Thursday, August 25, 2011

Plant Garlic Now & Harvest Next Summer

Mmm . . . I love garlic; the taste, the smell, the health benefits. Growing your own is so very, very easy and fresh garlic beats dehydrated any day!

Simply buy a bulb or two of garlic. Decide where you want to plant it and work up the soil. Separate into individual cloves and plant with the root side down just like you would an onion set; about two inches deep.

Next year, after it has gone to seed, the tops will begin to dry out. When they are pretty uniformly dry, gently pull it out of the ground (you may want to wait until after a rain if your soil is very hard). Leaving the blades intact, gather it in bunches and hang it up to dry well. 

Once the bulbs are pretty dry and the skins on them are papery, it is ready to use. Cut off the dried out tops and peel off the loose outer layers of skins. Store in a cool, dry place with good ventilation and use as desired. 

*A hint for using fresh garlic in your cooking: if you add it toward the end of cooking in soups, stews, etc., you will get a stronger garlic flavor in the dish . . . but if you add it early on, that heady aroma will tantalize your taste buds in anticipation of your next meal.

I always preserve a some of it (peeled of course) in a jar of olive oil which I keep in the fridge. Two or three bulbs of garlic planted and then harvested should yield enough for most of your cooking over the next year.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Get Rid of Ants for Mere Pennies!

 Those pesky ants! UGH! Well, here is the cheapest and most effective solution I have found:

In the microwave, melt a generous tablespoon full of honey or corn syrup. Stir in a teaspoon of Borax powder until it dissolves.

Using a yogurt lid (or something similar) place the mixture on it and sit it on your countertop or wherever you are encountering the critters. In a short time, you will have a circle of ants surrounding their 'banquet'. You may have to repeat the process a couple of times if it is a large colony of ants.

This works because they carry the mixture back to their nest to feed the larvae. It  will kill both the ants and the larvae.

Borax is readily available (it's one of the ingredients in the Homemade Laundry Soap in an earlier post) and the cost is minimal for that and the bit of honey of corn syrup used.
If you don't already have Borax, you can buy it in the laundry detergent section at any grocery store. It makes a great laundry booster too, even if you don't use it to make your own detergent.

The total cost truly isn't more than a few cents and it really works.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Canned Spaghetti Sauce, Chili & More

For some reason I am driven to can and preserve . . . it’s more than just being self-sufficient, though I certainly do love and appreciate that aspect of it. For me, it is just second nature I suppose. It’s the way I grew up and generations before me. We love to plant, tend, grow and harvest and then preserve our bounty. For me there are few things more beautiful than rows of varying colors of fruits, vegetables, meats and more all lined up and ready to be used.

For a number of years now I have been canning meats in addition to everything else that I have put up for years. I love the convenience of opening up a jar of chicken for lightning quick Chicken ‘n Dumplings, casseroles or salad. I can have a big pot of Beef Stew ready in a matter of minutes or Beef and Noodles.

But this blog post is not about canning meats . . . this one is about putting up staple recipes so that you can use them impromptu and still feel good about what you are eating and serving to your family and friends.

Over the past week I have put up quarts of Beef Vegetable Soup, Chili con Carne and Spaghetti Sauce with Meat. 

Here are just a few of the reasons why and the how to’s follow:
-          It’s just so darned easy to come home or feel puny and still put a ‘home cooked’ meal
      together instantly.  I mean, who doesn’t love convenience?
-          It truly saves time. I put up 20 quarts of spaghetti sauce in about 3 hours. That’s 20    
-                 meals in mere minutes.       
-          It saves money. Buy the ingredients you can’t or don’t grow when they are on sale!
-          There is a great satisfaction in having the pantry full.
-          If I need to share a meal with a sick friend or neighbor, I can do so quick and easily.

There are other reasons as well, but these are the few that popped into my head as I type.

First of all, let me say that you can preserve nearly any recipe you have by following a few safety  rules. Canning meat was done by the water bath method for many generations and while I don’t know personally of anyone dying from eating it, I still do not want to take that chance. I even Googled it and could not find information anywhere on how long to water bath meats or products having meat in them.

Secondly, anything that you process that has meat in it, must be cooked as if that is all that is in the jar! This is extremely important to the safety of your food supply. The standard times for pressure canning meats are 75 minutes at 10 lbs. of pressure for pints and
                                                                90 minutes at 10 lbs. of pressure for quarts.

Please do NOT deviate from these times; therefore, when I pressure can Beef Vegetable Soup, Chili or Spaghetti Sauce (we always eat ours with meat in it), they are processed at these times.

If you are afraid of a pressure canner, don’t be. As long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions you will be just fine. The two main dangers occur when you leave it unattended and it seriously overheats or trying to remove the lid before the pressure has been safely released. If you follow these two basic rules, you should not have any problems or fears.

You can use your own favorite recipes for Chili and Spaghetti Sauce, but the following are the ones that my family and I prefer:

Spaghetti Sauce      
1 to 2 lbs. lean ground beef
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. each dry basil & oregano
Salt & pepper to taste
1 12 oz. can tomato paste
2   4 oz. cans tomato sauce
1  29 oz. can tomato puree
1  4 oz. can mushrooms, coarsely chopped

Brown the beef and drain and rinse if needed. Add the onion and garlic and cook about 3 minutes. Rub the basil and oregano between your palms to crush it and release the flavors. Add to the pot. Stir in the tomato paste, sauce and puree. Add a little water if needed. Add the mushrooms and season to taste with the salt and pepper. Simmer about 20 minutes if you will be eating it right away.
If you are canning it, you don’t need to simmer it. Simply fill the jars, leaving at least ½ inch of head space and process as described above.

I love having this ready to go. I can make a salad and heat the sauce in the microwave right in the jar (without the lid of course) while the pasta cooks and dinner is served!

2 lbs. lean ground beef
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
2 T. chili powder
2 quarts canned tomatoes
4 – 6 cans kidney or pinto beans (or cook your own)
Salt & Pepper
Hot sauce or cayenne if desired

Brown the meat, drain and rinse if needed. Add the onion, garlic and seasonings. Cook 2 – 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and then the beans. Bring to a simmer and cook 20 – 30 minutes if you want to serve it right away.

For canning, process at the times and pressure listed above.

*Both of these recipes are in my cookbook, NEVER Trust a Skinny Cook! It contains over 600 recipes and about half of them are my original concoctions. I still have some for sale for
$10 each plus shipping. They make a great gift too!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Homemade Fruit Pectin

You can make pectin for canning from firm green apples picked early in the season. 

   For best results, use slightly under ripe apples that are firm and tart.

   You will need two 5-gallon buckets. Take one and drill holes in the bottom and halfway up the sides of one bucket for drainage. Line with a wet, wrung-out pillow case and set the bucket with holes inside the solid bucket to catch the liquids. Another method is to take an old T-shirt and simply use it in place of cheesecloth to drain the pectin into a large bucket. Secure it with a cord tied around the rim.

  Cut about 5 gallons of green apples into quarters, place in large pot and add water - don't cover the apples but just up until you can see the water.  Bring it to a boil, stir, reduce the heat and stir every 3 to 5 minutes to keep it from scorching.

   When the apples are tender and about the texture of applesauce, pour them with seeds, skins and all into the pillowcase lined bucket or T-shirt covered bucket, cover and let sit overnight.

   The next morning, the pectin will have drained out and collected in the lower catch bucket. Do NOT squeeze the remaining apples as this cause cloudiness in the pectin. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to prevent the pectin from browning. (optional step)

   Once the pectin has cooled, you can test its gelability by mixing 1 teaspoon pectin in a small bowl with 2 teaspoons rubbing alcohol. Let it sit for a few minutes. Then take a fork and if the pectin sticks to and globs up on the fork, it will work well for jam and jelly. If it is loosely hanging from the fork, it will work but will not set up firmly. If  the pectin drips more than an inch from the fork, use the pectin for syrup or you can boil it again and repeat draining it overnight. Syrup is simply a thinner form of jelly and works great for pancakes, waffles and the like. 

* I always boil and strain the peelings from apples when I put up apples or applesauce, add cinnamon and make a syrup for pancakes. My favorite combination is apple cinnamon syrup on gingerbread pancakes.
* You can also boil peach peelings with pits, or cherry pits, etc. for making a tasty syrup. You can even add a little good quality vanilla to it for extra flavor.

Homemade Jelly 

Sterilize jars.

Mix together equal amounts of fruit juice and apple pectin and bring to a full boil. If you use the whole fruit, you will be making jam.

Add 1 and 1/3 cups sugar for each cup of pectin mixture and stir until the sugar dissolves (Do NOT reduce the amount of sugar!)

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for one full minute.

Pour into hot, sterilized jars and top with lid and ring. Tighten well.

Turn the jars upside down for 10 minutes and then return upright to seal them. The jam or jelly should be ready to use the next day.

Store in a cool, dry place.
  Leftover pectin can be frozen or canned for future use!