Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

How to Make Vegetable Chips

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Not very many people tackle making their own vegetable chips. The reason is that is a rather time consuming process. The good news is that if you choose to use your oven or a dehydrator, you can start the process and do other things while the chips are drying. The bad news is that unless you have multiple dehydrators or several ovens, you are very limited as to how many chips can be produced at a time. Frying the chips is much faster, but is frowned upon by those wanting to up the ante on healthfulness and enjoy chips, too.

Start by choosing your vegetables and slicing them into chips.

Almost any firm vegetable can be made into chips. This is especially true of those that are roots or tubers like potatoes, carrots, and turnips. You may enjoy chips as yet another of the many ways to serve zucchini. Having settled on the vegetables, they must be cleaned and sliced into chips. It is your choice about leaving the skin on or removing it.

Use a food processor with the slicing blade to make the chips. This may cost you a little on the size of the chip if the mouth of your processor will not accept the full size of the vegetable. However, this is a very small sacrifice to make in order to slice an entire potato into chips in less than 30 seconds.

Wash the vegetables again after they are sliced.

With potatoes in particular, a second washing will help remove excess starch and other fluid that may drain from the vegetable during slicing. Some will advocate placing the slices in cold salt water and allowing them to soak this way for a few hours or overnight in the refrigerator. To maintain the best flavor, it may be wise to cover the container while soaking the vegetables. This can draw some of the nutrients from the chips into the water, but it is generally considered a fair trade for the quality boost to the chip.

Consider adding special seasonings to the chips before cooking.

If you like spicy chips or some other flavor, sprinkle this on before you start to cook the vegetables. Do not be overly zealous with the spices because you do not want to created a breading. For the chips to become crispy, their flesh has to be exposed to the oil or oven heat. If salt is the only seasoning to be used, it can be applied immediately after cooking if preferred.

Deep fry the chips in a low fat oil.

If you are strictly going through this process to produce a healthy snack, you will want to use virgin olive oil. However, if your primary reason is to produce a favorite snack at a cheaper price, any good vegetable oil will probably work for you. Make sure that the chips have been dried off as much as possible before dropping them into the hot oil. Water will cause lots of popping and increase the risk of fire and nasty oil burns on your skin.

Test the heat of your oil by dropping in one or two chips. If they do not begin to fry immediately, increase the temperature of your oil by either waiting for it to heat more or raising the burner temperature. Do not rush the oil by overheating it. This can cause your oil to turn brown or black and may affect the taste of the chips.

As soon as the chips look a golden brown, remove them to safe surface covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil while the chips cool. Do not stack the chips until they are cooled somewhat. This will only take a minute or two.

You can dehydrate or bake the chips.

If you choose to use a food dehydrator, follow the directions concerning how to place the chips into the unit. Also, the dehydrator should give recommendations about drying time for that particular dehydrator. When the chips are finished, you can remove them immediately for serving or storing.

For oven drying, lay out a single layer of seasoned chips on a cookie sheet or baking stone. Treat the utensil to prevent sticking, if necessary, before applying the chips. You can dry more than one sheet at a time if your oven is large enough. Preheat the oven to about 275 or 300 degrees. Bake the chips for about an hour or until they are golden brown. Remove them and allow them to cool completely before storing. If you want, you may serve them while still warm If you are salting the chips, do this before serving or storing.

How to Freeze Vegetables

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Harvesting your own vegetables to cook up in the evening meal is a uniquely rewarding experience that also has many health benefits. Home grown vegetables are tastier and contain more essential nutrients than supermarket vegetables, but often the garden provides much more food than we can use in a short length of time. Watching your lovely home grown produce turn to mulch in the bottom of the refrigerator is not only wasteful but heartbreaking after all the care and time taken to grow it. To make the most of this overabundance, it becomes necessary to learn how to freeze and keep the vegetables you have grown for an extended period.

Freezing vegetables prevents bacteria, yeast and mould spores that may be present in and around them from multiplying and spoiling them. When vegetables are prepared and frozen correctly they should keep well and retain all their nutrients, flavour and texture for up to six months. After this time the quality will gradually deteriorate until the vegetables are no longer suitable for eating. Preparing and freezing vegetables as soon as possible after harvesting will ensure maximum freshness and flavour.

Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce don’t freeze well as the water expands and crystallises, rupturing the cell walls that would usually contain it. When thawed, this causes the texture of the vegetables to become mushy, however, if they are to be used in soups or sauces the texture won’t be a problem and they will still be full of flavour and goodness.

The best method for freezing most vegetables is to blanch first. Blanching involves dropping clean, sliced vegetables into boiling water for a few minutes until their colour starts to brighten, then placing them straight into iced water to cool down and stop the cooking process. This partly cooks the vegetables and slows the action of enzymes that would otherwise cause flavour and nutrients to be lost over time. Blanching also thoroughly cleanses the surface of any dirt and unwanted organisms. When the vegetables are cold they can be placed on absorbent kitchen paper to dry, then packed into airtight plastic bags or containers and frozen. Optimum blanching times vary between one and four minutes depending on the size and type of vegetables. Over or under cooking will mean maximum storage times are shortened.

Vegetables can also be cooked and mashed or made into soup or sauce, then frozen in conveniently sized portions. Onions and garlic don’t need to be cooked before freezing. Separate garlic into cloves, and slice onions into rings then package and freeze.

Whatever type of packaging you use to freeze your vegetables, make sure to remove as much air as possible then seal well to prevent moisture loss and transference of smells from one type of food to the next. It is a good idea to pack onion and garlic in two layers of plastic or solid containers as they tend to transfer flavour as well as scent into anything and everything stored with them in the freezer. Lastly, mark all packaging with the name of the food it contains and the date so nothing is left in the freezer for longer than it should be.

A well planned and prepared vegetable garden can provide year round food for a whole family. Freezing all your excess vegetables makes this possible by lengthening storage time, ensuring no part of your precious harvest is lost.

How to can Green Beans

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Learning how to can green beans is one of those procedures in life which is equally about learning how not to can green beans. There are certain procedures which must be followed and certain things which must be avoided if the process is to be conducted both effectively and – most importantly – safely.

The practical side of how to can green beans may unfortunately in the first instance involve some financial outlay, other than that which is perhaps required to buy the actual beans. There is no effective substitute when canning green beans – or anything else, for that matter – for a properly designed pressure canner. If you do not already have one, they can be purchased probably most cost effectively online from a company such as Amazon. Be sure to read the accompanying instructions thoroughly, immediately after purchase and again before canning. You will also have to ensure that you have proper pint jars, lids and seals which are suited to the purpose. If you already have these materials, ensure the canner is working as it should and that the jars, lids and seals are not damaged in anyway.

When picking or buying green beans for canning, it is important to ensure that the beans are still crisp and fresh. The green beans should then be washed thoroughly and about a half-inch trimmed off each end. The beans should then be chopped in to one inch to one and a half inch pieces.

Following the instructions provided with the canner, add the stipulated amount of water and switch it on to begin heating up. The jars should be sterilised in boiling water for at least ten minutes, while the lids should be added to some simmering water for at least five minutes. The items should then be removed from the water with the aid of either appropriate protective gloves or even a thick towel and laid out on another towel to be filled with beans.

When it comes to the stage of packing the beans in the jars, it is important to leave just over an inch between the beans and the top of the jar. This is to allow the water to be subsequently added and further room for pressure expansion to occur. There are many who now advocate putting some salt in to the jars at this stage but I prefer a different and simpler option.

Bring a large pan of water to a boil, allowing at least a half pint of water for each jar. Add a quarter of teaspoon of salt to this water for each jar and this eliminates the intricacies of trying to pour the salt in to the jars without getting any stuck on the rims. Fill each jar with water to an inch below the rim, ensuring that the beans are covered. Put the lids and seals on to each jar, moderately tightly but not overly so.

Again being careful to protect your hands, place the jars of green beans in the canner, place the lid on top and allow it to vent for the stipulated time, usually about ten minutes. After this time, weight and seal the pressure canner and allow the pressure to build to over ten pounds. Set the timer for twenty minutes for the one pound jars you are using and keep an eye on the pressure canner to ensure that the pressure remains between ten and eleven pounds for the duration. Adjust the heat up or down as required.

After twenty minutes, turn the canner off and allow it to cool down and the pressure to drop to zero. Even leave it overnight, provided there are no pets or small children likely to knock against it! The lid can then be removed and the jars carefully removed with protective handware and laid on a towel to cool, if they have not already done so. When the jars are cool, press on the lids to ensure that the lid stays down and that the jars are sealed.

The practicalities of how to can green beans are therefore not really complicated but do require a great deal of attention to safety. Provided this fact is acknowledged, you will soon have several jars of canned green beans which will hopefully see you through the winter.

How to Blanch Asparagus

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Blanching asparagus will preserve the crispness and enhance the color of the asparagus and remove some of the stronger flavors (tannins), making it ideal for stir-frying. Blanching is a very simple cooking technique of boiling a food for a short time and then submerging it in ice water (also known as “shocking”), abruptly ending the cooking process. When used in conjunction with other food safety techniques blanching is effective at killing bacteria on your food, making it a good first step to storing fresh vegetables in your freezer.

For this very simple cooking process all you will need is:

Asparagus, a pot of boiling water with a little bit of salt, a way to remove the asparagus quickly from the boiling water (such as a strainer, tongs or a slotted spoon) and a bowl of ice water

The cooking of it is just as simple as preparing the ice water. All you do is:

Prepare the asparagus by cleaning it and chopping it into the shapes you would like it in for your end product. (You can blanch it whole, but note that it’s much easier to chop it now than after being softened by boiling). Place the asparagus in a pot of boiling water and watch for the color of the asparagus to change, remove from the heat and strain at the peak of its color when it turns a vibrant green. This should take about 30 seconds. Note: Careful not to put in too much asparagus at a time or it might cause the water to lose its boil, about a handful is perfect. Just repeat the process as needed. Promptly “shock” the asparagus by placing it in a bowl of ice water, thus ending the cooking process. Remove from the ice bath when the asparagus is no longer warm.

This can also be done with a microwave by placing a couple tablespoons of water with a handful of asparagus in a bowl on high for 2 minutes. Then “shocking” as you would normally.

If done correctly the asparagus will be delicious and crunchy and ready to be tossed in a stir-fry or reheated using any other cooking method. Or simply enjoy them chilled right out of the ice bath, as part of a vegetable plate with some ranch dressing.

If being stored in your freezer pack in freezer bags leaving no air, the asparagus should keep for about 6 months in the freezer.

Seasoned Flour Mix Ideas

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Seasoned flour mix is useful for everything from breading to thickening soups and gravies. Plus, it’s very easy to make yourself, so there’s no excuse for buying premade seasoned flour mixes at the store. Just mix some up to keep on hand, and you’ll be surprised at the wide variety of ways you can use it. 

Once you have the basic recipe, you can add many different ingredients to use with whatever dish you happen to be making.  Add the extra ingredients to taste — a little or a lot, it’s up to you.

The basic recipe

To make a basic seasoned flour mix you’ll need seasoned salt.  You can buy prepared seasoned salt such as Lawry’s, or make your own.

Use about 1/2 cup of seasoned salt to three cups of flour. Of course, you can use less or more seasoned salt in the mix depending on your taste.  Mix the flour and seasoned salt in a large freezer bag, and you can store it easily in that as well. This will last for quite a few weeks and chances are, you’ll use it up before you’d have to throw it out. 

Extra garlic

Garlic makes everything taste better, so feel free to add extra garlic powder to the base seasoning if you like garlic. 

Italian

If you are making something Italian-based, add oregano, basil and garlic powder. You can add fresh chopped garlic, as well.

Mexican

Add cumin and/or chili powder for a Mexican flair, and use the mix to bread chicken legs or breast for a zesty spin on your favorite chicken. 

Asian

If you’re making something with a Chinese vibe, add ginger to your basic seasoned flour mix.  The liquid you use to marinate your meat can also be soy based for an Asian flavor.

Hot and spicy

Add red pepper flakes to the base recipe for when you’re looking for a little kick in your dish. 

Having all-purpose seasoned flour on hand will speed things up in the kitchen for you, and the great thing about making the mix yourself is that you get to control the ingredients.

How to can your Vegetables from your Garden

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

It’s such a joy to can vegetables, knowing you did it and to know the rewards you’ll reap is delicious tastes from canned vegetables that are as fresh as if they came directly out of the garden. It’s important to know what canning means…it’s a means of preserving vegetables or fruits and sealing them in airtight cans or jars. When they are canned at home, the food is heated or processed according to the times listed in a canning recipe book. The jars or cans are closed and hermetically sealed with a lid and a cap. As the jars heat, it expels air and halts any decay. Sit the jars on a counter-top to cool, you’ll hear a sound of ping, pop as the lid seals onto the rim and it creates a solid vacuum. If a jar hasn’t seal, it will “not” have an indentation in the top of the lid.

When we can fresh vegetables, they contain enzymes and naturally occuring microorganisms, i.e., molds, yeasts and bacteria by canning the vegetables, it limits the growth of enzymes and microorganisms.

There are two categories for canning vegetables: high acid or low acid. 1) High-acid foods like tomatoes, we process them by using boiling-water canning at a temperature of 212 degrees (100 degrees C). When we can by this method, we pack the jars and place them in a rack, and then lower them into a pot of boiling water (boiling-water processing). This is the best method for a home canner to use.

2) Low-acid foods are preserved by a steam-pressure canner at a temperature of 240 degrees F (116 degrees C). These foods, i.e., green and lima beans, carrots, beetroot, sweetcorn, etc. These foods are also processed according to the time listed in a canning recipe book to ensure having a safe food.

Requirements for processing properly canned vegetables:

(1) Selection of jar sizes heated in water (180 degrees F or 83 degrees C).
(2) Lids, caps, dry bands heated same manner as above.
(3) Large canning pot (with lid) and with an elevated canning rack half-full of water, heat to simmering (180 degrees F or 83 degrees C).
(4) Wash your tomatoes, blanch for 30 to 60 seconds (until skins crack), remove and dip in cold water.
(5) Core tomatoes and remove skins also any green areas; boil tomatoes for 5 minutes.
(6) Lift jars out of pot by handles on canning rack.
(7) Add amount of lemon or citric acid to each jar as specified in canning recipe book.
(8) Pack tomatoes into jars, leave a 1/2 inch (12mm) of headspace, fill jar with cooking liquid, removing any air bubbles.

How to Dry and Store the Vegetables You’ve Grown

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

Nothing taste as good as vegetables you’ve grown and nothing is safer for your family to eat. Learning how to dry and store the vegetables you’ve grown will save you money, keep more chemical additives off your table and give you the personal satisfaction of knowing you have done something to safeguard your family’s well-being.

*Drying Your Garden Vegetables

The fastest way to dry vegetables is to use a dehydrator, which has a heating element, fan and stacking shelves. The oven can also be used if you spread the vegetables on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and keep the temperature no higher than 200 degrees F. but preferably closer to 120-degrees F.

The prep process is simple and begins with washing and drying the vegetables. Some vegetables such as carrots, turnips, rutabagas and parsnips will require peeling before dicing or cutting them into thin slices and beans and peas will need to be shelled. Keep the prepared weight to about 6-pounds at a time for faster drying.

Once the vegetables are cut, chopped, peeled or sliced to the appropriate size, some will need to be blanched briefly in boiling water to halt the ripening process and to help maintain color. You can find an alphabetized chart of vegetables with both blanching and drying times at this site.

*Peppers-Onions-Garlic

Many vegetables such as garlic, onions and pepper can be air dried in an unaltered state and stored in a dry place until needed. Both onion and garlic should be braided by their tops as soon as pulled from the ground and allowed to cure or harden outside for a few days before storing. Another method for keeping onions is to drop one into a nylon hose leg, tie a knot and drop in another. Repeat the process until the hose is full and hang it up.

Strung peppers such as chilies, cayenne and banana perrers make a very festive wall hanging as well as keepong the peppers dry. Once the peppers are dry, they can be removed from the string as needed or stored in an airtight container.

*Testing And Storing Dried Vegetables

Remove a few pieces from the oven or dehydrator and allow to cool. Close your hand around the vegetable and squeeze. When you release the vegetable there should be no moisture on your hand and it should spring back into its shape. For vegetables that dry brittle, simply hit one with a hammer to see if it breaks. If it does, it is done.

Once you are satisfied, they have dried; pack them in zip-lock bags or other containers that can be sealed to keep moisture out. Place the container in a cool dark storage place to protect both the color and flavor. Properly dried and stored vegetables should keep for about 6 months though you should check regularly for any signs of mold.

*General Guidelines For Storing A Garden’s Bounty

While many root vegetables winter well in the ground until needed, they will need a few feet of some type of mulch such as hay or sawdust.

The biggest mistake most gardeners make is washing the dirt from their root vegetables instead of brushing it off with a soft brush or cloth. They don’t need the moisture from a good wash until ready to be cooked.

Trim the top from root vegetables and check the stored ones regularly to be sure none are spoiling. It only takes one bad spot to start a chain reaction that will soon ruin all you gained from a summer of hard work.

Learning how to dry and store the vegetables you’ve grown will greatly extend the keeping time of your garden’s abundance, whether you store them in a root cellar or dry them in an oven or dehydrator.

The Difference between White Eggs and Brown Eggs

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Chicken eggs come in many different colors: pastel shades of pink, cream, or blue, or “standard” colors such as white or brown. So, other than the difference in color, what is the difference between white eggs and brown eggs?

Perhaps one of the first questions that people ask about different colored chicken eggs is: are brown eggs healthier than white eggs? The answer to this isn’t simple, because the quality of the egg, no matter the egg’s color, depends on how the hen was raised.

Genetics play the largest part in determining egg color. For example, according to the Boise Food Guild and BackyardChickens.com, some chickens that genetically and historically come from Asia, such as the Cochin breed, lay brown eggs, while the popular true Araucana or Ameraucana breeds that come from South America lay robin’s blue colored eggs.

If two breeds that lay different colored eggs are crossed, such as a Marans with an Ameraucana, the resulting hybrid could lay an olive colored egg. This means that a hen’s egg color will depend on her parentage.

The most well-known white egg laying breed is the Leghorn. A Leghorn is usually slender and lays consistently, so it’s a good breed for commercial production. Perhaps this is why many Americans were familiar with white eggs – they used to be much more available than their brown counterparts.

Rhode Island Reds and an off-shoot hybrid, called Red Stars, are heavy producers of brown eggs. It is believed that the color of a hen’s earlobes reveals the color of that hen’s eggs. However, the Araucana has no earlobes and the hens lay blue eggs. Similarly, the Ameraucana has red earlobes but the hens do not lay red eggs. They lay blue eggs as well. The difference between white eggs and brown eggs is primarily the genetics of the chickens that lay them.

In terms of health, brown eggs are no better for you than white ones. How the hen is raised, what she is fed, and generally how healthy the hen is will all help to determine how nutritious her egg is. Chickens need plenty of protein to produce healthy eggs. It is a myth to believe that chickens are vegetarians and should be fed vegetarian diets consisting of corn and soy. Chickens also love to eat bugs, yogurt and meat, and these high-protein meals contribute to the overall goodness of an egg, whether it is white or brown.

In some cases, brown eggs are more expensive than white eggs. One reason for this might be the largely-held sentiment that brown eggs are healthier, or that they are somehow special. Customers then end up paying for the color of the eggs rather than for the nutritiousness that the eggs should have.

No difference other than color exists between white and brown eggs. If you want to determine which eggs are best for you in terms of quality and health, look at how the company raises and feeds their hens. You may find more nutritious brown eggs, or you might find similarly high-quality white eggs.

How to Cook Okra

Friday, April 1st, 2016

One can, of course, batter and fry okra, although that isn’t the healthiest way to eat it. There is too much breading and way too much fat. If you do fry okra, use olive oil, Canola oil or some other form of “healthy” fat.

Okra also makes an excellent addition to almost any soup or stew where you use vegetables. In fact, I even find it in some of the “soup mix” frozen vegetables I use during cold months when buying every vegetable fresh gets prohibitively expensive.

During the cold months, I do buy bags of frozen okra when I just want okra. During warm months I buy it fresh at farmer’s markets since the grocery stores very seldom carry it here.

A lot of how well okra cooks depends on the size. Very small okra is great, cooks quickly and you only have to cut the ends off sometimes just the stem end if it is truly fresh and the bottom tip hasn’t darkened. Okra up to about two and a half to even three inches long is still good, but will need to be cut into smaller pieces for most cooking. It should be fairly slim. Longer, thicker okra tends to be tough, and sometimes stays tough and has “woody” chunks in it even after cooking. Fresh okra should bend easily (or be soft if it’s baby okra and too small to bend). How it feels is about how it will cut and how tender it will be after cooking.

One of the best ways to cut the slick or even “slimy” texture of cooked okra (other than breading and frying; this does it, too) is to cook it with tomatoes. The acid really tones it down. My own favorite way of cooking okra is below.

Vegetable Gumbo

I cook okra by cleaning and slicing it into small rounds, then adding 1/2″ slices of zucchini and yellow squash, plus hunks of onion, green pepper and either fresh or canned tomatoes. I usually use about the same amounts of okra and squash and tomatoes, plus the remaining ingredients in slightly lower quantities. If you like things spicy, add a jalapeno or other hot pepper or two.

Cook the gumbo over low heat until the okra and squash are tender but not mushy. Leftovers heat well in the microwave. Don’t reheat leftovers on the stove or they will overcook.

Okra provides tons of vitamins. It’s good, good, healthy food!

Seven Fishes Italian Christmas Feast

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

For a change of pace that fits the festivities of the season, try the Italian tradition called The Feast Of The Seven Fishes Dinner.  This a large, family style-meal that generally takes place on Christmas Eve. 

Start the meal with an antipasto platter.  This can include Italian cold-cuts such as salame, mortadella or prosciutto.  Cheese is another important component, be sure to include a good mozzarella and a sharper cheese such as pecorino.  Other great appetizers for the antipasto could be olives, pickles, giardinella, artichoke hearts and more.

No Seven Fishes feast would be complete without a pasta dish.  However, the meal is about the seafood, so the pasta should not overshadow those dishes.  Perhaps a great lasagne, or homemade linguine with a clam sauce would be a great addition without taking away from the seafood.

Te star of the show is the seven seafoods.  This might include crab legs, shrimp dishes, shellfish such as clams, oysters or mussels and seasonal fish that can be baked, fried or steamed.  The type of seafood served is up to the cook and as to what types of seafood are freshly available, but the most traditional of these dishes is baccala.

Every family has a different recipe and of course, their recipe is the best, but they don’t want to share it with you!  What follows is a good starter recipe, take it and make it your own by changing out or tweaking some of the ingredients.  Some cooks add raisins for sweetness, some sauté red bell peppers along with the onions, or toss in capers for added twang.

Baccala

4 pounds salt cod

2 pounds potatoes

2-3 stalks celery, chopped

1 onion,  diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

½ c olive oil

1 c good quality Italian olives, coarsely chopped

3 cans tomatoes

1 tsp oregano

Salt, crushed red pepper to taste

Chop the salt cod into good-sized chunks, two to three inches.  Place in a dish and cover with water, place in the fridge.  Once every twelve hours, pour off the water and add fresh, making sure the fish is covered.  Continue to do so for at least three days, or until a small sample of the fish no longer tastes salty.

On the day of, peel and cut the potatoes into bite-sized pieces, bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook until partially done, ten or fifteen minutes.  Drain and set aside.

In a saute pan, heat the olive oil, and cook the onions and celery until the vegetables are soft and the onion begins to caramelize.  Stir in the garlic and spices.  Hand crush the tomatoes, add to the vegetables along with the olives, allow to simmer for 15 minutes.

Layer the potatoes, fish and sauce in a casserole, finish with a drizzle of olive oil and bake for 30 minutes in a 350 oven.

Serve over pasta and/or a good, thick bread to sop up the juices.

Finish the meal with a good strong coffee or liqueurs and an array of desserts. Fresh fruits and cheeses are a good meal-ender.   Pizelle cookies are a nice Italian touch and not too heavy after such an indulgent meal.