Thursday, September 17, 2015

Life Keeps Changing

Well, it's been almost 2 years since my last post. I have continued to cook, can, and craft in the interim. I have also completed my Associate's of Nursing degree, hence the radio silence for so long. Shortly after I passed the state boards (certifying me as an RN), we found out I am pregnant!

Pregnancy has been... interesting for me. I was very, very sick at the beginning of my pregnancy - so much so that I told work well before my first trimester was up so they didn't think I was going to get my residents sick! (I work at a nursing home, and at the time, was working 3rd shift.) I lost 20 lbs very quickly, in about 6 weeks or so, and tried a few different pregnancy-safe medications. I am now still on one, even though I am now at 25 weeks. With a little over 3 months left, I'm starting to hit freak-out mode, and working to get everything accomplished that needs doing between now and baby's arrival. We're converting the sewing room to the nursery, so all the crafting supplies are finding new homes around the house.

Our garden was planned and planted before I started getting so sick. When I started the seeds, I wasn't even pregnant yet! Our tomatoes are doing quite well, and Hubby and I worked together this summer to can up 18 pints already - nine pints crushed and nine pints halves. I did strawberry-picking in early summer and made a batch each strawberry jam with the low-sugar pectin and no pectin added. And the list goes on. We're still collecting raspberries from the garden, waiting on this year's grapes to ripen (very soon, now!), and eating and canning our way through the tomatoes. One SunSugar tomato plant is enough to keep us in cherry tomatoes with plenty to take to work or give away to friends!

We have done some fun things in the meantime - I entered quite a few entries this year in the Walworth County Fair and won several 2nd and 3rd place entries in the food categories. I went out this past Saturday to the Jefferson County Sheep and Wool Festival and had a great time with my best friend looking at all the booths and attending a free lecture and demonstration.

Suffice to say, I'm still around and planning things for this blog, but, life happens!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Keeping Myself Busy

"Oh, hey, how are you doing?" asks another member of my church on any given Sunday.

"Pretty good, you know, just keeping myself busy!" has become my usual response.

Busy may be a slight understatement for this time I'm at in my life.  I've gone back to school, and am about halfway to an Associate's RN, and work as a CNA.  I like to bake our bread instead of buy it, and this time of the year, "keeping myself busy," is never a problem.

My neighbor has a fence that is full of grapes, so I have made some jam and and some wine.  I've gone back to Thompson's Strawberry Farm and picked raspberries - I made regular raspberry jam and something I'm calling Raspberry Limeade jam.  My parents were out of the country when their pear trees were ready, so I harvested and canned most of them (I'm saving the non-can-able bits for pear cider, also called perry, but that will be a later project).  I've canned up peaches from the farmer's market, and over the summer made 5 different kinds of pickles (fermented, dill, bread-n-butter, beets, and dilly beans).
16 pints of pears - that's the same as 2 gallons!
Monday, I canned the last of the pears, and started making my tomato sauce, then finished and canned it Tuesday afternoon.  I usually can it up in quarts, because it's just my hubby and I, and we hardly ever need more than that for a meal.  I also decided to cook it up in the crock pot, since I am keeping pretty busy, and crock pots are fairly hands-off cooking.
I started with all the fresh tomatoes we had on hand that were ripe and not cherry tomatoes.
I love having quality knives.

Quarter the tomatoes, then place them in your crock pot (I did 8ths for the larger tomatoes).  I did take the stem ends off, but left on the blossom ends, especially on the roma (paste) tomatoes.  We have a lot this year, so I'll probably be doing this a few times.

Stir, then put a lid on it.
Once I added in all the tomatoes - probably about 10 lbs worth, I then started grabbing spices.  Now this is how I usually make up my spaghetti sauce, so you can adjust to your own taste.  In this batch is fresh rosemary, bay leaves, oregano, basil, thyme, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, 3 large cloves garlic (minced) and fennel seeds.  I like to season heavy, so there was probably a good tablespoon of most spices - with the notable exception of the red pepper flakes and fennel seeds, those just had a few shakes tossed in.

Set your crock pot to low overnight.

In the morning, the tomatoes won't actually look too different, but the liquid around them should be bubbling a little, and they will all be soft and squishy.  Then you know its time to mill.  What I use is technically called a chinois strainer (pronounced sheen-wah), but its what my mother had, coupled with a fitted jelly bag, to make jelly or jam when I was a kid.  No, seriously - this is her strainer.  It works well to separate out the pulp and juice from the skins and seeds (also worked great last year for making apple butter). 

You will get sauce all over your counter doing this.  Sorry.
Then its time to put all that good-smelling, clothes-staining mess back in the crock pot.  If you wanted, you could just make up some dinner here - chicken Cacciatore, spaghetti, whatever.  Its up to you, really.  I wanted to can it, so I simmered it some more, this time on high, in the crock pot.  I'd also suggest this further reduction if you plan to freeze the sauce for use.  When I canned it I got 4 pints.  I may try to get a larger batch going, it looks like I should be able to double this without running out of space.   

...and it's saucy
A note if you decide to can it - the current USDA guidelines suggest that home canners add 1/4 tsp per pint of ascorbic acid or 1 tbsp of bottled lemon juice to up the acidity to a point where spoilage is unlikely.  If you have any canning books or materials from before 1986, it is strongly suggested that you get new books, with safer recipes.  My parents' cookbooks were from the mid 70's, and we did fine, no one got sick, but we were lucky and my parents were fastidious about how clean the cans had to be. (Good thing too, we downed quantities of my mom's stewed tomatoes!)

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Storing the Harvest: Part 1

I settled onto my knees in the sun-warmed ground, and took in the brambled rows around me.  The wind played in my hair and tugged at my shirt, but did little to cool .  I picked up a long branch, peeked underneath its spiky leaves, and smiled.  This wouldn't take long at all.

For about an hour I peeked under leaves, between stems and through brambles, taking the tiny ruby gems from where they were hanging.  For that hour, I was rewarded for my efforts (and occasional scratches); four heaping pints of red raspberries, freshly picked and incredibly fragrant.

I tucked my beauties into the car, settled safely for travel.  We hurried home, where I double-checked my recipes, washed my new treasure and started to work.

Six, or maybe seven, just in case, freshly boiled jars - those that are cut to sparkle and dazzle, showing off the beauty of the prize stored within.  Six full cups of the washed then drained sun-rubies, along with six cups of the ever-familiar granulated sugar.  All mashed together into a fragrant mixture of fruit and sunshine.

For yet another hour, I boiled, stirred, added and mashed until I got just what I desired.  Sweet perfection.

Carefully, my concoction went into those jars, then they all took a quick boiling water bath.  After the bath, I lined up my prize on the counter to cool, and savor every tiny "ping" that signals a can well-made.  Once the evening is done, they are cool enough to label and enjoy.  And I have summer red, stored in jars.

What a sweet afternoon it's been.

Note: I wrote and cooked this last year (if you can read the date on the jars, you can see that!), but I never got around to getting anything done in the past year. :(  Maybe I'll do better, but maybe when school starts again, I'll fall off the face of the planet again. Who knows?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Summertime Summary

This has been a busy summer for me.; it started with getting married in late May, which may say enough.  
Did I mention we had a themed wedding?
We honeymooned in Ireland, came home, and did a lot of our setting up house and the like.  And then I started cooking.  So far, things are great – I love to cook, and Michael loves to eat; we work well together.  We even started a smallish garden this year, and I will be canning lots of tomatoes, if the cooler nights don’t kill them all off, first.

Then summer kept coming at us with so many things. 

My sister also got married, and I was an attendant in it.
Hers was not themed - Thank goodness!

We had some friends and their daughter-in-law from Japan (and the grandbaby!) over at my parent’s house, and I got crazy and made a fruit salad.  
Gold star if you can name all the fruit!
Our guests made okonomiyaki that night, and it was delicious. 
Mixing up the batter
Then add the thin sliced meat
Then we had them come over to our house, and I made (cheater) ribs and had a whole table of stuff.
Some people really love corn on the cob!
Their grandson just loves ribs
 There are a few other undocumented cooking experiments that have happened this summer, but while we were in Ireland, I bought a couple of cookbooks.  So far, I’ve made shepherd’s pie and fish n chips.  The shepherd’s pie was delicious, and I’d like to try making it with smaller portions.  The fish n chips was more the British style, which tends toward a thicker batter and coating on the fish.  The chips (fries) were excellent, however. 
Because Guinness goes with everything!
Michael ate all of his, and then finished my fish, too!

Then in mid-August we went to Colorado – my extended family is mostly out there, and with both my sister and I getting married, we didn’t think it fair to make people choose which to attend.  While we were there, we stocked up on something that you can only find in the western United States; Stokes’ pork and green chilies.  It’s the essential ingredient in our enchilada recipe.

Funny thing about our enchiladas, is that we always called them burritos as kids – but a burrito has everything on the inside, an enchilada has sauce and such on the outside.

Beef Enchiladas, serves 4 adults
Or burritos, we call them that, too
½ med yellow onion
1 lb ground beef
1 – 14 oz can refried beans
1 – 14 oz can Stokes’ pork and green chilies
toppings, like cheese, tomatoes, sliced peppers, etc
Brown the ground beef and onions together in a pan, and drain out the excess fat.  Add the whole can of refried beans and scoop out ½ can of pork and green chilies.  Mix well and turn down heat to low.  
Warm up 4 tortillas, and fill each with one quarter of meat mixture on a large serving plate or oven-safe dish, fold in sides, then carefully turn over, so folded edges are on the bottom.  Spread remaining pork and green chilies over tortillas, then cover with cheese, tomatoes and sliced peppers, or desired toppings.  Microwave on high for 2 minutes, or until cheese is melted.  Alternately, place oven-safe dish in 300 degree oven for 5-10 minutes, until cheese is melted.  Enjoy! 
My sister and I used to request no tortilla and eat our filling with tortilla chips instead, and either grated cheese on top, or with melted cheese on the side, sort of like a nachos supreme.