Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Yahoo Groups

I'm not sure if you're aware of the vast amounts of information on the internet via Yahoo Groups. Yahoo Groups are essentially online clubs you can join with the luxury of staying in your pajamas to participate. I belong to quite a few.

There, you will find people who are so knowledgeable in the subject of the group, that it will just blow your mind. Also, most of the groups have compiled extensive files that you can browse and download to add to your own library of recipes, techniques, skills and all around know-how. Many also have photos they've uploaded of all sorts of things like container garden ideas, canned food, food pantries and other efforts.

The best part of Yahoo Groups is the fact that they're free. Some of them require you to "apply" for membership through a moderator, but that's mostly there to keep out the riff-raff, and certainly none of my readers is riff-raff. :) Other groups you can join and have immediate access to the files and posts.

To join just go to yahoogroups.com and sign up. You can do a search for subjects you're interested in. Below are a few that I belong to that I highly recommend. You can search for them directly.

food-storage (must include the hyphen)
preserving-food (must include the hyphen)

If you have any other suggestions for good storage skills type groups, please let me know. The more the merrier.

Hope to see you around. Even if you're just a lurker on the groups. You'll surely pick up something to add to your treasure chest of knowledge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Almond Cheesecake Bars

This is a bonus post just for Thanksgiving. I received this recipe in an email through a yahoogroup. It's so easy to make and it tastes wonderful. Enjoy!

Almond Cheesecake Bars

2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup icing sugar


1 - 8 oz package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten


1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 tsp almond extract
4 to 5 tsp milk

Combine the flour, butter and icing sugar; press onto the bottom of a
greased 13 x 9" baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 20 to 25 minutes
or until golden brown.

For filling, in a small bowl, beat the cream cheese, sugar and extract
until smooth. Add eggs and beat on low speed just until combined.

Pour over crust. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until center is almost
set. Cool on a wire rack.

Combine the frosting ingredients until smooth; spread over bars. Store
in the refrigerator.

Makes: 3 dozen

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding Jars

Canning as a way of food preservation is making a come back. With all the difference pesticides and other food additives, many are choosing to can their own food in order to insure a quality product for themselves and their families. With the increase of popularity of the skill, the increase the demand for canning jars and supplies.

I thought I'd give a few tips on gathering jars as inexpensively as possible.

1. Free is always best.
- Ask for them. Especially the older generation. Many canned religiously but with the ease of getting food and their increased age, they don't want to be bothered anymore. (Great source to teach canning as well)
-Put out a request on Freecycle and Craigslist in your area. Remember to check areas that surround your area. Be willing to travel.

I must throw in a story or two of my experiences with Freecycle and Craigslist.

Freecycle - I threw out a request on my Freecycle group for canning jars. I was rewarded with a response from a lady that was moving and wanted to get ride of all her canning supplies. She gave me about 500 jars of different sizes as well as lids, tools and a Victorio Strainer. FREE!!! HELLO!!! Major score!

Craigslist - I saw an ad in the FREE category. I had to travel about 30 minutes North but was rewarded with 70 jars plus lids and rings. Again...a great score.

They're out there, you just have to keep your eyes open.

2. Not free but cheap.
- Craigslist - I'm finding that "jar owners" are tuning into the fact that they can make a little money off of their jar cache. Don't let them take advantage of you. Remember you can buy a whole box of brand new jars, lids and rings for less than $12 usually. (quarts always cost the most) I usually will spend as much as .50/jar but that's it. .50/jar for quarts and less than that for pints and half pints. Be respectful but bargain with them a bit, especially since they're not offering lids and rings.

Another Craigslist story - I saw an ad for an All American pressure canner and a lot of about 70 jars for $100. It sat their for a while but then I couldn't stand it any longer and bought it all. Everything was nearly new. The husband was getting rid of his wife's canning collection. That canner retails for just under $200 and the jars would've easily been around $50 brand new. Good deal!

-Keep your eyes open at yard sales and flea markets. You may pick up one here and one there, but usually it'll be closer to half a dozen or more. The same rules apply for pricing as above.

3. Stores. Boring, I know. Usually Big Lots has the least expensive prices on jars. They carry the Golden Harvest brand of jars. Walmart also carries jars during the summer (canning season) for decent prices. This year Ball and Kerr put out coupons for jars, you can use those at the Walmart.

Usually the grocery stores will be the most expensive. They typically carry jars all year long. That's your last resort though.


--When you go to pick up your jars, make sure you run your finger around the edge of the rim to check for any chips or cracks. You're not going to want to pay for those.
--Give the jars a good looking over to check for cracks or funky spots. I've had a couple of jars straight out of a new box that weren't completely blown out, they had a indent in them. Thus making them completely unusable.
--Most stores will put their canning supplies out around late April or early May. Prepare be saving some money throughout the winter to bump up your supply when they're available again. By the first of November here, Walmart was sold out of all their jars here in NJ. Down South, you'll probably find them earlier in the year and later into the Fall and even Winter. Canning is more of a way of life down there. Kinda like Mecca for me. :)

Hope that gives you some ideas. Just keep your eyes open and no doubt you'll amass quite a collection. Good luck!

Wheat vs. Flour

I often get asked questions that require a specific answer for the person asking. Like, how much flour do you put in your bread recipe? Or how long do you knead the dough? Or how many children do you have? HA! Just seeing if you're awake.

Most of the time specifics are not very important to me. When it comes to bread, I mostly do it by feel and what I see happening to the dough. So, I'm trying to pay a bit more attention when I'm baking bread or doing other skill-related tasks so that I can return and report.

My husband and I were talking about how much wheat we felt we needed to have in storage in order to have at least a year's supply. He's a perfectionist/specific kinda guy. This frustrates us both from time to time. :)

Today I made some wheat bread. I decided to measure out wheat berries and then grind them and measure the flour that was created.

I put two cups of wheat berries into the grinder and out came a little over four cups of flour. So, that should help you and my husband for future wheat calculations.

2 Cups Wheat Berries = 4 Cups of Whole Wheat Flour

An additional note: I tend to mix and match my grains and legumes when making bread. Today's bread was 4 cups of wheat berries, 1 cup dried navy beans, 1 1/2 cups of buckwheat and about 1/3 cup of whole flax seed. This combo produced 13 1/2 cups of flour. Turned out to be the right amount for my dough today.

My recipe also called for 1/2 cup of oatmeal. I had a daughter who made oatmeal for breakfast this morning and about 1/2 cup of cooked oatmeal was left. Perfect! I just threw it in the water when mixing up the dough. That could've contributed a bit for the extra amount of flour I needed.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Canning Shredded Pork

I'm having a bit of trouble with my pictures loading so until I get that figured out I'll just explain the beginning of the experiment.

I was at the Sam's Club last week and noticed their country spare ribs were on sale for $1.42/lb. My husband loves when I slow cook them in barbecue sauce and serve either as a sandwich or over rice. But, then I got this great idea. So, I bought three packages.

I am loving my new Nesco digital pressure cooker. I rubbed some bbq rub on the meat and put one package into my cooker. I put a little water in the bottom and a steamer insert inside onto which I put the meat. I set the cooker for 45 minutes. At the end, the ribs were perfect. The meat fell off the bones when I was shredding it for pulled pork sandwiches. That was about the easiest meal I've ever made.

I cooked the other two packages the same way and had quite a bit of meat that I could then can.

Here is most of what I cooked and shredded from the pork ribs. We did eat some for dinner the night I bought them. This is one of those big disposable plastic containers nearly full.
I filled up three and a half quarts with the pork. I had saved the broth from cooking the pork and used that as the liquid. The jar furtherest to the right looks a little different because I used water to fill that one. I ran out of the broth.

Make sure the rims are wiped down really well because the pork was a bit greasy and you want the lids to seal on to the jars successfully. I used a little soap on my cloth just to make sure. I know of some people who will use rubbing alcohol or white vinegar on the rims. I haven't found that necessary, but with the greasy food, I just wanted to do a little more.
Inside are the three quarts and one pint of pork. I filled the canner up with three extra quart jars of water. I processed the jars at 10lbs pressure for 90 minutes in my pressure canner.

I'm pretty thrilled with the outcome of this particular experiment. I bought the meat for $1.42/lb. We ate dinner from it and I got at least three more dinners from it. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to record how many pounds I bought. I want to say about 7-8 lbs altogether. A couple of the packages were bone-in so they weighed a little more for a little less meat. But the rib bones are not that large.

You may wonder why there are a few bottles of water in the canner. I've learned to do this for a couple of reasons.
#1 - keeping the canner full helps to cut down on the jiggling inside, especially in a water bath canner
#2 - the water will be sterile and can be used for emergencies

I don't usually have a less-than-full canner, but when I do, I just fill up some quart jars with regular tap water and slap a lid/ring on it. No big deal.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Baking Bread in the Sun Oven

Thanks to my mom and dad, I'm now a proud owner of a Sun Oven (sunoven.com)
I've been anxious to test it out.

I put the oven outside before I started to mix up my bread in order to warm it up. Just like a regular oven you want to get the Sun Oven up to temperature.

I was using this the second week of October in NJ. It was quite a warm day actually and only took about 30 minutes to warm up to 350 degrees.
I've seen a few pictures where four loaves fit in the oven. I only baked two because it was my first try and I didn't want to ruin four. I baked my other two loaves in the conventional oven. I was surprised at the difference.
This picture was taken just before I opened the oven to take out the bread. Let me warn you. This this is HOT!!! It's 350 degrees. Please make sure you have your oven mitts handy, you're going to need them. And it's daggum hot just getting into the oven with the reflectors doing their thing, you may need to don a pair of sunglasses as well. Just be careful.
There they all. All baked and yummy.
I didn't put enough dough in each of the pans so my bread is a little flat. That's all my fault. Again, I wasn't trusting the Sun Oven with a full loaf. Oh me of little faith. This bread was perfect. It browned evenly and the Sun Oven retains moisture so the bread comes out just lovely. It's not even a bit dried out.
See that! Perfect. I highly recommend adding a solar oven to your emergency supplies. You can cook in it all year long. I'm looking forward to trying it during the dead of winter. The oven doesn't even have to be used only for an emergency, it can be used to cut down on other energy costs, cuz the sun is free!


My across-the-street neighbor let's me pick as many pears as I want each summer.
The tree wasn't as plentiful as last year,
but it still provided plenty for my family as well as a friend to put up.

This year I tried something a bit different and I'm really pleased with the way they turned out. This year I used my steam juicer and Victorio strainer to cook down the pears to make pear sauce as well as pear juice.

Below you can see the hopper of the steam juicer full of quartered pears. I washed them all first and just cut them up and put them in the juicer--stems, seeds, peels and all.

You can see how the juicer is set up with the tubing coming out and a pot set below to catch the juice that will be extracted from the pears.
Yes, all those pears from the first picture cooked down to half.
All that juice is in the pot below.
I took the cooked pears that are all hot and smushy and put them in my strainer. With a turn of the crank, out one side came the sauce (like applesauce) and the other end came the stems, seeds and some of the peelings. Just like that.
Here's a full picture of the strainer. The sauce will come out of the left side there and the stems and seeds will come out of the tube that you can't see. Great picture huh? :)
I put the sauce in the jars and process them in a boiling water bath for
the same time as applesauce.
Here is a picture of all the juice I collected in the pot below the juicer.
Look at all that beautiful juice. It's just perfect and pure. I processed the pear juice just like apple juice. I was able to use all the bits and pieces of those free pears. YAY!!!