Mar 23, 2013

Free Kindle Cookbooks- March 23

Pick up some great free cooking ideas for the weekend! Hurry, though, because they will be free for a limited time...


Mar 22, 2013

Making Free Chicken Stock & Bone Broth

Because I make most of our meals from scratch, I probably go through a lot more chicken/turkey/pork stock than most people. But because I do a lot of cooking, I also have all of the ingredients to make my own stock. And the best part is? It's free!

There are lots of good reasons to make your own stock or, as new trendy healthy cooking proponents call it, bone broth. The traditional distinction between broth and stock is that broth is made with meat and stock is made with bones. Those lines are blurring, but using bones to make your stock is the best way to get all of the minerals, gelatin, calcium, and other goodies out of them.

To make good stock, you need to start with bones. I use the bones left over from carving a chicken or turkey, or even steak and roast bones left over. Don't get grossed out- you're going to be boiling it! If I don't have time to make stock right away, I toss the bones in the freezer for later.

For the vegetables that give stock its rich flavors, I use all the ends of veggies I cut up for other uses. So, for example, every time I cut up an onion, I save the top and bottom in my veggie bag in the freezer. The same goes with celery bottoms, carrot ends, parsley stems, garlic tips, and other fresh vegetable detritus. When I have enough veggies and some bones, I make a batch of stock.

Start by pulling out your largest stock pot or dutch oven. A chicken carcass can make 16-20 cups of stock. Put the carcass in the pot and cover with about 6 quarts of water. Add a quart bag full of your veggie scraps along with some salt and pepper to taste. You can keep the pepper in whole corns because you'll be straining it later. Also keep the skins on the onions as they will impart a deeper color to the bone broth. Add a quarter cup of white vinegar to the pot to help pull the calcium out of the bones.

Bring the stock to boiling, then reduce to a simmer for a minimum of four hours. If the water level recedes, top it back up, but not within the last hour of simmering. Taste the stock as you go and add more salt or pepper as needed. Let the stock cool down then strain it through a pasta strainer into a large bowl. Package into 2 or 4 cup containers (or quart Mason jars), label, and freeze. Be sure to leave at least one inch of headroom in the containers as frozen liquids expand.

Use your stock as you would any commercial stock. I use mine as the base for soups, as the liquid to cook rice in, or even as a nice hot drink before bed. Enjoy!

Mar 19, 2013

MYO Cadbury Easter Creme Eggs

When my kids were smaller, I loved to make a homemade version of Cadbury's famous Easter Creme Eggs. Definitely not considered "healthy" food, it was a nice treat for them, and I knew exactly what was in them. While my original recipe has been lost between transfers from computer to computer, this recipe is very close. Click the link below for the recipe. Enjoy!

Has the famous Cadbury Creme Egg recipe finally been cracked? There's only one way to finally find out! One delicious, delicious way.

If you'd like to try the recipe for yourself, you'll need a little corn syrup, a little butter, some confectioner's sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla, a dash of salt, a few chocolate chips and, for the yolk, a little yellow food coloring. Get started now and be an old hand by Easter. 

Mar 15, 2013

Piggy Biscuits

This is a fun and easy project for kids to do on a rainy afternoon. You could use refrigerated dough, but it's so easy and less expensive to make your own. My daughter and her best friend made these recently and they were yummy!

You'll need 3 sizes of biscuit cutters or drinking glasses: small, medium, and large (roughly 1", 2", and 3" in diameter). Take a batch of regular bread dough and roll it out to approximately a quarter inch thickness. Be sure to use flour underneath so that it doesn't stick to the board.

Cut large circles out of about 2/3rds of the dough by flouring the cutter and twisting into the dough. Once you count how many circles you have, cut half as many small circles and a quarter as many medium circles. So, for example, if you made 18 large circles (the body), you would cut 9 small circles (the nose) and 5 medium circles (the ears). Cut the medium circles into quarters.

Place 1 tablespoon of tomato sauce and 1 tablespoon of shredded Italian blend cheese in the center of half of the large circles. You can change up the ingredients for the filling but keep it to about 2 tablespoons in total. Dip your finger in water and paint the edge of each circle to moisten. Place the other large circles on top and press down the edges to seal.

Beat an egg in a small bowl. Use the egg as glue to attach the other pieces. The small circles (the nose) should be brushed with the egg and applied about 2/3rds down in each pig. Make 2 vertical slits in the nose to look like nostrils. Attach the ears at the top of the large circles with the points facing inward. To finish off the piggies, use black peppercorns for eyes and press into the dough gently.

Place on a baking sheet. With a pastry brush, brush egg over top of each pig. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until browned.

Dehydrating Cherries

Summertime seems a long way off, but now is a great time to start thinking about how you're going to handle those big harvests of fruits and veggies. Dehydrated cherries are a favorite in our family for lunchbox snacks and energy on the go. Now is the time of year to pull out your dehydrator, make sure it's in good working order, and wash all the trays if you didn't last fall. 

My American Harvest Snackmaster Elite has served me well over the last 20 years, but I'm secretly yearning for an Excalibur. This might be the year...

In most parts of the United States, summer means cherry season. The farmer’s markets and grocery stores are filled with bins of red, black and bing cherries and it is practically impossible to not pick some more up on each visit.

Cherries are a good candidate for preserving and there are many ways to do that including canning and freezing. The easiest method, however, is drying them in a food dehydrator. They will last for at least a year in a dark cupboard or practically indefinitely in the freezer.

How to Dehydrate Cherries

Start with the freshest cherries you can find in season. The skin should be shiny with no dimpling or wrinkling. Avoid cherries with many scars or scabs. These likely sustained hail damage during their growth and will not last as long dehydrated.

Wash the cherries thoroughly with a small amount of dish detergent dissolved in cool water, then rinse with plain water. Allow the cherries to dry in a colander or laid out on a clean dish towel. The wetter the cherries are, the longer they will take to dehydrate.

There are two ways of preparing cherries for the dehydrator. If you own a cherry stoner, you can use that to push the stones out. Then, cut each cherry in half and arrange on a dehydrator tray cut side up. Alternatively, you can simply cut the cherries in half to the stone, then remove the stone. Using a stoner really does not save significant time here, so keep it simple.

Dehydrate for 10-12 hours, checking close to the end for doneness. The dried cherries should be leathery, neither wet nor crisp. If your dehydrator does not have a fan to circulate the warm air, rotate the trays half way through to make sure that the cherries are drying at the same rate.

Store the dehydrated cherries in a clean dry Mason jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keep in a dark cupboard or in the freezer.

Rehydrating Dried Cherries

There are several ways to rehydrate cherries, depending on the application. For muffins and other baking, it is not necessary to rehydrate the cherries at all- they have the consistency of raisins. For other baking or ice creams and sauces, rehydrate in warm water or orange juice until the cherries are plump and soft. Drain before using.  For more adult cherries, rehydrate in Grand Marnier or dark rum.

Uses for Dehydrated Cherries

Once cherries have been fully rehydrated, they can be used almost anywhere you would use fresh cherries. They are especially good over ice cream or made into a sauce to top cheesecake.   

Mar 14, 2013

Irish Colcannon

As we get closer to St. Patrick's Day, I love making Irish comfort foods, and colcannon is one of my favorites!

Irish Colcannon

Colcannon has been a staple in Ireland for hundreds of years. It incorporates Ireland’s basic crops- potatoes, onions, and cabbage or kale. Today, Colcannon is considered a comfort food in Ireland, appearing on both the most humble dining room tables to upscale restaurants across the country.

In Ireland, Colcannon is a traditional Halloween dish, marking the ancient Celtic holiday of Samhain (pronounced sow een). Samhain is traditionally a meatless day and colcannon is hearty and filling without containing beef or pork (although either can be added).

A time-honored tradition in Ireland is to include trinkets in the Colcannon: a sixpence, a gold ring, a thimble and a button. Finding one of the trinkets sealed the finder’s fortune for the upcoming year. The sixpence meant impending wealth, the gold ring meant marriage, the thimble meant spinsterhood for women and the button meant bachelorhood for the men.

The name colcannon comes from the Celtic cal caenn fhionn which means white-headed cabbage. Oddly, the traditional green in Colcannon is kale, a member of the cabbage family, but it is now often made with heading cabbage. 

While colcannon is most often eaten in Ireland in the fall when kale and cabbage are in season, it has become a favorite Irish dish for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations around the world.

Traditional Irish Colcannon

8 large thin-skinned potatoes
4 cups finely-chopped cabbage or kale
3 scallions (green onions), chopped finely
½ cup milk
1 stick (1/4 pound) butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Parsley (optional)

Scrub and steam the potatoes in their jackets for 30 minutes or until tender throughout.

While steaming the potatoes, add cabbage or kale to a medium sized saucepot with an inch of hot water in the bottom. Heat cabbage or kale to boiling and simmer for 5 minutes.

Drain the cabbage or kale into a strainer then set back in saucepot. Add 2 tablespoons of butter to cabbage and stir until melted.

Peel the potatoes while still hot and cut into pieces into a large stock pot. Mash the potatoes with a potato masher until the consistency is even.

Mix cabbage or kale into the potatoes as well as the three chopped scallions and the rest of the butter. 

Add the milk a little at a time until the mixture is creamy and consistent. Add salt and pepper to taste. When serving on plates, make a small well in the center of the colcannon and deposit 1 tablespoon of butter. Allow to melt.  

Feb 8, 2013

A Rogue Master Gardener

I love being in Georgia's Master Gardener program- I really do. But sometimes, I feel like I vibrate on a different frequency than most people, and this week's class was no exception.

It was weed identification week and I dutifully brought in a few weeds from our yard that were still mysteries to me. One of them, which turned out to be Florida Betony (Stachys Floridana), is lush and thick in spring and fall in our side yard. I've always encouraged its growth because the chickens love it when I rip up handfuls and feed it to them. It has always looked like mint to me, with its square stem, but it didn't smell like mint and had weird white tubers under the soil. As it turns out, it is related to mint and grows all over Georgia.

I think the takeaway from the class was supposed to be how much Round Up or atrizine was required to treat various weeds, but all I needed was their names. Armed with this information, I went home to do some research. Almost all the entries for Florida Betony came from university extension services, who gave a brief overview of the weed followed by lengthy descriptions of how to eradicate them with Agent Orange. With more digging, I started to find entries from herbalists and permaculture experts outlining the benefits of this much-maligned "weed".

Not only are the leaves healthy and great for the chickens, they could also be used in a survival diet (they're a bit musty tasting so not really a gourmet treat). What I didn't expect to find was that the tubers were indeed a gourmet delicacy! They're certainly not much to look at- the small ones look like grubs and the larger ones like a rattlesnake's tail (hence the plant's alternate "Rattlesnake Plant" moniker). But they are delicious! You can eat them raw, cut them into salads, or saute them with a little butter, salt, and pepper. Once I tried one raw, I can't imagine the restraint it would take to bring them all the way to the kitchen and into a pan. They are crispy and (to me, anyway), taste just like a mild radish, without the bitterness. I plan on going out tomorrow to dig up a bucket of them. A cousin of the Florida Betony (that many researchers are now suggesting is the same species) sells in gourmet markets for over $50 a pound. And, in my yard, I couldn't stop them from growing if I tried, even if I used a flame-thrower. I can't wait to spend the weekend dining through my yard. Next time, I'll talk about the yumminess of the lowly dollarweed.

I promise I'll try to behave in Master Gardeners' class and won't mention to the instructor that I ate
my weeds instead of treating them.