Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

I wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year!

Friday, December 28, 2012

My Favorite New Year's Punch

We have this punch every New Year's eve.  It is easy to make and tastes great too! If the amount is too much for your family, you can cut the recipe in half.

Here is the recipe:

New Year's Punch
2 packets of strawberry or cherry Kool-aid (we like cherry better)
1 can pineapple juice (1 lb. 14 oz.)
2 two litter bottles of ginger ale
4 cups sugar (you can use half of this and it still tastes good)
Vanilla ice cream

My recipe says to combine all ingredients in a punch bowl and add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream.  However, after making this many, many times - I think it does make a difference in how you add the ingredients. I have found that if you add the ginger ale last, it will keep some of the fizzy bubbles in the punch much longer.

I start with the Kool-aid packet and then add the pineapple juice. Stir in the sugar and add a few scoops of vanilla ice cream (to taste). I usually add more later when these melt a bit.
Then add the ginger ale.  The whole punch bowl will fiz up! Stir a bit and serve immediately.

This recipe also works well completely sugar free. Use Splenda instead of sugar and purchase diet ginger ale & sugar free ice cream. That is what we are going to do this year.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Garden in a Sack

I was watching the Smithsonian Channel on TV the other day and saw a program on how women in Africa are feeding their families in the middle of a slum by gardening in sacks. I then searched the Internet for additional information on this and came up with these articles.

A Garden in a Sack
The Sack Gardens of the Kibera Slum

Anyone can grow a garden in this manner! Even if you live in an apartment, you can grow some of what you eat. I can think of a few benefits of growing food this way:
  • No land required
  • Inexpensive to start
  • Very little care involved
  • Hard to overwater
  • Mobile - you can move it when the sun moves
Even if you don't have a lot of time, energy or land you can still grow some of what you eat next year. This spring, go to your local home and garden center and take a look at the seeds for sale. I bet if you look, you can find something to grow that your family likes to eat!

Wishing you a prosperous garden in 2013!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Birthday Jesus!

A few weeks ago, one of the speakers at my church reminded us that during this busy holiday season, let us all remember who's birthday we are celebrating. In our rush to get our family members all that they want for Christmas, sometimes we forget to give the gifts we should be giving to our Savior.

What gifts can you give the Savior? Give him the gift of tolerance for others, forgiveness of others transgressions towards you, an apology for wrongs you might have done to others, patience when members of your family upset you, service to those who need it, and love of your fellow man. These are gifts that are appropriate to give right now and throughout the coming year.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Homemade Cheeseburger Helper

This is a homemade version of the Cheeseburger Hamburger Helper that you can find in a box in the store.  In my opinion, this tastes better! Total cook time is about 20 to 30 minutes and it is so easy to make!

This meal is made in a similar way to the Beef Stroganoff I posted about here. While there are other Cheeseburger Helper recipes on the Internet, in our house we like it plain, so there isn't anything fancy in this dish. Here is the recipe:
  • 1 lb ground beef (This recipe tastes just as good if you use home canned or dehydrated ground beef too.)
  • 2 cups noodles (For this post, I used whole wheat noodles from the store.)
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/4 cups milk (this is a great way to use and rotate powdered milk - reconstitute the powdered milk before adding to the skillet pan.)
  • 3/4 cup powdered cheddar cheese (I purchased mine a while ago, but I believe I ordered from here.)
  • Garlic and onion powder to taste
Cook or heat the ground beef (depending if you use fresh beef or canned or freezed-dried). Once the beef is ready, add the water and milk to the skillet. Then add the powdered cheddar cheese. Stir until the powdered cheese is mixed in well.

When the cheese powder is mixed in, stir in the noodles.  When the mixture comes to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Cook for approximately 10 minutes until the noodles are tender.

I stirred mine at about the half way point to make sure it wasn't burning.

When the noodles were done, I seasoned with garlic and onion powder. Then, I added a few handfuls of fresh cheddar cheese as a garnish on top.

Yum! Serve with green beans you canned from your garden and you have dinner!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Can You Live Without Electricity?

Well, the simple answer is yes. For most of the time humans have been on this earth, there hasn't been electricity. But in today's modern world it is more complex. I think all will agree that the high standard of living in countries that have a contemporary lifestyle is only possible because of electricity. Not only has electricity given us a high standard of living, but it has also made advanced medical procedures possible, given us access to worldwide transportation and made it really easy to see inside your house at night.

We all know the electrical infrastructure is fragile worldwide. Even if you produce your own electricity, the system is still fragile. Batteries must be replaced, storms can damage solar panels or wind turbines and generators have a host of maintenance issues that must be addressed. So how do you live without it if and when necessary?  My approach has always been to find a solution from history. Our great-grandmothers managed to raise families without it. If I must complete a task, my first question is "How did my great-grandmother do it?" I have actually been asking that question for a quite few years now. Not just because of the fragile electrical infrastructure, but also because I feel compelled to do it. I can't explain it any other way. Looking for non-electrical solutions to life seems to be in my DNA.

So, I am introducing a new series of posts called Living Without Electricity. During the next year, these posts will show how to do things in and around your house without the need for electricity. From household tasks such as doing the laundry or sweeping the carpets to sewing clothes and preparing dinner, I will cover what it is I do - the non-electrical way. Sometimes the non-electrical way of life is harder and sometimes it is much easier (in my opinion). Either way, I will let you know! 

I hope you are as excited as I am about learning how to reduce your need for electricity and complete everyday home tasks without it!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Give Your Family the Gift of History for FREE!

One of the most rewarding things I have accomplished this year is to find my ancestors. I have traced just about every line back to 1700 and some lines back to 1116.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a FREE website set up to help you find your ancestors: Click on this link and this is what you will see.

I have a picture of the English version, but this website has been created in many different languages and you can access records worldwide! AND you can access it from anywhere in the world!  How cool is that? Start with the name of an ancestor you know and work back from there. In the upper right corner, you will find a link to the Help files. There you will find a listing of many different tutorials and frequently asked questions. You can also click the 'Just Getting Started?' link at the lower right hand corner of the screen and get live help via chat.

I have mentioned this before, but I think it is important to mention again, you don't need to be a memeber of the church to use this site. You don't even need to create a free account to use this site. Just type in the name of one of your relatives.

If you do create a free account, you can put the information you find into a family tree. (This is the only way I have found to keep everything straight!) Here is a snapshot of my family tree.

If you take some time off during this holiday season, I can think of no better way to spend some quality family time than looking for your ancestors!  Give your children the gift of knowing where they come from. It can ground them for their lifetime!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Award Winning Gingerbread Cookies

Long ago and far away, I won Best of Show at the Virginia State Fair for this recipe. These are festive cookies for a festive time of year! I got this recipe from the book, Festive Gingerbreads by Evelyn Howe Fryatt. Here is the recipe:

Hansel & Gretel Gingerbread Cookies
1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup molasses
1 egg
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves

Start with melting the shortening. Now I know this stuff isn't healthy, but I only make these cookies around Christmas so our exposure to hydrogenated oil is limited to the 1/2 cup once a year. The cookies do taste better with the shortening rather than a substitute oil. I use Crisco.

Stir together the melted shortening, sugar and molasses. You can use either dark or light molasses. We like the flavor of molasses so I always use the dark.

Combine these ingredients well. Then add the egg and mix well.

Next, add the dry ingredients. The flour does best if it is sifted.  This makes the flour light and fluffy. Even if you purchase pre-sifted flour, you should sift it for this recipe. It only took me 30 seconds to sift 3 cups of flour. That included getting a piece of freezer paper to place the flour on. (It did not include the time needed to take the picture!)

If you really can't stand the thought of sifting flour, use 2 1/2 cups in the recipe. Use the entire 3 cups if you sift the flour. Add all the rest of the dry ingredients and mix well.

FYI, I did not use whole wheat flour for this recipe. I have in years past, and these cookies taste very good with whole wheat flour. However, I didn't win the award with whole wheat flour so I didn't use it here.

Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour. I wrapped the dough in the same piece of freezer paper that I used to sift the flour (after I poured the leftover flour back into the flour bag). The colder the dough, the better. I placed mine in the freezer.

When the dough is chilled, sprinkle parchment paper with a light dusting of flour before you roll out the cookies. The dough is quite sticky. Keeping the dough well chilled also keeps it from sticking to everything. Once you cut a piece off to roll out, put the rest back in the freezer to keep it cold.

If you don't want to bother with chilling the dough, you will need to dust the parchment paper and cookie cutters well before working with the dough.  For a cold dough, the picture shows about how much dusting you will need.

I used a gingerbread man cookie cutter.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.

If you would like you can add frosting as well. (They really don't need it.) When I frost them, I use a fast hard-drying royal icing mix.  I am sure they will taste as good with your favorite frosting mix!

And there you have it, delicious gingerbread cookies! These don't last long at my house!

If you liked this post, you may also like:

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Make Your Own Potpourri: Part III

Making your own potpourri is fun and easy! It is particularly rewarding when you can gather your own ingredients and dry them yourself.  That is what I did for most of the ingredients I used in this recipe. You can see here and here how I gathered my own ingredients and dried them.  Today, I am going to show you how to put it all together.

Here is the recipe.  This recipe was listed in Part I of this series as well:

Refreshing Lavender Potpourri
2 cups lavender flowers
1 cup costmary
½ cup peppermint leaves
6 tablespoons rosemary leaves
2 tablespoons each juniper berries and allspice berries
4 tablespoons orris root powder
4 drops lavender oil
2 drops each rosemary and peppermint oil

When combining the ingredients for potpourri, it is not necessary to have every item or the quantities listed.  The beauty of making your own is that you can do it anyway you want! For example, I didn't have 1/2 cup of peppermint leaves so I added rose leaves instead. I also didn't have 1 cup costmary. I changed the amount of some of the other ingredients: I added 4 tablespoons of juniper berries and only 2 tablespoons of orris root. My orris root is in chunks, not a fine powder. I also added some additional items not in the recipe to give it some color and visual interest.

I usually mix potpourri in metal tins (the kind Christmas cookies and candy come in.) I like metal tins because it holds the scent well and I can't smell it at all until I take the top off.  This is important because I make many different kinds of potpourri and I don't want them all competing with each other. Once you mix the potpourri, 'rest' it for a few weeks to let the scents combine. The metal tins are a great way to do this as well. You can use the tin for decoration until the potpourri is ready to display!

I started with lavender flowers.  I grew and harvested some this year but I didn't get two cups worth so I supplemented mine with purchased lavender flowers.  Then I added some blue corn flowers. (I purchased these too.) I purchase my potpourri supplies from here. I am sure if you try an Internet search, you can find other suppliers as well. I add these corn flowers to many of my recipes because the color matches the decor in my family room. Then I added the juniper berries I had gathered and dried this past spring.

Next,  I added the rose leaves. I didn't measure, I just added them until it looked like it was enough.

After I added the orris root and rosemary, I felt the mix didn't have enough texture so I added some wood chips.

Then I added the scents. I used essential oils that are in my soapmaking supplies. You can purchase scents in large quanities from soapmaking suppliers or you can go to a health food store and get small bottles. The San Francisco Herb Company link I listed above also has essential oils. I kept to the ratios listed in the original recipe but I didn't use drops. I used 1/4 teaspoon each of rosemary and peppermint. I added 1/2 teaspoon of lavender.

Next, I put the top on the tin and shook well. Really well. To help the scents blend, it is best to shake the tin daily for a few weeks. This is where using a decorative tin comes in! If I put this in the closet I would forget to shake it.  By putting it in a tin that can be used as a decoration, I keep the potpourri where I will see it on a daily basis. Then every time I pass by it, I shake it for a few minutes. Sometimes I will shake it several times a day.  I placed this tin by the front door. Every time I went out the front door, I shook the tin for a minute or two.  Here you can see the tin in the lower right hand corner of the picture. The tin is sitting on top of another tin. That larger tin is holding a different potpourri blend.

After a few weeks, the potpourri is ready to use!  Isn't it pretty?

This potpourri will stay in the tin until Christmas is over. (I currently have some Christmas potpourri on display.) When the tree comes down, the Refreshing Lavender Potpourri will liven up my family room all winter!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Festival of the Nativity

I had the opportunity to experience a Festival of the Nativity put on by my Stake this past weekend. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For those of you who are not familiar with the term 'Stake'; a Stake is a regional grouping of individual congregations, which our church calls Wards. We have 11 Wards in our Stake.

The nativity displays were donated by church members for the purpose of the festival. Many church members serve missions all over the world and purchase Nativity displays while visiting different countries.  I have posted some pictures below so you can see some of the beautiful nativity scenes that were on display.

The first picture was what greeted us as we walked into the building.

I think the ones I liked the best were the very large displays...

and the very tiny ones.

In addition, there was a room full of Nativity displays tailored to children...

and a room that displayed paintings and sculptures that depicted the life of Jesus Christ.

Just a few more pictures...

While people were viewing the displays, other church members were singing beautiful Christmas carols.  We had a lovely time!

Visitors are always welcomed at any Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You are welcome to walk in at any time or you can go to this website, locate the church nearest you (anywhere in the world!) and call the local phone number. Someone will be happy to meet you there (or pick you up at your house) so you don't have to go to church alone. What you will find at our church are people filled with love. Love for our Heavenly Father, his son Jesus Christ, and each other.

I hope you take some time out this holiday season to enjoy the festivities!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Mozzarella Cheese

Do you have 30 minutes to spare? In about the time it takes to make dinner, you can have your own delicious mozzarella cheese!

Now I know that there are 30 minute cheese recipes all over the Internet.  However, I think most instructions lack detail. At least when I was starting out, I thought they lacked detail that I needed to know.  My post today should help to clarify any questions you may have when reading instructions from others. Let's make some cheese!

It wouldn't be cooking with food storage if we didn't use powdered milk. For new readers, we are not talking about the powdered milk you get at the grocery store. In my opinion, that stuff isn't edible! I use Provident Pantry from Emergency Essentials. This stuff tastes like regular skim milk from the grocery store!  The non-fortified milk is excellent too!

Full disclosure, I am not compensated in any way for mentioning suppliers. I am just a satisfied customer recommending them because I know you will get good service and a good product.

You can use just plain powdered milk and get great cheese but I always add some cream to it as well. In the past, I have used Gossner shelf stable cream. However, that isn't available here in the south so I have to order it over the Internet and have it shipped to me. In the interest of finding a better way, last month I went to Trader Joe's and bought some of their shelf stable cream.  It is about the same price and I saved on shipping. It is really good! (I haven't made butter with it yet - that will be the true test!)

You should make up the milk ahead of time and let it chill for 6 to 12 hours.  I made the milk yesterday afternoon and made the cheese this morning. To make one gallon of milk, add four cups of powder to 1 gallon of water and wisk it together.  (I always use very warm water to ensure the powder mixes well.) Don't add the cream yet.

Next, pour the gallon of milk into a stainless steel pot. Remove one cup of the milk. You will be replacing it with one cup of cream later.

Prepare the rennet by dissolving it in water. If using rennet tablets, cut the tablet into quarters - you don't need the entire tablet. If using liquid rennet, use 1/4 tsp.  I use tablets, they store for years in the freezer. The tablets I use are vegetable rennet.  Here is a picture of mine before adding water.

It is best to use cool chlorine-free water. I used room temperature bottled water. Dissolve the tablet (or liquid) into 1/4 cup water. Stir until dissolved and set aside.

Now, mix 2 tsp of citric acid into one cup of cool, chlorine-free water. I used room temperature bottled water here too.

You can get rennet tablets and citric acid at any cheesemaking store. I usually get mine from here. I think Lehman's also carries them. (Lehman's is a great company too - just price shop before ordering, they can be a bit expensive.) Citric acid is a critical ingredient in many homemade products. I use it in making hand lotion as well as cheese.  I buy food grade and keep a five pound bucket in my food storage program.

Place the pot of milk on the stove and add one cup of cream.

When adding shelf stable cream, you should shake it well before opening the carton. Some of the cream solids will be left in the carton if you don't shake it.  I usually forget to shake mine so I have to open the entire top and scoop the cream solids out with a spoon.

Now stir the cream and milk vigorously. I mean really vigorously! (Well, as vigorously as you can without splashing and spilling it.) If you scraped the cream solids into the pot instead of shaking the carton well before you poured it, you will have to stir vigorously for a while to incorporate the cream solids into the milk. You will know you are finished when the cream and milk don't separate.  You shouldn't be able to tell you even added the cream.

When you stop stirring, and the milk and cream aren't separating, add the citric acid. You should start stirring again when adding the citric acid but I don't have three arms so I can't do that and take a picture at the same time!

Stir well (stirring vigorously is not needed here) when adding the citric acid. You should stir about one minute. Heat the milk to 90 degrees. Sir while heating.  Be careful here, 90 degrees is not that hot and you could overheat the milk. Use a thermometer for best results.
When the milk is at 90 degrees, remove from heat and slowly add the rennet. I always stir the rennet again before adding to ensure it is dissolved well.

To add the rennet slowly, I dribble it in. A few drops at a time. The rennet should be stirred in for 30 seconds. However, the stirring here should be in an up and down motion.  This motion is completely unnatural to me and feels weird when I do it. You must resist the temptation to stir horizontally around the pot! I usually dribble in about half the rennet, stir a bit and then dribble in the rest and stir for an additional 20 seconds. Then cover the pot and leave undisturbed for five minutes. I always leave mine for six to seven minutes. The time isn't as important as what is supposed to happen to the milk. The curds should distinctly separate from the whey. 
The curds should have the consistency of custard. The whey should be a yellow color. If the whey is a bit white and milky, let it sit longer.

Using a very long knife that will reach to the bottom of the pot, cut the curds into one inch strips.

Turn the pot a bit and cut the curds again at a 90 degree angle to the first cut. When you are finished, the curds should look like little one inch squares.

Put the pot back on the stove and heat the curds to 110 degrees. While you are heating, stir the curds slowly.  Really slow.  (OK, let me add here that you are back to normal stirring now.) Use a thermometer for best results, don't heat the curds to over 110 degrees. In addition, if you don't get the curds up to 110 degrees, you will not have a firm cheese that holds it shape well. Here is what it looks like as you start to heat and stir. The second picture was taken at the half way point. The last picture is what it looks like when it gets to 110 degrees.

Remove from the heat and stir an additional two to five minutes.  If you would like a softer cheese, stir for two minutes. If you want your cheese to be as firm as what you find in the grocery store, stir for five minutes.

You can now remove the cheese from the whey. You can pour the cheese into a colander in the sink and discard the whey if you would like. I like to save the whey to make bread. So, to do that, I have to scoop the cheese out of the pot. I still do it in the sink and place the cheese in a colander so the whey will drain. A slotted spoon helps a lot.

Triple check the pot of whey to make sure you got all the cheese out. Every time I think I got it all, I stir around some more and find a chunk of cheese!  When you have finished, place the cheese in a microwave safe bowl.

Now I am sure everyone realizes that a microwave is not needed to make cheese. People have been making cheese for centuries. However, the first time you make it, a microwave is very helpful to get an understanding of what the cheese should look like as it is heated. You are trying to heat the cheese to 135 degrees.  The microwave does it fast and easy. After you have made cheese once or twice, you can heat the cheese in a pan of hot water (really hot - 185 degrees hot). The next time I make mozzarella cheese I will use the hot water method and show you how to do it.  For now, we will use the microwave. Heat on high for one minute. Here is a picture of mine.

See the whey in the bowl? As you heat the cheese in the microwave, you will get additional whey separation. Pour this whey off. Using your spoon (you can use your hands as well), fold the cheese over to get it into one piece. You can add salt now as well. I used one tablespoon.

If you fold the cheese over a few more times and take a taste, the cheese will taste salty.  Don't worry! You didn't add too much salt.  Wait to taste the cheese until later. Place the cheese back in the microwave for 30 seconds more.

Now is the fun part! Take the cheese out of the bowl and stretch it!  Be careful because it is hot! You can wear rubber gloves if you want to. I never do. (This requries both hands so my husband took the picture.)

The goal is to stretch it until it is smooth and shiny.  If the cheese won't stretch, place it back in the microwave for 30 seconds. Once it is smooth and shiny, continue to pull it like taffy for a while longer. The more you work the cheese, the firmer it will be. Don't be afraid to really work it here. Other instructions I read in the past say if you overwork the cheese it will end up dry. My goal is to get a cheese that is as firm as store bought. To get it that firm, you really must work it. If you don't get it that firm, it will still taste good.  It will just be a bit softer. When you have finished, shape the cheese into a ball. You can also shape it into a log, roll it into little balls, or add some herbs and spices and then shape it. 

This last step is important. Place it in ice water (or really cold water) to cool the cheese down. You want to cool it down quickly so it will hold its shape and stay smooth. Cheese that cools down slowly can loose its shape and have a grainy texture. Cooling in cold water prevents this. It only needs to stay in the water a few minutes. Here is a picture of mine.

And there you have it! Delicious mozzarella cheese you made yourself from powdered milk!

If you find that your first batch of cheese is too soft to grate or cut well, place it in the freezer for a few minutes and it will firm up and make it easier to cut. Then, on your second batch, take note of the steps mentioned above that will help make the cheese firmer.  It took me about four batches to get my cheese firm enough for my liking.

Happy cheesemaking!