canning, Food, Seasonal Food

Canning Local Concord Grapes to Make Juice & Jelly

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These grapes are amazing. I picked them and canned them myself and it was a fantastic experience.

I discovered, much to my joy, that a local vineyard was offering those in the community a chance to pick your own grapes. Even better? Only about 5 miles from my house. Better than that? Only 10¢ a pound. I could not believe it.

So I set out for an adventure, with the kids at home with my husband. I went to this vineyard that was rather out in the middle of nowhere. Not knowing what to expect. But everything went well. Talked with the owner, he loaned me some pruning clippers, parked the car and unloaded the baby bathtub which I hoped to fill with luscious grapes.

And I did.

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I thought I picked like 20 or more pounds but it turned out to be 15. Which was amazingly exactly how much I wanted.

So that was $1.20 well spent. And let me tell you, it made the most delicious grape juice.

This is my first time ever canning grapes. I did not do 100 quarts, like my neighbors in the vineyard were discussing. And how does one even make that much??

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I digress.

Here is the shortened version of the process I went through. Obviously there was a sorting, washing and plucking process. Followed by cooking and lots and lots of…straining. 3 separate strainings might not seem like a lot but it was. There was a lot of liquid and I think in the end I had strained out about 5 cups of puree.

(*See note at the end of the post on the recipes/canning directions I used.)

It took a long time. I did the bulk of it one night from about 9pm until 1am. It was a pain.

But so worth it.

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The first straining for the juice. I used this batch for the jelly.
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About to begin second straining with fine mesh strainer and 3 layers of cheesecloth.
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Finally completed. This part is for the jelly. Now to do it all over for the other portion to be canned as juice only.
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The juice had been in the fridge for 24+ hours so now it was ready to strain, (again!) boil and can.
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About to lower the jars and bring to boil for processing.

The steps for making jelly was very much the same. It was refrigerated for 24+ hours, strained and boiled. But once boiled, sugar and sure jell, then more sugar was added to make it into jelly.

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About to add sugar mixed with sure jell.
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This was right before or after I added remaining sugar.
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I had about 1/4 cup leftover so of course I had to make a PBJ ☺
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8 jars on right are jelly. All others are juice.

Here is the end result! 7 pints (or 3 1/2 quarts) grape juice and 8 half-pints (or 4 pints or 2 quarts) grape jelly.

I wouldn’t say it was the easiest process but it wasn’t super hard either once I got past the straining business.

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Cost

For (8) 8oz jelly jars of grape jelly I spent $14.41. (Jars included.) That’s $1.80 per 8oz jar and 23¢ per oz.

Aldi’s jelly is more like 1.29 for 32oz and 4¢ per oz. But this homemade grape jelly is so much better. And it doesn’t have any of that corn syrup business in it. Ew.

The grape juice was $4.98 for 112 oz or 3.5 quarts. That’s 4¢ per oz.

Store bought grape juice can easily be that price for only 32oz. So I think this is a huge win.

All in all, I really enjoyed this. I’m looking forward to using up the juice & jelly this winter. Yummy!

Have you cannned grape juice before? This was something totally new for me…have you tried anything new & yummy in the kitchen lately?

~Rachel

*Note: I used the Concord Grape Jelly recipe from the book “Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen.

The grape juice recipe I followed part from my canning book “Saving the Seasons”, by Mary Meyer and part from the National Center For Home Food Preservation website. (Basically the same recipe although the one on the web was more detailed.)

canning, Food, Seasonal Food

Canning Homegrown Black Vernissage Tomatoes (Small Batch Without a Kitchen Scale)

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Lately I have been super enjoying canning. And while I’ve canned before, there is something about canning what you’ve grown yourself.

I’m bursting with pride (probably unflatteringly so) over my little 13×13 foot garden. It’s tiny, but it’s mine and I tend it with care.

I’m growing a variety of things but currently the tomatoes are the ones that are producing like crazy. Which is a relief because when I transplanted them this spring they were quite scraggly.

They are now a tomato jungle.

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See? Jungle.

Today I had over 30 tomatoes ripe and sitting on my counter. Hmm. Lately I have been canning the black ones. Those are plants # 1, 3, 5 and 6 in the above photo, starting from the left. Plant #2 is a Sungold (yellow cherry tomato) and plant #4 is a Goldie (huge yellow tomatoes I wrote about in my BLT post).

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Black V. tomatoes ripening on the vine.
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Size compared to a cherry tomato.
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Size compared to a medium sized tomato I got from a produce stand.
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The black tomatoes are fairly juicy and do not hold their shape well during cooking.
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33 tomatoes, washed and sorted.

I knew I was canning them and I had a recipe in mind. I’ve been using this book called Foolproof Preserving: A Guide to Small Batch Jams, Jellies, Pickles, Condiments & More (by the editors from America’s Test Kitchen) from the library and I love it so much I want to buy it. But it’s nearly $20 😦 Maybe I can find a deal somewhere…

Anyways.

The recipe I wanted was for crushed tomatoes. But it called for 14 lbs of tomatoes to make 4 quarts canned and I knew I didn’t have that much. But with a bit of brain power I figured that if I cut down the ingredients to 1/4 of the recipe, it would be about right.

I had canned these tomatoes whole and I knew it would take about 14 to make 1 pint. Thus about 30 tomatoes to make 2 pints, or 1 quart. My other canning book said that it takes 2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs of tomatoes for 1 quart canned. So I figured I had about 3 lbs.

The only other ingredients were bottled lemon juice and salt. Easy.

And no, canning isn’t easy at first. I’m no veteran but I’ve been learning a lot from anyone willing to chat about canning. This is my first year canning tomatoes. Before I stuck to just fruit. (*Haha looking back on this post I realise that tomatoes are also fruit! 🙂 Applesauce, peaches, peach butter, blueberry butter. That’s about it 🙂

So I followed the directions to prepare for cooking the tomatoes.

Filling up pots with water, washing jars, prepping tomatoes, blanching and chopping them.

Now they were ready to cook and here is what the completed “sauce/crushed tomatoes” looked like⤵⤵⤵

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Ready to can! The burner under the water bath canner had been turned off already. So now…canning prep!

Prepped hot jars, sterilized lids, lemon juice and salt in jar, filled jars, left headspace, wiped rims and lids and made sure lids were properly loosened.

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Jar 1
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and jar 2.

Then the jars were carefully lowered and I placed the lid on and waited for the water to boil.

While I waited, I made lunch. Last nights leftover burrito filling…rice, black beans and seasoned ground beef mixed with the remaining 2/3 cup of crushed tomatoes. Yum.

The water boiled after a bit and judging by the directions I went with a 45-minute processing time. It was the correct time for my elevation for quart jars so I just went with it.

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Finished product!

I love listening for the jars to pop. I didn’t hear these ones pop but I will test them later. Both are indented and not raised, so that’s a good sign 🙂

Whew. All that work for 2 pint jars. But it’s still quite a bit of tomatoes. And I love preserving the fruits of my labor. I hope they taste good when I use them in a recipe later!

Do you can? I’d love to hear what you are preserving this year 🙂 Do you can by yourself or do you have help?

~Rachel

Food, Lunch/Simple Meal

Yummy Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free BLT

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Check it out. I made a blt the other day. No dairy. No gluten. It was super yummy.

I planted Goldie tomatoes (huge and yellow) this year and they are just starting to ripen. I was trying to decide what to do with them, although in the back if my mind I was wanting a blt. And I remembered that I like to eat my garbanzo bean burgers in between two slices of tomatoes instead of with bread.

Perhaps a tomato bread blt? And instead of mayo…guacamole. Just avocado, lime juice and seasonings. That’s it. Tomato, guacamole, bacon, lettuce.

Definitely not fat-free. But some fat is good for you. And who can argue with bacon? Ok maybe vegans. I couldn’t be a vegan/vegetarian. Sorry. I love meat.

Anyways. Onward.

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One tomato,
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sliced
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and topped with guacamole.
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Bacon,
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more guacamole, lettuce
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and topped with another tomato slice.
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Side view. Photo isn’t the best quality but here you can see the layers.

There’s really no particular recipe here. I cooked up some diced bacon (a little over 1/4 lb). I cut up an avocado, mashed it (I use a ziplock bag) and added a bit more fresh lime juice than usual..since I didn’t add mayo. Then salt, garlic powder and onion powder to taste. I usually buy romaine lettuce whole but Aldi was out. I got some bagged Caesar salad instead.

And that’s it. This sandwhich tastes like summer and really hits the spot. Fresh tomatoes from the garden make this so good 🙂

~~~

Cost:

This sandwich cost me $2.78. Not bad! Decreasing the meat and using produce from the garden keeps it cheap. I’ll use a bit less bacon next time haha.

Enjoy!

~Rachel

Beverages, Food

Cuppa Chocolate Mint & Nettle Tea

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I started to blog about french toast today. And while french toast is all very well and good, I wasn’t into it. At the moment I was sipping a cup of chocolate mint and nettle tea. Bing bing! Yes. Yes I will blog about that.

I love tea. Even in the summer. I usually drink it warm or iced in the warmer months though.

A favorite lately is combining a 50/50 ratio of dried chocolate mint and nettle.

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Nettle (L) and mint leaves.

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My nettle I purchased in a 1 lb package through iherb. There was a ton. Like 3+ quart jars. I bought it 2 years ago and there’s still lots.

Nettle is awesome because of the nutrients it has. Lots of calcium, magnesium and iron.

It’s really good for joint health, fatigue, seasonal allergies and menstrual cramps among other things (the list is long).

The leaves are safe to use once dried. It will not sting your insides 🙂

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Stinging nettle. Source: pixabay

Mint is also good for many things, although most people are familiar with its ability to soothe the stomach and nix bad breath. I’ve been reading Rosalee de la Forêt’s book Alchemy of Herbs: Transform Everyday Ingredients into Foods and Remedies That Heal and learned that peppermint not only soothes and refreshes but it gives you energy too. So its no suprise that it makes a nice pairing with nettle.

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Chocolate mint in my garden. If it wasn’t in a bucket it would be all over the place!
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Tea steeping in a quart jar, my favorite mug and my chocolate mint stash.
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Yummy cuppa tea.

Is saying “cuppa tea” just a British thing? I really like the phrase 🙂

How about you? What is your favorite tea (or beverage in general)? I would love to know! I’m always looking for new teas and beverages to try.

~Rachel

Food, Snacks

Favorite Toddler Snacks #2 (All Healthy and Well-Loved)

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Toddler snacks are not glamorous. They are messy, sometimes strange and maddeningly frequent. I feel like I give out a million snacks a day. And usually my kids want the same things over and over.

But I’m putting a halt to the easy things. (Like pretzels.) And I’m cutting down on the snacks. Too many snacks=too full for supper. No supper and bedtime schedule is thrown off.

I need to focus on healthy snacking.

I thought I would go over our favorite healthy snacks again and share the ones L loves. Her tastes are different than J’s. She will eat everything from snack list #1 and more. It makes me happy she is such a good eater. Hopefully it will continue!

Here are 14 of her favorites. They are all healthy and approved by my 1-year-old’s tastebuds.

 

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    She loves her frozen peas! And they are awesome for helping with teething.
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    Frozen berries…we’ve been loving Bing cherries lately.
  3. Watermelon slices.
  4. Red grapes, cut in 1/2 or 4ths.
  5. Almonds or cashews, sliced
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    These snack bars from nature’s bakery. (Dairy-free!)
  7. Freeze dried strawberries
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    Part of a freshly baked whole wheat bagel (from the grocery store bakery).
  9. Corn chips and guacamole.
  10. Homemade graham crackers.
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    Fruit smoothies. I use 2ish cups almond milk, 1-2 frozen bananas and 1/4-1/2 cup frozen berries. Then cinnamon and sometimes spinach leaves or (quick 1-minute) rolled oats to add more fiber and balance out the sweetness.
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    Dried berries. We made dried cherries using our dehydrator.
  13. “Peanut butter bread” as J likes to say. (It’s just natural peanut butter on whole wheat bread).
  14. These teething buscuits. I admit I haven’t made them in awhile but I remember L loved them. I love that they have zero sugar and use up that powdered baby cereal that I could never manage to use up otherwise.

And that wraps up toddler snack list #2! It was fun to look at all the different things that L likes. The pickiness factor is not as strong. I’m thinking it’s either because she was breastfed or just because I’m more determined to keep offering her things. Probably both.

I was tempted to add “crayons” to the list because apparently they are delicious. She was gnawing on one as I was finishing up this post. *Throws hands in the air* Ah me. The lure of the tasty crayon is not so easily overcome.

~Rachel

Desserts, Food

Accidental Hot Fudge

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A few days ago I accidentally made hot fudge. Want to know how? It goes like this…

My son J demanded wanted no bake cookies. I thought that was a good idea because I love them too.

Out came the recipe and I began making them. Butter, sugar, cocoa…oh and almond milk. But then it looked strangely soupy. Oh no I added 1 cup of almond milk instead of 1/2 cup. I didn’t want it to go to waste so…

I added double the amount of butter, sugar and cocoa. Let it boil for 1 minute as usual. Then poured it into a glass measuring cup. It was about 2 cups so I poured out half back in the pan and made the cookies like normal.

Except now I realise that I had a double recipe’s worth of milk and varying degrees of the others. The butter, sugar and cocoa were at the same level but the peanut butter and oats were still at the half-batch amount.

No wonder they looked like pancakes. Oh well. They still tasted fine.

What to do with the rest of the liquid? Well it certainly looked like chocolate syrup. I wondered what would happen when I froze it.

So I poured it into a cake pan and popped it in the freezer. I forgot about it until the next day when I brought home a pint of frozen custard.

When I pulled off the plastic wrap from the cake pan, the chocolate sauce had all the appearance of “hot” fudge.

I put it on my frozen custard and it was divine. A bit heavy on the butter but totally delicious.

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Accidental Hot Fudge

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup butter (can sub non-dairy butter)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or other dairy or non-dairy milk)
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Directions:

  1. Mix all ingredients together in a small saucepan as the butter melts. Boil for 1 minute.
  2. Pour into a metal cakepan to cool. Cover with plastic wrap (press it to the surface of the syrup) and freeze overnight.
  3. Spoon or drizzle hot or cold over your favorite dairy or non-dairy ice cream/frozen yogurt/custard 😊

Cost:

$1.24. Yeah. Cheap. If I divided the chocolate sauce and my pint of chocolate frozen custard into 4 servings it would only be $1.31 a serving. Even for 1 cup servings it would be $2.62. That’s about a dollar cheaper than the ones I order ready made.

Yay for frugal wins!

~Rachel

Food, Snacks

Homemade {Crockpot} Coconut Yogurt

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Last Tuesday and Wednesday I finally did something about my yogurt conundrum. I’ve been wanting some good non-dairy yogurt that isn’t saturated with sugar like the storebought kind.

I’ve been putting it off because I thought it would be hard to make my own. I was wrong. It totally wasn’t hard. Long process, yes. But not hard.

Why coconut yogurt? Some of you may know I can’t have a lot of dairy products. Currently everything is out except butter and cheese and just a few other things…like my beloved frozen custard that I would probably die without.

Anyway. The process began when I saw my local natural food store had this yogurt starter for sale. It was $10 for a pack of 4 probiotic starter packets. Oy. I went back and forth about buying it.

Finally I did because I figured once I made some yogurt I could use part of that as a starter and hopefully never have to buy more starters.

For the recipe, I used this one from Dawn @smallfootprintfamily and got an idea of a time frame for the crockpot from this post by Trisha @funkyfoodallergies.

From start to finish, this took about 16 hours. That seems absurd, but let me break it down. It heated up from 4-7pm. From 7-11pm it cooled down. I added the stuff and then it fermented overnight from 11pm-9amish. Very little hands on time.

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Ingredients I used: 1 yogurt starter culture packet, 33.8 oz 100% coconut milk, 2 envalopes knox unflavored gelatin. Not pictured: 1 TBS honey.
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By 7pm, the coconut milk had reached 180°.

And yes, that is a meat thermometer.

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By 11pm, it had cooled to about 95°. This was taken after I had mixed in the gelatin and honey.
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Bedtime for the yogurt…wrapped up in 3 layers of towels. Let it sit overnight.
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This was the jello-like consistency after it was transferred from the crock pot to the fridge for several hours.
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Emptied it all into a bowl in the sink.

In retrospect, I believe I added a bit too much gelatin. I calculated that I would need 1.75 packages to make a quart of yogurt. But I got distracted while pouring it in because I was talking with my husband. I’m thinking this was the reason it turned out so thick.

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Whipped it up to a smooth consistency.
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I tried some plain before I put it in the fridge again. Was planning on sharing it with L…thus the baby spoon.
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The whipped texture after the second time in the fridge.
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Vanilla and strawberries make it yummy.

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But does it taste good? Is the price worth it?

To me, the answer is yes and yes. The flavor and texture is something to get used to. As directed, I used full fat coconut milk. It was hard to get used to the unsweetened plain flavor, but with the addition of vanilla and frozen strawberries..yes. Very good.

And the price?

I calculated I made about 35 oz. (After it was whisked to a fluffy texture.) The price came out to $7.71. That’s 22¢ per oz and 88¢ for 4 oz. The last time I bought coconut yogurt at Wal-Mart, it was $1.58 for a 4 oz container. And that stuff was sugared to the moon and back. And rather on the thin side to boot. Currently none of the stores in my area carry any cartons larger than 4 oz so I can make no comparison there.

So yes, pretty easy to make. Tastes good with flavorings added and cheaper than storebought. There is a bit of investment initially, but I think its worth it. Per batch the price is right. I’m calling this one a triple win 🙂

~Rachel

Food, Main Meal

Crockpot Calico Beans

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Growing up, there weren’t many family cookouts that felt complete without my Mom’s broccoli cauliflower salad or her calico beans. Just thinking about them brings me back to my Grandma’s house. All of my senses are enveloped and anchored when I enter Grandma’s kitchen.

Memories, comfort and love have always surrounded me there. We all loved seeing Grandma (still do!) but we especially appreciated all the food she and everyone else made for us.

After I was married, I made the transition to cooking a lot more. I had to find my niche. See what recipes work for my family. And even now, its a process.

I’ve recently learned that I can make calico beans in my crock pot. I found an awesome recipe by The Crockin’ Girls that I adapted a bit. It tastes different than my Mom’s recipe. She uses more beans and cooks hers in the oven. It’s thicker that way and richer in flavor. Soooo good!

So yeah it does taste different. But still yummy 🙂 My husband wolfed down his when I first tried the recipe. I said, “I didn’t know you liked calico beans so much!” To which he replied, “It’s the sauce babe. It’s so good!” Suffice to say, he stuffed himself. And L loved it too. She didn’t eat a lot but this is the only way I can get her to eat beans.

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Bacon.

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Ground beef.

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Vinegar, lima beans, brown sugar, pork and beans, organic ketchup and onions.
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Add all ingredients to crock pot.
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Mix.
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Yummy leftover calico beans I had cold for supper yesterday.

 


 

Crockpot Calico Beans

Makes 8+ servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb bacon
  • 1 can lima beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 2 cans pork and beans
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3 Tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 pinch s & p

Directions:

  1. Dice bacon & cook till barely done. Add to crock pot.
  2. Drain bacon grease & cook ground beef. (Optional: cook the onions with the beef.)
  3. Drain fat and add beef to crock pot. Add remaining ingredients.
  4. Cook on low 1 hour, high 3+ hours. **Edit: I realize now it makes more sense to cook for 4+ hours on high, if you are not cooking the onions with the ground beef.

Note: If you cook the beef and onion together, you can cook the calico beans for 4 hours on low. This method would bring the flavor up a notch. I seem to forget every time but either way it works out!

Cost:

I calculated that it cost me $9.26 to make this recipe. But it makes a lot. Like 2 quarts. So (8) 1 cup servings at $1.15 each. 

Enjoy!

~Rachel

Recipe adapted from “Calico Beans”, by The Crockin’ Girls.

Food, Snacks

Homemade Graham Crackers

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Last night I made Rachael Ray’s Penne with Turkey and Broccolini for supper. It’s one of my go-to recipes that seems to be easy, tasty and well-liked by everyone. We also had cucumber spears and berry fruit salad.

But that’s not what this post is about.

After supper I decided to make homemade graham crackers again. I think this is my 4th time making them. Little House Living has a fantastic recipe going on. I love her blog. And she’s right, this recipe is simple and yummy.

My family loves these so much. Its fun for me to make too and I know exactly what is in them. Plus, you know, I get to sneak a few bites of the dough. We still eat graham crackers from the store, these just make for a different change of pace. Kinda like homemade pizza adds spice to the pizza game. This recipe does that for graham crackers.

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Mixing.

I got to use my Hatian vanilla! It smells so good. I followed the directions and added 1/2 of the recipe amount, since it’s concentrated.

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Prepping the dough for baking.
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The marvelous finished product.

These pictures seem like the Instagram type. However, since I am sans Instagram, you get to see them here 🙂 Plus I get bored of listing pictures sometimes. Collages are much more fun.

A few observations about the recipe.

  • Parchment paper does work well for sandwiching the dough during the rolling process. Plastic wrap will work too but it is very annoying to re-adjust. In a pinch you could use 2 gallon ziplocks with the sides cut out.
  • Experiment with thickness. I like mine thicker, more like a cookie. My son J prefers his crackers to be thin and crispy.
  • I used a fork instead of a toothpick to prick the dough..easier and takes a bit less time 😉
  • I baked mine at about 385-390° for 15 minutes. They could have stood a little less time but still taste really good.

Cost:

I broke down the pricing for storebought vs. homemade and this is what I found…

Homemade: $2.06 for 1 recipe. This makes at least 25 squares. So 8¢ per square.

Aldis is: $1.29 for about 52 squares (as well as I could figure our box is nearly empty and the serving size was vague). That’s per square.

Comparable? For me the homemade is worth it. Although they aren’t as shelf stable. But the taste..there is no comparison with the taste.

You can taste the crisp buttery goodness, the molasses and cinnamon. The crispy just baked texture. Heaven. Can you tell I’m currently eating some?? 😛

Last night I officially copied down the recipe and put it in my 3-ring binder that holds all my grocery, food and meal stuff. Right next to the recipe for homemade goldfish crackers 🙂

~Rachel

P.s.- If you’re looking for more healthy snack ideas for your kids (or yourself as well) check out my post Favorite Toddler Snacks.

P.s.s.- Sub non-dairy butter and this recipe is dairy-free! I haven’t tried it yet but I see no reason why it wouldn’t work.

Desserts, Food

Double Decker Fudge Brownie Cake (Dairy Free!)

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I made this cake recently and oh my it was good. My son J recently turned 4 and I wanted to make him something special. He does not like cake. I’m just getting him into ice cream too. But he loves brownies.

And because there were some guests in attendence that cannot tolerate dairy, I decided to make this cake 100% dairy free. 

I found a fudgy brownie recipe that I wanted to try. It called for butter and I decided I wanted to sub unsweetened applesauce.

Which led me to this article. Combining these tips with a modified version of the cookbook recipe led me to the delicious finished product.

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We all agreed. It was good.

It is wonderfully dense and moist. The flavor is awesome, even without butter or dairy. The substitution of applesauce for butter can make it less moist though, so its important not to overcook.

I made a triple batch but one of the 3 layers ended up becoming a bit singed. I used 9″ round cake pans, so my layers were on the thinner side. If (or rather when) I make it again, I would keep the recipe as is and use 2 pans.

My oven I set to 375°. All ovens are different though. Mine tends to run on the cool side.


Double Decker Fudge Brownie Cake

Note: this recipe is for a triple batch.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon natural (no sugar added) applesauce
  • 1 2/3 cups cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla (optional)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • (2) 16oz jars of non-dairy frosting. I used Pillsbury Creamy Supreme Vanilla frosting.

Directions:

  1. Heat oil and cocoa in a small saucepan. Mix thoroughly and cool.
  2. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare (2) 8″ round cake pans by lining them with greased foil. I used coconut oil to grease my foiled pans.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk applesauce and eggs. Then whisk in cooled cocoa mixture.
  4. Mix dry ingredients together in a separate bowl.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Mix.
  6. Divide batter evenly between pans.
  7. Bake just shy of 30 minutes. Mine were done by the 27 minute mark.
  8. Remove from oven and let cool before frosting.

To frost:

  1. Place cake #1 upside down on a plate. Frost, heaping frosting towards the outer edge.
  2. Place cake #2 right side up on frosting. Frost as desired. I frosted the top, but left the sides bare.

Note: If cake #1 is uneven on top, use a bread knife to slice off a thin layer to even it out. This ensures that your cake will bear no resemblance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa!

Enjoy!

~Rachel

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 15th Edition

Food, Main Meal

Delicious Beef & Root Vegetable Soup

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This is a simple supper recipe that I cooked up on Thursday. It turned out surprisingly well. Such is not always the case with my food “experiments”.

And yes, it is hot outside lately. Eat the soup slightly warm with a cold side dish and you have it made. It works.

My family might as well be hobbits. We don’t have hairy feet but we do like to eat a lot. The little ones more so. And we crave simple flavorful food.

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I love simple. I love easy. Sometimes I don’t want to share any recipes ’cause I’m like, “Nah. That’s too easy. Not interesting”. But seriously. This one is surprisingly flavorful and good. I say that because the only seasoning is salt and pepper, yet it tastes like there is more.

We all loved it, except for J, who tends to be a trifle finicky. At least he loves raw carrots. (Suprises me greatly.)

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Work with what you’ve got. I had potatoes, carrots and onions so I used those. Any root veggies typically blend well. Ground turkey is a good sub for ground beef as well. Use what you’ve got. You might be suprised at how well it turns out.


Delicious Beef & Root Vegetable Soup

Ingredients:

  • 2 large white baking potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled, halved and sliced.
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes (I use Massel 7’s brand)
  • s & p

Directions:

  1. Boil potatoes (cover with at least 2″ of water).
  2. Add the carrots.
  3. Cook the ground beef with the onion until the onion has softened (slightly translucent). While cooking, season with s & p.
  4. Add beef bouillon cubes to soup pot. Dissolve, then add meat mixture.
  5. Let cook 5-10 minutes, or till reduced and tender to your liking.

 

Happy cooking with the po-ta-toes!

~Rachel

Food, Snacks

Favorite Toddler Snacks #1 (Healthy and Loved By My Little, Too!)

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If you are reading this post, then it is likely that you have a toddler and know very well what I am about to say. Toddlers have sporadic eating habits. In between the cravings for all things crackers, and the constant demands for something to eat coupled with the game of making them actually want to eat something healthy…it can get to be a bit of a challenge. But the need to eat will always be there. So its up to us to find healthy solutions for our kids and family.

It can be a difficult thing to find healthy snacks. But it doesn’t have to be. Sure, I have days where I feed him semi-unhealthy snacks that he wants because the alternative is not eating anything. But I try to save the more unhealthy options for when we are out of the house shopping, for example.

When my son was approaching his first birthday, I began a pinterest board of toddler snack ideas. Because pinterest is the place to go when you have an unsolved problem and you want to know what the masses think. The masses aren’t often wrong.

However, not everyone’s child will have a palate that lines up with everybody else’s child. This is totally ok. But the neat thing about looking at what others feed their children is that sometimes you may come across something excitingly delicious, and healthy and dare I say it, also easy to prepare. So here is my toddler snack food list.

Healthy Toddler Snack Ideas

1. 1/4 of a whole wheat tortilla

2. Natural applesauce cups

3. English cucumbers, peeled and sliced

4. Greek yogurt

5. Small Macintosh apple, left unpeeled

6. Canned sliced peaches in 100% fruit juice, cut into pieces.

7. Baby carrots

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8. Homemade cheese crackers
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9. Homemade popcorn
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10. Homemade biscuits

11. Red (Angou) Pears, sliced and peeled.

12. Fruit or Veggie Muffins

13. Cottage cheese

14. Any type of cheese imaginable. Swiss, Munster, cheddar, mozzarella and Parmesan is his new favorite.

My little really doesn’t like very many veggies. But *cucumbers and baby carrots he loves a lot. We do a special crunchy face where we chew with our mouths open and squint our eyes when eating carrots. Anything to get him to eat his veggies. He loves fruits and will eat pretty much any kind except berries and melon. Apples and bananas are his favorites. Black olives are kinda his quirky thing that he likes. I really don’t know too many kids or adults that like them. But Baby J sure does! I didn’t think they were all that healthy so I asked his doctor about it. He said, “Well they really aren’t all that unhealthy”. So I guess they have fiber if nothing else. And also, his doctor made the point that you really can’t force kids to eat what they don’t want anyway.

I hope that was able to give some encouragement with this post. All kids have stages where they only want to eat x, y, z. And it passes, eventually. If your kid(s) just want to eat 1 food and its healthy, I say let them have as much as they want 🙂

*Bonus these two veggies are great to eat in the summer heat, but they also really help with teething. Particularly molars. Mom win.

~Rachel

Food, Snacks

Strawberries & Cream

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Howdy. Its been a long time! I bet you all thought I abandoned this blog. And yes I did have to clear away some spiderwebs (figuratively and literally) as I sat down to write this post. Truth be told, I was looking for a perfect recipe to share. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, really. I tried this and that but nothing seemed good enough.

Then we took a vacation to Florida. We’ve been back for almost a week now but the memories and the sun still linger with me. It is so beautiful down there. Most of you know that I live in the cold northern state of Ohio. Which, yes, some states in the continental US may be colder. But I doubt any of them have such wildly unpredictable weather as we do. That’s mostly reserved for the spring and fall seasons where we famously run the ac and heat both in one day. Anyways. Its been a bad winter for everyone. On our trip down south, we saw snow as far south as Georgia. And later we heard that Hawaii and Florida are the only two of the 50 states that haven’t gotten snow this winter. It has seriously been so harsh and awful for everyone. But I know that spring is on its way. I’ve heard the birds sing more lately and that’s brought a smile to my heart.

It was no surprise that it was very crowded down in Florida. Apparently everyone wanted a piece of the Florida sand and sun. We saw license plates from all over. East coast. Texas. Even Ontario. The locals said this is the busiest tourist season they’ve seen in..possibly forever. Which is nice for the economy.

But besides all that lovely sun the other thing that the state is known for is..the food. And I don’t just mean seafood. Though I do love that..we don’t get “fresh” seafood in the big OH. What I’m talking about is the produce. Amazing and fresh and wonderful. All of it. We visited a produce stand before we left and I picked up some lovely oranges, bananas, apples and strawberries of course.

Growing seasons and peak produce seasons vary from state to state. Just because something is available in the grocery store year-round does not mean that it is necessarily good, as I’ve tried to communicate in my past produce posts. Strawberry season in FL has just begun. I think it may take a bit longer for it to reach the northern states. According to ourohio.org, strawberry season for Ohio is in May and June. (source) When we reach full summer though the season is usually spent across the country. So even though they aren’t as good in other states yet, if you live down south, you may be able to find some nice berries.

I’ll admit it, I get jealous of those Florida folks! They have good food and lovely beaches..so much vitamin D. But then I remember the things I love about my home state. We may not have palm trees but we have many more varieties of  trees that change color in the fall. Not many sandy beaches but we do have good solid dirt to grow crops and gardens. We may have cold noses in the wintertime but it gives us a chance to stay indoors and slow down and plan for the year ahead. And to write food blogs while our darling sons and husbands are asleep. Ha.

Alright onto the actual food.

If you’ve never made your own whipped cream then you really ought to give it a try. It is so divine. And aside from a hot fudge sundae, nothing goes better with whipped cream than fresh strawberries. Ok maybe pumpkin pie. But not until Thanksgiving.

To make it, all you need is heavy whipping cream, a whisk and a little sugar.

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A bigger whisk would make it easier. But if your whisk is on the petite side like mine, take heart! I did it and so can you. All there is to do is pour that heavy whipping cream into a bowl and whisk away till its light and fluffy. Or if your kitchen is a part of the modern world you can delegate the task to a mixer. (Lucky.) As it is, hand whisking builds character 🙂

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In about 15 minutes, you will have this. Yes it did take me 15 minutes and it got a little discouraging along the way. But I’m glad I didn’t give up. And fun fact, if you continue whisking you can make your own butter! I wasn’t feeling that adventurous but it does sound like an interesting activity for the future. I’ve also heard that you can recruit your kids to make butter by putting whipping cream in a small glass jar and letting them shake away.

Then you add sugar. This time I tried it with powdered sugar. In the past, I’ve tried it with granulated sugar and I like it better that way. The grainy texture makes the whipped cream taste better in my opinion. Just add in however much tastes good to you, a little at a time.

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My son took a few bites of whipped cream. I really can’t convince him of the yummy-ness of strawberries just yet though. Ah well. I thought they were quite delicious.

Even if you don’t live in a southern state, you can take confidence in the fact that Spring is only weeks away. The new season will bring new foods and a kinder weather forecast for the winter weary. Until then, happy cooking and stay warm!

~Rachel

Food, Seasonal Food

Salad Challenged

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I am salad challenged. I’m not sure what it is but salad does not go over well at my house. The greens are a pain to wash. You can only buy it in a ginormous bunch or bag and I’m the only one that ever eats it. Sound like I’m complaining? I am! Salad greens are a pain to wash and dry and eat. So I never buy any. But then I remember. I’m supposed to eat my greens. It’s my mother’s voice I hear. The voice saying, “Be good to your body! Do what’s right! Be healthy! Be fit!”. Yes, I know. So I’ve been looking for a way to make salads a little less challenging.

My produce pick of the month is one that is a little off the beaten path (haha). People don’t often request them. Some may pass them over at the grocery store. And until now, I was one of those people! I would look at this purplish vegetable with its tall leafy stems and think, “Eww. What on earth could I do with THAT?”.

But then I remembered something that I had seen in a magazine. And because all great cooks push themselves to try new things, I decided to take a risk and buy some.

Ok. So let me let you in on the reason I bought them the first time. I wanted to make a red velvet cake for my BFF’s birthday. I thought it would be sweet if I could use some natural dye to color it.

Enter beets!

Sadly beets were not the answer for this particular recipe. At least not for me. I could have possibly baked the cake incorrectly. I’m open to that. But a crunchy on the outside, under cooked on the inside cake is not palatable to anyone. It was a disaster.

However, beet greens  = delicious. It tasted like spinach but with an added sweetness. I like to think that I’m hardcore when it comes to eating salad. But I can hardly eat spinach raw. It just tastes so icky. They have the added bonus of being larger and therefore easier to wash and dry. My bunch of 3 beets had about 9 large leaves and several smaller ones, which made the perfect amount for me. I could eat them all before they spoiled.

So I dug out a magazine article about greens that I had cut out from an old Real Simple magazine. It recommended adding raw grated beets to beet greens for a healthy salad.

So I did.

But I couldn’t stomach the thought of eating plain beets with only the greens. I added some chopped apples and oranges and this disguised the taste quite a bit.

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Beet salad with apples and oranges.

But the taste wasn’t quite complete. I found myself still not liking the strong taste of beets. It needed some walnuts and dried cranberries. So I went to the store and then made…

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Beet Salad: with Oranges, Walnuts and Craisins

So much better. Some raspberry vinaigrette would go well with this too. I’m not a dressing fan usually so I left this ingredient out.

Is it healthy enough to brave eating? The answer is yes.

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Beets are low in protein, fat and carbs. The beet root has a very high amount of folate and manganese. Even though the beet root has less nutrients than the beet greens it is worth noting that it contains some of the protein Tryptophan. Which, interestingly enough is also found in turkey!

The greens are high in vitamin A and vitamin K. A 1 cup serving has half the daily value of vitamin A and an astounding 152 µg, or almost double the dv, of vitamin K.  The greens also contain a fair amount of Riboflavin, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Copper, Iron, Magnesium and Manganese.

There was something about the taste of beets that intrigued me. Why did they taste so different than all of the other greens? In my opinion two things: high magnesium and high calcium. Beet greens have over twice the magnesium compared to kale and slightly more calcium than swiss chard. Or maybe beets are just weird like that..or maybe it’s just me I don’t know haha

The conclusion: Beets are great! Eat more of them. They are easy to wash and store. I tore mine in half and put them in the fridge, in a large plastic container. If you can’t stomach beet root no worries cause the beet greens really have more nutrients anyways. Aside from folate. Personally I didn’t feel that beet root was a very tasty form of folate. But they are what they are. I think there’s probably a reason why beets are typically pickled or canned.

I will leave you with this excellent Christmas prank.

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Source: here

Happy New Year!

Food, Seasonal Food

Seasonal Fruit: Pomegranates

It’s that time of the year again. In my state, fall is starting to dwindle into a colder, duller time of the year. How dismal. To challenge myself, I’m going to try to blog about one fruit or vegetable that is in season during the winter months. Preferably one that I’m not as familiar with.

Honestly its so dark and dreary already in the winter and I feel like not a lot of things are in season during the winter time, so this should be a good challenge for me.

I shall begin by introducing a seasonal superfruit. This fruit is in season for a 2-3 month span, beginning as early as mid-August and potentially extending into December, depending on where you live. I just noticed them at my local grocery store about a month ago, yet they have just this week (11/5) gone on sale at Aldi. 69¢ a piece! That is an excellent price for our featured fruit.

About nutrition…the FAQs state state that this superfruit is so called because of the powerful antioxidants it contains. Better than red wine? I’ll take it! They are also high in potassium and vitamin C, to boot. Supposedly half of a this fruit has 25% of your daily vitamin C requirement and about 10% of your daily potassium. But it was the antioxidants that intrigued me.

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Pomegranates. Gorgeous pinky-mauve on the outside…
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And full of jewel-red “seeds” on the inside.

The seeds are actually referred to as arils…I thought it was a bit of a funny term myself. Wiki enlightened me. Basically an aril is a part of a fruit that encloses a seed. Wiki points out that nutmeg has an aril, called mace in the spice world.

(Yes, I used a red towel under my cutting board. I would recommend it, as the juice can stain fabric and other surfaces very easily.)

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The unique thing about a pomegranate is that the aril is really the only edible part of the fruit. The peel and pith are really too bitter to eat.

Or so I’ve heard. Didn’t personally want to give that one a go.

There are basically 2 options for eating a pomegranate: 1) eat the arils whole or 2) juice the pomegranate arils.

I tried eating them whole and did not particularly care for it. Wasn’t crazy about those crunchy seeds. But that was ok, because I happened to be borrowing a juicer from a family member. Besides using a juicer, I’ve heard that you can manually juice a pom using a juice press. A juice press is nice because all you do is cut the fruit in half, pull down a lever and ka-bam. Juice.

If you’re using a juicer though, you need to extract the seeds before putting them into the juicer. There is an easy method for this involving a bowl of water and a metal slotted spoon.

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Can I just say how much I love any recipe that allows me to vent my frustration through pounding? Does that sound odd? It was a great stress relief to de-seed these pomegranates. After pounding away for about 30 seconds, I peeled the fruit a bit to get the few remaining seeds out. This would be a good activity to do with your kids, too. It was really a lot of fun.

Then I scooped out the pith that was floating in the water and rinsed and sorted the arils.

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Aren’t they gorgeous? They look like little jewels. I measured 2 1/2 cups of them. Then I carefully poured them into the juicer. This is the one I used. It’s actually not too pricey. This isn’t a high end model though. I think if you’re a serious juicer a bigger investment would be in order. But I’m not serious. And my borrowed juicer suites me just fine.

source: Amazon

It looks like so. My kitchen counters were not so picturesque. But here the juicer is after I used it. Talk about an explosion of pink! It did an excellent job.

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Juice! This is from the 3 pomegranates that I bought from Aldi.

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Those 2 1/2 cups of arils made nearly 1 cup of juice! Total price=$2.07. I drink it in 1/3 cup servings, costing me 69¢ each.

And it was delicious. I would describe the taste as similar to grape, raspberry and cranberry juice, yet not really like either one. Pomegranate juice has its own thing going. What is your favorite seasonal superfood?

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~Rachel

Food, Seasonal Food

With this apple, I will make…

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It’s October. Such a gorgeous, gorgeous month this year. One thing we love about this month in my house are the apples. Apple season starts typically in August and reaches its peak towards the end of October. That’s the time when you can find the best apples for the cheapest price. I am so very excited about this blog post. Here’s 5 reasons why:

1. Buying local, delicious

2. Apples to make into

3. Homemade applesauce

4. Using the crock pot

5. And doing it on the cheap.

Applesauce.

In the crock pot.

Where have I been? Why didn’t I think of this before? I was browsing pinterest, looking for things to do with some wicked awesome apples I picked up in Amish Country when I came across these recipes for crock pot applesauce:

How To Make The Best Slow Cooker Applesauce (Live Simply)

How To Make Your Own Applesauce In The Slow Cooker (One Good Thing By Jillee)

My blog post is based on sort of a combo of these two recipes. I used the ratio of apples to lemon juice and cinnamon from @onegoodthingbyjillee and I did my prep like @livesimply and took her advice and added water and honey.

Because I’ve made applesauce on the stove-top a kadjikillion times, I felt ok just using guidelines from these recipes to make it in the crock pot.

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First, of course, I had to get some apples. So long story short, I found this wonderful place to buy apples. It’s cheap, local and the customer service and product value are exceptional. About a week ago, I went there for the second time to buy more Macintosh apples and some Golden Delicious with the intent of making boatloads of applesauce.

Amount: I ended up buying a 1/2 bushel of golden delicious and 1 peck of Macintosh. I wasn’t really sure on the exact amount of applesauce I wanted to make. Maybe I should have checked out this chart sooner..

According to the chart, I could have made 6-7.5 quarts of applesauce with 1/2 bushel of apples, and about 3 quarts with the Macintosh for a total of 10 quarts of applesauce. That’s roughly 52 pounds of apples for 10 quarts or 40 servings of 8 oz each.

I did not feel like making that much. Plus, I would rather save some apples to eat. The Macintosh are especially good for eating in my opinion. Here is what we brought home.

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Tiny baby hand for scale 🙂
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Add cinnamon and lemon juice.

Mix.

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All Golden, batch #1.
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Batch #2 is Golden + Macintosh.

My method:

1. Peel, slice, cut the apples. I would guesstimate I cut up 6 lbs, or a little over 1/4 of the 1/2 bushel bag. I was aiming to double jillee’s recipe. I just filled the crock pot with as many slices as it would hold.

2. Juice 2 lemons for 3 TBS lemon juice. Again, this is double of jillee’s.

3. Grate 2 tsp. of cinnamon.

4. Pour on the lemon juice and sprinkle the cinnamon over the apples.

5. Then toss it all together and turn the crock pot on high.

6. On batch #1, I added about 3/4c. water and a few TBS honey about 1 1/2 hours into it.

7. Stir it periodically. I had to watch every so often to make sure the apples weren’t boiling over.

The apples actually cooked rather quickly. It took only 2 or 3 hours for the applesauce to be done. I didn’t need to mash them overly either. I actually prefer the semi-chunky texture, so I didn’t puree or alter the sauce in any way.

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It’s very easy, no? As long as it isn’t too sour or cinnamon-y for your taste, you should be good. Live simply used Red Delicious apples in her sauce, but I really wouldn’t use that kind…her sauce was really brown and I think the type she used may have something to do with it. But to each his own! My fav. apple is a Golden Delicious, so I used those. On batch #2 I mixed in some Macintosh with the Golden Delicious. It’s all in your preference, really 🙂

How much did it cost me? About $3 (apples) + $1 (4 lemons) + 79¢ (4 TBS organic honey) = $4.79 for both batches.

We did eat some before I really measured but I think it’s safe to say we made 4 quarts out of 12 lbs. It adds up with the afore mentioned chart (http://www.pickyourown.org/info.htm). So that’s about 3.7¢ per oz, 30¢ per 8 oz serving. And $1.20 for 1 qt, or 32 oz.

The farm that I got my apples from is open year-round. I understand that not every apple farm operates that way though. If you can’t get out to an apple orchard in your area, just remember that apples go on and off sale at the grocery store all throughout the winter. It’s not a must that crock pot applesauce be made from farm fresh apples, although I highly recommend the experience. I would equate it to comparing my Grandma’s homemade strawberry jam to Smuckers jam. You can just taste the difference, and you’ll never want to go back to store bought again.

Cooking food from home is all about combining what your values are, what your family loves, what’s available in your area and what you have time and energy for. There are many many paths to healthy homemade cooking!

~Rachel

Food, Main Meal

Homemade Pizza: Part 2

Here’s the second part! The ending of our pizza story.  In part 1, I showed you how to make pizza dough from scratch, without the use of a bread machine. I referenced Erin’s website for the dough recipe. It closely follows the recipe in her $5 Dinner Mom (2009) cookbook with the exception of 2 Tablespoons of Parmesan cheese added in the kneading process.

Here is where we left off.

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During part of the hour that it was rising in the oven, I grated my mozzerella cheese. I typically use more than this. I forgot I was using it for pizza later and J and I ate some. Scatterbrained 🙂

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Here I have made my pizza sauce and am browning about a 1/2 lb. ground beef with onions and seasonings (italian seasoning, oregano, basil, s&p). The pizza sauce is very easy to make. It is nothing but 2 cans (8oz ea.) of tomato sauce; 1 tsp. each of basil, oregano, italian seasoning, onion powder and garlic powder; and 2 tsp. of oil. I used canola oil. Olive oil would be a very good choice too. Tomato sauce, seasonings, and a wee bit of oil. That’s it.

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Simmering the sauce, cooking the meat & onions.

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So incredibly messy. Some like to follow a special technique for transferring the pizza dough to the baking pan. I don’t particularly have one, unless I’ve rolled it very thin. Then I will wrap it around the rolling pin and unroll it onto the pan.

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Sauce!

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Meat & Cheese!

I baked it for about 20 minutes, till the cheese was bubbly and just beginning to brown.

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And then…..

I had a few pieces. It was divine!

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This pizza turned out really well. It was more of a deep dish pizza. The pieces in this picture were about 2″ thick. This is due to the fact that I made a whole recipe instead of a half and did not pre-bake my crust.

I was distracted and worried, as my son was developing a suspicious cough. Had I made a half recipe and pre-baked the dough, I would have had a wonderful thin crust crunchy pizza. Ah well. It was still plenty delicious! Next time I think I’ll work on some pizza topping variations. Maybe a roasted veggie or a simple pizza margarita.

Easy, right? The sauce isn’t a must, but I do think it tastes better than store bought. It also depends on which store brand you buy. Typically, I will do a plain cheese or a pepperoni and cheese topping but some variety (and some real meat) is sometimes nice.

All together, this recipe cost me: 99¢ (dough) +    84¢ (sauce) +    $3.94 (meat, onions and cheese)  =   $5.77

Last time we ordered pizza at my house it cost us about $10 for a large pepperoni pizza. Prices vary by location but I think I can say with confidence that making your own pizza can save you $$. And even though it’s messy it can still be fun. I look forward to sharing this experience with my son when he gets older. And when I am less worried that he will turn my kitchen into a twirling snow globe of flour.

~Rachel

Food, Main Meal

Homemade Pizza: Part 1-The Dough

Pizza.

Everyone loves it. It can be a lifesaver when that pizza delivery person shows up at your door with that lovely flat cardboard box full of pizza-baked goodness. It’s so nice to have someone else cook sometimes. What woman doesn’t love that? This post is not about bashing take-out. Or convenience food. I wholeheartedly support both. Because cooking meal after meal has a tendency to get old. You would have to be pretty passionate about food in order to not be disheartened about making 3 meals plus snacks every day of your life. A break from being head chef is necessary from time to time.

I’ve bought pizza from 3 or 4  different pizza places in my town. Tried Wal-Mart and Aldi’s brand refridgerated ready-made pizza. Red Baron, DiGorno and Kashi Roasted Vegetable frozen pizza, plus a few other brands. My husband lovesRed Baron’s pepperoni. I’m more of a thin crust person. Love me some thin crust pizza margherita. Mmm. Crispy crust covered in nothing but juicy cherry tomatoes, cheesy blobs of mozzerella and fresh basil leaves=the best! Love it. Wish I had a classic Italian pizza oven so I could flash bake some right now. Delicious.

Anyways. Goes without saying that I have tried a lot of pizzas. And one day I decided that I would like to try my hand at making one myself. The pros? You choose the ingredients. No mysterious ingredients that you don’t know about. Also, your pizza will be cooked in your own kitchen. There’s something satisfying about knowing that you made this meal and that you made it well.

The cons? It takes awhile. But you can make this pizza in stages. After you make the pizza dough, you let it rise for an hour. That’s an hour of doing whatever you want (or whatever else needs done). Then if you’ve had enough, you can throw that pizza dough in the freezer for later.

But…you can also load that pizza with toppings and bake it for supper. Or lunch. Or breakfast. Personally I can’t deny that I’ve occasionally had pizza for breakfast.

So this blog is labeled Part 1 of my Homemade Pizza blog. This recipe is from: you guessed it. The $5 Dinner Mom Cookbook. I know, I’m always promoting Dinner Mom recipes. But it’s for a good reason! Everything in that cookbook is easy, nutritious and delicious. I needed an easy recipe for pizza dough and I found it in that book. Bread dough can be a challenging thing to create and if you are making it for the first time, I think it’s important to use an easy recipe.

Erin has a new recipe on her website for pizza dough. Here is the link. I think that Erin is an awesome blogger and this recipe for whole wheat pizza looks really good. But the recipe is for a breadmaker. Which I do not have. Anyone else? No breadmaker is no problem. Just mix and knead the dough by hand. I can see you rolling your eyes! It’s not that hard, I promise. I’ve been making my pizza dough using this method for 3 years and it gets easier every time.

You can find this recipe in The $5 Dinner Mom cookbook, but this link from Erin’s website has the same dough ingredients as the book, with the exception of 2 TBS parmesan cheese that is listed in the book. This recipe is also made using a breadmaker but I will show you how I make my pizza dough by hand.

Begin.

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Here I have a cup of white flour and a cup of lukewarm water together in a bowl. The salt, oil, sugar and yeast are in a smaller bowl off to the side.

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100_3893After combining the warm water and the flour, i stirred in the rest of the ingredients. My recipe that I got from Erin’s book didn’t call for italian seasonings to be mixed in at this point.

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Then I let it sit for 15 minutes.

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After 15 minutes it was slightly spongy, not a whole lot though.

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Next I mixed in my remaining flour. I like to use 1 cup of white flour, 1 cup of wheat flour. I have a bowl with 2 TBS Parmesan cheese and 1 tsp italian seasonings in it off to the side, to be mixed in during the kneading process.

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I mixed the dough with a wooden spoon as much as I could, but eventually you will have to mix it a bit by hand, pressing the dough pieces together till they form into a ball. I decided to use a wooden cutting board or “bread board” to knead my bread on, instead of my counter. I will have to say that I liked it a lot better.

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I put my dough ball on my floured bread board.

This is my least favorite part of the process. It took me 7 1/2 minutes of kneading to get it to the right texture. (Soft baby skin texture, as Erin likes to put it.) To knead the dough, you fold it in half, then press down and push away from you all in one motion.

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Step 1: stand your dough ball on one end, then with *both* hands fold it in half.

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Step 2: Press the folded dough down with your palm and heel of your hand.

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Step 3: Use the heel of your hand to simultaneously roll and flatten the dough. Repeat until the dough is smooth, elastic and has the texture of “soft baby skin”.

After the kneading is done, I add my parmesan cheese and italian seasoning to the dough. This isn’t an absolutely necessary step, but it does add a lot of flavor to the dough, and compliments the pizza sauce nicely.

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I added it a little bit at a time by sprinkling it on the bread board, squishing down the dough on top of it, then kneading it into the dough. In the past I’ve tried to add it all at once and it didn’t work as well for me that way

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Now the seasonings are fully incorporated and it is time to let the dough rise. The $5 Dinner Mom cookbook I used said to grease or flour a bowl, then put the dough in and cover it with a towel and let sit in a warm place. I did not like the vagueness of “a warm place”. A lot of places in a kitchen can be warm but how do you know what the optimal dough rising environment is? (Yes, very technical I know.) I can’t remember where exactly I got this tip, but I’ve heard a good place to let your dough rise is in your oven, with a bowl of hot water on the shelf underneath your dough. This method has always worked well for me.

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Here the dough is in a greased, slightly icky bowl.

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And in the oven, with 2 bowls of hot water, for good measure. After that, you close the oven door and let it rise for an hour while you take a break!

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My little cutie fell asleep as I was making the dough. I laid him down for a nap 🙂

This ends Part 1 of my 2-part Homemade Pizza post. Part 2 will follow soon! I will show how I prep my pizza dough for baking and how I made the sauce and toppings. Plus, a picture of the finished pizza before I devoured it. Yum. It was seriously gone in like a 24-hour period. Looking forward to sharing the rest with you 🙂

~Rachel

Food, Snacks

Muffins For Your Munchies

**Note: this post is originally from August 2014. One of my first posts. Hanging out in my drafts folder for some reason. We still love these muffins!

Hello Readers,

So, in my last blog, I made a promise to include more pictures in blog #2. This blog will indeed have lots of pictures. 🙂

However, due to the fact that me & mine are currently in the process of moving…this blog will draw on pictures taken several months ago. Still good, right? Hoping to save myself a wee bit of sanity.

This week’s recipe will be from Erin Chase’s The $5 Dinner Mom recipe book, that I shared with you last week.

Have I mentioned how much I love this book?? 🙂 I do. Her recipes are so healthy and blessedly easy. One of my go-to snack recipes from her book is for Fruit or Veggie Muffins. It can be found on the $5 Dinners site.

Here is my mise en place (somewhat) of all the ingredients you will need for your recipe, minus 2.

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I took this today, and was out of sweet potatoes and canola oil.

I’m not going to include a photo of the dry ingredients mixed together, but I will pause and say a word about one of them…cinnamon.

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I grate my cinnamon by hand. Sounds tedious, I know. But I’ve been doing this for 2 years! The grater I bought from Amazon. I originally bought it just for nutmeg, to use in my peanut butter cookie recipe (more on that later). Then I happened to have some cinnamon sticks on hand and decided to use it to grate cinnamon, too.

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I bought this jar of cinnamon sticks about a year and a half ago, and I have used roughly 2/3 of it, in that time.

It takes about 2-3 minutes for me to grate the 1 tsp. of cinnamon called for in this recipe. I really like my cinnamon better this way. That, and well, its just cheaper. And honestly, the taste is just a lot better, in my opinion.

In this particular post, I will be using mashed sweet potatoes as my fruit/veggie of choice. You can use different single (or combinations of) fruits or veggies, but this is my favorite option, so far.

I begin by cooking the sweet potato. I typically cook 2, to be on the safe side. One large one would work well, too. I preheat the oven to 395°, wash and scrub the s. potatoes, prick them all over with a paring knife, put them in a baking pan with about a 1/2″ of water, cover with foil, and pop them in the oven for 1 hour.

If the sweet potato(s) are really big, they may need more time. You can test them for doneness with a knife.

I don’t let them cool much since I’m usually in a hurry. (Just being honest.) Also, if you keep the oven on, you don’t have to wait while it preheats again for the muffins! I peel them, put them on a plate and slice and mash them with a fork. Measure off 1 cup, and you’re good!

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I put the sugar, oil, eggs and mashed s.p. in a bowl. Mix that and then add the dry ingredients.

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I believe that in this particular recipe, I used PAM cooking spray to grease the muffin tins. But I’ve since been using this coconut oil to grease my pans:

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I’m no coconut oil expert, but I’ve heard it has a lot of wonderful health benefits. Yes, I know, using it at high heat ruins the health benefits. But I still like it a lot better than PAM or Crisco for greasing pans. Also, when I made homemade popcorn last night, I used coconut oil in place of canola oil and noticed a distinct difference.

I find I can only get 10 muffins max out of this recipe, even though it says 12. Especially because the sweet potato makes the batter so dense that it really doesn’t rise very much.

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They go in the 395° oven (my oven is on the cool side) for 15 minutes.

We (myself and my son) entertained ourselves by taking pictures for most of the waiting time. Here are a few of the better ones:

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And when the muffins are done, they will look like this:

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As you can see, we ate 2 already because they were that delicious.

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Sweet potato is, by far, my favorite out of the fruit or veggie options. May try more in the future, but this tops apple, zucchini, banana, and apple-banana. The sweet potato adds so much moisture and sweetness. Makes it taste so good with all that natural sugar 🙂

In May, when I made this my ds wasn’t too into muffins. But he is now! I love making this recipe because it is just such a wonderful snack food. Low in sugar, high in fiber, easy to eat on the go. Freezes very nicely too.

For 10 muffins this recipe cost me: $2.00, about 20¢ per muffin. There you go! Hope you enjoyed my Muffin Munchies blog post, complete with lots of pictures!

~Rachel