becoming heavy laden with the profuse flower clusters. This spring was the best year ever and I can't believe that I didn't get a single photo of the massive lavender display but that's how things go. The picture above is from 2 years you can only imagine.
As the petals fell, my little garden space underneath took on a magical air as if blanketed in purple snow. It was wonderful. As the blossoms fell and the leaves began to appear, the pergola was capped in deep, lush green in no time at all. Unfortunately, it was so deep and so lush that it completely blocked the sunlight from reaching the garden below.
I worried over the problem for a few days before deciding the Wisteria had to go. Just days after cutting the trunk at ground level, the the leaves wilted, dried and blew away leaving behind the bare vines, which perfectly filter the sunlight for the little garden.
As I was taking this photograph of the severed vine, I noticed new growth sprouting from the roots. How wonderful! I'm not a murderer after all and can spend another 6 years watching the wonderful Wisteria grow and spread and bloom wildly once again.