Category: In The Kitchen

Pressure Canning- My Newest Skill

Long-time readers will remember one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to learn six new skills. Pressure canning is now on the list of acquired skills. I have canned, or in layman’s terms, put-up jams, jellies, and salsas for years. Last year I added pickles. Now that I have successfully learned how to use a pressure canner I expect to really expand my preserving.

Pressure Canning vs. Water Bath Canning

There is quite a bit of difference between the water bath canning I have done for years and pressure canning. For starters, water bath canning really does not need special equipment. Although I have a large water bath canner, for many years I just used my spaghetti pot and lined the bottom with a towel. However, a pressure canner is designed just for canning.

To be honest, I have had the canner for a few months. But it sat in its box. First in the basement, then for the last month at the top of the stairs. Its’ main job was intimidation. Yes, I was scared of this device.

For those of you that don’t can, a water bath canner is used with foods that are acidic in nature. Or have lots of vinegar in the recipe. As long as you achieve a good seal on the can, there is little to fear. On the other hand, low acid foods need pressure sealing in order to eliminate the danger of botulism. Therein lies the source of my fear. I worry that I will not use the pressure canner correctly. And there is no one I want to poison.

Abundant Garden

This year the garden is in overdrive, thanks to the new raised row garden. Therefore, I need to learn how to can. My green beans, eggplant, acorn squash and pumpkin all need preserving. I only have so much freezer space! So I decided to start with something simple-green beans.

I spent two days procrastinating by reading everything possible about processing green beans. Then after picking four pounds of green beans, I opened the pressure canner box. Reading the directions and assembling the canner delayed the moment by another hour. But finally I was ready to can.

Snapping four pounds of green beans takes a bit of time. It brought back memories of the women on my Dad’s side of the family snapping beans at what used to be the family cottage in the mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. Not a bad thing when you are alone at the kitchen sink washing and preparing to can.

Moment of Truth

Finally, the time arrived to can. The green beans were ready, the canner was fully assembled.  Then following the canner directions, I placed three quarts of water in the bottom of the canner. I added warm water. I have a quart size Pyrex measuring cup which I nuked in the microwave. The book suggested warming to no more than 180 degrees Fahrenheit. I didn’t measure, but it wasn’t boiling.

I had kept the canning jars hot by filling with boiling water while the beans were being processed.  The beans were boiled for five minutes, partially cooking them. When I water bath can, the jars are in the canner until ready to fill. So this step was different.

After filling the jars with beans and leaving the proper head space of an inch, I placed the five pints in the canner. I lined the arrows on the lid and canner top, rotated clockwise and turned up the heat. Then I waited. And waited.

Steam needs to vent for ten minutes before the pressure regulator is placed atop the vent. Time passed fairly quickly as I was able to clean up the mess I made snapping the ends off the beans. But then time seemed to crawl once the pressure regulator was put in place. An automatic air vent/cover lock struggled to pop-up. Perhaps it was because of the first time use. Or maybe this is normal. Future canning’s will tell.

Pressure Time

Finally, the pressure gauge began to move up. My altitude dictates a pressure of 12 which is just above the standard. The trick to pressure canning is to keep the canner at the right pressure. If the canner falls below the pressure needed for your altitude it means resetting the clock. This I did not want to do. So I watched like an eagle. I did have to adjust the heat throughout the canning. But it was worth it in the end. No restart of the clock for me.

After the twenty minutes elapsed, the pressure canner was lifted off the heat and allowed to cool. Think of a car radiator, much the same concept. You don’t want to open either when hot. Once the canner cooled down, I lifted the lid and removed the five pints onto a kitchen towel. Longtime preservists will appreciate the thrill of hearing five metallic pings shortly thereafter.

The four pounds ending up filling five pints with enough left over that I froze the remainder in a quart size freezer bag. I am out of pint size jars. So is my small town!

Final Thoughts

I am so glad I learned this skill. The lovely pings indicate a good seal. I have a feeling this new pressure canner will get plenty of use this fall. Unlike a water bath can, I will need to stay in the kitchen paying close attention to the pressure. But I think the time spent will be worthwhile.

A major difference between the two types of canneries is how altitude is handled. In water bath canning, additional time is added to the process. However, in pressure canning all geographic locations use the same amount of time. It is the pressure which is changed.

Yes it is far easier to buy the cans at the grocery store. But I love to garden and I don’t want the produce to go to waste. I can control what goes into the food. Next time you read a label with lots of hard to pronounce ingredients, you might understand my point. Of course reading labels could be a whole separate blog post!

If you so desire I would love to hear about your successes. Feel free to share recipes too! I was so caught up in the process only a few pictures were taken. But there is always next time!

Green beans piled in front of a pressure canner
Ready to start
Cannery with pressure gauge on top
Intimidating Dial
Empty large pot
Empty canner
5 jars of green beans alongside recipe books
Final Product

 

Learning New Skills

Green beans piled in front of a pressure cannerMy New Year’s resolutions for this year included learning six new skills. At my age, learning anything new can be tough. Both the body and the mind tend to prefer the status quo. But the benefits are great. New skills stimulate the brain cells in a positive way.

The raised row garden has provided one outlet for learning. Just establishing the garden took research. This compilation of new knowledge definitely made the brain waves dance. Constructing the rows took a lot of labor too.

Furthermore, maintaining the garden has generated a few new skills as well. I learned how to make organic bug killer when battling the flea beetles. For the first time I used an inoculant on my peas. Now I am about to add pressure canning to my list of skills.

I have been canning and preserving for years. But I have only used the water bath method or frozen the produce. To be truthful, I find the idea of pressure canning downright scary.

Water Bath Canning

Jams, jellies, salsas and pickles tend to be quite acidic and thus lend themselves to processing through the water bath method. Some of the items have natural acidity. Others are put up using an acidic ingredient which helps make the recipe safe. Some of my lower acid fruits have lemon added and the pickles and salsas recipes tend to have vinegar added.

My favorite canning book Small-Batch Preserving focuses on water bath method recipes. This type of canning utilizing highly acidic ingredients reminds me of my Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors. I seldom worry about spoiled food put up in this fashion.

New Skills- Canning Low Acidic Foods

However, low acid foods and recipes intimidate me. I worry about food poisoning, specifically botulism. So I am about to learn a new skill. I bought a pressure canner. Plus I have researched several websites such as the Wells Can and the Ball and Kerr sites. I also consulted Better Homes and Gardens Complete Canning Guide. Since visiting their test garden I wrote about in Destination Des Moines, I feel very motivated and slightly less nervous.

My raised row garden is yielding multitudes of green beans. So that will be the first vegetable I put up. Check back on the blog when I post the July 2018 Wrap-Up to see and hear about the results!

Two Tone Zucchini Bread

For the first time ever, I am successfully growing zucchini. Most people find zucchini easy to grow. However, I have been the exception. In fact I seldom have an over-supply of this versatile vegetable. This year, thanks to my raised row garden, I have plenty of zucchini to work with. Two Tone Zucchini Bread is the result of my latest recipe creation.
The bread has some sweetness, but not too much. As a result of reading The Case Against Sugar, I am really watching how much sugar I add to my cooking and baking. Two Tone Zucchini Bread has plenty. Both a cup of white sugar and a third of a cup of chocolate chips will please those with a sweet tooth.

Prepping the Zucchini

The prep takes a little bit of time. I like to pick the squash before it gets too big. This reduces and sometimes eliminates the amount of seeds. I don’t like the seeds in my bread but if you use monster squash, you don’t need to pick out the seeds. They are edible.

Wash the zucchini thoroughly. This is important even if you grow your own or know if the produce has been organically grown. Then I peel before grating. You can leave the peel on if that is your preference. You will need 1 and ½ cups of grated zucchini. Once this step is done, you are ready to gather the remaining ingredients.

This recipe calls for whole wheat flour. If you use all-purpose flour add two tablespoons of flour. I like using whole wheat flour. But, the two types of flour vary slightly with the liquid/flour ratio needed to bake. I also prefer using sunflower oil but other vegetable oils could be substituted.

Kitchen equipment needed:

Grater, electric mixer and mixing bowl, 9 x 5 pan greased well, mixing spoon or large spatula, measuring spoons and cups.

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups Whole Wheat Flour
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 eggs
1/3 cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ cups grated zucchini

For second batter:

1/3 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1/3 cup chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Sift the first eight ingredients into a mixing bowl. Add the eggs, sunflower oil, water and vanilla extract and blend on a medium low-speed. Stir in the grated zucchini. Pour approximately half the batter into a well-greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. A cooking spray is preferred.

To the remaining batter, add the dark cocoa powder and the chocolate chips. Stir on low until fully incorporated. I used semi-sweet but milk chocolate or dark chocolate can be used as well. Then pour the second batter on top of the first. Bake for 50-60 minutes. A toothpick inserted through the center should be clean when done.

I did not smooth the batter, nor did I spread it out evenly. This gives the loaf uneven layers. However, the next time I make this recipe I plan to see if the second batter will swirl through the first. The weight of the chocolate chips may hinder this technique. In fact, the uneven layers may have been due to the chocolate chips sinking at random spots.

Try this recipe next time you have some extra zucchini. I think you will like it!

Cooking for Two

Root vegetables  in a cooking pan.
Just enough for Two!

Some individuals struggle with empty nest syndrome, others are ready to celebrate. I was closer to the latter, but that may be due to a schedule that included full-time work, studying for a Master’s degree in management and training for a marathon. Frankly, I did not have time to feel morose. My biggest struggle was suddenly cooking for two.

Our offspring seem like sets. The two oldest were born in the same year. Then the third did not arrive until the first two were about ready for school. The last was a few years behind the third. But the last two left home at the same time. This caused a big shift in cooking habits.

When we were six at home, we seldom had leftovers. The meals consisted of generous portions and necessity dictated quick to prepare recipes. Four kids meant a lot of activities. Each was allowed one sport and one non sport activity plus school and Sunday school. Of course there were guests around from time to time as well.

Empty Nester Cooking

The portions are now quite a bit smaller and even then we have leftovers. Sometimes we go for more complex recipes but I still like to keep it simple. One of the best parts of this empty nest cooking style is the impromptu aspect. Such was the case recently when I decided to prepare Roasted Root Vegetables for Two.

Even though we have had more than a handful of 100 degree days, we enjoyed a cool front (complete with 3/10 an inch of rain, Yahoo!) Since I harvested a rutabaga that morning which had survived the flea beetle attack along with beets, I decided roasting the vegetables would be a nice change. We added some store-bought potatoes and carrots. Garden onion and garlic were also utilized. I am including the recipe below.

The life style change has impacted our kitchen preparations. Pancakes are seldom on the menu and I do not recall when I last made goulash. Yet when the kids were at home both were weekly occurrences. Now, each weekday lunch is centered on a smoothie. No mac and cheese or other quick order meal for the high school kids on their lunch break.

Dinners have been the biggest change. I no longer plan out the meals a week in advance. In the summer, meals are decided last-minute based on what the garden has yielded that day. Favorite meals are homemade pizzas, cold soups, and grilled everything. The colder months feature crock pot meals or casseroles. Both yield lots of leftovers.

Solutions

There are some things one can do to offset the challenges of cooking for two. First is freezing. Often part of the meal is put in a freezer container. This relieves the boredom factor of eating the same thing for three or more days. Second is creating or finding recipes such as Roasted Root Vegetables for Two. This helps eliminate the overabundance of leftovers. But perhaps the best way is to share the meal.

Sharing a meal with other couples, neighbors or family members is no longer commonplace. However, I think as a society we need to revisit this custom. When the kids were little neighborhood gatherings were commonplace. Perhaps not every weekend but more than once a month. However, that no longer seems to be the case. Now the occurrences are once or twice a year.

Since one of my New Year’s Resolutions is to socialize more, I plan to host some gatherings once the outdoor building project is completed. In my case it has been easy to retreat once the kids left the nest. I enjoy being at home since I am a bit introverted. Entertaining takes time that could be spent on other activities. But I do think it is important to keep resolutions so neighborhood cook-outs are on the docket. Let me know how you adapt to cooking for two!

Roasted Root Vegetables for Two

1 rutabaga
2 beets
2 potatoes
1 onion
2 carrots or 1 cup baby carrots
1 TBS olive oil
4-6 garlic cloves
Salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut vegetables into small chunks and spread out in baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Stir every 15 minutes. After 30 minutes sprinkle the garlic cloves among the vegetables. Resume stirring every 15 minutes. Test for doneness at one hour by piercing rutabaga with fork. Salt to taste and serve. Note: If rutabaga not included cooking time may be reduced to 45 minutes.

The Recipe Box Book Review

Multiple recipe boxes on a kitchen counterSam Nelson is the protagonist in The Recipe Box, a novel by Viola Shipman. Shipman is the pen name (and grandmother) of Wade Rouse. The novel includes mouth-watering recipes. The recipes have been passed down to Nelson through the female line.

The novel opens in New York City. Sam Nelson is a pastry chef. However, the story quickly reverts back to her native Michigan. The Recipe Box revolves around a family owned orchard and pie pantry. Sam moved to New York to get away from the family business. And to follow her dreams.

There are many flashbacks in the novel. Each is a glimpse of the work and effort needed to make the business work. Throughout, the women in the family are shown as the backbone of the company. But Sam wanted something else.

However, an unscrupulous boss leads to an abrupt departure from New York for Sam. She is unsure of her future. So the Recipe Box focuses on her decisions. In addition to a career change, Sam faces a change in relationship status. Angelo Morelli, a Jersey boy, follows her to Michigan. He is determined to move things to the next level.

Recipe for Life

Some might see the novel similar to a coming of age book. But the book is a family saga. Sam is at a crossroads in life. She needs to find herself. The recipes and traditions passed down define the family. But do they represent Sam?

I love this book and plan to gift it to one of my daughters. The underlying philosophy holds true regardless of profession. Happiness comes from within. Outside factors may influence you but you are who you are.  The author shares wisdom with regard to self and relationships with others. But most of all, the importance of family is emphasized throughout.

This is a great summer beach book or a winter by the fire read. You will laugh and you will cry. If nothing else, buy the book for the delicious recipes! Furthermore, if you possess your grandmother’s recipe box (or boxes) like I do, pull a recipe out of the box and make it this week. Just like The Recipe Box infers, there is no greater tribute to those before us than to whip something up using a family recipe.

 

 

Small Batch Low Sugar Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

Small Batch Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

Glass jars filled with jam.
Jars of jam.

To celebrate Mother’s Day, I whipped up a small batch of  strawberry-blueberry jam. Since I was taking things easy, I just used produce I had on hand. We consider blueberries a staple in the house and I also had strawberries in the refrigerator. This recipe is a low sugar recipe and some may find it tart.

First wash the berries gently but thoroughly. Even home-grown produce gets rinsed. Next, finely chop the strawberries and lightly mash. You want a total of four cups mashed strawberries.

Then slice the blueberries in half. Yes this is tedious but I think it helps incorporate the two berries. You will need a total of two and ½ cups blueberries. Combine the berries in a stockpot and add two tablespoons of lemon juice.

Measure four level cups of sugar into a bowl. Then from that amount, remove ¼ cup sugar and mix with one package of Sure Jell pectin for low or no sugar recipes. Add the mixture to the berries and bring to a rapid boil. This is a boil which remains even during stirring. There will be chunks of fruit.

Once the constant boil is reached, add the remaining sugar. Return the jam to a roaring boil and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and ladle into sterilized, hot jars. Place lids and rings on jars and process them in a water bath for ten minutes. Be sure to add time to the processing if you live 1000 feet or more above sea level. Click on this website for a chart.

 

Econogal’s Low Sugar Small Batch Strawberry-Blueberry Jam

(Makes 6-7 cups of jam)

Materials needed:

Stock pot, ladle, heavy-duty heat proof spoon, potato masher, paring knife, 6 or 7 jars (½ pint in size), lids and bands to fit jars and water bath canner

Ingredients:

4 cups of chopped mashed strawberries
2 1/2 cups sliced blueberries
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
4 cups sugar
1 box Sure Jell pectin for low or no sugar recipes

Mint Juleps

Mint Juleps are a fairly simple drink to make. They do need some key ingredients. First is bourbon. Second, and most important in my mind is mint. Crushed ice and a simple syrup round out the list.

There are many brands of bourbon. Some are a bargain and others are very, very expensive. I use my favorite when I make mint juleps. The amount of bourbon used is up to the individual mixer.

I make my simple syrup a bit differently than many. The day before I plan to serve mint juleps I prepare the sugar mixture. Dissolve the sugar into water by heating slowly in a sauce pan over low heat. For a traditional taste, I use equal parts water and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, I remove the pan from the heat and add mint leaves to the solution. Store the cooled concoction overnight in the refrigerator. Strain the mint the following morning. This gives the drink a very minty taste.

Some people muddle the mint in the bottom of the glass when making this signature Kentucky Derby drink. I don’t always remember this step. Fortunately, the minty simple syrup makes up for the missed step.

Usually I first fill the glass with crushed ice. Then add the bourbon and the simple syrup. Add these two liquids in equal parts. Or the drink can be made stronger with more bourbon or sweeter with more syrup. Garnish with more mint.
The following recipe works well if you serve the drinks in half pint jelly jars.

 

Mint Juleps

Serves 8

Items needed: 8 jelly jars ½ pint (8 oz.) or similar sized glasses, small saucepan, Quart canning jar

Ingredients:

Crushed Ice
2 Cups Mint divided with one cup chopped
2 Cups Bourbon
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Sugar
Simmer water and sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in chopped mint. Refrigerate overnight in quart canning jar. Strain the following morning to remove mint leaves.
To serve: Fill ½ pint jars with crushed ice. Add ¼ cup bourbon and ¼ cup simple syrup mixture. Garnish with mint sprigs. Enjoy responsibly.

Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam

Seven jars of mixed berry jam.
Finished Product
Even though it is still winter where I live, the grocery store is full of berries shipped in from the other hemisphere. The sales on berries prompted me to make some jam. I created this mixed berry jam mixture not knowing if it would set properly since I did not have a recipe that matched the berries I had bought. I am happy to report success with the Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam recipe.

Recently, I read The Case Against Sugar which you can read about by clicking here. I have not cut out all sugar, but I am reducing the amount I use. So for this recipe I bought Sure Jell in the pink box which is made for low sugar or no sugar recipes. The instructions have recipes in addition to others I have, but I could not find a recipe using strawberry, blackberry and blueberry. So I set out to create the mixed berry jam.

Canning Equipment

You will need a water bath canner, canning jars, lids and rings for this recipe. I like to use Ball lids and rings the most but I have also had great success with Kerr products. Even though I like to recycle, I only use Ball or Kerr jars when canning. Jars saved from grocery store items tend to break in my canner during the processing. I do like to vary the jar sizes because yields are inexact.

The jars need at least ten minutes in boiling water to sterilize, however the lids only need two to three minutes. The biggest challenge is the timing. I usually start the water in the canner before I prepare the fruit. Jars are removed from the canner just after I stir in the sugar. This allows me to immediately pour the jam into jars that are still warm. If you have a helper in the kitchen this task is much easier.

Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam Recipe

3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 pounds Strawberries
1 pint Blueberries
12 ounces Blackberries
1 box Sure Jell Low Sugar Pectin
4 ½ cups sugar
Yields About 7 Cups

Preparation of Berries

I prepare the strawberries first. Wash and cut the hulls off the berry. Then slice each into quarters. If the berries are very large you may need to chop them into smaller pieces.

The blueberries are a favorite for some of my family members, but you do not often find them used in jams. You need to carefully wash, de-stem and cut the larger ones in half for this recipe. Be sure to wear an apron or old clothes to avoid staining from the berries.

The blackberries can be the messiest. Wash and slice the berries in half. Like the blueberries, they can stain fabric.

Cooking the Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam

For the most part, I follow the directions on the Sure Jell packaging. However, for this recipe I used two additional steps. First, I placed three tablespoons of lemon juice in the bottom of my pot. Then, I put a single layer of strawberries in the bottom of the pot. Turning on to medium high heat, I let the strawberries heat until mash able. After mashing, I added a second layer of strawberries. Once the strawberries were mashed, but not cooked, I added the blueberries and blackberries.

From this point on, I followed the cooked jam directions from Sure Jell. I used a total of 4 ½ cups of sugar. Taking ¼ cup of sugar from the above amount, mix with the powdered pectin and stir into berries. The constant stirring along with the heat, breaks up the berries into small pieces. Bring the mixture to a full rolling boil. This means there are bubbles all over the top even when stirring.
At this point the remainder of the sugar is added. Continuous stirring is needed so the jam does not burn. Once the mixture returns to a full rolling boils, cook for one minute more and the remove from heat. The mixed berry jam is ready to jar.

I place a kitchen towel on my counter to set the jars on. I also have a clean wet wash rag to wipe the tops of the jars before attaching the lids and rings. Fill one jar at a time and close before moving on to the next one. The jam jars seal better this way.

I loved the taste of this jam, not too sugary and small bits of fruit. Next time your grocery story has berries on sale consider making this Low Sugar Mixed Berry Jam. I think you will like it.

Zija Chocolate Protein Bites

Mixing bowl and Ingredients for Zija Protein BitesNow that the holidays are almost over, it is time to cut back on the sugar intake. However, this can be difficult since sugar can be addicting. So, I am replacing some of the Christmas goodies with a healthy snack, Zija Chocolate Protein Bites. The recipe is quite easy and I even had a millennial taste tester give it the okay.

Moringa

Moringa is the basis for Zija. The only place I have seen Moringa in the grocery store was on the Big Island of Hawaii. I have seen pictures of Moringa plants growing in California. Five times a week I use the Zija protein powder in my smoothies at lunch. Each of the bags last us about 3 months since we only use a scoop in the smoothies. I really like this new recipe for Zija Chocolate Protein Bites. But I don’t think I will go through a batch everyday so I don’t think I will use up the Zija Dutch Chocolate protein powder at a faster rate than the Zija Vanilla Bean which we use in our smoothies.

If you are interested in trying this recipe and have not tried any Zija products, there is a link on the side bar or you can click here. This is one of the few companies I will promote through this site. As I have stated before in my About this Blog, I will not run pop-up advertisements on this site, nor like some sites will I ask for money. But if I really like a product I will allow unobtrusive ads or highlight them in a blog post. Since I am a Zija distributor, if you order through this site I will receive compensation.

Materials:

Mixing bowl, wax paper, plastic cooking gloves

Ingredients:

1 cup Zija XM Protein Powder-Dutch Chocolate flavor

1 cup almond butter

1 Tablespoon peanut butter (optional)

¼ cup honey

 

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix with gloved hands. Roll mixture into a 16 inch log which is approximately 1 inch wide. Place in freezer. You can cut them after 30 minutes. My slices were just under a half an inch thick. A rough calculation of calories is about 50 per bite. So like candy you want to be judicious. However, unlike candy, these calories are not empty.

 

As you can see in the pictures, at certain stages of production the Zija Protein Bites may not look appetizing. I suggest you serve these the first time on a plate after they have been sliced. Once tasted, people will not be put off by the look.

 

Candy Cane Cheesecake Recipe

Two finished candy cane cheesecakesCandy Cane Cheesecake

One of my favorite dessert recipes to make during the holidays is a candy cane cheesecake. I adapted the recipe from a 1988 edition of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook put out by Kraft, Inc. Their cheesecake was relatively easy to make, but I cut corners and made it even easier. This is a great recipe to make ahead but as long as you have a few hours to chill it, this can be a last minute dessert recipe as well.

Ingredients:

2 Keebler Chocolate Cookie Pie Crusts
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
¼ cup water
2 (8 oz) blocks of cream cheese softened
½ cup sugar
½ cup milk
4 large or 12 small candy canes crushed
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 regular size Hershey chocolate bars finely chopped

Ingredients to make candy cane cheesecake

Instructions:

Stir gelatin into water over low heat until completely dissolved. At medium speed, combine sugar and cream cheese until smooth and well blended. Gradually add gelatin, milk and crushed candy canes mix until blended-will have chunks of candy. Pour into medium bowl and chill briefly but do not let set.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Gently stir into cream cheese mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate. Divide between the two chocolate cookie pie crusts. Chill until serving.

Tips:

Place unwrapped large candy canes or still wrapped small candy canes inside a plastic baggie. Use a rolling pin to crush the candy canes.

If making at the last moment, place candy cane cheesecakes into the freezer until ready to serve. The cheesecakes keep well in the freezer if you want to make ahead as well. I would suggest keeping in the refrigerator no longer than a week, but mine never last that long. This is a treat that many ask for the recipe and it really is quite simple to make. But I try not think about the calories.

Rolling pin to crush candy canes

Econogal’s Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins

High cholesterol runs in the family. There are many drugs on the market to address this health problem. But, a heart healthy diet can be part of the solution. This natural approach can be used in addition to the drugs. For some, a diet including heart healthy oat bran muffins can lower LDL cholesterol without resorting to medication.
I buy my oat bran in bulk from Heartland Mill. You can visit their website by clicking here. Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins are a staple in our house baked on a regular basis. The muffins are easy to mix and take less than 30 minutes from start to finish.

Ingredients for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins:

2 ¼ cups oat bran cereal
¼ cup chopped almonds (Feel free to substitute an equal amount of your favorite nut)
¼ cup dried cranberries (Other dried fruits as well as chopped fresh fruits can substitute)
1 tablespoon baking powder
¼ cup honey
1 ¼ cups skim milk
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons sunflower oil

Directions for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins:

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the honey. Stir milk, egg whites and sunflower oil together and pour over oat bran mixture. Stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Use paper baking cups to line muffin pan. Bake for 16 minutes and then test to see if done. Use a toothpick to make sure Healthy Oat Bran Muffins are moist but not wet. If batter clings to toothpick bake a few more minutes.
If you substitute fresh fruits with a lot of juice such as peaches, substitute brown sugar for the honey for better results. I like to chop my nuts fairly fine but individual tastes may vary. These disappear quickly at my house, but you can store in the refrigerator or freezer if you cannot eat all in 72 hours. The lack of preservatives such as salt means the Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins will not keep for an extended amount of time at room temperature.

Ingredients for Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins
Getting started
separating the yolk from white
Be sure to just use egg whites
Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins before cooking
Ready to bake
After baking
Heart Healthy Oat Bran Muffins ready to eat

Herb Infused Spaghetti Sauce

Herb Infused Spaghetti Sauce
One of the perks of summer time on the high plains is the preponderance of farmers markets. This past weekend we stopped at one to pick up some melons, and came away with a box of Roma tomatoes for $15.00. I couldn’t pass up such a good buy so I decided to put up some spaghetti sauce.
The following recipe for Herb Infused Spaghetti Sauce is great to make if you grow herbs. The main ingredients are Roma tomatoes, basil, oregano, and Italian parsley. You can cut the recipe in half if you only have one stockpot. I usually make big batches of salsa and spaghetti sauce because we use so much. Therefore, if you follow this recipe you will need two large pots to cook in.
I use quart sized jars but you can also use pint sizes jars. Make sure you adjust the amount of lemon juice in Step 4. Jars, lids and bands should be prepared for canning while spaghetti sauce is simmering. This recipe yields 8 quarts.
Ingredients:
24 pounds Roma tomatoes
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons salt
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ Teaspoon fresh ground pepper
2 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
16 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice
Directions:
Step 1
Peel tomatoes by boiling small amounts for 2 minutes, then place in an ice bath. Once cool, the skins should easily slip off. Save the skins for your compost pile. Use a food processor to chop the tomatoes. Divide the contents between two stock pots.
Step 2
Take the next four ingredients and divide equally between the two pots of processed tomatoes. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 90 minutes. The longer the sauce simmers, the more it reduces. For thicker sauces simmer longer or reduce time for a more liquid spaghetti sauce.
Step 3
Chop fresh herbs, but wait until the last 5 minutes to add to the spaghetti sauce.
Step 4
Place 2 Tablespoons of bottled lemon juice in the bottom of each quart jar. Ladle spaghetti sauce into jars, leaving 1 inch headspace. Wipe tops and attach lids and bands. Place in water bath for 35 minutes. Be sure to adjust the bath time if you live at higher altitudes. The spaghetti sauce can also be frozen using the appropriate containers.

Roma Tomatoes
Basil, Oregano, and Italian Parsley
Boil for 2 minutes
Ice Bath
Compost the Peels

Herb Infused Spaghetti Sauce Recipe Card

Makes 8 Quarts
Ingredients
24 pounds Roma tomatoes                             2 cups fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
6 Tablespoons brown sugar                            1 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons salt                                            1 cup fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar                    16 Tablespoons bottled lemon juice
½ Teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Directions
You will need 2 large stockpots for cooking spaghetti sauce. Also, a small pot of boiling water to prepare tomatoes for peeling. First, boil tomatoes for 2 minutes then plunge into ice bowl. Next, peel tomatoes and then chop using a food processor or blender. Add next four ingredients and then bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 90 minutes. Add herbs in the last 5 minutes of cooking. After reaching desired consistency, place lemon juice in bottom of each quart jar. Finally, ladle sauce into each jar and process in water bath for 35 minutes.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE COOKBOOK

\"\"The Fannie Farmer Cookbook

My all-time favorite cookbook is The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. My current edition is the 13th. By current, I mean the third copy I have used. To be honest, I have no idea what edition I started with.

As you can see in the adjacent picture, my current edition is in bad shape. I don’t blame the publisher even though all my copies have met similar endings. Instead, I believe the condition reflects the daily use.

To be honest, I don’t remember if my mom or my maternal grandmother gave me my first copy. I do know it was a wedding present. Since I have been married over 30 years and am on my third cookbook, I can say each one has lasted a decade.

Hopefully my book-lover/ bookseller cousin won’t disown me, but I see some books as tools to be used. This cookbook is in that category. As you can see in the pictures below, the front and back inside cover give quick reference tips. If you are like me and don’t have the metric system memorized, it includes these measurements as well. I also like the old-fashioned tips such as blanching to remove skin peels which are found in between the tables.

The first 50 pages are full of definitions and explanations of cooking terms and items found in the kitchen. At the end of the recipes are two short sections. The first contains sample menus for various meals. The second is a wonderful table which includes calorie count as well as cholesterol, fat, protein and carbohydrate count of various food ingredients.

In between are hundreds of recipes along with more how-to information. I really like and use the tips found at the beginning of each section of the cookbook. For example, the book contains a two page spread under the fish/shellfish section that helps identify the different types of seafood. This is carried out through the sections.

So if you can’t quite figure out the mystery fruit in the produce section, buy one and bring it home. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook will not only help identify but also give you tips and recipes to use. The editors also use illustrations on cuts of meat as well as in the bread making and preserve sections. While not as fancy as some of the cookbooks with full color photo spreads, I like the fact that the visual aids always pop up where you need extra help to picture the process.

Since home economics classes are seldom found in K-12 schools, this is a great book to give. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is well written. The recipes work even for those without much cooking experience. I love this book and highly recommend it. This cookbook is on the list, even if I could only own ten books.

What cookbook is on your top ten list?

Econogal’s Homemade Granola

Econogal's Homemade Granola Recipe

Homemade Granola

We like granola. I adapted this recipe from one shared on a blog I follow. This recipe takes a bit more time than others I have tried because of a three step process. The extra time and effort is worth it! Variations are easy since the types of nuts and dried fruits used can be determined by what you have on hand. I buy my oats in bulk from Heartland Mill but you can use Quaker Oats or other store bought brands as well.

Ingredients:

Step 1                                                                   Step 2                                                                 Step 3

6 cups Rolled Oats                                                    1 to 1 1/2 cups chopped nuts                                 1 to 1 1/2 chopped dried fruits
3 TBS Brown Sugar
1 TBS Cinnamon
1/3 cup Coconut Oil
1/3 cup Honey
1 Tsp Almond OR Vanilla Extract

 

DIRECTIONS

Step 1 

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.

In a large bowl mix the rolled oats with the brown sugar and the cinnamon. Over low heat, melt the coconut oil and honey, stir in your choice of extract. When liquefied, stir into the oat mixture and spread evenly in pans or baking sheets with edges. I use Pampered Chef stoneware. If using metal pans, reduce cooking time. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes in oven.

Step 2 

Chop nuts. You can use all one kind or a mixture. Stir into oat mixture after the first baking. Return and bake an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

Step 3 

Chop dried fruit if needed and add to the oatmeal nut mixture. If you plan to store in glass jars, can while still warm. If storing in plastic containers let cool completely and then fill.

At our house, the granola is consumed quickly and so I have not worried about processing for long term storage. But you may want longer storing so check Fresh Preserving for canning directions.

Important Difference

A key difference in this recipe is adding the dried fruit after baking. I tried several recipes which called for including the fruit in the second step. This makes the fruit very hard. My favorite nut combinations are almond slivers, chopped pecans and chopped walnuts. Dried fruit favorites are cranberries, raisins and apricots. Be sure to let me know your favorite combinations in the comment section.

Granola Ingredients

Canned Granola

Econogal's Homemade Granola

Econogal’s Homemade Granola

RECIPE CARD

This is a family favorite that I can’t keep stocked up. Makes about 2 ½ quarts.

Ingredients:

6 cups Rolled Oats
3 TBS Brown Sugar
1 TBS Cinnamon
1/3 cup Coconut Oil
1/3 cup Honey
1 Tsp Almond OR Vanilla Extract
1 to1 ½ cups Assorted Chopped Nuts
1 to1 ½ cups Assorted Dried Fruits, chopped if desired

Directions:

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. In large bowl mix oats, brown sugar and cinnamon. Over low heat combine honey, coconut oil and extract until liquid. Stir hot liquid mixture into oat mixture and spread into baking pans or baking sheets with edges. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and stir in nuts. Bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly. Stir in dried fruit and store in sealed containers.

Bread Illustrated-Review

BREAD ILLUSTRATED- A Step by Step guide to Achieving Bakery-Quality Results at Home

I make almost all our bread. By almost, I can count on my fingers the times I have bought bread from the store this year. The health benefits were a major consideration when I took up bread making, but I love the taste of fresh made bread and I have discovered an immense satisfaction baking from scratch. I do not use a bread machine but I do use a stand mixer for the majority of the kneading.

I spotted Bread Illustrated edited by America’s Test Kitchen while browsing through a Barnes and Noble bookstore. A quick glance was all it took to make it to the check-out line. Each recipe is accompanied by multiple photos illustrating the process. The book also includes a troubleshooting section at the end of the recipe.

The troubleshooting sections address common problems with the final product. For example, if pizza dough is to soggy the tip is to use less sauce. One of the troubleshooting explanations discussed the jagged edges of whole wheat. The solution was to let either the wheat berries soak in water before processing or add additional liquid to already ground wheat.

The book gives weight amounts in the dry to wet ratios and following these ratios keep the loaves from being too dense. The section on hydration is part of a series of pages that explain how-to before the recipes even start. Other sections include pages on mixing and rising.

The recipes range from sweet rolls to rustic breads and includes a section of breads that take a bit more time to make than I have this summer. Maybe next winter! So far my favorite recipes have been the easy sandwich bread, pan-grilled flat bread (delicious with hummus) and the hoagie rolls which I shaped into hamburger buns.

Small Batch Preserving

The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving by Ellie Topp and Margaret Howard has been around awhile and I make recipes from it fairly often. Each recipe offers detailed directions and many have variations presented. I kept checking this book out from the library and liked it so much I finally bought a copy. I count it in my Top Five cookbooks.

If your garden is like mine, the vegetables don’t ripen all at once, thus the necessity of making small batches. The book also provides great combination recipes for fruits which eliminates the monotony of jams and preserves.

In addition to the recipes, Topp and Howard cover basic safety procedures for preserving and canning. Their step-by-step guidelines are easy to follow. They cover the four ways to preserve food.

The book contains charts for high altitude adjustments, multiple glossaries and lots of How To’s in a step by step format. One can find recipes for jams, jellies, chutneys, pickles, sauces, vinaigrettes and oils. The output is measured in cups with most yielding less than 4 cups. Large color photographs of the prepared preserves are grouped in two locations so there is a need to flip from one section of the book to another in order to compare your outcome with that of the authors.

The recipes span the range of the taste buds from sweet to savory as well as spicy. One of the things I like the most about Small-Batch Preserving is the combination jams and jellies. For example, my gooseberry yield this year was small, most likely due to a late freeze. But, combining the gooseberries with sour cherries allowed me to use the berries in a jam. Additionally, the book includes multiple recipes with blueberries. Since blueberries are low in acidity, many cookbooks leave out this super fruit.

The salsa and chutney recipes follow a similar vein. Combinations of fruits and vegetables in recipes ranging from tart to sweet with varying degrees of spiciness can be found in the book. Last fall I made both fruit and vegetable chutneys. Favorites were the Orchard Chutney featuring peaches, apples and onions and the Apple Plum Chutney. Again all these recipes were quick to make due to the small amounts.

A wide range of pickle recipes can be found in Small Batch Preserving. While cucumbers are the feature of this section, one can also find recipes for pickled peaches and beets. I am a relative novice at pickling. Last fall I tried eight of the pickle recipes. All disappeared before Christmas.

If you like to make your own preserves but don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen this book is for you.