Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Got peppers..?

Do you plant jalapeno peppers or poblanos or other hotish style peppers in your garden, they come in bountifully and then you have no idea what to do with them? Well, we always plant a couple of jalapenos because my husband likes hot salsa and stuff. They always come in plentifully before and after the tomatoes do, so I end up picking them, storing them in the refrigerator and then they go bad on me. This year we also planted poblano peppers at my husband's request. The seeds in poblanos have a little zest to them but the peppers themselves are not hot, just a mild nice heat. Kind of like a green chili. In fact you can roast them and use them like green chilies. Well, again, they came in like total gangbusters and I have had sooo many of them. You cannot freeze peppers well. They get mushy, lose flavor and so this is not the best way to deal with the abundance.

I looked in my canning book (Ball Blue Book) and they have canned peppers but you need a hot water canner according to them, but we only have a pressure canner. So I wondered what to do. I was told to call my aunt and uncle who can lots of stuff, and lo and behold they told me canning peppers is so easy even I can do it. Here's how.

Slice up your jalapenos, banana peppers, serrano, or poblano peppers and leave the seeds in there. Put them in sterilized pint or jelly sized jars ( i use the dishwasher and the sani rinse for this). This depends on how many you will use in a sitting. Then you buy a gallon jug of apple cider vinegar and bring it to a rolling boil on the stovetop for at least 10 min. You want to make sure it's boiling hot. Okay, so get your lids and rings in water that has come to a boil, but you don't want to boil them. So now you are ready. Holding a jar with peppers in it with an oven mitt on your hand, ladle in the hot vinegar into the jar till you only have about 1/4 inch of space at the top. Quickly get your lid and ring on there really tight and that's it. Keep filling and sealing the jars until you are done. I can't believe how easy this is. And they seal and keep for a good long time. Peppers don't spoil like a lot of other veggies I was told.

Okay so you can't use these right away, they need to sit for at least 60-90 days before you use them. The peppers won't be crisp anymore, but they will have nice flavor (not vinegary) and you can cut them up and put them in a hot cheese ball, on nachos, or make up a batch of salsa. Yumm. So if you lost a lot of peppers this year cause you just didn't know what to do with them, plant some more next year and can them. Give them to those folks in your life that like things a little spicy. My uncle says he puts the juice from the canned peppers over collards and other greens like that. Now I don't think that sounds good, but those green eaters out there might like to try that too.

Oh, and on a lighter note, your house will smell a little vinegary (is that a word?) and you might smell a little on the vinegar smelling side, but it's a small sacrifice. Open the windows if possible and let things air out. I might need to get a quick shower before I sit amongst other parents at my sons' karate class or they may just put me in a corner by myself. Toodles, ya'll.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Papertrey Ink August Blog Hop

I love the blog hop challenge this month. I will admit that these two projects were made this summer, but I thought I would share them as they fit this challenge and I don't have time to stamp something new tonight. I love to give homemade gifts. I like to share my love of baking. So when we were invited to a couple of wedding showers, I made these brown/white bags for homemade cake mixes (I made the mixes myself, they were not store bought). They were decorated on the front and back with pretty papers and fun stamped labels. They were part of a whole ensemble, which I have included pictures of. Super easy and a fun gift. Hope you like the inspiration.

Supplies used:
PTI: kraft and white coffee bags
Stamps: A Piece of Cake, Just for You
Various patterned papers: some from PTI and Stampin' UP!, ribbons, punches

Do you know what you are eating?

Okay, first let me say, I am not trying to be the food police. I think people who get too obsessed about food ingredients and whether things are organic or not organic take things a bit too far sometimes. I am not trying to be judgmental, just we can all take things too far. There needs to be balance here. I am not an organic food buyer. I don't go out of my way to make sure my foods are organic. I do recognize that some pesticides and such are harmful if ingested in large quantities, but I do wash my produce before using and I feel pretty good about that. I don't have time to worry about that stuff. I would rather farmers spray a little pesticide on stuff so I get a product with out bugs. I also don't buy most items from these fancy grocery stores that cater to the all organic crowd. It's too expensive and I just don't find that their stuff makes that much difference in the big scheme of things for the money you spend.

Some things that are really better for you organically grown are eggs, meats, and dairy products (without added hormones in them). Those I would buy in a heartbeat if I could find them more readily at a good price. I do pay more for my milk without added hormones (Mayfield or Purity brand) because I do see that makes a difference in my boys. I wish I could get organic eggs as they are really better tasting. Meat is just too expensive overall, so I stick with my Sam's club hamburger, chicken and pork tenderloins, and an occasional flank steak from Fresh Market. I just don't buy steak a lot. I do think that seafood needs to be carefully bought as well, with all the mercury that can be in certain varieties. But those would be my only cautious foods.

Anyway, I didn't intend to go through all that, but to sum up, I buy as fresh and close to homegrown when I can if it is cost effective. I do think I feed my family better because while I may not go organic, I do NOT use a lot of premade, prepackaged, already prepared items in my cooking. And this is where I am heading in this blog post. My sons and I just did an educational trip to our local Wal-Mart for our science class today. We were studying hydrogen, and thus we talked about hydrogenation in foods and oils. There have been a lot of studies showing that hydrogenated oils are not good for you. I understand that there are probably just as many studies that find they are okay. I am not going to go into our so called scientific studies these days. I'll leave that for another day. But I do believe that fats that are tampered with to make them more solid at room temp. are probably more likely to stay in that solid state in your body too, thus clogging your arteries. Although too much saturated fats or fats in general aren't good so again, moderation in everything.

So anyway, we went looking for foods that contain partially or fully hydrogenated oils. Did you know you get hydrogenated fats in mostly the following foods: some ice creams (we found it in lots of Blue Bell ice cream flavors), cool whip, any frozen or refrigerated pie crusts, biscuits, cinnamon rolls, breads, any baked good mixes, pre-made icings, some crackers, some breads, premade cookies and baked goods, and even in some ready made puddings (vanilla flavored). Let's see, I think there is a trend here. Why do they use hydrogenated oils in these items so much? It's pretty easy to figure out. Where we would use butter or oil in a baking recipe they use hydrogenated oils mostly. Why? Well butter as you know can get rancid if not used right away after being at room temperature. It can spoil. Well, cake mixes, baking mixes, canned refrigerated baked goods, and even frozen items need to have long shelf lives when they are put in a box. So of course, butter and oil cannot be used. Oils non-hydrogenated will leave grease in the packaging and are less stable like butter. So they hydrogenate them.

My question to you is this? Is there a way for you to get the convenience of these item and have them be much much healthier for your family? Sure you can. How? Well, make your own Bisquick like baking mix and freeze it. Make your own pancake mix and freeze it. Measure out your dry ingredients for cake mixes and then add the fat to it when you are ready to bake it. You know it's the measuring out that takes the most time, so do this ahead and bag it up. Then you are all ready for eggs, fat and dairy when you go to make a cake. Make up a batch of biscuit dough up to the point you would add the liquid, bag it up and then freeze it. All you have to do then is pull it out, add the liquid, knead it once or twice on a floured surface and cut them out. Or make them all the way, cut them out and freeze them before baking. Then just take out a few and bake them as usual. They'll thaw enough on your baking sheet by the time the oven reaches that 400+ degree temp. they need to bake at.

Again, do you want to eat messed up fats, unnecessary preservatives, and weird other chemicals in your baked goods, when it really only takes a little time to whip up some mixes of your own? You control the salt, fat, whole grains, and ultimately the nutritional value of what you feed yourself. Why do we eat all this junk anyway? We do it cause we are "too busy". Ding, Ding, Ding!! Did a light bulb just go off in your head? Maybe we need to not be soo busy. But I'll leave that conversation for another time. :)

It can't be too much of an inconvenience for you to take an hour or two of your weekend, daytime to make up a few mixes and have them ready. It really isn't hard. Oh, and think about trying to buy less ready made foods. Use canned tomatoes, tomato paste and a chopped up onion and some spices to make your own spaghetti sauce. Guess what, you just skipped out on getting high fructose corn syrup and the other fillers companies use in their ready made sauces. It took you a little extra time to chop that onion and open more than one can, but it's better for you. Plus you can make a lot at once and save it for later in the freezer. You save money as it's cheaper too. All I am saying is take a little time and try it. You will notice your food tastes sooo much better, is better for you, and it really is a bit satisfying to do it yourself. Slow down, don't be too busy to put healthy food on the table for your family. It doesn't have to be organic to be good for you. Just less processed. KWIM.

I'll be the first to admit I have a hard time making time to do these things, but when I finally do, I am surprised by how much I can make in such a short amount of time. It can be done, and I challenge you to join me and doing this more for our families. I am not trying to be prideful here in saying all this. Just trying to get all of us to think outside the cultural norms these days. We are all concerned about food, health and such. So let's do the little things we can and make the effort to change our lives for the better. To take away the excuse of not knowing where to find these recipes, I did that work for you. Really, try these. They are good.
Whole wheat and oat pancake mix (I use this and it is fabulous!!)
No-knead challah for cinnamon rolls or a good rich loaf of bread
Pioneer Woman no-knead rolls (my family was totally blown away by these)
Now or later pizza crusts (yes you can make your own pizza) to make your own sauce use a can of tomato sauce (I like the basil, garlic and oregano kind) and add about 1 tsp. italian seasoning and a dash of garlic powder. Spread it on the crust and top with your favorite toppings. Add cheese the last 5 minutes of baking. I make a double batch of this and freeze 2 crusts for a quick lunch for the family.
Bagels (this one is for my records, it's a bit time consuming)
And here is the biscuit recipe I use. You can make them up to the point you add the buttermilk the night before or do this and then pop the mix in the freezer. These are awesome and light and fluffy and so good with butter and jam.
2 1/2 cups of flour
1 stick of butter or 50/50 Smart Balance spread (I use the latter and it's awesome)
1 TBSP. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sugar
(mix all the dry together and then cut in the butter until it looks like coarse meal)
Then add:
1 c. buttermilk
Knead the dough about 1 minute until smooth.
Roll out on floured surface (go easy on the flour on the surface okay, you don't want to make a flour crust on the biscuits).
Cut with a 2 inch round cutter.
Place on parchment lined cookie sheet and bake at 450 F for 10-12 min.
You can brush the tops with butter after you get them out of the oven. They are great with sausage and jelly or just buttered.

Homemade spaghetti sauce:
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
2 14.5 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (you can use regular or petite, and even use some of the kind that has basil and oregano and garlic already cooked in)
1 small can of tomato paste
1 med. onion chopped fine
1-2 cloves of fresh garlic crushed or minced
1 Tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 bay leaf
1 lb. of hamburger meat optional if you want meat or not.
about 1/4 tsp salt or to taste. I just sprinkle a little in.
1/8 tsp. pepper Really what you want to add to taste.
If you like a meaty sauce brown hamburger with onions and garlic. If no meat then saute onions and garlic in a little olive oil.
Drain grease from meat if using. Then add in all other ingredients. Stir together, cover and simmer for 2-3 hours. Cool and store in freezer for later. Feel free to double the recipe.
This can be used for lasagna too or stuffed shells.

Cooking up some yummy breakfast treats.

EDIT: I baked some of my frozen cookies today. Here's a tip for doing that. When you scoop out your dough to freeze, flatten them slightly so they are more in a disc shape rather than a ball. They will cook from frozen better that way and get cooked all the way through without the bottoms burning first.
I just cooked some sugar cookies and the walnut cranberry ones together. The sugar cookies, which had been flattened first before frozen, got a little brown on the bottom but cooked all the way through with a couple of minutes added to the usual time. The oatmeal cranberry and walnut ones were simple scooped with a cookie scoop and frozen in a ball shape. They got pretty brown on the bottom but not done all the way through. While I like a slightly underbaked cookie, I wouldn't want this to be the only way these will come out. So next time when I freeze my dough, I will flatten the dough balls slightly so they will cook better. Or if you decide that is too much work, simple take the dough out of the freezer first and let thaw slightly before you bake. Just thought you would want to know.

So I hope you all have tried out freezing some stuff to make life a little easier during the busy school year or for any time of the year. I just popped 3 pie plates of cinnamon rolls in the freezer for breakfasts using a couple of great recipes and kitchen helps. First I made up a half batch of no knead whole wheat challah bread dough on Monday afternoon. Maybe it was Sunday afternoon. Anyway, then this morning I dumped it all out onto my silicone baker's mat and rolled the dough out into a large rectangle. Then I mixed up some of my King Arthur cinnamon roll filling mix (it's the best stuff out there although it does contain shortening) and spread it over the dough. Then I rolled the dough up into a pretty long log and then used my hand dandy dental floss to cut it into clean 1 inch slices. I put about 6 rolls in each disposable pie plate that I had sprayed with Baker's Joy and wrapped them well and put them in the freezer. Now all I have to do is take out a batch the night before I want to use them and let them thaw a little on the counter, then refrigerate them overnight. Or just pop them in the fridge right away and then get them out as soon as you wake up the next morning, before you head to the shower and get ready, for them to warm up and rise. If your oven has a warm setting, turn it on pop the rolls in lightly covered with saran wrap and leave the door open. I know it wastes a little electricity but those rolls need to rise. Then after your shower, preheat the oven to 350 F (take the rolls out first if you were using the warm setting) and then bake for 30 min. Whip up some simple icing with confectioner's sugar and milk or cream and drizzle over your hot rolls. Simple, divine and so much better than the mall ones or the pop open can ones and such. They are so yummy. The whole wheat flour in them is nutritious, and you can add in nuts, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, etc.

Here are links to the recipes I used and for the cookies I made up this weekend and froze already portioned out.

Link to whole wheat challah bread recipe: artisian bread in 5 minutes a day blog
Note: I only made half this recipe and used 1 egg and 1 egg white. I did not use the cranberries and orange zest. I used Smart Balance oil for my oil/fat.

Link to King Arthur baker's cinnamon filling
I used about 1 full cup of the filling and added enough water to make a spreadable schmear/paste. This does contain shortening in it, but it makes such a delish gooey filling and you don't indulge in these much, that I feel it's worth it.

Link to King Arthur silicone baker's mat: great for rolling out doughs with less mess and stick.

Cookie recipes: oatmeal cranberry walnut (use to make all chocolate chip too it's that good), and sugar cookie

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time savers in the kitchen

Hey, there folks. Got some time saver tips for the kitchen and getting some yummy goodies on the table fast now that school has started. School means busier schedules unfortunately. It seems with sports and extra curricular activities, it's hard to sit down as a family for a meal. But I have some tips for you to get some yummy goodness on everyone's plate. The time saver: the freezer. Yes, you read that right, the freezer!!
Make good use of your freezer. Freeze meals ahead of time to pop in the oven or defrost a day or two ahead and bake them off. My favorite freezer goodies: spaghetti sauce (make a big batch divide it up in ziploc bags and you are good to go for a quick plate of spaghetti, lasagna, or stuffed shells and cheese), stuffed shells filling, mexican lasagna (I make up the meat mixture and sauce mixture, put the grated cheese and corn tortillas in separate zip loc bags and freeze them together), taco meat already cooked, meatloaf, chicken pot pie mixture with a frozen pie crust or puff pastry sheet, no knead rolls, muffins, and desserts.

Know the secret to hot out of the oven cookies (so you don't eat the whole batch in two days cause they are all staring at you from the cookie jar or zip loc bag you store them in)? Bake off a dozen when you make your cookie dough--- wait I need to say a thing or two first about cookies. Please, please don't buy that ready made cookie dough in the biscuit section of the grocery store. You know the stuff I am talking about. It's got so many preservatives and really, how hard is it to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough? Not hard. You take 15 min. tops. Okay enough about that. Anyway, make your cookie dough and then scoop out a dozen and bake them off. You need those cookies for today cause you just can't help yourself, you know. Next, scoop out all the rest of the dough and place it pretty close together on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place dough balls in the freezer uncovered so they get firm and partially frozen, about 15- 30 min. Now take those frozen balls of homemade goodness and dump them in a zip loc freezer bag. Freeze. Now you can just pull out a half a dozen or so cookie dough balls at a time and bake them off so the school kids have a yummy gooey warm treat when they walk in the door and you don't eat them all. :) You get one or two with the kids.

Now the other things that you can make ahead are breads: yes, you can make bread. Look for the no-knead kind from King Arthur's website and recipe gallery and from Pioneer Woman's recipe site. I have tried them and they are yummy and super easy.

So hey, make the use of an hour or two on the weekend or while the little ones/big kids are at school and make your busy life easier. Your family will get homemade goodness during the week and you'll be better prepared for the busyness of life.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Our first week of school

Just thought I would talk a little about our first week of school. Overall it has gone pretty well. We have accomplished more this week than any other week of school so far. We have done it all in less time than it took us last year to finish a day. I have used time limits, written out the assignments so they know what is coming, and have started grading their work. I grade based on correct answers but also on how much they finish based on their time limits. Hopefully a bad grade received because they fool around and don't complete an assignment will help them be more focused and diligent. They usually do all math problems and stuff like that right when they actually get around to it. So accuracy is not usually the problem, it's procrastination and not focusing. We have done Science this week which is new to us as we never seem to get to it and we even did an experiment. We blew up diet soda with Mentos to introduce chemistry this year. Fun!!

Overall, I am pretty pleased with this week. WE still need to pray for focus for my littlest on Math, but he did have one good day. Today is not that day. We will gradually build up our schedule to include more stuff. I didn't want to overwhelm them the first week back. I am also thinking of implementing a ticket system for asking for help. I get called for "emergency help" when it is really not needed. They get instruction and clarification at the beginning of their work but I can't hold their hand through it all. The tickets would be given at the beginning of an assignment and once the receive instruction and I walk away, any time they ask for help they will need to give me a ticket. Of course they won't have that many tickets, so they will need to learn to problem solve on their own and not ask so much.

Just thought I would share.

Oh, and you need to check out Christian Paper Crafts website and check out their work and join the group. It's a great ministry.