Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sun Dried Tomatoes in a Dehydrator

I love dehydrating things. This year I saved up my money and invested in a 9 tray Excalibur dehydrator! It has been fun drying new things with it. We plant a huge garden at my parents house each year. Among the things we planted were over 200 tomato plants. We plant about 50 different varieties!

So what do you do with the abundance of all the grape, cherry, and pear variety of tomatoes? You can only eat so many salads, right?

Don't ask me all the names of these. I don't know! My mom does though, they own a small family green house and sell the plants. I just help plant and water!

I slice the washed small tomatoes in half and put them cut side up on my dehydrator trays. Lightly spray with a vegetable oil spray of your choice. I used Canola spray because that is what I had. These would be great with Olive Oil spray. Then lightly sprinkle with herbs of your choice. I used Italian Seasoning.

Then put them into your dehydrator set on vegetable setting. My dehydrator has vegetables set at 125 degrees Fahrenheit. You could go as high as 135. But you don't want to go any higher than that. Dry until firm, but not brittle. If they feel squishy they still have too much water in them. This will take 10  - 30 hours depending on the thickness of your tomatoes. I pulled them off the trays as they got dry. 

I started with 2 1/2 trays of tomatoes and got a little less than 2 cups. 

They are so delicious. Yes I did try one. They can be used in baked goods or thrown into soups and allowed to rehydrate. They smell so good and keep that beautiful red and yellow color!

Store the sun dried tomatoes in an air tight container. You can also put them in a cute jar and give them away as gifts! I make these chalk paint jars out of recycled jars! I will have to post a tutorial the next time I make a batch of them!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Paper Mâché Elephant Head

Our theme this year for VBS is Camo Kilimanjaro. I decided to make a life size Afican Elephant head for the kids to pose in front of to take their pictures. It was quite an under taking but I was quite pleased with the results.

I first cut out the basic shape of the head and ears in cardboard. I used wire coat hangers wraped around each ear to it onto some plywood that was on this stage already at our church. Then using newspaper wand old wrapping paper I began to shape the ears and face. Taping it to the plywood. I used diluted Elmers glue 50/50 concentration to dip the newspaper in to paper mâché.

I cut a pool noodle in half lengthwise and then wrapped it each duct tape to get the shape of the tusks. I was going to use cardboard tubes but the ones I had were too heavy. The pool noodle worked great! I then used some gutter screen to get basic shape of the trunk.

After I got one coat of paper mâché on the elephant head I did some further shaping on the trunk and face then I did a second coat of paper mâché on the entire thing!

Now it was time to paint! I used some tempera paint because it was cheap and what I had on hand. I mixed white, black, and brown to get an earthy tone gray. I painted the head two coats with this. Once dry I dry brushed on some brown and darker grey to get shading. I used some off white wall paint for the tusks. Again it was something I had left over and it covered the tusks in one coat.

We added some decor to further the theme. We later covered the black plywood with some dark green fabric to bring it all together!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Making Yogurt

My son is taking a dairy food science project for 4-H this year.  So we have been learning how to turn milk into all kinds of great food.  One of my favorites so far has been learning to make yogurt.  I had no idea how easy it was and how much cheaper it is to make your own fat free Greek yogurt.  The only thing was my kids did not like it.  They are used to flavored and blended yogurt. So the first time we made Greek yogurt we put it in containers and put it in the freezer.  I found on Pinterest that you can make frozen yogurt pops by taking Greek yogurt and putting in the Kool-Aid Liquid Drink Mix. My kids loved it.  Both fresh and when we froze them.  We have tried orange and also used Crush Drink Mix that was strawberry flavored.  Both taste great!!

To make Greek Yogurt I found a recipe for Skyr. Which is an Icelandic version of Greek Yogurt.  You can find the link to the recipe here.

To start with you need a gallon of skim milk and pour it into a pan. 

You will need a thermometer. Slowly heat the milk to 195 degrees Fahrenheit.  Stirring frequently to prevent the milk from burning.  A film will form on the bottom of pan.  Just be careful not to stir hard and stir the milk solids into the milk.  Once it hits 195 degrees take it off the heat and let cool to 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  I put the entire pan in the sink with ice water to speed up this process.

When the milk reaches 110 degrees Fahrenheit it is now time to inoculate the milk with your culture. You need to use some plain yogurt that has live active cultures.  Once you make this once you can keep a little back from each batch to save to make the next batch.  Take some of the warm milk out of the pan and add 4 tablespoons of your yogurt. Blend until smooth and then add to the milk.  You also add rennet to this recipe.  Do not use the Junket rennet that you find in the grocery stores.  This does not work for cheese making or this recipe.  Use a good quality cheese making rennet.  I ordered mine from New England Cheese Making Supply. Crush half a tablet and dissolve into 1/4 cup of non chlorinated water.  Add this to the milk mixture and stir thoroughly.

Put on the lid!

Then wrap the entire pot in 2 to 3 towels.  We did 3 towels.  We put the pan on the towel and wrapped it up in it.  Then repeated that process with 2 more towels.  Then you set it on your counter and leave it for 12 to 16 hours.  Both times we have made this we do it in the evening and let it sit overnight.  I have checked it after 11 hours and it was done. 

When you open up the lid the next day it is like magic!! It is so neat to see how the bacteria did its work and formed yogurt.  The rennet makes it extra thick almost like cheese curds! You can see how the whey has separated from the yogurt!
Next you need to cut the yogurt into squares.  It makes it easier to scoop out of the pan this way.  Don't cut to the bottom of the pan and scrape up any film that may have formed on the bottom of the pan.

Now scoop your yogurt into a strainer.  I use a clean muslin dish towel to strain off the whey.  Put this into a strainer in a bowl.

Now let your whey drain off.  I tie mine up to my cupboard to let drain.  This can take 2 to 4 hours. 

This is what it looks like when the whey has been drained off.  I just use a spatula to scrape it out of the towel.

Use a whisk or mixer and blend until smooth!! You now have very nice and thick Greek Yogurt!!


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Canning Cranberry Juice

This fall when my dad got a bladder infection my mom asked me to pick up some cranberry juice for him.  I was shocked at how hard it was to find just plain cranberry juice.  Most of it was mixed with apple juice, grape juice, high fructose corn syrup, and other natural flavorings.  They did not name what they used for flavorings.  What was my dilemma? My dad was recently diagnosed with a bad allergy to apples.  I know it is odd, but having kids with food allergies nothing surprises me anymore.  So I decided to make my own cranberry juice and can it for my family.

It was good timing being around Thanksgiving almost all the stores had bags of cranberries on sale for under a dollar.  So I bought a bunch of them up and threw them in my freezer for a rainy day or when I had time to actually make the juice and can it!!

Today was that rainy day. Well actually a snowy day, but a day that I had nothing else to do and had time to make my juice.

Here are my 19 bags of cranberries!

I ended up having to split the cranberries into two batches.  They could not
fit all into one batch.  To start out making the juice add equal amounts of 
water and cranberries to a large kettle or stock pot.  

Bring to boil and simmer until all the cranberries have popped!! I 
put a lid on top because the cranberries tend to splash when they pop!
This will take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how 
many cranberries you have.

While the cranberries are cooking I get my strainer ready. I put a metal 
strainer over top of a large stock pot.  As you can see in the picture 
I attach the strainer to the handles to keep it from falling in and splashing
hot juice everywhere.  I learned this the hard way while making grape juice.

Then I cover the strainer with a piece of old pillow case to strain 
out the seeds, skin, and pulp.  

When the cranberries have all popped I scoop them out a 
little at a time and put them into the strainer.

Once all the juice has strained out I return the pot back to the 
stove to heat back up.  If you feel bad about throwing out the pulp 
you can run it through a food mill to remove the skins and use it 
to make some other desserts.  

Add sugar to taste.  For ten bags of cranberries I added about
3 1/2 cups of sugar to sweeten just enough so it did not have 
that strong bitter/sour taste.  Return to a boil and put into jars.

You can put into quart or 1/2 gallon jars.  Fill leaving 1/4 inch head 
space.  Wipe rims.  Bring your new lids to boil and place on jars.
Adjust your caps and process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes for
quarts and 10 minutes for 1/2 gallons.  I got 7 1/2 gallons and a couple
of glasses for the kids to drink out of 19 bags of cranberries.  

I may have only saved about $10 by canning my own juice, but it is pure cranberry juice and I know what is in it.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Apple Vinegar

I saw this on Pinterest so I just had to try it.  Making apple vinegar out of your apple peels and cores.  How simple and to think I always threw these away.  Apple vinegar is so good for you and there are thousands of uses of vinegar.  I am constantly buying it especially to pickle with so why not try making my own. 

To start with you make pies, apple sauce or something with your apples.  Save your peels and cores and put them into a dish.  The original post used a small mixing bowl.  You cover your peels with water and add 1/4 cup of sugar.  Mix it and weight the peels down and cover with a towel to keep gnats and things out.  I had a very large bowl so I used 1/2 cup with that.  The other two bowls were smaller so I only used 1/4 cup of sugar in those.  Then you just let it sit for a week to ferment.  It will develop mold on top.  That is ok.  Just keep spooning off the mold.  After several days you will smell it fermenting. 

Here is one of my smaller bowls.  As you can see there is mold that has developed around the edge.

After a week, spoon off the mold, then strain off the liquid.  I did this by pouring it into an old pillow case which I use as a jelly bag.  Then bottle up your liquid.  Put a square of cheese cloth on top before putting on the lid.  This helps the vinegar continue to breathe and also keeps the vinegar from corroding the metal lid.  Now for the waiting game.  Let it sit for 6 weeks.  During this time the fermented sugars will eventually and hopefully turn into acetic acid and become vinegar.  I have just bottled up my liquid.  I marked the calendar for 6 weeks.  I will then check to see if I have successfully made apple vinegar.  Thankfully my kids have some ph strips I can use to check if it has turned to acid!!
Here are my bottles that will hopefully become vinegar.  I am glad that I started saving bottles!!

I will have to check back in 6 weeks to let you know if it turns to vinegar!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Violet Syrup

Canning season is open!!!  It is funny how by mid August I wish that canning season would be over.  I spend hours days weeks   ok more like months canning food.  It is well worth it though when we eat all of the wonderful things that I have put up all year long.  But it never fails by spring I am itching to start canning again.  It starts out slow in the spring with a few jams and jellies.  Then gets busier as the summer goes on. 

This spring we have been having a quite a few warm days again.  It is supposed to be cold again on Saturday (40's) so I wanted to get violets picked again before they were gone.  There are a ton of them this year.  I did not get any last year so I spent a couple of hours and picked 2 quart jars full of violet blossoms. You don't want them stem or leaves in these. 

To get the violet infusion or juice that you will use for most violet recipes cover the blossoms with boiling water.  I fill the jar until the blossoms are completely covered which is normally 1 inch from the top.  Let this steep until there is no color left in the violets.

Drain the violets into a jelly bag and let sit  until no more juice comes out.  To see instructions on how to do this look at my post on Violet Jelly

To make the syrup bring 6 cups of sugar, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 cups of water to a boil.  Boil until the syrup begins to thicken.  I made a double batch and boiled it for about 10 minutes. 

It won't seem real thick when hot.  I tested it by pouring a tiny bit on a plate.  It thickened up to a syrup consistency on the plate so I knew it was ready.  Now pour in your violet infusion.  You will need 2 cups of the violet juice.  I made a double batch so I had a quart of violet juice.  The juice is a dark purple.  The lemon juice in the syrup is what turns it to the pretty violet color.

Cook this for another 10 minutes.  Then pour into hot sterlized canning jars.  I decided to put them in pints. 

With the rest of the violet juice I made a batch of violet jelly.  I processed them along with the violet syrup.  Fill jars leaving a 1/4 inch head space.  Wipe rims and adjust lids.  Process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes.

I was able to get a double batch of the violet syrup and a single batch of jelly all in my canner!!  When done remove from canner and let sit on counter until cooled.  Check for seals and label and store.

Add this syrup to club soda or lemon-lime soda for a refreshing spring spritzer!! 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Science Lessons

I love hands on science lessons.  And since I found out one of my boys is dyslexic and a complete hands on learner  I am really trying to incorporate more hands on learning.  While out on hikes and bike rides we are always on the lookout for interesting objects.  And since I have boys we have a collection of rocks, shells, feathers, and skulls or bone fragments.

Yesterday was a nice warm spring day so we went on a bike ride.  We found a new skull in the ditch so we picked it up and brought it back home.  I clean the skulls by putting them in a solution of bleach water.  This just helps clean out the dirt and bugs and kills the germs. 

Here is a collection of skulls that my kids have found so far.  They look up in books and identify the skulls after they have found them.  They try and guess what kind of animal it was first and then look them up. 

The first two from left to right are raccoon skulls.  The first one is a young raccoon.  The bones are still fusing together.  It has been chewed on quite a bit by chipmunks.  The second skull is a mature raccoon.  The bones have fused together and formed the ridge on top of the skull.  It is in really good condition.  The last one is one that we found yesterday.  It is a woodchuck.  It has not been chewed on but did not clean up real white.  I think it has been exposed to the elements for some time. 

Here is a good view of the top.

The best way to identify skulls is actually from the underside.  You can count the
teeth and see the tell tale markers better from this view.

Even when the teeth are missing you can see where the teeth were.  My son was excited that the woodchuck still had it's two front teeth.  And even though the color is not real white on it the skull is actually in real good condition with only a few of the smaller teeth missing.  This time of year we tend to find more skulls. Animals that died over the winter are left in the fields and trails and are normally cleaned off by now!! 

It just gives us an excuse to get out and exercise and combine some science lessons with it as well!!