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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pineapple zucchini

On Pinterest there are several recipes floating around for canning zucchini like canned pineapple.  We tried this one, because it used a crock pot, so there wasn't much work involved, and because it was done in one evening rather than cooking it overnight.  It smelled good (but still more like a vegetable than fruit), it even tastes very pineapple-y, but we wound up with mostly juice and only two pints of "pineapple."  We used 3 medium zucchini and two globe squash, so we figured that would equal to 4 medium zucchini.  Our zucchini were 8-10 inches each.  It seemed like enough when cut up.  However, the zucchini does tend to be less volume, and there's a ton of liquid at the end.  I would recommend using nearly double the recommended amount of zucchini.  Tonight, we are cutting up more zucchini, and then putting the large amount of juice with the zucchini in the fridge to start the 4 hour cooking again.  We did get two cans tonight, but with the extra work, it doesn't seem like a time-saver, since we have to do it again tomorrow to get one full batch.  Maybe next time it will turn out well, when we add more zucchini. It was a fail, but thankfully one we can remedy.

Three peeled zucchini to go in for tomorrow's round of pineapple

Friday, August 16, 2013

Jaimie's Welcome Home Feast for Shelly

Since Shelly was gone overnight to a conference, I (Jaimie) decided to welcome her home with a nice felafel dinner.  I started with dried chick peas, which I soaked using the quick method - four cups of chick peas in a pot with water about three inches above the peas, bring to a boil, simmer for five minutes then soak for an hour.  Admittedly, I wasn't too careful about timing.  I think they were only at a full boil for about a minute, so I cut the heat back to simmer for four minutes.  Then I let them soak until I was ready for them, which was more like two hours later.
While the chick peas were soaking, I went out to the garden to do the day's harvest.  I spotted what I thought were three oddly shaped zucchini (they turned out to be unripe pumpkins - they tasted just like zucchini to me, though).  Thinking I had scored a coup (we thought our zukes were done), I picked them.  I also snagged some beans, peas, cukes and tomatoes.

When I came back in, I diced up one of the "zucchinis" and tossed it in a bowl with leftover quinoa, lemon juice, chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh parsley, salt, minced garlic, cucumber and tomatoes.  It's basically this recipe for tebbouleh, but I tripled the garlic and used one of my freshly picked cucumbers and two of my freshly picked tomatoes, and I put in the "zucchini" and left out the scallions.

 Next, I tackled the felafel.  I usually use this recipe, but I leave out the hot pepper.  I also serve it with tzatziki, because I hate tahini. When I don't have a food processor handy, I skin the chick peas.  With the food processor, I don't bother, and since I was doing this at home, I was able to use my food processor.  All of the ingredients listed in the recipe go into the food processor and get ground to a sandy consistency.  This is then turned out into a bowl and refrigerated so the flavors can marry.  Mine sat in the fridge for about two hours before I cooked it.

The felafel recipe took about two thirds of the chick peas, so I decided to make hummus with the rest.  Again, I used the food processor, and again it was really easy.  I started with this page as a starting point.  The page's author says to process your tahini for a minute before you add any other ingredients, but you have to remember that I really don't like tahini.  We have bought it for hummus and felafel in the past, but it goes rancid after a few years in the cupboard, so we stopped buying it.  Instead of tahini, I started with olive oil and lemon juice.  I put about 1/4 inch of olive oil in the bottom of the food processor bowl along with three or four generous squirts of lemon juice.  (All right, yes I used a squeezy lemon for this.  I did use the juice of a fresh lemon in the tebbouleh, but I wanted to be able to control the amount more easily in the hummus.  I didn't want to juice a whole lemon for a couple of squirts worth of juice.) 

I let this process for about a minute, until it looked like mayonnaise, then added the chick peas.  I processed this on high and added various other things until it tasted right.  I know I used four cloves of garlic (maybe five or even six - I didn't count), salt, a little more lemon juice, a pinch of adobo seasoning (Filipino, not Mexican adobo), about half a teaspoon of Ras al Hanout and a pinch of chipotle lime rub.

It doesn't really matter what you put in hummus, other than the chick peas.  Add stuff til it tastes good to you.  I did this and let it sit in the fridge until dinner time, an hour or so.

Next up was the pita dough.  Here is the recipe I used.  I did not change anything in this, and it came together surprisingly easily.  I did let the dough balls rise for closer to an hour, but that was because I was busy with other things.  It didn't seem to have any negative effect on the pitas.

Finally, I made tzatziki.  As I have said several times in this post, I don't like tahini.  Therefore, I don't serve it as a dressing for my felafels.  Instead, I make tzatziki, which is the simplest, yet yummiest sauce imaginable for any kind of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean food.  You need about a cup and a half to two cups of plain (UNSWEETENED - sweetened plain yogurt came as quite a shock to me when I accidentally used it in tzatziki once, let me tell you) yogurt, a cucumber and several cloves of garlic.  That's it.  Peel, seed and dice the cucumber, mince the garlic. then mix the ingredients together.  You may be tempted to add onion, but I wouldn't.  Don't overthink this sauce.  Just put it in the fridge, then load the dishwasher or something.  Maybe have a beer. 

By the time you're done with your beer (I loaded the dishwasher), it should be time to heat the oven and the oil.  I put my oven rack in the lowest position, per the pita recipe, but I used a pizza stone instead of a sheet pan.  I love our pizza stone.  I set the oven for 500f and put three inches of oil (okay, it's turkey fryer oil - it's what I had available) in my deep cast iron skillet and cranked the flame up to high.  For the felafels, you want the oil around 350f.  I find that I get there in a couple of minutes.  I put a test felafel ball in at the three minute mark, or thereabouts, and let it cook.  When it's golden brown, the oil is ready.

I made felafel balls the size of a walnut and then flattened them so I had 3/4 inch high disks.  I fried these six at a time and drained them on newspaper (we don't buy paper towels any more).

While the felafel was frying, I flattened four pita dough balls on my floured board and gently patted them out to five inch disks (right!) about 1/4 inch thick.  Once the oven was at temp, I put the well floured disks on my pizza peel and slid them onto the pizza stone.  (I love my pizza peel - I didn't get burned once tonight!) 

The recipe says to bake them for about eight minutes, but I found that six was just about perfect.  This is the first time that every one of my pitas puffed up and formed a pocket. 

The secret is to remember that pitas are not pizzas.  Don't stretch the dough or push it too flat in the middle.  The idea is to be very gentle and pat or, better yet, roll the circles to the desired size and thickness.

When everything was ready, I laid it out on the table and plated the girls'.  Here is Lily's. 

Shelly made her own, as did I.  Here's Shelly's felafel whopper:

Well, there you have it, a complete vegetarian feast from idea to plate in just over five hours and everything made from scratch.  This is what I do.  How about you?

Friday, August 2, 2013

Apple heads - guest post by Jeannine S.

OK, so after a trip to the local apple orchard, we ended up with four large bags of apples. Naturally we had to process them as quickly as possible. We made apple butter, fresh apple pies, apple dumplings, over 2 gallons of dried apples and a fresh apple coffee cake. Guess what? We still had quite a few apples left. So, being a mean and crotchety old lady, what better thing to do with some of them than dry them into apple heads. (The mean and crotchety part comes in because after they are dried, they have scowling faces and look like mean and crotchety old folks.)

We are going to make them into unusual Yule decorations, (witch heads, Santa heads, might even have a Grinch head.) Its very easy to dry apple heads. The apples need to be peeled and NOT cored. Push a wire through the top and out the bottom. The wires can be taken out later if you wish. To shape the face, use a teaspoon and roughly carve out eye indents, a nose and a mouth. If you have small beads or small “googly” eyes, you can push them into the apple at this point. Now comes the hard part, you have to let them dry. You can use the wire to hang them over head and out of the way. Ours have dried for about one month and are finally ready to finish. I dip the heads into clear polyurethane to seal them and then once again, let them dry. Now, you can add paint, hair, hats or any other items you think they can use. If you're really feeling froggy, make a cloth body and using the aforementioned wire, fasten it to the head and make a complete applehead doll. Then, you can let your creative juices flow and make clothing for the doll, etc.

The fun part is that you are never sure how they will turn out. You think they will look one way and the end result is totally different.

Garden update - early July 2013

We've been so busy gardening and homesteading that we haven't had the time to actually blog about it.  Here's a rundown of what's happening so far.

*  We picked, cleaned and frozen (or dried) 17 lbs of strawberries.  We have strawberries growing in our own yard, but not enough to really do much with other than eat fresh.  So, we went to the place we've gone to for the last couple of years and ate to our hearts' content, then processed like crazy.  We are really looking forward to picking blueberries too.

*  We bought 22 lbs of cherries and froze half while using the other half to make the cherry butter that is currently scenting the kitchen from the crock pot.  We'll be using a mix of the two recipes here and here.  Can you imagine what that cherry butter will taste like on white chocolate cherry English muffin toasting bread?  No?  Well, we'll make up a recipe and let you know.

* We went to a flea market and bought a small van load of fruits and vegetables.  After a day and a half of sitting in a hot van, the strawberries were useless but for compost.  We did, however, have much more to process. We dried 3 lbs of bananas, froze a case each of peaches, mangoes, blackberries, blueberries, and sweet corn (this method really works for shucking quickly, except we didn't even bother nuking).  We ate fried plantains with our fish tacos topped with avocados and mango salsa that night.  It was, as our 2-year-old says "de-yi-cious."

* We are done with kale.  I picked the last of it and blanched it to be frozen.  Same for cilantro, which we'd never preserved before but I had to figure out how we could do that because it bugged me so much last year that our cilantro had gone to seed (coriander) by the time the tomatoes were ready.  For cilantro, basically you just freeze it and vacuum seal it. 

* Lettuce is about done.  It's getting a bit bitter.  There have been many lovely salads with lettuce, beet thinnings, turnip thinnings, cabbage thinnings, lambs quarters, and asparagus. 

* Yarrow tincture is in the jar and ready to keep away pesky bugs, both viral or bacterial and the nasty flying around skeeters with our homemade bug spray.

* The potatoes are growing like crazy (at least the tops are, so I hope the tubers are too).  We didn't grow sweet potatoes this year because last year we only got tops and not the tubers.  Maybe we could do some sweet potatoes for house plants later.

* Our parsnips, again, did not come up. Several of our ordered plants also didn't take too well to either the severe rainy weather or the some other reason.  I will be writing the company to get replacements because the fortunately have a one-year replacement.  Of course that means that you go online to the website and end up wanting more stuff.  Unfortunately, we lost some things that were not covered by a guarantee because they were more than a year old.  We lost a cherry tree to a large ant nest, and a paw paw tree to heavy water runoff from the downspout.  We did have a large ant nest by our honey berry plant but boiling water and cornmeal shut that down and there is small growth on it again.

* And besides the garden, we are still raising the chickens.  No eggs yet, but they are really loving the scraps from strawberry tops and mushy cherries.


My mother let us go through her huge rhubarb plants, with stalks more than 2 feet in length.  We quickly picked enough that we had more than 25 cups of diced rhubarb.  I used 16 cups of it in a rhubarb BBQ recipe.  I did make some of my own substitutions.  Instead of just brown sugar, we used up some pure cane sugar and some dark brown sugar that came in hard sticks.  I had them sitting around from when we were trying out different sugars from the Asian food store, but it was just not very convenient to have hard bricks of sugar, so I used them up in this recipe.  Instead of vinegar, I used apple cider vinegar.  Instead of raisins, I used a combination of raisins, craisins, and dried cherries.

We also took an immersion blender to it when it was cooking.   A doubled recipe made 5 quarts and 5 pints.


Frugal eating

Last year we did the $25 a week grocery challenge.  I was at a camping festival recently and when I mentioned that we budget only about $300 a month for groceries (for a family of 5), I was asked to present a workshop on it for next year with what our tricks are for cheap, healthy groceries.  Trust me, we are not eating ramen every night.  We've probably only bought ramen once while living here, though I'm not dissing the ramen.

Anyway, rather than wait a year to tell people how we do groceries on the cheap, I'll tell you now.  There's no magical way here, just common sense stuff you've likely heard before. 

Buy in bulk.
The local natural food store has bulk bins and we like to buy the things from there that we use often.  Organic cornmeal is only $.87/lb.  We also buy quinoa, couscous, and several other things from the bulk bins.  When the store has a 10% off bulk sale, we make sure to load up and store extras.

We also buy in bulk when wanting to freeze or otherwise preserve fruits (since our stuff at home is not old enough to produce yet).  This you can get from buying clubs, farmer's markets, flea markets, or even grocery stores when on sale.

Know where to go
Though I understand those who do, I do not do the price matching at WalMart, mainly because I don't support the store.  We tend to shop at Aldi for many of our groceries.  They have even started carrying organic foods in limited areas.  We stocked up on organic spaghetti at $1.19 a pack.  I know that it is possible to get it cheaper (I've seen infrequent ads for Cub Foods for $.88 a pack, which is a good price and I'd probably still buy a few, but that's for conventional food pricing).

We also shop at Target.  I get 5% off with my Red Card.  If we happen to get prescriptions, we get an extra 5% off card every time we fill 5.  When I have that coupon, I stack it with my Red Card and get 9.75% off.  I don't buy a lot of food at Target, but we do buy stuff like toilet paper.  In fact, I will buy TP every time I stack the discounts, because it never goes bad and I have the space to store it.  Often enough, Target will send out $5 off a $50 purchase coupon.

We stop off at 7 Mile Fair, a large flea market, a few times a year when we are visiting family. A large organic provider happens to sell off extras there, and we reap the benefits.  Recently, we bought a crate of sweet corn (maybe 40 or more cobs) for $8.  We've also bought blackberries, peaches, avocados, raspberries, mangoes, and much more, all at prices less than 1/4 of what you'd pay at the grocery store.  This particular flea market also sells spices, cheeses, and bulk coffee. 

Try out one of the pick-your-own places.  We've gone strawberry picking for the last 5 or so years.  You go when it's the peak of the season and then freeze or otherwise preserve what you don't immediately use.  You cannot get the real taste of fresh strawberry unless you've eaten one just picked.  Having red throughout, rather than white in the center as you'd get in most stores, makes for a delicious taste.  While strawberry season is over this year, blueberry season is still going on, and we picked nearly 20 lbs. It's the best taste at the best prices. 

The picture is a couple years old, but it's the same strawberry place we always go

Farmer's markets have food straight from the farmer (well, most of the farmer's markets), and often have the best prices, especially the last hour or so before it ends.  No one wants to be hauling home all that produce.  Some will even have local meats and eggs.  We buy our meat from my mother, who raises her own cattle.  We also have a bison ranch nearby, for local lean meat.  I haven't tried it yet, but may someday.  We buy chicken either from a farmer I work with (he offers a 10% discount for more than 25 lbs) or from an Amish farmer.  We are finally getting our own eggs from our chickens, but we otherwise buy eggs from either the supply store or the Mexican restaurant that both sell free-range eggs for about the cost of conventionally sold eggs. 

Grow It & Preserve It  
Not without a time commitment, but this is really the cheapest option, and the one we do the most of.  It's really why we can keep our budget as low as it is.  We tend to fill up the freezer and cold room and eat out of there most of the year.  It means you've got to garden, maintain the garden, harvest and preserve.  You can freeze, dry, can, or otherwise store your produce until you're ready to use it.  You won't get a better taste than what is freshly picked. 

Garden goodies from a previous year

Expand your Palate
Figure out what recipes you like that have low cost ingredients.  And by low cost, I also mean what you have preserved and put away in your freezer or cupboard.  In our home, we love polenta (creamy or baked), falafel (a Mediterranean vegetarian favorite made with chickpeas that we can also put some of the massive amount of zucchini in), pastas (with pesto, or alfredo, or tomato sauce), and egg foo  young (using eggs, obviously, and whatever veggies you have on hand).  Obviously, these meals are mostly vegetarian.  We do eat meat often enough, but when we do, we plan for it to make certain that nothing is wasted.

Waste nothing/Meal planning
Leftovers should be used up for lunch the next day, or rolled into another meal.  For example, use up your burgers or taco meat and put it in chili.  Use leftover rice (in our home there isn't such a thing) and make rice pudding.  Old bread (no one really wants all those ends) can be made into bread pudding, or dried for bread crumbs.
When making a meal out of a main dish, use the leftovers from the main dish for later dishes.  You should get 3-4 meals out of a chicken or turkey.  It may be the main attraction for one meal, but for one to two meals, you should have that meat in something else as a complement, like a noodle salad or in a sauce.  Always save your carcasses.  If you haven't learned yet, you'll need to learn how to make stock.  It's a very simple process.  Whether saving them up by putting them in a container in the freezer or making stock with each carcass, you'll end up with a lot of delicious stock to use for bases for risotto, rice, couscous, etc. or for soups.  This also ensures that you have only what you want in your stock (adding in those veggie peelings like carrots and potatoes too), and having no artificial ingredients. 

Turn stale bread into bread pudding

Make It
Make things from scratch.  Not just your meals, but other things you would use at home too.  Maybe it's not time effective or cost effective to make everything from scratch, but pick a few things.  The things we almost always make are bread and yogurt.  I can buy a premium loaf of bread for $3-4 or make it for $1.  I can buy yogurt in individual serving cups, at about $.60-$1 a serving, or make a quart of yogurt for about 1/8th of that, again without the unpronounceable ingredients.  With the yogurt, we'll add honey or maple syrup or jam.  We'll often use it for tzatziki to go on our falafels.

Redefine Food
We've all heard not to eat CRAP (Carbonated beverages, Refined, Artificial colors and sweeteners, processed foods).  But, there is a lot more in the food category if you're willing to be a bit more adventuresome and become a budding wildcrafter.   Some delicious foods are commonly called weeds.  Even if you don't feel like seeing what's available outside of your sphere (and you definitely shouldn't if there's a change it might be sprayed with chemicals), there are many things that are likely growing in even your yard that you don't realize are edible.  Dandelions, violets, purslane, and lambs quarters are just a few that we have in our own yard.  There are so many recipes for a lot of great foods to make.  It's not that you have to dive in and do an entire meal out of wildcrafted foods, but even replacing ingredients for an item or two will expand your palate and cut the budget.  For example, lambs quarters can be used interchangeably with spinach, and tastes very close to it. 

Socialize the frugal way
Everyone loves a potluck.  

Though not under the food budget, making your household cleaners also helps to keep money in your pocket.  There's really nothing you need to clean for most household jobs but for baking soda, hydrogen peroxide and vinegar.  I do like to buy Dr. Bronner's castille soap because we use that for hand soap.  It can also be used for shampoo if you don't otherwise use baking soda and vinegar for that. From personal experience, I can tell you that vinegar is the best conditioner I've ever tried.  I also like to get Dawn dish soap, but buy it in a 5 gallon bucket for $25 at the flea market, because it's useful for many cleaning jobs.  I especially like it along with baking soda (and sometimes hydrogen peroxide) for carpet cleaning.

Happy frugal eating!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Our yard in pictures - May 17, 2013

This is one of the several stepping stones the girls made

Yes, this is inside, but it's the "forest" the girls made to encourage Spring

Newly planted trees, shrubs, etc - all will hopefully produce yummy goodies for us

The chicks hiding from the drizzles

Another view of all the things we just put in - some neighbors love it, some hate it

The fairy garden, which also has potted trees: fig, banana, and pomegranate

The girls get to ride their upcycled tire horse near the fairies

The plum tree is in bloom, and has a 3-in-1 citrus and a stevia plant on its mulch

The new strawberry bed.  The other was way too crowded.  Flowering all ready!

The 6 raised beds (still needing planting for the most part), and the 8x8 acidic blueberry bed

The rabbits ate down the peach tree a couple years ago and now there are three branches.  I will attempt tree shaping around the ornament.

The rabbits ate down one of my honey berry plants.  Thankfully, I see some life.

The apple tree has leaves, but no blossoms yet.

The little cherry tree in the front yard that was a volunteer in a friend's garden and was gifted to us

Yep, indoors again.  The branch to hang the pics was a trimming from one of our fruit trees