New Year’s Peas & Greens

Good morning, friends!  I hope this post finds you rested, relaxed and recuperated after a long holiday season.  With just one more “event” to go before a return to normal life, I’d like to share a couple of my favorite traditional New Year’s dishes.

Greens are a staple side-dish on our table year ’round, as they’re low carb, high in fiber, full of vitamins and utterly delish!  On New Year’s, however, they take center stage, along with a big dish of limas or a piquant salad of marinated black-eyed peas.   Beyond being amazingly delicious, a meal of pork, greens and peas is supposed to bring you luck for the following year.  I can’t vouch for the verity of that tradition, but I don’t mind giving it a try each year!

While the cooking time may vary, the procedure for making a steaming pot of greens is about the same, no matter the variety you choose.

  • First, buy more than you think you’ll need.  What may seem like an extraordinary amount of raw greens will cook down to fit in a small bowl.
  • Greens need to be soaked in a deep sink full of cold water to allow the sand to rinse off.  Most likely your greens were grown in sandy soil and if you don’t soak and rinse them really well, you’ll end up with grit in your teeth!
  • Fold the leaf in half lengthwise and cut away the thick, coarse stem on the back of the leaves.  You don’t have to do this, but I really dislike the fibrous bites of stem from tougher greens like collards.
  • Allow plenty of cooking water/broth.  Some greens can be quite bitter, so plenty of cooking water will let the bitterness cook out…and the resulting pot liquor is absolutely delicious!

Ingredients for Classic Southern Greens

1-2 Tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 clove of (minced) garlic

4 cups chicken broth (add additional as needed)

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 large turkey leg or ham hock

2# collards, mustard, turnip greens or kale, well-cleaned and chopped

salt & pepper

vinegar or hot sauce, to taste

Instructions

In a large pot, cook onions in the olive oil till tender.  Stir in garlic and cook till fragrant.  Add chicken broth, smoked meat and pepper flakes, bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the turkey leg or ham hock, allow to cool then pick the meat off the bone and return to the pot of broth.  Add the greens to the pot a handful at a time so they can wilt down in the hot broth.  When all the greens are wilted, cover and simmer for approximately 20-30 minutes for kale or mustard, an hour for collards, or till they reach the desired texture.  Stir occasionally.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, then serve with vinegar or hot sauce.  For my vegan and vegetarian friends out there, simply omit the chicken broth and turkey/ham and replace with vegetable broth and a bit of adobo sauce for that wonderful smoky flavor.   

Okay, moving on to my favorite black-eyed pea recipe…black-eyed pea salad!  I know it sounds strange, but I’ve never developed a taste for a big old pot-full of black-eyed peas.  Any other pot of beans or peas, yes, but black-eyed peas, no.  I was introduced to this dish at a friend’s restaurant in Beaufort, SC and was instantly hooked!  It’s spicy, savory, filling and makes a great main dish during crazy hot weather.  It’s also a perfect spin on the dish that’s traditionally served for “good luck” on New Year’s Day.  Here’s all you need…

Ingredients for Black-Eyed Pea Salad

1 large tomato, diced

1 medium red onion, finely chopped

1 small red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 jalapeno, finely chopped

2-15oz cans of black eyed peas

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon of Dijon mustard

salt & pepper to taste

Instructions

Combine the tomato, onions, peppers and peas in a largish container with a tight-fitting lid.  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil and Dijon mustard.  Pour the oil and vinegar mixture over the chopped veggies and peas and combine gently.  Cover tightly and place in the fridge for at least 8 hours or overnight, then salt and pepper to taste.  *I personally double the marinade because I love it so much!  But that’s just me.

Alongside your beans and peas, serve a thick slab of buttery cornbread (not the sweet stuff!) and finish the meal with a slice of lemony pound cake or traditional banana pudding.  That’s good eats, I don’t care who you are!

Till next time, best wishes for a prosperous New Year from my family to yours.

 

 

Infused Sugar In Only 2 Steps

 

Okay, I’ll confess that I don’t eat a lot of sugar anymore….but….I used to LOVE my sugar!  In my tea, coffee, iced tea, in cereals, on my winter squash and sweet potatoes.  I unabashedly had a love affair going on with the sweet stuff.  Today, I try to avoid it but when I do indulge, it’s a real indulgence.  (No sugar in my coffee, but I would love a sliver of sweet tater pie, thanks!)  If we choose to indulge, shouldn’t it be of the best quality and the most amazing flavor possible?  That’s my thinking.

Now our grannies have been making infused sugar for ages…not only did it flavor the sugar, it also dried and preserved whatever they added TO the sugar.  Bonus.  And you know how I love bonuses!  Infused sugar is a simple way to add a kick of flavor to everyday foods, use food scraps (such as citrus peels) to reduce waste and it’s also a great, frugal gift that the giftee will appreciate every time they use it!  As with most edibles, there’s a ton of room here for personalization, so if these recipes sound a little meh to you, use your imagination to create blends you will love!

How To Use Infused Sugars

Oh my word, you can use infused sugars anywhere and in anything!  Imagine lemon-infused sugar in your hot tea, lavender infused sugar in your sweet tea, a chili-lime infusion for flavoring ribs or a pork loin, a cayenne infusion for dusting your hot cocoa (trust me!)  or an orange-vanilla bourbon infusion to glaze a ham or to flavor whipped cream for a pound cake.  You could also sprinkle it on top of pancakes or oatmeal, sweeten your coffee, dust fresh fruit with it or add it to your buttered toast.  Doesn’t that sound amazing?!  I gotta tell you, this is making me rethink the whole sugar-free diet thing lol.

 

What You Need To Make Infused Sugars

So as I stated above, the sky is the limit when it comes to infusions, but there are a few rules.  No, not rules, guidelines. There are a few guidelines.

    1. Whenever possible, buy organic sugar.  I know sometimes it feels like you’re being beat over the head with this whole organic thing, but I think in terms of sugar, it’s important to use the best quality product, even if that means spending an extra dollar or two.  With something as elemental as flavored sugar, the difference in taste really will shine through.  Now you CAN use plain old white beet sugar, but brown sugar, cane sugar or even coconut sugar will yield the most interesting flavors, so I highly encourage them!
    2. As much as possible, use dried herbs, flowers, citrus or flavorings.  To yield the best results, you need to use the driest ingredients possible.  It’s not a deal breaker, BUT any moisture you add can create hard lumps and slow the infusion process, so drier is better!
    3. To store the finished product, you need a glass container with a tight-fitting, sealed lid.  No plastic containers please, as it can give an undesirable flavor to the sugar.  I love the old bale-top storage jars, but for gifting, a simple jelly jar with a 2-piece lid works great.

How To Make Infused Sugars

This is the easy part, friends!  To make infused sugar, simply combine the flavorings with the sugar, seal tightly and let it sit for a couple weeks so that the flavor is spread throughout the sugar.  Now there is an exception and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, some simple recipes!

Vanilla sugar:  Cover 1 vanilla bean with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Espresso sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of crushed instant coffee granules.  Seal tightly in a jar.

Lavender/floral sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of dried culinary flowers (lavender, rosebuds, chamomile, etc).  Seal tightly in a jar.

Cinnamon sugar:  Cover 1-2 cinnamon sticks with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Pumpkin spice sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1/4 teaspoon each ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and ground ginger.  Seal tightly.

Cayenne sugar:  Combine 1/2 teaspoon of ground cayenne with 1 cup of sugar.  Seal tightly.

Now we’re going to branch off and make a few sugars using fresh, liquid ingredients.  The procedure isn’t that different, but you have to leave the jar sitting open at least overnight so that moisture from the ingredients can evaporate.  If you don’t, you’ll have some seriously lumpy sugar!  Before you seal these sugars in jars, stir them and check for moisture.  If the sugar feels moist, let them sit opened for another 12-24 hours.

Citrus lime sugar:  Combine 1 cup of sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder and 1 tablespoon of fresh lime zest.  Mix thoroughly then let sit opened overnight for best results.

Citrus vanilla bourbon:  Combine 1 cup of sugar with 1 tablespoon of fresh orange zest, 1/2 vanilla bean and 1/2 teaspoon bourbon.  Shake thoroughly to combine then let sit opened overnight.

But don’t stop there!  Imagine your favorite liquors (especially rum and amaretto) or citrus infused into sugar to garnish drinks.  Any combination of spices (cinnamon, allspice, ginger, cloves, nutmeg) will give a warm, holiday flavor to any drink or even better, sprinkled over a dessert.  Brown sugar, sea salt and pungent spices such as black pepper, cayenne, chili and cumin would make an incredible dry rub for a bbq!  Any combination of sweet, spicy and pungent that suits your taste buds is perfect by me!

Again, if you plan on gifting these, think presentation.   Use a small, air-tight container; no Gladware, unless the recipient really likes Gladware, whatever, but be sure the seal is tight or you’ll end up with one giant sugar cube.  Go to Pinterest for some cute downloadable labels and accessorize with items you think may go along with your sugars: some good quality loose leaf tea, your favorite cocoa, a homemade sugar cookie mix, barbeque accessories or whatever floats the recipient’s boat.  I guarantee this will be a handmade gift somebody is going to love!

3 Steps to a No-Stress Cheese Plate

 

Cheese plates are one of my favorite things.  I know you’re shocked about that, especially after the confession in my most recent Waste Not! post, but it’s true.  I love to search out seasonal and regional cheeses and enjoy them as a snack or simple lunch.  But beyond that, I also love to put together more elaborate cheese plates for both holidays and quiet nights at home in front of the fire!  In fact, one of my children’s favorite things to do during winter is to enjoy a cheese plate (which they call a snackie supper) in the living room while watching a family movie—it’s the ONLY time that we don’t eat at the table, so it’s a really special treat for them.  And it’s totally hygga and an escape from the winter blahs!

I think for many people, there’s a real apprehension about serving a cheese plate, especially for a holiday party, because they believe there are so many elaborate “rules” about how to prepare one.  I’m assuming that’s because cheese plates are rooted firmly in French culinary tradition and man alive, do French culinary folks love their rules!  That fork here, this wine there, this course, that sauce, pinky up, elbows down, don’t slurp.  Frankly, it’s exhausting and I have no desire for their rules.  But here’s the thing:  all cultures going back hundreds and hundreds of years or more have their own version of the French cheese plate.  If you deconstruct the idea, a cheese plate is nothing more than an offering of small amounts of seasonal, regional foods.  A few ounces of cheese is combined with fresh fruits, a regional condiment and perhaps a bit of bread or meat and turned into something nutritious and filling.  It’s a great way to turn humble homemade, homegrown or foraged foods into something amazing and I think that’s the direction we need to take when we’re putting together a cheese plate.  Forget the French rules, mon petit ami, and concentrate on the nutrition, flavors and experience!

So I’ll not give you any rules.  I’ll not tell you how to pair cheese, fruit and wine together because who needs that stress?!  But I’ll tell you there are only 3 steps to putting together a primo cheese plate that would be suitable for any humble supper OR holiday party and they are: 1) choosing the cheeses, 2)picking out complimentary foods and 3)presentation.  This is what works for me, but you change it up however will work for you!

Choosing The Cheeses

When assembling a cheese plate, I try to pick out 3-4 good quality cheeses and for my home, I only have 1 hard, fast rule:  No Velveeta or American singles.  Those barely qualify as food; in fact, the package indicates it’s not even a cheese, but a pasteurized cheese food product.  (What the heck IS that anyway?!) I typically go for a fresh cheese (such as a marinated mozzarella), an aged cheese (sharp white Irish/English cheddar), a cheese in the Swiss family (Gruyere or Emmental) and a hard or blue cheese depending on what’s available.  There’s no magic combination when you’re picking out cheese; just go for a range of flavors and textures that you think everyone will enjoy.  If possible, shop local cheese shops (Young’s Jersey Dairy, y’all!) but when that’s not possible, just look for the best quality you can afford.  My general rule of thumb is to plan for 4-6 ounces of cheese per person, give or take.  But that’s not a rule.  More of a guideline.

Complimentary Foods

After I’ve chosen the cheeses, I try to add at least one each of the following foods:  a sweet, a sour/spicy and a salty/savory.  That sounds complicated, but it’s really not.  The goal is to provide a variety of flavors as well as nutrition and what you use is entirely up to you.  For me, it’s an opportunity to raid my pantry and showcase homemade goodies, but I’ll also use whatever happens to be available in the fridge at the time.  Don’t get hung up on this:  serve what you enjoy.  That’s the bottom line.  For my family, our normal cheese plate includes:

For the sweets: apple slices, dried fruit, honey or even good quality fruit preserves or chutney

For the sour/spicy: pickles, pickled peppers, marinated olives, mustard, jalapeno jelly

For the salty/savory: brined olives, toasted nuts, dipping oil, roasted red peppers, cured meats, caramelized onions

Whenever possible, I try to offer seasonal items too.  In summertime, we love a handful of ripe cherry tomatoes and fresh raspberries; in fall, ripe pears and apples;  in winter, cranberries, black walnuts and orange marmalade; in spring, strawberries and fresh herbs.

If the cheese plate is a side to a simple meal like a salad or quiche, I’ll stop here.  If however the cheese plate IS the meal, I generally bulk it up with some thinly sliced ham, cocktail shrimp or smoked turkey and a crusty loaf of bread or crackers.  That will provide enough fat and protein to satisfy any appetite!

Presentation

Again, don’t get hung up on the rules.  We don’t need no stinking rules!  I encourage you to make it look beautiful and easy to pick from, but beyond that, it’s your call.  I generally use a large wooden cutting board lined with parchment paper or a heavy  platter for serving and I go for an orderly-disorderly look.  Wedges, crumbles or rounds of cheese are placed between piles of sliced meats, small bowls of preserves, chutneys and pickles with a scattering of nuts and dried fruits here and there.  Really.  That’s it.  The only caveat I would offer would be to keep plenty of space between the cheeses so your mozzarella doesn’t end up tasting like your blue cheese.  Ick!

Listen to my heart, friends…I know that many of you, like my family, live on modest budgets.  At the end of the week, when the bills are paid, the kids are fed and our obligations are met, there’s not a lot of time or money left over for hosting holiday parties.  BUT I also know, based on the response to my Practicing Hospitality post, that many of us want to be people who welcome others into our homes.  So let me challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone.  Use these 3 simple steps to create a holiday cheese plate and then open your doors to your friends and neighbors.  Simple fare, a silly game and a bit of holiday music will make for a night of fun and fellowship!  My best—-A

 

Posted to the SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

 

Eastern Carolina Style Sauce DIY

 

Just as I promised last week, here’s an easy and inexpensive gift to share with the foodie on your Christmas list!  Eastern North Carolina style sauce isn’t readily available in most chain grocery stores; in fact, unless you have roots in Tidewater/Greater Appalachia or frequent soul food restaurants, I’d  bet that you’ve never enjoyed this simple bbq sauce before! It’s a great way to share a taste of a different culture with someone who truly appreciates traditional, regional cooking.  And the fact it’s finished in under 10 minutes, that’s a real gift too!

If you travel America (or just really enjoy eating!), you’ll find each region has it’s unique sauce for topping smoked or grilled meats.   Just as our culture evolved based on immigration, climate and the availability of resources, so did our food. South Carolina has it’s mustard-based sauce, Alabama it’s mayo-based white bbq sauce, Kansas bbq is thick and tangy, Texas bbq sauce is more akin to a thin glaze.  Many of them are cloyingly sweet, tomato-based and laden with carbs, but eastern Carolina-style is completely different than anything you’ll find in any steak house.

Brought to the southern East Coast by way of the Caribbean, it’s the original bbq sauce!  This vinegar-based sauce has very little sugar and is slightly spicy with an acidic kick that cuts through the smokiness of a pile of pulled pork.  It’s extremely thin, great for mopping as it doesn’t burn under heat and doesn’t mask the flavor of bbq under a thick, sugary sauce.  But don’t stop with bbq…Carolina-style sauce tastes amazing on beans, potatoes, eggs, soups, stews and a hundred other dishes.  My sweet Petunia douses her collard greens with it and I have to admit it’s pretty doggone tasty that way too!  In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten any dish that Carolina sauce didn’t improve!  Admittedly, it’s not for sissies.  It’s spicy, pungent, tart and salty all at the same time,  but what it can do to a simple meat or veggie is just amazing!

So are you intrigued enough to try it?  All you need is a few, very basic ingredients!

Eastern Carolina-style BBQ Sauce

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons hot sauce (we use Texas Pete’s)

2 tablespoons sugar (white or light brown sugar or even honey)

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a quick boil to dissolve the sugar and remove from heat.  Allow the sauce to cool then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate for several days before using.   As a total bonus, this sauce can be poured into Mason jars, sealed with a 2-piece lid and water-bathed for 10 minutes to be shelf stable and easier to gift…but I wouldn’t leave it on the shelf too long.  I store mine in a pba-free condiment bottle in the fridge as the acid in this sauce will eat straight through a metal lid!

Come back next week as I’ve got a great South Carolina mustard-based sauce that will make a great gift as well!  Til then!

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Waste Not – Soup Broth

Let’s continue in our “Waste Not” series with one of the simplest, most nutritious items you can possibly make in your kitchen…soup stock!  Homemade soup broth is the ultimate in resourcefulness, nutrition and flavor, if you ask my opinion…and when you read how incredibly easy it is to make it at home, well, you’ll never buy that bland boxed stuff again, I promise you.

Here are the some of the benefits of making your own:

  1. It’s free.  Consider the veggie peels, cores and tops that you throw away every time you cook.  Consider those beautiful meaty bones and the flavorful fat you remove from cuts of meat and toss in the trash.  That’s free nutrition, my friends.  They may not seem like much, but trust me, it adds up quickly if you make an effort to save it.
  2. It’s nutritious.  When you simmer those veggie peels, fats and bones for hours (or use an Instant Pot LUX60 V3 6 Qt 6-in-1 Muti-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, Slow Cooker, Rice Cooker, Sauté, Steamer, and Warmer) you are leaching every possible bit of vitamins, minerals and beneficial fats that you can from what would be scrap.  In previous generations, simple soup broth was a home remedy for every kind of tummy trouble and weakness following an illness or childbirth.  And it’s an easy way to add a boost of nutrition to soups, stews, cooked grains.
  3. It’s delicious!  There is a huge difference between homemade broth and the stuff you buy in the boxes at Walmart.  In simple dishes like chicken soup, the taste difference is remarkable.  It adds a layer of flavor, creating that “old-fashioned” flavor that we recall so fondly from our grandmother’s cooking, a flavor that you simply cannot achieve with boxed broth or bouillon cubes.
  4. It’s easy.  While the simmering of the broth takes a good long while, the labor involved is pretty much nill.  I keep gallon-sized ziplock bags in the freezer ready to receive scraps and when that bag is full, I make broth.

 

Here’s how you do it!

To make a simple veggie broth, all you need is a good quantity of veggie scraps.  (Approximately 1-to-4 ratio is best; 1 cup of scraps to 4 cups of water.)  Carrot peels and tops, onion peels, celery leaves and stems, garlic peels, bell pepper cores and stems, the green tops from leeks, lettuce leaves, kale stems and herbs like parsley, bay leaves and chives.  Pretty much anything can go into broth, but you’ll want to avoid starchy veggies (potatoes) as they’ll make your broth cloudy and strong-flavored veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts) as they can be overpowering in the stock.  Following the 1-to-4 ratio, simmer the scraps, herbs and water for about an hour or til the veggies are absolutely limp.  Allow it to cool and then carefully pour the broth through a strainer into quart freezer bags and lay them in the freezer flat to freeze.

 

Quality meat/bone broth from scrap is just as simple, though it takes a bit longer.   I use the carcasses from roasted chickens or turkeys, or the bones from steaks, ribs and roasts to make broth.  (If you don’t use cuts of meat that result in a large quantity of bones, that’s okay!  Simply drizzle several pounds of chicken wings, beef knuckles, ox tails, ribs or any other inexpensive boney meat with olive oil and roast at 400 degrees til very brown, approximately 1 hour.)  Now, take those beautiful roasted bones and add them to your stock pot with onion peels and a couple “glugs” of apple cider and water to cover.  Simmer the bones for several hours.  You’ll notice that thinner bones like chicken wings will begin to be pliable and rubbery (that’s good!) and that much of the marrow will have cooked out of the beef bones (that’s good too!).  Don’t rush this step; the longer the broth cooks, the better the flavor and more nutritious it will be.  Alternately, you can pressure cook the broth in an Instant Pot for an hour or on a low setting in a crock pot for 12-18 hours.  When the broth has simmered for the appropriate amount of time, allow it to cool, pour through a strainer and freeze flat in quart-sized freezer bags.  You can also freeze the bits of meat that cook off the bones; they make great additions to soups!

To use:

When you’re ready to use your homemade stock, simply thaw it, season to taste with salt and pepper  and use it as you would commercially prepared stock.  Use it as a base for soups and stews, use it to replace water when cooking rice, barley or potatoes or simply season and enjoy it in a mug to sooth a head cold, queasy tummy or sore throat.  It’s also a delicious tea or coffee replacement when you need a mug of something warm but don’t want the caffeine.

BONUS!

As a total bonus, homemade veggie and bone broth can also be pressure canned to be made shelf-stable and ready in your pantry in a moment’s notice!  For the veggie broth, simply pour the finished broth into prepared Mason jars, leaving 1 inch of headspace and process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  For the bone broth, you need to allow the broth to cool completely so that the fat congeals on the top.  Remove the congealed fat, heat the broth to a boil then pour into prepared Mason jars leaving 1 inch of head space.  Process at 10# of pressure for 20 minutes/pints or 25 minutes/quarts.  Gotta love those bonuses, my friends!

I hope you’ll try your hand at making homemade soup broth.  As I’ve shown you, it’s simple, nutritious, delicious and FREE!  Don’t throw those scraps away!  Reap every bit of nutrition you can out of the food you paid good money for—-Ma Ingalls would approve!!  Til next time, my friends!

 

Posted to the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

 

5 Seasonal Foods & A Fabulous Recipe To Enjoy Them!

The growing season has officially ended for many states in our region with our first killing frost, but that doesn’t mean the opportunity for seasonal eating is over!  As late as mid-November, you’ll find local foods in season and typically at a greatly reduced price as orchards and markets are eager to close up for the season.   In the American Midwest, Plains, New England and Tidewater states, there are 5 crops that you should be able to harvest, forage for or purchase readily and inexpensively.

  1. Pumpkins, of course!  The day after Beggar’s night, pie pumpkins will be dramatically reduced in price as markets and orchards attempt to purge their fall and Halloween stock to prepare for winter and Christmas items.   Look for small pumpkins that seem heavy for their size, with a 2 inch stem and no damage to the skin.  Pumpkins will store for many months in a cool, dark place like a cellar or garage, though you do want to protect them from freezing temperatures.  Check them every couple of weeks for moldy spots and use or discard immediately if you find they’re beginning to go south.   Pumpkin can be roasted for soups or stews, dehydrated, candied, canned,  and made into delicious pumpkin butter with little effort.
  2. Winter squash.  Along with pumpkins, winter squash should be ready to store for winter.  Look for heavy, blemish-free squash with short stems and be mindful of the variety you choose.  Varieties such as butternut, acorn and hubbard will keep for many months (up to 6) in a cool, dark place while other varieties like cushaws will not keep terribly long.  Storage squash are delicious roasted with butter and maple syrup, pureed into soup, can be pressure-canned, dehydrated and frozen.
  3. Late-season apples.  Apples that ripen in late October typically have a very long storage life if kept under proper conditions.  Look for blemish free apples with their stems attached.  They need a spot that is very cool, but not freezing, dark and slightly humid.  An old Igloo cooler kept in the garage with a slightly damp paper towel on top works well and can keep apples fresh til January or February.  It’s crucial that you check the apples weekly for spoilage as one bad apple spoils the whole crop, as they say.  Great varieties to look for include Braeburn, Pippins, Fuji, Idared, Mutsu and Melrose.  For an even longer shelf-life, apples can be sauced, canned in syrup, buttered or dehydrated. 
  4. Nuts.   Now is a great time to forage for nuts!  Butternuts, hickory and walnuts are ripe and abundant during late October and early November.  Watch your neighborhood for nut trees and I can promise you someone will bless your heart for cleaning up the drops in their yard.  There is a little legwork involved when it comes to harvesting nuts, but with black walnuts running  $8-10/lb, it can definitely be worth your time to gather them.  They’ll be a delicious addition to your Christmas baking, are scrumptious in holiday candies and look beautiful on the side of a cheese plate.  The simplest way to preserve nuts is to shell them, lightly roast them and store them in the freezer.   They’ll keep almost indefinitely under those conditions.
  5. Cranberries.   As we get closer to the end of November,  you should be able to find cranberries for a pittance,  depending on your region.  Even here in Central Ohio, cranberries can be purchased for as little as $.50/# in November and December .  To store fresh cranberries, simply toss the whole bag straight into the freezer and thaw them when you’re ready to use them.  There are also many simple ways to use fresh cranberries, from simple sauces to fruit leathers, so take advantage of the great prices and pick up several bags! 

As we discussed a few months ago in my post “Eating Seasonally“, winter IS the more difficult time to eat seasonally and locally as so few fresh, seasonal, local products are available, but let me encourage you—it’s not an all or nothing prospect!  By taking advantage of the opportunities to forage, harvest and purchase at great prices, you’ll find that it’s not so difficult to add seasonal dishes to your diet.  Let me close this post with one of my very favorite fall/winter dishes…Roasted butternut squash with apples and cranberries!

  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 (1- 3/4) pound butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 medium apple, cubed
  • 1/2 cup cranberries
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 1/4 t nutmeg
  • 2T brown sugar or maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Combine all the ingredients in a 2 quart baking dish.  Cover and bake for 3o minutes.  Remove the cover and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the squash is tender and begins to brown just a bit.  Serve alongside chicken, turkey or a pork roast.

Isn’t that a delicious, quick, easy, nutritious and fabulously seasonal dish?  It’s one of my high-carb favorites!  Hope you try it and love it!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop!

Waste Not – Bread Pudding

If there’s one quality that is common to our Greatest Generation and the amazing generations that preceded it, that quality would have to be resourcefulness.  In their homes, gardens and kitchens, our grandmothers were able to work what was nothing short of miracles, especially during wartime, rationing and depression.  Their collective resolve that nothing would go to waste meant that their families were able to survive and thrive when others didn’t fare so well.  They side-to-middling-ed their sheets, wallpapered their homes with newspapers and sewed underpants from flour sacks.  And in the culinary realm, they used everything, from snout to tail, as they say, in an effort to waste not.  Leftover bits of meat were added to limp veggies to create filling soups, stews and casseroles.  Leftover potatoes were turned into tatty cakes.  Veggie peels, bones and cheese rinds were simmered into luscious broths.  Food was a finite resource and as a result, every effort was made to be sure that resource wasn’t wasted.  So following in that vein, today is the first in a series I’m calling “Waste Not!”….all about reducing the amount of good food that goes directly into the garbage.  Today, let’s talk about bread….and specifically, bread pudding!

A history of bread pudding-

The long and short of it is that bread pudding was created to make use of stale bread.  Cooks from numerous cultures throughout history have put together stale bread, eggs, milk and savory or sweet spices to avoid throwing out food (and money!) that they simply could not afford to waste.  What we know as bread pudding today is far more elaborate than what our grannies made, using artisan breads, expensive cheeses, nuts or spices, but the concept remains the same:  to nourish family with comforting food and avoid waste at every turn.  As food waste is still an issue in many homes, recipes like bread pudding are a simple way to use our resources wisely, reduce waste and provide a nutritious dish that will be loved by all.  Save those stale rolls and dry bread in a ziplock bag in the freezer and when you’ve amassed enough, bake up a dish of authentic southern bread pudding!

  Classic New Orleans Bread Pudding with a Bourbon Sauce:

 Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 8 slices day-old French bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)

  • Ingredients for Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and grease a 6-cup (9 1/4 by 5 1/4 by 2 3/4-inch) loaf pan with the butter.

BREAD PUDDING: Whisk the eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla and bourbon together in a large mixing bowl until very smooth. Add the half-and-half and mix well. Add the bread  and let the mixture sit for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until the pudding is set in the center, about 55 minutes. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before serving.

KENTUCKY BOURBON SAUCE: Heat the cream, half-and-half, vanilla and sugar in a saucepan over high heat, whisking, for 3 minutes. Dissolve the cornstarch in the bourbon. When bubbles form around the edges of the cream, whisk in the bourbon mixture. As the cream boils up, remove the pot from the heat and continue whisking vigorously until thoroughly blended and slightly thickened. Place over low heat and simmer for 1 minute. (This is not a thick cream sauce; it’s meant to be fairly thin.)

Yield: 2 cups

To serve, cut the pudding into 1-inch thick slices. Lay each slice in the center of a serving plate. Spoon some of the Bourbon Sauce over the pudding and top with whipped cream or ice cream.

(Recipe courtesy of Emeril LaGasse)

N.O. Bread Pudding with Kentucky Bourbon Sauce

Isn’t that simple and delicious!?  There is simply nothing as soothing and delicious on a cool fall evening than a big dish of bread pudding….and this recipes allows almost infinite flexibility in terms of adding flavors.  As long as the egg-milk-bread ratio stays the same, feel free to add dried fruit, nuts, use artisan breads and favorite liquors, top with stewed fruit. Use what you have on hand to make something your family will enjoy!  I hope you try it and I hope you LOVE it!  Til next time!

http://simplelifemom.com/2017/10/17/homestead-blog-hop-157/

Homestead Blog Hop 157

Dehydrating Fresh Mint

With only a few more weeks left in the Ohio growing season, I’m scrambling to put up anything that’s left in our garden and right now, the mint patch outside the kitchen door is thriving!  While it can and will grow in almost any soil and conditions, it’s LOVING this cooler, damp weather and has probably doubled in size in the past month.  Now mint isn’t MY favorite herb, but my sweet Petunia loves a hot mug of mint tea just before bedtime, so I’m running the dehydrator overtime trying to dry as much “tea” as possible before the first hard freeze.

If you’ve never grown mint before, you need to know that it’s a bit of a mixed blessing.  As I stated, it can and will grow anywhere—-and it has no respect for boundaries!  Mint roots run horizontally just under the surface of the soil and will take over a bed in no time if you don’t contain it somehow.  When I planted mint this spring, I took an old galvanized bucket with the bottom missing, dug a hole large enough to accommodate the bucket and deep enough that the lip of the bucket protruded aboveground just a few inches.  I planted the mint inside the bucket and based on this year’s results, it’s quite happy there.  The bucket will provide adequate room to grow but will prevent the roots from spreading laterally and taking over the entire bed.  Clever, eh?  But back to tea….

Dehydrating mint is about the easiest thing ever.  You simply cut the stems early in the morning, rinse with cool water and then lay singly on your dehydrating screens.  On low heat, dehydrate the mint for several days until the leaves are quite papery, then carefully strip them from the stems and place them in an air-tight container.  Try to avoid crushing the leaves if you can as that releases those wonderful, volatile oils and aromas—-you want those in your tea cup, not the air!

When it comes time to make your tea, simply crush approximately a teaspoon of the tea leaves into an infuser like this one (FORLIFE Brew-in-Mug Extra-Fine Tea Infuser with Lid), allow to steep for up to 5 minutes, then remove the leaves and sweeten with a bit of honey.  It’s equally delicious served iced with a handful of fresh raspberries, watermelon cubes or lemon slices.  You can also sprinkle a bit of the dehydrated mint into a fresh fruit salad for an extra layer of flavor.  The mint will impart a freshness and ‘brightness’ to any dish you add it to, so be creative and think outside the tea cup!

 

 

 

Preserving Seasonal Fruits

Preserving fruits is one of my favorite kitchen hobbies.  When it comes to home-canning, so much of what you do is an *exact* science.  Green beans HAVE to be processed for a certain amount of time at a specific pressure point.  Corn too.  Quick pickles HAVE to be brined with a certain percentage of salt or vinegar.  Tomatoes also fall into that category.  There is no guess work and no room for experimentation with veggies and low acid foods.  Fruits, on the other hand, allow for much more creativity.  Now that doesn’t mean you can play fast and loose with safety issues, like cleanliness, proper canning technique, etc, but beyond that, the possibilities are endless.  Let’s talk about the different means of preserving fruit and the flexibility within those methods.

By far, the most common method for preserving fruit is simply canning it.  It involves bringing fresh fruit to a boil in either a simple syrup or fruit juice (such as pineapple juice), pouring it into a Mason jar, capping it with a screw-on lid and processing it in a boiling water bath for a short period of time.  The natural acid in the fruit combined with the preservative qualities of the sugar results in a pleasantly sweet, brilliantly colored fruit that is delicious straight from the jar, baked into a pie, or topping ice cream or cake.  Berries, apples, peaches, pears, plums all taste amazing when preserved by this technique.   Each fall,  I put up a bushel of apples in a sweet, cinnamon-y syrup for wintertime breakfasts;  warmed and topped with some cream and served alongside a fresh biscuit or as a topping for pancakes, waffles or French toast, canned apple slices can’t be beat.   Here’s an example for you to follow.

Jellying or jamming is also a delicious means of preserving fruit to last through the year.  Only slightly more difficult than straight canning, you simply bring fruit to a boil, adding precise quantities of sugar and either commercial pectin or bitter fruit as a thickener.  Everyone loves the ubiquitous pb&j using Concord grape jelly, but the possibilities are nearly endless here!  From spiced tomato jam to corncob jelly there’s almost no food you can’t jam or jelly.  There ARE some exceptions to that rule and it’s important that you use tried and true recipes, but you can find reliable information as well as proven recipes at the National Center for Home Food Preservation.  Think of their files as the Holy Grail of canning.

Candying is another favorite fruit preservation for us!  The concept is simple and ages old:  you soak fresh fruit pieces in heavy syrup until the fruit’s moisture is removed and replaced by sugar.  You can pretty much candy *anything* though we particularly enjoy candied orange slices, pumpkin cubes and ginger pieces.  And as a total bonus, the fruit flavors the heavy syrup, so after you’ve candied the fruit, you’re left with a delicious fruity-sweet syrup that you can use on pancakes, in drinks or any number of uses.  Love those bonuses!  Here’s a recipe from Martha Stewart for making candied citrus peels–for a real treat, dip them in dark chocolate!!

If you have a dehydrator, drying fruit is so incredibly simple!  Most fruit requires nothing more than being sliced, dipped in salt water or lemon water (to preserve color) and dried for 1-2 days on a med-low setting.  My great-granny in eastern Kentucky used old window screens covered in cheese cloth in an enclosed porch to dry apple slices and oh-my-word, were they ever delicious!  I was always so excited to go see her—to see if I was finally taller than she was and to come home with a big old bag of dried apple slices!  Here’s a link that provides ideas, recipes and guidelines for you.  Dried fruit is one of the children’s favorite lunchbox treats and I feel good offering it to them because there’s so many vitamins packed into those little sweet packages!preserving fruits

But fruit preservation doesn’t stop there!    Fresh seasonal fruit can be preserved in brandy or other spirits, fermented with honey, frozen, pickled, made into cider, wine or vinegar….the options are really endless with fruit and for the most part, your imagination is the only limit.  Try your favorite combination of berries for a triple berry jam.  Or mix your favorite stone fruits with brandy for a delicious cake topping.  Puree and dehydrate apples for fruit leathers.

What is your favorite tried and true way to preserve summer’s bounty?

 

 

Stocking The Deep Larder – Or- Food Storage For Real People

Food storage as it used to be.

I want to talk to you pretty frankly about building a “deep larder”, or food storage, as it’s more commonly referred to in farming and homesteading circles today.  I’ve only touched on this topic a time or two because of the stereotypes that go along with it.  I’ll confess that when I hear the phrase “food storage”, I automatically picture some paranoid, anti-social survivalist with camo clothes, a painted face and year’s worth of freeze-dried MREs hiding out in a bunker. Not a pretty sight.

But THAT shouldn’t be our impression of food storage at all. My sweet little Granny in eastern Kentucky practiced storing basic food long before survivalists and conspiracy theorists hijacked it in the Y2K era. She grew her garden, preserved the harvest and kept basic, bulk supplies in the summer kitchen, just feet from the back door.  She used to tell stories of leaving her summer kitchen door unlocked at night during the Great Depression for her neighbors who didn’t plan ahead and were starving but were too proud to ask for help. She said they never took more than they needed and always returned her clean Mason jars to the back porch. My granny survived 2 World Wars, rationing, joblessness and the Depression by practicing what people had practiced for eons before her: planning ahead during times of abundance for when the times of shortage came.

A generation or two farther back in time, Laura Ingalls’ family was practicing the same useful skill of storing food for lean times.

The garden behind the little house had been growing all summer. It was so near the house that the deer did not jump the fence and eat the vegetables in the daytime, and at night Jack kept them away. Sometimes in the morning there were little hoof-prints among the carrots and the cabbages. But Jack’s tracks were there, too, and the deer had jumped right out again.

Now the potatoes and carrots, the beets and turnips and cabbages were gathered and stored in the cellar, for freezing nights had come.

Onions were made into long ropes, braided together by their tops, and then were hung in the attic beside wreaths of red peppers strung on threads. The pumpkins and the squashes were piled in orange and yellow and green heaps in the attic’s corners.

The barrels of salted fish were in the pantry, and yellow cheeses were stacked on the pantry shelves.

– Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932

That changed abruptly in Post-WWII America with the advent of the supermarket.  Suddenly, the food disappeared from cellars, pantries, summer kitchens and backyard gardens.  As highways began to criss-cross America and refrigeration became more affordable and obtainable, families no longer depended on their larder/food storage.   Now, it’s unusual to find more than a few day’s worth of food in any given house on any given day.  Friends, I believe that needs to change.  While I’m very thankful for the prosperity that America has enjoyed for decades, we can’t allow prosperity to lull us into a sense of complacency.

I don’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist, but I know things happen.  Blizzards.  Job loss.  Power outages.  Divorce.  Hacked bank accounts.  Things happen.  Back in September of 2008, Ohio was side-swiped by the remnants of Hurricane Ike.  Ohio.  Experiencing a hurricane.  Go figure.  We anticipated a good soaking rainfall, but what no one saw coming was the Category 1 winds that knocked out power to millions in our area.  For nearly a week, we were without lights, hot water, communication or utilities.  Roads were blocked by fallen trees.  Grocery stores were closed.  ATMs were out of order.  And because we were in a very rural area, we were very low on the list of priorities.   Let me tell you, it was quite the rough week and a pantry full of canned soups, veggies and meats sure came in handy.  Beyond Hurricane Ike, having a stocked larder has proved invaluable to my family during extended lay-offs, extreme winter weather, feeding unexpected guests and as a means to bless others experiencing hardship.  I believe whole-heartedly that a well-stocked larder should be a priority to us just as it has been in generations past.

Let me just pause here and say that I don’t want you to pursue a deep larder out of a sense of fear, but of prudence.  I’ve seen so many sites that use fear to prompt huge, unnecessary purchases and that’s not at all what I want for you.  I want you to think ahead like our grannies did and create a necessary, useful cushion for our families.  The Bible promises us that bad times WILL come and admonishes us to think ahead (Eccl 11:2, Prov 6:6-9, Prov 13:16, Prov 31:21) and be ready for when the good times end.  We need to be like the ant, my friends!

Stocking your larder doesn’t have to be expensive, and it doesn’t have to mean storing MREs and powdered milk, because ~GAG~.  The only hard and fast rule for stocking up is to buy food that you KNOW you will use.   If your family doesn’t eat dried beans, for the love of Mike, don’t buy a 50# bag of dried beans because a survivalist told you to!!  Tailor your pantry to the needs and palates of your family members.   An easy way to begin the process is to spend a week or two journaling what you eat each day and look for trends.  Are there items on your “menu” that you eat consistently and frequently?  THOSE would be  smart purchases.  After you have a rough idea of what your family eats in a typical week, begin the process of stocking up on those familiar items.   Still unsure where to start?  How about:

Canned beans
Canned soups and stews
Canned fruits and veggies
Canned/packaged fish and meats
Oats and grains
Rice
Pasta
Sugar/honey/maple syrup
Salt
Dehydrated fruit
Oil
Flours
Evaporated/condensed/instant/shelf-stable milk  and other fluids such as bottled water, sports drinks and juices.

Most of these foods have a shelf-life of several years, many can be eaten as-is in an emergency, and nearly all cost less than $2, especially if you shop at Aldi or another discount store. It isn’t beyond anyone’s budget to throw an extra box of pasta or a couple cans of soup in the shopping buggy each week. And believe me, those extra packages add up quickly.  If you live in a rural region or close to a farmer’s market, I suggest you take advantage of the fact we’re in peak food-production season and buy fresh, inexpensive produce that you can can, dry, freeze, pickle or otherwise preserve.  That’s a simple way to stock your larder quickly.

I’m hesitant to provide links to food-storage plans because they can be absolutely overwhelming, and while they can provide valuable information, they often use fear to incentivize huge purchases. We don’t want to act out of a spirit of fear, but wisdom—and wisdom would say buying something we can’t afford and won’t eat isn’t wise at all! I found only one article I thought would be helpful—addressing what they called “Home Food Resilience“, or the ability to withstand shocks to our budget, environment or lifestyle. They include suggestions for building a “deep pantry”, as we discussed above, as well as freeze dried “emergency” food. Read it with a grain of salt and see what you can glean from it. And as always, feel free to ask questions!!  Til next time!