Category Archives: Cooking and Food

Canning Up Peaches

Writers everywhere agree that real life produces the best fodder to nourish our creativity.

The day I wrote about my housekeeping skills, I decided it was time to clean off that countertop (can’t find the dryer now, but that’s beside the point), mop, and sic my kids on their bedroom. I wanted to dust, honest, but something more important came up!

Yesterday, the sun dawned to a brisk fall breeze…don’t you love watching curtains billowing, feeling that almost foreign blast of refreshment after the kind of summer we’ve all had? It set the tone for a wonderful day.

My friend and her 3 children came for lunch and to spend the day playing. As we moms slid pizzas in the oven and covered my counters (you knew there was a reason for all that cleaning, didn’t ya?) with canning supplies, the kids were romping with delight, lost in the spirit of play, best of friends separated too long.

Soon we had them all outside on a queen-sized comforter in the shade~picnic style, enjoying jigglers, fruit, pizza and lemonade. Meanwhile, we moms put off our own “chaw and glutch”, in favor of peeling peach skin and pureeing peach chunks. After we finished the noisy part, toddler went down for her nap and the older kids hopped in the pool.

Having the windows open was magical. It’s hot work, canning, and the children’s laughter floating in on the chill breeze could almost take you back in time…to a dirt floor cabin surrounded by tall pines, with no window panes and only a hide tacked to the doorframe. That fresh, fresh country air. That kinship of women at work.

With the blender turned off (back to the twenty-first century), we carried off a great conversation including but not limited to the progress of friend’s new home (they’re building it themselves), ways to encourage our two beginning readers, planning our upcoming orchard field trip, and brainstorming great things for this year’s Operation Christmas Child boxes.

While the pureed peaches simmered up to 165 degrees, we took a lengthy lunch break, conversation flowing uninterrupted. Eventually 14 quarts of peach lemonade and 4 pints of peach preserves stood pinging on the counter. Clean, dish-towel dried pots and canners were put away, while all other dishes drip-dried precariously in my dish drainer. 6 happy kids played outside with puppies and goats (yes, we have goats again–two nannies and 3 babies). My friend and I got online to research apples (Orchard trip again)…Honey-crisp, Sun Crisp, Macoun, Rome Beauty, Empire, Fuji…mmm, the taste descriptions made our mouths water! And now we know which ones are the best for eating “out of hand”, for pies and for applesauce!

Both our husbands worked late last night, so farewells didn’t need to come till 8 P.M.

And if all goes according to plan, I’ll be seeing her again early next week. She’s got access to some Honey-crisp apples and dairy fresh “peaches and cream” flavored milk! And she’s picking some up for yours truly!

Food and fellowship, they go hand in hand.

Thoughts on Homemaking

The homemaker in me really comes to life with the arrival of fall. The pantry must include extras of the following essentials: cinnamon, brown sugar, ww/white/bread flours, instant vanilla pudding, quick oats, choc. chips… My butter and cream cheese supply morphs into overstock, because to run out is unthinkable! You see, the arrival of fall at my house means baking! Cheesecakes, pies, cookies, breads…today, cinnamon rolls. It’s like an addiction.

If only the addiction would overflow into fall cleaning. You won’t read much on my blog about my housekeeping skills. True, that I get a little insane when the clutter level threatens to topple any visiting adults, and true that I get to claim somewhat of an exemption because we homeschool.

Still, I painted a small plaque and hung it just inside my kitchen doorway…it reads: My house was clean yesterday, sorry you missed it!  

Dh is more comfortable with the “lived in look”. What, honey, you enjoy having to search all surfaces for the elusive remote? See, I used to be obsessive about the remote always being on the top righthand corner of our coffee table. Before kids. Before homeschooling. Talk about free time. Back when I washed the walls regularly.

I do make our bed every day. And the girls and I keep up with the dishes. Dirty bathrooms really yank my chain, so ours (we only have one, thankfully!) is usually decent. Dust…you’ll find it. My back porch aka “mud room” is usually heaping with “stuff”. One of the long counters in my kitchen is usually hiding under the kid’s crafts and schoolwork. And mail. The toaster is back there somewhere.

Please don’t send me to Flylady. I think she has great ideas but I’ve been obsessive about cleaning  before and I’m really not looking to revert!

I’d rather be obsessive about things that interest me…my family, my friends (including you all here in the blogosphere)…and baking. After all, I truly love a clean house, but it lasts only an hour tops around here.  And I really don’t want my children to remember their mom as someone who killed herself, and all her time cleaning house.

I really don’t want them to remember me as an internet junkie either. But at least they’ll remember my kitchen full of good tastes and smells!

Home-canned Salsa

We love Mexican food and this week, we’ve already been immersed in the stuff! I made Taco Soup and cornbread for supper Monday, canned salsa yesterday, and today (besides canning stewed tomatoes) I’ve been working on a triple batch of beef enchiladas…time consuming but oh so worth it! Wanted to share my salsa recipe with you…I’d someday like to find one with lime juice as the acid base…but we’re perfectly thrilled with this one so why bother, right?

Mary’s Mild Salsa–makes 10 pints

  • 22 tomatoes (I put in more if they’re on the small side)
  • 4 bell peppers, chopped fine
  • 3 onions, chopped fine
  • 1 cup vinegar
  • 3/4 cup jalapeno peppers, chopped fine (confession, I use 4 small jalapenos–we like it really mild! so add peppers to your taste)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 1 cup (12 oz) tomato paste (this thickens your salsa nicely!)
  • Cilantro to taste (fresh is best!)
  • 3 cloves garlic minced

After getting skin off tomatoes (dip in boiling water 20 seconds, then into cold–skin falls off), you could put 2/3 of them in blender and blend, and then chop the rest of them, depending on how chunky you like your finished product.  We like it chunky so I usually just chop the whole batch and skip the blender. After chopping/blending, put all ingredients into pot, bring to a boil and then simmer for 25 minutes. Water bathe pints for 10 minutes, quarts, 20.

In years past I have omitted the tomato paste from my salsa and the result is a really runny salsa. Yes, it feels kind of like a cheat to add a can of tomato paste to home-canned salsa, but it really doesn’t take away from the taste, and results in a great consistency w/o hours and hours of stirring and boiling away your salsa to the right thickness. I’ve even done batches with 50% paste tomatoes, and still need to thicken it up. We like the Contadina brand tomato paste, it contains no high fructose corn syrup.

I’ll have to post the Taco Soup recipe sometime…it has taco seasoning mix, ranch dressing mix, corn, ranch-style beans…great, now I’m wishing I’d doubled that recipe!

Twists on Easy Lunch Ideas

Over at the Choosing Home Blog, the theme of the week is lunch…and how to keep it simple but not hum-drum! There are some great ideas over there!

Here are a few easy ones we like:

  • grilled pb&j (make like grilled cheese), you could also grill peanut butter and banana, or skip the grilling and make peanut butter and honey sandwiches
  • quesadillas (tortillas buttered on each side and grilled with shredded cheese and salsa inside)
  • tortilla roll-ups…spread cream cheese on tortilla, add ham or other meat and a leaf of lettuce and roll
  • breakfast burritos (yep, on a tortilla roll here) –we put scrambled eggs, cheese and salsa in ours
  • homemade mac & cheese with dill (I LOVE dill!)

An apple or two, a bunch of grapes, yogurt or baby carrots make a healthy side. I also keep a bag of frozen mixed veggies in the freezer for a quick fall back…My personal favorite: green salad which we have at least two-three times a week…

What are your favorite lunches?

Spinach-Lentil Soup, Anyone?

In keeping with the Choosing Home Blog’s theme this week on easy lunch ideas, I thought I’d share one that’s good-for-you and cheap as well!

This one comes from Katie (mom of 12). I’ve had it for a couple of years now…YUM. Ideal for lunch.

Spinach-Lentil Soup

  • One bag of lentils
  • One bunch of spinach, chopped 
  • One to two chopped onions
  • One tsp minced garlic  
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • Cheese

Saute the onion and garlic until tender. Add lentils and cover with water (a lot of water, they grow). Boil for at least an hour until lentils are tender. Add lemon juice and spinach, salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes. Serve with cheddar cheese on bottom of bowl…spoon hot soup over and the cheese melts. Can I say YUM one last time?

Yum!

Pizza Dough and Lunch at Our House

Midday meals are my favorite! What better time to teach little cooks about cooking? The fare is on the easy-side, we’re all still fresh and full of patience…unlike the busy supper-hour when my old-fashioned kitchen with its big-table-in-the-center becomes a one-person-too-many-kitchen! Unless it’s my dh vying for my attention, that is! By evening, I’m usually ready for some “taller than the table” conversation!

By helping me fix lunch my girls learn to use the stovetop and microwave, make sandwiches, chop veggies for salads, flip pancakes, become the “queens” of scrambled eggs…many days they won’t even let me in the kitchen because they want to surprise me with a fancy chef salad or a sandwich that would make Subway sit up and take notice!

Today for lunch we had apple slices, dill pickles and cheese pizza, courtesy of Miss Toddler…okay, she had quite a bit of help from me…

Pizza is one of my absolute favorites to make with children! And the best thing about my recipe for pizza dough is that it makes a bunch and keeps in the refrigerator for 2 weeks! Lots of dough to practice on and no time limits!  My girls know the easy way to make pizza sauce: pop open an 8 oz can of tomato sauce, add Italian seasoning, garlic powder, minced onion and a bit of sugar…while they’re perfecting the sauce (we’ve diced garden tomatoes in a pinch and that’s better yet!) my two year old is poking fork-holes in around the edges of the pizza dough. Big spoons all around aid in spreading the sauce, and yes, some gets on the counter…

Toppings abound, the most fun for this part is when each girl makes their own personal pan…several kinds of cheese is a must! We’ve made all the traditionals, plus taco and bbq beef…yes, even dessert pizza! And on Valentine’s day we always send a heart shaped pizza to work in Daddy’s lunch cooler!

Pizza parties have been monthly occurrences with my homeschool friends…in fact, I got this recipe from one of them. It’s the best out there imesho!

Pizza Dough

  • 5 cups flour

  • 1 TB baking powder
  • 2 cups milk (I warm mine in the microwave)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 TB (or 1 pkg) yeast in ½ cup warm water

Beat together. Let rise and then bake at 425 degrees for 18-25 minutes. Dough keeps in the refrigerator up to two weeks.

Tips:

  1. You can make this dough in your bread machine; I do it all the time. My bread machine pan is only a 2 lb capacity so I have to shorten the rising time by 15 minutes to keep the dough from spilling over and making a huge mess…
  2. On big pizzas make sure the center is completely baked before serving. It’s a thick crust and tends to be doughy if you’re not careful!

Making Kolaches

What do you get when you have 6 females, a lot of time on your hands and a variety of pie fillings? A party and 40 Kolaches later…

My kitchen smells like a bakery! My mom, niece, and another young girl came over today and we learned the fine art of making these beautiful pastries with a thimbleful of filling dotting their centers. Kolaches are a Czech-originated treat, and can be made with sausage or meat fillings, but we went the sugary route choosing from lemon, almond, strawberry, cherry, raspberry and peach. With all that we had leftover, my girls and I are planning on a Kolache Kraze tomorrow morning…my mom assures me that they freeze wonderfully!

Before I share the recipe we used, here is a link for Poppy Seed Kolaches. Just for you, Mom!

No Knead Refrigerator Kolache

  • 4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup cold milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1 package dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 (12 oz) cans of fruit or almond filling

Streusel Topping: Mix 3 TB flour, 3 TB sugar and 2 TB butter till crumbly (do this shortly before you need it so the butter won’t get too soft to be “sprinkled”)

Measure flour, salt, shortening and butter into mixer’s bowl. Mix as for pie crust. (The flat blade of your stand mixer works great for this!) Dissolve yeast in separate bowl of warm water, add 1 tsp sugar. Let rise until it comes near top of bowl. In another bowl, mix milk with 1/4 cup sugar and 4 egg yolks. Add dissolved yeast mixture to milk mixture. Pour liquid mixture into flour mixture, folding in until all flour is absorbed. Put on floured board and knead into a ball. Put into a greased bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight or at least 4 hours.

Put dough on floured board. Divide into 5 pieces. Make each piece into oblong roll and cut into 8. Dough will be very sticky. When forming into balls, use a little flour to help. Roll into ball and put on lightly greased baking pans. Cover and let rise to double. Do the same for the other pieces. When risen, depress centers, brush edges with melted butter and fill with filling of your choice. Sprinkle with streusel and let rise. Bake at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Just for fun~ you can make a cloth depressor to press down the kolache in the center…this is the hole that you dab with filling…we did this today: Cut a 7 inch square pice of cloth. Put 2 TB of flour in center and twist the ends together to make a tight ball. Tie with string or bread twister (we used rubber bands) next to compressed flour ball. Use for pressing down dough centers.

Home-made Bread and Jam

What better treat, right? Especially when it’s from whole wheat flour ground here at home! My mom generously lets me borrow her Grain Master Whisper Mill whenever I need a fresh supply, and I store both my wheat berries and the resulting flour in the freezer for freshness. It’s such beautiful, soft flour and makes golden loaves of bread. I’ll share my super quick and easy recipe below, but first, a couple of tips:

  • Crush a vitamin C and add it to your ingredients. It acts as a natural preservative to prolong your bread’s life. (Of course, my family just downed almost an entire loaf before it cooled…so it’s not always a necessity!)
  • If you grind your own flour, add 1 TB gluten for every 3.5 cups flour. The gluten adds elasticity and strength to wheat breads. I get mine from an Amish community store…it’s a gold mine of bulk buys!
  • use an electric knife to cut the finished product…it slides through so evenly without squishing

My recipe assumes you have a Kitchen Aid (or similar) stand mixer with a dough hook. Add the ingredients in the order listed, and don’t shy away from trying the watered hands/counter way of handling dough…it’s so much easier to clean up than the floured hand/counter method.

Whole Wheat Bread

In mixer, put: in order:

  1. 1/3 cup oil
  2. 1/3 cup honey (reuse your meas. cup, the honey slides right out)
  3. 1/2 TB salt
  4. 1 ground vitamin C
  5. 2 3/4 cup hot water

Start mixer on low, using flat blade, and add 3 cups flour and two scant TB yeast. After ingredients are blended switch to dough hook, and add flour till dough starts to pull from sides of mixer. Mix ten minutes. Your dough will be sticky, don’t worry about it. Put on watered counter, and with wet hands pinch off into two loaves and put in *bread pans.

Let rise for a bit less than thirty minutes, and then bake in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes. Let cool completely on rack before putting into bags!

*my bread pans are old, so I grease and flour them. If yours are non-stick and in good condition, you won’t need to do this.

Enjoy Read Alouds With All Five Senses

I’ve blogged before about the series we’re reading written by Ralph Moody in the 1950’s about his own boyhood. The first book, “Little Britches”, hooked us but good, and we’ve now moved onto book number two: “Man of the Family”. The next and last (I believe) is called “Shaking the Nickle Bush.”

Currently, Little Britches and his big sister Grace are canvassing their home town of Littleton, CO selling wagon loads of their mom’s homemade goodies…donuts, pies, injun puddin’ and beans. Their father died at the end of the last book, and the family is doing what it takes to make ends meet.

So I thought we’d have a “little britches” meal tonight, but upon researching ‘injun pudding’ I see that it takes injun cornmeal and has raisins and cinnamon…which sounds downright unpalatable!

So we’ll have plain ole cornbread with our beef ‘n beans, donuts and peach pie. So much for authentic.

Btw, if you should choose to read this series aloud, be aware that one or two of the adult characters drop some unsavory words now and then. I’m a fast reader, usually several words ahead of what I’m actually voicing, so I just ad-lib. In this case, the story is worth it.

I’ve said it before, it’s a series that reminds me a bit of the Little House books…only from a boy’s perspective.

Canning

My homeschooling friend and I got together today and canned pickles four different ways–bread and butter, dill, refrigerator dill and pickled okra. Mmmm. Our next canning day is later in August with peach lemonade concentrate up for processing!

My mom always had a neat way of comparing canning to Christianity. Life’s pressures and how they hone us. So many things are important in canning: clean hot jars, veggies/fruits need to be softened, air bubbles need dissipated, lids need to seal so the contents will stay preserved…the water in the canner needs to be boiling, and pints and quarts have to cook for certain lengths of time. All that pressure in these combinations result in a good product.

Today my friend and I had one jar break while canning…the glass bottom just blew off and all the okra in that pint went to waste. It happens. Not sure what went wrong, perhaps it was just a weak jar or maybe we filled it too full.

What causes a Christian to stumble downhill…weakness during testing? Discouragement? Pride?

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4