Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Rich, Thick, Hearty ..

Roasted Roma Tomatoes!  This past summer, I canned, froze and roasted well over 140 pounds of tomatoes.  Last night I opened up a quart labeled, 'Roasted Roma with Garlic' ... and, well, they are THE BEST canned tomatoes I've ever tasted.  I found the recipe in the 2010 Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving and wanted to give a shout out if you're interested for next summer.   What makes them so flavorful is that you roast them for a bit adding great flavor.  Here's the recipe:

Roasted Roma Tomatoes

Yield about 4 quarts (I'm so glad I made 12 quarts :)

12 pounds Roma tomatoes (I used a mix of Roma and Amish Paste tomatoes)
4 bulbs garlic
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped onion
1 Tablespoon minced fresh oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
bottled lemon juice

Roast tomatoes on grill or in broiler until skins begin to wrinkle and become lightly blackened in spots, turn to roast other side.  Remove from heat.  Place tomatoes in a paper bag and close tightly.  Cool until tomatoes are easy to handle, about 15 minutes.  Slip skins off tomatoes, cut in half and remove seeds.  Cut into 1/2 inch chunks, set aside.  Place garlic on aluminum foil and drizzle with the olive oil.  Wrap the foil tightly (place on a baking sheet) and roast in a 350F oven until tender (about 30 minutes).  Remove from oven and cool enough to handle.  Slip the garlic cloves from the skins and add to tomatoes.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until hot throughout.  Add 2 tablespoons bottled lemon juice to each quart jar.  Ladle hot tomatoes into hot jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles.  Adjust two-piece caps.  Process quarts 1 hour and 25 minutes in a boiling water canner.  Be sure to adjust for altitude (consult the directions in a reputable canning guide).

This recipe is the only one I'm going to use next year!!  Yah .. it's that delish!  It will make a GREAT start to a pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, or bruchetta.  It's nice and thick .. no tomato paste needed for thickening your sauces.  Be sure to use Roma or Amish Paste tomatoes.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

This And That

photo by Mrs. Mac
Last week my cousin helped to restore some functions on my computer.  I now have found my 3,000+ pictures and can, once again, download new ones from my camera.  Can you hear me dancing for JOY :)?? 

Here we are approaching winter and all of the snow we received two weeks ago is gone.  It's actually been warmish (late spring temps) in the 40's to nearly 60 degrees (F) of late.  Warm enough to thaw out the ground to plant approximately 75 bulbs of garlic.

Since Daylight Savings time has ended a few weeks ago, I have reset the time on the thermostat so my heater doesn't automatically come on an hour earlier any longer.  Let's see:  one hour early x 30/31 days per month  ='s 30/31 hours each month that the heat would run when not needed.  We keep it at 65 F in the morning and evening, and 59 at night.  At noon it's set at 62 and I wear a sweater and/or turn on our little gas cast iron room stove.  Of course, if company comes over, I turn up the heat to make them more comfortable.  I'm still at that stage in life when a 'personal summer' hits me once in a while .. which isn't all that bad during the winter months ;).

It's been eleven months since we bought our wheat grinder.  I'm always one to examine purchases to see if what we buy is really paying off and or used.  We (I) make about 90% of our baked goods, and have gone through almost two 25 lb bags of wheat berries, using the grinder two times per week.  The wheat cost $26.  I've also gone through about 30 pounds of white flour ($17).  When you add in the extra ingredients such as eggs and the 7-grain cereal blend I use ... and the fuel to bake, I think we will be way under $100 for the year.

This has produced approximately :  52 loaves of bread, 382 rolls, 20 rounds of pita bread, 36 biscuits, 150 ableskivers, 72 waffles .. and countless batches of cookies.  I do believe that, by the time January rolls around, the wheat grinder will have almost paid for itself if we had had to purchase this amount of baked goods.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Many Hands Give Thanks

Photo by:  Mrs. Mac
Today is Thanksgiving Day in the States.  We celebrated with a big feast prepared at our home.  Ann spent last night here so she could get up very early to help with the cooking.  It pleases me to no end that she wants to know how to take over the job of making her great grandma Donna's bread stuffing, make the mashed potatoes, see how to roast the turkey and set a proper table for such a special occasion.  I can imagine that one day we will be eating a fine dinner at her future home.

This year I used the convection bake setting for roasting the 20 pound turkey.  It came out perfectly cooked in 3 hours 45 minutes.  Earlier in the week I had baked four loaves of bread; two for the stuffing and two for turkey sandwiches.  The turkey carcass is in the largest stock pot and will simmer 12 hours on low.  Tomorrow I'll strain the broth and put it in jars for the freezer and de-bone the meat for soups and casseroles.  Nothing will go to waste.

Here is my recipe for Turkey Gravy:

The day before cooking, remove the neck and giblets from the turkey cavity.  Rinse placing in a medium sauce pan adding water just to cover; place lid on pan and simmer for 3 to 4 hours.  Let broth cool, strain and skim off the fat in a fat separator.  Put broth in a quart size mason jar and refrigerate when cooled.  Finely chop about 1-2 tablespoons of the liver to add to the finished gravy (optional).  Save the neck to add to with the turkey carcass for making stock after dinner or the next day.  I chopped up the remaining liver and the heart for dog treats.

Good gravy comes from the roasting pan drippings.  Prior to roasting the turkey, add whole sliced rings of a large yellow onion, including the skin, two large carrots, and two stalks of celery to the roasting pan.  Put the turkey in the pan (I used a rack) and add two cups of water, chicken broth or wine, and roast as directed, adding more liquid as needed.  Always let the turkey rest tented with foil out of the oven for 30-45 minutes.  Place tented turkey on cutting board.  Strain the pan drippings in a fat separator.  Discard the onion, carrots and celery.  Put the roasting pan on top of one or two burners (assuming that your pan can be used on the stove top).  De-glaze the pan by adding some of the prepared stock then add the defatted pan drippings.  Place 1/2 cup of flour in a quart mason jar and fill with water.  Shake well.  Slowly add about 1/3 to 1/2 to the roasting pan (strain first if lumpy).  Stirring with a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits and mix the flour/water mixture into the pan until thick and bubble.   Add more turkey stock and or flour mixture or water if needed.  Check for salt and add if necessary.  Cook until bubbly and thickened.  Strain the gravy one last time through a sieve/wire mesh strainer.  Add the minced liver if desired. 

By making the stock the day before, it saves a few steps when you're trying to get dinner served.  Homemade gravy can't be beat!

How much of your Thanksgiving meal is prepared ahead of time?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

RIP Miss Holly

Nathan and his dawg .. Miss Holly
How can I not write about the passing of my beloved pooch, Miss Holly .. aka the 'dawg' .. she passed peacefully last night.  It's amazing how attached we can get to our pets.  She arrived eleven Christmases ago and was the second golden retriever that possessed our hearts.  If only I knew this night was her last I would have given her an extra hug or treat.  She was the best companion for our son Nathan.  They were inseparable and she gave him such love.  How do I tell him when he wakes up??  He has Down syndrome and I don't think he understands about death.  It's going to be a sad day at the Thrifty Garden Home.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Bone Health ..

I've written about the benefits of making your own beef and chicken stock before.  When we purchase our beef from a local ranch, I always ask for about 15 pounds of bare bones cut in 2 inch pieces (no meat).  These get roasted (approx. 5 lbs at a time and the rest are frozen until needed) in a moderately hot oven (400F) for two hours in a roasting pan .. then added to my enamel canning kettle with 5 quarts of water, 4 large yellow onions, quartered and skins left on, a pound of whole carrots (don't peel) .. and a head of celery (I used the woody parts and leaves from my garden crop) .. NO SALT.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 12 hours .. adding water if necessary to end up with 5 quarts of liquid.  After defatting and straining the liquid, it can be frozen or canned for later use.  This year I canned it due to limited space in my freezer.  When refrigerated is congeals .. so you know that it's got lots of nutritional properties.

chicken stock
It always amazes me after making soup and consuming this broth for several weeks, that I notice less and less aches and pains .. and cricks in my bones.  My shoulder injury from a year ago spring is healed as well.

For chicken stock, buy whole chickens and save the backs and wing tips.  Freeze wrapped individually in plastic wrap until you have about 8-9.  Fill a canning kettle with the frozen bones, 3-4 onions, carrots, and celery .. you can add a few herbs too .. NO SALT.  This doesn't take nearly as long to make as beef stock, as you don't have to roast the bones, and it cooks in about 3-4 hours on the stove top.  Defat, strain and store same as the beef broth in freezer or by canning.

Forget those little bouillon cubes and broth in a can from the market.. make your own broth from bones that most people throw away.

Be sure when freezing to use freezer safe containers.  I prefer to use straight sided glass jars (without narrow openings as these will crack), leaving about an inch or two for expansion as it freezes.

Broth is beautiful

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Seed Saving, Ginger and Garlic

This is our first year saving our garden seeds.  We purchased organic and or open pollinated seeds and used some given to us by neighbors.  I was amazed to see that our bush beans (the seeds were burgundy red) have produced speckled white-ish-pink seeds.  We have our tomato seeds soaking in little jars of water to help get the 'slime' off of them.  Peas (bush, sugar snap & sweet) are packaged .. along with a host of other types.  It will be interesting to see what they produce next year.

Last spring I planted a small 'finger' of organic ginger in a small pot with potting soil.  It was kept indoors and produced a two foot palm-leaf looking green shoot.  I watered it once in a while .. and last week dug up the ginger to see what was growing.  It was double in size with several small nubs growing .. and roots.  The biggest portion was broken off and two nubs replanted in the pot.  It tasted amazing added to some cooked apple topping for our French toast this morning.  I will store it in the freezer and use a fine grater as needed.

Last fall I planted Spanish rojo garlic bulbs.  They produced small heads of great tasting hardneck variety, and is a good choice for cold climates.  They are supposed to store well, too.  After reading a blog post at Down To Earth last week about imported garlic from China, it's nice to have our own supply.  If you are concerned about eating healthy AND love garlic, it's a must read article.  If you don't grow your own garlic, buy organic or garlic from California.  I was shocked to read that my large jug of sliced-dehydrated garlic from Costco (McCormick brand) says product of China in fine print on the back.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Economical Cooking 101

Mrs. Mac's fresh herb container
There was a time when I'd pour over cookbooks and recipes, buying specific ingredients for meals.  Alas .. since taking up gardening, I rarely pull out a book .. except, perhaps, for a bread or canning recipe.  With a supply of fresh and dried garden herbs, and the pantry/freezer filled from the harvest, most of our meals are cooked from the bounty, locally raised meats, and staples such as single ingredients.   This type of cooking is never the same twice; forever changing.  Instead of relying on store bought boxed/canned goods, usually loaded with preservatives and cheaply made ingredients, it is much easier to just put a meal together by using basic (fairly simple) cooking techniques.

Recently for dinner I made Mexican quiche topped with shredded cabbage and diced cherry tomatoes & green onions.  Everything pulled quickly from the fridge & pantry. The Mexican part of the meal came from corn tortillas .. and a little bit of extra taco meat & beans from a meal several days ago.  With the price of food .. leftovers get turned into something brand new.  Hubby raved about the meal several times .. thinking I had used a new recipe.  Cooking off the cuff or from scratch with what is on hand and without a written recipe .. is a good economical skill to master and gets easier as time passes.  This type of cooking does not involve extensive meal planning, is more nutritious and contains more fiber.  Now that the freezer and pantry are stocked, our food bill is shrinking.  We could go for many weeks without having to set foot into the market. 

Mexican Quiche

Preheat oven to 350F
Serves 3-4

3-4 corn tortillas
2 tsp. cooking oil
5 eggs
2 Tablespoons half-&-half (or milk)
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp thyme (or your favorite green herb)
one diced jalapeno pepper
1/2 cup taco meat and/or refried beans

1/4 cup shredded cheese (I used mozzarella .. but cheddar would be good)
1 cup diced/shredded cabbage
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
sprinkle of green onions (or chopped red onion)
salt & pepper optional

In a medium 10 inch cast iron skillet heat oil and cook the tortillas flat over med-high heat until tender (barely crisp).  Turn off heat.  Arrange the tortillas so a little of the edges go up the side of the pan.  Beat the eggs, half-&half, chile powder, thyme and jalapeno.  Dollop the meat/beans in small spoonfuls over the tortillas .. and sprinkle cheese over the meat.  Turn the heat on medium and add the egg mixture cooking undisturbed for a just a minute or two until the bottom is 'set' .. Put the pan into the preheated oven and bake until the eggs are set on top (3-5 minutes).  Carefully remove the pan and top with cabbage, tomatoes and onions.  Cut into wedges and serve with salsa and or a little sour cream on top if desired.

What is your strategy for frugal cooking?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

2011 Garden .. It's A Wrap

Today was the last day harvesting in the garden before we get our first predicted frost.  I was also canning tomato sauce, watching my little grandson and cleaning up from hosting my oldest daughter's baby shower on Sunday.  That left a very slim window of time to pick the last of the raspberries and stash uprooted/re-potted celery, peppers and parsley ... along with potted geraniums and herbs into the garage to deal with in a few days.  Our apples were carefully picked and have been stored wrapped in tissue paper in the cool basement.  It smells wonderful every time I walk into the storage room.

The past few days were peak for autumn colors in the yard.  I even brought in a few boughs of maple leaves to use as 'floral' arrangements for the baby shower.  This year the sweet peas I planted produced an abundance of blooms .. they are one of my favorite flowers to pick and bring indoors.  All of the seed pods were harvested to plant next year.

It really does take many years of practice to have gardening become second nature .. even then there is something new to learn.  I have not gotten up to speed with extending the growing season using protective coverings .. perhaps when hubby retires he will lend a hand and the end of gardening season won't be as demanding (not).

For now, we have more food stored away than any previous years.  It was a lot of work keeping up with canning and freezing.  Who knows, maybe I'll have time to start blogging again :)

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Hurry Up Already

I'm trying to get all of our fruit and vegetables processed before my upcoming trip.  Hubby won't know what to do if twenty pounds of tomatoes ripen .. or that the apples should be picked carefully without bruising .. or our second batch of raspberries is ripening up and should be picked before the frost hits.  I've got two days to get this work done .. and pack .. and get my hair cut .. and, and, and ..

Today I roasted Roma tomatoes and garlic .. then canned four quarts.  The berries got turned into a nice raspberry cordial.  All the apples are picked waiting for??? Sauce, storage, etc.  Only 40 lbs of tomatoes to go and I'm done til next week.

Adios ..

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Food Prepping

... to leave a good supply of home goodness while I'm away.  Hubby is in charge of the homestead next week.  This means he will buy grocery items from the middle of the store .. the worst offenders laden with chemicals and over processed .. unless I leave a good supply of baked breads, and some meals he can set out to defrost and heat up for dinner.  I'm sure even after my baking and cooking efforts have taken place, he will hit the store a few times.  He is not a foodie and often eats what's convenient.  I did leave STRICT instructions that a trip to McDonald's is forbidden; at least for Nathan.  Last night he started taking notes about meal preparations.  When asking how to cook pasta, I said, 'read the label' .. He seemed rather excited about buying a box of Eggo waffles .. but alas, I shall break that little bubble and make homemade freezer waffles.  I'm sure he's not alone as far as hubbies that don't know how to cook.  Maybe home economic courses in healthy eating should be mandatory for both boys and girls .. and heaven forbid the U.S.  government get involved .. if you ever take a peek at school lunches served according to their guidelines, then they might as well eat at Micky-D's.  Rant over.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Egg - less

We have been going through the local eggs hubby buys from a co-worker; the new chickens are young and the eggs are smaller.  I had to buy a carton of local eggs from the health food store at more than double the cost.  After last year's tainted egg outbreak with big ag companies, I just can't bear to buy mass produced eggs.  Can you believe I'm already thinking about where I'll buy my eggs in two years when hubby retires?  Maybe by then our neighborhood will allow backyard chickens  .. although I'm not sure I have the energy to take on another 'project.'

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Summer .. a fading memory

We had a nice end of summer in the North Woods.  Warm temps allowed some tomatoes and peppers to ripen on the vine.  There were still plenty of green tomatoes to pick and box to ripen in the cool temps of the basement.  Rain has arrived and I've not quite got the garden tucked away for winter.  All of the tomato plants have been pulled.  My goal is to get some of the pepper and herb plants dug up and potted to bring in during the winter.  Gardening in the new raised beds was a good learning experience, provided to our food supply ...  and added a beautiful view from my back windows.  Adding the fine bark around the raised beds cut my weeding down 95% .. well worth the investment.  End of summer work is .. well endless!  I'm glad that autumn has arrived and I can s.l.o.w. down the pace.

Enjoy the day!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Accidental Sour Dough Bread

The most wonderful bread popped out of my oven this morning.  While admitting to having a hormonally challenged day on Monday, I made a batch of bread and forgot to add the yeast.  I discovered this when, after two hours, the dough hadn't expanded in the teeniest bit.  Not wanting to throw it in the trash, I decided to kneed in the missing yeast.  I gave the dough a good buttering and covered the bowl with a (recycled) plastic bag AND a dish towel.  It sat all yesterday ever so slowly expanding.  I think I punched it down once or twice.  By bedtime (Tuesday) .. it was a nice height .. but I forgot/ran out of time to bake the bread.  Early this morning (deranged and lacking sleep) I divided the dough in two rounds and set it for a final rise.   Heaven .. it gave off the most nutty rich sourdough scent to my entire house.  The bread has that sheen that a good commercial loaf is famous for.  This may be my new easy method of making sourdough bread .. without having to mess with a starter (only next time I won't be getting up in the middle of the night to bake it).