Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Praline Syrup

We were selling soap a few weeks ago at a local barbecue festival. Our booth was located underneath two huge old pecan trees... pecans were falling all around us... I decided that gleaning was in order, so between customers and while DH was "minding the store" I meandered around picking up pecans a handful at a time throughout the day... by closing time, I had several pounds of pecans stowed... feeling very "hunter/gatherer" and not unlike a squirrel.

When I got home with my free food, I found an old Ball Blue Book recipe for Praline Syrup and got started on my own version...

Here's what I did...

I shelled all those lovely pecans, and DH was kind enough to chop them in the antique chopper that belonged to his Mom...

A few broken fingernails and a lot of finger stains later, I had about four cups of chopped pecans...

The recipe I had found called for
2 cups dark corn syrup

I could have sworn I had dark corn syrup somewhere in my pantry, but alas, it was not to be found... so I substituted half molasses and half light corn syrup... I love the taste of molasses so went with it...

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup water

Bring the syrup, sugar and water to a boil over medium heat. Boil one minute, then stir in...
1 cup chopped pecans (more is better)... so I added all four cups

..and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (I added more like a teaspoon)

I prepared my pint canning jars by placing them in a flat pan of boiling water set on two stove eyes. I simmered my lids in boiling water and kept everything hot until I was ready for them.

I ladled the mixture into the hot jars, leaving a 1/4 inch head space. I wiped the rims and tightened the lids on to fingertip tightness.

I processed the jars in a boiling water bath, ensuring they were completely covered with water, for 10 minutes. After processing, I removed the jars using my jar lifter and set them on a folded dish towel on the counter to cool, and to listen for the PING of each successfully sealed jar! The recipe says it makes four half pint jars... I got three pints and one half pint (all those extra nuts!)

This syrup would be wonderful over ice cream, topping a pound cake, or with butter on a homemade buttermilk biscuit for breakfast. Yummy!

For a printable version of this recipe, click here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Canning Wet Walnuts

My husband was saying, not long ago, that he enjoyed sundaes with wet walnuts and pineapple topping... the wheels in my brain began turning... hmmm... I could can some... I have walnuts in the freezer left from last Christmas... wonder how one would go about doing that... Google to the rescue... I found lots of recipes and came up with my own version...

Here's what I did...

First I rough chopped my walnuts and toasted them a few minutes in the oven to bring out their aromatic, walnutty flavor.

Then I started making my syrup...

I mixed...

8 cups brown sugar

2/3 cup corn starch (for you non-rebel, non-rule-breakers out there, you can use clear-jel... I used corn starch because I HAD corn starch and it doesn't pose a danger, just has a chance of breaking down and "unthickening" whatever you have thickened... I've used it for years without break down, so I took a chance... use at your own risk and don't say I didn't warn you!)

3 tsp. vanilla extract (several recipes I read called for maple extract, I prefer vanilla and also I HAD vanilla on hand so I went with vanilla)

6 cups cold water

Whisk together and bring to a boil.  Boil gently for about 10 minutes... until syrup thickens nicely.

Meanwhile, I prepared my pint canning jars by boiling them in a pan of water set on two stove eyes; and sterilized my lids by simmering them in hot water, keeping everything hot until I was ready to use them.

I divided my walnuts evenly among the ten pint jars.

When the syrup was nice and thick, I ladled it over the walnuts, leaving an inch headspace.

I removed any air bubbles by running my plastic tool (or a butter knife) between the walnuts and the inside of the jar. I wiped the jar rims and tightened the lids on to fingertip tightness.

I then processed my jars in a boiling water bath (ensuring the jars were covered with water) for 10 minutes.

After processing, I removed the jars from the canner with my jar lifter and set them on a folded dish towel to cool... and to listen for the PING of each successfully sealed jar.

Ice cream sundae here we come!!!!

For a printable copy of this recipe, click here

Friday, November 11, 2011

Giving Canned Foods as Gifts

My boss rarely cooks... she's a wonderful, creative person, a writer, she makes jewelry, decorates wine glasses, refinishes furniture, and many other artistic endeavors... but she doesn't cook much.

She does enjoy food... I took some pickled peaches to share at work soon after I made them and she begged for more... she gobbled up my okra pickles and when I told her I'd been making jalapeno jelly one weekend, she begged for some...

Her birthday arrived recently and I wanted to share some of my canned goods with her... but didn't want to simply bag up a few jars... I wanted to be creative and make it extra special for her, from me... My boss is also a dear friend and mentor... she's more than just a boss.

Here's what I did...

First I decided on the combination of jars of goodies to share... of course, there would be pickled peaches... she had put in that request back in the summer and she wanted them for Thanksgiving...

And jalapeno jam... and I had canned a batch of cream cheese last spring, that would go nicely with the jam... on crackers (before you go jumping on me about the fact that "there is no FDA approved way to can cream cheese," I know this... but I did it anyway... sometimes I'm a rebel like that)... Mmmm... crackers!

So, I looked up a recipe for homemade crackers... and made a batch...

1 1/4 cups flour; white, whole wheat, rye*
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, canola oil or olive oil; more as needed
4 tablespoons water; add more as needed
1 teaspoon seasoning such as chili powder, dried herbs etc (optional)
Container: baking sheet
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

  • Preheat oven to 400° F.
  • Mix together well, preferably in a food processor, 1 cup of the flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and oil or butter ( use smaller amount for crisper crackers, or a larger amount for a richer flavor). Add 3 tablespoons water and mix well. Gradually add more water, mixing after each addition, until mixture forms a compact ball. If it seems too sticky to handle, add more flour.
  • Sprinkle a work surface (or a baking sheet-sized piece of parchment paper) with some of the remaining flour then press and roll the dough to about 1/8th inch thick. Try to get it fairly uniform. If the dough is too dry to roll out, return it to the food processor and add a little more water. If necessary to prevent sticking, dust your hands and the rolling pin with a little more flour.
  • Put the rolled-out dough on a baking sheet dusted with a little flour (if you've used parchment paper, transfer dough and paper to baking sheet) and bake 10 - 15 minutes, until somewhat brown.
  • Cool and break into pieces. If making several batches, mix another while the first one bakes. You can re-use the parchment paper several times.
I made my crackers using all purpose flour, olive oil, and added cracked black pepper... I cut them with a small, round cookie cutter... they turned out very cute... and tasty! I filled a wide mouth pint canning jar with them.

Cracked Pepper Crackers in a wide mouth canning jar.
I made lid covers from squares of burlap (I was going for an autumn rustic look, burlap was perfect for the task!) and tied them on with hemp twine. I made labels on the computer and printed them on brown kraft paper.

We still have LOTS of brightly colored leaves all over our yard, so I asked my dear sweet DH if he would go pick me up some perfect, brightly colored leaves... that dear man didn't even question why I wanted the leaves... and it was dark outside... but he donned his headband flashlight and went leaf hunting... when he brought them inside... perfect as they were... he then asked, "what are you gonna do with these?" and I hugged him and said, "I love you! You didn't even question my request, you just went." Lord knows I adore that man!

I melted paraffin and dipped the leaves in a thin coating of the wax... and I learned the hard way that you CANNOT melt paraffin in the microwave... it won't melt... double boiler works! The leaves will last forever once they're dipped in the paraffin... they cool and the wax hardens in like 10 seconds.

I began adding my jars to a Kraft brown box with a lid I found at Hobby Lobby... I first put a layer of excelsior in the bottom of the box and made little "nesting hollows" for the four jars.

I added some of my colored, paraffin dipped leaves inside the box for a little fall decoration... and I tossed in a few acorns we had picked up in the yard.

I put the lid on and tied it all up with more of the hemp twine... and more leaves...

Well, needless to say... Mimi (my boss) had a fit over the jars of goodies... and exclaimed over and over again about my thoughtfulness... but she was equally delighted over the packaging... especially the leaves... and carefully gathered them up to take home and use over again in her fall decorating.

Made me feel happy and warm inside to share!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Canning Cranberry Sauce

The family is coming for Thanksgiving...

I've cooked Thanksgiving dinner every year since I moved away from home when I was 18 years old, except for one year... (my Mama always cooked Christmas and I cooked Thanksgiving). The only year I didn't cook was when my daughter was 16 years old... her Riverdance Team was invited to dance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on Thanksgiving Day... the entire family went... it was great! My sister was living in New Jersey at the time so our base was there for the week... Thanksgiving dinner was a group effort in her kitchen and served on Wednesday evening to free up our day in the City to watch our dancers. But all the other years I've done the entire meal... except for the pumpkin pies... Mama always made those... and I made dessert for Christmas... it's been a great system... Since Mama is no longer with us (she's been gone three years now) my youngest brother, Kevin, has taken on the pie making.

I love every aspect of creating and serving this annual meal for my family... we always have pretty much the same menu... turkey, gravy, dressing (not stuffing... we bake it in a pan, we don't stuff the bird), sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, green beans, rolls, and cranberry sauce. Sometimes we add "green stuff" (a jello salad my Aunt Beckie always made), and for the past few years, ham (because my DH is not fond of turkey)... sometimes there's banana pudding and there's usually red velvet cake (my oldest brother, Jeff's birthday is November 25 so we add birthday celebrating to Thanksgiving dinner and his favorite is red velvet cake... this year Jeff will be the BIG 5-0 so I'm trying to think of a way to make a black red velvet cake, maybe I'll just cover the usual fluffy white frosting with black fondant, we can always peel it off)... I've never even considered NOT cooking... it's work, sure, but it's a labor of love to me... for several years now, my youngest daughter has come down the day before and helps out and we have a blast cooking and preparing the enormous meal... we turn on the Macy's Parade while we cook and run back and forth watching the floats and bands and of course dancers amidst stirring and mixing and baking... I wouldn't change one second of Thanksgiving Day! It was always Mama's favorite holiday... she said it was a day when we just ate and fellowshipped and relaxed without the hustle and bustle of Christmas... I intend to carry on the tradition as long as I am able. We try to eat at noon (some of the kids have in-laws now and must go on to supper elsewhere), we traditionally go around the big table naming something we are thankful for and then we eat!... afterwards we take a walk in the woods or play some outdoor yard games if the weather is nice, or we play video games inside if it's too cold or rainy out... we've done Dance Dance Revolution (OMG you should see my Dad and brothers dancing on a mat! Too funny!) Last year it was Wii wave jumping... then we generally settle in for football and napping... cleaning up and clearing somewhere in between... and just covering the food so we can snack and munch for supper later.

For the past several years, I've made my own cranberry sauce... it's super easy... but I always make too much and have a huge bowl left in the fridge... we don't eat it that often and it tends to get pushed to the back of the fridge... I usually end up throwing it out around New Years.

When I bought my cranberries recently for sauce making... they were on sale "buy one get one free" so I bought two bags... and thought I'd just can the sauce up so I wouldn't have all that sauce left over...

Here's what I did...

I rinsed my

2 (12 oz.) bags of cranberries

and put them in a large saucepan and covered them with water (probably 2 inches of water)

I added...

2 cups granulated sugar

and brought the mixture to a boil, then reduced the heat  to medium and let it gently boil for about 15 minutes until the cranberries pop (you'll hear the berries popping as they cook)...

That's it! If you don't want to can it... you can eat it right now! or let it cool... and then eat it.

I prepared my pint canning jars and lids (I put the jars upside down in a flat pan of boiling water set over two stove eyes, and simmered the lids in hot water, keeping everything hot until I was ready for them)

I filled my jars with the sauce, leaving a half inch headspace...

I wiped the rim of each jar and tightened the lids on to fingertip tightness...

I processed the jars in a boiling water bath (place jars in the canner ensuring the are covered with water, bring to a boil and boil for 10 minutes).

After processing I removed the jars using my jar lifter and set them on a folded dish towel on the counter to cool... and to listen for the PING of each successfully sealed jar.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Consumers, consumers, consumers

This post is not about canning, not really... well, only in a roundabout sort of way... I can because I want quality food to eat... I want to know what's in it. I want to know that I'm eating and feeding my family the best I can afford. Sure, I buy Spaghetti-O's and boxed cereal from time to time. I consume the marketing ploys out there with the best of them. I buy into the convenience, microwave, instant gratification mindset often... WAY more often than I really want to. I eat fast food, drink diet soda, use Kleenex instead of handkerchiefs, paper towels instead of dish towels, and I LOVE flavored liquid coffee creamer. I'm guilty... totally. I almost never remember to take my recycled, reusable bags to the grocery store and I come home with piles of plastic bags every week. Yes, I'm guilty... I'm learning... I won't be fanatic about it, but I do want to do better... not necessarily because it's better for the environment (even though it is, I guess)... but because it's better for me... and mine.

I like people... love them really... but sometimes the "public" really bothers me.

A few years ago when my now 14 year old grandson was a toddler and lived with me... I realized he had an attention span problem... ADD and maybe ADHD... I don't know for sure, we never had him tested... I do know that he had a real problem sitting still, and if you told him to do three things... he might remember the first one and do it... but then he got lost somewhere on the way to do the second and third task... the TV, or a squirrel running past, or he would find a toy he hadn't seen in awhile... and he forgot to finish what he started out doing. This problem came to a head when we realized he was waking up during the night... he didn't bother anyone, he didn't wake anybody up... he would quietly get up... because his little mind was rushing around so fast... and he would play with his toys in his room for awhile, then go back to bed and sleep a little more. He stayed tired a lot because his mind wouldn't let him settle down and sleep. He developed asthma and other allergies. A friend told me about the Feingold Diet and I looked into it, researched it... I didn't have a lot of money but I invested in their book and I gave it a try... it was NOT easy! But it worked! I got rid of as much artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, and artificial preservatives as I possibly could and within weeks he was sleeping at night, his behavior had improved... people were asking me what I had done to change his attitude. We would go to the health food store to buy his macaroni and cheese, chips and a few other treats... he loved it! He would say, "Nana, when are we going back to the "good store?" He had fewer asthma attacks and fewer colds.

Cereal the color it was meant to be

Artificially colored cereal
I learned that "marketing experts" target children and their love for bright colors... so they load things like juices, cereals, candies and other things that kids like with artificial colors... in moderation these things aren't particularly harmful... they're FDA approved right? Think back when we were children... cereal was beige, we only had sodas or candy on rare occasions... we were made to drink milk... our toothpaste was white instead of sparkly and colorful and it tasted like toothpaste instead of bubblegum... our medicine tasted like, well, medicine... we didn't take Flintstone artificially colored and flavored vitamins because we were made to eat our veggies, drink our milk, have an apple... whipped cream and butter were made from, guess what? cream!!!! not hydrogenated oil...

What's wrong with butter being the creamy color of fresh cream... it's not supposed to be bright yellow! Artificial colors are made from petroleum... so is gasoline, crude oil... Artificial vanilla (vanillin)  flavoring is made from a waste product from paper mills.
Remember when Orange Crush came in an amber glass bottle?
When you poured it out into a glass, it was the
color of pale, watery orange juice.

Orange Crush today is filled with artificial
colors and flavors
"Artificial colors have been around for more than 100 years. (Originally they were made from coal tar oil.) And children have been eating artificially colored and flavored products for decades.
But then . . . most children ate these additives infrequently. They got an occasional lollipop from the bank or barber shop. Cotton candy was found at the circus. Jelly beans were given at Easter, orange cupcakes at Halloween and candy canes at Christmas.Today . . . the typical child growing up in the United States is exposed to these powerful chemicals all day, every day."

Also known as FD&C Yellow #5, tartrazine has been suspected as the cause of many reactions, including urticaria/angioedemaasthmaatopic dermatitis and other diseases. 

The following is a list of foods containing tartrazine:
  • Certain breakfast cereals
  • Aproten (low protein pasta products)
  • Refrigerated rolls and quick breads
  • Cake mixes
  • Commercial pies
  • Commercial gingerbread
  • Chocolate chips
  • Butterscotch chips
  • Commercial frostings
  • Ready-to-eat canned puddings
  • Certain instant and regular puddings
  • Certain ice creams and sherbets
  • Certain candy coatings
  • Hard candies
  • Colored marshmallows
  • Flavored carbonated beverages
  • Flavored drink mixes

And then there are diapers... disposable diapers... convenient? Sure. Better for baby bottoms? I'm not so sure. They claim to "keep baby dryer" but they use an awful lot of chemicals to do so. They cost more... and we have come to believe that they are necessary to raising a happy healthy child. 

"They contain dyes, sodium polyacrylate (the “super absorbent” gel), and dioxin, which is a by-product of bleaching paper. Sodium polyacrylate has been linked in the past to toxic shock syndrome and allergic reactions—and it’s potentially lethal to pets. Some dyes and dioxin, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, are known to cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys, and liver—and may be linked to cancer. In fact, Dioxin is so toxic that even the smallest detectable quantities have been known to cause immune system suppression, liver disease, and genetic problems in lab animals.
The Food & Drug Administration has received reports that fragrances in disposables caused headaches, dizziness, rashes and chemical burns. Babies have also choked or suffocated on pieces of plastic from diapers.
Cloth diapers, on the other hand, are reusable, absorbent and so darn cute on a baby behind! I used cloth diapers on my babies... yes, I went against the grain... people thought I was crazy... I got comments and questions like "But you DO use disposables when you go somewhere don't you?" and "Don't you have to change them more often with cloth diapers?"... and on and on... I used cloth diapers when I "went somewhere" too... a saved bread bag was stuffed down in the side of the diaper bag along with a couple of damp wash cloths in another plastic bag for cleanups. When I came back home... I dumped the contents of both bags into the diaper pail for washing up later... 

Photo courtesy of the smitten word
... washing them and hanging them on the clothesline was a joy to me (OK, it wasn't ALWAYS a joy, especially in the winter, but I had a dryer for backup)... the sun freshened and whitened them and they smelled so good! I remember my grandmother washing diapers out by hand EVERY time she changed a baby (it was part of the changing process)! Unless it was a poopy diaper... she simply rinsed it out, sometimes with a little soap, and hung it over the line on her screen porch... easy peasy!

And, yes, I had to change my babies a little more often than their disposable wearing friends... I mean, just how lazy have we become? 

My babies rarely had diaper rash or irritation and we all survived till potty training just fine!

And then there's the Great Raw Milk Debate!!! Geez!!! Our milk products are so over-processed, over-preserved, over-pasteurized... watered down... that we don't even remember what REAL milk is supposed to taste like... YES! we need to be sanitary, clean, and hygienic... and most dairy farmers, cow milkers, local folks with a cow, etc. are! And yet the CONSUMER is buying into the hype that everything that isn't FDA approved or USDA stamped is unhealthy and should be illegal! C'mon... artificial color Yellow #5 is FDA approved and it's PROVEN to be unhealthy! Good, fresh, clean cow's milk that hasn't been tampered with, added to, or "improved upon" sounds pretty good to me right now!

And last, but not least... along with my research concerning my grandson's diet... I began researching products we put ON our skin... and I began making my own soap, lotion, and other bath products. My husband told me I had a GREAT product and should market it. So we set up a website and a small soapmaking business on the side. We've been to markets and festivals and have done reasonably well with our soap... but some of the questions and comments "the public" makes leaves me shaking my head. "Why isn't your soap pretty colors like so-and-so's?" Well, the purist in me won't allow me to add artificial colorants to my soap... maybe it won't hurt me (maybe it will!), there's principle involved... it doesn't add anything to the health and well-being of my skin so why color it up? 
"Don't you sell 'vanilla' or 'plumeria' or 'lilac' scented soap? and why not?" Well... I don't add ANY artificial fragrances either... they contribute to allergies... don't do anything to moisturize or benefit my skin, or yours, so why would I?

Lovely, artificially colored soap
Honey Oatmeal Soap the color soap really is... creamy beige...
I think it's simply beautiful!

Most 'soaps' are not soap but detergent:
Usually these products are labeled as beauty, facial, or cleansing bars, and sometimes even as soap. Detergents are made from petroleum products and consist mainly of surfactants, foaming agents, and alcohols. Since these chemicals have a disagreeable odor, detergents are usually heavily scented with cheap, synthetic, artificial fragrances. Detergents also contain preservatives and antibacterial agents so that they do not spoil. All these chemicals are frequent causes of allergic reactions, penetrate far below the surface of the skin, and reside in your body tissues. One facial bar manufacturer has a 'hypo-allergenic formula' approved by 'a dermatologist' that has as the primary ingredient the chemical that causes the most allergic reactions in people of all the chemicals present in cosmetics today (TEA-triethanolamine).

What are true soaps made from?
Versus detergents, true soaps are made with natural products (fat and lye) and require very little energy in the production process. It is possible to make them without having leftover by-products that tend to go to the landfill, and the soap that flows down the drain while washing is bio-degradable. These soaps have a pH that is between 9.5 and 10 (alkaline), which makes them effective cleansers and eliminates the need for harmful preservatives and antibacterial agents. Not all natural soaps are created equal however, as there are many different ingredients that may be in such a soap. High quality soaps are made with oils such as coconut, palm, castor, or olive oils, and retain the natural glycerin, instead of removing it and selling it for profit, as mass producers generally do. High quality soaps use botanicals and essential oils to lightly scent while providing skin-nourishing properties instead of synthetic, artificial fragrances.

And let's talk for a minute about packaging... I mean, I know shampoo has to come in a bottle, how else would you get it home from the store... but is it necessary for a half ounce jar of eye cream (for example), in addition to the little jar... to be buried deeply into a 3x5x2 inch cardboard box? 

When I started selling soap at festivals... I simply put the bars of soap, unpackaged, into baskets... I liked the old-fashioned "country store" look, and I could offer my customers a quality, beautiful product at a good price without wasting money and resources on packaging... You know what I found out? "The Public" doesn't want that! We are so brain washed by advertising and marketing "experts" to believe that packaging, bright colors, shiny, glittery, slickness and the protection of shrink wrap, that we feel there must be something horribly wrong with a product that is simply a product without all the glitz and glamour and "protective" coverings... I stepped into the trap myself in order to please my customers... I began packaging my product... and it started selling better... and I could charge more for it! And the "consumers" were happy. Even though, once they got that bar of beautifully wrapped, packaged soap home, the first thing they would do would be to rip off that wrapping, down to the bare soap and wash with it. I don't understand!

I'm just sayin'

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Good Brown Gravy

As everybody knows, in the South gravy is considered almost a beverage... at least a necessity alongside most meals.

I make great cream gravy, sausage gravy, red-eye gravy (or as my grandmother called it, red-bottom gravy), and at Thanksgiving I even make pretty good turkey gravy... but I'm not so good at beef gravy, or brown gravy... it usually ends up looking and tasting pretty much like cream gravy... and it's never the rich brown color I am trying to achieve. I don't know what my problem is. There are several recipes I make that I want a good, rich, brown gravy... my shepherd's pie, hamburger steak... to name a couple.

In the past I've gone with store bought jars of brown gravy, or those little envelopes of gravy mix, just add water. I've found a pretty tasty... and much less expensive alternative to my lack of gravy making skills... it's an instant powdered gravy you can make up in large batches and store in a good ol' Mason jar, spooning out the amount needed for any given recipe. It also works nicely for thickening soups and stews. It's not a perfect solution... it's not particularly healthy (what gravy is really!?!) and it's far from "all-natural," but it works for us. We like it.

Here's my version of instant gravy mix... in quantity!...

I mix (and this recipe is easily doubled, tripled... or more)...

1-2/3 cup cornstarch
6 Tablespoons (low sodium) beef bouillon powder (I admit, most of the time I don't use the low sodium kind)
4 teaspoons instant coffee crystals (gives the gravy a nice brown color)
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper (sometimes I use white pepper, I like the flavor)
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Simply combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container (I use a wide mouth quart canning jar).

To make gravy, measure 3 Tablespoons mix into a saucepan. Add 1-1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer for one minute... instant gravy!

This stuff is great to have on hand... and if you are into long term storage items... it'll keep pretty much forever!

For a printable copy of this recipe click here.
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