A documentation of my preservation and preparation of local foods as I work through the seasons. This will serve as a reference tool for me in the future and as a sharing guide for family and friends...and anyone else interested. Hopefully, I can offer some useful methods, tips and recipes to share with everyone--be they novice or pro--and encourage them to join me in the exciting world of preserving and cooking with local foods.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Mom's Scalloped Potatoes

Growing up, we loved my mother's scalloped potatoes.  They were usually served in the Winter, when warm potato dishes seem most appreciated.  With lots of diced ham thrown in, this was a main dish.  Without any (leftover) ham, this was a side dish.  Cheese was added if Mom had some on hand; but they're just as good with or without cheese.  Here is her (easy) recipe, passed down from her mother (and I'm sure generations before that).
Soooo good and filling for supper on cold Winter nights
Easy Scalloped Potatoes
In a casserole dish, layer: 
Thin-sliced potatoes
Thin-sliced onions
Diced ham, if desired
Shredded Cheese, if desired
small pats of butter, 3-5 inches apart
salt and pepper to taste
Layer all a second time
Pour milk over all until half to 3/4 up side of casserole dish
-Heat at 350, approx. 1 hour, until potatoes are done.  Can be heated on high in microwave until potatoes are done, approx. 30 min.

Ice Cream 101

Thanksgiving morning took an unusual twist this year.  I was invited to
observe homemade ice cream being made in an electric ice cream maker.  Since I wasn't hosting any Thanksgiving dinner this year, I was eager to learn.  My own ice cream maker has been shelved since we received it for a wedding gift--18 years ago!!  I have been telling myself for that long that "one of these days..."  Now, with hands-on experience, I would have no excuse.  I rode my bike over to Mark Larsons where Mark and his girlfriend Mary had the ice cream churning.  A sampling of the finished product and I knew I would be making my own soon.  I swear it was the most delicious ice cream I've had (and I usually buy the best).  Mark was kind enough to share his blue ribbon recipe, below.  And, below that, are my own blue ribbon chocolate and caramel sauces for sundaes.
  Mmmm, my two favorites!

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 gal. whole milk, approx.
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla (Mark says: "Don't bother with fake.")
12 oz. evaporated milk
1 pint heavy cream
-Combine eggs, 3 cups of the milk and the sugar in a heavy saucepan.  Cook over low heat until it thickens.  Cool. (This is the custard.)  You may refrigerate at this point if you want to do later or the next day.
Mix together custard, salt, vanilla, evaporated milk and cream.  Pour into ice cream freezer.  Top to fill line with milk.  Freeze. 
Note:  Mark uses regular or canning salt for freezing; says rock salt is dirty.

Excellent Chocolate Sauce
1/2 cup butter
2 squares unsweetened chocolate
2 cups sugar
1 cup evaporated milk or 1 cup Half 'nHalf
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
-Melt butter and chocolate.  Add rest.  Boil 1-1/2 minute.  Can serve warm or cooled.  Stores well in refrigerator or freezer.

Best Caramel Sauce
1 cup butter
2-1/2 cups brown sugar
pinch salt
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
-Melt butter.  Add remaining ingredients.  Cook on stove to soft ball stage; or put in microwave on high and cook in two-minute intervals, stirring in between.  Cook to soft ball stage.  Stores well in refrigerator or freezer.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Waffles and Cakes Breakfast Fare

These are my favorite recipes for a high-carb breakfast.  I started with old tried-and-true family recipes and doctored them over the years for improved flavor.  I love making any one of these from scratch.  They are especially good with ingredients such as homemade bread, local sweet corn, farm fresh eggs, fresh cream...    You'll never go back once you've had this old-fashioned goodness in breakfast fare.  The homemade flavor will zoom you back to your childhood--the warmth and comfort of the family breakfast.    Moderation is the key to enjoying these without guilt; so we limit ourselves to not more than once a week for this type of fare; usually on  a weekend morning with a bike trip to follow, or during cold Winter months when a breakfast like this adds to the comfort of a warm room.  These recipes are also perfect for company--friends and relatives will rave about your delicious breakfasts!  Note:  also see bread pudding--5/17/2011 post.
 No packaged mixes or frozen fare here!

Homemade Maple Syrup 
1 cup packed dark brown sugar 
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp maple flavoring
*Note: A healthier choice would be honey with or without maple flavoring.

Buttermilk Pancakes   
Note:  H&H or whole milk may be substituted for the buttermilk.  
1-1/2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 egg
2 cups buttermilk
1/3 cup oil
Buttermilk Waffles  (20, 4-inch waffles)
Note: H&H or whole milk may be substituted for the buttermilk.
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder 1/2 tsp soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup melted bugter
2 cups buttermilk
3 egg yolks
3 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla or almond extract (optional)
-Combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt.  In separate bowl combine melted butter, buttermilk and egg yolks.  Stir in flour mixture just until moist.  In separate bowl beat egg whites with electric mixer until stiff peaks form.  Gently fold egg whites into flour mixture, leaving a few fluffs of egg white.  Pour one cup batter on preheated, lightly-greased waffle iron.  Close lid quickly and don't open until done.  Bake according to directions.  When done, use fork to lift waffle off grid.  Serve warm.

Belgian Waffles           Makes 10, 4-1/2" waffles
2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
3-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 eggs, separated
1-1/2 cups milk
1 cup butter (no substitutes)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-Combine flour, sugar and baking powder.  In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and add milk, butter and vanilla.  Combine dry ingrediients and egg mixture.  Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold into batter.  Bake in preheated waffle iron according to directions.  Serve with fresh fruit or syrup.

French Toast      makes 5-6 servings of two slices each
2 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups cream, H&H or evaporated milk
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-12 slices bread 

Corn Cakes
Note:  This recipe is from Dee Nelson and uses real corn
Drain and mash with a potato masher:  1 cup cooked corn
Beat 2 eggs and add 6 Tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg.  Melt butter in a fry pan and add batter by the Tblsp.

Cornmeal Pancakes
1-1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk (H&H or whole milk may be substituted)
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
-Mix and fry.

Potato Pancakes
1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups shredded potatoes, rinsed well and drained
1/2 cup butter
-Combine egg, flour and salt. Stir in potatoes. Heat butter in skillet. For each pancake use 1/4 cup of mixture and fry in butter until crisp and golden.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Home-Rendered Lard

It's easy to make home-rendered lard.  And to make flavored lards too.  The instructions are below, but first, the benefits:

Home-rendered lard:
-has less saturated fat than butter  (40% vs 60%)
-is higher in monosaturated fats than butter, decreasing risk of heart disease
-has 3 times more beneficial polyunsaturated fats than butter
-helps skeleton absorb calcium
-protects liver from toxins
-bolsters the immune system
-is a good source of Vitamin D
-contains no unhealthy trans fats (as in oils and margerine)
a sampling of my lard, flavored lards and packaging

To prepared lard for rendering:
Remove skin from lard and cut into 1" square pieces or grind.  (You can buy it from the butcher by the pound, either in chunks or ground.)  I buy the chunks and cut it because the cracklings are larger and more defined.

To render:
Depending on the amount of fat you have, either put the fat in your crockpot on low or in a roaster pan in the oven at 250 degrees.  The lard should not fill more than half of the crockpot or pan.  No need to cover, but add a little water to the bottom of the pan so it doesn't scorch.  The water will evaporate.  Just cook 6-8+ hours until most of the fat has melted and bits of cooked meat (cracklings) come to the top.  When the cracklings are brown and shriveled, remove the fat from oven or other heat, before they start to sink back to bottom.  Strain the fat well so there are no bits or crumbs.  Put into containers (see below).

Using the cracklings you have strained out of the fat:
I get out my largest fry pan and fill it with a single layer of the hot cracklings.  Fry them over medium heat until all of them are brown and somewhat crispy--not too dark, but a light brown.  Remove some to a small bowl, add some cinnamon and a little milk, H&H or cream and whoo-boy!--are you in for a treat!!  Remember, you only do this once a year so don't worry about calories here.  Besides, this is a delicacy in NY restaurants, so treat yourself.  The rest of the cracklings can be frozen and used in breads, cookies and atop salads.  See the internet for recipes.   

To store the fat:
When the fat is still liquid, pour it into storage containers.  The hot fat is yellow, but will turn white as it cools and solidifies.  I package mine in three different amounts:  2/3-cup for pies, 1 cup for bread making and a larger tub for general cooking.  I keep the larger tub in the fridge and freeze the rest for longer keeping.  It keeps in the fridge well for about a year and for several years in the freezer.

For flavored lards:
This is a bonus!  For a few months before butchering season (usually Sept and Oct), I save the fat after roasting or cooking meats.  This fat comes from meats or poultry flavored with herbs, fruits, marinades, BBQ rubs, smoke flavoring, etc; so the fat has that flavor infused in it.  Since this fat is too thin for pastry or bread, I mix it half and half with my newly-rendered lard.   The best time to do this is when the lard is hot so that it melts the fat and you can mix them better.  These flavored lards are remarkable for frying, making appetisers, potted meats or for homemade bread and pastry.  (i.e. use herbed lard for pot pie crusts or pasties; use smokey BBQ lard for homemade BBQ buns; fry potatoes or veggies in any flavored lard)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Bye-Bye Microwave

I never thought in a bijillion years that I would even consider getting rid of my microwave, but after reading from this website: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2010/05/18/microwave-hazards.aspx, I have not used my microwave once.  And it's now sitting by the back door, ready for disposal.  I won't go into detail, just read from the website for yourself.  I don't doubt what it says is true, and I stopped using my microwave right then and there.

My daughter first tried to "enlighten me" when she was visiting, and I appeased her by allowing her to remove my microwave from the kitchen to basement storage.  But at the end of her visit, I was waving good-bye to her with one hand and had the other hand on the basement door ready to retrieve my microwave.  "She's totally crazy" I thought--no microwave???!!!

Since then, I revisited the subject with her and she reminded me of the "watering plant" experiment; where two identical plants were watered--one with tap water and one with microwaved water; and the microwave-watered plant died.  She also suggested I google "microwave hazards and read it for yourself".  I did and I was convinced.  I'll never use a microwave again.

In the short time I've gone without it and used the stove, I've discovered a few things I like about not having a microwave:
-I can have all the meal dishes cooking on the stove at one time, and monitoring their  doneness, versus putting dishes individually in the microwave for a few minutes to several minutes each.
-I do not have to overheat the first few dishes going into the microwave so they are still hot when the last dish is ready for the table.
-I get benefits like bacon grease for frying and pan scrapings for gravy.
-I use fewer dishes.  I cook, refrigerate and reheat in the same pan.
-Food tastes better.  Hubby noticed this immediately!

My peace of mind is well worth it!!!  Life is more simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Holiday Decorating with Food

It's hard to wait until after Thanksgiving to start Christmas decorating; but I've made it my rule out of respect for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Preparing the decor for my kitchen, though, takes the edge off my anticipation; and I have so much fun doing so!  Since I spend most of my time in the kitchen, it gets lots of decorating.  Trees, crocks, bowls, shelves and cupboards are adorned with natural and culinary symbols of the season.  My prepared inventory is below, ready for stringing, trimming, hanging and arranging. 
  Gingerbread men, dried fruit slices, studded oranges,
bay leaves, whole spices, popcorn, cranberries, peels.
an illustration:  my previously-empty bowls
Note: The orange peels in the pan at the bottom of top picture are for simmering potpourri during Christmas week when the family has begun to gather and friends are stopping by.   I have us save our peels and then toss them with cranberries, cinnamon sticks, cloves, anise stars and whole allspice in a pan of simmering water. I add water as needed, keeping the water a couple of inches above the spice and peels. It simmers all the while there is someone in the kitchen.  Every few days, I discard it all and start over.  Mmmm--a warm and wonderful yuletide smell for our gathering kitchen. 

The Celery Made Me Do It

Normally, I only buy veggies from farmers and farmer's markets, year-round.  If I run out, or don't have it put up, I go without until the following year.  This year, celery crops were scant and scarce and my frozen supply is almost depleted.  Then I spotted the HyVee ad for celery on sale at such a low price I couldn't resist.  I broke my own rule and stocked up--guilty, but rewarded.  Here is what I did with six bunches of celery. (before freezing)
From left to right:
Wide ends, skinny stalks and leaves.  These are for celery broth: 
Put in large pot, cover with enough water to double volume in pot and cook down to approx. half.  Simmer until it has a strong celery flavor.  Freeze in ice cube trays and one-cup portions for soups, stews, meat broth, rice, gravies...
Sauteed Chopped Celery:  Ready to go atop or stuffed in meats/poultry.
Celery Chunks:  For soups, stews, roasts and pressure cooking.
Chopped Celery:  Stir fries, meat loaf, stuffings, winter salads...

Note:  Celery needs no processing before freezing.  Just be sure it is fully dry after washing it.  Just package and freeze. 


If you have never tried dehydrating grapes, you are in for a real treat.  You will never go back to store-bought raisins.  I just rinse them and toss them on the dehydrator tray.  It takes from 1-2 days, but it's worth the wait.
Red and black varieties work best--I buy organic.
These are the sweetest, juiciest raisins you'll ever eat!

Rutabagas in Disguise

My annual rutabaga "roast and freeze" consists of peeling and cubing one large rutabaga, roasting it and freezing it in 1-cup portions.  Here is the roasted rutabaga:

And here is the story behind why there is one and why I disguise it:

Being of Norwegian heritage on my mother's side, rutabagas were always represented at traditional holiday meals.  I tried to continue the tradition, but the bowl of rutabagas on my holiday table would be returned to the kitchen with nary a spoonful gone.  Noses were turned-up at the suggestion to my kids that they at least have a little taste.  My conviction that all seasonal foods should make at least one appearance at the table, and be tried at least once, forced me to pull a fast one with the rutabagas.  I mixed a combo:  squash, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes and a little rutabaga.  Add a hunk of butter, a heavy pinch of brown sugar and a light sprinkling of nutmeg.  Called it "Squash Bake" and a family favorite was born.   The actual recipe is as follows:
Disguised Rutabaga   aka  Squash Bake    Serves 12-20 
1 med-large butternut squash
1 med acorn squash
1 small pumpkin, preferrably small pie pumpkin
2 large potatoes (peel, cube and boil and mash)
2 sweet potatoes (peel, cube and boil and mash)
1/2-1 cup cooked, mashed rutabaga
Cut squash and pumpkin in half, scoop seeds and lightly coat with cooking oil.  Place flat side down on baking sheet.  Bake at 350 until flesh feels soft when pushing finger against outside skin.  Remove each half as it is done.
When all squash and pumpkin are cooked, let cool slightly and pull off skin.  Mash all together, either with a potato masher and strong arm or a large bowl and mixer.  Place in large baking dish or roasting pan.  Bury small hunks of butter throughout, sprinkle some brown sugar on top and then a light dusting of nutmeg.  Add salt and pepper.  Return to oven at 350 and bake until heated, stirring halfway through.  Note:  This can be made ahead, put in the pan and refrigerated until baking.

Root Cellaring Guides for Fruits and Veggies

With a slow start to the cold season, I've been able to catch up on my root cellaring activities.  Actually, I'd be a bit worried if I did have it all stored--outside temp is too warm yet.  I've been watching the forecasts for near-freezing temps before storing carrots, apples, cabbage, potatoes and squash.  Looks like next week will be perfect for a trip to the farm to stock up.

Cabbage, Carrots, Apples and Potatoes should all be stored in a very cold, dark and, preferably, damp space.  Temp should be 33-40 degrees.  This could be achieved in a garage, unheated entry or basement room.  Store each as follows: 

Apples:  Apples should be stored separately as fruit gives off ethylene gas which will cause other produce to spoil sooner.  Pick late-ripening apples.  Wait to pick until apples are ripe to avoid shriveling.  Leave stem on to avoid breaking skin.  Store in shallow layers to avoid bruising.  Apples will keep for 4-6 months.

Cabbage:  Select unbruised heads.  Store as is on shelves, not touching.  Keeps 2-4 months.

Carrots:  Dig before freeze, shake off dirt, break off green top.  Pack in single layers, close together, with a layer of damp sand, sawdust or moss in between each layer.  Put damp newspaper over top layer of sand.  Keep newspaper moist by occasional spraying or soaking.  Keep 4-6 months.

Potatoes:  Dig after tops dry up and before frost.  Store in mesh bags or in small piles on shelf.  Air should be able to circulate freely around them.  Keep 4-6+ months.

Squash, Pumpkins and Sweet Potatoes should be stored in mild and dry conditions.  Temp should range 45-60 degrees and 60%-79% humidity.  Store each as follows:

Squash and Pumpkins:  Remove surface bacteria by wiping down with bleach solution of 4 drops of bleach per quart of water.  Store in single layers on shelf.  Keep 1-3 months.

Sweet Potatoes:  Store in sawdust or oats so they are not touching, or wrap individually in newspaper.  Keep 1-3 months.

Onions and Garlic  should be stored in cool (35-50) and dry (60-70% humidity) and dark condition.  This environment can be achieved by putting produce in a paper bag in a cold closet or a dry cold basement room or an insulated dry garage. Put onions or garlic on shelves not-touching, or store onions in nylon stockings with a knot between each onion and hang garlic by stalks.
Garlic - hang by stalk.  keep 4-6+ months
Onion - Store onions in nylon stockings with a knot between each onion.
              keeps 4-6+ months.


Monday, November 19, 2012

Rich Chicken Stock and Soup

For the richest and most flavorful chicken stock, full of body, use chicken backs.  They are higher in gelatin for a thick, gelationous stock.  The stock is also higher in bone minerals because the many, small bones expose more surface area to the stock.  The backs are usually sold for a minimal cost from farmers who sell packaged chicken pieces at farmer's markets.  If you don't see them for sale, just ask the farmer.  I take as many as I can get from my chicken farmer, make batches of soup and stock, and can it.  It can also be frozen.  My method is below the picture.
   Mmmm, a cup of warm, homemade stock.
 Sooooo comforting and healthy too! 
Chicken Stock
Thaw 4-6 chicken backs.  Rub with oil on all sides.  Roast backs on sheet pan in oven at 400 for 20-30 min, until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and put in large pot.  Scrape cooking pan and add with drippings to pot.  Add 2 quarts of water for each back.  Bring to boil, then turn down the heat so the water remains at a "slow bubble".  Simmer for 6+ hours, until water is half in volume and stock is flavorful to the taste.  Color should be similar to above jars and consistency should be slightly gelatinous when cooled.
To Can:  Pour hot stock into hot jars.  Process in pressure canner for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.
To Freeze:  Cool stock completely.  Put in freezer containers and freeze.