Monday, April 6, 2015

America's Test Kitchen

When searching for a good mandolin slicer I happened across "America's Test Kitchen" on YouTube and I'm so glad I did! I really appreciate their channel ... it's filled with all sorts of interesting things, but I especially like it when they do equipment reviews. Here are a few I've watched ... enjoy! (actually, when looking up these videos to post I see now that I watched their stand mixer one last year before I got a refurbished KitchenAid, but I must have not thought to check out their channel at that time).





Tuesday, March 31, 2015

It's time for an update ...

Well ... here we are not much more than a week or two past my last update and I'm going to have to change what I said last time. I mentioned our church burned down and we were waiting for a place on the new church property just on the outskirts of town. A few of us got to thinking that it made more sense for us to move now to a little house in the country and then some day whenever everything else is done on the new property we will re-evaluate and see if we should stay where we are or move to the property. So, without further ado, here is our new house that we plan to move in to this week ... Lord willing ...



It's a little house in the country, about 8 minutes or so from the SE edge of town. As a HUGE bonus, it's about a block down the highway from the elderly woman we help out several times a week. She is BEYOND EXCITED to have us so near :) :) :) and has all sorts of plans for us :) :) :) On a side note, our bees are on her property too so that will be convenient being near them as well.

There's a good barn and a large, 2-car garage. The house itself is smaller but the kitchen is super nice (in my opinion). A few brothers and my children have already been busy fixing things up. It's sat empty for about a year and has a few issues ... mainly mice, spiders and plumbing. One of the brothers installed me a wash sink in the laundry room. YAY! It has a little bit of land but we are going to see if we can get a little more (some really brushy area to the west).

The last people who lived there enjoyed gardening and left behind some asparagus, strawberries, a few blueberry bushes and some fruit trees. All are sorely neglected so we'll see if we can revive them. Corban rolled down one of the fruit trees because it was hiding in the brush! We hope to get a garden going there soon.

In other news, our green house plants are all doing very well. These photos were taken last week already so things are taller than what is pictured. The peppers just got transplanted and really needed the room ... they have already grown so much!



This evening we sat outside with our girls and enjoyed watching them peck around. I wonder what they will think of country life? For now though, they are still very much city-chickens ... as evidenced by the burned and partially torn down church in the background!


All the bricks are gone, some in a huge pile in the back, just to the right of this photo. We've had quite the activity around here these last few weeks.

I have several video ideas in the works but I might hold off until we move. We'll see.

Chewy Butterscotch Brownies

They aren't healthy but they could be frugal!


Ok ... I'll admit it ... even I make junk food once in a while but only when I have a specific reason ;) The other day I wanted to cheer up a friend whom I know likes all things butterscotch, so I got online and gathered up a few ideas. Butterscotch Brownies caught my attention and we had the needed bag of butterscotch morsels from the discount store (purchased with said friend in mind).

The original recipe is here. I did not change it much at all the first time except to omit the nuts and reduce the sugar. Next time I will reduce the sugar even more, trying 1c. If all goes well I will reduce it more to 3/4c and see what we think ... and so on. I'll try to remember to update this blog post to share my final sugar adjustment. Adjusting the butter however is not an option to me.

The original recipe said to use a 9 x 13 baking pan, however that did not seem right to me so I used a larger bar pan and that worked quite well.

Chewy Butterscotch Brownies
2 1/2c flour
1t baking powder
1/2t salt
1c/227g butter, softened
1c packed brown sugar
1T vanilla extract
2 large or 3 small eggs
1 - 11oz package butterscotch morsels

Mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Cream the butter, brown sugar and vanilla.
Add the eggs to the creamed-mixture and beat until well combined.
Gradually add in the dry ingredients, beating well after each addition.
Stir in half the butterscotch morsels.
Spread into an ungreased 15 1/2" x 10" bar pan (or a few 9 x 13 pans).
Sprinkle the remaining morsels on top and bake at 350* until done, at least 25 minutes but probably longer.

Cool or serve warm ... with ice cream ... if you want.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taste of Home Magazine

Some time last year my elderly lady friend, Christine, gave me several older issues of Taste of Home Magazine. I really enjoyed them so I got online and found a deal ... $7 for a year of Taste of Home. I was excited to get the first issue but quickly became somewhat disappointed by the major format change of the new issues (way too busy for my liking) and also the introduction of all sorts of advertisements. Oh well. Times change right? The magazine itself is still pretty decent for the price ... it seems to have a lot more practical, every-day-type-recipes that normal home cooks would actually USE, or at least use as a springboard for ideas. It still has sections with tips and hints, however not nearly as helpful as the older issues.

Ok so what's my point? :)

The other morning we put a roast in the crockpot to slow cook all day long, but didn't know what we were going to do with it or serve with it. Towards supper time preparations we decided to chunk up the meat and make a gravy to serve over garlic toast, however we still didn't know what to have as sides. We grabbed the newest Taste of Home Magazine and Brianna and I decided to make two of the recipes. She chose "Scalloped Potatoes with Mushrooms" and I chose "Tuscan Roasted Asparagus". Here is the outcome and the recipes; for a downloadable PDF version of the recipes just click on the recipe title.




Tuscan Roasted Asparagus
From: Taste of Home Magazine

2T butter
1lb asparagus, cleaned and trimmed
2T minced onion
2T minced celery
2 medium tomatoes, sliced
1/2t basil
1/2t thyme
1/4t pepper
3T grated parmesan cheese

Preheat over to 350* and melt butter in a 9x13 baking dish.
Place asparagus in bottom of dish with melted butter.
Sprinkle with onion and celery, arrange tomato slices on top.
Sprinkle with seasonings and cheese.
Roast for 30 minutes or until asparagus is fork-tender.
Makes 4 servings

My notes:
I prefer using Roma tomatoes for this recipe. I leave off the thyme and add a little garlic and salt.
I am not sure this can really be called 'roasting' … more like 'baking'.

 
From: Taste of Home Magazine

2lbs potatoes (about 4 medium) peeled and sliced
1T butter
½lb sliced fresh mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
¼c all-purpose flour
1c chicken broth
1t salt
½t oregano
½t pepper
1c (8oz) sour cream
1c coarsely chopped fresh spinach
2c (8oz) shredded Swiss cheese

1. Preheat oven to 375*. Place potatoes in a large saucepan; add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cook, uncovered, 8-12 minutes or until tender. Drain.
2. Meanwhile, in another saucepan, heat butter over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and onion. Cook and stir 6-8 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute longer.
3. In a bowl, whisk flour, broth and seasonings until smooth; stir into mushroom mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook and stire 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from heat; stire in sour cream.
4. Arrange half of the potatoes in a greased 1 ½qt or 8in square baking dish; top with the spinach. Spread hafl of the mushroom sauce over top; sprinkel with 1c cheese. Layer with remaining potatoes, sauce and cheese.
5. Bake, uncovered, 12-15 minutes or until heated through and cheese is melted. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 8.
Per serving prepared according to recipe instructions above: 269cal, 14g fat (9g saturated), 49mg cholesterol, 471mg sodium, 23g carbohydrate, 2g fiber, 11g protein.

My notes.
In my opinion, there was WAY TOO MUCH dairy in this recipe. We doubled the recipe to make a 9x13 dish for leftovers. In our double recipe we substituted about 2 ounces of cream cheese for the 2c/16oz of sour cream (blended with a little water to thin it out). We did not sprinkle cheese in the middle on the first layer; we only sprinkled cheese on the top and even then it was way less than what is called for one recipe. So … in our double recipe we probably sprinkled a cup or so of cheese on top, nothing in the middle, and that was plenty enough. We did not have Swiss cheese, though I think that would have been the best option for flavor. We substituted home-canned mushrooms for fresh mushrooms and did not measure out the spinach.
I've never pre-cooked the potatoes in a scalloped potato dish before so this way was new to me. I'm not sure I liked it; they seemed a bit too mushy.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

Beet Kvass: Lacto-Fermented Super Tonic How-To Tutorial


Beet Kvass is said to be a lacto-fermented super tonic that aids in digestion, helps cleanse the liver, promotes regularity, good for kidney stones and other ailments, and helps to alkalize the blood. How do I know this? I read it ... so I guess I just have to take 'their' word for it ... but if you have success stories please feel free to share.

Before I continue however I'd like to share an apparent pet-peeve (and, I believe, rightfully so) of many who are of Russian or Ukrainian origin. Kvass or Kvas is actually a fermented drink made with grain, usually rye sourdough bread, not beets!!! So really I am not sure we can properly call this drink beet "Kvass" (maybe 'fermented beet liquid?') but it seems that is what has become the new thing. So, here on this blog, though I know that REAL kvass/kvas is made from grain/bread, I will still call this drink "beet kvass" ... ok? But be watching! I'll eventually post a 'how to' on the original Bread Kvass. Maybe. We'll see.

Beet Kvass can be consumed straight up (start with 4oz or so, morning and night, but how much is too much? I'm not sure.), diluted with fresh juice, water kefir, kombucha or ginger soda, or even used as a vinaigrette in a salad dressing recipe. It may be added to soups too, although the soup must not be so hot that it kills the beneficial bacteria, enzymes and yeasts. Lukewarm is good. From all the comments I have read, there are usually two camps on the taste ... really good or really nasty. I'm with the former camp. This stuff is absolutely delicious to me and I like it best 'straight up'.

As with all lacto-fermented foods, the variations of methods and recipes seem endless for beet kvass, so in this post I will not only share how I make it but I will also share all the variations I have found though I'm sure I have missed some. [My method will always be in brackets.]
  • Not many mentioned the quality of the beets (besides saying organic is best and preferred). Choose beets that are firm, preferably fresh from the garden.
  • First conflict of course is the amount of beets to use. Most recipes I found are pretty vague and leave a lot to individual interpretation with phrases like "3-4 medium sized beets". Some had nearly a jar full of beets while others opted for only half-full or even 1/3 full ... and of course everything in between. Most seemed between 1/3-1/2 full. [For the sake of consistency I'm much more fond of doing things by weight, so I filled my 1/2 gallon jars somewhere between 1/3-1/2 full of beets and weighed them ... almost 400g.]
  • On peeling. Peel the skins, do not peel the skins, peel if not organic and leave on if organic. Skins are said to hasten the fermenting process because they harbor beneficial bacteria ... yet some opt for peeling while others say there's no other way but to leave the skins on. [I do NOT peel them.]
  • For skins left on ... scrub well, do not scrub well, just rinse off. The 'do not scrub too much' camp believes the more skin the better (because again, skin is said to aid in the fermenting process). [I scrub decently well if the skins are tough, a little softer if they are fresh out of the garden.]
  • Skin or no skin, the beet tops are to be trimmed off, tails removed. [Save tops for other ferments, for juicing or throw in your green smoothie.]
  • Size of beet pieces: chop small, chop medium, chop large. I found instructions of 1/2" pieces to 2" or more. All however said do not shred - really small pieces or shredded releases too much of the beet sugar at once and causes the product to ferment quickly thus elevating the chance for mold to form. [I chop roughly somewhere between 3/4" - 1 1/4"]
  • To whey or not to whey, that seems to be the question on most folks minds. Most half-gallon recipes called for 1/4c whey along with the tablespoon of 'good salt'. (Left to your imagination or personal bias/preference, nothing mentioned as far as I have found about the different weights and sizes of various salts. I use Redmond's Real Salt.) Some say you can use kraut juice instead of whey for a non-dairy alternative. Some say you can purchase a 'starter culture' for more consistent results. 
  • No whey? Omit the 1/4c whey (or kraut juice or starter) and instead use an additional 1T salt. [For this batch I did a side-by-side experiment - one without a starter and one with 'juice' from my lacto-fermented carrots. I don't think I'll be using the starter next time.]
  • Herbs, other seasonings and/or other veggies are optional ingredients; add alongside the beets, salt and [optional] whey/kraut juice/starter. Rosemary? Caraway seeds? Celery seeds? Orange peel? Ginger? Garlic? Cabbage? Onion? Let your likes guide you ... a tip though ... put the other veggies in first and then beets on top; this will help keep the other stuff from floating to the top.
  • Add distilled or filtered water up to 1" to the top of the jar. [I find it easiest to mix the salt and optional starter with some of the water first, add that to the beets and then top off with more water and stir well.]
  • Cover the vessel ... with just a cloth, a plastic lid, a metal lid, an airlock. Airlocks were mentioned when commenters were having issues with mold as airlocks offer a controlled fermenting environment (preventing the wild yeasts and bacteria from your home from getting into your fermenting vessel). Hardly anyone that I found said to use a cloth, but I did see a few. The common method seems to use some sort of air-tight lid. [For this batch I used my new homemade airlocks with half-gallon jars.]
  • Fermenting time. Some say leave it sit out for only 2 days, others say leaving out a month or so gives it the best flavor, and then you may find everything else in between (I found one even mentioned leaving it out for only one day if it's warm in your home). 1-2 weeks seemed more common though and I found one that said "go by taste, not by time." I personally like this method the best, however it's not practical if you've never tried it before! [After 24 hours I noticed the salt-only jar had a few more bubbles than the salt+starter jar. At about 36 hours there was a marked difference in color; the salt-only jar being slightly red/orange and the salt+starter jar being more beet-red. At 6 days out they looked pretty much the same color ... beautiful, deep, beet red, however the starter jar had mold on top. Both tasted fabulous, but one was obviously a bit more salty than the other. The starter+salt batch seemed a bit more effervescent than the salt-only batch. See photos below.]
 
  • Many mentioned mold, most said to just scrape it off and continue. [that's what I did this time ... the jar without the starter never formed mold, however the jar with the starter did ... see below ... it scrapes off real easy and then looks just like the other one. Sometimes you might encounter a white film either on the veggies or the liquid or both. That is not mold but yeast. See this helpful article (off site) that gives a little more info about it.] [Update - I made another batch using liquid from a NEW batch of fermented carrots and that did not develop mold ... so it could have just been something in the old batch? Whatever the case, we drank it anyway and it was very good ... or at least I thought it was very good ... others just tolerated it :) ]

    [another update - I made 3 batches using the salt-only method. One formed quite a bit of mold, though I shook the jar trying to get the airlock off and the beet juice covered much of the mold, another formed a little spot of mold and another formed a black-looking film on top. All cleaned off easily and taste normal - see 'before and after' photos below.]
before

after
 
  • Strain out the 'tonic', pour into a glass container with a tight fitting lid (or see optional step below) and keep in the refrigerator for a long time (but really you should drink it ... don't let it sit there!).
  • Second batch from the same beets: save back some of the liquid and all of the beets. "Some" means different things to different people. Here are 'some' variations I found: about 10%, a half cup, an 'inch', 'a little bit left in the jar', and so on. Top off with water as before and allow to sit on the counter a day or two or three (or more). Some say to add more salt (about 2t if using a half gallon jar), however most leave off the salt for the second batch. Worth noting: one recipe I found only required the beets to be saved back; this recipe also required more salt.
  • Optional step after straining ... It may be bottled up and left out on the counter an additional 24-48 hours to promote carbonation (if preferred). Though from my experience this never gets fizzy like ginger soda, just a little effervescent. If yours gets fizzy like soda, let me know ... I'll be curious of the differences in methods.
    Some say flavors may be added to the bottle along with the strained liquid - like a few TBS of fresh juice (beet, apple, etc). Of course you may also skip this step and put it right into the fridge. [see below - after 2 days bottled on the counter the one with the starter began to form a little mold. I put it in the fridge and drank it anyway.]

Do you make 'Beet Kvass'? If so, please feel free to share your method below!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Homeschool Science

Tylor wanted to look up a 'how-to' video today and we found "Mr. Wizard" ... it really seems like a nice homeschool science resource so I thought I should post it here. Enjoy!

Mr. Wizard Studios on YouTube

Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Lacto-Fermented Ginger Soda, Revisited

I've been making my own homemade lacto-fermented soda for about 3 years now and made a post about my original method sometime during the first several months (see here: Lacto-Fermented Soda). I believe have perfected it since then and feel the need to revisit this topic to share my observations and alterations.

You see, it started to not taste so good and I became less and less interested in making it. I gave it up for a few months but then decided that maybe I just needed a fresh starter. I made a new starter and that helped, however after several months it began having the same issues of not tasting quite right. It was then that I decided to change my method. In my previous method I would simply save back a cup or two from the last batch of soda to use as a starter for the next batch of soda. At the same time I had been maintaining a sourdough starter for quite a while - I would keep the same starter but feed it when it needed fed and that kept it fresh and good. I decided to do the same thing with the ginger soda - instead of saving back a cup or so from the last batch I just began maintaining a starter. This has proven to work so much better ... however I do make a fresh sourdough starter every year in the spring and I might do that with the ginger soda too. We'll see.

So, here's the way I do it now.

* Organic ingredients are always preferable but not absolutely necessary.

For the starter/bug
Fill a quart mason jar about 2/3 full. Add to it 1T FRESH grated ginger and 1T sugar. Mix well to incorporate the ingredients and air into the water. Cover with a coffee filter or cloth secured with a rubber band. This allows wild yeasts and bacteria into the jar but keeps the bugs out. If your house is cold try to set the jar in the warmest place.
Each day thereafter, around the same time each day, you will add 1T of FRESH grated ginger and 1T sugar. Mix well to incorporate the ingredients and air. Stir again approximately 12 hours later. (so you will be stirring it every 12 hours)
I like to taste my starter each time after adding the ginger and sugar. It should be pleasantly sweet and somewhat gingery. If  it tastes too much like ginger (which makes me think of alcohol) it needs more sugar. Add what you think is needed ... a teaspoon? A few teaspoons? Another tablespoon? You might also need to skip adding the ginger (or only add a small bit) for one day but add the sugar. You'll learn what's right.
After about 3-7 days your starter should be ready - a warmer temperature in the home makes the starter go faster, a colder one makes it slower. You will see bubbles on top and when you stir it you will hear it fizzing like soda. If it only fizzes a little bit you might want to leave it another day or two.
Now you have what is called a 'bug'. You are ready to proceed to the next step.

For the soda base/wort - This is for one gallon of soda.
Ingredients:
1/3c packed grated fresh ginger
1 1/2c sugar
Approximately 1 gallon of distilled or filtered water
1/3c FRESH squeezed lemon juice
1c strained soda starter/bug (SAVE THE REST OF THE STARTER! see below)

Pay attention now! This is important. You do NOT want to heat your starter! You will KILL it!

Fill a pot with a half gallon of water and the 1/3c packed grated fresh ginger. Bring to a boil, cover and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat, stir in the 1 1/2c sugar and allow to sit until it's at ROOM TEMPERATURE. You may cool it down quicker by putting it in a sink of cold water ... just be sure to not get the water into the pot.
Once the syrup is at ROOM TEMPERATURE add the 1/3c fresh squeezed lemon juice and the 1c soda starter/bug. Mix well.
Pour all into a glass gallon jug and add water to the shoulder. Taste it. It should be slightly sweet and gingery. Top with a coffee filter or cloth secured with a rubber band.
Leave on your counter. Stir every 12 hours and taste each time. You are looking for obvious bubbles and fizz. Also, it should be mildly sweet. If the sweetness goes away but you still do not see bubbles or fizz, add a little more sugar until it's mildly sweet again (I've never had to do this but I'm putting this in here just in case it happens to you).
This step usually only takes 1 to 2 days (24-48 hours or anywhere in between). If it's colder in your home it might take longer than 2 days. If for some reason you reach 3 full days and still do not see bubbles or fizz, you may try replacing some of the liquid with more starter (a half cup to a cup), adding more sugar if needed, and seeing what happens after another day or so. Again, this has never happened to me but it's possible.
Once you have fizz and bubbles you are ready to move on to the next step. Eventually you will learn how you like it to taste at this point too. I leave mine sit a little longer even after the fizz and bubbles start showing up.

Bottling your soda
This is the finishing stage that will really add carbonation to your soda and reduce the sweetness a little.
Strain off the ginger and discard or compost it. (I tried giving this to my chickens but they were not interested at all!).
You may add a little more sugar if you want it a little sweeter. Again, you will learn what you prefer. I never add more sugar but I do not like things so sweet.
Using a funnel, fill your bottles within 2" to the top (or if you are using plastic bottles you may fill a little fuller, but no more than 1" to the top). For the first few years I made this soda I was using plastic 'juicy juice-type' jugs. They are really air tight and work well enough, however I discovered a store in Rogers, AR, that had the fancy Grolsch-stole bottles (EZCap brand that are said to be the better ones) for a really good price so I went ahead and purchased a case of 16oz bottles (12 in a case). I did not regret this purchase at all and in fact just ordered the 32oz bottles for my beet kvass and for larger bottles of soda when we have company.
Anyway, fill your bottles and cap them with an AIR TIGHT LID.
Leave on your counter for a day or two or three to build up carbonation. The longer it sits out the less sweet it will be.
To check simply open the bottle and taste it, but be careful! It might spill out so open over the sink or outside. Each time you open a bottle to check it it will lose carbonation. To restore some of the lost carbonation simply put the lid back on and leave it out a little longer than the other ones.
When the soda is done, transfer it to the refrigerator. This will almost halt the fermentation process, however the organisms in the soda will continue to slowly eat the sugar ... the older it is the less sweet it will be, but it does keep indefinitely so do not be afraid to drink the old stuff!

Maintaining your starter
Now you still have this starter to think about; I will share what has worked very well for me.
Strain out the ginger bits and put the rest back into the quart mason jar. Add water until it's about 2/3-3/4 full. Add a tablespoon of fresh grated ginger and a tablespoon of sugar. This should sound familiar, right?! Just like before, you will add 1T of each grated ginger and sugar, mixing well twice a day, however this time you will only need to do it for about 2-3 days. Again, taste it to make sure it is mildly sweet and gingery. If it is too strong of ginger or alcohol, add more sugar and little to no ginger. If it is too sugary, leave off the extra sugar for a day or so.
Your starter should be bubbly and fizzy.
Now it is ready to be stored in the fridge until you need it next. I leave the cloth and rubber band on it and then I put a jar lid on top and put the ring on loosely. I do not keep it air tight.
A day before you are ready to make more soda take the starter out of the fridge, mix in 1T each ginger and sugar, stir again 12 hours later, and then 12 hours or so after that you are ready to make more soda. If it's really strong I leave off the ginger.
And the process repeats on and on.

Variations
You may wish to add a little concentrated fruit syrup before bottling it. This will give it different flavors but will also give the organisms more sugar to eat ... and might make the bottles super fizzy. If I make 2 gallons at a time I still have to use the plastic juice bottles for some of my soda because I do not have enough of the EZCap bottles. Occasionally I will add a handful of frozen strawberries, peaches or blueberries (or whatever) to the jug. This also makes it more fizzy. One time I opened a plastic bottle in front of company and I'm not joking at all, the soda shot clear to the ceiling and made quite the mess!! It was a good laugh.

Also, you do not HAVE to use ginger for the wort/syrup ... you may choose to use 6c of fruit like strawberries, grapes, blueberries or whatever. I have yet to find a fruit I like to use in place of the ginger; also, it just uses so much fruit that it seems a waste of fruit and money to me!!! I just stick with the ginger.

One final tip: When you make your first batch of soda I suggest you take notes so you'll have a better idea of what to do differently for the second batch.