Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Crockpot Apple Butter August 20, 2010

Filed under: Canning,Food Storage,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 11:37 am
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It may seem early in the season for apple recipes, but I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to pick a business associates early fruiting tree and I finally got around to doing something with all the apples I pulled. The apples were very small and the process of peeling and coring was fairly tedious, however we were able to do enough so that we could make about 4 pints of apple butter.

The process of making apple butter is very straightforward but it can be time consuming so I decided this year to use my crockpot in order to cook the apples down rather than the stove top which requires frequent stirring and constant vigilance in order to ensure it does not scorch. Given all of the other things I have been trying to do recently (cheese making, zucchini processing, alone time…) I decided that it would be best for everyone if I simply put the apple butter in the crockpot overnight and let it do its thing without my supervision.

I was very pleased with the results! The butter thickened nicely and while there was some scraping of the sides required in the end, all in all it was a preferable method to the stovetop. I tend to forget that things are on the stove and have had some near catastrophes (see my post about the plum preserves!). The best part about it though is that you can leave it to cook overnight. I like getting things done while I sleep!

Apple Butter
from the Ball Blue Book of canning and preserving

4 pints cooked apples
4 cups sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves

The basics process for making the butter is as follows:

Core and peel your apples
Cook them with a small quantity of water until they are soft and can be easily mushed with a potato masher (basically turn them into applesauce)
Use either an immersion blender or a standard blender to blend them and create a smooth consistency
Add sugar and spices
Cook over low heat until thick, stirring frequently

Leaving 1/4 inch headspace, process in water bath for 10 minutes at sea level

I typically use less sugar in these recipes than called for simply because I don’t like overly sweet fruit products. The Ball Blue Book recipe calls for 4 cups of sugar to 8 cups of apples. No thank you! I use about 1 to 1.5 cups of sugar. I also add a tad more cloves to my recipe (1/2 tsp instead of 1/4 tsp) and lower the cinnamon from 2 tsp to 1 tsp.

The canning instructions are to can for 10 minutes (at sea level) with 1/4 inch head space. Due to the altitude in the City Dipherent, I add an additional 15 minutes to the processing time.

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Home Made Feta – finally tried it! August 16, 2010

Filed under: Animal Husbandry,Home Made,Raw Goat Milk — realfoodmama @ 2:24 pm
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About a month ago I made a batch of home made feta using my goat milk. I set it aside in the fridge in the brine, as directed, and let it sit for a little over four weeks. Today, while going through the fridge and trying to decide what kind of cheese to make, I pulled it out and gave it a nibble.

Unfortunately it was horribly salty. Inedible, even. Unwilling to give up, I took a piece and rinsed it off under the faucet, then tried again. Still incredibly salty. Like…olive salty. It was delicious, but more than a teeny nibble would dehydrate you instantly.

So then, still unwilling to give up, I set a piece in a dish of water in an attempt to pull more salt out. Sadly this wrecked havoc on the texture, causing it to turn slimy, but it did slightly remedy the salt situation. Rather than soak the entire batch, however, I think I will simply rinse the cheese before using it, and use it very, very sparingly.

This brings me to my real point, however, which is that I am going to make more feta today. I am hoping that if I make a few changes to the recipe the end result will be more palatable. For instance, when letting it dry I will not salt it as much, and when making the brine I think I will back off on the salt content in there as well.

The recipe I used is pulled off the Fiasco Farm web site which is a great resource for all things goat and dairy. There are several great cheese recipes on the web site as well as an abundance of information regarding care and handling of goats.

I am hoping to be able to post in about another month about a successful batch of feta, but until then I will have to content myself with teeny, tiny nibbles at the saltiest cheese on earth!

Happy Eating!

 

Oven-dried zucchini August 13, 2010

Filed under: Food Storage,Garden Fresh,Home Made,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 3:24 pm
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The results!

My first attempt at oven drying anything was met with pretty fair success, if I do say so myself. Although I was somewhat astounded by the end result. When you cut up two pounds of zucchini and end up with barely a cup, it is a bit of a shocker. Of course, zucchini being 95% water (or thereabouts) makes it shrivel up pretty good. According to the Ball Blue Book of Canning and Preserving, 20 lbs of zucchini dried makes barely two pounds of chips.

Fascinating, but somewhat anti-climactic.

Suffice it to say, the process was very straightforward. I winged it a bit, but it all seemed to work out. Using what I read from the aforementioned Ball Book and some articles on the internet, I decided to slice the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices. I then lay them on a cookie sheet and set the oven at 175 degrees, which is as low as mine will go.

I also kept the oven door open in order to facilitate the actual dehydrating process, versus cooking. The airflow provided is necessary in order to keep the moisture from recirculating back into the zucchini. If I had a convection oven this might have been an unnecessary step, but sadly I do not have a convection oven and so I simply kept the oven door open about half way.

The whole process took nearly 4 hours and I was obliged to continuously flip the zucchini rounds in order to dry them evenly. If I had a cookie sheet with a rack I probably would not have had to do this step, but again…like the convection oven issue, I didn’t. Regardless, it worked quite well. I did notice however that the pieces that I had cut too thin started to brown and I decided that they were moving too far into the “cooked” spectrum to really qualify as dried. As a result I attempted to add them to burritos for dinner that evening…which was a spectacular failure, I might add.

Regardless, the point of mentioning it was that while some sources might tell you to cut the slices as thin as 1/8 of an inch, if you are using an oven to dry your zucchini I highly suggest to cut things no thinner than 1/4 inch otherwise you may end up with burnt chips.

I will be reattempting the drying routine tomorrow as I still have four zucchini in my fridge, even though I have dried and baked copious amounts and my plants are suffering from an insect invader that is slowly killing them. I do love the abundance of summer squash!

Oven Dried Zucchini

Zucchini
cookie sheets, with racks if possible

Cut the zucchini into 1/4 inch slices, trying to cut them as evenly as possible. Place the slices on the cookie sheet or rack, spacing them relatively close together as they will shrink as the process goes on.

Place in your oven at it’s lowest setting (mine was 175 degrees) and leave the door open at least half way. If your oven door will not remain open half way on its own you may have to rig it. I would not recommend leaving it open all the way and you cannot have it closed altogether either.

Leave in the oven for 4 – 4.5 hours, turning regularly. The zucchini is done when it is no longer flexible. Let cool completely before storing.

Happy Eating!

 

Garden Update and all the work involved! August 9, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh — realfoodmama @ 3:00 pm
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Sad SquashSo the garden is doing fairly well at the moment with one notable exception; that is the squash. The vine borers have infiltrated pretty much all the plants. The zucchini and the pumpkins have rooted along the vines which basically means that if the main plant dies the vine will live, but I am pretty sure our days of excessive zucchini are behind us already.

As for the rest, I am hoping that the plants survive long enough to allow some of the fruit that has set to reach maturity. The constant application of BtK (a bacterial agent designed to kill caterpillars and other larvae) seems to be mitigating the damage somewhat, however in general the plants look sad, as indicated by the picture.

Aside from that however, things are doing well. The corn survived the windstorm with only one accident – the tallest was broken, but seems to still be alive so I am hoping it will germinate and produce some ears regardless of its hunched over appearance. Additionally the tomato plants, while completely out of their cages, seem to be setting fruit and doing nicely. The green beans are producing in a somewhat mind boggling quantity and every time I go out to pick beans, which is daily, I find ones hiding that are near mutant size.

All of this abundance has resulted in regular blanching and freezing of beans, and while zucchini bread has been made more than once…or even thrice…I am trying a different way of storing the zukes today. I am hoping to dry slices and then put those up for future use in soups and stews this winter. They would add great flavor to stocks and it seems like a better use for them than bread, mostly because I hate baking when it is this hot out.

Although it should be noted that since I don’t have a dehydrator, I will be drying the zucchini in the oven. However, instead of having it on at 350 degrees for an hour, it will be on at 175 degrees for an hour which I suspect will make a significant difference.

In order to counter the somewhat depressing picture of the squash above, here are some other garden pictures that are much more representative of what the majority of our harvest is beginning to look like.

The tomato forest

Tomato Forest

Corn

Potato Patch

 

Plum Preserves – Near Tragedy! August 3, 2010

Filed under: Canning,Garden Fresh,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 3:39 pm
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Plum PreservesYesterday we started processing the plums I mentioned in the previous post. We are making very simple plum preserves – not jelly or jam. The primary difference is the sugar content and the end consistency. Preserves are basically cooked fruit with a bit of sugar, whereas jam and jelly requires a thickening agent.

In order to make the preserves we simply halved and pitted the plums yesterday, then we layered them with sugar and let them sit for about 8 hours. We cooked them a bit last night and then refrigerated them overnight mostly because we didn’t have time to can last evening. This morning we took them out and put them back in the pot, added a bit more sugar as they were pretty sour, and then put them on a low heat in order to thicken and cook down a tad more as there were still some pretty big chunks of plum.

This is really a very long lead up to the near tragedy that occurred this morning shortly after I placed the plums on the heat to cook. We had just arrived home and of course, some chickens had escaped and one of them was hiding so we (mostly I) got completely sidetracked looking for the rogue chicken. Then my two year old started having a melt down and I basically neglected the plums.

I came back in and went to stir them only to discover that I had completely scorched the bottom of the pot! I was in near tears…okay, I was in actual tears…because I was convinced I had ruined the entire batch. So much time and effort and work…from picking them to washing, to cutting to cooking…etc.etc…and here I had ruined them in a vain effort to find a damn chicken.

Luckily for me my mother is slightly more level headed and we simply ladled the top of the jam off into a bowl and dumped the scorched part. We only really lost about a quart – which sounds like a lot, but we still have over a gallon which will make lots of preserves.

Suffice it to say, the pot of plum deliciousness is now sitting on the stove over a VERY low heat and is being stirred constantly. The picture is of the plums as we were ladling them off the scorched pot – the color was so beautiful I wanted to capture it.

Happy Eating!

 

Early apples and Plums August 1, 2010

Filed under: Garden Fresh,Home Economics,Home Made — realfoodmama @ 8:33 pm
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This weekend we spent a bit of time each day picking fruit off trees that would otherwise have simply fallen to the ground. We were able to get apples from the tree of a business associate and plums from the tree of a complete stranger who we were referred to by a mutual friend. As a result she is no longer a complete stranger!

Suffice it to say the fruit picking adventures of this weekend mark the beginning of canning season. That coupled with this evenings bumper crop of green beans from the garden and we are already starting to put food up for the winter. The green beans were blanched and are now freezing in the chest freezer out in our workshop.

Tomorrow I am hoping to make plum preserves and, assuming my kitchen isn’t a disaster by the end of that project, start some apple butter. I am also falling behind on my zucchini and basil processing – I need to make pesto and bake some zucchini bread. Both can be frozen if packaged properly and are a great use of our crazy garden bounty.

The monsoon rains here in Santa Fe have been dramatic this season, to say the least. We haven’t had to actually water the garden in about a week as the nightly down pour has kept everything incredibly wet – in some cases too wet especially in the goat pen. Mucking this afternoon proved…unpleasant. But that is another topic! The gardens are happy and I should really post some images of our tomato forest. The tomato plants have gotten so huge and are so bushy that I admit to being somewhat afraid of them. I can’t see the basil plants anymore, the poor things are buried under the tomato foliage!

In either case I am excited that today, the first day of a new month, we are getting a jump on our food processing. I am looking forward to more apples later in the season, some pears, and of course the rest of the bounty from our home garden! In the meantime, I should probably go make some bread…

Happy Eating!