Thursday, March 29, 2012

Strawberry Season is Here!

StrawberriesPicture source:

My kids are so excited! Strawberry season is here! My mom was able to find strawberries last week at a local fruit stand for $.98/lb. That is about the lowest price I have seen in many years. I usually buy bunches when I see it hit $1.25/lb. I called my husband at work and he stopped on his way home and brought me 3 flats. We made 3 batches of strawberry freezer jam and 4 batches of strawberry lemonade concentrate. (This is my new favorite canning recipe. I'll post the recipe when I get a free moment.) I froze a gallon of washed strawberries to use later and we ate fresh strawberries to our hearts content for the next couple of days.

Keep your eyes open the next couple of months - it really is the time of year you will find the best prices on strawberries here in the Boise area.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Breakfast Empanadas

Frozen pie crust

and leftover cheese ball made me think, "Breakfast Empanadas." This is my version of a hot pocket and my husband loves to take them to work for breakfast or lunch. (He goes to work early so he usually packs breakfast and lunch every day.)

I scrambled a pot of eggs and mixed in some chopped onion and ham.
Roll out your pie crust. Roll it out thin between two pieces of plastic wrap. You don't want to add any additional flour or else you will get the fat to flour ratio off and your crust won't be as crispy. 

Divide the dough into rectangles. Mine were about 4" x 6". Spread with the cheese ball or use plain cream cheese or onion and chive would be great also.

Top with a small amount of the egg mixture.

Fold over.

Transfer to a baking sheet and crimp the edges with a fork.

Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Allow to cool on a wire rack. When cooled, wrap in a paper towel and place in a ziplock freezer bag. The paper towel helps absorb the moisture when they are reheated so the crust stays crispier. You could wait to wrap them in the towel until you were going to reheat them. My husband just likes them all ready to go. 

Here's my recipe. This calls for making a different dough, but pie crust works just fine. There are lots of combinations of filling flavors you could come up with. Check out the "Hot Pockets" in the freezer section of the grocery store for inspiration.

Breakfast Empanadas

½ cup butter, softened
6 oz cream cheese, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
Chopped onions, chives, and green peppers
cup shredded cheese

5 large eggs, scrambled

Precooked sausage or bacon, crumbled

To make the dough: Cream together the butter and cream cheese. Add the flour and mix until you have a smooth ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate a few hours or up to a week. To make filling: Mix cream cheese, chopped onions, chives, peppers, and shredded cheese. Scramble the eggs and stir in sausage or bacon. To assemble empanadas: Roll chilled dough thin and cut into 5-inch circles, using a small bowl as a cutter. Spread cream cheese mixture over each dough circle, leaving a little border around the edge. Top with scrambled egg mixture. Fold each circle in half, pinching edges to seal. Bake on greased baking sheet at 375° F for 15–20 minutes or until golden brown. To freeze: Wrap cooled empanadas in paper towel and then place in ziplock bags. Reheat in microwave. You can also freeze these before baking. Just thaw and bake as above.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Seed Starting Time

I don't profess to be a gardening expert at all, but I love the adventure that gardening brings every year. By this time of year, I am aching to see new growth. My kids have learned this over the years so they keep their eyes peeled as they walk home from the bus stop. A couple of weeks ago, my first grader, Ben, came running into the house announcing that he saw sprouts and I had to come quick! It turns out that is was the crocuses we planted last Fall just making their appearance. As we looked closer, we also saw tulip leaves barely poking through the soil.

One activity that is part of our Spring traditions around here is starting seeds. It really is quite simple and all the kids love to participate.

We begin with a seed starter kit. (I reuse these year after year.) We've learned that we prefer the kits that create a little greenhouse with the clear top they provide. They require far less water and the seeds sprout faster so I think they must keep the soil warmer as well. We've done enough comparisons over the years that they are the only kind of kit we use now. Fill with potting soil and then plant your seeds. Add a little water and place the lid on top. 

I use making tape to label where we have planted what so we can keep them straight. These kits are meant to fit in a window sill - They will be perfect this year since we now have a cat who loves to jump all over the counters in the bathroom where I used to have our seeds sitting. We have a couple of narrow windows that are above the bathroom mirror. Two of these kits fit perfectly up there.

I've been climbing up on the counter every day watching closely for the first sign of green. Here are the sprouts on about day 3 for the gazania flowers we planted.
Here are the tomato starts.

And here are the lettuce and spinach starts. I've only added water once since the original planting. Now we just wait and watch. They will eventually push the top off. At that point, I will decide which ones move to larger pots and which ones I harden off to add to the garden. The lettuce and spinach can move outside faster than the others since they handle colder temperatures better.

Once I empty these kits, I will replace the soil and plant our squash and pumpkin seeds that only need a couple weeks head start before moving outside. We really can't plant them outside until Mother's Day so I have to wait a bit to plant them or they are too big and don't take the transplant well.

Grab some seeds and start your garden. It will save you quite a lot of money over the summer and be a fun adventure! I'll be eating homegrown lettuce here soon!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Treats

I re-posted this knowing that it is buried deep in all the other posts. St. Patrick's Day is just around the corner. This would be a fun activity to do with the kids on Saturday. Make the dough ahead of time and have it chilled all ready to go so they can help you color it and roll it out. Inexpensive holiday fun!

Rainbow Cookies and gold Coins are the perfect treat for St. Patrick's Day!

They take a bit of work, but it is worth the smiles from the kids.
First, mix the dough according to the directions in the recipe that follows.
Next, divide the dough into 6 almost equal portions. You need just a little more red and orange than the other colors. Use gel food coloring to make the colors of the rainbow. I didn't do indigo, but you can try it if you want to - you'll just need 7 portions of dough. Allow the dough to chill an hour or more.

Begin by rolling the violet into a log about 10 inches long. Then roll out the blue into a flat rectangle so that it can roll around the violet log.

Notice my little helper - the kids were really excited to help. I had a pretty sleepless night last night so with my foggy brain I switched the order of my colors. Green should really be next, but our cookies have yellow. Continue doing this with all the colors. Finishing with the red. Red and orange need a little more dough in the beginning because your rectangles need to be a little wider for them to fit all the way around the log.

I carefully pinched the dough so it would fit. I also stole some off the end that was hanging over to fill in the gap you see here. When you have all your colors rolled into a layered log, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill until firm. Slice into thin circles - about 1/4 of an inch and place on a cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 5-6 minutes - you don't want them to brown on top at all.

Cut in half immediately after removing from the oven and then cool on a wire rack.

Fun for St. Patrick's Day or any spring day. They would be great for a letter R preschool day also.
This dough can be made a few days ahead and stored in the refrigerator or you can also freeze it and make it a few weeks ahead. The cookies can also be frozen after cooking.

Cookie Dough

  • 1-1/4 cups butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2  teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • gel food coloring

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs and vanilla. Add dry ingredients and mix well.

I was tempted to try substituting white bean puree for half of the butter, but I was baking them for someone who cannot have beans so that experiment will wait for another day.

Since you can freeze the butter and the eggs these can be part of your 3 month supply. To freeze eggs, crack them out of their shells and put each egg in a small freezer container. Thaw by placing the container in a sink of warm water. Frozen eggs work great in baking.  You can also fry or scramble them without being able to tell they were frozen first.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Sausage Spaghetti Pie

This is one of our family's very favorite freezer meals. It is a little time consuming to put together so I plan ahead on a night when I am already making spaghetti. I make extra sauce and cook extra noodles on purpose so I can put this pie together using the leftovers. The original recipe makes three 9-inch pies. Our family is large enough now that I make two larger ones instead.

Mix the noodles with the eggs and Parmesan cheese and layer them in the bottom of your pan.
Add the creamy layer. I always use my homemade yogurt to replace the sour cream.

Top with sauce. Really any good, thick spaghetti sauce will work. I don't always follow the recipe on this one. I do always add some sausage though. It adds the delicious flavor that this meal requires.

Top with shredded cheese. Cover and bake immediately or freeze for 3-6 months. This recipe can definitely make it into your 3 month food storage rotation since it stores at least that long in the freezer all ready to go. You could also use freeze dried cheese and sausage crumbles to make this with fully shelf-stable ingredients if that is what you are looking for. The eggs could be omitted. They help hold the crust together, but that would not be required to make this a tasty dish.

Sausage Spaghetti Pie

1 (16 oz) pkg spaghetti
2 lbs pork sausage
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups water
cup Parmesan cheese
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
cup dried, minced onion, rehydrated
Oregano, basil, garlic (to taste)
2 cups sour cream (plain yogurt)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 tsp Italian seasoning
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese

Cook spaghetti according to package directions; drain and place in a large bowl. Add eggs and Parmesan cheese. Transfer to three greased 9-inch pie plates; press mixture onto the bottom and up the sides to form a crust. Set aside. Mix together onions, sour cream and Italian seasoning. Spoon into crusts. In a skillet, cook the sausage over medium heat until no longer pink; drain. Stir in water, tomato paste, and spices. Simmer, uncovered for 5–10 minutes or until thickened. Spoon over sour cream mixture. Sprinkle with cheeses. Cover and freeze for up to 3 months. To use frozen pies: Completely thaw in refrigerator. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Bake at 350° F for 35–40 minutes or until heated through.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Mexican Rice

A one-pot meal is always a welcome sight to my children when it is their dish night. This dish is hearty enough to be a meal all on it's own or you can serve it beside another favorite Mexican dish.

I made some quick cheese quesadillas on the griddle and served tortilla chips on the side. You can freeze any leftovers that remain and add them to taco filling the next time you make tacos. The other way I have used the leftovers is as a filling in quesadillas. Add a little shredded pork or chicken and top with shredded cheese before sandwiching it between tortillas and cooking on a hot griddle. It is also great with some salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese stirred in and then you can serve it as a chip dip. There really are endless possibilities with this recipe. I hope your family enjoys it as much as we do.

Mexican Rice

cup dried, minced onion
8 oz tomato sauce
1 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp bacon bits
1 cup rice
1–1½ cups cooked kidney beans
1 tsp chicken bouillon
1 can corn, drained
1 cup water
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix together onion, garlic, rice, bouillon, water, and tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer 20–25 minutes or until rice is tender. Stir in bacon, beans, and corn. Heat through. You can use 1 can of kidney beans, rinsed. I love the precooked real bacon bits for this recipe. They make it convenient and easy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Inspiring Food Storage Blogs

One thing I have learned in life is that even though you think you know quite a lot about a subject, there are others who know more or different information about that same subject. Today I thought I would spotlight a few blogs I have come across that have inspired me to try something different with my food storage. Maybe they can inspire you as well. (Disclaimer: Some of these individuals are into blogging as a way to earn some income. I am not opposed to that at all, but I don't necessarily endorse the products they are advertising or selling.)

Crystal at Everyday Food Storage thinks along the same lines as I do in that she feels you should be using your food storage items everyday. She has quite a few recipes to share and some helpful handouts. One that really caught my eye was this one on making your own mixes. Those of you who have been reading my blog know that I am a huge believer in making mixes so using your food storage becomes easy and convenient. Crystal has experimented with different recipes than I have and she has also discovered using bean puree to replace the fats in her mixes. She and I could have a fun jam session comparing notes if we lived closer. Anyway, you'll have to take a look and try out some of her recipes.

Stephanie, also known as Chef Tess, blogs at cheftessbakeresse. She has recently started working again teaching many different food storage classes so some of her posts are about her upcoming classes. She has been blogging for a few years though and many of her past posts are about different grains, bread baking, gluten free baking, and plenty of other ideas for using basic ingredients. Her blog is a great collection of information that falls under the provident living theme. She paints some amazing looking loaves of bread by the way. Who wouldn't be inspired to try something new? (Photo from her blog.)

Lately, she has been developing recipes for making fully storable, just-add-water meals. These meals go right along with my thoughts on your need to have a food storage meal plan. Check out her posts on the 52 jar method for inspiration.

One last blogger that has inspired me is Suzanne at Chickens in the Road. This blog follows her story as she moves out to a farm and learns to be self-sufficient. She analyzes recipes like I do (I think we could be kindred spirits that way.) and comes up with ways to make them from scratch. I love how her writing lets you see into her mind just a bit to understand better why she makes the decisions she does. She also has some great posts on cheese making. She uses fresh cow's milk to make her cheese, but I know the recipes work with powdered milk as well. For you recipe lovers, she has a portion of her blog dedicated to recipes where readers can share what they have been baking or cooking. With her beautiful photography and great writing style, it is entertaining to say the least.

Hopefully, you'll have some fun hopping over to these blogs and checking them out. One more disclaimer, none of these ladies have made any contact with me or promised any free items in return for mentioning them here on my blog. I just have been inspired by them and thought you might be as well.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Emergency Preparedness - First Aid

The tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest yesterday have me thinking about Emergency Preparedness. I've covered shelter, food, and water recently so today I thought I'd share a few thoughts on the importance of first aid training and supplies.

First aid training is important for everyone. We take a few family nights each year and review some of the basic principles. Check with your local hospitals to learn if there are any classes happening in your area where you can actually get certified. Certification is helpful because you can feel more confident in your abilities to help someone, but it isn't required. There are many sources online that can give you the basic information. The red cross site can actually match you up with local classes or provide online classes that cover the basics. Camp manuals for boy and girl scouts also contain great information.

First Aid kits are important. Many of them even come with some basic first aid instructions. Kits are a great place to start, but usually don't have all the things you would need in a true, larger scale disaster. We have added triangular bandages, big pieces of cloth, large gauze bandages, etc. to our first aid supplies just to be better prepared. We hope they will never be needed, but we want to be ready just in case. You never know when the time will hit that you need it.

Just last weekend we went up sledding as a family. A man on an innertube collided with a teenager who flipped and landed face first on the hard snow. It bloodied his nose and scraped his face up pretty badly. His parents were not right there on the sledding hill. He had come with a few of his friends while his parents stayed behind at their cabin. We were the adults that were close enough to help. One of us ran to the lodge to call 911. We also put a call in to his parents - thank goodness the boy was coherent enough to tell us the phone number at the cabin. (Many families don't have phones in their vacation homes. We were thankful that they did and that the boy had the number memorized.) He had flipped so violently that we were concerned about a neck or back injury so we could not move him. We got the bleeding stopped and treated him for shock while we waited for his parents and the ambulance. We will never know the end of the story, but we are grateful we had our basic first aid kit in the car and the knowledge of how to help him until other help arrived.

First aid training is important for all of us. Having the supplies and knowledge available to help brings great peace to those who are hurt and also to those who are able to serve.