Category: Gardens and Food

Fantastic Bake Along-Oatmeal Cookies

I am late in joining the fantastic bake along this month, because I have been out of town the last part of this week. I was thrilled when Kate suggested her Grandmother’s Oatmeal cookies, because DH and I had just been talking about making some! Why not try the new-old recipe provide by Kate at Life Tea and Everything .

Of course, it seems I can’t make a recipe without meddling, and this month was no exception! I didn’t put in the nuts this time, and I substituted cranberries for the chocolate chips. This batch had dehydrated cranberries we picked up during the after Christmas sales last January. I wasn’t sure how they would work, because they had no added sugar like craisins, but I wanted to give it a try.

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They looked beautiful in the oven, though sometimes dried fruit doesn’t fare very well when baked….

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The exposed cranberries did darken, but they did not burn! Hurrah! The cookies have a delightful tang to them, to balance the sweet. I really loved the crunchy texture on the outside, with a softer middle. Yummy!

Next batch I’ll have some walnuts to throw in as well!  Do go see how the other baking adventures went. We post our experiences, whether we think we were successful or not, so you get a good feel for how things go.

One more thing, adding the baking soda to the boiling water was a hoot! Had no idea it would react! I’ll have to ask Girl #1  (the chemist) why that is so.

Check out the rest of our baking friends:

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Food Preservation #1

Someone said they would love to learn more about canning, i.e. Food preservation earlier this summer, so I’ll share some of my canning adventures this fall. Today is a busy day, there will be beans to pickle and plums to jam. Let’s start with the dilled green beans. They are amazing if you have never tried them and pretty fool proof, like cucumber pickles,Mohicans are still hit or miss for me.

But first, we should talk equipment. Here’s what you need:

  • A non ceramic stove top. Those smooth tops can break under the weight and heat from the canner. The old fashioned electric or gas stove is fine.
  • A large pot for the brine, it needs to hold 2-3 quarts of liquid, so a Dutch oven works great.
  • A hot water bath canner. These are usually available at hardware stores, Walmart, and ag related stores like Tractor Supply or Runnings. They are BIG, able to hold 7 quart jars.
  • A canning kit, if you’ve never done this before. You probably have some of the items, but the canning kit contains the jar grabber and the funnel, which is exactly the size of a narrow mouth jar. They also contain a nifty lid grabber with a magnet on the end. Those three items are worth the kit! 
  • Jars and lids. A new box of jars comes with the rings and lids. The rings are resusable, the lids are not. Wide mouth are easier for novices to work with, especially for pickles of any kind.
  • Various pans for sterilizing the jars, rings and lids, of which one should be a 9 X 13 metal cake pan or similar.
  • Safe Recipes-I get mine from the Extension Service because they do the food safety research. **Any recipe that tells you to use the oven or dish washer is UNSAFE!!


Here’s some of my equipment. As you can see, I use tongs instead of the lid magnet…DH threw it away, because he didn’t like it!! If you have this assembled you can make jam, pickles, or preserve fresh fruit.

Grocery items you need for 8 pints of dilled green beans:

  • 4 -5 pounds of green beans, at least 4 inches long and straight
  • Canning salt (it has no iodine or anti-caking additives, so the brine remains clear)
  • White vinegar (5% acidity-Don’t go fancy here, unless the acidity is marked. Good old Heinz or generic vinegar  is a standard 5%.)
  • Fresh dill weed. (Dill seed will work, but it isn’t as pretty)
  • Red pepper flakes (not required, but ooh so good)
  • Garlic clove for each jar

A batch of dilled green beans (8 pint jars) requires 4 pounds of beans, the straighter the better. If you buy beans, you can weigh and select the straight ones. If you pick like me, you sort and then prepare extra jars. It’s always better to have too much than not enough. If you buy, get extra, and you can have fresh green beans for dinner. 
Before we start prepping the beans, its’s time to get the stove set up and the water, etc. heating. First, wash your jars and lids in hot, soapy water and rinse. Fill the canner 1/3full of water and put it on your biggest back burner on medium high. On one of the two small burners,  put a 2 qt. sauce pot with water and the rings and lids for the 8 jars. The pot needs to be large enough that the rings and lids are completely covered with water. Turn this on high, and when it begins to boil, turn it down, but keep the water on a stout simmer.  On the second smaller burner, center your metal cake pan and add 8 pint jars, then add 2-3 inches of water. Put this on mediuhigh heat.

**The jars and lids need to be in boiling water so that they sterilize. They need to come to a full boil, then do a stout simmer 10-15 minutes depending on the altitude. The formula is 10 minutes for 1000 ft. Elevation or less + 1 minute for each additional 1000 feet.

The final large burner is for your brine solution. A Dutch oven is a great size for this. Into this pot measure your water, vinegar and salt.  When pickling, you can do the math to make more or less solution, just remember that the ratios must remain the same. I am pretty picky about recipes. I generally use only the info provided by the canning guides produced by land grant institutions and their Extension Service.  Today’s recipe has a simple brine: 4 cups water, 4 cups vinegar, and 1/2 cup canning salt. 

See my stove set up below. Note how I have my lids and rings set up just like they will go on a jar. This is necessary for me when using tongs, because I’m a klutz.

 Now that the liquids are heating up, it is time to turn our attention to the green beans.Wash them, snap off both ends, and then line them up on your cutting board and cut them into a 4 inch length. If they are longer, they will not fit into the jar. As it is you may still need to trim a few. Set the cut off pieces aside, there may be enough left over to have fresh green beans for dinner. Rinse those beans one more time, and put them in a large bowl so that you can easily grab a handful. 

**When the water in the cake pan begins to boil, sometimes the jars will create a vacuum and suck up all the water. It usually makes a very strange sucking noise, so you will hear it. If that happens, no worries, just gently tilt or lift the jar to let the water escape. 

Check your water, turning things up or down as necessary to move them down to a stout simmer or bring them up to a boil. Don’t forget, the jars and lids need 10 minutes plus to sterilize. While you are waiting, peel the garlic cloves, pull out a clean cloth to wipe the jar rims if you spill brine on them, find a 1/8 teaspoon or something tiny for the red pepper flakes, and finally remove 8 sprigs of dill.  Once the jars are sterile and the brine is boiling, you are ready to assemble your jars!

Wash your hands again just before you assemble. You will have to put the beans into the jars with your bare hands, so get them as clean as possible before you begin. When you are ready to assemble, turn off the heat under the jars and lids. Carefully take a jar out (they are very hot) and add the clove of garlic, 1/8 tsp red pepper flakes and the sprig of dill (fold it as necessary to fit, like the picture above.) Next, take a handful of green beans and slip them into the jar. Give it a good shake and/or swish, to help settle the beans, then add more until the jar is full. Don’t stuff the jar tight, but get them pretty crowded.

Once the jars are filled, you can use the funnel and your ladle to add the simmering brine. This recipe calls for 1/2 inch head space, so fill to the first ridge. Once the jars have brine, take your lids and rings from their pot and put them on the jars. If a rim is wet from brine, wipe it off with the cloth you have handy.  Tighten the rings with your hand only. Using your handy jar grabber, pick them up and put them in the canner. The water needs to be 2-3 inches over the top of the jars. If you need more boiling water, use the water from the rings and lids pan, and the jars pan. Turn the burner on high, put the lid on and keep watch. When the canner has come to a full rolling boil, set your timer and consider turning the heat down just a bit. You don’t need an out of control boil, just a good rolling boil. For my altitude (1000-6000 ft.) the time is 10 minutes.

When the timer dings, turn off the heat and take off the lid. Place a towel on the counter, and use the jar grabber to carefully lift you jars out of the canner. You can tip them just enough to let the water run off the top as you pull them out. Let them sit on the towel, and in a few minutes you will hear the delightful ping of a jar sealing. Sealed jars have a concave lid and unsealed jars have a convex lid. Allow your jars to completely cool before you worry about unsealed lids. Unsealed lids make a popping sound when you push down on them, while sealed jars don’t move at all.

Let you pickles dill for 4-6 weeks before opening them, to maximize the flavor!

    Scary Garden

    Yes, our tame, stubby garden turned the corner and has become a monster! No more happy rows of tomatoes…now it’s enter at your own risk…


    The corn and squash have taken off. The squash would have reached danger level had it not been decimated by squash bugs. We keep adding diatomaceous earth, and I think they are now on the run.

    The cantaloupe is reaching epic proportions…sure hope there’s some cantaloupe in there.

    Look at this lettuce, it FINALLY grew….

     

    ….as did this one pepper plant.

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    The carrots that survived look pretty good.

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    The sunflowers are getting monstrous!

     

    We had our first green beans in a stir fry this week, these are just revving up.

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    The potatoes went wild. Hopefully we had enough covered to get some potatoes out of the deal, and we had a few surviving turnips (maybe 10).  I pulled one and put it in the stir fry. I have just a dab of dill, hoping it is enough to make a batch of dilled green beans. Yum!

    Look at these grapes! The vines are four years old and have taken over this side of the fence. I’ll never find them all.

    Now, if we can just hold back the frost until the end of September…we will be living the high life! 😊

    Of course as soon as I wrote this post we got golf ball sized hail…things are recovering, and we didn’t have too many major hits. The largest sunflower’s head got severed clean off, and a few baby cantaloupe split open, but that was the worst of it.

    Fantastic Bake Along – Whole Grain Bread

    It was my turn to select the recipe for the monthly Fantastic Bake Along, and I had a difficult time choosing what to make,  but finally settled on a staple at our house, whole grain bread. I must credit DH with this recipe. He is quite the Rennaissance man, and decided to create his own perfect bread recipe several years ago. This came from his love of warm, home made bread, and his scientific nature, as well as his interest in economics. We are all the beneficiaries! You can get the recipe here, there is a hand made version and a bread machine version.

    We do the bread machine version most weeks, and usually make one loaf a week. We haven’t bought bread for 4-5 years because of this recipe. 😄

    For the Bake Along I did a loaf by hand just to be certain there were no big glitches, so it was a little new for me too.

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    First, we proof the yeast. If you are a novice, this is important, because it allows you to make sure your yeast is alive before you go to all the effort of mixing and kneading. I seem to continually struggle with the right temperature (my warm is often too hot), so I am a firm believer in this step. If the yeast is alive, they start looking sort of puffy. If you killed them, they dissolve, but nothing changes.

    While I wait the 5-7 minutes for that, I grind my whole wheat flour. We have a hand grinder on the kitchen counter, and it is easy to do the 1/4 cup for this recipe. If I didn’t have the germ, bran and flax, I would do another 1/4 cup of  whole wheat to replace it. If you like more whole wheat than white flour, you can usually go up to half white and half whole wheat without much trouble, but it will require some adjustments on rise time, and you may want to up the yeast to a tablespoon to help things along. Below, you can see the different add ins. Clockwise from the top is wheat bran, whole wheat flour, flax seed and wheat germ. Bran and germ add more fiber, and the flax is a natural aid to joint health.

    I mix these in first, then start adding the white flour. Don’t know why, but all my 4-H books say to use a wooden spoon for mixing bread flour. Anyone know why that is?

    I prefer to mix just enough flour to get the dough pulled from the sides of the bowl, then knead the rest in. Kneading bread is an experience everyone should have, it is very cathartic! I always set the timer, then I can just knead away and be lost in thought!

    Knead your  bread until it is elastic…smooth is a little difficult with whole wheat, so if you are a novice, just stick to the the timer. The kneading is what develops the gluten and allows the air bubbles from the yeast to form tiny air pockets in the loaf. That’s what makes your bread light!

    Kneading is done, now we have the first rise.  Put a dab of oil, maybe a teaspoon into the bottom of your dirty mixing bowl, and use your lump of dough to cover the bottom edges of the bowl. Turn the dough over to coat both sides (just a bit of glisten is what you want), cover it with a cloth and put in a warm place.  The day I did this it was COLD! At 45 minutes my bread had barely risen, so I turned the oven on to 150 degrees and finished it in there. I don’t recommend this, but ND and MN 4-H bread guides actually tell you how to do this, because in the winter, it can be impossible to get a decent rise!

     

    It took longer than the original 60 minutes for my bread, so I had to eyeball it…double in size from when I put it in the bowl.  So, now I turn it out, and punch it done to get rid of the air pockets. As I smash it, I shape it into a rectangle of sorts. Some people use a rolling pin, but I just smash it well with my hands. Next we roll it up and pinch all the ends so that they stay sealed when it does its second rise. Looks kind of ugly, but it will be on the bottom of the pan, and the second rise will plump it up so it looks smooth.

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    The ugly looked pinched loaf.

    Looking better in the pan.

    Ready for the oven!

    Baked and out of the pan

    A look at the texture…I cut mine too warm, a common problem at our house!!

    And, here’s the links to the others joining us this month! Do check out their adventures too!

    It’s a Jungle Out There!

    DSCN1199It has been so hot! Too hot to go out and weed, until this morning, and now we have a jungle forming in the garden. At long last the plants are starting to kick it into gear. We had things in seedling form for two months; they just didn’t grow. It was discouraging. We came back from California, expecting a noticeable change and there was very little. UGH!

    We had thought the problem was that the compost was getting too hot for the little seedlings, because it does get very dry. We spread straw all over before we left for graduation, hoping that the whole garden would look better when we returned. Not so. We resigned ourselves to getting rid of the noxious weeds this year and little, if any produce. Next year!! (sounds just like my farmer uncles)

    DH is a soil man, and he was perplexed. All that wonderful compost and things looked terrible…he finally decided that it might have been a nitrogen fixing problem with the compost. That, and the cardboard we laid to deal with the noxious weeds, might have been too much for the little seedlings. The pure compost was busy fixing (I don’t understand that, so I can’t explain it) and until it was finished, the plants couldn’t get the nitrogen they needed.

    The areas that weren’t in raised beds started growing first, especially the tomatoes which

    we had really babied along. (It takes A LOT of tomatoes to make a quart of tomato sauce!)  Some of the corn was actually “knee high by the 4th of July” which I understand is necessary to get corn.  (The buckets are to collect extra rain water when we get it.) Some of the corn, (it’s very spotty) is as tall as me now, and I found a baby squash this morning while weeding.

    DSCN1205However, the canteloupe, which was an after thought and where we used our little bit of personal compost was going crazy!

     

     

     

    Earlier this week I noticed that one pepper plant DSCN1198in the raised bed had suddenly turned a darker green and was sprouting leaves everywhere, also buds…hurrah! He’s the dark one in the lower left.

    The green beans are starting to pick up steam now, after looking sickly since May, even with the second planting I did.

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    The sprinkling of carrots is taking off, though the onions and garlic are likely a lost cause for the year, as are the turnips, rutebegas and cabbage. We may have a chance now with some beets, and a replanting of spinach should be fine.

     

    Get this, though, the lettuce started growing this week. DH keeps reminding me that this is God’s garden, and He will provide the food we are supposed to have from it. If not from here, it will come from somewhere else.

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    Seeing this lettuce is a delight; it is called baby romaine, and I was really looking forward to salads. Maybe I’ll get some just when the tomatoes are going, and maybe a lone cucumber or two. (another fail, though one plant is determined, it is only 2-3 inches tall, but is sporting one very nice bloom.)

    SOME of the sunflowers have gone crazy now…look at this monster! They are still pretty short, but some are literally growing close to an inch a day I think!

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    The grapes are in their glory! They are now four years old, and they have literally covered their corner of the fence. We have grapes in visible clumps, getting bigger by the day, and looking VERY happy. There will be plenty for eating fresh, maybe a batch of jam, and some juice. We will attempt to do raisins, but with the crazy little birds, that might not work so well. We’ll try. No photos of this, they are just a huge wall of leaves!

    Too bad I took all the pictures before I spent an hour weeding. By sunset, it will look much better out there, with all the contraband dried up! You probably noticed that we have what looks like grass every where. That is the straw sprouting…its wheat. We  pull the larger clumps and just lay them on the ground, for extra nitrogen. In the fall we will let whatever is left go, and collect the stems. Last year I actually ground a bit up for whole wheat flour, I think I gathered up maybe a cup of wheat kernels, which grinds into a cup of flour.

     

    Fantastic Bake Along

    Thanks to Emma from Emma Crafts Design for the recipe for this month’s Fantastic Bake Along—Quiche. I had to make a trip to the grocery store, so we had our quiche tonight for dinner. There is a definite advantage to being one of the last to post; you can see everyone’s modifications, and change your recipe accordingly!

    I stuck with Emma’s basic pastry recipe, using my Betty Crocker cook book to find some American measures in the same proportion. I did decide to try the olive oil instead of butter, so added a bit more flour as advised by Betty Crocker. However, I thought my crust was a bit on the dry side and a little difficult to work with. I ended up rolling it between waxed paper.


    For the quiche, the big experiment was trying some of our dehydrated eggs instead of all fresh. I added the requisite water to them early this afternoon, so they would have plenty of time to reconstitute (about 3 hours).  My plan was to try half dehydrated and half fresh, and see how that affected the taste and texture. I also added some spinach and kale, (Girl #2’s influence) because I didn’t have lots of bacon. Finally, we went with our favorite, cheddar cheese.

    35 minutes in the oven, and we were ready to enjoy!

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    I am happy to report that no one could discern that the eggs were different from fresh! I was a little worried, because the reconstituted eggs do seem a little bit grainy, so I really wondered it that would be the case after baking, but happily the texture was identical to quiches where I have use all fresh eggs. A good thing to know if we ever end up having to use emergency rations for a period of time. 🙂

    Check out the other participants at these sites:

    Mountain Vistas

    Mountain Vistas

    The Big Horn Mountains contain wonderful high meadows, forests and snow at the tops of the highest peaks. During our camping trip we enjoyed the cooler temperatures and the wonderful vistas. I especially loved the variety of the mountain flora. Click any photo for a larger picture.

    We did some hiking, and enjoyed some gorgeous views, especially during the hike into the Cloud Peak Wilderness.

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    There were some incredible trout fishing areas here, though neither of us fish. We just enjoyed the gorgeous scenery!

    We were also treated to some interesting wildlife. The chipmunks and squirrels enjoyed teasing Max, driving him to distraction at times. I was able to capture one cheeky squirrel who had no fear.

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    But the best was seeing Mama Moose and her baby one afternoon. They were just across the road from our campsite, browsing along the river.

    It was a welcome respite from the hot days in Rapid City, where temperatures have been in the mid to upper 90’s (35-37 Celsius) for a week, and are expected to continue indefinitely, with no rain.

    We camped at two different places, one very near a bubbling creek, which Max the dog LOVED. He kept hopping in and laying in it, then chasing squirrels, hopping in again, etc. We finally had to put him on his chain so that he would dry off before bed time! The second was at a Forest Service campsite, which had the standard picnic table, trash, bathrooms and potable water. We have a Berkey water filter, so we have the option of camping anywhere there is a water source. (We use it at home too, to remove many of the chemicals from the city water.)

    We have a great time cooking while we camp; here’s what we ate:

    Friday supper: Red beans and rice with Andouille sausage, which was made ahead at home, and warmed up over the Coleman propane stove, which we use to prepare the morning coffee while the fire is readied for cooking breakfast.

    Saturday: Sausage patties and pancakes made over the campfire for breakfast and roast beef with mixed vegetables made over the coals for supper.

    Sunday:  Bacon, eggs and biscuits for breakfast, and green chili beef burritos with refried beans for supper (from the leftover roast beef, and peach pie for dessert. (I should have taken a picture!)

    Monday: Sausage patties with fried potatoes and onions for breakfast, and pepperoni pizza for supper. DSCN1137

    We have a cast iron griddle, skillet and Dutch oven, which really expands what you can do with a campfire! If anyone is really interested, I will do a post on how I prep for these types of camping meals. They are a fun challenge, and really yummy!

    We had a great time cooling off, and just enjoying creation, but it was good to get back today and get everything cleaned up. I am going to enjoy a very long shower here in a bit!