Monday, December 20, 2010

A Chicken Story

So how was your Sunday?  Mine was a little hairy to be honest.  Want to hear a story?

I stepped out yesterday morning to go check my chickens and give them their morning treat.  I get to the pen and everyone comes running for the cup of milo I have in my hand.  Everyone but Neo that is, at first anyway.  Once I get a handful on the ground she comes flying out of the coop to hide behind me with my randy little silkie rooster right behind her.  Junior met the bottom of my shoe.  He's 7 months old, just really feeling those hormones kick in and she's been sole the object of his desire.
I look down and see red, literally, her back was nothing but blood.  Junior must have really been feeling those hormones to mate her to that extent of damage.  I toss the milo, scoop up Neo and refrain from starting chicken soup a la Junior.  Once I get her in I find the damage is more extensive than I first thought.  My first instinct was to cull her right then and there.  But..............
Neo is one of our favorites.  She was the lone chick to hatch out of a horrible incubator accident.  She hatched with her umbilical area not quite closed and got to wear a bandaid for 2 days.  She quickly became a people chicken.  She never screamed inconsolably because she didn't have hatch mates.  If it were up to her she'd be a house chicken happily.
So I decide to at least try.  If I couldn't help her I'd put her down.  She got a shower to clean away the blood and dirt and nastiness. She was not patient with this whole process either.  I got her coated with antibiotics and set her up in an infirmary crate in the living room.  Complete with fresh water, scrambled eggs, boiled eggs, feed and a few other treats.
She stood there for at least 2 hours before diving into the eggs, once they were gone she perked up and decided to make a mess.  She dumped the water out.  This earned her loose chicken time in the kitchen while I cleaned out her crate where she generally had the run of everything and tried to sit with the cats.  I didn't have the camera handy either!
This morning I get up to find she has dumped her water again.  It's a ploy I tell you, she wants out of the crate.  She then proceeds to throw a fit when she sees me getting a scoop of milo ready for the birds outside and tosses her feed all over the crate as well.  If she's feeling well enough to do that she can wait for a bit while I feed everything else.
Once I get ready to address her needs for the day she is beyond mad.  This from a bird I was ready to cull less than 24 hours ago.  I let her out in the kitchen with a little pile of milo and cat kibble.  She was just so happy to have the milo all to herself that she stayed put while I clean up, get more antibiotics on her and get the crate ready to go again.  I get that done and she proceeds to go straight in, ignore the little nest box I picked out just for her and starts scratching around in the back corner:
Nest ready and set up she decides to come back out and play with the natives, meets Sumi on the way out:
Being the diva that she is she ignores the nice clean fresh water (which now has bailing wire holding it in place) and goes straight for the cat dish, which looks like it needs to be scoured yet again:

She decides the carpet is better for scratching and takes off for places unknown:
After a bit of chase the chicken, Neo is once again secured in the kitchen and of course this is unacceptable so she throws yet another fit and corners Timothy just for the shear meanness of it, all Jefferson can do is try to figure out how to remove the bedding chips from the water dish:
"A baby gate?  Seriously?  Just what do you think I am anyway?"
Jefferson on the other hand has located her nice comfy crate and decided to make himself home in her very well constructed nest.  Neo was NOT having any of that:
After a good scolding she chases him right out of the kitchen:
And then decides it's time to go try and lay an egg:
She's been in there now for a few hours, scratching the heck out of that one corner, trying to make it just right for laying an egg.  She turns into a squawking semi-broody hen every time any of the cats walk by.

I think she'll be just fine.  She's acting like nothing has happened.  Her wounds look good, already closed in the worst places, no sign of infection.  So for the duration of her healing, I have a chicken in my kitchen.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

2 years ago today Kelvin came home

2 years ago today I brought home a skinny old man. He stank of too many things to count and had poo crusted over his backside. He weighed 34 pounds. He had been dumped at a kill shelter and no one else offered to pull an old geezer. Even the staff didn't think he'd make it through the neuter.
We couldn't bring ourselves to adopt him back out, even with all the rescues we had at the time. Something about him made us keep him.
He's gained his weight back. He now weighs close to 60 pounds. He was diagnosed with CRF and given 6 to 8 months in February of 2009. I think we kicked that time line out the window for a while. He still hasn't fit in completely with the herd here, mostly prefering to keep to himself though occasionally playing with our dane mix Tesla. He would rather spend his time on his bed or on the couch with the cats. He's a crotchety old man. Doesn't like change. Doesn't like me to leave for too long. Panics if I don't get him his hush puppies on fish Fridays from the gas station, he can smell them even 8 blocks over and gets all excited as soon as a whiff of catfish reaches us. I have to take him up there for them, he sits in the truck and drools down the side of the door until I bring 3 of them out. That's all he gets, 3, and he's ready to go home.
But now, he doesn't feel so good. We've been adjusting his protein intake and meds, trying to make it better but he's slowly starting to go down hill. We'll have another blood test in the next few weeks to know if anything has helped. Until then we are taking it one day at a time not acknowledging the affects CRF has had on him here recently. Not the strange change in tone of his bark from a wonderful basset bark to a screech. Or the ammonia breath that keeps getting worse. Or the fur loss. Or the days he has trouble eating. Or the overall lack of energy.

We gave him at least 2 years he wouldn't have had. 2 years of cats and couches and treats and beds and baths. We are hoping for good news with the next batch of tests. Or at least better news than what we've been prepared for.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Fixing Loose Ends

Nothing is quite like having to sort through your junk to make you want to tie up loose ends and finish all those unfinished projects.  I found one the other day that has been 4 years in the making. 
You see, in June of 2006 I got a chance to go to the big bead show in Milwaukee.  I spent way too much and found a ton of cool things but one, or 2 actually, stood out in my mind.  The first was a really neat clasp made by Qui, a company apparently no longer in business as I can't find them on the net anywhere now.  It wasn't a cheap clasp either and it's silver.  Then there were these black agate dragon beads in a stretchy bracelet I found in a bin at the Rings and Things booth.  I put them away for a move and forgot about them until a year or so ago.  I had taken them out, an idea hit me, I pulled all the components out and placed them together in a tray and promptly forgot about them again.
While I was cleaning up for this next move I found them again and tonight, well, I decided to finish the project.
Behold....... the bracelet it took over 4 years to make:
And I made it just the right size for my wrist, my skinny, abnormally thin sized wrist, so it's not going to be put up for sale ;)

Friday, November 19, 2010

Yep, I pulled the canner back out.

So this move is deciding to take its time, keeping me in limbo and afraid to do anything.  Yesterday I decided to go ahead and can something anyway.  Namely because I was given some pears and really couldn't see letting them go to waste (yes, it's still warm enough here for pears!).  I also had gotten a good deal on a large thing of pomegranate juice.  Then there was all the last peppers from the garden that needed to be put up.....  Well you get the idea.

First up is the pepper relish, there is no set recipe for this but I did write down what I did last year:
Pepper relish
2 medium onions, copped fine in the processor and dumped in the big bowl
4 medium carrots, done the same way
I think I had 30 jalepenos and 50 habaneros, not sure but chopped up the same and tossed in the bowl
2 tbsp dried basil
2 tbsp dried oregano
3 tbsp fresh garlic
4 dried tsen-tein chillies
4 dried cayenne peppers
Buzz the last 5 things in the processor with about a cup of apple cider vinegar until the dried chillies look like red pepper flakes and dump in the bowl, add 2 tsp salt and stir together.  Add more apple cider vinegar if needed and let marinate over night in the fridge. Next morning heat the mix, boil for 5 minutes and pack into jars adding apple cider vinegar if needed.  Process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

This year I only had jalapenos and dried new mexico chilies and I decided to let it marinate for a few days.  I landed 9 pints:
Then there was the pears....  about half were a bit more soft than I like for canning in chunks so I made juice.  Then I combined with the pomegranate juice, it was almost 50/50.  Then I made jelly.
4.5 cups juice (pomegranate and pear)
3 cups sugar
1 pkg no sugar needed pectin

Bring juice to a boil, add pectin, boil 1 minute, add sugar, boil 3 minutes, ladle into jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

I ended up with 10-12 ounce jars, 4-6 ounce jars and 7 half pint jars:

Today I've processed 6 pints of pears that were given to me last night.  They were just peeled/cored and chunked up with a light syrup, no picture as they are still in the water bath.  And I found a bunch of tomatoes in the scratch and dent cart for dirt cheap.  Made 9 quarts of chopped tomatoes.

Now back to the sewing portion of this long wait to get moved.............

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Open Season

It's that time again.  Opening day of hunting season.  The little town I live in has been gearing up for it all week.  Cars, RV's, trucks, vans, off road vehicles coming in from sates all over, proudly displaying their gun racks fully loaded with rifles.  Locals everywhere signing up for the Big Buck Contest, paying through the nose for hunting licenses, and setting their kids up with cool gear for their very first hunts. 
It's a right of passage here in Central Texas and this little county is the hunting mecca, or so I've been told.  Hotels, all 2 of them, are full.  Restaurants are busy and the stores, all what, 5 of them are bustling.  The county population has practically quadrupled.
Not that I mind or anything.  I'd be willing to go hunting if I had someplace to put a whole deer or 3 or whatever my limit is.  It's just, well, I FORGOT it was Opening Day Saturday when I ventured out mid-morning today wearing my tie-dye frog jacket.  Boy did I stick out like a sore thumb in a sea of camo or what?  Hunters bringing in their morning kills to the forestry service's Deer Check Point near the dollar store gave me odd looks.  I was even asked if I was afraid I'd be mistaken for a deer.
So with the town full to nearly capacity and me not wanting to cause blindness in the hunters while they had their lunch I came back home and started laundry.  Well, what else does one do on Opening Day if not hunting and drinking?
I also finished up the 2 quilts I had sent out to be quilted, I mentioned them here
The first one up was started 2007 I think, I finally put the thing together in 2009 and put it away until I could find fabric I liked for a backing.  Here's the final product from a Slash a Stash pattern given to me back in 2007:
And that backing I finally found, a really interesting Batik.  The lady who did the long arm quilting, Heart of Texas Quilting, tried out a Santa theme in the quilting, you might be able to catch a hint of it on the back:

Now the other one, the one where nothing was matching per-say?  Well, get ready, it's a bit different.....
See?  Like I said, it doesn't all go together but it works.  At least for me it does, and I'm not the type of person to care if my socks match.  And the backing:
I also started work on another tablecloth, sort of an odd take on a kaleidoscope pattern.  But you'll have to wait until later to see it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mills County Quilt Show

So yesterday I take a break from sorting, and go to a quilt show that I've actually entered a quilt in.  It's the kitten quilt a few posts back, entered into the wall hanging division.  I'll tell you how I did later in the post.
Anyway, it's a long drive from nowhere to get to nowhere but several of us from the Voca Quilt Club do this every year.  And many of us place in the divisions we enter.  We always enter hand stitched pieces, since that's what we do the most of and it's a dying art form that is being pushed aside by the big name fabric companies in favor of the faster machine quilting.  Most entries in these shows now are machine pieced.
This was my 4th year attending and my second year entering.  Last year I landed 3rd place (peoples choice voting) behind a first place heavy machine quilted boot and a second place Dick/Jane panel that had been loosely stitched.  My entry was hand appliqued passion flowers and hand stitched, all in batiks.  But that's ok, I at least placed!  And this was the quilt (notice, the first place winner to the right, remember that....)
And a close up if you'd like to see it:

We arrive today and begin to sort through all the entries with our ballots in hand.  The show's theme category this year was "Western".  I finally make it back to the section of wall hangings and there to my surprise, shock and possible horror was my kitten quilt sitting to the right of that same boot from last year..... I about had a heart attack until I saw that it had been entered into the theme category instead of the wall hanging category.  No way was I willing to lose to the boot again this year!
As the votes were being tallied we did our shopping, they had a nice 'general store' section with leftovers and scraps and such from their club/guild members and I landed myself a bunch of pre-cut, pre-marked and in many cases pre-hand sewn pieces and parts, all for $5.  I won a door prize right near the end, 2 patterns, holiday baskets and plaid chickens on log cabin like blocks.

And so, our winnings for this year, one of our group won second in the Western category with red work cowboys and first in the contemporary category with a hand stitched, hand appliqued, quilt!  Another of our group won second place in the contemporary category with a name quilt (Voca quilters names).  As for me..... I placed second this time, loosing first place to a more honorable foe, machine embroidered chickens.  I can handle that, I liked the chickens, they were cool looking for machine work ;)
My quilt if you don't want to go hunting back through the old posts: Curiosity and the Kitten

Monday, October 4, 2010

Changes in the air and lime jelly

So I bet you've been wondering where I've been huh?  What I've canned lately?
Well I have done a few things, I'm working on a gallon batch of sriracha, I put up more candy apple jelly, finished off the watermelon jelly finally and experimented with key lime jelly but......
Life has a way of letting you know you can't get comfortable for too long.  And now it's a cross country move to keep us on our toes.  It's a job for hubby, a real job, with decent pay and benefits and a relocation package.  We can't afford to turn it down.
So, we are trying to get as much done as we can to prep for this little adventure. 

But onto the lime jelly experiment.........

I found a bunch of lime jelly recipes out there but decided to try something a little different since I can't find liquid pectin out here.  Granted I can make some but well..... I was lazy.  So I did this a bit different.  I had 4 pounds of key limes which I juiced and was about to toss the skins when I had an epiphany, I had to get my $2 worth out of those skins!  I tossed them all in a pot and added a couple cups of water and brought it just to a boil, then backed it off to a simmer until the skins started turning dark, about 10 minutes.  The house smelled fabulous!  I strained this and added to the lime juice to make 4.5 cups of lime 'essence'.  Then I proceeded as follows:

4.5 cups lime juice/essence
4 cups sugar
1 packet no sugar needed pectin

Bring lime juice to boil, add pectin, bring back to boil for 1 minute, add sugar and stir it really well (I had trouble with lumps for some reason this time) bring back to boil for 3 minutes, ladle into jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Landed me 7 half pints and a bit for taste testing.

Just so you know, this stuff is TART and about 10 days on it's still only semi set at room temp, gels nicely in the fridge though.  If you like sweet, I'd add another 2 cups of sugar.  But I like my tart stuff!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Summer in a Jar

When you think of summer, what fruit comes to mind most often?  Usually it's watermelon.  And what do you do when you find yourself with 3 watermelons that are bigger than your corning ware serving platter?  Especially since they would go sour before you could eat all of them?

Two words.  Watermelon Jam/Jelly.

Now don't look at me like that, it's possible, it's good and I have spent all day working on it!  Since this can be called either jam or jelly I'll let you decide what to call it for yourself, but I will tell you how to make it.

First lets start with the melons.  The obvious question is 'how?".  Actually for me there were a few more colorful explicatives added to that when I was researching how to make this stuff because everything I found started with watermelon cubes that had already been deseeded.  So how did they do that?  I certainly can't even fathom so here's what I did.
Hack melon in half, then into quarters, save out a quarter for eating, then slice as far down as you want so that you can get all the melon off the rind.  I took a nice long knife and sliced the melon right off the rind into a bowl, I didn't make them pretty little squares or anything, just sliced the melon off.  Once the melon is done or the bowl is full, whichever comes first, hack at it a bit with the knife then take a potato masher to the hunks.  This gets the juices going.  I then pulled out my stick blender and finished attacking the contents of the bowl on LOW speed, since at least on my little crappy branded one I know that setting won't actually cut up the seeds.  Pour the slush through a colander to catch anything you missed with the masher or stick blender and the seeds.  You can attack this again with the stick blender to further extract more puree.

Continue this until you get through all of the melon meat.  For these 3 (2.75 actually), I'll say medium sized melons, I ended up with a whopping 4 gallons plus of pureed pulp.  Far more than I expected.  Now at this point you can save the rinds for making pickled watermelon rinds but... I have chickens, I like the fresh flavor of the eggs that goes with feeding them something other than straight feed, so they got all the rinds and trust me, there won't be any sign of them out there tomorrow, heck, maybe not even tonight.

So 4+ gallons of watermelon puree.... great googa-mooga.......

Watermelon Jelly/Jam

4 cups pureed watermelon meat, no seeds please
1/4 cup lemon juice, bottled please
1 package no sugar needed pectin
2 cups sugar

Heat watermelon puree and lemon juice to boiling, yes it smells different nothing to flip out over, add pectin and mix in really well.  Return to boil for 1 minute, add sugar, mix in really well, return to boil for 3 minutes.  Ladle into jars, cap, process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Makes about 6 half pints, about, you might have some left over for taste testing.  This will take about a day to set from what I understand, we'll see.

With as much as I had waiting on me I doubled the batches, yes I know this is a sin to the canning gods and snobs but I did it anyway.  Otherwise I'd sill be working on them!  I stopped after I ran out of sugar and I still had over a gallon of juice left.  I tossed it in the freezer and will attack it again after I go into town and replenish my stock of sugar and pectin.  So far I have ended up with 23 pints and 15 half pints just from 3 gallons of puree:

A time to sew

I bet you've been wondering what I've been doing this week.  Well..... without much coming in to can at the moment I cleared off the table and pulled out the fabric.
First it was finishing a top that has been sitting around for about a year.  It's now finished and waiting at the longarmer I decided to have quilt it for me.  You'll get pics when its done since it's a larger quilt!  I also started and finished another larger top out of a stack of 6.25" squares I found hiding in my stash.  I have NO clue what I had intended them for, they don't exactly go together but there was 117 of them.  Enough for a quilt with a large set of equally non matching borders.  I actually found enough oddball material in the stash bins to make a backing and it has been sent off to the longarmer.  You'll get to see it when it's done as well.
Should be about a month for both.

I also decided to finish off my sunflower tablecloth that has been sitting around for about a year simply because when I took it to the local quilting thing the day I finished it, it was greeted with a shriek from an occasional member who hates sunflowers more than I hate pink.  I brought it home and put it up, hoping I'd get back to it after her few weeks with us were past but.... I forgot about it until I was cleaning out the closet the other day!
Shame on me.  I had everything ready to go on it though so I pulled it back out, ironed it up and started playing with the ditch stitching foot on my machine.  It didn't come out too bad, I did run out of thread though, had to settle for another variegated blend since what I started with is not made in that size spool anymore.  Which is fine really, you can't tell the difference. 
The batting on this, since I didn't want it fluffy or see through flat, is an old thin white cotton tablecloth I picked up at the thrift store for 50 cents.  I have enough left over for place mats if I want to make them.  It's 50" x 50".

So here it is, covering the laundry pile from view:

Now as for what to do on the weekend...... I landed 3 free watermelons!

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sriracha sauce.  Or otherwise known by the logo picture as "Rooster Sauce".  It's a spicy chili garlic sauce found on the table at most Chinese restaurants.  It's easy to make.  Really!

What you need:
  • Jar, whatever size you want, I used a half gallon jar since I planned on making a lot (next time it will be a gallon).  You might want to start with a pint jar.
  • Peeled garlic cloves.  Note, if you use a metal utensil to help you peel them, they will turn blue during the vinegar phase of this recipe, it's ok, still edible!
  • Dried chili peppers, half serrano and half chili de arbol or dried cayenne (note, I could not find serranos so I used equal portions of dried new mexico chilies, chili de arbol and dried 'asian hot pepper' (according to the package), omitted the habanero)
  • 2 habaneros
  • White vinegar
  • Pickling salt
Fill jar half full with garlic cloves.  Remove stems from chilies and discard but do not dump out seeds.  Add chilies to fill completely full, you may have to cut a few down to fit them in.  Add salt, I used a tbsp for a half gallon but we don't use a lot of salt so thinking a tsp for a pint should be more than enough for most people's tastes.  Slowly add vinegar to the jar, filling the voids and making sure to jiggle any air bubbles loose.  Fill to top of rim, cap with a tight fitting lid and let sit 3 or 4 days.  Check it every once in a while, topping off the vinegar if needed.
Once the chilies have rehydrated fairly decent, pour it all into a blender or food processor and puree away!  Just don't lean too close and inhale the fumes.  If you want it thinner, add more vinegar.
If you've made a small batch pour it back into the jar and just refrigerate it, otherwise pour it into a stock pot and boil for 5 minutes.  Again, avoid inhaling the fumes if you can.  Ladle into jars with about 1/2 inch head space and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Of course, my jar was actually a half gallon so I got 4 pints:

Teriyaki Sauce

I decided to add this sauce in though we've already been making it for well over a year and it's refrigerated instead of canned.  Not sure I'd refer to it as teriyaki though, tastes far different! 
I was roaming along in a thrift store one day last summer, looking for interesting cookbooks and read the following title, "Make Your Own Groceries".  Looked interesting, was a whopping 25 cents so I grabbed it.  Once I got home I did some research and boy was that an eye popping experience.  Apparently this book goes for $33 just for the paperback version, I've found prices up to $116 for the hardback version which is what I have.  Published in 1979, ISBN 0672526719.  After reading through it, I like it, it has a lot of cool ideas for sauces, mixes, etc.  If you can lay your hands on a copy it would be great for reference!

On page 78 there is a recipe for teriyaki sauce, I decided to try it, since the book is hard to find and out of print I'm tentatively posting the recipe:

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup dark rum
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp freshly grated ginger, or 1/4 tsp dried

Combine all ingredients in a plastic container with a tight fitting lid.  Let stand at room temp for 2 to 3 weeks.  Pour into a clean bottle, seal well and store at room temp.

Now, we did this and have to note that the 2 to 3 weeks is for a light fermentation.  It tasted great, though watered down a bit.  Was a great addition to steamed rice and fried rice.  But... well we wanted more flavor and larger volume so we started tweaking this a bit and after a year have finally settled on a recipe we like enough to keep a jar on hand all the time.  In fact we save our soy sauce bottles for holding this!

1 10 oz or so bottle of your favorite soy sauce (ours is San J low sodium tamari)
1/2 of a 750 ml bottle sake, we use Gekkeikan, sometimes we use 3/4 of the bottle if we are using regular sodium soy sauce
1 large head of garlic, peeled
1 hand of ginger, about the size of your hand
1 cup Allegro marinade (if you can find it, otherwise a 1/2 cup of worcestershire should be fine)
1/4 cup sugar

Hack up the ginger into slices, chunks whatever.  Do the same with the garlic.  Combine everything into a decent sized jar with at least 2 inches room at the top and a tight fitting lid.  Make sure the sugar has completely dissolved into the liquids.  Let sit for at least a month in a cool dark spot.
Strain out the garlic and ginger, though you do want to squeeze out the remaining liquid and add to the rest, pour into bottles and toss in the fridge.
Here's what we have left until I can get into town and buy another bottle of sake:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Plum Sauce

So, continuing with the Chinese dipping sauces, today we attacked Plum Sauce.  It's really almost a barbecue type sauce.  I searched the web and found several recipes that sounded decent like this one  But as usual I did a bit of tweaking to accommodate my ingredients on hand

1.5 pounds dried pitted prunes (really, dried plums is all they are)
3 tbsp dried minced onion
2 cups water/fruit juice (or enough to cover the prunes if 2 cups is not enough), I used a combination of apple and white grape
4 tbsp powdered ginger
4 tbsp minced garlic, I buy it in the big jars and keep handy for just such occasions
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup rice vinegar or 1 cup cider vinegar or like I did, a combination of both
2 teaspoons Chinese Five Spice Powder (or equal portions of ginger, clove, cinnamon, anise, cassia buds)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I'm leaving this on as optional, add as much as you like, within reason)

In large heavy saucepan, bring prunes, onions, water/juice, ginger, 5 spice and garlic to boil over medium heat; cover, reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until prunes and onions are very tender, about 30 minutes.

Buzz with stick blender until smooth and all prunes have been thoroughly pureed; stir in sugar, vinegar, salt, soy sauce. Bring to boil, stirring; reduce heat to low and simmer for another 20 minutes.  At this point, taste test it, check for seasoning.  If it seems too thick thin down a little with equal portions of vinegar and fruit juice.  You want it pourable/dip-able, not pasty.

Fill and seal jars; process in boiling water bath for 30 minutes.

Makes about 4 pints.  More or less, depending on how thin you make it and how much you taste test it.... and how much hubby eats while you aren't watching.

Next attempt at sauces.... Sriracha.  I already have it started, have to wait a few days for the finished product but... want a sneak peak while it's marinating??? 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Duck Sauce

You've seen them, the little packets of orange colored sauce you get with your Chinese take out.  Well, I got to visit a newer Chinese restaurant about a half hour drive from here last week.  There is only one other in a 40 mile radius and it's not that great.  This one though, was FABULOUS!!!!!  I'm now craving good Chinese food again but as usual for living in a rural bit of nowhere, the condiments are hard to find to say the least.  So... I made my own duck sauce today.  I combined a couple of different recipes and came up with something pretty close to my favorite store bought duck sauce I can get in the big city.

Canned Duck Sauce

1.5 pounds dried apricots
4 cups water (or fruit juice like apple, white grape, pineapple)
2 cups sugar
1.5 cups good rice wine vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
4 Tbsp powdered ginger
1 Tbsp dried onion flakes
2 Tbsp soy sauce
Optional 2 Tbsp red pepper flakes.

Pulse dried apricots in processor until fairly fine.  Bring apricots, water and onion to a boil and reduce to a simmer for an hour, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or scalding.  Once mostly rehydrated and mushy add sugar, vinegar, ginger and soy sauce, bring to a boil for 2 minutes, ladle into jars and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes on half pints and 15 minutes for pints.  Makes 8 half pints.

Notes for this:
This is a thick sauce, you can water it down a bit with fruit juice if you want after you open a jar.
Taste it, adjust heat to your tastes, I can't have the peppers so I add a lot of ginger instead.
You can also make this from fresh apricots or plums, just pit and cook down into mush without the water.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A lesson in penny pinching

Lets lay it all out here, I have to be cheap, it's how we are able to eat right now.  In addition to all these things I'm canning for later use I also have a fairly full chest freezer, and 2 fridge freezers full.  And a fairly decent pantry of store bought goods.  I'm guessing we could eat for 3 months before we run out.  Right now we don't have much disposable income, and what we do have goes into food for us, the necessities and animal feed.
You are probably asking how I can buy and keep this much food, right?
Lets start with the basics.  Meats and Produce.  Those are your largest ticket items for the most part.  There are store sales if you can catch them and there are what I call the used meat bin and the scratch and dent produce cart.  I can usually snag the nice expensive hormone free grass fed beef for half price or lower in the "reduced for quick sale" bin.  Those meats which are expiring that day.  I pick through, look for the best deals, and either toss them directly in the freezer or cook them that day.  Same goes for produce that doesn't look perfect, and if you've ever had a garden you know that produce isn't perfect.  Bananas can go directly in the freezer and be thawed out for use later.  Most everything else will need a little bit of prep before freezing, say chopping/blanching but they can still be tossed in the freezer.  Or you can can them in some form or eat right away.
Our little bitty local store also will mark down damaged goods to half price or lower.  Torn 5 lb bag of sugar?  99 cents.  Tortillas that have been crinkled on one side?  99 cents.  Etc.  Those deals I am always on the look out for.  Staples like flour, dried beans, rice, etc I buy in bulk.  Saves money and road trips to the store.  I also take full advantage of BOGOF sales.  I rarely cut coupons since I can almost always get the generic store brand for cheaper.  I don't make a large circuit of shopping places each week either, I live in the middle of nowhere and that is just not economically feasible.  Instead I keep a list of things for each place where I've found it cheapest and stock up when I'm ever in that area.

Just to give you an idea of how this helps lets examine dinner for tonight.  Beef and barley stew.
1 pound stew meat, or whatever you can lay your hands on cheaply, tonight was the hormone free large chunks of stew meat cut into small pieces, cost $2.50
1.5 cups dried beans, my choice tonight was half pinto and half red kidney beans, bought in bulk on sale, so maybe 20 cents total
1 cup pearled barley, I got a good deal on the organic stuff but maybe $1
1 cup frozen baby lima beans, 25 cents possibly
1 tbsp dried onions, it was a free-be with another purchase but the container is normally $2, so lets say 10 cents
1 tsp dry cilantro, dry ginger, dry oregano, salt, I buy all this in bulk maybe 20 cents total
Beef bullion to taste, but a cube or 2 cost 5 cents each
2 bay leaves, 2 cents?
Water, gallon to a gallon and a half, have no idea on cost since it's tap water.
Cook this in a crock pot for 6 to 8 hours

Overall price, not including water or electricity?  $5.27, and that's using a more expensive cut of meat and organic barley.  This amount of stew will give you at least 8 servings, so around 66 cents per bowl.
For us that's dinner tonight and lunch for the next few days.  Add a loaf of day old french bread at 90 cents and you have a really good meal on the cheap.

This was just a lesson in food, imagine the savings and deals I find at thrift stores and yard sales and clearance racks! 
The key is to be flexible and think ahead, way ahead if needed!

Canned Bruschetta

Kinda weird you think?  That's what I thought when I found the "Bruschetta in a Jar" recipe in the Ball Complete book.  But I decided to try it with a few extra tomatoes I had gleaned out of the scratch and dent produce bin this week.  Go buy the book or borrow it from the library to get the recipe!
Smells great though it's not on my list of edibles because in addition to the pepper allergy, I have issues with tomatoes, just not as bad.  So I ended up with 3 pints and 1 half pint:

Saturday, September 4, 2010

An apple a day

Or somewhere around 20 pounds.  Again, another deal from the scratch and dent produce cart.  4 bags at .99 a bag.  Pretty sweet deal!  So what to do with the gala, granny smith and red delicious finds?  Well, hang on to your seats, it's been a loooooong day.
(BTW, save your peels and cores for the last recipe in this post)

First up was Caramel Apple Jam

6 cups peeled, cored chopped apples, gala works good (I took a stick blender to them in the pot after they cooked a bit)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 cup water
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 cups brown sugar
3 cups white sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Heat the apples, water, lemon and cinnamon on medium heat about 20 minutes or until soft. Add pectin bring to a boil, add sugar and bring back to a boil for 1 minute.  Ladle into sterilized jars and water bath for 15 minutes on pints.

I made a few batches and ended up with 9 pints, 1 half pint

 Then I tried an 'Apple Pie in a Jar' recipe but I tweaked it a bit and call it Apple Pie Jam, it's already a HUGE hit just from what didn't make it into a jar.

Apple Pie Jam

1 cup raisins, dried cranberries or dried cherries (or all 3) pulsed fine in processor
12 cups peeled, cored chopped apples (granny smith is best, though I did toss in the very few red delicous that I had)
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 pkg low sugar pectin
4.5 cups sugar

In large stockpot combine apples, lemon, apple juice and bring to boil.  Reduce heat and boil on low until the apples begin to soften, this is where I pull out the stick blender and chop them down a bit.  Stir in dry fruit, cinnamon and nutmeg and make sure to mix well.  Add pectin, bring to boil for 1 minute.  Add sugar, boil 3 minutes.  Ladle into jars, water bath for 10 minutes on half pints, 15 minutes on pints.
I made two batches, netting 10 pints and 3 half pints, plus enough saved out to taste test for another pint.

Now... why did I save the peels and cores?  Well to make apple juice from them of course.  Call it thrifty  Toss them in a stock pot, add a cup or so of water, slap a lid on it and bring to a boil.  Once everything is sufficiently mushy, pour into a jelly strainer and drain, or you can do like I do and drain through a large cotton napkin set in a colander over another pot.  If you don't get enough juice for the recipe, no problem, just add a little unsweeted store bought apple juice to even things out.  And what to do with the spent peels and cores?  Keep the basset out of them while you're working and give them to the chickens when they cool off!
Then you can make jelly, or more specifically....

Candy Apple Jelly

4 cups apple juice
1/2 cup red-hot candies
1 (1.75 oz) package powdered pectin
4 1/2 cups sugar

Bring juice and red hots to full rolling boil over medium high heat, stirring constantly until most of the red hots have dissolved. Add pectin, boil 1 minute. Stir in sugar; return to full rolling boil. Boil for 2 minutes, continue stirring constantly. Remove from the heat; skim off any foam and remove any undissolved candies. Pour into jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust caps and process for 5 minutes in boiling water bath.

I made 2 batches and ended up with 11 half pints, plus another we tossed in the fridge for taste testing.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Yes! We have no bananas.....

Actually we had a lot of bananas today.  The local grocery store had them on sale for 15 cents a pound!  Granted these were the scratch and dent slightly used models but still, 15 cents a POUND!
I bought a few.... say somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds.  My freezer isn't that big.  What to do?  Banana butter and banana jam!  Here are a few shots of what I spent most of today on:

Banana Jam, 4 quarts, 8 pints, 20 half pints (the color on that shot is off, really, they look just as good as the first)
And the banana butter as seen in a previous blog entry here, 4 pints
Now I bet your wondering about that banana jam recipe, right?  Well first let me explain what I have found while looking for canned banana recipes....

Obviously bananas are a low acid fruit and really should NOT be canned without additional acid added.  In fact many official places say the only safe way is to freeze the jam but, I found a few other sources that suggest the addition of lemon juice, these are those professional canner types.  So we add lemon juice, but what else can you do to help?  Apple juice and sugar.  This is a home consumption thing too, so don't go trying to sell this at farmer's markets, most have a thing against banana jams for the official reason listed above.
For the jam:

5 cups chopped bananas
5 Tbsp bottled lemon juice
Apple juice
1/4 tsp each cinnamon, nutmeg, ground clove
1 pkg no sugar needed pectin (I'm really liking this stuff)
3 cups sugar

Place bananas and lemon juice in a large measuring cup and add apple juice to reach 5.5 cups.  pour into large stock pot and add spices.  Bring to a boil and partially mash or puree the bananas a little.  Add pectin, boil 1 minute, add sugar, boil 3 minutes.  Ladle into jars with 1/2 inch head space and process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes for half pints, 15 for pints and 20 for quarts.

Or you can ladle this into freezer containers, allow to cool and freeze.
Or you can ladle into jars and put in your fridge.

Curiosity and the Kitten

Well I finished it.  Finally.  Had enough time off from canning to actually pick the needle back up and finish the last few stitches.  I call it...  Curiosity and the Kitten.  I'll let the pictures speak from here on out, there are close-ups of some areas and a shot of the back.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Canning the sauce

Had another 25 pound box of tomatoes show up.  This time though, I decided to sauce them.  Relatively easy honestly, there's a basic and herbed sauce recipe in the Ball Complete book that I followed for the most part.  But since I don't have a food mill, I peeled, cored and seeded the tomatoes before cooking them down.  As I was peeling, coring and seeding I just chucked the cleaned halves of the tomatoes directly into my stock pot.  Once it was full I put it on to start cooking while I finished the rest.  I didn't add any water, just the collected juice from the seed pulp. Added the remaining tomatoes once the amount I started with had reduced enough to do so.
After everything softened up a bit I took out my handy stick blender and pureed the tomatoes in the stock pot.  Left them a little chunky, not too much but enough to have some texture.  As for the herbs, I added granulated garlic, dry basil, dry oregano, dry onion flakes, salt, balsamic vinegar and a bit of red wine.  All to taste.  This I let cook a while until everything seemed nice and combined flavor wise but it still seemed a bit 'thin' so I added in 2 cans of tomato paste.  This is a normal addition for our regular sauce anyway.  Let it cook a bit more and it was ready.
Poured them all up and processed according to the lovely requirements in the Ball book and viola, 7 quarts and 3 pints of ready to use tomato sauce.