Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Canning V. Slicing Tomatoes

I grow mostly roma's.  A great canning and paste tomato.  I also grow a few slicing/beefsteak tomatoes for the fresh eating.  On canning day, they all go into jars.  Just to explain the differences between the two types and why you want to grow canning tomatoes for canning and not just grow slicing tomatoes.

If you look at my post on canned tomatoes, I show a lot of pictures demonstrating the process of blanching and peeling.  What I didn't show you  was the extra steps I had to do for the slicing tomatoes.  Due to the shape of the tomato and the shoulders (the rounded part by the stem), I had to core the tomato before I blanched them.

The red ones are Pantano Romanesco and the deep red/purple ones are Cherokee Purple.

Can you see the splits in the shoulders?  A common problem in a slicing tomato, they make it harder to peel even after blanching.  They act just like a blemish and have to be cut around.

Due to the size of the tomatoes, they have to be halved or fourthed before they can go into the jars. 

These two varieties did hold up well, just so much more work.

Left is Pantano Romanesco, Middle is Roma, Right is Cherokee Purple

 This also demonstrates two other points.

1. A definite need to label what is in the jar.  I usually label 'Tom 8-11' but in this case, I didn't want to think the purple or romanesco tomatoes were bad in 6 months because they are a different hue.  I labeled them what they are because they are different from what I normally bottle as tomatoes.

2. There is space saving features in using the roma/paste style tomatoes over beef steak.  The amount of unused space in the bottom of the jars is far greater in the beefsteak/slicing type tomatoes.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Italian Pasta Salad

My amazing husband came up with this simple pasta recipe.  It is delish and a fabulous way to use food storage and fresh produce together.  Zesty and sweet, rolled into one.

This makes a great side dish or an easy lunch for a warm summer day.  When you don't want to heat the whole house up in the evening, simply cook the pasta in the morning or late the night before!

2 c. Pasta, cooked and drained
1 1/2 md Carrot, shredded
1/2 Tomato, diced
1/2 Cucumber, diced
1/4 c. Italian Dressing

Mix all ingredients in bowl.  Chill until time to serve.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Food Storage Extenders

My collections of 'food storage' recipes often include recipes that combine dried or long term products like beans and rice with shorter term items like fresh produce.  I expect to either be able to garden or collect from the wild various edibles to compliment my food storage meals.

I consider my garden an extension of my food storage.  I feel a well rounded long term food storage is more sustainable than just a few buckets of grains that I am going to grind into flour or cook into soup.

In order for that expectation to be a reality, I have to learn a lot about how to grow, find, and use the fresh produce that is available.  I have to focus on learning how to consume or preserve each item while it is in season, as each season is far shorter than our moderns lives and grocery stores lead us to believe.

You really need to get 'back to basics' with this method of feeding your family.

I would encourage you to learn about wild and unusual edibles in your area.  Learn to grow a garden.  Use only open pollinated and non GMO seeds.  Realize that in a time of desperation, whether it is caused by an ailing economy, loss of job or a natural disaster ... you may not have access to your vast storerooms of carefully preserved food.  You may not have access to commercially produced products to replenish your storerooms when they run low. 
When your storerooms are unavailable or running low and you need to find ways to extend the little food you have and preserve the lives of those you love, knowledge of gardening and gathering wild edibles will be invaluable and irreplaceable in your endeavors.

A few major pointers in gardening. 

Get out and do it.
Whether you garden a substantial amount or a few pots on the porch.  Do it.  There are so many things to learn like when do I put it in the ground, how much water does it need, when is it ripe to pick it, how much does one plant provide, what do the yellow leaves mean ....  things that are hard to learn from a book without the reinforcement of the actual experience.

Don't get stuck on "heirloom" and don't be satisfied with grocery store seed packets.
There is a happy medium between buying expensive heirloom and low quality grocery store seed.  What you want to search for is OPEN POLLINATION.  Heirloom isn't always the best, and what is in your local grocery or gardening center is not the best either.  Heirloom is simply old open pollinated plants.  It doesn't mean that something newer isn't better.  What you want to stay away from is anything that is hybridized in a laboratory or is GMO.  Anytime a man thinks he knows more or better than God in creating your food .... stay away.  The reason for this is simple, it isn't natural (check this out, or this one) and often does not reproduce true to type from the seed of the produce you eat.  You want seed that will reproduce, true to type, year after year after year.  Whether you get that from a $1.25 grocery store packet or pay $4.00 on a specialty website it doesn't matter.  Just get it.  Natural hybridization (crossing two plants in a garden on purpose or selective seed saving for desired characteristics) is just fine once it is stabilized (proven to grow true type).  Hybrid is not always bad if it is done naturally.  It's how disease and pest resistance is naturally improved (I guess evolutions is real after all !!) in the tasty, wonderful, older varieties of plants.

Start gardening small.
Don't decide tomorrow that you will have a 1/4 acre garden if you have never done it before.  Start small so that you don't overwhelm yourself.  Grow something that you will eat that is easy ... (beans, cucumbers, tomatoes etc...) and grow something you really want, even if it's a little harder.  This way you are excited for the items you really want and you are satisfied with your work because you are almost guaranteed a crop with the easy item.  Once you master something, move on to a new product. 

Keep it fun and challenging for you.
Every year I like to plant something that I have never grown before.  I only plant one or two or 1 square foot ... but in this way I get to try eating new things, learn more about gardening, and increase my gardening confidence.  It also helps to keep things fun!  The majority of my garden is tomatoes, my staple crop, (lots of work canning) and a few melons (yum!) and cucumbers (more work canning).  Boring.  So I planted eggplant and celery.  The celery bombed ...  the eggplant rocked.  I will likely try celery again next year in a different spot because now it is a challenge, but will only grow the eggplant again if I enjoy eating it fresh this year. 

Good luck and I hope you get out and garden!!

Friday, August 26, 2011


I am always so happy when my tomatoes start getting ripe!  It means that I can get started on the biggest crop my garden provides me with.

Yes.  There are cucumbers again too.  :)

We eat fresh the firstlings .... then we get to canning!  This small batch of tomatoes will only provide me with a few canners full. 

I got 16 quarts out of this sink full. 

In case you have never canned tomatoes before, I have taken pictures of the different steps to help you along.

You do not need to wash the tomatoes, I only rinse them, so the grass, leaves, petals and other pieces that are not attached get rinsed off.  You don't actually even need to do that.

Once your tomatoes are gathered up, you need to BLANCH them.  This is a process where you place the tomatoes in boiling hot water and then remove them to cold water so the skins will come off.

Typically the skins will start to split, and a small amount of pressure will cause them to 'slip' off.  Sometimes you need to use a knife to get it started, or to lift the skin from the flesh of the tomato and peel it.  You should never have to cut the skins off, except at the stem and if there are any blemishes you may have to cut right around the blemish.  If you are cutting more than that, you need to boil them just a little longer.

Once the tomatoes are blanched and peeled, you simply pack them in the jars following the wonderful instructions in your canning book.  The book I own is the Ball Blue Book of Preserving, but since it looks like that is an old version, I would simply recommend getting any Ball Blue Book at a reasonable price.  It is a wonderful quick reference.  It has just enough detail, not so little you are lost and not so much you are overwhelmed.  Great for beginners!

One last tip for blanching.  The temperature of the water, the time in the hot water and the ripeness of the tomato all play a part in the finished product.

The first tomato is very ripe.  The second tomato is barely ripe.  They were blanched at a lower temperature than the third barely ripe and the fourth very ripe tomato.  Can you see the texture difference?  The two on the left are very firm and the two on the right are almost mushy.  Both are good for canning, but the ones on the left will be prettier.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


Did you know yogurt is easy to make at home?  Did you know you can make it with your food storage dry milk??

I am so excited to share this post with you!  I have just made yogurt out of dry milk!
It was so easy, It took a few hours of intermittent attention and then a bunch of hours just sitting incubating. 

I think you will love it as much as I do!

1 c. Nonfat Instant Milk Powder (DO NOT use a milk substitute like morning moo)
4 c. Hot Water
2-3 Tbs Plain Yogurt (or use a dry yogurt starter and follow those directions)

Mix the 1 c. Milk Powder with hot water in a quart size jar.  Fill it half way and mix, (I put a lid on and shake it) then fill it up to the bottom of the neck.

Place this jar into a pot of boiling water with a towel or canning rack on the bottom to prevent the jar from breaking, like a double boiler.
Using a meat or candy thermometer, heat the milk to 180º F.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to 115º.  (It takes about 1 hour each to heat and then cool the milk)

Place the 2-3 Tbs Yogurt in a bowl.  Pour in a small amount of the cooled milk and stir until it is smooth.  Pour this mixture into the jar and stir.

Wait 10 minutes and stir again.  Place the lid on the jar and place in a small insulated bag (lunch bag or small ice chest).  I added 2 more qt jars of hot tap water to help maintain the temperature.  Pack the extra space with towels, making sure the 3 jars are touching.  Seal. 

My bag was very thin, and I had a small insulated bag that was slightly larger so I placed one bag inside the other.  The goal is to maintain a good temperature for the growth of the culture which is how the yogurt sets. 

Allow to incubate until it is set, about 8 hours.  I simply left mine over night.  In the morning it was set.  When set, place in the fridge.  It will keep for 1-2 weeks.

There was a small amount of yellowish liquid on the top of the yogurt.  This is whey, healthy and very high in protein content.  I stirred it into my yogurt, but you can pour it off if you prefer.

Flavor with jelly, fruit, granola, extracts or oils.  Use it plain as a sour cream or mayo substitute in recipes.  Make smoothies or fruit dips. 

Home made yogurt is slightly 'softer' than storebought yogurt.  There is frequently added pectin and other thickeners in storebought yogurt which you do not add to your home made stuff.  It is purely milk and cultures.

It's a great way to save a little money and use your food storage so that it doesn't go bad!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Grapes and Wasp

I love my grape vines.  I planted them about 4-5 years ago, moved them about 3 years ago, lost one of my two vines and finally got a crop.  Yeah!  It was only 3 bunches and I had to save them from the wasps that were eating them, but they are sooooo yummy!

We did find the wasp nest in a neighbors tree ......  We were wondering why they hadn't tried to build in the eaves of the house like the last 3 years.  I guess they found a more suitable spot, a hiding spot of sorts. 

We found 'em!!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Mac and Cheese Varieties

After figuring out the best mac and cheese recipe ever, I decided I need to post some of the different ways that I enjoy eating mac and cheese!

A more grown up taste ...

1 Tbs dry Bell Pepper Blend
1 Tbs dry Onion

Reconstitute peper and onion, add to one recipe or one box mix of mac and cheese.


1 Tbs dry Bell Pepper Blend
1 Tbs dry Onion
1 1/2 tsp Garlic powder
1/2 pint Beef w/broth

Shred Beef if it is not ground.  Add garlic, peppers and onions.  Mix all together and warm until peppers and onions are soft.  Add to one recipe or one box mix of mac and cheese.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Zucchini Pasta

Right now I have a major abundance of zucchini coming from my garden.  My favorite thing to do, other than dehydrating it, is to mix it with pasta and sausage in the best dinner ever.
I got this recipe originally from Your Home Based Mom then I changed it up a little to suite my style.  :)  She calls it Lite Pasta, but I don't think it's very 'lite'.  :)

16 oz Spaghetti Pasta, cooked and kept warm
32 oz Kielbasa Sausage, sliced
1 Red Bell Pepper, cubed
1 Onion, sliced
2 tsp Basil
2 tsp Garlic
2 tsp Chicken Bouillon
1 small Zucchini cut into approx. 1/2 x 2" sticks
1 can Olives, drained

Brown sliced sausage in pan.  Remove from pan and saute Onion and Pepper.  Add olive oil if there is not enough left from sausage.
Add Basil, Garlic, Bouillon and Zucchini.  Cook until Zucchini is tender.
Toss vegetable blend, sausage and olives with pasta.

My husband likes it with a little cayenne on it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Cucumbers and Carrots and Green Beans ... Oh My!!

So.  My garden is determined to kick my butt this year.  Carrots are having a slow start, but the cucumbers and squash are in full swing and the green beans are coming to a close.

It's not the first canning I have done this year ....  but man, it was the most in one day!
27 pints of pickles
3 qts of pickles
9 pints of green beans
1 pint of carrots (thank goodness they process the same as green beans!)
16 half pints of chicken

There is enough chicken prepared to put up maybe 24 more half pints, but I am out of energy for the day.  It will have to wait until tomorrow.

I am most excited for the pickles.  I bought a new book, "You Can Can"  I wouldn't recommend it instead of the Ball Blue Book, but it has some different recipes in it which can be fun.  We made dill, with dill fresh from the garden and dill from a store bought packet.  We also made sweet and spicy dill and bread and butter chips.  1 qt of whole dill and 2 qts of spears. 

Thanks to the invention of the mandolin slicer and the discount store selling one for $12, my chips are all perfectly sliced.  Literally. 

Now, I am exhausted. 

Peace Out Folks.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Macaroni with Cheese Sauce

I love that old stand by Mac and Cheese.  It is one of those cheap and tasty comfort foods from when I was a kid.  Making it with food storage is not quite as simple, and at the same time easier than I imagined.  I struggled with this for quite a while, but have finally figured it out.  Here is the pure food storage recipe ...  just cheese blend and pasta.

Equals one box of Mac and Cheese

1 1/2 c. Pasta
2 1/2 c. Water

6 Tbs Cheese Blend Powder
1/2 c. Water
1/8 tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Pepper

Cook the pasta in the water.  If you use a lid on your pot, there will be plenty of water left over.  Drain, reserving water.

Blend the Cheese Powder into 1/2 c. water and mix into pasta.  Add more water to the desired texture.

The trick, is to mix it well BEFORE you add it to the pasta.  After the pasta is in the mix, any lumps are there to stay.

Making a box mix food storage style

1 box Mac and Cheese
2 Tbs Dry Milk
3 Tbs Dry butter
1/8 tsp Salt
1/8 tsp Pepper
2 1/2 c. Water

Cook pasta in water.  If you use a lid, there will be plenty to cook and plenty left over.

Mix contents of cheese packet with dry milk and dry butter.

Drain pasta, reserving water.  Mix cheese mixture into pasta adding 1/4 c. water.  Add more water to desired texture.

Dry Dairy 101
I don't know how many botched batches of mac and cheese I threw away before I realized the difference between the packet powders and what I have in the #10 can.  To help prevent ya'll from having the same problem in this and other recipes, here is what I learned:

Cheese Blend: A blend of cheees and dairy products like milk or whey.  This is what comes in most #10 cans for food storage.  This is why you can get away without adding any milk or butter into this recipe.

Cheese Powder: The orange stuff in the mac and cheese packet.  No additional dairy products, which is why you need to add milk and butter to the box mix.

On the Left is CHEESE BLEND from a can.  On the Right is a CHEESE PACKET with the added MILK and BUTTER.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cherries !!!

I DID NOT GROW THESE beautiful tasty cherries.  I wish I had a tree, but unfortunately we do not.  A kind co-worker offered to let us finish cleaning off his tree and I swear we got a couple hundred dollars worth off the tree.  I am so into planting a cherry tree now.  :)

I do not know how many pounds we picked, I just know it was a lot and after all my canning efforts, we still had 11 lbs for fresh eating!

23 quarts.  Makes my food storage happy!  Yummy yummy!!

Friday, August 12, 2011

My Garden

I have a tiny tiny lot.  I suppose it is large compared to someobdy in a town home or condo ...  but for a stand alone house, it's small.  Not even 1/5 of an acre and the house is huge at 3600 sq ft.  So if you can imagine, there is not much yard left.

Some people think I have such a huge garden, but the fact is is only 240 sq feet.  It is only even that big, this year after we put in 2 more beds.  We have 6 4x8 beds and 3 2x8 beds.  In this space I have been able to grow 19 tomato plants (we lost one), 1 bell pepper, 32 ft of beets, 56 ft of carrots, 40 ft of bush beans (if you compared it to row plantings), 1 watermelon vine, 3 cucumber vines, 2 zucchini, 1 yellow crook neck and 2 smaller melon vines like honey dew.  In my beds I have also added the permanent plants of lavendar, dill, Rhubarb, pot marigold and chives...I think I may have to replant the chives.

I have some border beds...what others use as flower beds, and in them I have planted various herbs and edibles.  I have mint, marjoram, poppy, thyme, and pineapple sage.  We have a planting of raspberries above a retaining wall and a grape vine that frames a window.  We have planted peach, apple and choke cherry trees.  I have plans to plant more herbs and edibles.

My point in this posting is ...  no matter the size of your yard or garden.  You can grow SOMETHING.  Only have a small decorative flower bed??  Thyme is a beautiful plant which produces green or green/yellow foliage and purple flowers.  Mint, Sage and Chives are just green foliage and if you interplant them with flowering bulbs for color can make a low maintenance and beautiful border or bed.

South facing window?  Hang a pot w/ cherry tomatoes.  Small patio or porch?  Plant stands with anything can be nice.  Cucumbers and tomatoes can make good container vines while peppers and eggplant and almost any herb make pretty upright plants.

Don't judge me.  I was too lazy to roll up the hose for the picture.  :)  We have the auto water system working now so no more hose except when starting new seeds.

I love my poppies.  They grew and bloomed!  Last year, they grew and died.  :)   This bed is about 2 feet deep and runs the length of my front porch.  I have room for a few bush/trees here and plan on planting currant bushes.  The poppies are planted to border the currant bushes I will plant next spring.  I love red flowers, they are my FAVORITE!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Mexican Chicken

So I got this recipe at church ..... I don't even know how long ago.  I finally decided to make it last sunday, only to realize that ....between the time church gets out and my hubby leaves for his evening meetings  I DID NOT have 2 1/2 hours like the recipe called for.  I was about to set it aside for another day, when I was inspired to make it out of food storage instead!

Food Storage is so wonderful.  While some things take longer to prepare (dry beans, grinding wheat for bread, etc) other things more than make up for it, like canned meat.   I bottle my own meat, but have a small amount of store bought stuff that I bought to build up my supply in between finding fresh/frozen chicken on sale.  I can't wait for the store bought stuff to be's not as good as the home canned.  I buy whatever chicken I am choosing to work with (breast/whole/bones/boneless etc..) when it goes on sale and bottle it up in either 1/2 pints or pints.

So....this isn't the exact recipe I's my food storage version of it.  It was very very tasty!


2 12.5 oz cans of Chicken Chunks (1 1/2 pnt) w/broth
1 pint  Crushed Tomatoes w/juice
1 can Diced Green Chili's
2 Tbs Minced Onion, dry
2-3 Tbs Taco Seasoning

Pour all the ingredients into a pot with their broths and juices.  Break the chicken chunks into shreds and mix all the dry into the broth.  Simmer until enough liquid is absorbed/evaporated to make it a good consistency for tacos or burritos.

I made this into burritos, using 1 1/2 c. dry rice, which I cooked, and opening 1 can of olives and 1 can of beans (kidney or black)  Letting everybody make their burritos and adding a vegetable as a side dish, this recipe will easily feed 6-8 people.  We topped ours with cheese and sour cream since it's not a desperate food storage time yet.  :)  Might as well enjoy it while we can, right?

This would make a great chicken taco salad with tortilla chips and lettuce or a delicious taco. 

I must confess, I completely forgot to take pictures the night I made it, so these pictures are of my leftovers the next day when I warmed them up and served them for lunch.  :)    I think they were tastier the second day!