Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Menu Planning Continues

I'd like to say I have my menus made. NOT! With a few hiccups in our schedule due to an emergency that shifted a friend's livestock chores onto our plate for a few days, and helping out an older couple, my mess is still sitting on the living room floor where I left it Friday. I did whittle the recipe papers down, mainly because I decided to procrastinate the sorting and organizing the large dessert pile.

For to make a menu you first need a list of main dishes to put on it. The side dishes and dessert, I'll just do what ever comes to mind for now. My main dish list is on several sheets of plain paper which I have now scribbled on to update, so I'd like to type up new ones. Besides, it looks like it must of soaked up a spill at one point for it has definite waves and a hint of green. The number of dishes on it is now over fifty and I'm not talking about all the variations I might make of one dish. For example souffle, which has a number of variations and chili we combine in several ways.

Your list doesn't have to be a on a sheet of paper. When I was homeschooling, I used a card catalog system with an index card for each main dish and then side dishes also had a card. I then combined them. That format no longer suites us even though it worked great at the time for I set up our children's schooling on a card system also.

This was different from when I was growing up. Our menu varied little. My mom worked and was involved in a zillion activities and was home little. So we usually had roast on Sunday, meatloaf on Monday etc. (a hold out from around the 1950's). When I began cooking for myself, I saw the myriad of possibilities and wanted to explore them.

In fact, for the past two years I've gone on theme kicks. For example, to find three or four outstanding and different kinds of cheesecake recipes. I searched magazines, cookbooks, and the internet for recipes that looked enticing, then wait until I had found cream cheese at a rock bottom price before beginning to bake. As to not hate cheesecake by the time I was done, I did it over a three month period until four reined supreme. If you would have had a piece, you would have been required to rate it according to - is it a repeater or in other words, is it worth making this again? Should the texture or taste be altered? Then I continued scoring the cheesecakes by ease of creating, ingredient availability, and cost. It turns out we ended up pleased with four kinds- a chocolate, a lemon, a New York, and a old quick and easy family favorite that held its own with the newcomers. Recently, I've found a new recipe I want to try using cream cheese and a soft goat cheese that I can make. If it's good, it would score high on cost but not be as easy to create because I'd first being making cheese. In this manner, all recipes are thus evaluated.

On the rare instance when we eat out and the dish is especially good I can't help but try and dissect the what's in it. For instance, the Polo Con Crema and the Bolognes sauce on noodles recipes, I've concocted from just such experiences and tweaked to make them more chunky to please our palates.

Though I use magazines, the internet, and cookbooks, I rarely buy a new cookbook because I end up only using a few recipes from it. The cost and room it takes deter me. Instead, I frequently bring home from the library a cookbook that has caught my eye. We are lucky that our library has a large selection. The books spend a few weeks in where I copy a few recipes and maybe even get to try them out. Then back they go.

One magazine does continue to arrive every two months. It is Cook's Illustrated. None that I've found so far compare. The result of this recipe collecting is a three ring binder with pockets and plastic page protectors yawning to the breaking point and a another stack that wouldn't fit inside. Hence, the mess in the living room that will hopefully soon be organized.

A couple years ago, the binder had room to spare. It had dividers according to main dish, side dishes, etc. and my recipes were two back to back in a page protector. The ones I wanted to try were in pocket pages in the category where they fit. Then if I felt like trying a new dessert for example, I looked through the pocket. So into this yawning chaos I plunged and first divide the recipe pages into categories and if they weren't main dishes they were set aside for another day. You know, "Don't do today what you can put off for tomorrow." No actually, I had to prioritize this time of year is a real stress. I haven't even finished canning. But we have to eat.

Then, I updated my main food item list. It is set off into categories also. Just to confuse you, it is not Italian, Mexican, steak, or soup like in the menu planning, but rather according to the type of meat used in the dish. This is mainly because we raise and process most of our own meat and invariably have more of one kind than another. If you use the store exclusively, you can choose another way to categorize them. But then again, you may want to use the cheapest cuts of meat the most and therefore use chicken or hamburger a certain number of times a week. You can therefore combine the Mexican night with a Mexican dish with chicken in it or with hamburger etc.
My list appears something like this:

I. Hamburger

1. Stuffed Mexican Bell Peppers
2. Lasagna

3. Chili (which you can further elaborate upon on all the ways you traditionally have chili if you so desire.)
a. chili - cheese, and Frito's
b. chili - on baked potatoes with cheese
d. chili - on Lawry's spiced potato fries
e. chili - and cinnamon rolls (This sweet and spicy hot combination is a favorite)

4. Tacos
and so forth.
Then the beef category would extend to other cuts of beef.

1. Swiss Steak
2. Cubed Steak
etc. and so on and so forth.

My chicken list is very long and includes seventeen main dishes that we love. As I was updating this list from the recipes stacked on the floor, I realized how badly we need to get serious about another chicken coop so we can raise more of our own meat.

When you are done, you will possibly have a fish and crustacean, beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and wild game categories.

Sound like a lot of work. It is at first but after this initial organizing is done, it will be worth the effort. I know, I did it once back when our kids were young and I was homeschooling. It saved me countless headaches of "what's for supper?" Then our lives changed and with the many changes I've lost control of my recipe and menu planning. I want it back. The whole thing not the bits and pieces I've been working with. The hurdle is that I counted over fifty main dishes alone, not counting the varieties with some of those dishes - like souffle. There are at least three variations for that.

This year, I really must begin. Then as I do so, I'll include you in on some of the other organizing ideas I have. Maybe I should make this into a book. I've always wanted to write books. My kids have been after me time and time again to do up a cookbook for them. Nothing fancy, they say just a three ring binder of recipes. They don't know how much I'd like that for it would be a great gift to myself. Whew, fifty some main dishes plus variations seems like a lot and what will it be after I'm half way done - a hundred. Not to mention the side dishes and desserts. Maybe, this needs to be a on going Christmas gift with yearly installments.

Meanwhile, I had better get typed the lime recipe I promised you and a new one we just tried last night. It was wonderful. My variation of it anyway. They are both fast and easy. So here's hoping your further along with your canning than I am.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Key Is To Tailor It.

When doing menu planning the key is not to copy but to tailor it to you. My cousin e-mailed me after reading my blog because she couldn't comment on it. (Sorry, I was trying to learn something new on the computer and um...something went wrong.) She said they try to lower the amount of protein in their diet, excellent! Most people should, as the average American eats too much. Especially if you buy your meat, eggs, and dairy products from the store. They are high in bad cholesterol or LDLs. I realize that eggs have been creeping off that list but bare with me. The point I'm trying to make is store milk, for instance, can be imbalanced as much as 14 omega 6's to 1 omega 3. Your eggs and meat don't look to wonderful either. It really isn't their fault but instead improper feeding practices of the chicken, beef, hog etc. The omega's can be balanced in milk if the dairy animal is pasture fed not grain fed.

Don't go all crazy and refuse to drink milk now or join the media in thinking that if only things were just omega 3's everything would be great, for it is those bad omega 6's that are sending everyone to the emergency room with heart attacks and strokes. The truth is you need them both. Omega 3's slows clotting of the blood and omega 6's increases its flow. In plain English, you don't want to bleed out and you don't want your blood flow to stop. You need a balance, your yin and your yang, (I just learned that meant your shade and your sunshine), your day and your night and your butter and your bread. Okay, maybe not your butter and your bread but my husband would differ on that point. He assures me that almost every meal must be balanced with butter and bread.

What's my point? Well, your food source makes a large difference in what's on the menu. Not just what's available but what is its quality and calorie content. Since we do need to watch our waistlines. Mine just keeps getting bigger. I can't believe I ever had a twenty-four and a half inch waist. And that brings me to the point of calories. Grass fed beef has far fewer calories for the same cut of beef as grain fed. So as far as calories go, mine isn't from the store so I get to eat more.

Eighty percent of Americans have malnutrition. Sadly but true, store foods are lower in vitamins and nutrients because of the feeding practices used by the producers. It's shocking but some feedlot fed animals receive a diet of municipal garbage, stale pastry, chicken feathers, and candy. That's what a site told me. So where does that put me? My stale bread is fed to my hogs and chickens. I don't feed municipal waist, I mean waste. I don't think so anyway. I'm not sure what that is. As for chicken feathers. I'm sure I don't do that. And I don't feed them candy. I eat that. Maybe not quite so shocking after all. The point I'm trying to make, if my brain didn't get so side tracked, is the eggs from chickens allowed to roam in a pasture have ten times more omega 3 's than commercial eggs. With beef, the pasture raised has 4 times more Vitamin E and even if the feedlot beef are given Vitamin E supplements, the pasture beef still has 2 times more. Along with 3 to 5 times more CLA or good fat that lowers your heart attack and cancer risks in pasture beef. Sorry, I mean in you not the beef. Simply, eat pasture raised beef when possible.

If you don't raise your own food or buy privately from someone who has a nutritional enhancing feed program, you can't eat like I do. I eat quite a few eggs. The bottom line is, not all of us have the same choices or care to make the same choices in life. Do the best with what is given you. For instance, where I live, there is very little shopping options. Lots of things if I want them, I have to make them myself.

Your menu won't look like mine because of tastes or cultural background differences. So, make your own theme for each night like things that stick to your ribs, things that slim the waist, and things that I really shouldn't be eating. They say save the best for last.

One more point and then I'll hush for now. Each person has there own health issues. Kirk and I have to consume lots of protein to keep our numbers up. At first we had trouble with bad cholesterol and then we changed the way we fed our livestock - chickens, beef, pigs, milk goats - and without lowering the amount of meat we ate, Kirk lowered his cholesterol twenty-four point and mine went down thirty in a little over a year. That put us in the low risk category. Thankfully, since my doctor recommends that I eat lots of protein for my sluggish adrenals. We also eat more kidney, navy, etc. types of beans.

I did finally find the second part of my menu planning paperwork and I promise to share it with you along with a wonderful easy chicken recipe. I'll even let you have a glimpse of my menu when its done. Holler if you want any of the recipes off it.

Have a good weekend!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's For Supper?

When I began to type, my fingers were on the wrong keys and what came out on the page looked like I was symbolizing cussing, how appropriate I thought. For supper presently is a curse. With the small amount of energy my body allots me each day, almost all of it in the early morning, the last thing I want to do in the evening is cook. Especially since my husband doesn't get home until eight o'clock at night, the same time my joints and muscles have decided to have a pain party.

So when my daughter called yesterday morning and said, "What am I going to fix for supper?" expecting me to solve her problem, I wanted to say I don't know. I wasn't doing well feeding my own husband. Poor man has often had to rifle through the fridge for something to eat. But, I could hear our middle grand daughter begin to cry in the background and knew she was having one of those melt down days where she cries about everything. We know she has SPD (Sensory Processing Dysfunction) and we suspect she is also on the Autism spectrum.

This was going to be one of those days when our daughter spends the bulk of her time soothing her and holding this high maintenance grand daughter of ours, tending to her four year old and nursing her eight month old. Pulling out one of my food cards I'd saved from when our children were young, I helped her tweak it to fit her cooking style and weekly schedule. We decided on potato soup for the day, since she had all the ingredients, and it could cook in the crock pot. Plus, she could make it while her daughter took a nap (she fell asleep while Josie and I were on the phone). While doing so, I thought it was about time I did the same and kicked my rear end into gear.

The idea originated in the 1950's when housewives solved the problem by having the same weekly menu, hamburgers on Saturday, Sunday roast, Monday meatloaf, Tuesday pork chops etc. That eliminated the "What do I cook for supper?" problem but was a bit stagnant. Adding a little flexibility, I formulated a master plan that broadened the choice of meals and included the weekly sales at the grocery store.

I will share with you the first stage of the plan and hopefully, figure out where that safe place I chose to place the second part of menu planning is so I can use it and let you have a peek.

Breaking foods down into categories comes first:
1. Things roasted
2. Fried meat in a steak like form
3. Crock pot foods
4. Italian foods
5. Mexican foods
6. Quick preparation meals
7. Soups and Stews
8. Casseroles (I don't make them but you might.)
From here you decide what day of the week to designate to each category. Below is my basic menu plan with a few examples of the foods I put in each category.

Supper (which in our area is the evening meal)

Sunday - Roast/ roast chicken, roast beef, venison roast, pork roast, ham, and meatloaf... (This is anything that you put in the oven and include a baked potato or put potatoes and carrots in with. Sometimes, I use a crock pot instead of the oven.)

Monday - Steak / lamb, beef, wild game, pork chops, chicken breast, fried chicken, fish... (Any meat that is fried, broiled, or grilled)

Tuesday - Soup and stews/ tortellini, taco, potato, clam chowder, tomato, beef and noodle, chicken and noodle, chili, ham and bean, and French onion... (This is a great opportunity to use leftovers.)

Wednesday - Mexican/- tacos, enchiladas, tamales, Polo con Crema...

Thursday - Italian/- spaghetti, lasagna, shrimp premavera, parmesan chicken...

Friday - Crock Pot / Anything I make in a crock pot. Some of the rest of the weeks meals may spill over into this category.

Saturday - Leftovers or fast food. This includes stir fries, sloppy joes and anything that is quick to fix. I keep ingredients for a few of these meals on hand all the time so if our children come and stay longer than they expected to or company drops in, I always have something quick to fix, if I'm menu planning. This day is also designated for those new recipes I'm always wanting to try.

Instead of this you could go with each day of the week featuring a different meat. Sunday beef, Monday pork, Tuesday chicken and so on. For me that is too open and I'd be saying, "What's for supper?"but the idea is to tailor the plan to you. Be flexible in your menu and if you want Italian on Sunday and it isn't scheduled for that day no big deal, have Italian. Menu planning just gives you a basic plan and the ingredients to carry it out.

If you want to try a new recipe - do - or if you are like me and have evenings where you aren't able to do much, then include that in your menu by having freezer meal made on one of your good days, an extra pan of lasagna or enchiladas for example. As of today, I'm going back to making extra food and putting it in the freezer and that extra food includes dessert but I'll tell you about those another time. I'm also making as much of the meal as possible early in the day. Chopping the vegetable or mixing all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another (refrigerating it) to make cream biscuits. Then I just have to mix, pat in a round cake pan, cut into wedges, and bake. You get the idea.

After my main dish is decided then I add on the chart vegetables to go with the meal. I include potatoes, carrots, broccoli, beets, green beans, peas, corn, and buttercup squash from our food storage. Other vegetables such as zucchini make it in seasonally. Then when the children were home, I added a green salad right after a shopping trip and when that was gone we had coleslaw because the cabbage kept longer than the lettuce, and finally a fruit salad from our bottle fruit with some frozen berries thrown in. By then, two weeks had gone by, pay day had arrived, and it was time to go shopping again.

On the food menu in a brightly colored pen, to catch my attention, I make notes when to thaw meat for the next day, or what parts of the meal I could prepare ahead of time like chopping onions, bell peppers etc. when I'm not in such a hurry. I almost always chop two or three onions up at a time since it is an emotional event. Well, maybe not emotional but tears well up in my eyes. Then when it is time to cook, your ingredients are ready. This is really important if you have small children since it breaks the main meal up into small sections. For instance when you make that peanut butter and jelly sandwich for the kids with carrots for lunch, chop extra carrots to go in your roast for supper.

Now more than ever, I buy on sale in bulk and then except for a few fresh ingredients that might be needed, my choice of what to place on the menu is wide open. Shopping in this manner allows me to buy most of my purchases on sale saving us a bundle on our grocery bill. This includes sour cream, cream cheese, and cottage cheese since I try and buy enough to make it to the next sale which is for just the two of us invariably before the use by date on the carton. If the use by date is coming up and I have too much sour cream for example in the fridge then my menu will include Polo Con Crema or Stroganoff, or I might make lemon pound cake to have in the freezer when I need a quick dessert.

With the main dish decided then I add vegetables and a type of biscuits or bread along with a side dish like rice, cooked dried beans, or a salsa if appropriate. Did you know cooked rice freezes well?

So if "What's for supper?" is bogging you down like it is me, then join me in forming a menu. I know this plan works, it has for years but every once in a while I abandon it. Then I can't decide what to have from the myriad of choices and in my indecision, and lack of energy, I do nothing. Time runs out, Kirk is home and asking, "What's for supper?", and I'm still wondering the same thing.

I'd love to hear your ideas on how you decide what's for Supper? I always learn a great deal from you, for instance, the tip on soap making by Bogger Girl. Thanks!

I would like to thank all of you that wrote such kind and supporting words. They have buoyed me up as I traverse the hormonal imbalances of menopause and await my medication's arrival.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Banana Cake

( Banana Cake)
So much for the weekend blogging but I did get the green tomato salsa canned and the six bananas the grand children didn't eat from a couple weeks ago made into banana muffins and banana cake. The banana muffins went into the freezer but the banana cake went with us to our daughter with the grand kids. The banana's disguise was a big hit. Could be the heavy dose of chocolate chips inside the cake and the creamy chocolate frosting on top. They like bananas but they loved the cake. And I liked the fact that I got to have a piece and then temptation (the cake) was left at their house.

We ate cake first because I couldn't wait to dig in either so we all had a piece to fortify ourselves and then went to work stringing paint tape on our three and four year old grand daughter's two white walls. Our daughter had painted two walls pink and two walls white. The plan was to have a ten inch stripe of white and then a four inch stripe of pink on the white walls to liven up the room. After Kirk and I taped he went off to hang pictures and a coat rack in another room while our daughter and I painted the pink stripes.

I think the room will be adorable even though I'm not a big fan of pink rooms, even when I was four. That was the year my mom painted my room pink and then put in red carpet and red and white striped curtains. I'm sure she thought every little girl would love a pink room. I hated it. She had a cantaloupe melon colored room and that's what I wanted. I know, pretty weird for a four year old child.

So you can understand that if pink is what my grand daughters want, I'll paint pink, not cantaloupe melon.

But what I really was going to talk about is the green tomato salsa. It ended up being a non repeater as we call it. Okay, but not wonderful. The banana cake on the other hand was a surprise. It is Kirk's mom's recipe and I've made it lots of times but never at the same time as I made banana bread muffins. Which is just banana bread made into muffin tins for convenience. They each had the same amount of shortening, sugar, milk, soda, and salt. The difference was the cake had vanilla, one teaspoon of baking powder, and less flour, oh yea, and no egg. But, I had altered the original banana bread recipe and added the egg and dropped the amount of milk.

So now my brain is whirling thinking if banana bread has three cups of flour and banana cake has two what if I took another quick bread recipe and dropped the flour amount and added a teaspoon of baking powder would it too make a good snack cake?

Grandma Rexroat's Banana Cake
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup mashed bananas (3)
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Then add:
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch of salt

Bake at 350 for 35 to 40 minutes. I prefer dividing the batter into two smaller cake pans so I can freeze one to enjoy later and Kirk and I aren't stuck trying to eat a whole big cake. It also gives me a nice size to take over to our neighbors, who are an older couple.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Once Again

Looks like I'm starting hormone medications again. Just at lower doses this time since Many Pauses is knocking at my door. I did fine for a few months off them and then crash. I can't wait to begin so when I kneel down on the floor I don't have to crawl to the couch in order to use it to get up again and I won't look like I'm trying to hurtle myself across the room when I struggle to go from a sitting position to standing. No hormones - no strength. In a month I'll even be taking some Testosterone again, now that's a muscling hormone. But enough of woes it's time to get somethings done.

My husbands home today and so we're taking a load to the dump and recycling center 40 miles away. If that seems like a long ways away to you well, everything is a long ways away when you live in eastern Wyoming. We live on the wide open plains and towns are few and a long ways apart, most sixty or seventy miles with nothing in between but ranch land.

I'll blog again this weekend and tell you about the green tomato salsa I made and the banana cake I'm going to make. But for now, I had better get to work while the motivation lasts. The strength has already gone.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Italian Noodles

Yes, I'm a little behind. It was an emotional day yesterday. My hormones are going crazy and since I turned fifty a couple weeks ago, we had to check for Many Pauses (menopause) to see if it was to blame. I have a couple hormone test done a year due to ever changing imbalances and if we don't stay on top of them, threatening growths appear really fast. Despite great effort, my doctor hasn't been able to stop my thyroid ones.

I had some powerful tough days the last couple weeks. You know the ones when your joints and muscles hurt so bad you can't go on. Sometimes it even includes my toe joints and hot flashes are coming in waves day and night and then for me, I go into cold spells when my skin is freezing to touch and a heating pad turned to 113 Fahrenheit and two heavy quilts keep me just shy of teeth chattering. When I've had more than I can bare, I admit I do succumb to PMS - you know (P)ajamas, (M)ovies, and (S)nacks time. Unfortunately, that two to four hours a day is cutting into my canning and fall chores.

So yesterday, they glanced at my ovaries and yup, Many Pauses. When they were doing the test they asked me if I grew tumors and I just about burst into tears when I answered yes. I'm not an emotional women but the thought of here we go again and my raging hormones about did me in. They hadn't found one but they managed to do a thorough job of tormenting me. Two technicians each had a go at pressing, gouging and tromping over my extremely full bladder in an attempt to find my ovaries. Then I had to wait an eternity for the radiology doctor so he could get in on the fun. I'd of laughed when they said in a less than persuasive voice,"I think we have a pretty good picture of the right one but we can't find the left ovary.", if I wouldn't of wet my pants but I was too busy concentrating and praying they'd give up their search.

Then my emotional roller coaster dove downward again and I was crestfallen with the realization that I was indeed going through menopause. That news was far more devastating than turning fifty, for people either don't believe my age or ask me what skin care regiment I under go. They're disappointed when I tell them I drink lots of water, use home-made soap, spend lots of time outdoors, and eat good food. But now I'm doing that Grandma thing. I'm having trouble excepting that.

But, enough about my woes, I promised to tell you a little about noodles so hear it is and I hope you can make heads or tails out of it because my emotions are still raging today and I've a phone consultation scheduled for this afternoon with my physician. My mind is distracted.
Italian Noodles
The texture of the Queso Blanco and Riccota cheeses led my brain on a merry chase down a spider web of avenues and hopefully today after I've spoken to my doctor I will get a chance to explore a couple of them. One is a desert and the other a dip. But for now, I'll tell you about the noodles I wrapped around the cheese.

I could have bought some noodles to stuff at the store but they lost my noodle business after I'd made my very first batch of semolina noodles. It wasn't that I hadn't made noodles before but they were white flour and egg noodles for my chicken noodle soup. When I made straight semolina noodles for an Italian dish, the store noodles inferiority became starkly apparent. They're rubbery, and take forever to cook. Why, I don't know since they too are made with semolina flour but mine take about two minutes in boiling water. I can't figure out what they've done with the noodles to make the need to cook them so long. Those of you who have access to noodles from Italy may have a much higher quality of store noodle to choose from but here in the isolated west, choices at the store are few.

First of all, I mix my dough in a bowl instead of on the counter top or bread board because I have so little counter space. I'm always in the middle of several cooking projects at once so the dough bowl gets moved several times before I'm through with it. On this day crowding my space I had canning supplies and a small cutting board with basil leaves on it waiting to be chopped.

But if you'd like, bring a little Italy to the kitchen go ahead, place a cup of semolina pasta flour on the counter top and with your finger form a well in the middle. Inside the well place a jumbo egg. Just the yolk and white please, not the shell. My hens haven't supplied me with any jumbo eggs this week so I mixed and matched small and medium, guessing a jumbo equivalent. It isn't a really big deal for not enough moisture then you can add a little water and too much, you add a little white flour. Noodles are one of those things like bread that you get a feel for with time but they're not as unforgiving. So, relax! The first time through you may want to buy jumbo eggs if you haven't one just so you get the hang of the texture.

On top the egg, drizzle some olive oil. This is really important, it makes your dough more maliable. So the recipe is:
1 cups semolina flour
1 jumbo eggs
drizzle of olive oil
water if needed or white flour
I double the recipe because I love to have noodles in the freezer.

The mixture is crumbly but knead for 4 to 6 minutes until it is elastic and forms a nice firm ball. If you desire, before you knead add chopped basil. It adds color and flavor. Cover with plastic, a kitchen towel, or dinner plate that forms a lid on the bowl. Let rest for thirty minutes.

Press flat a small ball between your hands or press against the counter top and run the dough through the pasta machine on number 1. No pasta machine, then use a rolling pin. Don't worry if the dough tears apart, you will be refining the molecules in the dough.

Fold the strip in thirds like a letter to be placed in an envelope then run through again. Repeat this procedure until the dough is nice, smooth, and malleable. If the dough remains a bit dry add water or oil, knead a couple minutes and run through the procedure again. Working with small amounts of dough makes this process easier. I run the fold through with the wide side parallel to the machine so you have wider strips coming out.

If you want lasagna noodles I put the dough through increasing the numbers until I reach six which on my machine is the last number. You then slice the size you want to fit your pan.

I always make lots of spaghetti size noodles though the machine will also make wider ones. It is a taste preference for we like a more equal mix of sauce and noodles in our mouth.

If you are making lasagna noodles you can then proceed to the boiling water pot. For the spaghetti noodle or the medium noodles, mix them with four in a bowl as this makes the noodles remain individual. They freeze well this way and don't clump together. I don't dry mine but put them immediately in freezer bags or into the boiling water for supper.

In our area semolina flour is no longer available at the store so I buy mine on the Internet.

I almost forgot. I mixed the cheese with some Parmesan and Asiago shredded cheese and a touch of garlic, wrapped some noodle around a clump of cheese to form a number of small enchilada style rolls; placed them in a glass casserole dish; poured home-made marinara sauce with home-made Italian pork sausage; and topped with Romano, Parmesan, and Asiago cheeses. With fresh green beans, an artisan Italian style bread, and a bread olive oil dipping sauce it was a big hit with my husband.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Vinegar Cheeses

Today, with the girl's (dairy goats) milk I decided to make cheese. An idea for an Italian dish is brewing in my head and exactly where it's going I'm not sure but first I need some cheese. I want one to put inside a Semolina noodle, home-made of course. I've mixed the noodles including some chopped basil to add color and flavor and since I need to write this blog and mow the lawn, I've thrown the dough in to a Ziploc bag and placed it in the refrigerator. I'll let you know how I made them and what I ended up doing with them next week. But for now, we had better just talk about cheese.

I didn't want to make Mozzarella, stretching the rubbery mixture until it has a gleaming shine. After all, I do need to mow the lawn since it is to rain tomorrow and if the not yet fully formulated recipe in my head ends up calling for it, I'll just use some from the freezer.

So getting out my Cheesemaking Made Easy book by Ricki and Robert Carroll, I decided on Queso Blanco. It's easy and I've yet to get my Messophilic culture going and I promised myself that I wouldn't buy anymore instant cultures. So, I can't make my beloved Feta and doctor it up to make a filling for the noodles. I have some instant Thermophilic culture left but it takes more time than I have today.

(frothy fresh milk in the pail)

Besides, for those of you that haven't made cheese before Queso Blanco is a great one to start with. Since this cheese is mild and takes on the flavors of the foods around it, it might just be lovely inside a noodle with a little Parmesan instead of Feta.

In my cheese pot I placed a gallon of goat milk and put it on the stove warming it to 184 Fahrenheit. Why 184 not 180 like the recipe calls for? Well, I'm not sure if my thermometer is off or our altitude is changes things but I have to go to a little higher temperature or my milk doesn't turn to curds and whey in any of the cheese recipes I use.

When I had the right temperature I added a 1/4 a cup of vinegar and gently stirred it in. Nothing! Well almost nothing. The pitiful amount of curds sinking down under the milk wouldn't hardly fill a fourth a cup so I added a little more and a little more until I had close to a half a cup.

I know the Mont-Laurier Benedictine Nuns could tell me why I needed more vinegar as their book is rather scientific and they actually take the time to test the acidic level of the milk before making cheese. I have the feeling that the nun making cheese probably has another nun to mow the lawn for them. As for me, I'll just have to wait to find out the answer to that burning question until another day when I can sit and re-read their book titled Goat Cheese.

This photo is to show you how the milk transforms into snowy white curds and yellowy whey. It fails to give you the full effect because of poor lighting and the cameras insistance on either flashing too much light into the picture or not enough. Sorry! In this cheese the curds are small and mixed throughout the whey. In many other cheeses the curd will be one large mass and you cut it with a knife into squares while it is in the pot with the whey. But, I'll show you that another day when I'm making a different kind of cheese.

I've lifted the curds up for you to see how fine they are in a vinegar and milk cheese. To save time, I line a wire strainer with a double thickness of cheese cloth from the hardware store, since I'm not using cheese making, cheese cloth.

I then use the cheese ladle that has holes in it to scoop up the curds and place them in the cheesecloth lined strainer. The handle is handy to gently shake back and forth to speed the separation of the curds and whey. Below the wire strainer is a stainless steel strainer to catch any curds that may tumble out of the tilting wire strainer. The strained curds are placed in a bowl and I ladled several more scoops into the wire strainer. When I've gotten the bulk of them, I pour the whey with the remaining floating curds through the strainer. When drained I add the previously strained curds as they have not completed straining and allow them to drain. The recipe says to tie the four corners of the cheesecloth into a knot and hang to drain for several hours or until the bag of curds stops dripping. I find I can use far less cheesecloth and cut the draining time to about twenty minutes using the above method.

(Queso Blanco cheese)

I added a bowl below the strainers to catch the whey. Usually I would have given it to the pigs or chickens but today I used the whey to make another kind of cheese, Ricotta.

It is similar to Queso Blanco cheese in that it is also uses vinegar. You are suppose to use 2 gallons of fresh whey not more than an hour old and 1 quart of milk along with 1/4 cup of vinegar. I had just used a gallon of milk to make cheese so I definitely didn't have 2 gallons of whey. I decided to alter the recipe. If the alteration to the recipe didn't work, I'd give the mixture to the pigs. They would have gotten the whey if I had not decided to make cheese anyway.

Only half wasn't quite right either since curds and whey made up the original gallon of milk. I filled what I thought was a two quart container with the whey and dumped in it to the cheese pot. Pouring the rest of the whey into the same container I was surprised how much it filled it, almost full again. Something wasn't right. I looked at my supposed 2 quart container and it read 1.75 quarts instead of 2 quarts. That's weird, I've had that container for years and I've never read the measurements on the side. Why would anyone make a pitcher that held 1.75 quarts? Of course you could ask why would anyone buy a pitcher that only held 1.75 quarts? But that's neither here not there right now and so instead of adding a pint of whole milk to half the recipe, I added another quart. Okay, so the recipe wasn't exactly halved but like I said earlier what was the worse thing that could happen. The pigs ate my failed attempt at altering a cheese recipe. I could live with that.

( Ricotta cheese)

The recipe said to heat the 1 quart of milk and 2 gallons of whey to 200 Farenheight and then add 1/4 cup of vinegar. So of course, I went to 204 and added 1/4 cup of vinegar. Wait a minute, your thinking, that isn't half the vinegar amount. True, but remember the Queso Blanco cheese had to have double the vinegar so I figured why would this be any different?

The straining the curds from the whey was done in the same manner as before and as it turned out I had a cup of Ricotta cheese. Not bad, when the 2 gallon recipe said to expect 1 to 2 cups of cheese. This was my first time making this recipe. Okay, that sounded dumb. Of course it was the first time, I just made the recipe up.

To find out what I do with the Queso Blanco and Ricotta cheeses you'll have to wait until Tuesday because it is four thirty and now I really need to get outside and mow the lawn.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Home-made soap, it's so gentle on your skin. Hard to believe since it is made with lye, fat, and water. But then think about the fact that hydrogen and oxygen, two gases that are both flammable, makes up water which is used to put a fire out. Then maybe it's not so hard to imagine. One of the things I love about home-made soap is its high water content. This makes it gentle on the skin and it lasts longer than commercial soap that sucks up the water and disappears down the drain. When our children left home and they experienced the soap from the store it didn't take them long to call home and ask for a few bars. Their skin had erupted in protest.

If anyone tells you that they remember their grandmother's soap was harsh, then they probably added kerosene or ammonia or some other nasty harsh ingredient that was a hold over from the pioneer days when such things were often added. And, don't let someone convince you that it smells either. Old rancid fat can do that and soap made from old bacon grease if the old grease isn't cleaned properly.

My Aunt Ila use to save her bacon grease, for soap making. Wish I had not just heard about it but had watched her making a batch. I've never tried it as we butcher beef and pigs which gives us an abundant supply of tallow and lard. The white dry crumbly fat is what I look for and save. It makes the best soap. If your not saving the leaf lard from the kidney area of your hog for pie dough, then it makes excellent soap. The fat from the same area on the beef is just as good. Some of you don't butcher your own meat so you may not be able to sift through the fat like I do for the most choice pieces but do ask your butcher to save the fat and grind it for you. You can freeze it until your ready to make soap. I always render mine first thing so that when I freeze it it doesn't take up as much room or--if when you are cooling it in the refrigerator and it never makes it to the freezer like my last batch.

(Rendered fat)
To render fat means to cook it over a low heat until you have a light yellow liquid and cracklins which are grisly fat and meat clumps that look like fried extra fat hamburger. I give mine to the barn cats but some people cook with their cracklins. The ground fat renders quicker and at a lower heat so that you don't have smelly dark soap. To separate the cracklins from the fat I put cheese cloth in the bottom of a cow milk strainer instead of a milk strainer pad and pour the fat in. I change the cheese cloth and do this again to achieve a clearer liquid.

When the kids were all home, I made enough soap to fill our hygiene needs and to do our laundry. So I needed a lot of fat and it came from the lambs, beef, hogs, and an occasionally extra fat deer. I guess I've grown lazy for now I just make hand soap. The colors and scents that people add has never appealed to me since I'm hypersensitive to it. Oatmeal, lanolin, honey, and Calundala flowers are the only additions I've ever made, not all together.

The Calundala flowers are extra soothing on the skin and mine are volunteers as they reseed themselves in my front yard year after year. I pluck off the blossoms and dry them on a cookie sheet. Then when I'm making soap, I pour boiling water over the top of the dried blossoms and putting a lid on top steeping them like a cup of herbal infusion. After draining the liquid off the flowers, I add water to the infusion to equal five cups. Thirteen ounces of lye is mixed with this inside an old plastic gallon jug out in the garage since the fumes will burn your throat and the liquid gets really hot, a chemical reaction from mixing water and lye.

(Note the change in the liquid fat's color when the lye water mixture is added)

In this photo, I'm mixing the lye and water mixture that has cooled considerably. The gallon container on the outside feels warm to my hand. If you are a beginner use a thermometer until your hands have become old pros and can tell by touch. Warm the rendered fat until it has turned from the white firm mass into a liquid. Once again use a thermometer. I then pour in the lye, water mixture slowly and stir as it is added. Wear gloves as the lye and water is caustic at this stage. The best way to get your soap to set up quickly is to buy a cheap mixer, one of those that is tube shaped and is used to make shakes etc. It will help the water, lye mixture and fat to completely mix together and not separate out later and it greatly speeds up the whole process.

When the mixture is soaponifying (turning white and thick) and you pick up your mixer and the dripping liquid forms a trails on top, then you can pour into your molds. I use a plastic storage container that has been greased with Vaseline so the soap comes out easier. The containers lid is handy for it goes on next and the whole thing is wrapped in towels so that the soap doesn't cool too quickly and the mixture separate out into fat and lye water again. A few hours later you cut the soap into bars and the soap is popped out onto butcher paper to set for three weeks. This is needed for the residual lye that may linger on the outside of the bars to evaporate off and the soap is then gentle for your skin.

So as this blog doesn't drag on forever I'll give you some books to read if you want to make soap. I used Back To Basics by Reader's Digest when I first made soap. I also have The Complete Soapmaker by Norma Coney. It is especially handy if you wish to expand and use a variety of ingredients. I thought I might expand out and do different things with my soap making one day but that day hasn't come. The hand mixer trick was given to me by a gal at the National Dairy Goat Show when it was in Gillette, Wyoming.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The End

I'm not sure but my husband might be elated that the sunflowers are all pollinated and the bees have moved on. Each night when he came home from work the first thing I made him do was look at the latest photographs, always bees and sunflowers.

Wouldn't have been so bad but day after day after day. Yeah, a bit much I agree but with nothing but sunflowers and squash blossoms to photograph my skill level in that limited field rose dramatically.

For me it became an enchanted time of the day when clad in my pajamas I'd position myself amongst the flowers. Holding still, I became a part of the scenery and soon the bees flew in to work. I found myself sending telepathic messages there way. "Please land on that flower. That's it. Now turn. Lift your head just a little. Good job!" You'd think they were fashion models and in a way they were for the flowers became more interesting when there was a bee to show them off. Kind of like a Vanna White of sunflowers.

The models may have made the shots more interesting but they were like working with a room full of hyperactive toddlers. The Bee Fly was the most challenging to photograph. I had to aim for a flower I thought it might head for, focus the camera, and wait. IF I was lucky I got a quick shot. The depth of field was narrow with the macro setting and I couldn't make adjustments if it was wrong for the fly was already gone.

When I had a couple shots I was quite proud of, especially considering the difficulty of the task, I e-mailed them to my oldest daughter who has a photography degree. "There kind of fuzzy." was her reply.

"Maybe, but they are fuzzy little flies." I told her. I kept trying but this is as good as it got.

Some flowers I fell in love with and I shot without models like this stubby little sunflower. It was one of my favorites.

The more pictures I took the more my curiosity was peaked. What were these insects and what did they do with the nectar and pollen? None of the models were honey bees. Some day, I'm getting a book about different kinds of bees, the Girdled Ground Bee, and the Carpenter Bee and the... They don't make honey so how do they survive the winter? For instance are these hornets or yellow jackets? Or are they the same thing with two different names?

Most of the photographs I took I erased but some like this one I couldn't bring myself to for the flower is awesome but Vanna-the bee- isn't cooperating. She had her telepathy receiver turned off.

Just writing this blog gives me a mixture of emotions. Withdrawals since this morning Kirk eliminated the sunflowers with the skid steer so he could clean up the scrap metal pile and a need to photograph, but what? The prairie is brown and I can't take a trip to photograph autumn leaves because they are just beginning to turn.

Just so you know, I have an obsession with leaves in autumn, pine cones and pine needles too. My house is decorated in them. But, the kitchen is going to be devoted to sunflowers, as soon as I get done canning that is. I'm going to fill the room with photographs of them and then I'm going to scour the catalogs for sunflower seeds for next year. I like the burgundy ones and the orange ones and the yellow ones, and well, I just like sunflowers.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cactus Jelly

I checked the internet for a recipe for Prickly Pear Cactus Jelly and found a number of them to choose from. They all had the same basic ingredients; juice, lemon juice, pectin, and sugar. After looking at the recipe I chose and at my ingredients, I made a few alterations. I didn't have enough lemon juice so I added a half a cup of lime juice to the cup of lemon. It's in the same family so I figured it ought to work. A...nd I had ten cups not nine of the juice. I wasn't about to waste a cup so I added it too.

Then there was the sugar. Thirteen and a half cups seemed like over kill for three batches of jelly so I cut it by one and a half cups, a half a cup less a batch. I did use three pink boxes of pectin like they called for and made the three batches all together in a big pot. So that means I used less sugar, more juice, and substituted for part of the lemon juice - lime juice. Just a simple alteration of the original recipe and when I made the jelly I did all three batches at once though that isn't what is recommended.

I did followed the process instructions from the pectin box while ignoring the warning that if I didn't follow the recipe to the T it wouldn't turn out. I've heard that one before but it hasn't stopped me yet.

For I figure what is the worse that can happen if it doesn't gel, become syrup? Oh no, pancake syrup instead of jelly. Not a big deal as part of the batch will probably end up on pancakes or waffles anyway. If it is jelly then for waffles I'll add a little water to it and heat it up on the stove so it pours better.

No worries though because when I came back from town a few hours later, my jelly was set up beautifully. Not stiff and dry like the stores but juicy and gelled like we like it.

The Internet's recipe said the jelly would set in a couple of days - if not reboil it. Maybe they had better borrow my recipe instead of using their own.

The rendered juice looked like chokecherry juice but with the addition of sugar it changed to a burgundy wine red unless you shine light through it for a photograph like I did. The flavor has a hint of Chokecherry with a unique wild flavor all its own. The best thing about this gift from Texas is it can be shared with my friends and family.