Simplicity by Choice

Off-Grid Living & Self-Reliance

Easy Hand Pies November 20, 2014

Filed under: cooking — ourprairiehome @ 3:46 am
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If you are like me, you are always on the lookout for a new option for lunches.  Years ago, I used to make my husband homemade hand pies for his lunches.  Of course, this is before he went back into truck driving.  Now that he is working local again, I have gone back to these as a good option for a hearty lunch.

Hand pies are a common name in the US for large empanadas or pasties as they are known in other countries.  Typically, they are a minimum of 3″ diameter in size.  When I make them, I use a large empanada press that I bought through Amazon.  The one linked below is the press that I purchased.  It is low cost, but the quality has been great.  It makes hand pies that are about 4 inches across the long edge.

imusa press

I make a batch of a bread-style dough (recipe below) before serving dinner.  The dough rises as we eat the meal.  After dinner, I roll out the dough and make the hand pies using leftovers from dinner or some other filling.  The hand pies are baked while I clean up.  Twenty minutes later, I have a batch of hand pies ready for the next day’s lunches.

Some of the fillings that we have enjoyed lately include: Philly cheese steak, beef or chicken pot pie, taco meat and cheese, chili and cheese, pizza toppings, beef stew, chicken enchilada filling, shredded cabbage with beef & onion, and a vegetarian filling made with spinach, onions, slivered almonds and feta cheese.  The beauty of making hand pies is that you are only limited by your imagination.  The only real rule of thumb to follow is to not make a filling containing too much liquid.  Add only enough liquid to moisten the filling without making the dough soggy.

For fruit pies, you can use your favorite pie crust recipe, phyllo pastry sheets, or the bread dough listed below.  We like the bread dough for most things.  Unlike pie crust, the bread dough absorbs just enough of the pie filling to give the bread the flavors of the filling.

One note about the bread dough, this bread will not turn a golden brown like most breads.  Don’t wait for it to brown up or you risk over baking it.

 

Hand Pie Dough

3 cups of flour

1 Tbsp. Sugar

1 tsp dry active yeast (or one packet)

1/2 tsp. Sea Salt

4 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1 cup warm water

In a bowl, mix the ingredients in the order given.  Dough will be slightly dry once fully mixed.  Pour a little olive oil into your hand and coat the palms of your hands with it.  Knead the dough.  The olive oil on your hands should be just enough to moisten the dough to make it smooth and elastic.  Set the dough in the bowl, cover with a towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled.

Gently punch down dough and knead lightly.  Dough should be very soft at this point.  Separate the dough into 12 equal portions.  Roll each portion out to about the thickness of a nickle.  Place onto empanada press and fill with just enough filling to cover the center.  Check your press’ instructions for the filling capacity measurement.  Close the press, folding the press shut and sealing the dough’s edge.  Place onto a baking sheet.

Bake the hand pies in a preheated oven at 350*F for 20 minutes.

Makes 12 hand pies approximately 4 inches in diameter

Note:  Depending on your filling, you can freeze the unbaked hand pies to be baked later.

 

Gluten-Free Diet Changes June 8, 2014

Filed under: cooking,family — ourprairiehome @ 8:12 pm
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In recent weeks, our son’s therapists each were encouraging and supportive of our trying a gluten-free diet with him.  He has already gone dairy-free due to lactose intolerance.  No surprise there since both his Daddy and I are lactose intolerant.  Unfortunately, Pookie still gets a gassy belly whenever he eats foods containing wheat.  So, with that in mind we are going to try gluten-free and see if that helps.  It takes about 3 months of being gluten-free to fully rid our bodies of the effects of gluten.

Being that we eat a predominately vegan diet, we already don’t eat much meat.  Not that we don’t like eating meat, but between how my body feels after eating meat and the high price of meat, it is easy to go without it.  In fact, we no longer buy meat.  The only time we will have meat is when we go out to eat.  Then it is really hard to eat vegetarian/vegan.  We don’t have much in the way of options where we live.   Unless you are completely in love with the idea of eating salads only, you have to get creative.  We found buffet type restaurants to work best for us.  Now, there is a new twist for our eating options.  Now we have to find gluten-free options.

One of the hardest things about going gluten-free is the fact that most breads sold have the texture of styrofoam.  It is dense and the taste is not very pleasant.  So, my first challenge was to find a recipe for homemade bread.  I looked at the various recipes and found that in the comments, there were some who loved the recipe while others said it was too dense and bland. For our family, that would not work out for us.  We love eating bread.  So, I felt that finding a good recipe was critical for us.

We are a family who believes that if one family member has to eat a special diet, then we all will do the diet change in support of that family member.  This is especially true when kids are involved.  It is difficult to explain to a young child with dietary challenges why they cannot eat a cookie or treat that their sibling is able to eat.

I did a web search for recipes for making a gluten-free all purpose flour.  There are many recipes out there.  I wanted one that was easy to make, low cost, and had a good flavor.  I love to bake all of our breads and baked goods.  It is far less costly than the store bought alternatives.  The baked goods are also much better for you in that they are not full of chemicals and preservatives.  Finally, it is just plain fun to bake.  Little Miss, Pookie, and I enjoy baking together.

I found a really easy and good all-purpose gluten-free flour recipe last week.  I like the flour recipe.  All ingredients were very easy to find at the health food store and at a good price.  The same blog has a recipe for a Soft Gluten Free Sandwich bread.   I am going to give it a try this week and see how we like the recipes.  I will post the results.

As for eating out, I think we will continue with the buffets or possibly start using bento containers and taking food with us.  We have done that often enough in the past.  That is my next Pinterest quest…..finding some fun gluten-free meals to take in bento containers that the kids will 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!

 

 

Emergency Ingredient Substitutions December 20, 2013

Filed under: family,off grid,pantry building,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:10 am
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Living off-grid, you learn new ways of doing things.  I have quickly realized that simply eating a primarily vegan or vegetarian diet can significantly reduce the need for refrigeration.  Only 2 types of items need refrigeration.  The first is animal products.  Eggs, milk, cheeses, yogurt, meats, and other food items that we get from animals all need to be kept cold to slow down the process of the food spoiling.  The second group of items that require refrigeration are leftovers.  This can be eliminated very easily by being more careful in the amount of food that you prepare.

With winter storms coming more frequently, I wanted to share some ideas.  These are things that I do on a regular basis but are great for others to learn in case of power outages.  There are substitutions that you can make in place of the perishable ingredients.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Eggs:

1 Tbsp. flaxseed meal + 3 Tbsp. warm water, let set a minute to thicken

1/2 of a banana, mashed

1/4 cup of applesauce

 

Dairy:

almond milk, I buy cartons that are not refrigerated until opened

Butter:  substitute with 1/2 the amount of butter with applesauce. I keep a pack of the individual size serving cups on hand as they are 1/2 cup each.

 

Ground meat:  TVP (textured vegetable protein)

seitan (gluten powder mixed with water to make a very stiff mix)

homemade veggie burger made from beans and finely chopped veggies

 

All of the items mention above are things that can be stored on a pantry shelf.  No refrigeration is needed for the base ingredients until you use them.  The almond milk needs refrigeration once the quart sized box carton is opened.  The remaining items only need refrigeration if you make too much and have leftovers.

Just these few things can help to lessen the stress of trying to keep perishables cold enough in a power outage.  Pick a couple of them and learn to use them before a situation comes up and you are forced to rely on them.  Testing them in recipes also will allow you a chance to see which options your family enjoys and which ones you do not.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

Oatmeal-Raisin Griddle Cakes July 18, 2013

Filed under: cooking,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 6:48 pm
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This morning, the kids were preparing to spend the day with their Grandparents.  Usually on these mornings, they are too wound up to sit and eat a hearty breakfast.  So, I tried something to get them to stop long enough to eat.  I made a batch of griddle cakes.  What are griddle cakes?  Well, put simply they are a cross between a cookie and a small pancake.

I have a basic pancake recipe that I have made for many years.  When we began eating a vegan diet, I converted the recipe to be vegan instead of using animal products.  The end result is very good.  You don’t even miss the eggs and cow’s milk from the original pancake recipe.  I will share the pancake recipe below along with the additions that I made to turn it into an Oatmeal-Raisin Cake.

Basic Homemade Vegan Pancakes

1.5 cups flour

2 Tbsp. sugar

2 teas. baking powder

1/2 teas. baking soda

2 Tbsp. flax seed meal + 6 Tbsp. warm water  (this replaces 2 eggs)

1.5 cups almond milk  (or use your favorite milk variation)

1 teas. vanilla

2 Tbsp. olive oil

Mix the flax seed meal and water into a small dish and let set.

In a bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking powder, and baking soda.  Form a well in the middle.  Add the flax seed mixture, almond milk, vanilla, and olive oil.  Using a wire wisp, mix the batter until smooth.

This recipe will make about 8 pancakes.

Oatmeal-Raisin Griddle Cakes

To the above recipe, add the following:

1 cup of oatmeal

handful of raisins

1 Tbsp. of Pumpkin Pie Spice

Mix the batter well.  It will be somewhat thick.  You can thin it with a bit more milk if desired.

Drop by spoonsful onto a hot griddle and flatten the batter to no more than about 1/4 inch thick.  Cook exactly as you would pancakes.

Makes about 16 cakes approximately 3″ diameter.

 

The kids loved these!  I had no problem getting them to eat breakfast while waiting for Grandma to pick them up.  You can easily adjust the spice amount to suit your own tastes.  Another option is to finely dice dried fruits to add to the recipe in place of the raisins.  If you use a tropical mixture of fruit with shredded coconut, omit the spice and add cinnamon instead.

Enjoy!

 

 

Solar Oven Experiment July 11, 2013

Filed under: cooking,green living,off grid — ourprairiehome @ 5:12 pm
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My blog posts have been sporadic due to lack of reliable Internet.  I am working at getting that improved soon.

Last week, I decided to take the plunge and do a little experiment with solar cooking.  I had purchased one of those foil sun shades for the Jeep’s windshield.  I got to thinking about how reflective it is.  Wouldn’t it make a good “in a pinch” solar cooker?

In the yard, we have a black metal trailer for the small lawn tractor.  I set up a metal wash tub in the trailer with a small block under one end to place it on an angle towards the west.  I then formed the foil windshield shade into a cone shape.  This was placed into the washtub.

I wasn’t feeling horribly brave, so got out a small roasting pan and filled the bottom with chopped up potatoes, bell peppers, onions, and squash.  I tossed the veggies with a drizzle of olive oil to coat them and sprinkled on some sea salt.  The pan was covered with clear plastic wrap and set into the center of the foil cone.

I left the veggies roasting until they had only a slight crunch left to them.  It took about 2 hours due to the size of the veggies.  Chopped smaller, they would obviously have cooked faster.  When I removed the pan, I learned rather quickly that an oven mitt would be helpful.  Thankfully, I always have aloe vera on hand!

The results of the little experiment was that the make-shift solar cooker worked just fine.  It would be an easy option in an emergency situation.  We did have to accept that the roasted veggies do not get browned like they would in a standard oven.  That was the only real difference that we noticed.

My darling husband is planning to build a solar cooker for me when we get a chance.  He is planning to make it a combination solar oven and solar dehydrator.    When we look at plans for each, we find that it will be fairly easy to make a combination oven/dehydrator.

 

 

Choices in Off-Grid Cooking April 9, 2013

Filed under: cooking,family,homesteading,off grid,simplicity — ourprairiehome @ 3:46 am
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Each year, we set up what we refer to as our summer kitchen. A portion of the porch is converted into a sheltered cooking area. Having this allows us to cook without heating up the home. We spend a lot of time outdoors and this seems a natural extension of that.

This year, we have added to the usual outdoor grilling. We bought a propane griddle that is 4-burner and large enough to cook up enough food for an outdoor gathering. This works in great with our love of stir-fry in the summer when produce is fresh. I can also fry up flat breads and tortillas on the griddle to take the place of bread loaves.

One thing that I am wanting to try and do this year is get my solar oven made. Having an outdoor dog and cat, the foil lined box style of solar over would not be a good idea. I am going to have to actually build something that is critter-proof. I have seen some really neat plans for building solar food dehydrators and got to thinking. What would be so hard as to use that basic plan but make an oven out of it instead of a dehydrator. There is very little difference in the basic construction. If I could fine a way to make 1 solar unit that could do both, that would be ideal.

A rocket stove made from cinder blocks would be a nice option for the summer kitchen. We have a dirt area near the house that would be safe for that purpose. It would be an option for the times when we don’t want to use the propane burner that we have. I like the propane option, but want alternatives that will allow us to not depend on any refined fuels. Wood, we have in plenty on our homestead. Sunlight is another plentiful resource. Those are our summer mainstays.

I am looking forward to the outdoor cooking. It is always a fun time for us. With each passing year, we add another facet to the kitchen to make it even more convenient. Now if we could get rid of the wasps that like to partake in our porch’s shade….