Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Berry Ambrosia

The inspiration for this recipe came from my Good Housekeeping Cook Book, written in 1955. I found it in the "dessert" section, but like all good desserts, it doubles beautifully as a breakfast. Ahem.

It's one of those "no recipe" dishes that you can toss together when you haven't thought ahead, y'know, like today, for instance. Sometimes I think we make food more complicated than it needs to be. I most often use a variety of summer berries, sometimes out of the freezer and partially frozen. It's nothing revolutionary, as you can see, but the best part is the creamy, tangy, slightly sweet topping.

Here is the "recipe":
sour cream
powdered sugar or honey
vanilla, all mixed to taste. 100_1135 The original recipe includes grapes with coconut flakes sprinkled on top as well. I usually make up individual bowls, but you could also do as the recipe suggests, "Serve buffet style, in pretty bowl; top with small blobs of sour cream." (I subscribe to the "big blob will do ya" school myself...)
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Thursday, June 20, 2013

radish overload

As far as I can tell, there were two reasons God created the radish.

The first was to help gardeners mark rows of carrots.  The second was to prepare us all for zucchini season.  Radishes all seem to be ready at the same time and in great quantities if you've planted lots of carrots.  Besides that, they aren't especially versatile.

So there I was this spring, thinking that everything was peachy in the radish department until Captain Awesome came home one afternoon and dropped the bombshell that he was growing weary of golf ball-sized radishes in his lunch every day.  Too many fresh vegetables make him feel like a cow, he says, and his jaw gets tired of frantic munching on his short lunch break.  I had already been making regular radish deliveries to the neighbor, so what to do next?

Why, radish jam to the rescue.  I ran across the recipe in one of my cookbooks years ago and it so intrigued me that I had to try it.  And this year was time for another round.  Does radish jam sound a little too weird for you?  Well, it's nothing you'd want to put on a peanut butter sandwich, but it does make an excellent little appetizer/snack when you top a cream cheesed cracker with it.  It's a bit of sweet horseradishy zing.

gorgeous natural color!

Radish Jam

2 c. shredded radishes
2 1/2 c. evaporated cane juice sugar
2 t. prepared horseradish
3/4 c. water
1 3/4 oz. package pectin

In a saucepan combine radishes, cane juice and water and stir over medium high heat until sugar dissolves.  Bring to a rolling boil and add the package of pectin, stirring until dissolved.  Bring to a rolling boil again and boil 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and skim off foam.  Stir in horseradish, pour into sterilized jars and seal.  Makes 3-4 8 oz. jars.

This post shared at Simple Lives Thursday.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Winging it in the kitchen

Have you ever looked at old cookbooks--the really old ones?  Many of the really old ones are dainty and rather sparse compared to the encyclopedic modern cookbooks.  And the recipes are generally only special occasion recipes.  How did they do everyday cooking?

I know an older woman--Seasoned Housewife, I'll call her--who took over the cooking in her family, which included 9 siblings, when she was 11 years old.  She rattles off recipes for homemade lasagna, (with from-scratch ricotta cheese and homemade noodles, naturally), doughnuts, and stroganoff from memory the same way the rest of us can recite instructions for making a tuna sandwich.  And she makes them all sound just as effortless. 

I recently asked her if she used a cookbook when she cooked.  She scoffed and said she only follows recipes when she makes a cake.  She thinks too many people just follow a recipe and aren't truly cooking--they don't know their ingredients or what combines well with other ingredients.  And, she emphasized, they don't taste enough along the way and show any intuition.

It made me wonder how much time I waste poring over a recipe, double checking to see if the recipe called for 1/2 t. or 1/4 t. of basil.   Seasoned Housewife explained to me how she uses her palm to estimate a teaspoon and a scoop of her hand to measure out flour and suggested I learn what different measurements look like in my own hand.  Although I have good kitchen sense, substitute ingredients when needed, and don't carefully level off measuring cups and spoons, this is a whole new angle.

A few weeks later I had my chance to try out this revolutionary (to me) technique when I called my mother-in-law for her sloppy joe recipe.  She hesitated, and said that she really didn't have a recipe, but could tell me the ingredients she used.  I winged my way through her vague recipe:

ground beef, fried with some chopped onion
ketchup, with a little water (enough to make the mixture "sloppy")
a squirt of mustard
brown sugar (I used sucanat)
a splash of vinegar

It worked!

No cans of sloppy joe sauce, no measuring cups, not even one measuring spoon.  I could get used to this.

This post has been linked to Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

And there went May

The fact that it is the 4th of June and I am finally noticing the end of the past month should say something, I think.

A few things I've learned in the past month:

One cannot clean the house from top to bottom and do a massive de-clutter that concludes with a garage sale and keep up on blogging consistently.
One can have scads of blog ideas rolling around in one's head, but they can't be recorded during wedding cake and graduation cake season.

One cannot undertake the task of managing and coordinating a growing farmer's market and still blog.

And one can most definitely not plant two gardens, keep up with soap production, and blog with proper frequency.

Whew.  What a spring.  But I am back now.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I made my own pop!

Or soda, if you're one of those more refined types.  I am Super Excited.  I started a little experiment about 10 days ago, and I finally know that it worked.  My experiment?  Making my own fruit juice pop without carbonated water or even yeast.

I've run across articles here and there on the internet for directions on making something called a ginger bug.  After reading enough that I felt a little ginger buggy myself, I just tried it.  And this is how I did it.

I started with fresh ginger that was really fresh looking, not wilted or wrinkled.  I peeled and minced it and added it to a jar with water and a little sugar.

Ginger Bug

2 t. minced fresh ginger
2 t. sugar (I used refined white)
3 c. water

Every day I added 2 more teaspoons of ginger and 2 more teaspoons of sugar.  I covered the jar tightly with a canning lid and screw top, but I think I should have covered it loosely, with a cloth and a rubber band. Regardless, it worked, even without proper airflow. (It probably worked because I opened it up and checked it 24,000 times a day for bubbles.) 

After a week or when you notice bubbles, strain out the ginger bug and add it to fruit juice or sweetened tea.  (As I understand it, sugar is essential. Some of it is "eaten up" in the fermentation process so you're not drinking all the sugar.)  Use a ratio of 1/4 c. ginger bug to 1 c. juice/tea.
ginger bug--ready to use

grape juice

For my first try, I used my home canned grape juice.  (It's cloudy because I never strained it.)  I mixed the two, closed the jar tightly and let it sit on the counter for 24 hours.  And just like the different directions I read, the mixture didn't look fizzy or anything at that time.  I transferred it to the fridge for another 24 hours-whew-and finally tried a sip last night.  It's Really Pop!  And it's fizzy!  And it tastes real!  I tried another sip at breakfast this morning and it's even fizzier, much like sparkling grape juice.

Captain Awesome has his own rating scale for my experiments.  He's not conscious of it, but I've learned the subtleties of his compliments.  "It's all right" is a polite non-compliment.   I have to ask questions and decipher anything labeled "OK."  "Not too bad" means the recipe is a keeper.  But this experiment got a "that's pretty darn good."  That's wildly successful.  I'm not sure if it's replace-Pepsi successful, but I'm on the right track.

You can't see much of the fizziness, but it's there!
I know it's significantly healthier than regular pop, but I'm going to look into this a little more to see how much sugar is used in the process.  I saw some warnings about not letting it sit on the counter too long, because it could turn wine-like, so the sugar does get eaten up.   Honey should not be used, I learned, because the antibacterial qualities of honey retard the fermentation.

It's also much, much cheaper.  I think I've used about $.25 worth of ginger and probably the equivalent in sugar.  And the juice was from my own grapes, so that cost is negligible.

This is only the beginning.  I want to try this with many more fruit juices and teas and of course, figure out the biggie--root beer.  So stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Yes, you can make your own soap

Lately I keep running into people who want to learn how to make their own soap.  Soapmaking can be an art form, most definitely, but it should also be a basic skill.  After all, up until the last hundred years or so, nearly all housewives knew how to make the soap for their families' needs.  Even though I make soap and sell it, I would like to see more people making their own.  There's nothing quite as nice as making your own anything.  So, R, I, and T--this tutorial is for you!  (And for you, too.)

This is my version of a fruit/veggie wash soap, using just olive and coconut oils, based on this recipe from the Soap Queen blog.  It's a mild, unscented soap, and very simple to make.  It's mild enough to use as a hand soap, as well.

Here are the very basic supplies you'll need--

I love this mold from Bramble Berry, but it's not an absolute necessity.  For the first several years of soaping, my primary molds were Rubbermaid plastic divider trays and a cardboard box that once carried cups of yogurt.  (Just line your molds with freezer paper, shiny side up.)


Lye is absolutely essential to making soap--it can't be made without it.  How else can you get oils and water to blend together and harden into a bar?  Lye (sodium hydroxide) can be dangerous stuff, but with a dose of caution, it shouldn't scare you away from making soap.  Take bleach, for example.  You most likely have a bottle of it in your house, but you keep it away from children, avoid the fumes, don't use it on your bare skin and use it strictly according to the directions.  Use the same precautions with lye.  Just wear safety glasses and gloves and wear socks and long sleeves on the off chance the lye mixture happens to splash.  You can also cover the counters with newspaper to make cleanup easier.

You can find lye at many hardware stores, in the plumbing aisle.  Make sure it's 100% sodium hydroxide; for the record, Draino is not. 

Measure as carefully as you can.  You'll definitely want a scale, so you don't have soap that won't harden or the other extreme, soap that will strip the first layer of skin right off....or at least feel like it!

The Recipe

14 oz. coconut oil
8 oz. olive oil
3.5 oz. sodium hydroxide
8 oz. distilled water

Weigh out the oils, either altogether into the pan or separately before adding to the pan.  Melt the oils over lowest heat.  I use a stovetop but some use a microwave.  I turn off the heat before all the coconut oil is melted and let the few remaining chunks melt on their own.  You want the oils melted, not hot.

Measure the water into a stainless steel or plastic bowl (don't use glass or aluminum.)  You'll notice that as you slowly sprinkle in the lye and stir to dissolve, the mixture heats up.  I usually set the bowl in a sink containing a few inches of cold water so the lye mixture won't get too hot and will cool down more quickly.   Stir carefully so you don't splash and make sure every lye crystal is dissolved.

The lye heating up the water
All lye is dissolved.
When the outside of the bowl is room temperature or slightly warm (not hot) to the touch, you are ready to mix with the oil.  Carefully pour the lye mixture into the melted oils and stir it with a stick blender.  You can also use a whisk, but it will take longer to thicken.

You will eventually notice that the mixture thickens and no longer separates.  When you can drizzle a stream of soap across the surface and it doesn't sink back into the mixture, it has reached trace.   It's now ready to pour into the mold.

See the drizzle across the top?
Pour into a mold and just leave to sit on a counter until it hardens.  I usually let it sit overnight (12 hours or so).  You will be able to tell if it's too soft to cut.  After it's cut/unmolded, I set the bars on pieces of plastic canvas to dry and cure for 4 agonizingly long weeks.  After that, you can keep a bar next to your sink and use it to wash all your produce (and of course, impress everyone with your new skill.) 

This is just a basic overview and if you find that you enjoy making your own soap, there are many sites to help you learn more about the science of soaping and how to make your own recipes with scents and colors.  Here is a great place to start and one of my favorite resources.

And that's it!  You have a way to clean your produce--it's inexpensive, you know all the ingredients and you made it yourself!  It's not so hard, huh? 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Little Lesson in Laundry

Have you done your laundry this week?  As I was doing mine, I thought that I'd collect some of the most valuable tips I have learned and share them with you.  Sadly, most people don't see laundry as a skill.  In treating it as a simple chore, many housewives have missed the finer points, of which here are but a few.

1. Don't keep reminding family members to clean out their pockets.  Do it yourself!  It provides the housewife with a Source of Income, including the highly valuable Garage Sale Quarters.  Keep an inconspicuous jar or piggy bank in the laundry room to collect your earnings.  I scored with $.97 in one pants pocket alone this week.

2. Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we send a couple of loose pairs of pantyhose through the wash cycle.  Add a bra or two and you have the makings for a family puzzle night.

3. Speaking of undergarments, be strategic about hanging it on the line.  Yes, you may have gotten fabulous clearance deals on underwear following the most recent holiday.  But remember, your neighbor won't be able to look at you in the eye when you see him around town.  He'll be wondering if you're wearing the St. Patrick's Day underwear with "Lucky" splashed across the backside or perhaps those Christmas wonders with candy canes that say "fa la la la la" all over.  Or maybe the cheapie panties you love that sag in the backside or have lost any sense of elasticity.   We all give our neighbors reasons to question our sanity, but let's not encourage the rumor mill run any faster.

The Distracted Housewife hanging laundry.  Note absence of undies on the line.
4. And for yet another thought on this same topic... When tossing underwear into the washer, make sure one leg is not caught over the center agitator.  Those panties will never fit you the same again.  Unless of course, you have a disorder in which one thigh is 8 times the size of the other, in which case finding underwear is just one of your many problems.  (Note: This is not simply a theory.)

Now, armed with this newly-discovered wealth of knowledge--let's get to that laundry with renewed vigor, housewives!!

This post linked to Simple Lives Thursday, WholeHearted Home Wednesday and Homestead Barn Hop.