Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Ready for Winter??? October 14, 2014

Filed under: pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 7:31 am
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A couple of weeks ago, we were having warm days and even warm nights.   Suddenly, the temperatures have begun to drop, especially at night.  Leaves are beginning to turn colors and drop from the trees.  Last weekend, we picked all the apples from the tree so they could be home canned for the pantry.  Winter blankets are coming out of storage to be added to the beds.  The kids’ clothing is being sorted to remove nearly all the summer shorts and tops to make room for warmer clothing.

Last Saturday, we went to town to get supplies.   One stop that we made was to the Dollar Tree store.  I love going there!  Before leaving, I checked their over-the-counter medicine isle.  I probably ended up spending another $10 there, but it was worth it.  Packages of Airborne tea, cold & cough meds for the kids, and pain reliever were added to the basket.  I learned long ago that it is always best to stock up on these early in the season.   Once people start getting sick each autumn, these products become harder to find at Dollar Tree.

I did a thorough cleaning of our pantry recently.  Now, I am restocking items that we need to build up the supplies of.  One area needing a good restocking is the various dried beans and rice.  Each week, as I buy the foods needed for the week, I am adding about 5 packages of staple items to build up the pantry.  It is amazing how far down the supplies can go when you go through a period of job change.  Now that things are getting on an even level again, I can work at rebuilding what we had used.  Thankfully, we never ran out.  We always had enough provisions.  With winter fast approaching, having the pantry restocked of the staples will be a blessing if the weather gets really bad and we can’t get to a store.

 

 

Home Canning: Vegetable Soup August 13, 2014

One of the easiest soups to home can is a basic vegetable soup.  It is also a great opportunity to cover one of the important truths of home canning.  Even though a soup or sauce may contain tomatoes, the amount of citric acid in the tomatoes is not enough to allow you to safely process the soups through a waterbath method.  Put simply, if you ever add any other ingredient to the tomatoes, such as vegetables or meat, then it MUST be processed by pressure canning.

Right now, gardens are in full swing.  In some areas, the gardens might be nearing the end of the harvest season.  It is a great time to use up the odds and ends of your harvest to make a hearty soup to stock in your pantry.   For me, there is no real recipe for the vegetable soup.  It is  made using whatever vegetables that I happen to have on hand.  Common vegetables that I put in are carrots, green beans, peas, onion, and zucchini or yellow squash.  I have also added things like leeks, bell peppers, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.    Typically, the tomatoes that I use are the pear shaped ones since they are meatier and less juicy.  These tomatoes just seem to hold up and stay in nice sized chunks much better than the large slicing tomatoes.  This is a personal preference however.  You can use any type of tomato that you have on hand.

As with most of my canning recipes, I really don’t measure very much.  This vegetable soup is no exception.  I start by rinsing off the fresh vegetables and then cutting them into bite size pieces if necessary.  I mix all the vegetables being used in a large bowl or stock pot until they are well blended.  Cover with water if needed to prevent anything from browning before use.

If I am adding meat to the soup, I will brown some bite size chunks of stew meat.  I have a natural aversion to putting raw meat into a canning jar.  I know that some have no problem with this, but I feel that the extra time taken to brown the meat ahead of time is worth the safety of the finished product.  I am able to process the jars without worrying that the meat might not be fully cooked by the time the processing is completed.  As I brown the meat, I add any seasonings such as chopped onions and bell peppers.  I like these to be at least halfway cooked before processing as it really enhances the flavors.  I never add salt to the meat while it is cooking.  Instead, I add salt to the jars before sealing.  A basic amount that I always follow is 1/2 tsp of canning salt in each pint or 1 tsp of canning salt in each quart jar.  This is an amount we always have used.

When I am ready to fill the jars, I place about a 1/2 cup of the meat into each quart jar.  Next, I add enough vegetables to fill the jar to a 1/2 inch below the rim.   Lastly, I add enough tomato juice or broth to fill the jar to 1/2″ below the rim.  Wipe off the jar rim, and add the lid and ring.  I process the jars in a pressure canner for the time required for the meat.   In processing anything, whether by pressure canning or waterbath method, always check to see what the processing time is for the various ingredients.  In this case the vegetables vs the meat.  ALWAYS use the processing time for the ingredient that takes the longest.  In this recipe, the meat processing time is longer than what you would use for the vegetables alone. For those wanting a recipe, here is one of my favorites.

Vegetable Soup

12 large tomatoes, cored and diced
6 medium sized potatoes, peeled and diced
12 carrots, peeled and sliced
4 cups of whole kernel corn
4 cups of green peas
2 cups of green beans, cut into 1.5″ pieces
4 medium zucchini, sliced
2 cups of green lima beans
6 stalks of celery sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 quarts of tomato juice
Salt & Pepper, to taste

In a large stock pot, mix all ingredients together.  Cook over a medium heat until heated through.  Season to taste.  Ladle the soup into hot jars, leaving 1 inch headspace below the jar rim.  Add additional tomato juice or water if needed.

***According to the Ball Blue Book of canning (2009 edition), this type of meatless soup should be processed by pressure canner.  55 minutes for pint jars and 1 hour, 25 minutes for quart jars.  Please check your canning book or resources for the proper pressure level to use for your elevation. This recipe will make about 9 quarts or 18 pints of soup.

When I make a soup like this, I will often fill the canner (7 quarts) and continue cooking on the stove the remainder for our evening meal.  This is especially a favorite in the winter when I can make the soup for canning in the morning.  While the canner is processing on the propane stove, I can let the remainder of the soup simmer on the wood stove all day.

One nice thing about this recipe is that you can customize it using vegetables that your family enjoys.  Many times, I will make a vegetable soup without meat so that on days when we want a meatless meal, we have this available.  I home can meat separately so that I can add it to any recipe later on.  If you choose to add meat to this recipe, the processing times will have to be lengthened to the proper amount for meats.   Again, according to the Ball Blue Book, 2009 edition, the processing times for diced chicken and beef that has been precooked are  1 hr 5 minutes for pints or 1 hr 30 minutes for quarts.

 

Home Canning: Tomato Soup

Filed under: food preservation,home canning,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 2:32 am
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When my husband was truck driving for long haul companies, we found out quickly that home canning meals for him to take on the truck was a huge savings to our monthly budget. It was also far more healthy for him than the fast foods found at truck stops. One of his favorite soups is a Tomato Soup that I make.

This recipe is very easy to follow. The only ingredient in the soup which you may not regularly stock in your pantry is the tomato juice. The jars of soup are processed by waterbath, though you can do it in a pressure canner if desired. The resulting soup is slightly thick like the cans of condensed tomato soup you buy at the market. Depending on your personal preference, you can eat the soup as it is or thin it a bit with water or milk.

Before starting the recipe, prepare your jars. Make sure they are clean and ready to go. Always inspect the jar rims before each canning session to make sure there are no flaws that could prevent a good seal. It is also a good time to take your flat lids and set them to simmer in hot water. This will help to insure a good seal when the jars are processed.

Tomato Soup for canning
*Makes about 11 pints of soup

1 cup butter (I don’t recommend substituting with margarine)
8 tsp. Salt
3 Tbsp, finely minced fresh onion
4 bottles of tomato juice
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tsp. Pepper

In a large stock pot, melt the butter. Stir in the sugar and heat until dissolved. Add flour, making a rue, by stirring until blended into a smooth consistency. If necessary, add a bit of the tomato juice to aid in making the rue. Once the flour mixture is smooth, start stirring in the remaining tomato juice. Add the salt, pepper, and onion. Mix well. Cook one minute, stirring constantly to blend the seasonings into the mixture.

Carefully ladle the soup into clean, sterile jars. Wipe the rims with a clean cloth to remove any soup that may be on the rim. Add the flat lids and attach the rings to hold the lids in place while processing.

I process the jars by waterbath method. To do this, you place the jars in your waterbath canner, using the rack that came with your canner, and cover the jars completely with water so they are fully submerged. Bring the water to a boil. Once the water begins to boil, start timing the processing. I process pint jars for 1 hour and quart jars for 1 ½ hours.

Please note: Whenever you are canning, always try to match the temperature of the water in your canner to the temperature of the jars going into it. If you add hot jars to cold water, or vise versa, the jar can break. Learned this myself when I got into a hurry one day. The bottle of the jar broke cleanly off the jars and I lost all the food in that jar. What a waste!

I have used a pressure canner to process this soup. In those situations, I process pints for 25 minutes and quarts for 35 minutes under the pressure level for our elevation.

 

Canning for Convenience July 29, 2014

I have been being asked if I would be posting more about home canning.  It has been on my mind to do so, but life happens and I haven’t made any new entries on canning.  I am wanting to change that.  It is as much of a help to me to have my recipes on here as it (hopefully) is to those who try them out.

Before I get started, I want to state that this will likely become a series of entries.  Sort of like the ones you see on other blogs, such as the “Throw Back Thursday” type posts.  In this case, it will be all about canning.  There are a few things that I want to state about home canning.  First, ALWAYS check the instructions for your own canner before trying any of these recipes.  I will purposely be leaving the exact canning instructions out of the recipes.  To state that I process a canner load at 10 lbs of pressure may be accurate for those living at the same elevation as I do.  For those who live at an elevation that needs 5 lbs or 15 lbs of pressure, it would be a problem if you used my pressure levels.  To give the time amounts would also be wrong for me to do.  One of the best and most current resources that I have used is the National Center for Home Food Preservation which teaches in detail how to home can, dry, freeze, and pickle just about anything.  It also has great information for those new to home food preservation, including basic information on how to use home canners.  I strongly recommend that you print the pressure and time charts for each type of food or recipe that you will be home canning.  This will make a quick reference for you to follow later on.

In starting from the basics, you will need a few items to do home canning.  The first is your canner.  For fruits and tomatoes, you will need a waterbath canner.  This is a very large kettle with a wire rack inside.  It is deep enough to allow you to fully submerge quart size jars under water.  In this canner, jars are processed through boiling them for the amount of time listed in the instructions from the above website.    Foods processed in a waterbath canner are high acid foods.  Tomatoes and some fruits contain citric acid naturally.  Others require that you add citric acid to prevent browning.  This acid level is enough to allow you to safely process the foods by boiling the jars.  These are the ONLY foods that are processed by waterbath method.

pressure canner is required for low acid foods such as vegetables and meat.  These foods must reach a very high internal temperature in order to kill off any natural bacteria that can become harmful during storage.  A pressure canner is a large, deep kettle with a locking lid.  Some have a gauge to help you regulate the pressure, others have a weighted gauge.  I use a weighted gauge style and find it far easier to work with.  Modern pressure canners have a venting system that helps to prevent accidents.  On mine, there is a vent that pops up once the pressure is above 10 lbs.  which is the amount needed for our elevation.  As a safety measure, there is also a small rubber plug in the lid that will completely pop out should the pressure become dangerously high.  I have never had that one pop out.  I find that once my canner has reached just enough pressure to make the vent lift up, I turn down the heat just enough to keep that vent slightly open.  This allows me to be certain that the pressure in the canner is high enough without worry that it will over pressurize.

The next thing you need are your canning jars.  I have to admit that I am a jar snob.  I only buy Ball or Kerr brands.  Ball was one of the oldest canning jar manufacturers and have been around for ages.  Kerr eventually bought the Ball company and now makes both brands.  I have tried lesser known brands and every time have had a percentage of the jars break in the pressure canner.  That jar breakage causes not only the loss of the money used for buying the jars, but the food as well.

I am developing a routine with the jars that I use.  Food items, such as when I can up homemade stews, meat, or other chunky and large items always are done up in wide mouth jars.  This is for two reasons.  First, the food is easier to remove later on than it is with the regular mouth size jars.  Secondly, in the case of canning meats, if there is any grease from the meat, the wide mouth are much easier to clean thoroughly.

Regular mouth size jars are used for liquid items, such as tomato soup, juices, and small vegetables.  Cut up green beans, shelled peas, and baby carrots are some examples of the small vegetables I use the regular mouth jars for.  I use this method for all the foods that I home can.  Gradually, I will be using only the wide mouth jars in all my canning.  This will make it easier all around.

Some tools that are extremely useful and that I highly recommend are the following.  A jar lifter is used for lifting the hot jars out of the canner.  They look like a large pair of tongs that have a rubber coating on the portion that grips the jar neck.  Of all the tools, this in one of two that I couldn’t do without.  The second tool is a canning jar funnel.  This funnel has a large bowl with the funnel portion being just small enough to fit inside the regular mouth jars.  Using this, you are able to fill the jars with messy food items without getting food residue on the jar rims.  It makes filling the jars faster and easier as well.  The third item that I use each time I home can would be my kitchen timer.  With kids in the home, I cannot trust myself to use a clock to track the processing times.  I get interrupted or distracted way too often.  It is just good practice to have a timer for canning anyways.  The last items are ones that many use on a consistent basis, but I don’t personally use.  One is the magnetic flat lid wand which is used to lift the flat lids from a pan of hot water,  The other is a similar product, a little rack that you stand the flat lids in while they are being heated in a pan of water.  This process is important in that it helps to insure a good seal on the jars.  I just use a pair of metal tongs to lift the lids.  It is what I grew up seeing done and seems to work just fine for me.

When you buy a case of new canning jars, they always come with the rings and flat lids.  I always keep at least 4-6 boxes of replacement flat lids on hand in the pantry.  There are times when a new lid will fail during processing and you will need a replacement lid before you can re-process the jar.  Reusing the flat lids are a good way to risk the jars not sealing properly.  The last thing you want to risk is a jar lid popping open while on the pantry shelf and food spoiling.

Before you start canning, you need to take a hard look at how your family eats.  While there are a lot of yummy recipes out there to tempt you, the mainstay of your canning should reflect your family’s typical diet.  For example, in the cold months our family eats a lot of homemade soups and stews.  These are eaten on nearly a daily basis in the coldest months especially.  So, when I do the home canning, I will be sure to stock our shelves with a good supply of these types of meals.  I began by looking at what our favorite stews and soups were.  Then, whenever I made them, I would make a double or triple size batch.  As we sat eating dinner, the canner would be processing the extras for stocking the pantry.

Another great use for the canner was when my husband was a truck driver and away from home for up to 8 weeks at a time.  I would home can meals in pint size jars for him to take on the truck with him.  Using a cooker powered by the 12 volt plug in the truck, he was able to cook the food for his meals.  One pint size jar gave him a good sized serving.  Doing this saved us a fortune in food expenses on the road.  When we first began doing this, he was spending $600 a month on his meals and drinks on the road.  When he took a month’s supply of meals on the truck with him, he only spent $150 a month on drinks and snacks.  That was an instant $450 savings each month!  Not to mention that he ate far more healthy meals that way.

One of my favorite meals to home can is beef stew.  It is SO easy to do that it doesn’t take long to have a nice supply of it on hand in your pantry.  I like making this when I find a good sale on stew meat.  I buy a large package of the meat then cut it into bite sized pieces.  In a large roasting pan, I place enough vegetables for one meal and all of the meat.  I oven roast the stew as I normally would in preparing a meal.  About a half hour before the stew is done roasting, I start preparing my jars but filling them 2/3 full of the same mixture of vegetables as I am cooking with the meat.  These vegetables are placed into the canning jars while they are raw to prevent them from being over cooked once the jars are processed.  Potatoes, for example, would completely turn to mush if they were roasted before canning.  If I get the jars ready too soon, I fill them with water to prevent the vegetables from browning if necessary.  Once the stew is done, I remove the cooked vegetables and just enough meat for that night’s meal.  The remaining meat is divided up between the prepared jars. (NOTE: if you out water in any of the jars, the should be drained off before adding the meat.)  I then divide up the broth from the roasting process between the jars as well.  If necessary, I will add some beef broth to top off the jars.  The jars should be filled to 1/2″ from the rim.  Wipe off the rims to make sure there is no juice or drippings from the meat on the rims.  Any residue can prevent the lid from getting a proper seal.  Next, add the ring to the jar to hold the lid in place during processing.  Load up your pressure canner and then process the jars while enjoying your dinner.  By the time you are done eating and dinner dishes are being cleared away, the canner will be done processing in most cases.

I don’t have a specific recipe for making this.  My beef stew is different each time I make it, depending on what vegetables I have on hand at the moment.  Use you own favorite recipe.  If you have a recipe that your family enjoys that comes from a favorite cookbook, use it.  Just double the recipe for a canner of pint jars or triple the recipe if using quart jars.

In future posts, I will be sharing some recipes that our family enjoys.  I hope that this series will be one that will bless you in your efforts in building your pantry with healthy wholesome meals for your family.

 

Homemade Chocolate Creamer May 14, 2014

Filed under: pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 4:20 pm

image

Here is a really simple recipe for a chocolate flavored coffee creamer.  So much less expensive than the store bought and a more chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Coffee Creamer

1/3 cup cocoa powder
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup non-dairy creamer

In a bowl, mix all ingredients until well blended.  Pour into a jar or airtight container. 

Enjoy!

 

No-Bake Granola Bars April 9, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 2:58 am
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I have been searching Pinterest again.  I am hooked on that site.  The latest search has been for a no-bake granola bar recipe.

Pookie just LOVES granola bars.  Most recently, he ate an entire box of the Cliff bars in one sitting.  It is nearly impossible to keep him in good supply of them.  With that in mind, I started looking for recipes to keep him – and the rest of us – well stocked.  I especially wanted to have a no-bake version that will allow me to make them throughout the summer without heating up the kitchen.

I found that in all the recipes, there was a basic theme for ingredients.  The liquid ingredients were nearly always the same and in the same amounts.  To these were added the dry ingredients.  Again, the type of ingredients were very similar in type and amount.  The only true variation was in the type of cereal or trail mix added to the recipe.  With that in mind, here is the basic recipe that I am making.

 

granola bars

 

No-Bake Granola Bar

In a saucepan, melt together:

1/4 cup peanut butter

1/4 cup honey

1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

4 Tbs butter

Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teas. Vanilla

 

To the liquid ingredients, stir in:

2 cups of quick oats

1 cup crispy rice cereal (can be substituted with trail mix, graham cereal, or other favorite cereal)

Press the mixture into an 8×8 inch pan that has been lined with parchment paper sprayed with vegetable spray.

Top the mixture with:

1/2 cup chocolate chips, mini marshmallows, M&Ms, peanut butter chips, or a mixture of any of these.

Chill for about 1-2 hours before cutting into 12 bars.

 

Now that you have the basics, here are a few variations that may be fun to try.

Graham cereal topped with a mixture of mini marshmallows & chocolate chips for a S’mores bar

Chocolate flavored crispy rice cereal with cherry flavored chips for a Chocolate-covered cherry flavored bar

Chocolate flavored crispy rice cereal with peanut butter chips for a peanut butter cup bar

Basic granola bar recipe with a mixture of finely diced dried fruits mixed in for a trail mix bar

Basic recipe with a mixture of granola cereal with coconut, finely diced dried pineapple & papaya for a tropical bar

Enjoy!

 

 

Extreme Couponing? pt. 2 February 26, 2014

Filed under: cooking,pantry building — ourprairiehome @ 3:39 pm

In my last post, I mentioned that I had bought 2 months’ worth of groceries for $124.  Most of the items that I only have to add a little from my current pantry stores to in order to make a meal.  Most everything purchased was on sale.  Many of the items such as the boxed meals are not or typical meal choice, but are items I consider “filler” for days when a fast meal option is needed.  Soon, I will be making a shopping trip to do bulk food shopping at Sam’s Club and Whole Foods.  Those foods will be more in line with our typical cooking style.

(4) Old Orchard brand juice bottles, priced 2/$3

(4) Barilla Spaghetti, priced 4/$5

(4) Bush Chili Beans, lg cans priced 2/$3

(12) taco Bell refried beans, priced $1.00 each but was given $6 off at register

(12) boxes of Velvetta Skillet Meals, priced 3/$5

(4) boxes of herbal tea, priced $2.38 each

(4)  1 lb bags of elbow macaroni, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of lentils, priced 98 cents each

(5) 1 lb bags of split peas, priced  98 cents each

(1) large bag of the store brand of shredded cheddar cheese, priced $4.99

(2) loaves of sara lee country potato bread, priced $1.69 each

(4) lg. pouches of salmon, priced 2/$4

(2) lg. cans of StarKist Tuna, priced 2/$5

I was doing so well, that I splurged and bought a few snacks that were on sale:

(2) Chips Ahoy cookies, priced 2/$5

(2) Oreo cookies family packs, priced 2/$7

(1) 30 oz. Animal crackers, priced $3.99

And, not to be left out, I bought kibbles for our cat:

(2) sm. Bags of Purina cat food, priced 2/$8

 

Okay, so how if this 2 months’ worth of food?  Easy!

4 meals of spaghetti using homemade sauce from the supplies I have in our pantry already.

4 meals of Indian tacos, using the chili beans

6 meals of burritos (2 cans of refried beans each) with homemade tortillas

12 meals using the Velvetta skillet meals, adding a handful of pasta from the pantry if needed

4 meals of mac & cheese or tuna casserole using the macaroni

10 meals of lentil stew

10 meals of split pea soup

4 meals with salmon cakes

By adding vegetables from our pantry, to any of the above meals, I now have enough to make 54 meals!   This does not take into account the large bag of shredded cheese that I will use for making cheesy rice with tuna or veggies, stuffed baked potatoes with broccoli and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and much more.  I didn’t buy any breakfast food since we already have several large boxes of both hot and cold cereals, oatmeal, and I make a homemade pancake mix.  Lunches are usually sandwiches unless we happen to have leftovers from the previous day’s evening meal.  With all the meal options that I have, and adding a bit from the supplies already on hand, the purchases made in that one shopping trip will give me meals for a couple of months.

Note, meals like the lentil stew and split pea soup are very economical when you add a sandwich to a cup of soup instead of making the soup the only item in the meal.  I love to stretch out the lentils by making Kashari and serving it over homemade pasta or some rice.