Real Food
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Bread-Baking Kitchen Hacks to Save Money: Special Ingredients


Jars of citrus zests, ginger, and boiled cider.

This is Part 2 in Wendy Akin’s frugal-living baking hacks series. Read all parts here.

Next to grab my attention were the prices of special flavor ingredients. If you’ve followed my posts over the years, you’ve already seen some of these.

Boiled cider. Don’t waste money on boiled cider at $15 for only 16 ounces: For $6 or $8, buy a gallon of really good cider. Drink a couple glasses, then pour the rest into a stock pot or Dutch oven — a wide one if you have it — and boil the cider down. Reduce the cider to about one quarter. Your house will smell fabulous all day.

I freeze my syrupy boiled cider in an old peanut butter jar. They won’t crack, they’re wide mouth and fit on the freezer door shelf. When I need some, it’s easy to spoon out, because a syrup doesn’t freeze hard.

A good splash of boiled cider will make your best ever apple pie. Use your favorite recipe, put the floured and spiced apples into the bottom crust, then drizzle a couple spoonfuls of boiled cider over the apples. Cover and bake as usual.

Cornstarch. Not a money saver, but if you use cornstarch as a thickener in your pies, be aware that cornstarch is most often of genetically modified (GMO) corn. Happily, a new organic cornstarch has appeared on your grocer shelf.  It’s made by Clabber Girl; it’s in a green can about the size of baking powder cans and you’ll probably find it next to the baking powder rather than next to the big yellow box.

Ginger puree. It seems so wasteful to buy a big piece of fresh ginger root for just a spoonful in a recipe. Freezing it over and over ruins it. Never mind, just buy a nice piece of fresh ginger when you see some silky-skinned fresh pieces. Roughly peel it, slice about ¼-inch thick, and toss it into the mini-prep food processor. Chop, then add about 2 to 4 tablespoons of cane sugar and process to a lovely slush. Store this is a half-pint jar on the freezer door shelf.

Use this ginger puree in everything that calls for ginger: stirfry, pickles, even cookies.  The dry kind is just hot with no flavor. The little bit of sugar to make the puree slushy is too little to make a difference in any recipe. You won’t taste it in a stirfry.

Crystallized ginger shouldn’t cost $20 per pound. Buy really pretty ginger when you see some, usually in during fall. Consider looking in an Asian grocery, where shoppers use a lot of fresh ginger in their cuisine. Peel it and slice. Make up a sugar syrup of 2 cups of cane sugar to 2 cups of water. Add the ginger slices and bring to a slow boil. Cook gently until the ginger begins to be tender. Attach a candy/jelly thermometer. Bring the temperature up to 220 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring. Cool, then you can either drain the ginger pieces and roll in sugar or just put them with the syrup into a canning jar. Again, on the freezer door shelf. Or in a zipper freezer bag with the rest of your holiday ingredient goodies.

Ginger syrup? Ten dollars for just 8 ounces? Well, how much sugar and water is in there? Here’s your ginger syrup for free. Leftover syrup from making crystallized ginger is ginger syrup. You could also just add some sliced ginger to the simple syrup and cook it down a little. It makes great homemade ginger ale, just add sparkling water or club soda.  Remember also that ginger and ginger ale are very helpful for easing nausea. Mix a little ginger syrup in sparkling or still water and sip. Ice cold is also calming to a roiling tummy.

If you love ginger and you’ve found some beautiful pieces, go another one and make this stunning marmalade. Wait until you find some really silky skinned fresh roots.

Lemon or orange paste at $12 for just 4 ounces? Do this instead and save your $12. Buy six nice, clean, skinned lemons or two bright oranges, organic if you find them. Scrub, then peel with a potato peeler. Toss the peels into the mini-prep (what would we do without this wonderful little $30 workhorse?). Chop, then add maybe ¼ cup of cane sugar and process to a paste. Again, put this into a half pint jar and store on the freezer door shelf. The sugar helps get it slushy and prevents it freezing too hard.

For all these neat little pastes, use a white plastic lid, not the two-piece canning lid. It won’t stick or rust and you can rinse it easily. Less than $2 for a dozen, they last for years. The citrus zests, ginger and cider line a shelf of the refrigerator freezer, close at hand for frequent use.

I use a lot of lemons for the zests for cooking and baking and also for making limoncello.  So, I keep fresh-squeezed lemon juice in a bottle for when I need a tablespoon and don’t have a fresh lemon.


This is absolutely as delicious and fattening as it looks. Tastes like fresh, sweet cream, but solid as you can see.

Clotted cream costing $8.95 for a tiny 6-ounce jar is just too expensive. Earlier this summer, I had a happy accident. I’d bought whipping cream and somehow it was missed and left in the car for two days. When I found it, I opened the carton and found it was still fresh and sweet! So I put it in the fridge but when I got the cream out the next day, it was solid. Clotted cream?

Unwilling to believe this, I purposely repeated, leaving the cream on the sun porch where the temps rise over 90 degrees these hot summer days. Two days in the heat and then overnight in the fridge, again I had solid, delicious sweet cream. Because the cream was unopened and pasteurized, I won’t worry about bacteria. Over the price of a small jar of clotted cream, I figure a saving of about $18.00. The cream won’t be shelf stable for a year, but I prefer a natural cream over whatever preservative is used in the jar stuff. And, it is so yummy.

What will I do come winter if a craving hits? Pour the cream into a pint canning jar, fill the crock pot halfway with hot water, set it on “keep warm” and incubate my pint of cream for two days. I’m pretty sure it will work just as well.

Almond paste. You can buy 8 ounces for nearly $5 or make 34 ounces for about $10.  See my recipe here. It makes a lot of sense to make your own and it is a kinda fun thing to do. One little hack I’ve learned since I posted the recipe back in 2015: Instead of buying whole almonds with skins and spending the hour skinning them, I found slivered almonds that have no skins. Saved an hour. I do toast the slivers for about 10 minutes at 300 degrees just to freshen them. Get some almond paste made in early October so it will be ripe and perfect when holiday baking starts.

There is a difference in almond filling for pastries and almond paste. Last year, I made some almond filling to use in my Christmas Stollen. It’s easier to make, as it uses just confectioner’s sugar instead of boiling up a sugar syrup, but in the end, we all preferred the almond paste.

Superfine sugar can be had at $12 for 3 pounds. Four pounds of regular white cane sugar is under $2.50 just about anywhere. Just superfine it: Pour about 4 cups into the big food processor or blender and process until it’s superfine. Make about a quart at a time and store in a jar, ready for those fussy, fussy recipes that call for it.

If you forgot to buy confectioner’s sugar to make cake frosting, do the above superfine process and add a couple tablespoons of cornstarch. Be sure to have the non-GMO cornstarch on hand.

Vanilla beans prices have skyrocketed to $12. We know about the crop failure a couple years ago that caused prices to soar, but shop around. I see several online stores that offer good Madagascar beans for around $3. If you see a super buy for a larger quantity, see if you can put together a group of friends to split it. Or just put them all into a tall glass jar filled with vodka or brandy. Make sure the beans are fully submerged.

You’ll always have a fresh bean for a special recipe. I pick them out with the little jar lid picker. This makes nice vanilla extract in a few months which is nice. Do not leave the beans dry — they will self destruct into powder. I did this with a few. I did put the powder into a spice jar and use it, but it was a mistake to leave them dry.

Spices. Grocery store prices for little jars of spices at $4 or more are ridiculous. First, you don’t need a new jar every time and second, they will fade before you use them. If you have a nearby store with a bulk department, go there and get just the ¼ cup or even just the tablespoon you’ll actually use before it looses its oomph. If you don’t have such a store, but a friend does, ask.

In early December, I spend about two hours in the bulk spice department of Central Market in Dallas filling herb and spice orders for my sister’s wide circle of friends. We save a fortune on expensive spices, blends and dried mushrooms.

If there’s no such bulk department within reach, reach out to friends and neighbors who probably also hate spending $4 for a tiny jar of inferior grocery store cinnamon. A pound ofpremium Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon for $6.95 is too much cinnamon for one household, but split that among four friends who get 4 ounces each, and everybody has enough best cinnamon for the season’s apple pies and cinnamon bun for less than $2.

Likewise, all the spices when bought in bulk. Even good salts are available in bulk and do not go stale. Kept airtight, salt is forever. A pound of Guerande Grey salt can be had for $6.50. Eight ounces of precious Fleur de Sel can be bought for $15.75. Split among four friends, each of you gets 2 ounces for less than $4. That will sprinkle a lot of peppers.

Look at Atlantic Spice and San Francisco Herbs Co. Check Amazon and do a Google search for herbs and spices. Search before you buy and save money. Look at the same sources for a matching set of spice jars, which makes an attractive and orderly spice rack.

Wine. Anybody can buy a great bottle of wine if they’re willing to spend $30, $50, or $100. I have more fun and bragging rights for finding a really good bottle for $10 or less. Look at some of the wine sellers online at Last Bottle and Wines Till Sold Out. Both offer free shipping with a few bottles. Last Bottle has a marathon event each year when you only have to order one bottle of each wine you want. Fun and a great way to try something different or indulge a yen for Chateauneuf.  Just don’t get carried away.

To be continued in Part 3.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Make Salt-Cured Egg Yolks to Grate Over Dishes

salt cured yolks

How beautiful are these golden, jewel-toned yolks! A few years ago I came across a recipe for Salt Cured Egg Yolks and gave them a try. It’s a fun way to preserve extra yolks, a tasty way to finish off dishes with a little extra flavor, and they make great gifts for all of your foodie friends and family.

Salt curing is nothing new, it's a very traditional way of preserving food. I found some recipes that had mostly sugar, with a little salt; some with mostly salt, with a little sugar; some with flavored salts.

I'm kind of a puritan when it comes to food, if you use good ingredients, there is no need to complicate a good thing. For me, simple is best. For example: I like chocolate-chip cookies, I'm not really a fan of chocolate chip-pumpkin-caramel-butterscotch cookies. It's too much, just keep it simple friends! So for this recipe, I stayed simple: salt and egg yolk. That's it. You can do what you like, this is just how I did it.

The result is nothing short of delicious! Just as you would grate Parmesan cheese over a dish, grate these salt cured yolks over meat, pasta, salad or veggies for a salty, savory and rich garnish. In addition to flavor, you’ll get added nutrition as chicken egg yolks are rich in healthy saturated fat, phospholipids, antioxidants {such as carotenoids and phosvitin}, Vitamins A, D, E, B1 {Thiamin}, B2 {Riboflavin}, B6, B9 {Folate}, B12, Choline, Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Zinc and Selenium.

Salt Cured Yolks

Ingredients

Pastured egg yolks, any quantity {chicken, duck, turkey...any yolks will work!}

Kosher salt, a lot!

Directions

1. In a baking dish/cookie sheet, spread salt to cover the bottom of the dish with 1/4"-1/2" salt. You can also make indentations in the salt with a spoon to help the yolk stay put.

2. Crack the egg, separating and discarding the whites for another recipe. Gently, without breaking the yolk, place the yolk on the salt bed. If a yolk breaks, just mound up the salt around it to form a barrier to keep it from spreading.

3. Once all your yolks are in the salt bed, cover each yolk completely with about 1/2" of salt. Don't leave any yolk showing.

salt cured yolks

salt cured yolks
4. Place uncovered in the fridge for 10 days. The salt will soak up the liquid and concentrate the yolks.

5. Check your yolks at 10 days, they should have the consistency of a gummy candy. They may still be a little sticky, that's OK!

6. Once you have that gummy candy consistency, rinse the yolks in cold water to remove the excess salt. Place the yolks on a cooling rack (sprayed with non-stick spray) and place in a 170 degree F oven for two hours.

7. Once two hours has passed, turn off the oven & let yolks remain inside the oven until cooled to room temperature.

salt cured yolks

At this point, the yolks should be very firm. The best part - they are now ready to use! Using a microplane or fine grater, grate the egg yolks just as you would grate Parmesan cheese over your food. Keeps in the refrigerator {covered} for 6 months, possibly longer, enjoy!

Nicole Wilkey transitioned from a corporate job to small-scale farmer in 2015. Since then she has run California based Flicker Farm to accommodate meat pigs, mini Juliana pigs, pasture based poultry and sells goats milk soap and lotion on Etsy. Connect with Nicole on Instagram and Facebook, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

 


 

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The Rise in Food Co-Op Popularity: What's Behind It?

 

People have recently become more interested in doing business with cooperatives, often abbreviated as co-ops. The main thing that sets a co-op apart from a traditional company is that the people who own it are also involved in substantial parts of its operations.

Here's a look at why many individuals believe it's worthwhile to link in with a co-op.

Co-Ops Offer More Organic and Local Products

Many people in modern society are especially concerned about how their actions impact environmental sustainability. They frequently decide to "vote with their wallets" and buy from brands that operate ethically and care about the planet.

According to a 2017 study commissioned by an organization called National Co+op Grocers, co-ops align with consumer's preferences that protect the planet. For example, cooperatives collectively sell $32 million worth of fair-trade products every year. Plus, the study found that USDA Certified Organic products comprise 42% of a co-op's total sales, whereas it's only 5% at a typical national grocery store.

For starters, organic products cannot use synthetic fertilizer or toxic pesticides. Farming without these things has a more positive effect on the environment overall.

Another way co-op shoppers can promote environmental sustainability is by prioritizing local products versus those that travel long distances to reach store shelves. The National Co+op Grocers study revealed that the average co-op contains products from 185 local farms. Additionally, local products make up 21% of a co-op's sales.

Although people can get organic and locally sourced products without going to a co-op, it's easy to see why they'd view a cooperative as a superior option. If those outlets have a wider selection and give shoppers more freedom to make meaningful purchases, consumers would understandably see them in a favorable light.

Co-Ops Produce Less Waste

Evidence shows that cooperatives don't rely on as many single-use plastics as traditional supermarkets. In 2018, environmental groups surveyed supermarkets in the United Kingdom and included Co-op, a regional cooperative, in its data. Co-op led the way in recyclable packaging, with 79% of the material already widely recycled.

The research also calculated a brand's plastic footprint by figuring out how much plastic it used annually relative to market share calculations per the value of items purchased. According to the study, Co-op had the smallest annual plastic footprint, equalling approximately 4,700 tons.

Additionally, the report mentioned Co-op's plans to eliminate single-use plastics by 2023. In that case, Co-op defined single-use plastics as nonrecyclable options.

Cutting down on waste goes beyond the packaging used or not used. The National Co+op Grocers study discussed above found that the average co-op donated 24,100 pounds of edible products to food pantries.

Co-Ops Bring an Even Distribution of Power

Something that frustrates many people about today's companies is that they give too much authority to a small number of people who have the greatest amount of ownership shares. With the cooperative model, each member gets one vote. Since members enjoy personal investment, they may feel more eager to help it succeed.

Statistics show that companies see a productivity increase of 5% on average during the year they became worker cooperatives. Various kinds exist. With worker co-ops, the members are employed by that entity. Consumer co-ops are those where people become members of cooperatives and then purchase things from it. In that case, the members influence which products the co-op stocks.

Relatedly, purchasing co-ops form when several small businesses with a common goal band together. Their combined power allows them to achieve discounts and other perks that are often only reserved for the wealthiest, most prolific brands.

Along with facilitating a healthy balance of power, cooperatives commonly support initiatives that benefit their communities. In one example, the United Kingdom's Co-op funds a campaign called "Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities." It urges the government to send a clear message of intolerance regarding physical or verbal attacks in retail. The launch comes at a time when a criminologist working on the campaign saw violence of "epidemic proportions" against store workers.

When people want to reclaim some of the power held by large organizations, it makes sense for them to become aligned with a co-op. Cooperatives truly give influence back to the individuals associated with them.

Co-Ops Emphasize Maintaining High Standards of Quality

Another aspect that often attracts people to cooperatives is that they usually have higher-than-average quality standards. Sometimes, such as with grocery co-ops, the prices are slightly higher than what big-box grocery brands offer, and the overall size of the store is smaller. However, since members' votes affect what the locations sell, it's often easier for shoppers to find things like products that support dietary preferences or requirements.

The option to buy foods in bulk at a cooperative frequently offsets the potentially higher prices charged. Some co-ops give discounts to people who make bulk purchases. On top of that, a person bought 14 consumable staples from a food club and received an average savings of 54% compared to buying the packaged supermarket versions.

Anyone can buy things at a food co-op — bulk or otherwise — without being a member. However, signing up for membership could enable a person to get extra discounts not otherwise available to them. Many shoppers don't mind paying a bit more if they find that the quality levels of the merchandise consistently surpass what they see at non-cooperative retailers.

Valid Reasons for the Popularity Increase

This overview details some of the defining reasons why individuals decide to do business with co-ops. Although the content focuses on retail-based cooperatives, it's important to clarify that numerous others exist — from energy to banking.

Regardless of the type, co-ops run on the principle that every member gets one vote — furthering equality in a way many people frequently find fascinating and worth trying.

Photo credit

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Putting Up an Abundance of Peaches: An Illustrated Overview

 

This has been a banner year for our peach (and apple) trees. I called UCONN’s cooperative extension service when this same scenario happened back in 2015 to ask why, and this is what was explained. Warm and sunny spring weather encourages bees to actively pollinate fruit blossoms. A dry summer with plenty of sunny days helps the fruit to grow well. In addition, dry weather discourages the growth of powdery mildew and other fungal infections. In other words, this summer we’ve had perfect peach (and apple) growing weather in our zone 5b Connecticut location.

Our four peach trees produced several bushels over the course of three weeks, so I had to get busy putting up these juicy, sweet delights before they spoiled. The first thing I did was refrigerate approximately a bushel to buy some time. We have two dorm-sized spare refrigerators available for moments like this. The rest I put up as quickly as possible before returning to the chilled peaches.

I filled our Excalibur dehydrator a few times with peeled 1/4-inch-thick slices. Typical dehydrating instructions recommend pretreating fruit in citric acid, ascorbic acid, or lemon juice to prevent darkening. I always skip this step and still have good results. I prefer to store my dehydrated peaches in the freezer. After cooling the slices, I loosely pack them in mason jars, tighten the lids, then condition them at room temperature for a day before storing in the freezer (conditioning allows the remaining moisture to redistribute evenly). The slices are easy to remove from the jars when frozen in this way, and thaw within seconds. Dehydrated peach slices pack a sweet punch of peach flavor and are a delicious addition to oatmeal, breakfast quinoa, cold cereal, and plain yogurt. We also enjoy eating them right out of the jar.

 I used Pomona’s Universal Pectin to make twenty-one half-pints of low-sugar jam. I followed the instructions enclosed in the box of pectin but added the least amount of sugar suggested. The resulting jam has an explosion of peach flavor without being overly sweet.

I also put up a batch of sweeter, looser peach jam by following the directions on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website under the category of “Making Jam without Added Pectin.” It actually came out more like a sauce, and is decadent when added to unsweetened plain yogurt or drizzled on waffles, pancakes, and the like. As an aside, there are delicious plant-based yogurts currently available. My favorite is the plain unsweetened Greek yogurt made by Kite Hill.

The peach salsa recipe I followed is also on the National Center for Home Food Preservation’s website, and is quite delicious! I processed sixteen half-pints for the pantry. My husband also grew the cilantro, red onions, red peppers, and jalapeños used in this recipe. The process calls for 5% white vinegar, but I substituted with 5% apple cider vinegar. The NCHFP states that it’s safe to make this substitution in canning recipes as long as the cider vinegar is also at 5% acidity.

Please note, when canning always follow safe lab-tested methods and recipes. In addition to the ones available online through the NCHFP, you can also find safe lab-tested recipes online through various cooperative extension offices, and in the Ball Blue Book of Preserving (look for newer editions). Family recipes and recipes you find when searching online may or may not be safe; the biggest concerns are botulism and listeria when canning or pickling. Preserving food in these ways is fairly easy, but it needs to be taken seriously and done safely.

I made a second batch of peach salsa and put up six pints in the freezer. Since I wasn’t canning this batch, I was able to modify the recipe by adding more garlic and cilantro. Please note that half-pint, pint, and pint-and-a-half jars are rated for freezing. Look for the “fill line” etched into the glass and don’t fill beyond that line or the jar may break when the contents freeze and expand. Quart-sized regular and wide-mouth jars are not rated for freezing liquid products, although I have had good luck using them to freeze dehydrated foods.

Plain peach purée was made in my blender on a low-speed setting to prevent the formation of unnecessary air bubbles. I used my FoodSaver to vacuum seal several quarts in BPA-free bags. Plain peach purée is delicious as a beverage and can also be used when making glazes, barbecue and teriyaki sauces, baked beans, muffins and other baked goods. In addition, I froze peach halves and peach slices for making pies, cobblers, and smoothies.

While in the midst up putting up the peaches, my husband suggested that I should try freezing some whole to save time. I looked on the internet and saw that others suggest this as well. I tried it and had very good results! I first arranged them on trays and put them in the deep freezer overnight. The next day I vacuum sealed the frozen whole peaches using my FoodSaver. I now consider this process to be the easiest way to freeze peaches, and I wish I knew about it years ago. I was able to freeze over 100 peaches fairly quickly and easily this way.

When you hold frozen whole peaches under running water, the skins rub off easily if desired. Once they are partially thawed, the peaches can be cut in half and the pits removed. Use a cutting board for this process; don’t hold the peaches in your hand when cutting them in half, pitting, or slicing! Frozen peaches (whether whole, halved, or sliced) can be eaten as is or used for making jams, pies, cobblers, muffins, frozen desserts, smoothies and more.

To make a simple yet delicious frozen dessert for two people, put four partially thawed and sliced frozen peaches into an immersion blender cup. Add a tablespoon of honey if desired. Blend briefly, then serve immediately using an ice cream scoop.

I hope this post has given you new ideas for putting up an abundance of peaches whether they are home-grown or bought from a local farmer or farmer’s market. Now on to putting up our abundance of apples!

Judy DeLorenzo is an author, organic garden aficionado, and plant-based diet coach foodie. More information can be found at www.ALifeWellPlanted.com. Read all of Judy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

 

Bread-Baking Kitchen Hacks to Save Money Plus the Easiest Scone Recipe

Catalogs of all sorts regularly fill my mailbox. Prices in the kitchen catalogs are particularly shocking to me. Surely only millionaires with humongous kitchens can buy all these gadgets. The rest of us have budgets and struggle for cabinet space.

Dough proofer. First on my really shocked list is an electric bread dough proofer for $170.00. I think they do use one on The Great British Baking Show, but they’re always time constrained on that show. All the many bread books I have suggest a long, cool rise for best flavor and texture. I use a plastic underbed box, 28-quart, under $10 at most stores. Three of them fit easily on my dining table. Each tub fits over three loaves of rising bread or pans of rolls. If it’s really cold in the house or I’m in a hurry, I just fill a couple jars with hottest tap water and stick them under the tub for extra warmth and humidity. Gosh, I just saved $160. When baking day is done, I nest the boxes and shove them in a closet.

For the first rise, a stack of tubs that once held penny candy or bubblegum on a convenience store counter work perfectly. These tubs are the perfect size to rise to double or more a dough from 6 or 7 cups of flour, which makes two big loaves. Just ask nicely next time you see a tub full of gum somewhere, take it home, wash thoroughly with a bit of bleach and leave it open to air out a few days. Wash again, stack and store. My stack of six tubs is 25 years old and still holding. I suppose you could buy a full tub at Sam’s or somewhere, give the gum out for Halloween, and still save a huge amount over the same sized container for over $10. You will have saved $10, but I have six and usually at least two in use.  Is that $60 saved?  Or only $20?

Bread machines. Speaking of machines, if you’re thinking about a bread machine, before you invest in a Zojirushi for over $300, consider a less expensive machine to make sure you will make good use of it and to also determine whether you actually want a more expensive machine. I often bake small loaves, rolls, and flatbreads in my toaster oven and, for a full-sized sandwich loaf, am more than happy with a Cuisinart Convection Bread Machine. I’ve had mine over 10 years and it’s still available in several stores for $99, (often with free shipping).

Loaf pans for bread are priced in some catalogs at around $15. I confide that I bought eight identical loaf pans at the Dollar Store for $1.00 each back in 1999 and these pans, all seasoned now, are still in use and bake beautiful, evenly browned crust. I give them a quick squirt with oil spray and the loaves drop out when they’re done. My tubs and loaf pans look a little grungy now, 20 years in hard use, but they work perfectly.

Yeast. While we’re baking bread, if you do bake often, buy yeast in the 1-pound package available from several online sources, including Amazon (Prime), King Arthur Bread Company, Bob’s Red Mill, as well as the wholesale houses like Sam’s and Costco.  You’ll save at least 50 percent.

You certainly don’t need to spend $12 on a special jar for yeast. A quart jar (even just an empty mayo jar) holds 1 pound, works just as well, didn’t cost anything, and fits on the freezer door shelf.  I break up cheap $1.00 sets of measuring spoons and keep a teaspoon and a tablespoon measure in the jar. Same for the salt pig next to the stove.

Thermometer. One place I learned to spend more to spend less at the end is for a candy-jelly thermometer. Wal-Mart and the grocery stores offer this thermometer for around $3, especially around the holidays. After a few disasters, I realized that the cheap thermometers are a waste of money. Invest in a good one. Mine is a Wilton that cost $15.00. Considering batches of failed fudge and jelly, that’s a big saving.

On the other hand, the Therm-pro instant-read thermometer for about $12 works perfectly well to check meat and loaves of bread. No need to invest hundreds for a professional model.

Baking stones. There are oven liners and stones available at kitchen and baking stores. They must be wonderful, but they’re so expensive. Instead, head to a flooring store or big-box hardware. Look for quarry tiles or Saltillo tiles from Mexico. I found 6-inch quarry tiles for just 49 cents each. The 12-inch is $1.58. Pick up enough to line the bottom of your oven — be sure to leave space all the way around for heat to circulate. Get a couple extra just in case. You just created close to a brick oven for less than $3.00. I put six in my oven in 1999. I never take them out except every few years to scrub them clean. Put the tiles on the bottom shelf of a gas oven, on the oven floor for an electric oven.

Marble countertop. While you’re there, pick up a 12- or 18-inch marble tile for $4 or $5. Use the marble tile as your cold countertop to roll pie crust or puff pastry. I keep mine out of the way standing on edge behind the rest of my cutting boards. No need to spend $100s for a marble countertop.

Easiest Scone Recipe Ever

The first mention in writing of scones was way back in the 16th Century.  I’m pretty sure neither housewives nor castle cooks had fancy baking trays divided into eight proper wedges. Surely they simply patted out their rich scone dough into a rough circle, cut the dough into wedges and baked on the baking tray or laid out directly on the oven floor. Today, that method will save you something over $30.

Add spice, diced fresh or dried fruit, chopped nuts, citrus zest, etc., to suit. Notice you don’t have to cut in any cold butter. Easy! See the next installment of this post sereis for clotted cream to go with them.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup cane sugar, white or organic
  • optional: a little cinnamon or other spice if desired
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • about 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • more cream to brush top
  • optional: turbinado sugar for top

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a 12-inch pizza pan or other baking sheet with parchment or non-stick foil.

2. Mix dry ingredients. Beat the egg in 2 cup measure. Note volume and add cream, which will come up to about 7/8 cup. Add the vanilla then whisk together.

3. Add the wet mix to the dry and stir just to combine. Always use a light touch, folding rather than stirring hard, with scones or biscuits. You don’t want to develop gluten. Add any raisins, cut dried fruit, etc.

4. Wet your hands so dough won’t stick. Pat into 8- or 9-inch rough circle, ¾-inch thick, on the pan. Leave top rough. Brush with cream and sprinkle with turbinado. Score the dough into wedges with a bench knife or other cutter.

5. Bake at 375 F for about 30 minutes. Let the scones cool then cut through on the scored marks and separate the scones.

If you love cookbooks, you can browse book stores, of course, or Amazon. But, before you buy, check Better World Books. I’ve often found coveted books for under $4.00, nearly always at a steep discount. Many are used, some even a bit soiled, but Better World is also a charity that contributes books for world literacy. If you browse through, you’ll find some fascinating books on all topics of cooking and baking, even separated by country if you’d like to explore more international cooking.

Wendy Akin is a happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Perfectly Roast Vegetables

 

Roasting vegetables is easy, they say. I have always heard that but never experienced it. Anyone can throw a dish of vegetables in the oven, but I found it difficult to achieve that crispy coated browning. The caramelized sweetness of broccoli, zucchini, onions. That perfect browned skin-like coating around every cube of potato.

I gave up on roasting vegetables long ago. My roasted vegetables were always just overcooked and oily. Or the opposite: dried out beets. I am looking for that crisp outer shell with a soft fully-cooked inside. The intensified flavor you get from concentrating sugars, drawing out a sweetness you don’t expect from broccoli, zucchini, eggplant, and onions.

Last week I gave roasting vegetables another try. I tossed them with olive oil, careful not to use too much, and baked for 40 minutes at 410 degrees Fahrenheit. I took them to a potluck with good friends. My dish was popular: zucchini and eggplant sweetly softened; buttery garlic and onions; sweet peppers, soft potatoes. But no crispy edges. No roasted browning here, for the most part; flavorful and sweet, but soft.

Friends enjoyed them. Did I mention they were good friends? Dear, very tolerant, friends? Nobody complained, everyone was supportive and ate all their vegetables. When asked how I made them, I mentioned baking at 410 degrees. Andrea tilted her head at me. 410? She looked at me sideways. Who cooks anything at 410? “I never go for 410 for anything.” She seemed surprised at my choice of heat index.

It got me thinking. Why do I roast at 410? Is it my magic number? Or is it like wearing last year’s pant length? A shirt in an off shade of pink? Next time I tried 450 degrees. It worked! 450 is great! 450 achieves the crisp edges. The perfect potatoes. The browning I seek. Roasted perfection is found at 450. Thank you, Andrea!

Now I am roasting all the time. Most of what we eat is what we grow on our farm here in Maryland. Roasting can change with the seasons. Right now in late summer, we have potatoes, onions, garlic, zucchini, eggplant, red peppers. Later I won’t have zucchini or eggplant but I will add fall butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

I see all the delicious uses for roasted vegetables: pasta toppings with sauce or pesto, over rice, in eggs, on sandwiches, as pizza toppings, in soup. Leftover roasted potatoes make the best hash browns. My hash browns were always too oily and soft as well; now using leftover roasted potatoes, my hash browns are so much better.

Roasted Vegetables

Cut vegetables into approximately equal sized pieces, so they cook evenly. If you want to get fancy, put zucchini and peppers in a separate pan and roast for just 20 minutes.

Toss with olive oil, to coat. Not too much!

Sprinkle with spices like oregano and rosemary, salt and pepper. Roast at 450 degrees. For 40 minutes. Scrape and mix with spatula about mid-way through.

Honestly, you should hesitate to follow my recipe on roasting vegetables. I just explained all the trouble I’ve had with roasting. We’d probably both do well to check some other recipes. I’m still playing with this. Roasted vegetables are supposed to be cooked separately so they can be pulled out at different times. I found a chart for roasting times of different vegetables. Potatoes take longer than zucchini. Still I haven’t done this. They all stay in with the potatoes for 40 minutes, in it until the end, like a good team. Having said that, I bet the red peppers would benefit from half the roasting time. Will I be lazy and cook everything together, or will I achieve roasting multi-task prowess, pulling out separate trays at perfect midpoints? We shall see. And get this: the recipe I looked at recommends roasting at 400-425 degrees…and 410 is right in the middle of it, in full roasting fashion.

Ilene White Freedman operates House in the Woods organic CSA farm with her husband, Phil, in Frederick, Maryland. The Freedmans are 2013 MOTHER EARTH NEWS Homesteaders of the Year. Ilene blogs about making things from scratch, putting up the harvest, gardening and farm life on the farm's Facebook Page. For more about House in the Woods Farm, go to the House in the Woods website, and read all of Ilene's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Cooking with Kids

lavender lemonade drink

Lavender lemonade is a treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

It seems the younger children are, the more they want to help in the kitchen. Instead of giving them a play kitchen or a few old pots to bang on, take advantage of their enthusiasm and let them help with simple, fun food-related tasks. It may mean more time and work for you in the short term, but that effort will pay off big time and they grow into little chefs who can prepare entire meals on their own.

Here are some easy-to-make, fun tips for dishes even the youngest children can help with. Who knows? Your kids may turn into the next Emma and Ty, two young teens with their own gardening and cooking You Tube channel, From Dirt to Dishes: Kids Grow and Cook.

No Cooking Required

One of my childhood favorites was a rabbit-faced pear ‘salad.’ Good and good for you. It’s easy. Lay a lettuce leaf on a saucer. Top with half a pear, curved side up. The small end will be the face. Press three raisins into the each pair half for eyes and nose to make eyes. Ears can be made from slivers of carrot, celery, or almonds; a few shreds of cheese or pretzel sticks make excellent whiskers.

Every bunny needs a tail. On the opposite end of the pear half, place a dollop of cottage cheese, whipped cream, or a marshmallow—whatever your child is likely to eat, and voilà, your pear salad is complete and sure to delight the young ones. To add a whimsical and nutritious element, tempt the rabbit with a couple of carrot strips an inch or so in front of its face.

Go International

Individual make-your-own pizzas are bound to be a hit. The simplest foundation is a purchased flour tortilla for each child. Or you can make biscuit dough and let the children flatten out mounds onto a baking sheet with the palms of their clean hands. Spread a tablespoon or two of equal parts tomato paste and sauce mixed with your favorite Italian herbs on each pizza. Let the children sprinkle shredded cheese atop the sauce and then choose and scatter their choice of toppings from a variety that you provide.

You can use the same idea with tacos or burritos. Just provide a choice of fillings and toppings and let the kids make their own.

Or you can make simple cheese quesadillas

Snack Time

There’s nothing quite like a cool glass of lemonade after a hot day of outdoor activities. Engage the children in the making. They’ll enjoy squeezing lemons onto an old-fashioned citrus juicer (though you may have to add a helping hand to extract all the juice). Here’s an easy recipe. To spice things up a bit, consider adding mint leaves or lavender if your grandchildren have an adventurous food streak.

apple pnut butter mouth

It may be a little messy, but this cute snack was 100% put together with kid hands. 

You need a snack to go along with that lemonade, don’t you? Dress up an apple for a (mostly) healthy snack. It’s so easy to make and the kids are bound to love it. Start with an unpeeled, cored red apple. Cut the apple lengthwise into slices. Give them a quick dip in lemon juice to prevent browning, then pat mostly dry with a clean kitchen towel. Slather a layer of peanut butter on one side of each apple slice. Let the kids place miniature marshmallows side by side atop half the peanut-butter covered slices. Top with another slice (peanut-butter side down) and there you have it. Who wouldn’t be happy eating a smile?

Red, White, and Blue for Dessert

A patriotic cake is a perfect summertime dessert. You can even take it to your nearest July 4th fireworks display. Bake single-layer white cake in a 9 x 13 baking pan. When it’s cooled, frost with white icing.

Now comes the fun part. Let the kids help decorate with blueberries (in the ‘star’ portion of the cake) and alternate either strawberry slices or whole raspberries with the white icing for the stripes. Simple and striking. Here’s one of many recipes you can find online.

Special Touches

Consider purchasing an age-appropriate cookbook. Whether you have toddlers or teens, you can find one that’s suitable. Here’s just one set of selections

Why not do it up right and present your kitchen helper with a simple apron. Perhaps you could work together to cut one out and sew it up before you start your kitchen adventures. A child-sized chef’s hat will top things off nicely and put your little ones in the mood for cooking up a storm. You can purchase paper hats on line or make your own.

Bon Appétit!

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here. You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.







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