Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tracking My Canning Projects

I wanted a way to keep track of my canning projects and decided to make my own canning journal. My goals were to have a central place where I could record what I was canning, a place to write down where I found the recipe so that I didn't have to search all my cookbooks, and to know how much of each type that I made. I thought it would also be a good idea to have a place to note when I finished a batch too. This system does not replace the dates on my jars at all. I wanted to know if I was making too much of somethings and to know how quickly I was finishing a batch so that I could adjust my canning going forward. For instance, this past summer, I got a little carried away with the blueberry jam and made a little too much. Next year I know I need to look for recipes to make more than blueberry jam. I didn't know how many pints of carrots to can either, and we will run out of them pretty quickly because I love them! 

I enjoy making altered journals but I give most of them away as gifts. A couple of months ago I was teaching a card making class at my local scrap book store and as soon as I walked in I saw this awesome canning related paper line. I sat my supplies down and quickly started grabbing some of it! I have enough left over to make a cover for my canning recipe binder too. The recipes I have found online, I print off and then add to a binder in protective sleeves.

The inside is just regular notebook paper and I have recorded all the information that I wanted to track. I hope this will help me in the coming years to stay organized and not end up with a shelf full of blueberry jam and not nearly enough carrots!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Future Food

Hopefully this summer the things you see in these pictures will be some of the food we will be eating in the coming year. I have struggled to go things in the past because my yard is so shaded that there is only a tiny portion of my yard that gets a lot of sun throughout the day. For the past couple of years I have be growing tomatoes, strawberries and herbs in pots on the patio. This year I was able to find a community garden and I was also able to get a plot in their garden for this coming year. My garden plot is 4' x 12'. I plan on using a lot of square foot  gardening resources to maximize what I can grow in this space. I was so excited to have a plot! The photo above shows what my area looked like before I did any work at all. 

If you aren't familiar with community gardens, they are a great idea. There is a gardening area set aside, in this case, on an empty lot on the property of a nearby church. People that live in the area can sign up to take care of individual plots. So far it has been a great way to meet new people who share a love of growing food. At the garden where I am at, there are some "community plots" that everyone helps take care of and everyone can participate in the harvesting. There is a community herb garden, one filled with strawberries, another with peas and one with flowers. We also have two plots that have been divided into thirds that are designated as children's plots and there are two more that are grown and donated to a nearby senior citizen's apartment complex. 

 This is the first year that I am starting my plants from seed. Normally I buy seedlings or in the case of my tomatoes, I get them from my Dad. All of my seeds are heirloom seeds purchased from either Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds or My Patriot Supply. I have one of those little greenhouse things that you can buy just about anywhere this time of year and I use it with a seed germinating mat and a grow light. Here you can see one of my plants about a day after it broke through the soil.

Here is my greenhouse starter minus the lid. At this point the cucumbers were starting to get too tall for me to use the lid. 

After they outgrew the greenhouse, I transferred them into these degradable cups. They are just waiting until it gets warm enough to go in the ground! They get several hours of light a day using the grow light. ***My markers were made with a cut up mini blind. We had one that the cats had broken and when we replaced it, I forgot to take it out on trash day then I saw this suggestion somewhere online. Great idea and one mini blind will last a long time!

This is the raised bed, rolling planter that Kip made for me last year. Since I have had multiple back surgeries, some days bending over can be difficult so he came up with this idea for me. I can sit on a stool and do whatever and not really have to bend over at all. This is in my back yard in the sunny spot of the yard. This picture is from last year where I grew some cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. Even with the community garden plot, I will still be growing herbs, some tomatoes and a few other things her at home.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Dehydrated Citrus

I was able to buy a couple of cases of citrus on a bulk order a few days ago. I love citrus fruits and I was looking for several different ways of preserving what we couldn't eat before it needed to be eaten. I have made juice, marmalade, canned it in various ways and also decided to dehydrate some for later. I have more lemons in the dehydrator. Most of these will probably end up in tea at some point, but I would love to hear what you do with dehydrated citrus.

I am still loving my new Excalibur dehydrator. Deciding to buy one took me about two years of debating back and forth with myself. I knew I would use it and and it would be worth it in the end, but it was still a hard decision. I am happy to say that after a couple of months and many batches later that I have zero buyer's regret. In fact, after my first batch, when I saw how beautiful my dehydrated food was, I only wished I had gotten it sooner.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kitchen Faves / Pi Day

I am back with another favorite item in my kitchen, actually, I think this one is more of a Kip favorite! I love kitchen gadgets of all kinds and would love to own everything if I had enough room for storage. Most everything I buy now can do more than one thing, I don't buy a lot of things that only have one purpose, especially if they are kind of bulky. One of the exceptions is this mini pie maker. 

Kip really loves dessert and I really didn't make it that often unless we were having company over or if we were going somewhere and taking food. One of the reasons was because if I made it we would definitely eat it, and eat all of it. With just the two of us in the house that was a lot of extra calories that we didn't need. So I started searching for some recipes with a smaller yield. Even if I am making dessert from scratch with real food ingredients, I really don't have much need to have 36 cupcakes at a time. 

I saw this pie maker on sale one day and kind of on impulse purchased it. Kip was pretty skeptical at first, mainly because it only does one thing and it is one more piece of equipment that needed to be stored in my already overstocked kitchen. I won him over the first time that I made an apple pie for dessert. By the second time he had a pie for dessert, he was a huge fan.

This fall when apples were coming into season I canned several jars of apple pie filling to have on hand. I almost always have a pie crust in the freezer so if I need a quick dessert, all I have to do is pull out the crust, roll it out, pour in a jar of pie filling and pop it in the oven and I am good to go. I canned this pie filling in both quart jars for a full size pie and in pint jars for making mini pies or serving over ice cream.

 One thing I like about this set too is that it came with that black cutter. The larger side cuts the perfect size for the bottom crust and the other side cuts the top crust. 

Here are my finished pies. A lot of the time I only make one for each of us, but I decided to make one for lunches today too. Yesterday was Pi Day (3/14) and I knew my geeky husband would appreciate getting an apple pie for dessert!

The pie crust recipe that I use and keep in the fridge can be found here. I have used several over the years and I like this one because it isn't sweet so I can use it for savory pies too, not just dessert. I really like that it makes three crusts. They store well in the freezer and it's great to have them already made if I need them. 

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Strawberry Kiwi Fruit Leather

As we have been eating healthier and I have been learning more about preserving foods, my dehydrator  has been getting a lot more use. It used to only come out for the occasional batch of jerky then go back on the shelf until I was in the mood to make jerky again. Now it gets used all the time. If I find a good deal on veggies at the store, I dehydrate them. If I have a couple of stalks of celery left over after making stock, I dehydrate it so it doesn't get pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about. My friend's daughter Samantha loves to play in the kitchen with me and one day I mentioned that we could make our own fruit roll ups with real fruit and in any combination that we could think up. She was all for that! For this batch we chose strawberry kiwi fruit leather.  In the photo about you can see that after pureeing our strawberries, we spread them evenly over parchment paper on the dehydrator tray, then we randomly added the kiwi.

And her we took a butter knife and spread the kiwi around a little. We have also made these by pureeing the strawberries and kiwi together and doing solid sheets.We were just experimenting with something new.

Here is the final product after drying, minus a corner for sampling purposes. The color of the kiwi gets a little lost in the red, but you can really taste it. 

I like to make these on the parchment paper because I can use kitchen scissors and easily cut them into strips and roll them. Once they are rolled up they can be put into a lunch box without taking up too much room. Samantha loves to take them in her lunch and I have found that they make a great snack for me when I am craving something sweet. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Oh, How I Have Missed You

Kip and I bought a grill two summers ago and we decided to go with charcoal. I had never cooked on charcoal before, I had only used gas grills. I am so glad we went with a charcoal one! Neither of us thought we would use it as often as we do, but we both love grilling on it. We do burgers, some steaks, veggies, especially corn on the cob, and have even done a couple of pizzas. 

Last night I pulled out the grill for the first time and grilled burgers.

Welcome back!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Carrot Cake

Even though we are trying to eat healthier, we still have dessert on occasion. I have been trying to make our desserts though so that I know what is in them and I try and keep to real food ingredients as much as possible. We celebrated my mother-in-law's birthday last weekend and she loves carrot cake. I volunteered to make the cake since my friend Judy had shared her carrot cake recipe with me. I am not a huge fan of cakes in general but this is the best carrot cake, and possibly the best cake of any kind, that I have ever eaten. It is a recipe from a Southern Living magazine from a while back and the recipe can be found here. Above, I have pictured all of my gathered cake ingredients. (The mason jar is vanilla extract I had made a while back.)

Here is the batter and the added "goodies".

Isn't this just gorgeous with all the colors? I was already getting excited at this point!

I think the secret to this cake is the buttermilk glaze that goes on the cake layers when they come out of the oven. 

At this point I was seriously wondering if anyone would notice that my three layer cake had turned into a double layer! The whole house smelled so good and it was so hard to wait, because I am sure it was incredible while it was still warm.

I did wait though, because what is carrot cake without the cream cheese frosting?

And finally here is my iced cake, all ready to go to the birthday dinner.

To say this cake was a hit with the family is an understatement. Everyone loved it and my oh so sweet mother - in - law sent the leftover cake home with me and Kip.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Kitchen Faves--Spices

I wanted to take some time to share some of my favorite things in my kitchen and thought I would start with my spice area. These are small, round containers with a magnet on the back and I store them on the side of my refrigerator. In addition to spices I have some cake/cookie decorations and sprinkles. I love the fact that everything is easily accessible, I can find everything and I really enjoy seeing all the different colors. There are some spice blends in there, some I have bought and some are ones that I assemble myself. Things like taco seasoning, fajita seasoning, and hamburger seasoning I use quite a bit so when I make it I make quite a bit of it. 

My spice "wall" gets a lot of comments when I have visitors. I almost always get asked these two questions: "Do you use all those spices?" and "How did you afford to buy all those spices? My grocery budget won't stretch to buy a lot of spices like that."

DO I USE ALL THOSE SPICES? Yes I do. Some more often than others, but I do use all of them. I like to experiment cooking from from different areas of the globe that sometimes call for very specific spices. I don't use a lot of salt in my cooking, I rely on spices for flavor. 

HOW DID YOU AFFORD ALL THOSE SPICES?  One or two at a time! When I first moved out into my own apartment, I wanted to make some spice cookies from a recipe that a friend had shared with me. Those cookies were so good when she made them but they have about seven different spices in them. I learned very quickly that my "just moved out on my own" budget could not buy all of these spices at once. So I bought one. Then every time I went to the grocery store and I had any extra money, I would buy one spice. It took me several months before I could make those cookies! But that is something I continued as I build my spice collection. I would find an interesting recipe and if I was missing a spice or two, I would put it aside until I could buy the spices to make it. After a while, I had quite a few and then it was just a matter of replacing the ones that I had used. Today, it is pretty rare for me to find a recipe that I am missing the spices for unless I am working on something very regional.