Monday, August 10, 2015

Frozen Meal Day

School is just around the corner and every August I create delicious meals for my family to have in the freezer. I first came upon this idea from my Women's Day Cookbook. Over the years our family has some definite favorites and I have tweaked them to make them my own. Now that my daughters are out of the house and in college, I will be portioning these meals for the 2 of us. I now have in the freezer, 2 lasagnes, 3 meatloaves, 8 dinners of salisbury steak for 2 with gravy, spaghetti sauce, and 4 meals of chili. Just thaw and reheat. What could be simpler? One bonus is that every recipe incorporates vegetables. You will need 11 pounds of ground beef for this.

 I started out by chopping up in my food processor (fairly small, some pieces are tiny bits) 2 pounds each of onions, carrots, and zucchini. I cooked these in 1/4 C of oil for about 15 min.These cooked vegetables will be used in every recipe.

In another pot, I then made a plain meat sauce with 3 pounds ground beef ( I used 90% lean Angus because it was on sale), 1 Tb garlic and some salt and pepper. I browned this up and then added 6 C. of the cooked vegetables, 4- 28 oz. cans of tomato sauce (you could use crushed), 1- 15 oz can of tomato sauce and some salt. I brought it to a boil and simmered on low for about 20 min. This will be your meat sauce for your  chili, lasagne, and spaghetti sauce.

I seasoned 4 C. of this sauce with 1 TB minced garlic, Italian seasoning, basil and oregeno and made two, 8x8 pans of lasagne. I used 1 lb. of mozzarella cheese, 2 C ricotta mixed with 2 C cottage cheese, 1 egg, some parsley and a pinch of nutmeg. I boiled 12 lasagne noodles and then cut each in half. I used 4 halves per layer. I layered noodles, meat sauce, ricotta sauce, and shredded mozzarella for 3 layers, ending with mozzarella on top. Oh, I sprinkled some Parmesan cheese on each ricotta layer, too. Here they are assembled and ready for the freezer. Cover with plastic wrap, then foil. I always put a reminder on my label to remove the plastic wrap because I'm afraid I'll end up cooking it onto the lasagne! Oh my gosh, I can't wait to bake these. Don't they look delish? I can hardly wait for lasagne night with a small salad and some crusty garlic bread, Mmmm.

Then,  I used 6 C. of the meat sauce to make chili. I added 2 C of the cooked vegetables along with 3 cans of beans (2 kidney, 1 black bean), 1 1/2 C frozen corn, 1/3 C chili powder, 1 1/2 TB cumin, a few dashes of hot sauce ( I use Tapatio), and salt. I simmered it for about 1 hour, then cooled and put in freezer containers.This will be great with cornbread, or to top off baked potatoes. This actually turned out better tasting than I thought - it is quite tasty. It is one of those dishes that is better the next day after all the flavors have blended.

Next, I made meatloaf with 4 lbs. of ground beef, 2 C. of the cooked  vegetables, 4 eggs, 1/2 C ketchup, 2 envelopes of dry onion soup mix, 1/4 c milk, and 1 1/3 C oatmeal. I used oatmeal because I didn't have any bread crumbs on hand. The mixture filled 3- 8x4 foil pans. I baked them for 1 hour at 350 degrees. You can certainly use your own family favorite meatloaf recipe. This is just what I did. Here they are before the oven and after.

Meanwhile, I made salisbury steak with 4 lbs. of ground beef, 2 C oatmeal ( again, no bread crumbs on hand, and oatmeal is healthy), 1 box (2 oz.)dry onion soup mix, 2 egss, 1 TB garlic and 1/2 C water. Mix by hand and press into 2- 12x8 " foil pans. Put in oven with meatloaf and bake 25 min. Drain and let cool. Here they are cooling. Cut each into 8 pieces and layer with wax paper in a freezer bag. Label and freeze.

While those are in the oven, make the gravy for the salibury steak by either making 24 oz. gravy from a dry mix, or with 2-12 oz cans of gravy. To the gravy add 2 C. water and 2 C of the cooked vegetables. Don't worry, for some reason adding the extra water doesn't thin it out too much. Bring to a simmer for 5 min. Put in 1 or 2 C freezer containers (uh, where are those?), label and freeze. I will serve this gravy with the salisbury steaks and some mashed potatoes. This is definitely comfort food!
I have made these salisbury steaks and gravy many times just because it is sooo good!

To the leftover meat sauce, I made it into spaghetti sauce by adding Italian seasoning, oregeno, basil and some minced garlic. Put this in freezer containers to suit your needs. Except I don't have any!

I found out that I had almost 2 C of vegetables left over. Next time, I will use 1 1/2 pounds of each to make my cooked vegetables. Also, I forgot to get freezer containers in 1 C portions for the gravy, and I don't have enough containers for the chili and spaghetti sauce. So off to the store tomorrow to purchase those items. They will just have to chill in the fridge overnight in their pans.

While I was cooking everything, yes, right while everything is in the oven, my youngest daughter calls from Alaska to tell me that my oldest daughter was just in an accident with a semi truck. Are you kidding me? Their car was making a left hand turn and the truck driver goes to pass them and T-bones their car. She was a passenger with her roommate and her roommates younger brother. they are all OK and are being checked out at the hospital. No broken bones I don't think, but a couple of concussions, severe bruising and I don't know what else. They have not made it back home from the hospital yet, so I don't know everything. Sheesh, I was ready to throw everything in the fridge and drive the hour to where she lives, but looks like they are all OK. Oh, the truck driver got a ticket. Ok, back to my post.

Last week, I made enchiladas and made an extra pan for the freezer. Basically, anything I used to make in a 13x9" pan, I now make in 2- 8x8" pans and freeze one. Next week, I will make a chicken trio for the freezer. Now I won't have to cook until Christmas!

Here are a couple of sockeye salmon that I caught last week with my daughter and then smoked. Looks like the top one got a way from a hungry sea lion on her journey up the river and to the lake.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Preserving Lemons Update

Last month I tried my hand at a method of preserving lemons used in France. Basically, the lemons are in a salt brine. The jar of lemons looks beautiful and the liquid has taken on a yellow hue, and I just loved how they looked on the counter. I had been keeping them in a cool room and I was now ready to try one. I opened up the jar, and to my surprise, the entire surface was covered in a layer of mold, and the topmost lemon was barely poking out of the brine. I was very disappointed that my experiment had not turned out and I was not keen on trying a lemon that had been sitting around in mold!

 I couldn't throw them out just yet. I let the jar sit on the kitchen counter for a week or so while I pondered the effects of the mold. First of all, the mold was just on the surface, and many a time I have cut mold off the edge of some cheese before eating it. I have never gotten sick. Mold shouldn't just make you sick. And back in the old days, do you think people were afraid of a little mold? Heck no! The lemons in the rest of the jar looked perfect. I decided to see if I could skim the mold off the surface and throw away that top lemon, and still manage to salvage the rest of the lemons. Well, that is just what I did and guess what! They are GREAT! I have used them 4 times now. I just take one out, cut it into quarters along the slits that I put the salt in, rinse briefly under cold water, and use. It is great on fish, and I even squeezed one in my iced tea, and no, it actually wasn't salty tasting in the least. I had no salt taste, even though you do get a bit of salt when you squeeze the juice and then taste it. I love these lemons. I am definitely going to be preserving more for future use.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Preserving Lemons

I stumbled across a book while browsing and came across this book about preserving without canning or freezing. The book is Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning, by Chelsea Green Publishing. I was intrigued, especially since it wasn't just about dehydrating. This includes preserving in the ground or root cellar, lactic fermentation (think sauerkraut), preserving in oil, salt, sugar, vinegar, and alcohol. This book was originally written in french and covers classic  methods of preservation according to various contributors and their time honored customs that had been handed down through generations.

Fed Ex and UPS always just drop off any packages that they deliver on our covered front porch and leave it at that. Now, you know, we got Ernie back in December and he is usually put up in his kennel while we are at work or run to town for errands. A couple of weeks back I needed to run into town for a much needed haircut. Ernie needs to be able to be trusted to stay on our property along with Cooper to man the place and generally, be a dog out in the country. But little steps. I wasn't going to just up and leave for the whole afternoon, after all, he is only 5 months old. So, I figured he could handle an hour and half unsupervised and could be trusted. After all, wouldn't Cooper scold him if he got out of line? Cooper is supposed to be showing Ernie the ropes. I got home with my new do, and pulled up in the driveway, and for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what all the garbage was strewn across the front yard. As I wandered over to investigate, I saw shreds of packaging paper, bubble wrap, and what was left of my brand new book! Complete with grass and dirt in between the pages. Yep.

You can't really tell from the picture, but the first ten or so pages have been chewed at the corners, and I put some packaging tape over what used to be the rest of the cover. Apparently, Ernie figured that the package was a toy to shred to pieces and needed to be dealt with before I got home. I was not very happy! It's a good thing he's cute.

One of the first methods of preserving that caught my eye was lemons in salt. I love lemons. I enjoy them in ice tea, for cooking, and fresh juice is hard to beat. But I don't usually buy lemons unless I have a specific purpose, and often am cooking something that uses fresh lemon juice, but since I don't have any on hand, I use the bottled juice. Now, what if I could have  a real live lemon any time I wanted. That is very appealing to me. So I sterilized a half gallon jar, and got to work. You soak the lemons for several days changing the water. I used organic lemons, I like them better and they are smaller with a thinner rind. Then you boil water and let it cool. Slit the lemons length wise not going all the way through the ends, and add non-iodized salt into the slits. Cover with the cooled water, seal and wait a month. Rinse and use. I have about 3 weeks to go before I try one. The picture clarity isn't the best, but they do look pretty in the jar. I will let you know how they turn out. I don't see why you couldn't use this method with limes as well.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Meet Erine ...

Meet Ernie, our newest household member of the golden retriever variety. Cooper is being a good sport and playing tug of war with him. I don't remember puppies having to pee every 1/2 hour to hour. I hope his bladder gets bigger soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cherry Pickin' Time

 They are so fresh you can see that the stems are still green. I estimate that each bag weighs about   10-12 lbs. I was dreading the process of pitting because I have 2 single pitters, and even with DH's help, it is a long and tedious process. I decided to run to town yesterday and see if I could find a more efficient tool for this task. Success! At Fred Meyer, I found this nifty pitter.  It is important not to stem the cherries before you are ready to use them because they will rot. You just load up the hopper with washed and stemmed cherries.You can see my washed cherries on the left, the hopper with cherries, and the bowl on the right that the pitted cherries pop into.  Then, just push the plunger and out comes your pitted cherry. The pits are disposed of in a little container of the other side of the unit. This little gadget saved me so much time and back ache! It was well worth the $20 and as my DH says, never pass up a tool you can use.

I processed one bag yesterday and was able to put up 14- 1/2 pint jars of cherry jam and 9 pints of cherry sauce. If you have never made cherry jam, try it. It is absolutley delicious and you may have a new favorite. For the cherry sauce, which is great over ice cream, cheesecake, or pancakes, I was using a Danish Cherry Sauce recipe from my Ball Blue book, when I realized that the almond extract that the recipe called for, had all evaporated out of the tiny bottle. So, no almond extract in the sauce and it is still delicious. I thickened the sauce with Clear Jel. I just used a lesser amount the the recipe called for in cherry pie on the Clear Jel label, plus I added some lemon juice.I doubled the recipe so used 6 lbs. of cherries just for the sauce.

The cherry sauce is on the left and the jam is on the right. I plan to share some of the cherries that are left with friends, and then can up some pints and put a bag or two in the freezer. All in all, summer harvest season is off to a good start in the orchards. As for our garden, we just got our transplants in the ground today. The potatoes have all come up, but it has been so darned windy, that we couldn't get anything in the ground until now. Hopefully, it is not too late in the season for our little transplants to get to growing.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Cheese Waxing

I have been able to get local low temperature pasteurized, non-homogenized whole milk and decided to try my hand at making cheese. I ordered a simple cheese making kit and on Monday, I made Farmhouse Cheddar. It is supposed to be really easy and although all I had to go on was written materials, I think I did okay with the exception of reading the directions too many times, thus, numerous mistakes and oversights. The cheese curds seemed very forgiving and I really don't know what I was doing, but I was not too sure about when the curds were ready to be pressed. Well, I pressed on anyway and then let the cheese dry for 5 days. Today was waxing day. I went to Goodwill and bought a pot since the wax will forever be melded to it.

I thought I was going to find the waxing very taxing and I was not looking forward to dipping the cheese. Well, I had fun and the following pictures and the results of waxing my cheese adventure, which is the round wheel. I figured while I was going to melt a whole pot of wax, I might as well make use of the wax and my time and I drug out two- 2 lb. bricks of Tillamook cheese, and a small mozzarella and a sharp cheddar. I cut the Tillamook into 1 lb. blocks so it would easily fit into the pot to be dipped. For those of you that don't know, Tillamook cheese is a famous and popular brand native to the west coast and is made in Tillamook, OR. Most of their cheeses are medium cheddar, but they also make mild and sharp cheddars, as well as a vintage white cheddar (excellent) and some other specialty cheeses. Tillamook cheese is VERY good and our go-to cheddar.

This pic shows the cheese after dipping with the second coat of cheese. The round one is my Farmhouse cheddar.

Here you can see our specialty pot courtesy of Goodwill. It will forever be our waxing pot.

Here are our finished products with labels attached with a thin coat of wax. I will age my cheddar for at least 2 months. The other cheeses I will see how they fare sitting around at room temperature. They are supposed to continue aging, and as long as there are no holes in the wax, should be just fine to eat.
If you have any cheese making adventures that you would like to share, please let me know!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pickled Asparagus

I know I have been away for eons, but that does not mean that I have not been visiting friends blogs. I have been passive just because I have been so busy with life, and I have not taken the time to post comments. I know you all understand how it goes. That said, I have been wanting to try a pickled asparagus recipe, because we like it and I just don't have the drive to eat plain asparagus during its season more than 2-3 times. I love it on salads, to eat out of the jar, to embellish with come chopped hard boiled egg with Dijon mayonnaise, or what have you. I have never canned it myself. I have found 2 recipes. One in Preserving the Harvest by Carol Costenbader, and another from a friend.

Here is Carol Costenbaders:

Pickled Asparagus

3 C distilled vinegar
3 C water
1/4 C sugar
2 tsp salt
3 # (8 C) asparagus spears, washed and trimmed
4 cloves garlic
 2 tsp pickling spice
12 whole black peppercorns

Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and salt in a 2 qt. saucepan and heat to a boil. Pack the asparagus in two 1-quart jars, leaving 1/2 " head space. Divide the garlic, pickling spice and peppercorns between the two jars. Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the asparagus, leaving 1/2 in. head space. Cap and seal. Process for 20 min. in a boiling water bather canner and adjust for altitude if necessary.

 Here is another recipe that is a homestead recipe, try it at your own risk, as I have not tried it, although, I hear it garners $10 a quart jar from the people that spend the time to make it. I think it sounds absolutely delicious.

Cajun Pickled Asparagus

1/4 C pickling salt
2 1/2 qts cider vinegar
2 1/2 qts  water
3/4 C brown sugar
Bring this brine to a boil-
 in each Qt jar put:
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp cumin seed
1 clove garlic

Pack jars with washed, trimmed asparagus, leaving 1/2 in. head space, pour brine over top and process in boiling water bath canner for 15 min., adjust altitude if necessary.

 Enjoy. I plan to make this recipe over Memorial Day weekend and will let you know how it goes.