Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Preserving Potatoes: Day Two

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

Well, here is day two of my potato preservation with more tutorials and some comedy for your entertainment! (Here is Day One if you missed it.) I did all this in record time. It was all on a Monday morning! More on that later...but now...

Here are the dried potatoes, and here is the browning and discoloration I said could happen if the starch isn't blanched out all the way. These are still good to eat, just not as pretty. I probably should have stirred these a bit better in the blanching process.

Here is a tray of yummy looking slices! You can see how much dehydrated slices shrink down. This tray was full with the edges just barely touching.

I put them all in jars to store. I'll cover how to do that on a later day.

Just in case you have never blanched anything before, I decided to show you how step-by-step. I'm guessing if you follow me it's because you are a newbie too, or you enjoy the comedy, either way, I don't want to insult your intelligence, nor do I want to leave you hanging if you want more instruction. So, here's how to blanch the potato slices...

I start off by boiling a pot of water to a full rolling boil. Then add all the potatoes at once, and very carefully to keep from splashing scalding water on yourself (especially if you have a giant pregnant belly in the way!) I let this boil for 2 minutes. Sometimes you need to let it get back to a boil first. All that foam is the starch coming out of the potatoes. This is also why you don't want to blanch more than one batch at a time in the same pot of water. I know it seems a waste, but, you can pour it on the weeds outside to kill them, or let it cool down and use it to water your plants. (Truth be told, I just dumped it down the drain since it's winter. I know, wasteful...shame shame!)

Then I strained them in a colander while running cold tap water to help cool the water going down the pipes. You can also rinse the potatoes in order to help the cooling process.

Then put them in ice water right away to stop the cooking process. Blanch does not mean cook. These aren't actually fully cooked and you wouldn't want to eat them at this point. I hope that makes sense!

After they cool for a couple of minutes, then they are ready to go into the dehydrator. As you can see, these are all touching and will shrink up quite a bit as shown in the pictures at the top of the page. Then I set the dehydrator at 115 degrees (as explained in Day One) and let it run until all the potatoes are completely dry.

Next it's time to do something with all the tator tots I froze up. Here are the rounds, which on day one I decided was the way to go. Less time consuming to make.

Then when I went to get the other tots out, I found! I guess I got the pan too close to the middle part of the lid that sticks down farther than the rest of it! Hey, I bagged these up with the rest of them anyway!

And here it is! This is a gallon-sized bag. I always put cooking instructions on the foods I freeze. (Well, if I remember anyway!) Even though I think I'll remember, it never fails...I don't. Plus it frustrates my Knight to no end when he has no idea what to do with this!

I decided I loved making the tots so much, perhaps I'd try hashbrowns in my regular-sized muffin pans. If you have a mini-loaf pan, this would be excellent! But, alas, I do not.

While I am in the process of preserving these, I always keep a pot of cooked potatoes in the fridge for the next day. So here I started one up. It will sit in the fridge overnight and I won't burn my fingers when I go to use them.

Next I prepared raw potatoes to freeze into loose hashbrowns. I don't often use my food processor because it is insanely loud, but it was perfect to shred a bunch of potatoes in a short amount of time. Notice I left the peel on. Make them however you prefer. I do a bit of both to switch it up.

With shredded potatoes, the blanching process is a bit different. You can do them the same way as sliced potatoes, but since the pieces are smaller, they don't need to be boiled nearly as long to get them blanched. I put them in a colander and poured a couple of pots of boiling water over them. You'll know they are blanched when they start to get a little bit translucent.

Then I drop them all into ice water also.

Now, here comes the down-side to freezing them. You need to dry them off. So, I use a couple of bath towels lined with lint-free towels, like a flour-sack towel or flat diaper. You can also use paper towels of course, but I started using cloth quite some time ago and no longer keep paper towels around. (In case you are wondering, I keep my worn out lint-free towels around for draining bacon or fried foods on, cleaning up oil, etc, then throw them out directly in the dumpster. Don't ever let cloth with oil on in sit in your house! It can create enough heat to build up and start a fire. If you decide to try to wash oil-stained cloth, wash it several times in the hottest water you can before you dry it. But you have to get all the oil out or it could catch the dryer on fire! So, that's why I just don't mess with it and throw them out after they touch oil. Ok, done with the safety speech...)

After your shredded taters/hashbrowns are dried pretty well, time to lay them out and freeze them. Don't freeze them in a bag or you will end up with a giant brick! Spread them out as much as you can so they'll break apart easily to fit into a freezer bag after they are frozen. Trust me, this will save you a lot of heartache later on. Don't ask me how I know. ;)

So, now how did I do all this in one morning while my Knight was at work and I was solo with my two small crazies? This is how... Little Buddy being sweet!

And Stitch being precious! Seriously, I was shocked and proud at their behavior that morning! Even when they are well-behaved, it's rarely to this degree!

Well, I hope you are having success in the food preservation department as well as the child behavior department! Tell me what you are preserving and how you are doing it! I'd love to know!

Happy Preserving!

Jen Hen

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Preserving Potatoes: Day One

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

A great thing about homesteading is finding a bargain and making use of it! I have been waiting on the fall sale of potatoes and it's finally here! These were a buck and a half per 10 lb bag! They have been $4 each most of the year.

I have a list of ways I am wanting to preserve these and thought I'd share the processes with you! I can't can them because I don't have a pressure canner and that is the only safe way to do it. But I can freeze and dehydrate them, so that's just what I'm going to do!

First up...dehydrating potato slices. I use a mandolin to get them thin and evenly sliced. My food processor does have a slicer attachment, but it's extremely loud and it runs so fast that the slices don't come out even. Really, this process doesn't take all that long anyway.

Then they need to be blanched. Well, they don't "need" to be, but it helps to remove some of the starch so the potatoes won't turn black when dehydrated. If you don't care about that, then you don't have to worry about blanching them. The color doesn't affect the taste or the nutrients as far as I know.  I tried to rig up a removable strainer, but it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. Just as well because you can't use the water over and over. It will get full of starch and then starch won't leach out of the potatoes anymore causing your potatoes to still be black even after all that work!

After 2 minutes in boiling water, I plunged the tater slices into ice water to stop the cooking process. Then I placed them in the dehydrator. I estimated I could fit 6 potatoes in it and I was pretty accurate! The last tray still has a bit of space, but it wasn't enough for me to slice and blanch another potato for that. I'll leave these in overnight. I want them completely dry, so no need for a timer. I'll check them in the morning and/or whenever I get around to it. ;)

Even though most everything you read will tell you to dehydrate fruits and veggies at 135 degrees, I choose to set mine at 115. That's the highest temp you can dry something at and it still be considered raw food. Not that it really matters with potatoes since I will be cooking them when I use them, but I like to stay consistent. Plus I have had to deal with case hardening: when something dries too fast and the outside gets too hard to effectively soak up water. I made a batch of scalloped potatoes with case hardened potatoes and it was not good; very chewy and rubbery. I learned my lesson the hard way there. I'd rather take a couple extra hours of drying time than risk losing an entire batch of food.

Next I made tater tots. I have never made these before and was excited to try them. After looking at several recipes online, I sort of came up with my own. I wanted oven baked instead of fried.

I boiled an entire pot of potatoes the night before so they could cool in the fridge overnight.

Then I peeled them...easy peasy!

I gathered up some spices I thought may be tasty: salt and pepper; garlic and onion; and paprika. I love paprika, I put it in all sorts of stuff! It's a wonder I don't use it like pepper. Though, now that I think of it, maybe I will! I also added a bit of flour. Some of the recipes I read called for it, so I made half with flour and half without. I didn't measure anything, just tossed it in, but after tasting the end result, I'd say less is better. Plus the flour didn't seem to make much of a difference.

Then I started shaping them. Wow, is that a tedious job! But, no more than rolling dough balls for cookies. But, I realized, I don't make cookies very often for that! It took me about 15 minutes to do this many. This is also the yield from five potatoes. I tried to make them all the same size; I don't think they're too bad. You can tell towards the end I was tired because they got a bit bigger. I put this pan in the freezer, then when they are frozen, I will put them in a freezer bag.

I tried to make the medallion-shaped tots, but I was really bad at that! So, I thought, why not try a mini-muffin pan? All the recipes I read said to heavily grease your pan or use some sort of non-stick paper/silicone covering. So I sprayed the mini-muffin pan like crazy and used parchment paper on the cookie sheet. I like extra crispy tots, so I gave them plenty of space.

Most recipes called for a temperature between 400 and 450 degrees. I thought I'd start with 450 since I like my tots super crispy. Plus most called for the tots to be drizzled in oil. Well, I ended up forgetting that part, so they were a bit dry, but still tasty. I baked these tots for 30 minutes, turning half way through. I baked the medallions for 20 minutes, turning them halfway through. My boys ate the medallions before I could take a picture, but they worked out well. I think this is how I will make tots in the future as it took much less time to make them and bake them.

Sometimes preserving food can seem more trouble than it's worth, especially when you can buy the mass-produced equivalent in the store for a pretty cheap price. But I enjoy it because I know exactly what goes into our food; plus I can teach our kids valuable skills in the process. I love showing them how a potato can be turned into a tot. It just takes a little time and a lot of love! 

In the next article(s) I will cover more dehydrating as well as recipes on how to make your own boxed potato bake! Plus I will be freezing potatoes in different forms. Feel free to share your tips as we go along as well! There are many ways to accomplish the same thing and I enjoy hearing about different methods!

Have a wonderful day and preserve on!

Jen Hen

Friday, November 14, 2014

It's Cold Out, So Let's Bake!

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

I love to bake, but I really really love to bake when it's cold outside. One of my many favorite things about winter is coming in from out of the cold into a warm house and being enveloped with the warm aroma of baked goods. Especially when that aroma is spicy like it is with pumpkin baked goods! I'm pretty sure I made excuses to go outside for a moment here and there just so that I could experience this over and over!

Well, today I started out with a tasty Honey Maple Pumpkin Bread recipe. I wanted to do some baking, this popped up on my news feed, so I thought, "why not?" My 9 by 5 pans are not exact. As you can see, one is shorter and wider than the other. It works though!

While that was baking, I looked through my recipes for the next one. I love cooking with honey and maple, but only have so much of it. So I found a recipe for Healthy Pumpkin Muffins. When I went to paste the link on here for you, it said the page was no longer there. I'm thankful I had it written down already!

Healthy Pumpkin Muffins
1 1/2 C Whole Wheat Flour
1 tsp Baking Powder
15 oz Can of Pumpkin Puree (I used home made)
1/3 C Canola Oil (I used apple sauce)
2 Eggs
1 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice (make your own w/ 2 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp all spice, 1/2 tsp nutmeg. I usually double this or more to keep on hand. Works for Apple Pie Spice too.)
1/2 tsp Cloves
1/2 tsp Nutmeg
1 C Sugar
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 tsp Salt

Mix flour and baking powder. In a separate bowl, mix everything else, then add flour mixture incorporating slowly. Don't over mix. Divide into greased or papered muffin pan and top with cinnamon and sugar mixture if desired. (I forgot this part, but it didn't need it anyway.) Bake at 350 degrees: 25-30 minutes for regular sized muffins, or 15-17 minutes for mini muffins, or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes and remove from pan to cooling rack. Serve warm with real butter!

I made 3 batches of this...some regular sized muffins and some mini muffins.

I rarely stop for meals when I am on a cooking spree, so it was convenient to have something easy to eat while I baked. Mmmm mmmm!! They were good! They were pretty filling too.

I love to re-use items, so I decided to wash out a 15 oz can to measure my pureed pumpkin more easily. 

After using up what I needed, I froze the rest of the pumpkin puree in 1/2 cup measurements in my other muffin pan. After they are frozen solid, I sit this out for a few minutes to let the bottoms soften up just enough to get them out, then I put them all in a freezer bag.

I have to show off my girls' glorious eggs! Thanks to them, I didn't run out! I found this nifty egg-holder on clearance at Target long before my chicks started laying. Perhaps I was counting my eggs before they were laid, but I am thankful my girls didn't let me down. This won't wear out like an egg-carton would and it makes me happy to see my eggs displayed every time I open the fridge. 

I also had several small eggs from my younger girls. I was going to crack them all, whisk them with a bit of salt and freeze them in ice cube trays for later use in cooking. I'd guess these 10 eggs would be equivalent to maybe 5 or 6 large baking eggs. (Fun tip: unless otherwise specified, the general egg size to be used in recipes is large.) Then I got an idea...maybe they'd make cute boiled eggs! So I made some cutesy hard-boiled eggs while I baked. Maybe I'll make some deviled eggs out of them. I love these precious tiny eggs! 

Fun Fact: Did you know that the fresher an egg is, the worse it sticks to the shell when you try to peel it? To fix this problem, steam your eggs instead of immersing them in water. That's why these little bird fruits aren't under water. I usually steam eggs for about 20 minutes. You can hard "boil" any egg like this.

Well, I'd say at the end of the day, I had a pretty good bounty! Much of this will go into the freezer for another day. With this hungry crew, it's a wonder any of it made it there!

What have you been baking this fall so far? Please share your recipes below! I love trying new recipes! So much so that my husband sometimes complains that I'll make something that's really good, but then he never sees it! 

Happy Baking!

Jen Hen

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our First Injury and Tackling Blood Stains

Hello Fellow Homesteaders!

Well, I had a first as a Momma...a visit to the ER because of an injury. I mean, we have been to the ER several times, but always for an illness of some sort. This was our first visit involving blood. My sweet tiny Stitch (nick-named from the cute and destructive creature from the movie Lilo and Stitch) fell down. Actually, he does this a lot, several times a day in fact. Except this time, he hit his mouth on the edge of a chair and split his bottom half. Oh. My. Goodness!

At first, I couldn't tell it was that bad, but a milli-second later, I realized what had happened, scooped him up, and ran into the house. We had come around to the backyard from the front, so the back door was locked. There I was, hugely third-trimester pregnant, scooping up my bleeding chubby toddler and running hurdles back to the front yard calling on Jesus's name to care for us. Traumatic and funny all at the same time!

I thank God my Knight had just gotten home from work not an hour before because he saved the day like he's so good at doing (which is why I call him My Knight in Shining Armor, or Knight for short.) I can't even remember what I said, just ran Stitch into the bathroom, pulled his face off my shirt (I was holding his mouth tight to my shirt to help stop the bleeding), we looked at him, I said "Stitches? ER?" my Knight says "yes!" and I said, "I'll get him in the van." Then I crammed my large pregnant body into the back of our van so I could hold a towel to Stitch's lip while my Knight ushered a very frightened Little Buddy out with shoes in hand and we were off.

So, at this point, you are either really caught up in this story, or laughing at all the drama because you have been through so much worse, but remember your first scare too.

By the time we get to the ER, the bleeding had stopped, Stitch had stopped crying, and Little Buddy figured out that Stitch's "lip is broken." (Sweet things!) Stitch even made sure to point out his lip to me when I got him out which pretty much made my stomach turn. (I'll leave out the details on what he did there...ack!) They got us in right away and I am so thankful that the nurses and staff were so caring and sympathetic! I know they see things everyday that are much much worse, but didn't treat us any less.

I had a hard time staying strong for my little ones once we were under medical care, but I held out. Jesus is with us always and I knew He was with us then too. I knew that I just didn't have it in me to stay in the room while they sewed up his lip, though. Thank goodness, they put Stitch out so he slept through the whole thing and my Knight held him the whole time while I took Little Buddy down to the cafeteria to get him a snack and talk about what happened. Half an hour later, Stitch had 6 stitches in his tiny bottom lip. (This was a couple days later. He was making funny faces at me while I was trying to get a picture, so you can see he was doing well.)

You can also see part of the cut on his chin. It goes all the way around under his chin. He got himself good, poor guy! The next couple of days and nights were a bit rough. He didn't need a whole lot of pain management, but he needed extra cuddles and got scared every time he fell. Can't blame the little fella! Plus, Little Buddy needed a lot of reassuring. It was very scary for him too.

Well, enough days have passed and everyone seems to have settled back into the routine, so I decided to tackle our clothes. Stitch, my Knight, and I all had gotten blood on our shirts. I have to be honest and say, I can't believe it wasn't more than it was! That was a lot of blood, but I must have gotten the towel to his mouth sooner than I thought. There was a lot of blood on it and we threw it away when we got to the ER. My Knight's shirt is a navy blue work shirt, so you couldn't really see the blood on it, but here's the others.

This all happened on the 8th, so I was pretty sure these shirts were trash, but I had to try. The nurses at the ER told me to mix equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, dampen the stains, then wash in cold water. I had always thought peroxide acted like bleach, so I asked around to some other experienced folks, and they agreed with the nurses. Well, really, what was I thinking? If an ER nurse doesn't know how to get blood out of clothes, who does?! Lol! But, they also wear scrubs and I didn't know if they were perhaps more stain resistant than your average shirt. Don't forget, I'm a fairly new momma and pretty naive to a lot of this stuff. (Stitch is certainly doing his job of breaking me in!)

So, I mix the peroxide and spray on the shirts. I was so surprised when it started foaming up on the blood spots!

So I sprayed more of the shirt and it found blood spots I hadn't even noticed.

How cool is that?! I soaked it down pretty well because even after all that, I still wasn't convinced it would work. At the very least, I was sure I'd have to do this a few times. But, lo and behold, I was pleasantly wrong! Here they are after a quick wash in cold water with my homemade laundry soap (equal parts washing soda and Borax and 1/4 part Oxy-Clean.)

So, I didn't treat them again, but then I put them in with a regular load of laundry, and washed and dried them like usual. (And apparently my camera changed the, different flash setting, but I promise they are the same shirts!)

So our shirts are clean enough to wear for another day! Well, this experience made a believer out of me.

Stitch gets his stitches out tomorrow, poor baby! I wonder if I should wear our shirts and thank the nurses for the tip! Well, I am sure this is the first of many visits to see them. Today alone, Stitch got a bruise under his right eye and scratches under his left! I didn't see what happened, but Little Buddy was involved with the bruise somehow. The scratches came from a head-first fall off of a step. Oh please don't let us have to have one set of stitches removed only to have to get more! I just hope this little tyke has some strong!

Well, until next time...

Happy Homesteading!

Jen Hen