Friday, 13 February 2015

Experiments

It's freezing cold outside (woke up to minus 26), so no pup walks this morning; he is currently contentedly sleeping on the bed.

A new year invites new beginnings and experimentation in your life; sometimes they work out, sometimes they don't. We don't make New Years resolutions, rather we make goals of things we'd like to achieve. This year we're trying to become more healthy (who isn't?) so one of our goals is that one day a week we have fish, one day a week we do vegetarian and one day a week we include beans/lentils. These are our minimum goals, there's nothing saying we can't have beans twice a week, and all this refers to suppers which is our main meal of the day.

I love mushroom risotto, but it always bothered me that it was made with white rice. We eat brown rice in general, so I got to thinking about how I could make this healthier. A friend and I had gone to the local foodie store a while back (Vincenzos, where your idea of budgeting is left at the door and you find yourself buying $80 worth of cheese) , and there was a lady doing a tasting of various olive oils, explaining that depending on where the olives were grown, that they all taste different and are used for different purposes. They were yummy but ├╝ber pricey. She mentioned how one was good over risotto, and I said how I loved risotto but didn't like that it was white rice; she told me when she cooks it she substitutes whole spelt for the arborio and it worked fine.

I decided to give it a go this week. Finding whole spelt was kind of tricky; Bulk Barn didn't sell it anymore so I ended up buying it from Ayre's. I was so excited to see how this would turn out! Cooked the mushrooms first then on to the rest, cooking it just like risotto (all that damned stirring).





Then added the cooked mushrooms and their liquid back in.




The result? An overly chewy, not really creamy mushroom risotto. I was so disappointed! My hubby valiantly tried to eat his bowl but after a while said, "This stuff is making my jaw hurt, sorry hon, I can't eat it anymore." Yes, I cooked it for a hell of a lot longer than normal risotto so I don't think under cooking was the problem. I think perhaps spelt is better served in salads where the chewiness would be more appreciated as it is less at the forefront.

(You know those blogs where people try new recipes, projects, crafts, etc. and they all turn out great on the first try, so that when you try them and you don't succeed or have your stuff look as beautiful, you're thinking, "What the heck did I do wrong or am I a total idiot?" Well, this blog is not like that. I am not perfect. My experiments don't always turn out. Most shocking, I do not wear pearls and a pretty dress while I vacuum. So take heart fellow mortals! Not everything you do works out but at least we tried and have learned something).


Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Trying to save even more food

When it comes to food, I like to think we do pretty well.

We have a large garden for fruit, veggies and herbs, I can a bunch of stuff when it comes in season, as well as freeze it too. 3 years ago I bought an electric smoker (best thing I ever bought!) so we can make our own bacon, smoked meats and (hopefully soon) some cold smoked cheese. (Another thing I'd love to learn how to do is make cheese).

Last year I bought a dehydrator when it went on sale, a great Excalibur one with 5 trays. I really love this thing, the heater and fan is at the back so there's no rotating of trays and an even heat with temperature control depending on what you're dehydrating. I keep the little silicate packages that come in vitamin bottles and when I buy new shoes (which is almost never) to put in with the dehydrated stuff to keep it dry. (I am dehydrating beef jerky as we speak).

For my birthday my parents bought me a 5 gallon pickling crock! My Mom asked me what I wanted and I told her a pickling crock; she said that wasn't for me, that was for the house. Nope, it's for me! After my first unsuccessful attempt at making kimchi (it got moldy because I put the crock in the cold cellar which was way too cold and stopped any fermentation), I talked to my Dad who makes sauerkraut every year. He told me that you just want to put it somewhere cooler, not cold, so the basement is fine, not the cold cellar. I never could stand sauerkraut but I do like kimchi,  which I like to call sauerkraut with flavour. The second batch I followed my Dad's advice and after about a month, put it into mason jars (I got about 3 1 liter jars). Pretty yummy! I'm excited about making other fermented foods now.

My hubby and I were talking about what else we could do to preserve food like meat, soup, etc. My Mom, even though she's been canning for over 50 years, still follows some old school ways of doing things, like putting jars of meaty soup in the oven to seal then putting them in the fridge or cold cellar. From what I've been reading, this isn't exactly safe anymore. Here are some sites with more information:

Canning Food Safety

National Center for Home Preservation

After cleaning out my freezers recently, we've come to the conclusion that when we make big batches of things like soup, spaghetti sauce, etc., although our intentions are good when we freeze some, it gets buried in there, we forget about it (and often forget to label it), then find it months or years later thinking, "What is this stuff? Is it still good?" I hate throwing food out but if I don't know what it is or when it was made I err on the side of caution and chuck it.

So, for canning meat, soup, and whatever, I'm seriously considering buying a pressure canner. I've never used one before, but my Dad volunteers once a year through the MCC (Mennonite Central Committee) where they do a day of canning meat for those in need. Check it out:

MCC Canning

They use actual cans, whereas I'll be using big mason jars for my home use. This way, we can go into the cold cellar and grab a jar of soup or whatever for that nights meal, easy peasy, for those nights where we're too tired to cook or completely uninspired. Yes, it will be a lot of work, but if we do it it will mean less buying of cook from frozen meals from the grocery store which is usually over salted, sweetened and full of junk.

Has anyone done this themselves? What are you results? Let me know!

After that, the only big purchase I can think of for home preservation is a vacuum sealer.

Stay warm and enjoy the sun!

Sunday, 25 January 2015

A Sunny Sunday and Dog Biscuits

Even though it's cold out, at least it's sunny which is wonderful. Sunday is usually my catch up day; you know, laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. If I had a sunroom off the back of the house instead of a rickety old deck that needs replacing, I might instead be sitting in a sunbeam reading some sci fi/fantasy novel and drinking tea (or in the evening, watching the stars and drinking a hot toddy).

The laundry and running around is done and I noticed earlier this week that my supply of dog biscuits is very low. We have a big dog (as my husband would say, he isn't a Great Dane, he is an Awesome Dane) and he does like his biscuits as a reward for being a good boy (like when I put him in his kennel before I go to work). I don't mind buying dog food, but have you noticed how expensive dog treats are? I mean, a smallish bag will run you around $10 or more! When I look at the ingredients (and for my animals, I like to stick to as all natural as possible and limit by-products and ingredients that are multisyllabic and unpronounceable), I honestly don't see why I couldn't make something myself that would be fresher and cheaper, plus I would have total control of the ingredients.

I looked at various dog biscuit recipes online and a lot of them still added salt, sugar, etc. Why would a dog need this? I decided to figure out my own recipe that would work; plus, I went to the baking supply store near my work (Ayre's Baking Supplies) and they had these cute little bone cookie cutters in different sizes.




Here's the recipe I came up with:

DOG BISCUITS

 

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour*
1 3/4 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup ground flax
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 cup natural peanut butter
1 to 1 1/2 cups chicken stock (start with 1 cup)
4 tsp. dried parsley
4 tsp. dried mint
1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and either grease some cookie sheets or line with parchment paper (I freaking love parchment paper for this kind of stuff). 

Pulse flour, oats and flax in a food processor until combined. Put the ground dry ingredients in a bowl with the baking powder, parsley and mint. Add peanut butter and mix until mixture resembles coarse pea sized lumps. Add 1 cup broth and egg and mix until a coarse, dense dough forms. If you need to add more liquid, do so.

Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead into 2 balls. Roll out 1 ball to about 1/3" thick with a rolling pin. Cut out as many biscuits as possible and arrange about 1/4" apart on your cookie sheet. Gather scraps and reroll, cut out more biscuits. Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the tops are browned. Let cool. 

Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you should get between 120 to 140 biscuits.

* If your dog has a wheat allergy, you can replace with brown rice flour or whatever works.

My husband wandered into the kitchen to see what I was doing. "Dog biscuits huh? Are they your typical healthy type baking?" I answered in the affirmative. "He won't like them," was his verdict. "He's not you," I replied with a smile. So, the litmus test:




Results? Paws down pretty yummy! My hubby pretended to eat one and the dog actually growled at him.

You can change up the recipe by adding cheese instead of peanut butter or whatever strikes your fancy. Dog loves them, they're healthy, they're fairly inexpensive to make and the added flax makes his coat super shiny.

Maybe one day my pup and I will be lying in a sunroom together sharing a sunbeam; him eating biscuits, me reading.











 

Monday, 12 January 2015

Carrots!

After canning all those apples (and still having a ton left over for just eating), my next project is carrots. This year was pretty good for the carrots, I grew different coloured ones: purple skinned with orange interior, orange, yellow and white. After eating lots fresh, I figured I could try canning some as well.





I feel a lot of nutritional goodness is in the skin, so I just gave them all a good clean and scrub. I discovered I couldn't scrub too hard with the purple ones, otherwise the purple comes off! (Next season I plan on growing purple carrots that are purple all the way through). There were also some neato mutant carrots that looked like they were legs:



I figured carrots, much like when making pickles, would be pretty basic: make the brine, add your seasoning to the jars, etc., which is pretty much how it turned out. I wanted to do sticks of carrots so that the different colours would be highly visible and hopefully keep some crunch to them. I perused my various canning books (and the internet of course), and this is what I came up with.

Pickled Carrots

6 pounds of carrots, cleaned and cut up into sticks as uniform as possible
5 cups of water
5 cups white vinegar
3 tablespoons pickling salt
garlic cloves, peeled
spices/herbs to taste

Prepare jars, canner and lids. 

In a big stainless steel pot, bring to a boil the water, vinegar and pickling salt. Turn down heat and let simmer about 5 minutes.

In your (hot) jars, add your spices and one clove of garlic. (Some people will put in dill, but my husband hates dill so that's a no go in our house; I added a half teaspoon each of mustard seed and cumin seed). Pack your carrot sticks wedged in tightly. Ladle in the hot brine to about 1/2 inch from the top, removing any air bubbles and adjusting headspace as necessary. Wipe down rims, place hot discs on jars and screw down with lid until fingertip tight. 

Place jars into boiling canner and once the water has come back to a boil, cover with lid and time it for 7 minutes. After 7 minutes remove lid, turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Place jars on the counter on a towel and cover with another towel and let sit for about a day undisturbed before putting away.

I ended up with about 8 jars of carroty goodness. They ended up having a bit of a crunch which is quite nice. I think if I were to do it again I might add some curry powder to the brine which would taste pretty darn good.





I don't have much canning left to do, I might do some more hot pepper jelly and I definitely need to put in smaller jars the Rumtopf I made this year to hand out. Will let you know how it turns out!