Left-Armed Louie is Back!

I hurt my right arm this summer; probably a combination of age and over-use from a heavy week of chopping and cranking three bushels of apples into sauce.

Despite trying to “work through the pain,” I finally went to the doctor when my arm started throbbing like a toothache from knuckles to shoulder. The diagnosis of Tendonitis and directions for total rest and aggressive icing has kept me off the computer. No typing allowed! Through this unpleasant season I have learned how to do many things left-handed, but have new appreciation for the term “right-hand man.”

The sling is gone, but I still wear a brace to support the tendon. And, while it still hurts, it isn’t waking me up at night anymore. Not being able to do things is driving me up the wall.

Because of the physical limitations from being “one-handed,” my normal cooking activity has been greatly curtailed. However, I discovered a recipe for No Knead Bread that is amazing! You don’t need two totally functioning hands to make this!

The recipe is simple! Three cups of regular white flour, one teaspoon of salt, 2 1/4 teaspoon of rapid rise yeast, and 1 1/2 cups of warm water. Mix it up in a bowl, cover with plastic and put in a warm place for a couple of hours to rise.

The flour, water, and yeast mix ready to turn into sponge.

The flour, water, and yeast mix ready to turn into sponge.

I covered the bowl of dough with a piece of plastic wrap, placed it inside my Dutch Oven, and set it in a sunny spot in my kitchen.

The sunshine streaming through the window made free heat for my dough.

The sunshine streaming through the window made free heat for my dough.

After two hours, the dough had risen to the top of the bowl and was ready for the next step. I dumped the sticky sponge onto a flour-covered cutting board, rolled it around and shaped it into a ball for the second rising. This sat on my counter for a half hour.

Dough ready to rise again.

Dough ready to rise again.

While the dough was rising I preheated the oven to 450 degrees. The Dutch Oven and lid went inside the oven to heat for a full thirty minutes. The dough was then placed inside the hot Dutch Oven and covered for thirty minutes of baking; I removed the lid and baked it uncovered for an additional fifteen minutes.

The bread slid easily from the pan onto the cooling rack. It has a crunchy crust and tastes like fancy artisan bread from five-star restaurants. The Dutch Oven acts much as an old-fashioned clay oven.

The prettiest (and easiest) bread I have ever made.

The prettiest (and easiest) bread I have ever made.

We could hardly wait to cut and sample it. It tasted great with homemade strawberry jam and I am already planning different combinations of spices and flours for future experiments.

The finished product!

The finished product!

I encourage you to give this a try. If you come up with any winning combinations of flours and spices, please post them in comments.

My Favorite “Hamburger Helper”

We had lots of company over the Labor Day weekend, which meant preparing lots of meals!  I enjoy cooking so that was not a problem, but never know how much  to prepare, with people popping in and out and never wanting to end up short on food.  I would much rather have more food than I need on hand than to run short. 

One of our planned lunches was burgers on the grill and we loaded up on fresh ground beef, conveniently on sale at the local supermarket.  I commented to my husband that my pantry supply of canned ground beef was running low and how I half wished I had time to process some at such a great price.  (Canned burger in the pantry?  You betcha!)  After the weekend I was left with about 8 pounds of extra meat which I processed on Tuesday.  It is so easy to produce this great convenience food if you own a pressure canner. 

 

Frying up the beef.  I love my black iron pans!

Frying up the beef. I love my black iron pans!

It isn’t a good idea to can raw ground beef because the product is too dense to heat properly, and you would end up with a sort of meatloaf-y lump. Fry it up till the pink just disappears; it will continue to cook during the canning process.

Loading the hot jars with yummy burger.

Loading the hot jars with yummy burger.

Strain the burger from the grease and spoon into hot jars to @ one inch from the top. I like to add 1/2 tsp of canning salt to each jar for taste. It isn’t necessary to add salt if you are on a sodium diet. The jars of burger will still process just fine.

Cooking up the "juice."

Cooking up the “juice.”

Drain the fat from the cooking pan,add water to the pan drippings, and bring this “juice” to a boil. Ladle this flavorful mixture into the jars of meat to @ 1 inch from the top of the jar. Release air bubbles, wipe the lip of the jars with a clean, wet paper towel to remove any grease, and seal with a new, simmered jar lid. Add hand-tightened rings to hold the lid in place and process in your canner. Process pints for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure and quarts for 90 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the canner’s pressure to drop naturally before opening. This usually takes about 45 minutes.

Shelf stable burger ready for the pantry.

Shelf stable burger ready for the pantry.

Carefully remove the hot jars of meat from the canner and place on a folded towel away from drafts. In a short time you should hear the “pings” of sealing lids. Allow the jars to sit undisturbed overnight, remove the rings, wash in hot, soapy water, and label. Your jars of burger are now shelf-stable and are safe to use as long as the lid remains sealed.

To use, open and dump into a pan and heat to a boil for 15 minutes and use as a meat base for goulash, Spanish rice, chili, soups, or gravy. Canning burger allows you to take advantage of left-over meat, or cash in on grocery store sales without worrying about freezer space or power outages. It is an old-fashioned convenience food for fast and easy meal preparation!

A Saucy Treat!

God has blessed us once again, this time with an unexpected bonus of delicious apples from our backyard apple trees. We missed the ideal window of opportunity to treat the blossoms for insects this spring, but Michigan’s cold, wet spring seems to have played in our favor. The trees are loaded with fruit, and most of it is free of insects! What a surprise!

I try to limit my sugar intake in an attempt to ward off the potential of developing Type II Diabetes and have lost the taste for the heavily sugared products from the grocery store. Even the “sugar free” applesauce sold in stores tastes overly-sweet to me now.

I like to make and can my own applesauce but over the past several years our own apples have been too buggy for use and orchard apples have been very expensive. I haven’t made applesauce for a very long time and have rationed the few remaining jars in my pantry. What a wonderful surprise to discover bug-free apples on my own trees!

Although many recipes call for added sugar, you do not need to include it to make applesauce. I prefer to can it without additional spices and add them to taste when serving. I was introduced to this method years ago when living in Indiana by an elderly lady with numerous apple trees adorning her own back yard. A full, heaping bushel off apples will yield @ 22 quart jars of sauce. My little half bushel basket, filled as pictured, will yield one canner full, or 7 quart jars.

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Preparation is simple. Wash the fruit, cut into chunks and cook till soft. I trim out bruised spots and anything that looks suspiciously like a worm as well!

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Put a few inches of water in your pans with the apples and cook till the fruit is soft. Stir frequently so they don’t burn! Warning! The fragrance will be wonderful!

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The apples go into the pot with skin, core, stem, and seeds, so preparation is a breeze. My secret weapon in making great applesauce is a Victorio Strainer. They cost @ $60 but are worth every penny; it is a simple task to make applesauce using this great tool!

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This little machine assembles easily and clamps onto the counter or table. The hot, cooked apple mush is ladled into the bowl at the top, and you crank the handle on the side. The strained sauce comes down the chute and all of the other debris is deposited out of the side.

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Ladle the hot applesauce into sanitized hot canning jars, wipe the rim and top with a simmered lid. Process in a PRESSURE CANNER for 15 minutes at 5 pounds of pressure. When the pressure drops, move the jars to a folded towel to seal away from drafts; allow the jars sit undisturbed overnight.

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As the jars cool, you will hear a “ping” when they seal. The music of self reliance!

In the morning wash the jars in warm, soapy water, remove the rings, label and store in your cupboard. As long as the lids remain sealed, the product is shelf stable and will keep for years. Light exposure will cause the sauce to darken, so keep in a dark place; even store bought sauce will turn dark when exposed to light.

Home food preservation is becoming a lost art. I encourage you to make the investment in a pressure canner and begin the adventure of preserving your own harvest.

DIY Granola

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We eat a lot of whole grain at our house.  Research has shown that our bodies process whole grains much more efficiently and they provide a slower insulin hit to the pancreas. With Type II Diabetes rampant on both sides of our family, we try to maintain a healthy life style in hopes of avoiding this disease. 

Sugary foods are rampant in our food choices.  From sugar saturated French fries, to sugar being added to milk, we are inundated with sweetness.  Our bodies develop the taste for it and subsequently crave it.  No wonder this nation’s over-all health is in such distress. 

When we began the journey into eating more natural foods we discovered that we really like granola and yogurt for breakfast.  I find the flavored yogurts cloyingly sweet and store purchased granola too sweet and expensive. 

I discovered a musilex type breakfast mix on a cruise vacation and come pretty close to duplicating it for my daily breakfast.   I use plain, low-fat yogurt, flavored with about half a teaspoon of freezer jam and topped with half cup of my home-made granola.  Not all granola recipes are the same, but this particular blend mimics what I found on the cruise ship breakfast bar.  It isn’t fancy, but I think it is delicious.

Start with 6 cups of old fashioned oatmeal.  Don’t use the quick or instant variety.  Add 1 1/2 cup of walnut pieces and 1 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds.  Mix well in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl mix 1/2 cup of canola oil and 1/2 cup of honey till well blended.  Pour this blend over the oat mix and stir well to coat evenly.  Spread onto a large, greased cookie sheet with a lip and bake in a preheated 300 degree oven for a total of 30 minutes.  Stir every 5 minutes after the first 15 and watch carefully so it doesn’t burn.

Cool out of pan.  I cover my counter with parchment paper and spread the mix evenly.  When cool, mix with @3 ounces of dried fruit (I use dried cranberries), and store in air-tight container.  I use a large glass pickle jar.  This makes @30 half cup servings. 

Because I tend to shop at big box grocery stores and purchase in bulk, I always  have most of the ingredients for this readily available in my pantry.  I have not done a price comparison on how this compares to purchasing bags of granola from the grocery store, but I am pretty sure it is much less expensive.  This would be a great home-school math project or even a fun exercise for one of you number geeks out there.  If you decide to do the math, please let me know what your findings revealed.

 

P-NUTTY Experiment

We visited our winter home last week and did some general maintenance around the place. One of the chores was cleaning up the patio and pulling weeds. A large, shrub-like bush was growing in each of the flower boxes along the patio fence. 100_4274

When my husband pulled one out, we discovered peanuts! Being “Yankees,” we had never seen peanuts growing before and were shocked to discover them in our planters. 100_4270

I remembered the neighborhood squirrels digging in the planters last winter. Apparently they were the gardeners.

Feeling adventurous, we cleaned the legumes off and decided to learn how to cook them. Boiled peanuts are a southern delicacy, but we have never tried them.
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Recipes suggest boiling them in salted water for several hours. And, most recipes recommend you start with about 5 pounds of nuts instead of 5 nuts!
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The water was brown and yucky after a few hours on the stove.

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And the finished product was questionable looking but tasty!
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These little guys were far too young to be picked, so I’m glad we left the bush on the other side of the patio alone. More peanut fun is waiting when we return to the south!

Summer Goodness “In the Can!”

This was supposed to be a food-production summer! Our intention was to intensely garden and preserve most of the harvest in glass canning jars to enjoy all winter long. Unfortunately, our heavy clay soil, colder than normal temperatures, and the heavy, frequent rains are a poor combination for growing much of anything. Our corn is only waist high and has tasseled out without any ears to pollinate and the green beans drowned out twice.

Fortunately we have a few raised beds with decent drainage and they are producing fairly well. I have a “Ratatouille Garden.” Meaning, most of what I planted in the raised beds will grow into the ingredients of one of my favorite foods, the humble eggplant stew made famous by the Disney movie about a cooking rat!

I don’t make mine in the stylized, stacked strata of the animated film. My version of Ratatouille is scooped, steaming out of the pot, and served with a chunk of crusty, homemade bread on the side.

Everyone who makes this has their own version of the dish, probably because we tend to “make it up as we go along” depending on whatever is ripening in the garden. I make a base of garlic, chopped onions and chopped green or red (or both if I have them) peppers, sautéed until tender in olive oil. Next I add peeled, chopped eggplant and cook that for a bit with the base. I add several cans of Italian Seasoned chopped tomatoes (if I don’t use my own spices and home canned tomatoes or have enough fresh from the garden). Then I throw in chopped zucchini and yellow summer squash. Add Italian seasonings to taste. I don’t measure, and just “eyeball” the quantities, depending on what I have on hand.

I bring it to a boil for @15 minutes to blend the flavors and then ladle into hot canning jars and process in my pressure canner. The veggies are still a little under-done at this stage but will finish cooking in the canner. I set the regulator at 10 pounds of pressure and let it rock for 50 minutes because I preserve this summer goodness in quart jars. Follow the directions for normal pressure canning of low-acid foods. Boil contents 20 minutes before serving.

This is an extremely yummy, low calorie, low weight-watcher point meal before you add the bread! I love Ratatouille and think I could live on this stuff. Thanks to pressure canning, I have captured summer goodness in the can to enjoy all year long!

Bon Appetite!

Discoveries on the journey…

I met a woman yesterday who spends her winters here at the park. She is retired and lives in a 19 foot long travel trailer. When I asked if living in such a small space bothered her, she replied that she only sleeps inside the trailer; she spends all of her time outside. Her “living room and dining room” are under the canopy, on her patio slab. Which is fine, if you don’t mind wind, rain and chilly temperatures. She bundles up and sits in her lawn chair all day long, watching camp life happen around her.

Winters are still nippy in Northern Florida. Last night the temperature dipped to 27 degrees. We were warned by a neighboring camper to disconnect the water hose to our unit so it wouldn’t freeze and break the brass fittings. Now, at 9 am, the sun is streaming into the windows and the outside temperature is up to a balmy 39 degrees. This is a temporary cold snap; the locals reassure us that we will be topping out in the 70’s again by the end of the week. For the next few days, I will be holed up inside the RV.

We have had to make adjustments to life in small spaces. I am not willing to spend my days wrapped in blankets to sit outdoors during the cold snaps. That defeats our purpose of coming to Florida to escape the cold weather!

Getting the RV road-worthy was only the beginning! We find ourselves adding to our list of missing essentials on a daily basis, as we adjust to this new life-style. We have already added three electric space heaters, one for the bedroom, bathroom, and main living quarters. These RVs are not well insulated and must be driven to the refill station to refill an empty propane tank. Heating by electricity is the easier choice. We will find out how pricey the electricity is when our bill arrives at the end of the month.

Other discoveries:

After years of living with an automatic ice-maker in my refrigerator, I needed to buy an ice-cube tray. Simple pleasures of life; ice in your drinks.

Our motor home was stocked with a set of unbreakable Melmac dishes. We have seen them for sale at Camper’s World stores, hawked as the best camping dishes on the market. I remember Melmac dishes from my childhood. They truly are unbreakable and are a nice alternative to paper plates, but I have discovered that they do not hold up well in a microwave! They melt! Off we went to Wal-Mart for a 4 pack of Corelle dishes.

The glass tray in the microwave oven is a perfect fit for my frying pan. Of course, there is no handle so a lid to fit the frying pan is on my list for a future trip!

Our coffee-maker sprung a leak early in this journey and we replaced it for less than $20, at Wal-Mart.

The air quality is greatly improved since switching to unscented kitty litter. We are glad Wal-Mart also carries pet supplies.

Cooking presents another challenge because my little kitchen only has a 12 inch span of counter space. It is manageable, but meals are by no means elaborate or complicated. Space is at a premium so most of my kitchen tools stayed at home. The process of meal prep reminds me of the years I spent living in a college dorm, fixing weekend meals in my room. At least I have a small stove here, and don’t have to figure out how to cook everything in my popcorn popper!

My daughter jokes that we really are “retired” despite my husband’s job allowing him to commute to work by phone. It seems that every time she phones us, we are at Wal-Mart, picking up groceries or those missing essentials to make life easier. And, if I get too bored, maybe I can apply for a job! I can smile and say, “Hello, welcome to Wal-Mart!”