Remodeling the Kitchen

The Blue Willow Plate

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When I was a little girl, my mother had me read Blue Willow, by Doris Gates, published in 1940. It’s a story about a little girl, Janey, whose father becomes a migrant worker in the San Joaquin Valley in California, in the 1930s. Janey’s prized possession is a Blue Willow plate that is both a family heirloom and a symbol of the permanent home she longs for.

When my daughter, Amy, was three or four years old, I found a Blue Willow patterned plate in a yard sale. I gleefully bought it, put a plate hanger on it, and hung it on my kitchen wall. I loved that plate and the memories of talking about the story with my mother that it evoked, and it served as a vehicle for introducing the story to Amy when it was her turn to read Blue Willow.

It was Amy’s job to dust the kitchen, and one day, when she was dusting the stuff hanging on the walls, my Blue Willow plate came crashing down. I heard it from the living room and came rushing in to see what had broken. My heart sank when I saw what was lying on the floor in pieces. My little girl held the dust cloth in her hand, a frightened look on her face.

I was angry. I treasured that plate, and I thought Amy had been careless because she didn’t like dusting. (She hated dusting, and I did too, when I was her age.) I don’t remember what I said to her, but I remember that it stung. I could see it in her face. I remember that she said she had been careful, but the plate had just fallen. I could tell that she felt really bad about the plate; it was written all over her. I picked up the plate and looked at the hanger. The nail it had been hanging on had pulled out of the wall. The same thing would have happened to me, if I’d been the one dusting the plate.

I gave Amy a big hug and told her that she was more important to me than the plate was, so much more important that she could not even imagine it. Feelings assuaged, Amy continued to dust the kitchen, and I picked up the pieces of the Blue Willow plate.

I almost threw the plate away. It was badly broken, and even if I glued it back together, the breaks would show. But then I thought that maybe I needed to mend the plate to remind me of a very important lesson: Never let things become more important than my kids or their feelings.

So I glued the Blue Willow plate back together as best I could, and I hung it back on the wall with a longer, stronger nail.

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When we remodeled the kitchen when Amy was about twelve, I ended up putting the plate in the space on top of the cabinets with some other blue treasures. (That is Amy’s 3rd grade painting of a clown on the wall.  Those of you who know me from UNR days might remember it hanging in our graduate teaching assistant office.)

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A few days ago, I started taking down, washing up, and packing up my cabinet top treasures in preparation for another kitchen renovation. The first thing I took down was the Blue Willow plate. Still broken and badly mended. Still beautiful to me.

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I wrapped the plate carefully and put it in the “save” box to put back up after the impending kitchen remodel is done. The lessons embedded in that plate are too valuable to lose. I hope that one day Amy will treasure it in her kitchen as much as I have always done.

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Remodeling the Kitchen

Remodeling the Kitchen

For somebody who uses her kitchen like I do, a remodel is both scary and exciting. It’s scary because I am going to be without a kitchen for months, potentially.  It’s exciting because I am getting what I have needed so badly since I started canning and preserving again:  more counter space.

Today, I started the process of packing up the kitchen in preparation for the demo.  I began by taking down, cleaning, sorting, and putting away my rustic treasures that I am saving to display in the new kitchen.  It took all afternoon to do one side of the kitchen!  And I haven’t even begun the process of emptying out the cabinets yet.  Yeah, it’s going to be scary and exciting both.

Because I won’t have a working kitchen for quite some time, I’ve already put some thought into how I’ll be cooking in the next couple of months.  I will probably have Dennis put up the propane camp stove on the dining table I need to refinish, so I can fry and saute.  I’ll have my crock pot for one pot meals.  What I will not have is an oven, unless I use the really crappy one in the travel trailer, and as cold as it is, I probably won’t.  And I will have to wash any utensils or pans in the hall bathroom, in a pan of water on the counter.  Like camping.  Fun.  Not.

So here’s the deal.  I’m going to chronicle the process here, for myself and for friends, of remodeling a kitchen.  We’ll be doing a lot of the work ourselves, so our mistakes (and I’m sure we will make some) might be instructive for somebody else attempting to renovate on a shoestring budget.  I’ll also be posting some recipes I’ve been either hanging on to, for one reason or another, or working on, so even if I can’t bake/cook them myself for the next couple of months, you can try them.

One reason I expect the reno to take so long is that it is going to take us some time to demo.  You know those shows where they take sledgehammers to old cabinets and clear out everything in a day?  Well, that’s not us.  Some of these knotty pine cabinets are still in good shape, and those will go in the pump houses, shed, and barn for storage.  (And maybe some might go in my guest cabin one day if I ever get to build it.) So the cabinets are going to be taken down carefully, not smashed to smithereens.  The counter top will be reused also.  I want to use a section of it in the laundry room to create a folding counter, and some of it might go in the cabin eventually.  We will be putting the sink, stove, and dishwasher back in.  I’d love to be able to replace the stove and dishwasher so they match the fridge and sink, but I don’t have the money to do that all in one whack.  We’ll make them match as they wear out and need to be replaced.  And once all the cabinets and fixtures are out, we have to peel off the green, checkerboard linoleum and put down unstained red oak hardwood, to match what is in the living room.  Yeah, it’s going to be a while before I’m cooking in that kitchen again.

To start the journey, here are some photos of the kitchen as it was today before I started taking down my treasures.

From the living room, looking down the 21′ length of the kitchen.

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From the table in the corner (which will be replaced by banquette benches and my other, expandable table that belonged to my mother-in-law), the only side of the kitchen that currently has counter tops.  Not enough!

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The big pantry cabinets, which are coming out, on the other side of the kitchen.  When these pantries were put in nearly 20 years ago, I needed them.  But now I have pantry storage in my laundry room, and I need counter space/work space more than I need pantries.  The new cabinets, uppers and lowers, will extend to about where the little telephone table is sitting.  Counter space!

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This photo shows the section of wall that is coming out to open the kitchen up a bit more to the living room.  The last time we remodeled, almost 20 years ago, we widened what was originally a door-width opening (the kitchen actually had an interior door on it at one time, before we bought the house).  Now we will widen that opening a bit more, about 3 1/2 feet, and the upper cabinet run will end on the section of wall that’s left.  No more corner cabinet.  The quartz counter top will butt up against a redwood burl slab, so that opening will function as a pass-through with a redwood bar top.  It will be live edge, so it will round the end of where the wall is now, extend out into the living/dining room space, and as my son says, “die back into the wall.”  It’s gonna be cool, people!  I have to pick the slab.  I’ve got several to choose from, so I should be able to find one that will work.

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This is a view of the section of wall that will be coming out.  The knotty cedar paneling in the living room will be carefully cut out (don’t want to lose any of that stuff!) and the opening will be supported and cased.  The burl bar top will come through the space where the wall is now and extend out a little way into the dining space.  That table you can just see, covered with a hand-crocheted lace tablecloth (made by my husband’s grandmother) expands from a console table size (40″ x 24″) to become large enough, with a fold-out and pull-out function and three leaves, to seat 12 people.  That table will go in the kitchen in the corner, for family dinners, and we will use another of Dennis’ burl slabs in the dining area to the right of the wall here to create a live edge dining table.

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So there it is, the old kitchen, and an idea of the new kitchen.  Our friend, Leonard Castro, put this kitchen in for us nearly 20 years ago.  It has served me well, and a lot of food has come out of this room, but it is time to make it easier for me to cook, can, and clean.  I’m excited, and scared because it’s going to be such a big job, but I never let being scared stop me from doing something I really want to do.  So, here we go!

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Recipes, Uncategorized

Rendering Bear Fat

I called this blog “Garden, Forest, Field” for a reason. Most of my posts are about the garden and what I harvest from it, and how I cook it or preserve it, with some recipes for using the wild game we eat, usually bear and venison and fish. The blog has evolved into a mostly-about-cooking-whatever-I’m-cooking blog, with occasional forays into the philosophical or the profound. (Thus speaks the former professor!)

Today’s post might seem a bit esoteric for some. I mean, how many of those who read this blog actually hunt, or hunt bears, or cook bear meat, or would have access to bear fat? Probably very few. It might be useful to note that this technique of rendering an animal’s fat works for any animal fat, so no matter what animal you harvest, if the meat is good, with a little extra work you can have a source of pure fat for cooking and baking.

Our pioneer forebears had to render animal fat. They needed it for all sorts of things. Fat lamps for light in the winter, fat for biscuits and bread, fat for waterproofing leather shoes and horse tack, fat for sealing the tops of crocks of pickled meats, fat for soap-making, fat for soothing winter-chapped hands, feet, and lips. Fat for calories on cold winter days and nights.

In our times, fat has been the enemy, and then the worm turned, and fat has become our friend. Healthy fat. Clean fat. (For the complete low-down on dietary fat, and I do mean complete, here’s a wonderful guide: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/choosing-healthy-fats.htm.)

As I was rendering fifteen pounds of bear fat yesterday, cut from the carcass of a young bear last September, I was thinking about that. Clean fat. Organic meat. Many, many people ask me, “What does bear meat taste like?” And they ask it with wrinkled nose and rolled-up eyes. I don’t know where this perception comes from, that bear meat is universally nasty. It can be. Any meat can be nasty, depending on what the animal has been eating. I’ve eaten nasty-tasting beef and pork. Which calls into question what the feed lots are feeding those animals and the horrific ways they are killed and processed. I have had nasty-tasting bear meat. When I was a kid, camping out for the summer with my parents up in the mountains to shorten my logger father’s travel time to work, somebody shot one of the bears who was getting into the garbage at the little dump for the company campground. We were given some of the meat. It was nasty. (We ate it, though!) It tasted like garbage. Well, duh. That’s what it had been eating! I would imagine that bears who’ve been feasting on fish would taste rather strong and fishy, although I’ve not ever eaten a fish-eating grizzly.

The black bears we harvest come from high in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains. They live far from human habitation, and they haven’t been eating garbage. Bears are omnivores, so they have been eating any and every thing they can get past their teeth. They aren’t big hunters, but they will capture and eat young fawns, small rodents, and large insects, as well as grubs and larvae from rotten stumps and logs, roots, berries, grass, and yes, carrion of all kinds. But it’s organic carrion! If bears lived on carrion alone, I suppose their flesh would taste nasty, but they don’t, so evidently a little carrion doesn’t hurt the meat’s flavor. There are very few fish anymore in the lakes and streams where we hunt, so the bears aren’t eating much fish. All this to say that the three bears we have taken from the mountains have been outstanding eating. And when you think about it, why wouldn’t they be? The bears have been eating a completely organic, completely natural diet. This is the highest order of clean meat, which is going to produce the highest order of clean fat.

The flavor of this bear meat is something like grass-fed beef, only better. It is more flavorful, although I would be hard pressed to explain how. When the bears are taken in the August hunting period, with a bow, they are still very lean. There is virtually no fat to harvest. The mid-September bear this year had a couple of inches of fat under the pelt, and it was so fresh and new, it liquefied in my hands as the guys cut it off and gave it to me to bag. I put 3 five-pound bags of fat into the travel trailer freezer, and that was the fat I rendered yesterday.

Before I started this process, I read about it online and asked friends who had rendered other fats. I’m thankful to those who have gone before me, especially David Draper, the Wild Chef, on the Field & Stream blog site, and my friend, Shannon Luzum. Here’s how I did it, and remember, this method works for all animal fats you might want to render: beef, deer, duck, etc.

First, thanks to my soap-making friend, Shannon of Stacked Stone Farm, I knew to grind up the fat for faster rendering. That made a huge difference in the time it took. This was important because it took all day to render that much fat in my big stock pot, and it had to be stirred several times each hour so that it wouldn’t stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.

First, I cut the fat into cubes and strips to make it easier to feed through the meat grinder’s chute. (The guys had been really careful to keep the fat clean as they cut if off and handed it to me. I only had to rinse one piece to get rid of some forest debris and a couple of hairs. That’s important, of course, that the fat be clean. But it is easy to rinse and pat dry with paper towels if you need to.) As I was portioning the fat, I cut off any little bits of red meat. There wasn’t much. My guys are accomplished skinners, and they keep things really clean. I set the scraps aside to render separately, because I’d read that meat could taint the flavor of the fat. That scrap fat will be used for boot grease.

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Then, using our son’s electric meat grinder with the large screen in place (we tried the other two screens but they clogged up), we ground the fat into small bits. Because it had completely thawed by the time we started, some of the fat liquefied as it was ground. This wasn’t really a problem as it started melting as soon as the bottom of the pan got hot on the burner. I think it would have been easier to grind if the fat had still been semi-frozen, but the timing just didn’t work out that way for us.

As the fat was ground, I removed it to my big, 12-quart stainless steel stock pot. I turned the burner on medium to get the fat melting, which it did within five minutes or so, and then I turned the heat down to medium-low so that the fat wouldn’t burn. I kept the heat at the point where the fat was at a gentle sizzle. It sizzles as the water in the fat cooks off.

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Surprising, there’s a good bit of connective tissue holding the fat together. That stuff can clog the grinder screen and wrap around the screw, but it wasn’t a problem until Dennis was taking the grinder apart to clean it. By the time we got all the fat ground, the stock pot was half full, which is about 6 quarts of fat particles.

Then it was just a matter of keeping the heat low and slow, watching the sizzle, and stirring. The fat liquefied very easily. It took about 9 hours to finish rendering. It did tend to stick to the bottom if it wasn’t stirred about every fifteen minutes.

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Rendering was complete when the sizzle and bubble slowed to almost nothing, the tiny particles that were left were golden brown, and they sank to the bottom of the pan. The fat floated on top and was a clear golden color.

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Then, it was time to take the pot off the heat and let it cool slightly. I put the pot in my cold laundry room with the window open (it was 32 degrees outside) to cool off enough for straining.

For straining the fat, I set up a small sieve lined with the nylon tulle that I use for straining everything from homemade ricotta cheese to berries for jelly or juice. I like it better than cheesecloth because it has smaller holes and is easily washed for the next use.

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I needed the fat to be cool enough to go into the containers I’d chosen to store it in. I thought about mason jars, until I realized that I was going to have something like 6 quarts of fat to store. The fat will keep for several months in the fridge, and practically forever in the freezer, so I knew I needed to store the majority of it in the freezer. The way things tumble out of my freezer and onto my feet on a regular basis meant that mason jars were not a good choice. I thought about it all day as the fat was rendering, and I decided to raid the recycle bin for plastic butter and cottage cheese containers. These are one pound containers with tight fitting lids that have the benefit of being stackable in the freezer. Also, I can take one container out of the freezer before I want to use it, stash it in the fridge, and probably use it all up within a couple of months. I’m not going to be eating or using this fat every day, so this much of it will probably last me a year!

It took a couple of hours in a cold room for the fat to cool down to warmish. Even though it had been on a low temperature through the last hours of rendering, it was still sizzling hot when I took it off the stove. After about two hours in a cold room, the sides of the pan were just warm, the fat was still liquid, and was ready for straining.

I strained the fat into my biggest plastic mixing bowl with a pouring lip. Then I poured it into the containers that we’d set up on a cookie sheet. I left an inch or so of headspace in each container to allow for any expansion that might occur as the fat froze. I didn’t put the containers into the freezer right away because I didn’t want any condensation from the still warm fat to appear on the inside of the lids. The scrap fat was strained last and put into a separate container. There was only about a half a cup of it. I left the containers uncovered in the laundry room with the window cracked, overnight.

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All the cracklin’ bits we put in an empty coffee can for the chickens. Some people eat them, but all they tasted like to me was fat, and I knew the chickens would think they were bugs. With snow on the ground now, the chickens could use a bug replacement. And I can report that they really loved their first small helping.

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The next morning, to my surprise, the fat was still liquid. (From the reading I’ve done, I’m guessing that this fat, maybe because it was so newly formed on the bear, is mostly unsaturated, as it remained liquid at a cold room temperature, but I’m not entirely sure about this. If I were Alton Brown, I could explain it, but I’m not, so I can’t.) The fat was cool, but there was no solidification, except a trace amount on the one small container of scrap fat. I put the lids on the containers, labeled them, and then stashed them in the freezer, still on the cookie sheet to contain any possible spillage before the fat froze.

So, now I have this beautiful, rendered bear fat, and what am I going to do with it? I tasted the fat, and it has no flavor. None. No meaty taste, no gamey taste. It is virtually flavorless, which will make it fine for flaky pastry doughs (bear pot pie and pear mincemeat pie coming up!), and I’m looking forward to trying it in biscuits with bear roast and dumplings on a bear stew. I’m going to try frying with it. I’ve heard of duck fat fries although I have not eaten them. Maybe I’ll try bear fat fries. Or bear fat doughnuts! And I’m really considering making some bear tamales, with bear meat in the filling and bear fat in the masa. I plan to use it in recipes as lard would be used, and I expect to have to experiment. So stayed tuned for these and other adventures with rendered bear fat.

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Now for a brief foray into philosophy. Rendering the bear fat was a day’s work. I had time to do other things as the fat was cooking down, and it wasn’t an arduous process, from grinding to cooking to straining. But I would probably have done it even so, because I think it’s important to follow a “waste not, want not” practice. (It’s one thing to have a waste not, want not philosophy; it’s another altogether to put it into practice!) I grew up that way, raised by parents who had themselves grown up in poverty and who struggled their way out during my lifetime. I’ve lived through lean years, when all we had to eat was what Mama grew or scavenged and put in the freezer or jars, and what Daddy brought home with a bullet (or hook) hole in it, whether it was in season or not.

But there’s more to it than that for me. I don’t have to try to find a way to use every scrap of a vegetable or fruit harvest, or an animal. But I just don’t want to waste any of what I’m given. That’s dishonoring the gift. If an animal gives up its life so I can eat, I show respect by not wasting a bit of it, from scraps to bones to fat. I show respect for the Creator, the earth, and the life that grows on it by being a wise steward of what’s given me for my life. And if that means cooking down deer bones for stock or rendering bear fat for baking and frying, I’ll do it. And I’ll feel good about it.

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condiment, Recipes, Uncategorized

Hot Pepper Jelly

I made hot pepper jelly two years ago, and at that time, I had to buy the jalapenos from the local farm stand because I didn’t have any red ones. You can make hot pepper jelly from green peppers, but the color won’t be as pretty, and the heat will be a bit sharper, not quite as mellow and fruity as when ripe, red peppers are used. This year, I had an abundance of red peppers and none of my previous batch of jelly left, so it made sense to make some more this week with the peppers I’d let ripen.

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I used a mix of ripe jalapeno and Serrano peppers. Serranos are just a bit hotter than jalapenos, but I knew from my previous experience that the heat of the peppers mellows into a nice, sustained warmth in the mouth after they’re cooked down with vinegar and sugar. Don’t be afraid of hot pepper jelly if you’ve never tried it before. This recipe isn’t hot. It won’t burn your mouth. I suppose if you used a really hot pepper, like a habanero or the very hot Thai chiles, it might. But, made with jalapenos or Serranos, this doesn’t.

Now, if you do want a hotter jelly for some unfathomable reason (some people just like to torture themselves, I guess!), don’t use more peppers in the recipe.   Do use a hotter pepper, like a habanero, or whatever you prefer, and use the same amount as the recipe calls for. This is so you don’t upset the acid balance of the recipe and create something that could be dangerous when the jar is opened.

You can, of course, use commercial pectin to make hot pepper jelly. I’ve seen the recipe for it on the Sure-Jell instructions. (I make a batch of strawberry jam with Sure-Jell for Dennis every spring, because he likes everything sickly sweet.) I don’t make my hot pepper jelly that way, and everybody who’s tried my jelly has liked it because it isn’t too sweet. I’m able to reduce the sugar in the recipe because instead of commercial pectin, I use apple pectin stock that I make each year when I’m processing my apples, and then freeze in 1 cup measures, so I always have it on hand when I want to make a jam that needs more pectin than the fruit contains (like hot pepper jelly, green tomato marmalade, or peach jam). Of course, if you use commercial pectin, you’ll also be using roughly twice the amount of sugar. That’s why I love jams and jellies made with apple pectin stock. The natural pectin in the apples allows for concentrating the natural sugars in the fruit while the jam or jelly cooks down, and while some sugar is needed, it’s generally about half of what you need when commercial pectin is used.

You might think that the longer cooking time would produce an over-cooked tasting jam or jelly, but it doesn’t. Because there is less sugar used with this method, the taste is much fresher, and the flavor of the fruit comes through much stronger. I will never go back to making jam or jelly any other way (except of course for that batch of strawberry jam each year for my husband’s sweet tooth). I’ve linked the recipe for apple pectin stock. Scroll down on that post, past the other apple recipes, to find how to make it. This stuff lasts a long time in the freezer. I’ve had some carry-over from year to year, and I’ve used some that’s been in the freezer for two years. It is perfectly fine, so if you don’t use your stock up in a year, don’t throw it out.

Now, to the recipe!

Hot Pepper Jelly

(makes about 7 half-pints)

8 ounces (by weight) ripe, red hot peppers (Jalapeno, Serrano, or your choice–*see Notes)

2 large red bell peppers, cleaned of seeds, and roughly chopped (about 4 cups—*see Notes)

2 cups cranberries (fresh or frozen) or roughly chopped black, red, or purple plums (*see Notes)

2 large lemons, sliced (peel on, seeds don’t matter)

6 cups of vinegar (white or apple cider, but make sure it’s 5% acidity)

5-6 cups of sugar

2 cups water

3 cups apple pectin stock

Wearing gloves, slice the hot peppers in half and place them in a large (at least 6 quart) non-reactive pot (ceramic coated or stainless steel). If you want a milder jelly, remove the seeds and ribs of the peppers. (I leave them in.) Clean the bell peppers, removing seeds and membranes, and roughly chop (*see Notes). Add to pot. Add the cranberries or chopped plums, and the sliced lemons. Pour in the vinegar and add the water and apple pectin stock. Bring the pot to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to medium high and continue to boil for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent solid pieces from sticking to the bottom. (Prepare yourself for fumes from the boiling vinegar and capsaicin released from the peppers. The vinegar keeps the capsaicin in check, but it’s pretty potent itself.)

Prepare to drain the liquid off the solids by lining a colander with several layers of cheesecloth or nylon tulle. (I prefer the tulle—smaller holes and easier to maneuver and wash.) Place the lined colander over a large bowl.

When all the peppers have softened, pour the contents of the pot into the lined colander to drain. Stir occasionally to release liquid from solids, but don’t press. You want to keep all the solids out of the liquid so the jelly will be clear. Let the colander drain for about 30 minutes, or until dripping slows or stops. In the meantime, wash out the big pot (there will be a sort of red scum on the sides that you don’t want in your jelly) and get ready to use it again.  Now is a good time to prepare your water bath canner and jars, as well.  Jars should be sterilized!

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Pour off and measure the liquid in the bowl. You should have about 8 cups of liquid. If you don’t have enough liquid, return the solids to a pan, add as much water as you are missing from the 8 cups you should have (if it’s more than a cup, also add additional vinegar, ¼ cup for a cup of water, ½ cup for 2 cups of water), and cook again, on lower heat, for another 15 minutes. Be very careful to keep the solids from sticking and scorching at this point. Strain again, and measure liquid. You want 8 cups of liquid in total before you move on to the next step, which is boiling down your jelly. If you end up with a quarter cup more or less, that’s okay.

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Pour the liquid into the clean pot. Add 5 cups of sugar, stir until dissolved, and bring to a boil on high heat. Let the mixture boil for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then taste it. I ended up using 5 2/3 cups of sugar in mine, and I added the additional sugar 1/3 cup at a time, until I got the combination of sweetness and heat I was looking for. Don’t worry if the liquid tastes a bit bitter at this time. That bitterness cooks out as the liquid comes up to the jellying point. Continue to boil and stir the liquid until it reaches the jellying point, between 20-30 minutes, depending on your altitude. (It takes about 40-45 minutes for me, and I live at about 4500 feet.)

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You can use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature, which will tell you when the jellying point has been reached at 220 degrees. I have one. I don’t use it. Because of my altitude, I prefer to use the cold plate method. Place a small ceramic or china plate in the freezer when you strain off the liquid. It should chill for about 30 min. before you start using it to test your set. I start testing at about 20-30 minutes cooking time, when I can see that the jelly liquid has reduced by about half. I place about half a teaspoon of the liquid on the cold plate, put it back in the freezer for 1 minute, and then push at the dab with my finger. If the dab wrinkles, the jelly will set. If it doesn’t, it’ll be syrup. I continue to test every five minutes until I get a good wrinkle on the plate. At that point, it’s ready to go in the jars. I pull the jelly off that burner and put it on the front one, on low, to keep it at a very low simmer, just barely a bubble breaking the surface, while I get it in the jars. This is very important, because if you over-cook the jelly, it will become gummy and set too hard. But you want the jelly very, very hot when it goes into the jars. (As you ladle in the jelly, you may notice that as it cools, it starts to string a bit and stick to the sides of the pan. That’s a good sign you’re going to get a good set, but keep the temperature low so that it doesn’t cook any further.)

The jars should have been sterilized in a boiling water bath canner for ten minutes before you pour in the jelly. Ladle the jelly into one jar at a time, cap it with flat and ring, and place it in the boiling water bath canner to stay hot while you fill the rest of the jars. Process the jars in the boiling water bath canner for 5 minutes, adjusting for your altitude (I have to add 5 minutes to all my processing times because of my altitude). Remove the jars after processing and allow to completely cool before removing rings and cleaning jars, if necessary. Always test the seal on the jars before storing. Any jar that doesn’t seal can be stored in the fridge and used first.

Notes:

*8 ounces is about 16 jalapenos or 20 Serranos. I mixed mine and weighed them so I wouldn’t disturb the acid balance. If you use a hotter pepper, please be sure to weigh them so you aren’t guessing on the acid needed.

*I chopped my red bell peppers in the food processor this time, and then I remembered why I wasn’t supposed to do that. It chops them too finely. You want the pieces larger so that no pulp strains through when you drain it. This is to keep your jelly nice and clear. I used 4 layers of tulle when I strained, so I was okay. Whew!

*Cranberries vs. plums: These fruits are added primarily to naturally color the jelly, which tends to be a bit pale without them. However, they also add pectin from their skins, and I find it helpful to achieve a good set. If I didn’t have any plums or cranberries, I would add another cup of apple pectin stock and reduce the water by a cup, and just enjoy a paler pepper jelly. The original of this recipe, from Liana Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation (I highly recommend this book—it’s taught me so much), says that “a handful of papery red onion skins” can also be used to color the jelly. I have not tried this and don’t think I ever will. While you can’t taste the plums or cranberries (I’ve used both), I like the color they give along with the added pectin. I used frozen cranberries this year and got a beautiful color and good set.

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I love this hot pepper jelly on a cracker with cream cheese, on a cracker with bear liver pate, on a cracker with cream cheese and fresh crab (coming, hopefully, in November!). You see the theme? If you’re working on game day finger goods, it’s nice to have a jar of this delicious, spicy jelly on hand. The guys really seem to love it. This jelly is also great on hot, buttered cornbread as an accompaniment to various mild soups, like potato, bean, or a fish chowder—and as a glaze for roast pork loin, it’s killer! Now that I’ve replenished my stock, I’m looking forward to finding new ways to use this wonderful condiment.

 

 

 

 

 

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condiment, Fermenting, Recipes, Uncategorized

Berry Vinaigrette Salad Dressing for Spring Greens

I love those fresh greens from my garden and greenhouse:  spinach, lettuce, kale.  I’m picking them now, a little late because I didn’t have my usual volunteers (I’m blaming the drought for that) and because my surgeries kept me from getting into the garden and greenhouse as early as I usually am in spring.

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But now it’s time for fresh salad, and to go with those lovely, fresh spring greens, you need a special salad dressing.  I have one.

Some years ago (2013 to be exact), I made some raspberry- and blackberry-infused vinegars from my own homemade apple scrap vinegar and the pulp from my jam making.  I must say, those vinegars turned out beautifully, but I have not used them as much as I thought I would, so I still have some in the fridge, two years old but as delicious now as when I made them.  So to honor my fresh spring greens, I dug up my recipe for berry vinaigrette salad dressing.  Last time I wrote about this, I used my raspberry-infused vinegar, but this time, I used the blackberry-infused vinegar.  And all I can say is:  WOW!  Here is the recipe, with links to instructions for making your own infused vinegars.  I hope you will try this recipe, because I know you’ll enjoy it.

Raspberry or Blackberry Vinaigrette with Chia Seeds

(makes about ¾ cup)

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Ingredients:

2 tablespoons of minced onion (I like red onion in this)

¼ cup raspberry-infused vinegar or blackberry-infused vinegar

2 tablespoons of honey or agave syrup

½ teaspoon dry, powdered mustard or prepared Dijon mustard

½ cup olive oil

2 teaspoons chia seeds

 

Mix all ingredients in blender or food processor (if using food processor, you can mince the onions with it) or with a whisk in a bowl. The mustard will help to emulsify the dressing, but it will separate slightly, so it should be shaken well before using. If you like a sweeter dressing, add more honey or agave one teaspoon at a time until the sweetness level is right for your taste buds.

Now, if you don’t have any raspberry-infused vinegar, and don’t want to make it, for whatever reason, you can make this dressing without it. Simply substitute white wine vinegar or even rice vinegar for the raspberry-infused vinegar, and for the honey or agave, substitute raspberry jam or preserves. Again, taste your dressing to see if you’d like it sweeter. My version isn’t very sweet, as I don’t happen to care for sweet salad dressings.

Update:  When I started looking for recipes for raspberry vinaigrette salad dressings, I noticed that they all contained poppy seeds.  I have nothing against poppy seeds, but I don’t keep them in my kitchen.  However, I do have chia seeds on hand and am working on ways to incorporate them into more dishes (oatmeal and puddings, for example).  So I thought, why not?  At the time I decided to put chia seeds into this vinaigrette recipe, I didn’t know that chia seeds release a substance that thickens liquids.  This actually makes them perfect for a salad dressing, because they keep the dressing thick and emulsified.  In other words, they give the mustard, the traditional emulsifier for dressing (emulsification, put simply, is the smooth mixture of fats and liquids) a helping hand. This salad dressing won’t separate on you the way most vinaigrettes do.  And the chia seeds are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, good for your heart and other body parts, so it’s all to the good to incorporate them into as many dishes as you can.

Eat your spring greens with some delicious berry vinaigrette dressing with chia seeds.  It’s all good for you!

 

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Garden and Greenhouse, Uncategorized

Potting Up

This post is about potting up those seeds you started that are now needing larger homes.  I use somewhat unorthodox containers for my potting up.

Awhile back, I wrote a post about my seed-starting procedure for peppers, eggplant, and tomatoes. The bell peppers and eggplant I started when that post was written are ready to go into the planter boxes in the greenhouse. I grow them in there because it’s the only way I can get their fruit to ripen. I just have to wait a little longer before I transplant them, until I know that I have the aphid-farming ants under control. I put out some sugar/borax mixture the other day, and haven’t seen an ant since. The ants themselves are not the problem; it’s the aphids they farm that suck the life out of the plants and prevent them from bearing as they should. I didn’t get a single eggplant last year and only a few stunted bell peppers because of the aphids.

The jalapenos and Serrano peppers will grow out in the garden, but it won’t be warm enough to set them out for at least a month, so they needed transplanting into larger containers. I also had a few tomato plants ready for transplanting.

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I planted 57 germinated tomato seeds, but a freak accident killed most of them. One morning, just a few days after I’d put the sprouted tomato seeds in their containers of soil, I left home for physical therapy in town, and to do some errands afterwards. It was a cool, cloudy morning, so I left the greenhouse closed up and the rope light on in the heated sand box with the lid on. The tomato six-packs were in that box. The clouds cleared off early, and the temperature climbed. I came home in the late afternoon to find the greenhouse at 120 degrees (it may have been hotter, but the thermometer was topped out at 120). There’s no telling how hot it was in the heated sand box, but it was hot enough to kill about 5 out of every 6 germinated seeds. I discovered that when after two weeks, only one or two in each container had emerged. The lesson there, always at least crack the lid on the hot box during the day. That venting might have saved my seedlings.

I do tend to go overboard with tomatoes. I always say I will scale back, and then I discover a new heirloom variety, and before I know it, I’ve planted 50 or so seeds. I really intended to not grow so many this year, but . . . the inevitable happened. So I guess the overheated greenhouse was God’s way of rescuing me from too many tomatoes. I have a few of each variety I planted except San Marzano. Even after replanting, the San Marzanos didn’t germinate. That seed must be old. Good thing I saved some fresh from last year’s crop.

At any rate, a couple of days ago, I potted up 6 jalapenos and 6 Serrano peppers, and about a dozen tomatoes. For growing on, I use a rather unusual container. I plant my peppers and tomatoes in Styrofoam cups.

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Now I can just hear some of the objections. “Styrofoam isn’t green!” “What about recycling?” To the first objection, I will say this. No, Styrofoam isn’t typically thought of as a green material because it doesn’t break down. And that’s precisely why I use Styrofoam cups for pots. They are durable, can be used over and over (my answer to the second objection), and are easy to use. I began using Styrofoam cups a few years ago, and I am still using the same cups I started with. I did have to open a new package the other day because I have given away or sold some of my plants over the years and haven’t gotten the cups back.

Here’s how it works. I take a sharp knife (or the blade of a scissors or a fork) and poke several holes in the bottom of a 16 oz. cup. I also poke a few holes around the base of the cup, about a half-inch from the bottom, to ensure good drainage. I use a Sharpie to mark the cup with the plant variety and transplant date, then I fill the cup with my moist soil mix, and use my thumb to create a nice well for the tomato or pepper seedling’s rootball to fill.

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I use an old table fork to pry the seedling out of the six-pack cell and place it in the cup’s well. I press down firmly, and if it’s a tomato seedling, I add more soil to bring the soil level up to just below the seed leaves. Some people plant their tomato seedlings all the way up to the seed leaves in the first transplanting, but I don’t. The stem is still tender, and I want to give the seedling the chance to set its already-developed roots before it has to grow too many roots on its little stem. (When I plant the tomato in the garden, I’ll bury it down to the seed leaves.)

I do not deep-plant pepper seedlings. There’s some controversy about whether or not pepper stems grow roots like tomatoes, and whether or not it’s a good idea to deep-plant them. I don’t do it for one very simple reason. Peppers grow slowly. If you deep-plant a pepper seedling to grow roots on the stem, you are just delaying the fruiting process. I’ve never done it, and my hot peppers do very well outside in my short growing season. I’m afraid that trying to root pepper stems would seriously set back my pepper harvest.  So I just transplant to the same soil level as the plant was in its original container.

After transplanting, I water the seedling to settle the soil and the plant’s roots into the soil, and then the tomato cups go into an aluminum foil roasting pan which sits on the warmed planting beds in the greenhouse until it’s time to start hardening off the plants prior to planting out. If we get a late freeze, I plug in the radiant oil heater and set the foil pans around it to keep them from freezing. The foil pans also reflect light and warmth on dark days, and they make it easy for me to move the plants in and out of the greenhouse for hardening-off.

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The cups of transplanted peppers went back into the heated sand box. The rope light is now on a timer and only comes on at night. The lid stays off, and this gives the peppers enough warmth to be happy without making them wimpy. The eggplants and bell peppers went back under the light (along with a few tomatoes too small to transplant). The light is only on at night now as well (and also on a timer), until I’ve decided I’m ant-free and can plant them.

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I use 16 oz. cups because they allow me to bury my tomato seedlings to just the right depth and allow for good root development. For peppers, which will stay in the greenhouse until June, the 16 oz. cup gives this slow grower plenty of root room as well. This size gives my plants enough room to grow for the next month or six weeks before I plant them out under cover. If your plants don’t need to stay in pots as long as mine do, you could use 8 oz. cups. And as I said before, the cups can be used over and over, so for me, they’re guilt-free. When it comes time to transplant the young tomato or pepper into the garden, the root ball slides easily and freely out of that Styrofoam cup. It’s slick inside, you see, and if you need to squeeze a bit or tap on the bottom to free up the plant (I usually don’t have to), the cup can stand up to the pressure. And then when it’s time to put the cups away after the plants are in the ground, you just nest them inside each other and put them back in the bag for easy storage.

I recycle or reuse just about everything. I save plastic six-, four-, and three-packs from flowers or other plants I might buy and use them over and over again in the greenhouse as my seedlings’ first homes. I bought both my Styrofoam cups and foil roasting pans at the Dollar Store, so my main cash outlay in the greenhouse is in good, organic bagged soil. I usually get mine at the local nursery, whatever brand they have on sale, because it is not cheap. And yes, I recycle it!

Any soil or starting medium left in the six packs is dumped into a labeled bag, and I use it the following year for starting my flower seeds. After the soil has been used for flowers, it’s dumped into the planting beds in the greenhouse or in the garden. I let the worms recharge it there.

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I also potted up some petunias and marigolds that I started from seed a month ago. I love petunias, but since seed companies have decided to start pelleting the seed, I do not have good luck growing them. The pelleted seed just refuses to germinate for me. Out of 50 pelleted seeds, I might get 6 or 7 plants. I do know how to grow petunia seed that hasn’t been tampered with; you just have to cover it very lightly, barely scratching it in because it is smaller than fine salt. (Back in the day, 40 years ago, I started hundreds of petunias from unpelleted seed and grew them on in flats for planting in the flower beds of the Trees of Mystery, where I was the head gardener.)

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Some years ago, I noticed that petunias would volunteer in my garden, so I started collecting seed from those volunteers and planting them in the greenhouse so I can have more and more and more petunias! After several generations, I now have petunias that are very hardy and smell incredible. (That’s my favorite thing about petunias—the scent.) I don’t have a lot of color variation. No reds or purples or ruffles or stripes, just plain trumpets in a pale pink, a deeper pink, a white, and a lavender, but I don’t care about the limited color selection. I care that I can grow petunias that smell heavenly, and I don’t have to mess around with that stupid pelleted seed.

I always plant lots of marigolds throughout my garden. They help to keep the tomato and cabbage worms away from those crops, and I just love their sunny colors. I get some volunteers every year, but not enough, so I gather seed each fall for the next year’s crop.

One last word about unorthodox containers. I will use just about anything as a seed-starting container in the greenhouse. The blue boxes in the picture below are Styrofoam mushroom boxes. I save them when I buy mushrooms, wash the boxes, poke holes in them for drainage just like the cups, and use them for starting flowers. I also save the plastic boxes that cherry tomatoes, or grapes, or blueberries are sometimes packaged in (there’s one in the picture above that’s about to receive some petunias), those plastic trays that hold grocery store sweet rolls (my husband buys those sometimes), and any other plastic thing that can be used like a flat, especially if it already has some kind of drainage holes in it. Then I fill the container with soil or starting medium and sow my seed like I would in a flat. When the plants are up and ready for pricking off, I may use a similar container and plant six to a mushroom or grape box.

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If I need larger containers, say, gallon-size, and I’ve used up all my actual pots, metal or plastic coffee cans make good temporary pots. They just need some nail holes poked into them for drainage. For the plastic coffee cans, hold the nail head with pliers and heat the tip with a lighter, then poke it through the plastic. These can be used over and over again as well.

I’m going to leave you with two transplanting tips. 1) My favorite transplanting tool is a common table fork. I have several in the greenhouse. As I mentioned before, they are useful for prying a seedling out of its cell in a six-pack without damaging the root ball. They’re also useful for disentangling roots in a wad of seedlings from a “flat.” I use a fork to tease the plants and roots apart for transplanting. (They also make good weeders if they’re sturdy enough.)

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And 2) when you’re transplanting, always remember to handle seedlings by their leaves or roots, never by their stems. If you bruise the stem, you’ll likely lose the plant. The stem is the conduit from the roots to the leaves, the spine, if you will. Damage it, and your plant is toast. Bulky gloves are no good for transplanting, so if you have an owie on your finger (like I often do), use vinyl or nitrile gloves to protect your hands. It’s a lot easier to handle delicate seedlings with thin, surgical-type gloves. Oh, I guess that was a bonus, tip #3!

 

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Fermenting, Recipes, Uncategorized

Ginger Ale Update

I’ve got a new batch of homemade ginger ale fermenting.  In the past year, I have been learning more about ferments in general and about making homemade ginger ale in particular.  I still use the Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe below, but in contrast to the recipe and method I started with, I have learned that an open ferment produces better, bigger bubbles more quickly.

Therefore, the ginger ale mixture should be placed in a large bottle or jar and the top covered with a breathable fabric cover or coffee filter, and secured with a rubber band.  If conditions are warm, the ale will ferment within 48 hours.  When large bubbles appear, the ginger ale can be strained and bottled tightly for a second fermentation.  This is what produces a truly bubbly ginger ale, the second fermentation in an airtight bottle. The Sweeter Ginger Ale recipe below provides enough sugar for a viable second fermentation where others do not.

Generally, a 24-48 hour second fermentation in warm conditions is sufficient to produce good carbonation.  After small bubbles appear in the capped bottles during the second fermentation, the bottles should be chilled and stored in the refrigerator.  Care should be taken in opening the bottles.  They may foam over, so they should always be opened over the sink, or over a bowl if you wish to catch the overflow.

Sweeter Ginger Ale

(makes about 2 1/2 quarts finished ginger ale)

Simmer together for 5 minutes:

2 cups water

2 tablespoons minced ginger

1 cup raw sugar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Cool mixture.  Add:

5 cups cool water

1/4 cup lemon or lime juice

1/2 cup ginger bug (follow link for directions for making and maintaining your ginger bug)

Mix well and pour off into large jug or jar, cover with breathable fabric or coffee filter, and secure with rubber band.  Let sit in warm place for 2-3 days or until large, yeasty-looking bubbles form.  Strain and bottle in bale-top type bottles or other bottles with air-tight caps.  Ferment again in warm place for 24-48 hours, or until carbonated.  Chill before drinking.

My previous post about ginger ale, called Science Experiment, details the progression and development of this recipe and technique, and also tells how to make, feed, and store a ginger bug, which is the base ferment for ginger ale.  However, I recommend following the above procedure for making ginger ale.  It’s a wonderful holiday drink, and a great digestive after a large meal.  If you wish, you can allow your ginger ale to ferment longer for an alcoholic content and champagne-like bubbles, but beware opening the bottles!

 

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Main dishes, Recipes, Uncategorized

Meatloaf, Meatballs, and Variations

As some of you know, I’m recovering from shoulder surgery and don’t have much use of my right hand and arm for the next few weeks. I’m planning to do some reblogging during that time, highlighting previous recipes appropriate for the season. But a discussion on a friend’s page last week prompted me to jot down quickly my meatloaf recipe for you. Why? Because it’s different from any other meatloaf recipe I’ve ever seen in one key ingredient, and I want to share that with you so that you can make delicious, moist, fiber-rich and lower carb meatloaf and meatballs. For the rationale behind the use of this key ingredient, I’ve included the link to a previous post about sausage-stuffed acorn squash, which uses a variation on meatloaf. Rather than beef or turkey burger, this recipe uses ground breakfast sausage, and it is a delicious, easy, and attractive main dish. This previous post explains why I use oat bran rather than bread crumbs, cracker crumbs, or oatmeal as the binder in my meatloaf and meatballs. Here is my regular meatloaf recipe. If you want to make meatballs, this mixture works beautifully in that application; directions are at the end of this post.

Moist Meat Loaf

Serves 4

1 lb. ground meat  (beef, turkey, bison, venison—all are good)

½ cup chopped onions

1 seeded, chopped jalapeno or serrano pepper or ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large or extra-large egg, lightly beaten

¼ cup milk

½ cup oat bran (secret ingredient!)

2 tablespoons dehydrated veggie flakes (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt (or more to your taste)

¼ teaspoon black pepper (or more to your taste)

1-3 teaspoons crushed dried oregano (I like lots of herbage)

1-3 teaspoons crushed dried parsley

Olive oil

Saute onions, peppers, and garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until tender.  Set aside to cool.  In a medium sized bowl, gently mix ground meat, egg, milk, oat bran, herbs, and seasonings.  Mix in sautéed vegetables. Press gently into bottom of bowl.

If I am using a fatty meat, I like to cook my meatloaf on a rack so that the fat drains off the meat as it roasts. If you are using a ground beef with 10% or less fat content, you don’t need to use a rack. But for 80/20 or 70/30 grinds (ratio of lean meat to fat), a rack should be used. Line a 13 X 9 inch cake pan or a cookie sheet with foil for easier clean-up later and place rack over top. Spray with cooking spray or grease with vegetable shortening or oil to prevent meatloaf from sticking to rack or foil. If you are using a lean meat, you can place the meatloaf directly on the foil-lined pan. Do not ever cook a meatloaf in a loaf pan. The meat does not roast when confined in a loaf pan and both texture and flavor will be affected negatively.

Turn bowl upside down over rack or pan and unmold meatloaf. If you are using a rack, leave the meatloaf in this mound shape. If you try to form it into a loaf on the rack, you will have sticking issues when you try to serve it. The mound shape produces a variety of lengths when sliced, which works out fine for families with small children or those with smaller appetites. If you unmound the meatloaf onto a greased, foil-lined pan, you can mold it into the traditional loaf shape.

Some people like to add a sauce to the top of the meatloaf at this point, traditionally, ketchup. I prefer not to add a sauce until the top of the meatloaf has browned. I think this produces better flavor, so I add my sauce or glaze in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking. And I’ve come up with a delicious glaze that is way better than plain ketchup. See below.

Bake uncovered for 60 to 75 minutes at 375 degrees, or until meat juices run clear.

Glaze

¼ cup ketchup

¼ cup spicy brown mustard

2 tablespoons Worchestershire sauce

1 tablespoon maple syrup

Mix together.  Brush on meat in last 15-20 minutes of cooking time.

For meat balls:

Form meat mixture into 1 ½ inch balls. Place on foil-lined cookie sheet and roast at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until browned. Remove from oven and finish cooking in a pot of Italian Red Sauce. Meatballs in sauce can be served alone or tossed with cooked pasta of your choice.

 

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Desserts, Gluten-free, Recipes, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving Pies

Who’s baking pies today?  I am!  There are three old favorites, standards, I always make:  apple pie, pumpkin pie, and sour cream apple pie. I might make a new recipe (a chocolate pie) this year, and if it’s good, I’ll share it with you next week.

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For the apple pie, I use my home-grown, home-canned apple pie filling.  For the pumpkin pies, I use my home-grown, home-frozen pumpkin puree (recipe in this post below), and I do as my sister taught me–double the spices!  What a difference that makes in flavor.  For the sour cream apple pie, (which is the pie I absolutely must make for Thanksgiving, or else I’m in big trouble) I use some pie apples from the garden that I save in the fridge just for Thanksgiving.  Sometimes, I make my own sour cream for this pie, but this year, I’m using store bought.  For pie crust, I use a gluten-free crust made with Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-free baking flour which I developed a while back that is so good, nobody but me knows it’s gluten-free!  For these recipes and more, follow the links below:

Gluten-free Pie Crust

Sour Cream Apple Pie

Apple pie filling

 

Pumpkin Pie Recipe

(makes 1 pie)

2 eggs

1 cup pureed pumpkin

¾ cup sugar

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground ginger

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 can evaporated milk (or 1 cup heavy cream)

Beat all ingredients together until smooth. Pour into unbaked 9-inch pie shell and bake at 425 for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and continue baking for 45 minutes or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Note: You may need to bake pie made with homemade roasted pumpkin a little longer because it is not quite as dense as canned pumpkin.  Canned pumpkin made be used in this recipe.

Happy pie baking!  Happy Thanksgiving!

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