Tuesday, May 28, 2013

English Muffin Bread

This bread is not only super easy to make but it really holds true to its name. The inside of the bread is perfectly moist just like English muffins.

English Muffin Bread
makes 2 loaves

2 1/2 cups warm water
3 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 Tablespoons salt
1 1/2 Tablespoons sugar (or raw sugar)
5 1/2 cups flour (used 2 cups whole wheat flour and 3 1/2 bread flour)

By hand mixing method:
Mix together all ingredients in a stand mixer or by hand with a spoon. Cover bowl with a cloth and let dough rise in a warm place until doubled (skip this step if using rapid rise yeast).

Bread machine mixing method:
Place all the ingredients in the bread machine. Turn the bread machine on the dough setting. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Remove dough at this point if it has doubled in size.

Punch down and spoon dough into two well-greased loaf pans (dough will be extremely sticky). Let dough rise again in pans until it reaches the top of the pans, took about 20 - 30 minutes.

Bake at 350 ° F for 40 - 45 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from oven. Brush with butter if you would like.
Cool completely before cutting. Best served warm or toasted with butter and jam/jelly or honey.

To freeze: Let loaf cool completely. Put in an airtight plastic freezer bag and place in freezer for up to six weeks.

To thaw: Take loaf out of the freezer and allow to thaw for at least 3 hours prior to use.

Recipe adapted from Money Saving Mom.

Friday, May 24, 2013

S'more Bars

Are you looking for "that" dessert recipe to bring to your next gathering? Look no further.
Under no circumstances are you to make these and without the knowing that these are incredibly fabulous and you will eat more than one! My husband actually was going to get out of bed the other night just to eat another one.

S'more Bars
1 1/2 cups honey graham crackers, crushed (one sleeve)
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup shortening
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cup mini marshmallows (a little more marshmallow... sure)
3/4 bag chocolate chips
1 Hershey Bar

Preheat oven to 350 ° F.  Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter and 3/4 sugar.  Press into the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish.  Bake for 7 minutes.  Allow to cool slightly.

Cream butter, shortening, sugar and brown sugar together.  Blend in eggs and vanilla.  Stir in flour, salt and baking soda.  By hand mix in the chocolate chips and marshmallows.

Spread over the graham cracker crust.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Top with broken pieces of Hershey Bars.  Return to oven and bake for 15 more minutes.  Remove and allow to cool completely before cutting.

Recipe adapted from  The Hungry Runner Girl

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dandelion Jelly

Surprisingly, this unique recipe creates a delicious golden jelly that tastes very similar to honey.

Dandelion Jelly
Hot water canner
Large sauce pan or soup pot
Jar Lifter
Jars, lids, rims

First you need Dandelions. Actually you only need the yellow part of the Dandelion so just pick the blossom off.
Next, snip off the green base so you only have the yellow petals remaining. You could also try twisting the petals out of the base, but I found the scissor method easier and faster. If you have a few pieces of green mixed in, it is just fine. You need to have about 4 cups of petals.
Place petals in a saucepan. Pour 3 cups boiling water over the petals and stir. Let mixture sit for at least 8 hours. You are brewing the dandelion tea. The end result is brown-yellow in color.
Strain the tea through a coffee filter or wire strainer to remove all the petals. Add any additional water to measure the correct amount for your selected version of the recipe.

Powdered pectin version:
3 cups dandelion tea
4 1/2 cups sugar
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin

Add dandelion tea, lemon juice, 1 box of pectin and sugar into large saucepan. Bring to a boil and continue boiling 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and fill jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Liquid pectin version:
3 1/2 cups dandelion tea
7 cups sugar (yes, you read right!)
4 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 pouches liquid pectin

Combine dandelion tea, sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a full rolling boil. Add liquid pectin and stirring constantly bring back to a full boil. Boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and fill jars leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Wipe rims of jars clean with warm wash cloth. Place lids on jars and tighten with rims.

If you are new to Boiling-Water Bath Canning, I recommend reading my tutorial on this type of canning.

Process in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes. Remove jars with jar remover carefully. Place hot jars on level surface. I cover my counter top with a double layered kitchen towel and place jars on top. Using a hot pad or glove, check that the rims are tightened.

As the jars cool, you will hear a "ping" when the lid seals. Make sure all of your jars have sealed. They are sealed if the button in the middle of the lid in depressed. If you have any jars that have not sealed, you can reprocess them or store the jar in the refrigerator for use.

Makes about 8 half pints.

Please check with your local extension office for any changes due to altitude for times or temperatures. Above instructions are for elevation 1000 feet or below.

Recipe adapted from Simply Canning.

Monday, May 20, 2013

How To: Plant Outside

You may be thinking that it can't be too hard to plant a plant. There are a few tips that can make your purchase, transplant or gift last and thrive.

Know what you are planting. Each plant has it preferred climate, soil and sun exposure preference. Often times these details are located on the plants marker. This will help guide you to where you should place the plant.

  1. Using a spade shovel, remove any grass or mulch from the surface of your location. Dig a hole that is 2 times bigger in diameter and depth then the container the plant is in. By digging a bigger hole you are breaking up the compacted soil around the roots and they can grow outward easier. Place the soil removed off to one side of the hole.
  2.  You can mix in compost to the removed soil at this time if you wish. This will add nutrients to the plant.
  3. Gently squeeze the plants container if possible. Hold the container upside down with one hand and place your other hand at the base of the plant. Gently pull the container off the plant. 
  4. Gently break up the roots if root bound.                                                                                         
  5. Center the plant in the dug hole. Check that the surface of the plants soil matches the surface of the ground. You will need to add some soil back into the hole until it is level. You can lay a piece of wood or the handle of the shovel across the hole to check this.
  6. Fill the the soil surrounding the root ball. Push down on the soil surrounding the plant to remove any air bubbles.
  7. Water the plant thoroughly. Slowly add water to the base of the plant until the water pools on the surface of the soil and does not absorb with in seconds. 
  8. Replace any mulch to the surrounding area of the plant. Remove the excess soil and grass from the area. 
Stand back and enjoy!!

Any extra soil could go into your compost pile.
Any extra grass could be add to a bare spot in the lawn.
Continue to water your newly planted plant daily for the next week. Then weekly for the remainder of the planting season for the first year.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Freezing Spinach

Just recently I got a great deal on a few bags of spinach from Aldi's but we can't eat that much spinach in a few days. So I decided to freezing the spinach for my next lasagna or quiche.

Here is what you will need:

large pot
large bowl
slotted spoon
strainer (wire is prefered)
plastic freezer bags

Wash spinach leaves.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Place next to stove if possible.
When the water is boiling, put 3 large handfuls of clean spinach leaves or a large store-bought bag into the boiling water. Keep them submerged for about 15 seconds.
With a slotted spoon, remove the spinach from the boiling water, and place spinach into the ice water. Keep submerged in ice water for about 10 seconds.
Drain spinach into strainer or colander. Press spinach down into the colander to remove additional water.

Place spinach into plastic bags.
Label with name and date.
Lay flat in freezer until frozen then can be stored standing up if needed.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Basic Sandwich Bread

When I look back at our journey to become more healthy and consume more natural foods, one event stands alone.  My husbands declaration that the we are not going to buy bread anymore but make our own.  We did this at first purely for the quality of the bread that we can make versus buy.  But making your own bread is one of the most frugal things you can do to help your family save money at the grocery store and nothing beats the smell of a fresh loaf in the oven!

When it comes to bread making there is a great division in our family... My husband prefers the "hands on" kneading method of bread making while I prefer the "hands off" bread machine method.  It is simply preference, you get the same result. We both agree the bread machine's cube shaped bread is not great. So when I make bread I only use the bread machine on the dough setting. The dough setting mixes your ingredients, allows the bread to rise, and kneads it for you. Then you can finish baking it in your regular oven.

The below recipes will get you started should you "rise" to the occasion!

Basic Sandwich Bread
makes 2 loaves

2 cups warm water (110 ° F )
2/3 cup sugar or honey (we use honey)
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup oil (we use olive)
6 cups bread flour (we use 2 cups whole wheat and 4 cups bread flour)
1 Tablespoon vinegar (as a natural preservative) *
1 Tablespoon flax seed ground *
1 teaspoon wheat germ *
1 Tablespoon steel cut oats *

In a large bowl, completely dissolve the sugar or honey in warm water and then stir in yeast. Allow to proof until yeast resembles a creamy foam, about 10 minutes.

Mix salt and oil into the yeast. Add vinegar. Combine with the flour. Add any ingredients that have a (*) by them if you prefer. Knead dough on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic. It should be slightly sticky but not so sticky that it clings to your hands. If it is, add a little flour to obtain the right consistency. If it's too dry, it'll break or flake apart in crumbs; use a little more water in this case.

Place in a well oiled bowl, and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth. Allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Punch dough down. Knead for a few minutes, and divide in half. Shape into two loaves, and place into two well oiled 9 x 5 inch loaf pans. Cover with a kitchen cloth or plastic wrap and allow to rise for 25-30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.

Bake at 350 ° F for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on wire rack.

We currently have a West Bend Bread Machine. It is works great and is very durable.

Bread Machine Dough Version
(makes 1 loaf, as most all bread machines can only hold 1 loaf)

1 cups warm water (110 ° F)
1/3 cup sugar or honey (we use honey)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/8 cup oil (we use olive)
3 cups bread flour (we use 1 cups whole wheat and 2 cups bread flour)
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar (as a natural preservative) *
1 1/2 teaspoon flax seed ground *
1/2 teaspoon wheat germ *
1 1/2 teaspoon steel cut oats *

Add water, sugar or honey, vinegar and oil to bread machine. Layer bread flour, salt, flax seed, wheat germ, oats and yeast. Set bread machine to dough setting.
When dough setting is complete, remove dough.
Shape into a loaf, and place into a well oiled 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Allow to rise for 25-30 minutes, or until dough has risen 1 inch above pans.

Bake at ° F for 30 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool on wire rack.

To freeze: Let loaf cool completely. Put in an airtight plastic freezer bag and place in freezer for up to six weeks.

To thaw: Take loaf out of the freezer and allow to thaw for at least 3 hours prior to use.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Preserving 101

You may ask yourself why would we spend time canning, freezing, drying or dehydrating when the grocery store is just miles down the road.

My answer is simple.

I like to know what I am eating.

I know what I grow in my back yard and how we grew it. I love the process for growing and caring for your own plants, whether it is fruits, vegetables or flowers. I am greatly rewarded by a sense of accomplishment and enjoy the beauty of it.

Scientific advancements and food don't always make a great combination.
 I want ketchup with no high fructose corn syrup. I want Mexican rice without preservatives. I want yogurt without dyes.

I am frugal. I love using coupons to get great deals for my family but not at the expense of their health. Too often the majority of coupons are for convenience foods that are loaded with dyes and preservatives.

What is Canning?

Canning is saving your cooking efforts in jars. You choose meals to cook because you love them. Wouldn't it be nice to have the meal or sauces saved for the next time you want them? By canning you are simply preventing the food from spoiling by removing air and sealing the jar. 

What is Freezing?

Freezing is preserving your food in the freezer. Simple huh? You basically can freeze anything but there are a few suggestions you will want to follow. You can not freeze things in cans or eggs in shells, unless you like explosions of these items in your freezer. Just because you can place any food in the freezer doesn't mean you want to consume it once thawed. Mayonnaise, any cream based sauce and lettuce will not preserve well. Personally, I also like to avoid freezing block or shredded cheese, as it becomes soft and has more moisture in it.
You want to protect your food while it remains in the freezer by wrapping the item is plastic wrap, plastic bag, wax paper or foil. 
Here is our tutorial on how to prepare your vegetables for freezing through a process called blanching. 

What is Drying?

Drying is removing moisture from the food through sun light. This is the oldest method of preserving your harvest. This method has such a low amount of moisture remaining in the food that microorganisms can not survive on the food and does not spoil. This method also uses much less space than canning or freezing does. Drying is great for herbs and vegetables. When this process is completed you can store your food in plastic bags or a sealed container of your choice.

What is Dehydrating?

Dehydrating is drying out the food with the help of your oven or dehydrator appliance. If you decide to use your oven, this method can take all day depending on the food. So be sure you are planning to be home. You can purchase a food dehydrator that can be keep plugged in and working while you are away. The food dehydrator does take longer to dehydrate than the oven but you can set it up and simply proceed with your day.

For the Lord your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete.    Deuteronomy 16:15

Friday, May 10, 2013

Mason Jar Gifts

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week and I knew we wanted to make something that was heartfelt but not too expensive for my daughters' teachers. This idea can be used for anyone special in your life that deserves a thoughtful gift. Great for Christmas, Birthdays, Mother's Day...
This is what I came up with:

Items needed:
  • mason jar (we used the pint size)
  • optional: lid and ring for the jar if you would like the contents air tight
  • ribbon or twine of your choice
  • paper or thicker paper stock for the tag
  • marker or pen
  • hole punch
  • your choice of items to fill the jar
    • flowers (ours were from the yard)
    • candy
    • school supplies
    • our favorite jar recipe mix
Make sure the jar is clean and dust free. May need to wash in hot soapy water and dry.
Cut ribbon or twine to desired length to wrap around the jar. If using ribbon, I suggest lightly melting the ends of the ribbon to stop fraying with a lighter. You only want to heat the ribbon to the point were the ribbon just starts to melt.
Cut out your tag in the desired shape. Punch with two holes at the top of the tag to string ribbon through. String the ribbon through the tag with the ribbon going in the front of the tag and out the back side.
Write any special message on the tag you wish.
We wrote: It is a "Ball" having you as my teacher! (as we used the Ball brand mason jars). And then they signed their names.
I tied the ribbon with the tag on it to the jar in a bow. You could end it in a knot too.
Then fill the jar with your desired contents. We cut fresh flowers from the yard and placed them in the jar. Don't forget some water too.

For transporting the jars to school I used a smaller box and placed the jars in the corners and filled the middle with newspaper. I then placed the box on the floor of the car.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hardening Off Seedlings

Seedlings have been enjoying quite a pampered life inside your home. They get watered regularly and do not have to deal with the wind. But my garden is outside. So how do I safely transition my seedlings from my house to the garden?

Hardening off seedlings is a gradual transition to strong sunlight, wind and cool nights that occurs over 7 - 14 days. This prevents your seedlings from going into shock. During this time you want to cut back on watering the plants just enough so they do not whilt.
  1. Begin 7 - 14 days before you plan to plant the seedlings outdoors.
  2. Place plants in a wind sheltered spot or pick a mild day. Allow the plants to be in sunlight for   3 hours per day.
  3. Bring plants back indoors each night.
  4. Increase exposure to sunlight a few additional hours at a time and gradually reduce frequency of watering, but do not allow seedlings to wilt.  Do not fertilize.
  5. After 7 days, the plants should be able to handle sun all day and stay out at night, if temperatures stay above 50 degrees Farenheit. Make sure that the soil doesn't dry out and the plants get baked in the sun. 
  6. After  7 - 14 days your plants are ready to transplant into your garden! Try to do this on a cloudy day if possible to reduce shock.  Water well after planting.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Thinning Out Seedlings

Your seeds have grown into seedlings! But you begin to notice that you placed a few too many seeds into the container because you have a handful of seedlings growing out of the same crack in the dirt.

To give your seedlings the best chance to grow you need to thin or remove some of the seedlings. This decreases the crowding of roots and allows the nutrients to reach only one plant. 

You want to thin out the seedlings after the first true leaves appear. True leaves are not the first set of leaves that grow from the seedling but the second set. The second set of leaves are the true leaves, these leaves are miniature versions of the mature plant's leaves.

Once the first set of true leaves appear you can remove all other seedlings in the pot that surround this plant. To remove the seedlings you want to clip them off at the soil line with a scissors. Do not pull, tug or rip out the unwanted plant. If you pull out the unwanted seedlings you can pull out the plant you wanted to save because the roots are intertwined.

You might be upset to just cut off your precious seedlings but this is the easiest way to assure your seedling growing stronger.

An alternate way to separate seedlings is to remove the bunch of seedlings from the container and carefully pull the seedlings apart. Then you can plant the individual plants in their own containers. This method can result in damaged plants that do not thrive.

If you are new to growing plants from seed you will want to take the easy way by clipping the seedlings off.

Grow little seedlings grow!