Friday, August 28, 2015

How to save Heirloom Tomato Seeds

I did a quick video showing how I save heirloom tomato seeds. I hope to do a blog post about it soon too, but will use the same photos. You may follow the link below or watch here on the blog. Have a great day!!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Juicy Baked Chicken

I think we have 17 chickens left out of the 25 we butchered about 2 months ago ... and they sure taste good!! Here I'm sharing our favorite way to prepare them: Baked (some might call it roasted but it's baked). I numbered the photos above - can you see them? I hope so!
1. Begin with a rack in a roasting pan.
2. Put the raw chicken BREAST SIDE DOWN onto the rack. Even with store-bought chicken, cooking it this way makes for a juicier breast ... I guess because all of the juices go down into the breast instead of the back?
3. Rub with butter and sprinkle with seasonings. I like to use poultry seasoning, garlic granules, onion granules and celery salt. I also put a little butter, fresh chopped onion and celery inside the body cavity.
4. Bake uncovered at 350* for about 20 minutes per pound. Using a meat thermometer will ensure doneness (165* in the fleshy / thickest part of bird, which is usually the thigh) however if you do not have one just poke around deep into the flesh with a fork and see if the juices run clear. If ANY pink runs out it is not done.
5. Remove the bird into a dish; picture number 5 shows what it looks breast-side-up when done. Not as pretty as the back!
6. Cut into desired pieces. Here in #6 I have the leg quarters and the breasts in separate pieces in a casserole dish. The oven is off but still warm ... put the lid on and keep in the warm oven until ready to serve.

Pick off any remaining meat from the bones. Save the bones, the skin AND the drippings in the pan (unless you are making gravy!) for chicken stock. I'll share how I do this some other time.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

Homemade Chicken Sausage and Freezer Sasauge "Egg-McMuffins"

I've been meaning to do this post for a while but you know how it goes ... busy ... no internet at home ... don't feel like it ... blah blah blah.

When we butchered chickens a few months ago we marked two for turning in to sausage. I already have my sausage recipe on here, but formerly I've always used ground turkey from the store. Using my handy, dandy, Kitchen-Aid grinder attachment, I turned those two chickens (and the organ meats from about 10 chickens) into sausage. A word about that real quick - it would have been much easier if the meat and organs were slightly frozen still. Also, as per the book's instructions, I cut the meat into thin strips and that did help a lot. I started on the courser grind and then ran it all through one more time in the finer grind. It took longer than I thought. Next time (turkeys?) I will be a lot more prepared.

Here is a photo of the meat and organs going through the grinder, a photo of the seasonings all mixed up into the ground meat, and a photo of what I did with some of the sausage (browned it and froze in meal-size portions for biscuits and gravy, scrambled eggs with sausage and peppers, pizza soup, etc.).

The next step of course is to make the patties. This is made easy and uniform by using a 2oz ice cream scoop with a blade. Release the scoop directly onto a griddle set to medium or medium-high and flatten into a circle (quickly before it cooks too much!) with your fingers. Once finished cooking, cool on a wire rack and then freeze individually by putting a little square of waxed paper in between each patty. Of course you may just make the eggs and assemble the sandwiches now, however I sometimes have to break things up into more manageable sessions; it was a lot easier for me to make the patties, put them in the freezer, and then assemble the sandwiches some other day.

For the eggs, it is very convenient to have a 'muffin top pan' (be sure they are large enough! You should be safe with a 6-cup muffin top pan), however you may also use whatever you have on hand, such as small pyrex bowls, soufflĂ© bowls, etc. The key is, it helps to have them well greased for easy release. Also, cooking at too high of a heat or over-cooking will cause them to bake on to the bowls and be hard to remove. Simply break one egg into each muffin top cup or other bowl, break the yolk, shake on a little salt and pepper if you like, and bake at 350* until set (10 minutes or less). Again, if you over-bake it or bake it at too high of a temperature it will be hard to remove! Slide a rubber/silicon spatula around and under the egg and allow it to cool on a wire rack before assembling your sandwiches. Repeat until you have all the eggs you need.

Now you will need the remaining ingredients. You may use store-bought or homemade English Muffins or biscuits. I prefer homemade sourdough English muffins or sourdough biscuits. You might also prefer cheese on yours. For this batch we got a great deal on (expired) organic raw cheddar so that's what we used. You might also prefer to add butter to insides of the bread. Assembling is common sense :) Once all of the sandwiches are made, wrap each one in parchment paper (so the aluminum foil is not touching your food) and then in foil. Keep all in a freezer bag or other freezer container until ready to use. If you think you are going to use several at once, store as many as you will need in a foil roasting pan. We only use a few at a time so I just keep mine all separate but together in a plastic freezer bag.

To heat: If you have them in a foil roasting pan, just pull that out of the freezer and put it right into the oven. Or put as many as you need into a covered dish of some kind. Heat at 350* until heated all the way through (25-30m or so). Obviously if you remember to take out what you need the night before it will heat up much quicker!! If you only need one or two, it's best to heat in a toaster oven. Of course you may use a microwave ... but we don't ... so I cannot counsel you on that one with confidence but I'll guess: remove the foil but not the parchment paper. Zap it for a half a second and it's done. Or something like that.

We really, really like having these things on hand! Especially with the cold months coming up, the wood cookstove will be on again (once we move it!!) and these are so handy to just throw right into the wood cookstove oven.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

D.I.Y. Homemade Tomato Powder

This year I have decided to focus more on dehydrating instead of canning. I have learned that dehydrating tomatoes instead of canning them is better (for me anyway) in many ways. Let me list some of them.
  • It takes up a LOT less space in the pantry (one quart jar of dehydrated tomato powder holds well over 20 pounds of tomatoes, maybe 25-30 pounds)
  • It is more shelf-stable if done properly
  • No heavy pots or hot jars to maneuver around
  • It takes much less prep and work time; most of the process is simply waiting for them to dehydrate
  • It does not heat up the house or put a bunch of extra humidity into the air
  • It's easier to use (in my opinion)
  • It can be done a little each day
I'm sure there are more benefits, but those should give you a good enough idea as to why I prefer this over canning. Really though it all comes down to the fact that it is something I can do myself, even with my physical limitations. This has been a major blessing to our food storage efforts! All of these fresh, ripe, organic, heirloom tomatoes are sitting on our shelf in powder form, waiting to be used, and the effort was minimal.

The process is simple. The photo above has the steps in order:
  •  Slice the fresh, ripe tomatoes 1/4" thick (I used my nifty Borner V-Slicer Mandoline purchased from Amazon - LOVE IT!)
  • Place onto the dehydrator tray, do not overlap. Dehydrate at 135* until dry (tomatoes will be slightly leathery but obviously dry). Some say to squish out the seeds and juicy middles but I say leave them in! It will take longer but why waste the nutrition these things provide? The type of tomato will have an effect on the drying time. For instance, a roma tomato (which is a paste variety) will dry much quicker than a juicy beefsteak tomato. Plan on at least 8-10 hours but probably longer for the juicy kinds ... and even longer if you leave all the seeds and juicy pulp in.
  • Remove from trays and pack into a coffee grinder or blender. I found the coffee grinder worked better and I think that's because I was able to pick the grinder up and shake it while it was on. If you use a coffee grinder you will have to grind in batches.
  • Funnel the powder into a mason jar. When it is full, add a 100cc oxygen absorber and vacuum seal it with a Food Saver mason-jar attachment. Add the jar ring.
  • Write the date and the jar number. Store in your pantry.
So far I have 4 full quart jars with a lot more on the way. So simple and rewarding!!

To make tomato sauce, whisk a few tablespoons of powder with a cup of water (or paste - use half the water). Now with that you can make so many things ... add basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and a little sugar for spaghetti sauce. Add oregano, onion, garlic and salt for pizza sauce. Or whatever other tomato-based sauce you like :)
You can also add this to soups, stews, homemade bread, popcorn, etc. There are so many possibilities.