Monthly Archives: May 2012

Bacon Jerky, Bacon Bits, Smug Satisfaction

Your mouth just watered, didn’t it?

Saturday, my Dad offered me a piece of store-bought bacon jerky and changed my life.  Bacon, any time of the day?  Bacon you could eat without getting your hands (too) greasy?  Well, okay!

So I immediately went home and took some bacon out of the freezer.  Except I couldn’t wait a whole day for it to thaw, so I defrosted it in the microwave.  It was still partially frozen when I stuck it in the dehydrator…

This bacon came from an impulse buy at the IGA a few months ago.  It was like 14lbs for $10.00, or something ridiculous, and naturally, you get what you pay for.  This is terrible bacon.  I hate cooking it because it makes my house smell like some strange chemical, not delicious bacon.  As you can see from the above picture, it’s also really fatty, and looks more like ham than bacon.

Anyway, I though “Hey!  Maybe it will taste good like this!”  So I trimmed off all the excess fat, and diced all of the smaller pieces into bacon bits.

You’ll need a fruit leather tray for bacon bits, so they won’t fall through the grid.

Turn the dehydrator on the hottest setting, and check back in 2-3 hours!

I actually over-dried mine slightly.  I think they would have been a little chewier a half an hour prior to when I remembered them.

The bacon bits turned out really good though.

The Verdict

This is a total game changer!  I can’t believe I never thought to make bacon jerky before!  I’m definitely going to do this again soon with some GOOD bacon, because the underlying chemical taste was still present, unfortunately.  I recommend starting with good bacon, and not cheap discount boxed bacon that you have to sort into 1-lb increments.  Go figure.

I will say that I’m pretty pleased (aka, “smug”) to have made my own bacon bits.  What a money-saver!  I feel like I just freed myself a little from the grocery store.  (Never mind that I still have to get the bacon there…)

And both of my children loved it, so that’s a huge score to have a handy protein snack on hand for them.

Note: While I think it’s probably fine to leave the bacon jerky out on the counter in a baggie or jar since most bacon is cured with preservatives, I have been keeping mine in the refrigerator and it has not affected it’s quality or texture.

 

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Categories: Beef, Dehydrating, Leftovers, Venison | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Somewhat Staycation

Last week we did a “staycation”, the idea of which is to stay home, ignore all of life’s other demands and simply enjoy your property and spend time together as a family.

That was the plan, anyway.

Tuesday I went shopping with my Mom.  Wednesday Ty and I ditched the kids for a date night.  Thursday I went grocery shopping.  Friday we spent the entire day having an actual vacation at Cedar Point.

Despite our inability to remain home for one week, we still accomplished almost half of what we had planned!  Mostly, we worked outside.  I planted my garden, which was a bit of a process.  I decided this year, after failing MISERABLY last year in the fight against weeds, to try Square Foot Gardening.  This particular method of gardening practically guarantees that I will not have to fight the weeds, especially if I go the extra step and replace my existing garden soil with “Mel’s Mix”, which is equal parts vermiculite, compost (from 5 different sources), and peat moss.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Once I located all the stuff it actually was fairly easy.  It was a bit tricky to find a reasonable price on the vermiculite and I miscalculated how much of each I actually needed TWICE so there was a lot of driving around, a lot of getting dirty, and actually a pretty decent amount of money invested in just setting up these raised beds.  However, it’s all done and from now on I only need to add compost each year!  It’s almost entirely planted (still need to plant corn, potatoes, watermelon, and pumpkin) and on it’s way to being gorgeous!

In the back row I planted pickles that will climb the trellis, in front of that is two different kinds of tomatoes, then a row of beets, and finally a row of basil and some sorry-looking cilantro

Cucumbers in the back 4 squares that will climb the trellis, more tomatoes ahead of those, then the rest of the squares are a mix of bush green beans, spinach, and snap peas that I don’t expect to spout because it’s been so hot here!

This bed has 8 Roma tomato plants and romaine lettuce, and eventually will have 2 watermelon plants and 2 pumpkin plants that I will grow up the fence.

The two middle plots aren’t planted yet. The front one will have white, red and sweet potatoes, and the back one will be all corn. The orange mutt is Toby, the rotten boy dog.  He is inspecting his own footprints atop my romaine seeds, *sigh*

I realize it isn’t much to look at and that I still need to trim that weed cloth, but believe me, it’s an improvement from the end of the season last year!  I had foolishly decided that since I could handle a 20×16 bed in 2010, I could handle a 20×40 bed in 2011.  Long story short, I couldn’t.  So now we’ve seeded that giant bed, and by the end of the summer this year, the above picture will be much better looking.  Hopefully there will be grass where there is dirt/weeds, and those sad-looking boxes will be overflowing with a healthy harvest!

At any rate, I’m pretty thrilled to have it planted and growing!

We also did some landscaping.  Here is a “before” picture for you:

Spring 2011

Mostly weeds.  Some daffodils, a few perennials, some incredibly invasive and annoying ivy, lots of chives, and several good patches of poison ivy.  No, thank you!

Nothing a roto-tiller, a mild afternoon and some mulch couldn’t handle!  After:

Spring 2012

Yes, please!  Eventually it will be filled in with more color, and I did plant some annuals that should blossom and take up some space, but even with just the mulch down I am so happy!  To think, I can actually walk down my sidewalk without being scratched by overgrown plants!  The daffodils should still come up next spring, but if they don’t I did reserve a lot of the bulbs that I can replant, because those are beautiful when they come in!

Some other things we did:

We used some pavers from a different project to encase three of the trees in the front yard and filled them in with mulch. Ty also trimmed the trees to head-hight so he can mow around them without getting concussions. They look beautiful!

Ty trimmed up the tree next to our fire pit and mulched around. The black mutt is Mica, the rotten girl dog. After I snapped this shot I realized what she was doing, which was rolling in another animal’s feces. And people wonder why I’m a cat person. Cats would never do that. Dogs are gross!

Filled three of my pots with annuals! I can’t wait for these beauties to fill out!

I weeded and mulched the back of the house. It looks great to see just hostas and not a pile of weeds!

Cozy and I planted 8 ever-bearing strawberry plants and mulched with straw.

Some of the plants already have berries on them! I think I’m supposed to snip them, though so they’ll have a bigger yield…need to research that.

One of our Mulberry Trees has some blossoms! This is our third summer in this house, and the first one that we’ll get mulberries! I know most people don’t get excited over a “weed tree”, but I’ve always loved mulberries, and summer just isn’t summer without purple-stained toes!

Categories: Gardening, Journal | Tags: , , , , ,

Sun-Dried Tomatoes Vs. Dehyrator-Dried Tomatoes

I stumbled upon a book a few weeks ago that immediately intrigued me.  The title alone drew me in:  Preserving Food Without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation.  I mean, come on, any book that completely summarizes it’s contents within it’s own title has to be a quick, easy read, right?   As it turned out, most of the recipes in there were a little far-fetched even for me.  It is a pretty interesting book, and I do recommend borrowing a copy from your library.  It’s basically a cookbook with a collection of authors almost exclusively from charming French provinces.  While I can appreciate the nutrients saved by not subjecting foods to extreme heat or cold to preserve, most of the recipes were obscure enough (chestnuts in vinegar and a bucket?) that I simply couldn’t see myself actually consuming the products.  And who has time to put up food they won’t ever eat?  The different methods of preservation NOT involving the ones that are so common and available to us today (canning and freezing) are pretty cool though.  I mean, this is hard-core Prairie Mama stuff, and normally I’d be all over such adventures.  But as I said, I just cannot see my my family passing oil-packed cottage cheese that’s been stored in my basement around the table.  Ick.

There was one recipe I did immediately try, however.  Sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil.  Easy-peasy, right?

Sigh.

Nothing is ever easy-peasy for this Prairie-Mama-Wannabe.  I probably would have starved my 14 children if their existence depended soley on my food preservation skills.  (That and the fact that my husband wouldn’t shoot a deer if the darn thing was foaming at the mouth.)  Although at least we’d all be skinny…

I digress.  Let’s get to the point of the post, shall we?

Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in oil

What you will need:

  • Small tomatoes, like cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Gauze or cheesecloth (or a old window screen, if you’re a hillbilly)
  • Coarse salt
  • Oil

Directions:

Wash your tomatoes and slice them in half the long way.  I was able to catch my daughter’s nap and prepare mine while watching repeat episodes of “The Nanny”.  I will subject you to Dagny’s perfect baby cuteness now:

Don’t you just want to pinch those sweet chubby thighs?

I placed my halves on one of my dehydrator trays, but any platter will work.  Next, sprinkle the halves liberally with the salt, cover with the cheesecloth and set in the sun.

Yeah, that’s a window screen you are seeing.  I didn’t have any cheesecloth and I live out in the middle of nowhere and wasn’t about to drive 30 minutes just to have a classier picture to post.

Not that I didn’t seriously consider it…

Ok, what really happened was that I assumed I had cheesecloth or at least something that would have worked and went ahead and cut up all the tomatoes and salted them before confirming that fallacy.

Can I get some props for creativity?  It actually worked to my advantage anyway because we had some pretty intense wind the days I had this outside, and I think it would have created a problem with anything lighter than my window screen.

Anyway, this is the tricky part of drying foods in the sun:  They actually need to BE IN THE SUN.  Not the dark, not the rain, and definitely not the hail.  Seems pretty common sense, but common sense and Chelsea Daniels have very little in, well, common.

The directions say to turn the tomatoes twice a day and to bring them in at night ‘lest the dew undo the day’s drying.

The first flip

You know what else completely undoes a day of drying?  A storm.  A big, country-style, tornado-looking storm, complete with hail.

That’s right.  I thought to take pictures of The Storm, but didn’t think to Bring In The Tomatoes.  Doh!

It’s okay, the next day was sunny and warm.  I was kind of starting from scratch again, but by the end of the day they were shriveling nicely.

At the start of Day 3, I left to go grocery shopping, remembered my tomatoes and texted my husband (at the store, not on the road 🙂 ) to please set them out in the sun for me.

At the start of Day 4, I remembered my tomatoes and realized they spent the night outside.  In the dew.  Oh, and the rain.  Of course.

Let’s just skip forward to the “done” part.  What should have taken 2, maybe 3 days of attentiveness took ME 7 days.  But sun-dry they did finally do, and NOW we get to the true easy-peasy-ness of this recipe.

Slap those time-sucking shells of what once ’twere tomatoes into a mason jar, fill it to within 3/8 inch headspace with olive oil, screw the lid on, set it in your pantry and stop wasting any more time on them!

Except I couldn’t quit thinking about them.  I was irritated that they had proved to be such a task for me, and I was irritated with myself for being irritated.  I decided to see if there was any true benefit to sun-drying them as opposed to sticking them in the dehydrator.  Do they taste better from the sun?  Sun tea does have a slight advantage over stove tea.  Suntans have a serious advantage over tanning bed tans.  Surely true sun-dried tomatoes have a magic in them that the dried bits from my dehydrator cannot match.

Of course I tested this theory:

Dehydrated Tomatoes

The brand name is kind of ironic, since I used these in the dehydrator…

What you will need:

  • Small tomatoes
  • A Dehydrator
  • Coarse salt (optional, but recommended)

Directions:

This truly is easy-peasy.  Slice up the tomatoes, lay them on the dehydrator tray, (I only used one tray because we just don’t consume many dried tomatoes) salt them, turn it on the “fruits and vegetables” setting, and in about 6 hours (depending on how packed your dehydrator is) you’ll have dried tomatoes!  Pack them in a glass jar with oil to 3/8″ headspace, seal them with a lid tightly, and store in a cool place.

The Verdict

If you aren’t as flighty as I am, sun-dried is the way to go.  The sun-dried tomatoes had a richer, fuller-bodied flavor than the dehydrated tomatoes.  I actually forgot to salt the dehydrated tomatoes (I said I was flighty!), too, and the salt on the sun-dried ones was really a nice touch.  If you are prone to forgetfulness like someone else I know, the good news is that the dehydrated tomatoes are still quite tasty, and absolutely worth it.  I was pleased to discover that I really liked the oil-packed tomatoes, and can envision myself wrapping them in basil leaves for a snack, or scattering them over a fresh salad.  I will be making these again, and I will most definitely be using my ditz-proof dehydrator!

Even Dagny wants to try one!

 

*Note* This recipe did not say how long these tomatoes will last.  Use your discretion and inspect the tomatoes for any spoilage before consuming.

Categories: Dehydrating, Fruit, High-Acid, Leftovers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Check It Out!

Like my new logo and layout?  I was persuaded by my very convincing nephew to allow him to give my blog a facelift.  Didn’t he do a great job?  What a lucky Aunt I am!

Don’t let that fool you, though.  He’s still a punk who is totally going to get his rear-end handed to him at the Gaylord Triathlon.  🙂

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post!  Sun-dried tomatoes!

 

Categories: Uncategorized

Steak Bites

This isn’t necessarily “preserving” food, but using up leftovers rather than wasting them is related to food preservation, right?.

In our house, leftover steak is about as rare as leftover wine, but occasionally both those things happen.  (You know, once a decade or so).  More frequently, we have cuts of meat that aren’t super tender or perhaps were accidentally overcooked.  What to do with these bits?  You could make them into stew, where the rich, thick texture of the broth and the tenderness of the vegetables would probably mask the chewy-ness of the steak, OR you could make a meal that will encourage you to restrain from eating a whole steak just to be able to make steak bites!  I first stumbled upon this recipe when trying to learn how to cook cube steaks.  We started buying bulk beef when we moved out to the country 2 years ago, and among the cuts from the mixed quarter I was familiar with, were several I was not.  What’s a London Broil?  What’s an arm roast?  What’s a cube steak?  I think before getting this beef I must have imagined cows were only made into ground beef, ribeye, filets, porterhouses, and strip steaks.  My eyes have been opened to this amazing world of flavor and variety, and my keyboard is beginning to fade from searching for new recipes!

This one is a keeper.  I would also go as far to say that probably anything Ree, the Pioneer Woman comes up with is a keeper.  (In fact, just in the time it took me to find this link amongst all her delicious recipes I got sidetracked and planned out half of next week’s menu…) But this for sure is one of the most delicious meals to grace my kitchen, and is oh-so-easy to make!  For the full recipe using cube steaks, check out this blog.

This is my slightly modified version that I use for a quickie fix for leftover steak.

Steak Bites

What You Will Need:

  • Leftover steak, sliced thin against the grain
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Butter (Yes, I admit to using light butter.  Ree would probably kill me, but it’s a trade-off.  With real butter I can’t eat as many of these bites and still fit into my jeans.)

Directions:

You want about equal parts Worcestershire and butter, and enough of both of those things to make a decent amount of sauce to saute your steak pieces in.  You’ll have to eyeball it depending on how much steak you have.  First step: melt the butter in the pan.  Once it’s melted, toss your steak in there and add the Worcestershire.

(I had some raw steak that I threw in there first to cook it up before adding the leftover steak that was already cooked.  I also didn’t melt the butter first because I was too hungry impatient.  It still turned out awesome.)

Flip it around a bit until the steak is warm, (warm, not burnt to a crisp!  It’s ok if there’s still some pink!  Pink is good!) then enjoy!  These are great just as they are (even cold!) or are also great made into a sandwich on buttered toasted rolls.  If you’re an onion-lover, you could also caramelize some in the butter before adding the steak, too.

Go make it, then come back and rave!

Categories: Beef, Leftovers | Tags: , , , , , ,

Freezer Foods: A Borrowed List

Pinterest is such a great resource.  Like Facebook, Blu-Ray and smartphones, it’s one of the many technological advances that I resisted inviting into my life and later regretted waiting so long to do.  I’ve only been “on” Pinterest for a few months now, but have already discovered so many clever ways to do different things, or ways to turn mundane household items into something life-enhancing.  Mostly I just “pin” these ideas, store them away for a day when I’m staring at a wall with nothing to do.  It’s hard to imagine such a day exists!  But my favorite thing about Pinterest so far is all the really, super cool blogs it has lead me to!  I saw a pin for foods that can easily be frozen and checked it out.  It lead me to Andrea’s blog, Simple Organized Living, where I stayed, fascinated, for the next hour and ravaged her blog.  She covers a range of topics from organization to frugal living and homemade natural cleaning products as well as some other topics.  I recommend checking it out!  For now, here’s the gist of her post on freezing foods:

Freezable Foods

  • Breads
  • Baking Supplies
  • Dairy
  • Fruits
  • Herbs and Vegetables
  • Meals (Soups, Casseroles, Meats)

Click the link above to read explanations on how to freeze these foods!  I would say from my own freezing experience so far, I don’t care for the taste of some bread, especially buns, that come from the freezer.  A loaf of store-bought bread seems to be fine, but buns for some reason just taste stale to me.  I would also say that when I made meals ahead of time and freeze them, I usually just freeze the protein/sauce of the meal, and add the carbohydrate, like noodles or rice, later.  Grains freeze just fine in soups or sauces, but if they’re just resting underneath a sauce and not mixed in, they don’t taste as good as when made fresh.  That’s really just my own opinion, though!

Also check out this follow-up post:  Freezer Cooking FAQ’s.  Really good stuff!

And if you haven’t checked out Pinterest yet, don’t put it off any longer!  It’s not just for women, either.  It is basically Google Images, except easier to navigate.

Anyone else have any really good freezer recipes?  Also, anyone want to enter into a cheerful debate on upright freezers vs. chest freezers?  I have an upright that came with our house and love it, but have heard some good arguments for chest freezers as well.

P.S. Anyone else notice that Andrea uses {these} instead of (these)?  I was immediately drawn to the “pretty parentheses” so don’t be surprised if you start seeing MY blog graced with those.  😉

Categories: Freezing

Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup

Part of my quest in canning is to eliminate all commercially canned items from my pantry.  A big one, especially around any of the winter holidays is Campbell’s condensed cream soups.  I mean, who wants to just eat regular old vegetables when you can smother them in creamy goodness and bake every last nutrient out?  Okay, fine, I’ll eat vegetables the way God intended them for most of the year.  But when it’s a holiday, by golly I will make them taste good!  And yes, my birthday counts as a holiday.  So do Friday nights.

This is a pretty good recipe!  It doesn’t taste exactly like Campbell’s, but I would actually dare to say it is better.  It has a richer, more honest flavor.  I did add a little extra salt because we’re so used to Campbell’s, and I am still gradually weaning my family off of a high-sodium lifestyle. I got the recipe from Six Sister’s Stuff.  That link will take you to a delicious recipe, including how to make your own Hidden Valley Ranch spice packet!  I made that the same night as this cream of chicken soup, mixed it together and served it with chicken over rice.  It was pretty tasty, but I want to try their slow cooker recipe with pork chops next.

Condensed Cream of Chicken Soup                                                                            (Yields 3 cups of soup, which is equal to about 2 cans of Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken.)

What you will need:

1 1/2 cups chicken broth*
1/2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp parsley
1/8 tsp paprika
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 cup flour (can use gluten free flour)

Directions:
1. In medium-sized saucepan, boil chicken broth, 1/2 cup of the milk, and the seasonings for a minute or two (longer if using fresh onions or garlic).
2. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 cup of milk and flour. Add to boiling mixture and continue whisking briskly until mixture boils and thickens.
*This is especially flavorful if you make your own chicken stock!
I doubled this recipe, used some for dinner that night, refrigerated some more for another meal, and froze the rest!  It’s not recommended to can foods with dairy, unfortunately, because the fat in dairy could encapsulate any bacteria in the product, and even the heat from pressure canning isn’t high enough to permeate it.  That’s fine, just freeze it!  I agree it would be more convenient to be able to can it, but it probably isn’t worth the risk.
Categories: Freezing, Leftovers, Low-Acid, Poultry, Soup

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