Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Another day, another jar of tomatoes canned into something else.

I've canned our last batch of tomatoes for the season, our garden has finally petered out (in September).  I was hoping for 15 pounds of tomatoes, alas, I had 9, but that was enough to try out a new pasta sauce recipe.  But pasta sauce doesn't have to be red.  There are plenty of sauces you put on pasta that are not red at all.  But when you make a tomato based pasta sauce?  It feels like it should be red.  Maybe mine would have been more red had I used the tomato paste the recipe suggested if I wanted to thicken the sauce up a bit.  Honestly, the sauce was thick enough, oh and I didn't have any after the grand salsa event of 2016.  Since our garden seemed to produce a massive amount of yellow tomatoes - our sauce was a little, pale.  Sure tastes good.  We'll see how the rest of the family likes it and maybe add it to our list of things to make next year with our bushels and bushels of tomatoes.  We are already planning our garden next year - how to get the tomatoes to be less friendly with each other and have them along the fence so they are easier to handle.  Rusty will also love this since he'll have the opportunity for more free range tomatoes.
Once again I used the old freeze your tomatoes and let them thaw to draw method.  It works amazingly well.  I also use my immersion blender to blend the heck out of it and break it down a bit.  Sure makes life easier.   It also means you can collect tomatoes over the season and make a batch of whatever you want when you have enough.

Homemade Pasta Sauce
15 lbs of tomatoes
2 med onions, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbls vegetable oil
2 Tbls fresh basil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
1 Tbls sugar
1 tsp dried parsley
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
2 Tbls dried oregano
2 bay leaves
dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 small can of tomato paste {optional; use if your sauce is not thick enough for you}
¼ c lemon juice (from a bottle; used to acidify)
First we are going to remove the skins. Get a pot of water boiling and prepare an ice bath {a large bowl filled with ice and water}. Submerge the tomatoes {5-6 at a time} in the boiling water for about 45 seconds. Immediately remove to the ice bath. The skin can now be removed very easily - most of my tomato skins just slid right off!
Next up is removing the seeds and excess tomato juice. I'm sure there is a more technical way to do this, such as cutting open the tomatoes and scraping the seeds out, but how I actually did it was to use my hands to open the tomato up and shake those seeds out. Once I removed the seeds and squeezed the tomatoes to get rid of the juice, I placed the tomatoes into a colander so more tomato juice could drip out. Why get rid of the tomato juice? Because we're looking for a nice thick sauce and the longer you cook the tomatoes letting the juices evaporate, the more vitamins we lose from the tomatoes. By ridding the tomatoes of excess liquids early on, we actually cut down on the cooking time and increase the nutritional value of the sauce. Pretty smart huh?
Sauté the onions and peppers in the oil in a large pot for several minutes until they are translucent and soft. Add in the garlic and sauté for another few minutes.
Add the tomatoes and let them cook for 10-15 minutes before adding all the other ingredients. Stir to combine and let simmer until the sauce has cooked down to your desired thickness. If you want to use a masher to speed the break-down of the tomatoes that's totally fine. Mine took a little over an hour to get nice and thick but it will totally depend on the type of tomatoes you are using and the amount of liquid you start with.
Before canning it's important to sterilize every utensil, jar, and lid you will be using. I read a lot about people using their dishwasher but I like to see my water boiling so I know it's really doing what it's supposed to. I used my canning bath to sanitize my jars and then it was ready to go for the actual canning process.
Once everything has been sterilized you will want to set up your jars and funnel. The jars should still be warm/hot and the sauce going into it should be hot as well. Get the canning bath up to a full boil while you are filling your jars. I found the funnel to be indispensable. It made the process so easy and kept the mess to a minimum. {Trust me, there is enough of a mess with all those tomato skins!} Note: If you are freezing your sauce, just let the sauce cool and ladle into freezer bags, remove all the air, and freeze.
Once the jars have been filled to within ¼ inch from the top, wipe the top of the jar with a towel to remove any sauce that may get in the way of a tight seal. Place the lid on and hand-tighten the ring. Now the filled jars go into the canner where they need to be covered with at least 1 inch of water - the more the better! Keep that water boiling for the entire duration of the process. For pints you need to have the jars in a boiling water bath for 35 minutes and 40 minutes for quarts. If at any time the water stops boiling for any reason, start your time over again.
When the time is up lift the jars out of the water using jar tongs and let them cool. DO NOT touch the jars, bump the jars, move the jars, for 24 HOURS. The rings can then be removed or loosened so they do not rust in place. Once the jars have cooled you can verify that they have sealed properly by checking to see if the lid has been sucked down. Press lightly in the center and if the lid pops up and down - it did not seal. Put the jar immediately into the fridge and you can still use it. All of mine successfully sealed so you shouldn't have a problem.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Smells just like... something.

Let's talk about good vs. bad smells.

Good:                                          Bad:
Freshly Mown Grass                 The Compost Bucket
Rusty back from a bath            Rusty after chasing a skunk
Roses                                           Diaper Pail
Baking Bread                              Burnt Popcorn
Simmering Apple Cider            Burning Smoking Scorching Apple Cider

See?  Same Apple Cider - giant huge difference.  It's possible I completely stunk up our house, I mean that smell is still in the walls and in my nose.  I thought I would be so smart - get up a touch early to simmer the apple cider to make donuts - let it cool while we run an errand, then be ready to bake/fry!  Well… I got it simmering, then completely ignored it until I realized there was smoke billowing from the stove and black sticky goo in the pot.  Oh, that poor pot!  When I woke Andy, he thought it smelled good - oh Andy… your nose needs a fixer-upper.
All of this in the name of Apple Cider Donuts.  The kind you get at an apple orchard - so the recipe claimed.
These were tricky - despite the cider mishap.  The dough is really sticky… like… wow sticky.  Like - how could this possibly turn out good sticky.
There are several times you freeze the dough and that really was the trick.  It certainly made the dough easier to work with, but that sticky dough made for donuts with lots of character and places for glaze and cinnamon sugar to find its way in.
These were yummy donuts.  The taste testers approve!

Apple Orchard Cider Doughnuts

1 1/2 Cups fresh apple cider
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 Cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 Cup buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
3 1/2 Cups unbleached flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp nutmeg (fresh grated is best)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp salt

Vegetable oil for frying or oil of choice

Bring the apple cider to a boil in a small saucepan. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes until it is reduced down to 1/3 Cup. Set aside to cool.

Using a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well, after each egg. Stir in the buttermilk, vanilla and the reduced 1/3 Cup of cider, using low speed,  until combined.

Combine the flour, baking powder, soda, nutmeg, cinnamon and salt, in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Add to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.

Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle with flour.

Place the dough on one cookie sheet and flatten it out with your hands until it is about 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick.

Transfer this cookie sheet, with the dough, to a freezer for about 15 minutes. The dough will firm up so that cutting the doughnuts will be easier. This is a soft dough.

Cut the doughnuts, using a 2 1/2 inch doughnut cutter. You should get about 18 doughnuts and 18 holes. Place the doughnuts on the second baking sheet and return to the freezer for about 10 minutes to firm up again.

Heat 3 inches of vegetable oil in a deep pan to 350°.

Carefully add doughnuts to the hot oil, do not crowd them. Fry for about 1 minute per side or until golden brown. Remove from oil and let cool for a minute. Dip into glaze or cinnamon sugar. See below. Repeat until all doughnuts and doughnut holes are cooked.

Glaze – 1 Cup sifted powdered sugar and 2 Tbsp apple cider
Cinnamon Sugar – 1 1/2 Cups granulated sugar, mixed with 3 Tbsp cinnamon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Toss the stove and the microwave - the crockpot can officially do it all.

If you would have told me I would make candy in my crockpot, I would have told you that you were nuts. Like crazy nuts.
You know what?  I'm the nutjob... crockpot candy - amazing.
Last year at our family cookie exchange my cousin Kathy brought crockpot candy - they were basically peanut clusters - but they were amazing.  I'm pretty sure I ate all the ones we got at the exchange.
Our previous experience with peanut clusters was not a good one.  I believe Andy said they tasted like chocolate covered raw peas.  They were a gift, someone used raw peanuts - oops.  Everyone that came to the house, he made them try these... less than stellar treats. 
Recently, I looked for the crockpot recipe and was dumbfounded that the recipes I saw online had white almond bark.  Clearly, these were chocolate clusters, not white chocolate, that couldn't be right.  I emailed my cousin?  Sure is, White Almond Bark!  Well Ok then.  I only had half a package on hand so I made half of a batch.  Well, let's just say I need to get a full package of almond bark because this recipe is happening again and very soon. 
This recipe is as easy as dumping peanuts and chocolates into the crockpot, stirring 4 times, spooning it out onto wax or parchment paper.  Honestly could not be simpler.  These did not last very long in my house - at all - hence the need to make them again - soon.

Crockpot Crack
2 pounds white almond bark
4 ounces chocolate bar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
24 ounces dry roasted peanuts
Add all ingredients in slow cooker. Cook on low for 1 hour, without messing with it. After an how stir to combine everything. Allow to cook for another hour, stirring every 20 minutes.
Once all melted and completely combined, drop about 1 tablespoon of chocolate mixture onto parchment paper. Allow to cool and harden.
Store in airtight container.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

I'll snicker your doodle!

Days off are good.
Days off you get to spend with your kids are good.
Days off where you also get to spend part of the day with your mom?  Really good.
Columbus Day was a day off of school for my kids.  The teachers had an in-service - so no class for them, so I took the day off.  So we convinced my mom to come out to play for the morning.  We went shopping to Sam's Club (we bought each other the same thing as a Christmas gift - shhh it's a secret - ok not really), drew pictures, traced hands, and sang songs.  We also baked cookies.
Snickerdoodles are one of those things I've been wanting to bake for a long time and just hadn't gotten around to doing.  We made it happen!  Bronwyn was my official ball roller and cinnamon sugar coater.  She rolled each dough ball to make it nice and round, then rolled it in the cinnamon and sugar.  She made sure to arrange them just so on the cookie sheets.  We watched them puff up in the oven and make the house smell so wonderful.
For the first time in ever... the girl found a cookie she will eat!!  Wait, what?  Bronwyn eating something she baked?  Unheard of!  We all ate them too - very yummy cookies!
We ended the morning with my dad coming - always a hit when "Papa" comes over.  Nicholas can't get enough of Grandpa.
Looking forward to our next day off fill with fun and laughter.

What you need!
1 cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 egg, plus 1 yolk
1 Tbsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2¾ cup flour
Cinnamon Sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
What to do!
Preheat oven to 325°
Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat or parchment paper, set aside.
In bowl of stand mixer beat butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. With mixer on medium speed add in egg, yolk and vanilla and beat for another minute, scraping the sides as necessary.
Turn mixer to medium low and mix in baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and 1 tsp cinnamon. Mix for 30 seconds, scraping sides as necessary.
Turn mixer to low and add in flour, mixing until just combined.
In a separate small bowl make your Cinnamon Sugar by mixing together cinnamon and sugar, stirring until evenly combined.
Using a cookie scoop or spoon, measure out about 2 Tbsp of dough and roll into a ball. Then roll each cookie dough ball into the Cinnamon Sugar mixture.
Place on prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10-12 minutes, turning cookie sheet halfway through baking.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cinnamon and Cream Cheese Frosting - Powers Combined - Perfection

So by now - you know I'm a cinnamon junkie.  Why yes, yes I will have that cinnamon anything.  Cream cheese frosting covered - even better.  Opportunity to host my sister-in-laws birthday dinner?  Jumped at the chance to do it - why?  I was going to make breakfast for dinner.  Dessert? Cinnamon rolls!  What else?
By now you've seen a bunch of recipes back and forth from me for cinnamon rolls, this is my combined winner.  They are awesome.  The frosting whips up so fluffy and amazing but melts perfectly into the rolls.
Since we had our brinner, dekfast, brunch - whatever you want to call it, on a Friday night - I knew I'd be making the dough on Thursday - so I left them to rise all day in the oven.  WOW did they rise!  And wow were they awesome.  It was one of those moments where I was not hungry one bit (SO full from all the other good food) but those cinnamon rolls called out to me!  EAT ME!  We even added a candle on top so it was a real cake.
Thankful for Krista and thankful for cinnamon rolls!

Awesome Cinnamon Rolls with Amazing Frosting
for the dough-
 3/4 cup warm water
 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
 1/2 cup granulated sugar
 1 teaspoon salt
 1/4 cup buttermilk, at room temperature (or powdered buttermilk - follow directions on can)
 1 egg
 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
 4 1/2-5 cups all purpose unbleached flour

for the filling-
 1/2 cup softened margarine
 1 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
 2 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Cream Cheese Icing Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1-2 Tbsp. milk (if needed)

Making the Dough- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, pour in water, yeast and 1 tablespoon of the granulated sugar. Stir and proof 5 minutes. Once mixture looks bubbly and frothy, pour in remaining sugar and salt. Stir on low for 15-20 seconds. In a small bowl, measure buttermilk, oil and egg. Whisk ingredients together until egg is incorporated to other two ingredients. Pour contents into the water and yeast mixture. Stir another 20 seconds in the mixer. Pour 2 cups of flour into mixer and stir on low until incorporated. Sprinkle flour in by 1/4 cup increments until dough cleans the sides and bottom of the bowl. Dough should be sticky but not sticky enough to stick to your hands when touched. Once it has reached this stage, turn mixer on and knead for 5 minutes. Remove dough from bowl, grease and replace back into same mixing bowl {since it's practically clean anyways.} Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel. Rise 1-2 hours or until dough has doubled in size.

Filling and Cutting Rolls- In a medium size bowl, stir brown sugar, cinnamon and cornstarch together until combined. Set aside. Punch down dough. Flour a large clean table liberally with flour. Lightly flour dough as well. Roll dough out to be a 20x30 rectangle {or as close to that as possible} while moving dough around to ensure it's not sticking to your work surface. If it's a little short or uneven, feel free to cut off the edges to even it all out. {FYI-I cut off some dough on one side and filled in a spot that needed more dough on the other side to make a more even rectangle.} Spread softened margarine over dough, being sure to go right to the edges leaving a 1-inch strip untouched on one of the longer sides of dough. Dump brown sugar mixture onto the middle of the dough and spread with your hands, creating an even layer over top of the margarine, still leaving that 1-inch strip of dough untouched. If you have any filling that falls off the sides of the dough, use a bench scraper to replace. Lightly press the sugar mixture into the margarine using a rolling pin. Roll the dough up into a tight log, finishing with the plain dough on the bottom to seal the entire thing together. Cut off the uneven ends to even out the log. Score log every 2 inches and then slice your rolls using those marks. Place into parchment paper lined, margarine greased pans. 12 into a 9x13, 3 remaining into a loaf pan, or 8x8 with the small ends. Cover pans with plastic wrap and dish towels. Let rolls rise another 1-2 hours or until they are touching and have risen almost double. My rolls always spread out more than up, so just be aware that they will most likely spread out more than up. Bake in a preheated 350 degree for 17 minutes, or until tops start to brown. Watch them carefully!!

To Make The Cream Cheese Icing:
Either in the bowl of an electric stand mixer, or a mixing bowl, whisk softened butter and cream cheese together until combined. Then whisk in powdered sugar until combined. If the icing is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk to thin.
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