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Onion Sausage Toothpick Things

When I took my trip to Ireland, I ate a lot. Like. A lot. 15 pounds and near diabetic coma a lot.

Quite a few things stuck out to me that I loved: black pudding, Lucky’s mom’s mashed potatoes and gravy (drooollllllll, sooooo good), the guiness, the TEA (Oh GOD it’s good!). Even the battered fish was so excellent. Fish in Ireland has no smell. I walked right up to the fish counter at the grocery store and stuck my nose in it, so did the Texan who HATES fish, and nope, not a scent. If you’ve ever been near a fish counter here in the US, you KNOW you can smell that briney, fishy scent about a mile away.

But I came back with a simple obsession. Perhaps it’s because all the ingredients are available here or because it was something I could actually eat without rocketing my blood sugar. Either way, I’m an addict.

One night when Lucky was having a party at his place, Lucky’s mother made these little snack things. They were a piece of ham (though it was more like sausage), with a single cocktail onion and a single cube of cheese on each toothpick. I.ate.the.hell.out.of.those.

They are surprisingly good. Lucky gave me guff because he says his mother has been making those simple things all his life and why I would choose something so simple to bring back with me with such fervor is somehow funny. But I can’t stop eating them. And  everyone here that tries them is really surprised how good they are. How simple and how damn tasty.

So, first thing I did is I went to the store. In Ireland they are jars of pickled onions. Here, the closest ones I’ve found are called sour cocktail onions. And the jars are freaking TINY! Think like maybe a dozen little onions in each jar for like $4. Ugh. The things we will do for an addiction.

I’d put those on a toothpick with some colby jack, cheddar, or pepper jack, and a chunk of venison sausage and it was heavenly wonder. I ate that every single day, if not more than once a day. And then I ran out of onions. I’d gone through probably a dozen jars before I decided I’d try to make my own.

I went to a local market here and bought a bag of fresh mini onions. That was the first mistake. Those things are a PAIN IN THE ASS to peel. It was only later I learned you could use frozen. Duh.

I tend to like the onions really crisp, so I opted to do a fridge-type cure instead of canning because I didn’t want them going soggy. I figured how hard can it really be? A pickled onion, or a sour onion? Vinegar and salt, big whoop. I added spices for good measure because I wanted a spicy onion. Now THAT sounded good! So I added some red pepper flakes. And a whole jalapeno to add some spice to it.

Then I poured vinegar over it and let it sit in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Then I tried one, so excited! YAY! A seemingly endless supply of cocktail onions.

Epic. Fail.

It had flavor alright. It was spicy and the onions were firm and it tasted like biting into a huge crispy ball of vinegar. No. This wouldn’t work. I was pissed. I was heartbroken. I was back at the store buying more $4 a jar cocktail onions.

I’ve since seen several recipes to can cocktail onions, but I fear it. Mostly because they call for frozen onions. And the problem there is the between being frozen and cooking them, there’s going to be a soggy factor. And I’m NOT about to sit there and peel a million tiny little onions.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to TRY to make my own. Even if those fail I can always use them in cooking. But still. It sucks. I really wanted this to work. And it didn’t. It was actually AWFUL!

I won’t give up my onion sausage cheese toothpick things. No way and you can’t make it, but I’ll admit a fail when there’s a fail. And this was a HUGE one. See, Martha Stewart never tells you THIS sh*t!

Broccoli Be Damned

I love broccoli. I really do. Just not right now. Last year in my garden I planted broccoli. It was the third or fourth year I’ve done that. And we had SO much of it, it was REALLY good, but it was broccoli everyday for months. What was not eaten right away was frozen, so it lasted through for awhile.

Then the fact that I shop costco for produce during the off season. And all they REALLY have in bulk at the one by me is, you guessed it, broccoli. I’m so freakin’ sick of broccoli you guys, you have no idea. NO idea. I’ve tried to gussy it up. Adding cheese and the whatnot, but man, still, ALL the time. One woman can only handle so much especially when said woman is diabetic and her main parts of the meal and meat and veggies.

So when I saw cauliflower on sale, I jumped at it. Usually cauliflower is pretty expensive during the winter months here, so I was THRILLED. I can make it into soup, salads, toss some butter and bread crumbs with it, some heavy whipping cream and salt and it’s like mashed potatoes that don’t kill your blood sugar. I love it with just plain butter on it too. I love it. But, we will see how long that lasts.

I went ahead and decided to buy a ton of it and freeze it. It saves money and time because I can just yank and pull from the freezer and into the pot it goes. But I can tell you a couple of things:

1. Do not attempt to vacuum seal it. It’s too moist. It won’t seal.

2. Make sure you have good steamer bags.

3. Make sure it’s as dry as you can get it before you freeze it so you don’t end up with freezer burn from the water.

So, this is how you do it:

First, get some water boiling, enough to cover one batch of cauliflower. Add about a tsp or two of salt to this water and get it to a nice strong boil.

Now chop up your cauliflower into florets. They say to do this in 1″ wide pieces, but honestly, I don’t think it matters and I’m lazy so…


Once your water is boiling, go ahead and add enough cauliflower to it so that the water is covering it.

Return that baby to a boil and start a timer for 3 minutes from the point at which it starts a full boil.

Right, like you really needed to see a picture of my microwave timer.

ANYWAY.

After the three minutes, remove them with a slotted spoon or use a colander. I used a slotted spoon AND a colander because I wanted them to drain totally between batches and still save the hot water in the pan.

At this point you want to dunk them in super cold ice water to stop the heating process. I didn’t have ice so I used super cold tap water run over them for a few minutes. Make sure to toss them if you are doing this so it cools all of them.

Now that that’s done, let them drain for a bit. Shake them off and pat them with paper towels and stick them in a freeze bag, flat, and store in the freezer.

Then when you need cauliflower you can just dump it in the old steamer and you are good to go.

I don’t know if anyone else is a cauliflower lover, but I have to tell you, I’m THRILLED about it. Mostly cause it’s NOT broccoli.

Adventures with the Aerogarden: Herbal Vinegar

If you don’t know what an AeroGarden is, it’s a pretty damn cool little contraption. It’s an indoor hydroponic gardening kit. And I know what you are thinking when you think of hydro. Dirty hippie.

My house is old, and drafty. Although I have a big window on the south side of the house, herbs and indoor plants don’t grow well for me. Except Pothos. Also known as mother in laws tongue. That grows great. But I have that sitting in a pot of water so that’s probably why. And it needs next to no light.

I got totally tired of watching my little plantings die. Something about this house is cursed with plants. Not outside, no, just inside. So the Aero Garden was a little tool I always wanted. Gadget. I know.

When Mr. B came home with one he’d gotten for Christmas, I knew it’d be my responsibility. He’ll eat what I grow in it, but he’s not gonna take care of it either. That’s ok. I’d be more than happy to take over.

I decided to grow herbs first. Herbs because I want to get started making herbal vinegars for Christmas next year. The longer they brew, the stronger they are. They make wonderful everything’s from marinades and additions to salsa to facial and hair rinses.

So I started the little pods up on Christmas day. Herbs are one of those things you need to use as they grow. If you let them get TOO big they’ll die, they go to seed. Pick too much of them and they’ll die. Usually you want to take no more than a third of the plant.

I noticed my Lemon Basil was going to town. I’ll only be able to take a few leaves because the plant is still young, but I can start the vinegar and just keep adding fresh plant matter as I go along. These things don’t take long to replace what you’ve taken.

So, here it is. My little pride Lemon Basil.

She’s getting to be a big girl!

I picked off a few leaves. Mature ones. Remember, never more than 1/3 of the plant. I put these in an 8 oz jelly jar for now. I’ll increase the size of the jar as more leaves are added.

I covered it with some white vinegar. You can use high quality rice and champagne vinegars if you want, but for me, white vinegar is old faithful. It marinades beautifully.

Cap it with a NON METAL cap. That means either using the plastic freeze caps Ball has for their jars OR putting some plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar THEN putting on the 2 piece band and lid. You don’t want vinegar touching metal. Metal+vinegar=corrosion. You don’t want to eat that.

Now, it’s time to label it. You can date it if you want, I don’t, because I’m going to keep adding to it. I found dissolvable labels at Menards for canning jars.  You’ve NO idea how wonderful a thing these are going to be for me. Getting labels off jars is a serious pain in the ass that requires, most of the time, that you boil them off. Urg!

The only issue I’ve got with these is that they are kind of flimsy. They also come in a roll, making writing on them BEFORE you put them on the jar impossible. They are also a weird material, so when I used a sharpie marker on it, it kind of bled. Not very pretty. Next time I’ll use pen.

Lemon basil vinegar is going to make an awesome marinade for fish and chicken. Hmmmm.

Just shake it once a day or every other day, store it somewhere cool, dry and dark, and keep adding as you keep getting more, until about half the jar is full. Keep in mind the basil will kind of wilt as it goes along, so use your best judgement as to how much is in there. You don’t want it so strong it’s going to overpower the food. Once I think I’ve got enough lemon basil vinegar to satisfy gifts and needs, the rest will get dried and crushed and stored as a spice.

So, if you’ve got indoor plants or an aerogarden collecting dust (I’ll BUY IT FROM YA IF YOU DO! I want several of these things!!!), this is a great way to make it work for you. Plus knock out some christmas gifts and tasty meals in the process.

See, I’m NOT anal. There really IS a use for everything!

Jalapeno Vinegar Goodness: So Simple It’s Evil

One year I had a buttload of jalapenos come in from the garden. They aren’t so good canned, and I didn’t want to dry them, and I couldn’t possibly use all them quick enough so I decided to make jalapeno vinegar.

Since that fateful year, I ALWAYS have at least one gallon going at a time. This year, I’d run out. It’s only January! I won’t have jalapenos again until summer. Rather than do without, I went ahead and found some super cheap on sale and made a couple of gallons.

This stuff works WONDERFUL as a marinade for chicken, fish or even beef (hmmmm, soak a roast in it, hmmmm, so good). It’s spicy, but it’s good, and although it does have a vinegar zip in the meat, it also makes the meat flavorful and super tender. And it’s SO easy to make.

First, grab a couple of containers. I use gallon glass cider jugs. You can use mason jars just make sure you either have a plastic lid for it or cover the band and lid that comes with them with plastic wrap so that the vinegar doesn’t corrode the metal.

Wash them out and sterilize them.

I’m always excited at the thought of jalapeno vinegar! I’m equally as excited to use my cider jugs. I don’t know why but I love these things!

As you can see, my dog shares in my excitement. Always eager to help.

She’s my girl and she’s also elderly, so I cut her a break. She does a very good job of holding down the floor and she’s proud of that. I love her so much!

Anyway!

Now I’m going to give you a tip that you MUST NOT avoid. Do NOT skip this step!

Wear. Gloves.

Yeah, I thought it was BS too. Until one year I chopped jalapenos for fifteen minutes and didn’t feel the burn until an hour later. Burning, BURNING. Like FIRE burning, like a grease burn. It was under my f(@king nails! I used water, soap, cold water, ice water, aloe, tried soaking my hands in milk and nothing worked. I tried to sleep with ice packs on my hands, but for a full 24 hours, it BURNED LIKE HELL.  And NOTHING gets it off, trust me. I searched the internet for HOURS for remedies and NOTHING worked. So please for the love of God and everything holy, WEAR FREAKIN GLOVES.

Ok, pretty sure I got my point across.

Now grab your peppers.

Aren’t they beautiful?

Now, you CAN roast them. I believe that most people will TELL you to roast them before making vinegar. I don’t. I’m too lazy and I don’t have a proper broiler so, I’ve always done them raw. Just make a slit on each side of the pepper with a sharp knife to allow the vinegar to really get in there. I also pop the stems off them.

Now stick them in your jug or jar. I usually fill it nearly half way because I like it strong, but do it to taste.

Then, fill the jug with vinegar. Just plain old white vinegar is what I use. The cheap stuff that comes in huge gallons.

Now, label it. Or I do. I found Ball makes dissolvable canning labels, which are awesome. Only problem is they come in a roll so they are really hard to write on and you can’t really use marker because it kinda bleeds.

Now you’ve got yourself some jalapeno vinegar. Wait at least a month before using it so it really soaks up the jalapeno flavor. Soak your chicken or beef in it for a few hours to overnight and just cook. Usually it doesn’t need much seasoning after a good soak! I’m so excited!

So is the dog!

Ok, well I’m sure in her dreams she’s totally excited for my jalapeno vinegar. That she can’t eat. And would probably turn her nose up at.

You get the picture ;)

Orange Dried Pineapples

I dry a lot of food. It’s easy, stores forever, reconstitutes well especially when you have one of those “I ran out of fresh” whatever moments, and they make great snacks and mixes.

They had pineapple on sale. My only regret is I only bought two. I love pineapple. My blood sugar doesn’t.

I also had some left over orange juice in the fridge from New Years. Orange juice is only a diabetics friend when you go hypo and need a quick boost.

Pineapple. Orange Juice. You get the picture.

I’m always looking for new and creative ways to dry fruit. Thank you Mary Bell for all your ideas! Man, that woman is wonderful.

I decided to try soaking some pineapple in orange juice overnight and drying it to see what it came out like. Cause really? Orange and pineapple. Heavenly.

In case I haven’t bragged enough, here’s my big bad dog dehydrator.

And the easy peasy slide out drawers.

So I soaked the pineapple overnight. I had to test some to make sure it was good before I dried it. Ok, I had to test several pieces. Can never be too safe. It was delicious.

Then line them up on the trays.

It took about 10 hours on the setting I had to make sure it was totally dry. There should be no moisture in it, but not be dry and brittle.

And into my little plastic tubs they go. You might remember these tubs from an earlier blog. They are endlessly useful.

If you cut these into rings and dry them, they look like flowers and make GREAT decor for the tops of cakes. They also make great every day snacks. You can reconstitute them for different recipes, for plain eating or drop them into some iced tea or lemonade for some flavor. They are so good, and stored properly, they’ll last forever.

I’m gonna have to keep myself away from these too. Although they are a nice primal snack, I can’t go overboard because of the sugar content. Be warned, they are hard as HELL to stop eating!

Pain In The Arse But So Worth It Home Made Pasta

There are a few things that I make that aren’t, technically, “worth it.” By worth it I mean that the cost of doing it myself is not really saving anything when you consider the time it takes to make it. Pasta is one of these things.

Is it because I can’t actually eat pasta or my diabetic beta cells will attack me and make me go blind with high blood sugar? Surprisingly, no.

Is it because home made pasta is more expensive than store bought? No, it’s not, it’s cheaper, but marginally. When you consider the time it takes, it’s not really cheaper since pasta is SUPER cheap. Ok, maybe mine doesn’t have all the chemicals in it either.

It’s pretty much because it’s SUCH a pain in the ass to make, even with my little gadgets, that I’ll still go and buy pasta before I make it. But making it is SO worth it. And I’ve promised myself one day, one great awesome day, when I have the entire day to kill, I will make enough pasta to last this family a year. For now, though, I made enough for just two meals.

I used my handy dandy pasta attachment for my kitchen aid. Yes, man has made such things. I can’t even imagine the pain in the ass it would be to make this without it. I once used a regular hand crank pasta machine, and I’m just too damn lazy.

For all intents and purposes, pasta is super easy to make. You can find a slew of recipes online for it. It requires two or three ingredients usually and comes out, amazingly and shockingly, very very good.

So, the first thing I did was dump the ingredients in my kitchen aid. I believe it was flour, eggs, and some salt. What’s hilarious is that the instructions say you should make a well, put the egg in it, blah blah blah. Yeah, whatever, I just dump it all in there together. I really don’t know what difference making a well would make. But, then again, I’m no chef.

So I dump it all in the kitchen aid with the dough hook attachment

It takes a little bit for it to smooth out. But it does eventually smooth out, not totally silky smooth, but enough like dough.

It starts to roll in on itself and gather up the bits and pieces as it does this. It’s exciting isn’t it!

The dog certainly looked excited.

Ok, maybe not. But it’s imperative she’s in the kitchen with my while I do this. She’s my good luck charm.

Now, I attach the pasta do-hicky to the kitchen aid. Ain’t it cool?

And I start hand kneading the dough. It just kind of helps it form a little better cause it can be a little dry.

The first attachment I use is just a flattener. No, that’s not a technical term, it’s just what I call it. It rolls the dough flat. It has various settings on the side, 1-6. 1 being the thickest, 8 being the thinnest. Depending on what kind of pasta you want, you can roll it thick or super thin. I wanted spaghetti, so I’m figuring on rolling it to a 5. 6 would be like angel hair.

First you’ve got to roll it through #1 quite a few times, folding it half, then reinserting it. This makes the dough silky smooth and pliable, stretchy even. This is what you want. It helps to dust it with a little flour every few times to keep things running smoothly.

Eventually, it’ll become the width of the attachment, which is what you want.

A little ball of dough will eventually stretch to several feet long, so don’t go all happy on how much dough you initially put in there. Usually a palm full is enough.

Once it’s gone through #1 a few times, then it goes through each successive flattener size once until we reach 5. At 5, the sheets are pretty long and look like this:

I’ve got the kitchen aid book open right there! Tips for perfect pasta! Yah right! Perfect pasta=someone else coming in my kitchen and doing it.

Anyway, I lay the sheets on pieces of wax paper that I’ve sprinkled with flour until I’ve done the entire recipes worth of dough. This takes awhile, don’t fool yourself. One recipe worth of dough can easily take 30-45 minutes just to flatten into pieces.

So I go back and flatten some more pieces

See! It even LOOKS stretchy!!!

The dog still isn’t excited at this point. But, she sure did get way more excited when meat sauce was being poured over the cooked, finished product.

Now that all the sheets are flattened I proceed to cut them into spaghetti sized noodles and set them in a “nest.” I was never good at the “nest” thing, the way they’ve got them all nicely nested in the store. Here’s my version of a nest:

It REALLY helps if you have two people doing this because the sheets can get LONG and ANNOYING.

I wasn’t going to be drying this particular batch because it was all going to be used within a couple of days. If you want to keep them long term, you can always nest them, after dusting them with some flour, and freeze. OR if you have the room and patience, go ahead and dry them and stick them in bags or jars for long term storage.

Cooking home made pasta CAN be a little tricky, mostly when it’s fresh. Here’s how I do it:

Salt the crap out of the water. I do that any way, no matter if it’s fresh or dried. I once heard an Italian chef on PBS I think it was say that pasta water should be “salty like the sea.” I agree. The taste is so much better.

Then, get the water to FULL boiling and dump a little bit of olive oil in there. Then put in your fresh pasta and cook it, no kidding 1-3 minutes. I’m so not joking. It does NOT take long and there’s nothing worse than overcooked pasta.

And let me save you a little hair pulling: It’s gonna stick together. It’s not store bought, chemical laden pasta. It’s gonna stick. Learn to live with it. It doesn’t detract from the taste. The worst thing your family is going to do is take bigger bites. And that could be just cause it’s so damn good.

So, there you have it. Home made pasta. Enjoy it! Actually, you BETTER enjoy it because there are diabetic, urban homesteading, pasta making bloggers that CAN’T enjoy it because their body rejects carbohydrates in any form! (That’s my version of “there are starving people in china.”)

The Bad Boy Dehydrator

About ten years ago, I had read an article about dehydrating food. Mind you, at this point I was living in the middle of an upscale suburb in what was known as the ugliest house in the neighborhood. I have barely any usable yard, my landlord was an ass, and nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, would grow in that garden.

I was in love with the idea of homesteading and food storage even at that point, and I have never seen a dehydrator. I just thought that was an awesome way to store food and dry stuff. I think at that point I thought more herbs, which I was trying to grow in the house, but I still loved the idea. Then I saw the price of the damn things. Yikes.

I didn’t know there was anything but a round-style tray dehydrator, but $60 at that point was enough to scare me out of the idea of getting one in my young life. I wanted a gadget, but I was broke as hell and couldn’t justify it.

Then I moved into my own home a couple of years later and was still pondering the dehydrating idea. Sounded so cool. Dry your own food! Thousands of thoughts crept up in my head from whether or not that food was anything like the dried stuff in the stores to how the hell you would make your own jerky. It was at this point something I had put on my “to do” list to learn, and search for a deal, but nothing I was terribly serious about. My garden was still small and we were eating everything from it. I had nothing but the basic tomatoes and maybe a few cucumbers.

That winter I went to Kmart. I don’t even remember what I was there for, mind you. I went to the evil cooking gadget aisle, at that point full of Martha Stewart crap. (Mind you, this was before her great fall.) And there I saw it. One of those circular dehydrators with the trays. For $11 on clearance. I snagged it so fast I think the box dissipated in mid air.

I dried damn near everything in that thing. Boy did it get it’s use. It lasted me through a couple of growing seasons as my garden expanded, made me dried herbs and apples and other things. Some came out awesome. Some sucked. But it lasted quite a few years before the trays started falling apart and it started to break down a bit.

It was a weird style one, even for a round one. Instead of the heat source being on the top it was on the bottom and I hadn’t mastered the art of rotating trays. Ok I never mastered that art because I’m lazy. I had bought another “spare” one when they were on clearance there for the extra trays and ended up using the spare heating part too.

I finally, about 3 years ago, broke down and bought a new dehydrator. Just a nesco, which if you can believe it was a step up. I started to master jerky. But since I’m a lazy ass I never rotated the trays. It had a nice little temperature control which was SUPER fancy compared to the one I had had before, which had no such thing. I kinda just had to guess.

I found myself at this point frustrated by the thing. It was a bitch to store, and since the heating element was on the top, it didn’t really heat even so the temperature thing was still kind of a guess. My stuff ALWAYS came out crispy, not “bendy” like some stuff was supposed to be (jerky included). If I didn’t want to stay home all day and rotate and check it I was screwed.

When you become comfortable with something, your standards go up. That’s why to this day I recommend anyone who wants to get into drying food to try a crappy one first. If it sticks, and it’s something you like, you can always upgrade. You can’t “downgrade” once you’ve spent a million dollars on something.

Nonetheless, my frustrating with the Nesco grew. It worked fine enough for what it was but the trays were breaking, a bitch to wash, even the glory of the jerky gun wasn’t enough for me to like my new little purchase. But I dealt with it. What could you do?

Then I started gawking at the wonders of the stand up, pull out, box type dehydrators. Everyone who dries knows what the Excalibur is. They also know the kind of investment it is. I daydreamed. I pondered. I couldn’t justify 300 for the size I needed, but that didn’t stop me from wanting it.

Then one day at Cabella’s a few months ago I noticed they had a rip off version of it. 10 trays and digital to boot. The reviews weren’t bad, they weren’t as good as the Excalibur, but they were pretty good. One day it would be mine, oh yes.

So this Christmas we were working on a serious budget. There was so much going on this year, so much tragedy, loss, emergencies, so many things to be exhausted over that by the time I got to Christmas I was damn well exhausted myself. I hate when that happens.

I opened all my gifts, happier than a pig in crap, and Mr. Super said to me “Oh, we forgot one!” and handed me a book sized wrapped up gift. I opened it. It was the Dehydrator Cookbook I had asked for. YAY! Finally! A cookbook about nothing but dried foods! I was anxious to get started.

Then he said “We’ve got one more for you up here.” My first thought was not honestly OH! The dehydrator I wanted. My first thought was “Dear God please don’t let it be something living. I don’t need more pets!” (Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my pets, but at this point sheer exhaustion had taken over).

And upstairs was sitting a huge wrapped box. I knew immediately. I was both elated and pissed that they had spent that much. The Texan, Mr. B and Mr. Super were standing in anticipation as I opened it. I didn’t disappoint. I almost crapped my pants. The thing is bigger than me. No sh#t. I actually have to stand on a step stool to program the thermostat and timer (YES! IT HAS BOTH!) when it’s sitting on the counter.

I couldn’t WAIT. I was itching to use it. But I knew I still had so much to do so I stared at it. I played with the drawers. OH! The glory of having a dehydrator that had a BACK heating element AND digital temperature control AND a timer. I was ear to ear grinning.

It’s only been now that I’ve been able to kind of play with it, and not much even then. I just grabbed some mushrooms and green onions and half an onion out of the fridge and started chopping.

Now, nearly all dehydrator books will tell you to use the most primo produce ever to dry. Hogwash and bullcrap. Mary Bell, dehydrator queen, will even tell you that produce that’s starting to go, that might not be the freshest, sometimes make the best dried. I’m not saying that crappy, molded, totally wilted produce should be dried. No. There’s only a certain point at which it can be saved. But I will tell you that those mushrooms were started to get a little less firm and those green onions were starting to go wilty but they did fine. Look at the glory!

Who the hell knows the difference once the green onions are dried (use them like chives) if they’d gone wilted before you dried them? No one. They weren’t moldy or nasty, just not firm any more. Ditto on celery. If you wanted to rehydrate them, they might not be the greatest, and you probably don’t want to eat them fresh. But I know I’ve used celery that’s gone a bit bendy in stews and soups, and there’s no reason to toss them out of the running for dehydration for that same reason.

As I speak right now, there’s trays and trays of apples dehydrating in it. I bought them from the bruised rack at the grocery store for super cheap. I peeled them (you don’t have to), cored and sliced them (all with the aid of my handy dandy apple peeler which is another purchase I’ll NEVER regret). I didn’t dip them or treat them cause really? You don’t have to. That’s just appearance. Laid them on the racks and sprinkled cinnamon on them. Who the hell wouldn’t want to eat that? With the whole diabetes thing I’ve got to be careful with dried fruit, but it’s better than somethings I could eat and they definitely do something for the sweet cravings.

So here is the big bad boy so you can be jealous

Here’s the veggies from the fridge I was cutting up to test this thing out

And them all laid out pretty like. I’ve been using the screen from my old dehydrator because this one didn’t come with screens.

Some onions.

And of course some apple slices

And in roughly 6 hours I had this

This dehydrator dries much more evenly and slower than my last one. You might think slower is worse, but it’s not. It means it’s maintaining the correct temperture I set it at instead of cooking the crap out of the food and making it crunchy. My mushrooms were nice and dry, but not like mushroom CHIPS. Ditto on the apples. Dry but still a bit flexible, I wasn’t going to do apple chips this time.

So if you are a seasoned “drier” then you might want to make the jump to this kind of bad boy because it’s so worth it. Otherwise if you are just starting out, one of the round cheapy ones should do you just fine. Look at it as a test for your love of drying: if you can deal with those annoying POS’s then you know it’s for you.

Man, The Sh#* You Can Do With Orange Peels

I’m continuously amazed at some of the uses that I find for things. You see, I’m completely hell bent on having a homestead one day. Being a born and raised inner city girl who’s now in the suburbs, the idea never really sunk in that once we move there won’t be a grocery store within walking distance. Or I hope there won’t be.

I read and researched and flipping through homestead magazines and realized that these people all pretty much had the same thing in common: They used what they had. They didn’t make shopping trips every other day. Over the course of a few years, that’s what I’ve started to do as well. Call in in-house training. I’ve also come to realize that living on a homestead you have to second guess what you throw out.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to save every scrap of paper, etc. The key to this is really to use less and hence waste less, not hoard garbage. But I’ve found some interesting uses for things.

First is my compost. Anything that can’t be turned into something else food wise gets composted. I have a massive twirly composter. It works great and I love it. So most kitchen scrap never really goes to waste. But tossing it in the compost isn’t the only way to go.

Mr. Super, my resident truck driver. used to work for a small trucking company that did odd loads from here to…anywhere really. One year right before Christmas he had a load in Florida delivering all kinds of citrus fruits. The owner of the company he was delivering to rejected a bunch of cases of fruit because they were blemished and the guy offered to let Mr. Super have it. I mean loads of it. Think about 100 pounds of fruit or better. Case after case. He ended up bringing it home with him. Being a country farm boy himself, he hated to see that stuff turned into the trash and he knew I could do something with it. Most of it was oranges, but in there were limes, lemons, grapefruits and tangerines.

So here I was, nearing Christmas, with a ton of citrus fruit scattered across my kitchen. Ok, first things first. Check to see if the insides were good and bingo, most of them were just fine. So I started canning them up. Orange slices and grapefruit slices, orange juice, lemon juice and on and on.

Course, then you are left with all the peels. Pounds upon pounds upon pounds of peels. Instead of crying my eyes out, I found some uses for them. I dried up most of them and used them like crazy.

To this day, I still dry the peel of an orange or citrus fruit when I use it because they are so versatile. They never go in the compost here. I highly doubt you’ll ever 50 pounds of oranges sitting on your counter, but it doesn’t mean you don’t eat an orange every once and again and drying the peels is really as easy as leaving them on the counter for a week or so. You don’t need a dehydrator, those that does make quick, even work of it.

You can slice the peel into thin strips or just leave it in chunks. It really doesn’t matter if you aren’t going to be eating them or using them decoatively, they’ll dry the same. If they aren’t for food use, you can leave the pith on too, makes no difference.

Here are some of the things I’ve done with DRIED citrus peels:

Put them on the stove in a pot of water in the winter time and simmer. Puts moisture back in the house and makes the house smell lovely. When they are spent, compost them or put them in the garbage disposal. They’ll freshen it up.

Make a potpourri with citrus peels, cinnamon sticks and a little cinnamon powder. Put it in a dish or a bag as a cute gift.

Grind them up with a coffee grinder. Grind it REALLY fine. You can then use it as a facial scrub once you add some jojoba, apricot kernel or very virgin olive oil to it. You can use the powder plain I suppose but it might be a little rough. You can also use the powder to scour counters, tubs or sinks. Ditto on making it super fine so it goes down the drain ok.

Put the peels in a jar next to your fire place, they make great kindling and smells wonderful!

Place a few in a bottle of vinegar and let it soak for a couple weeks. Replace it if needed. It’ll make a wonderful orange vinegar you can use for cleaning. Or add 3 tablespoons of the vinegar in a glass pint jar filled with water and use as a final hair rinse in the shower. No, you don’t have to rinse after using it. No, you won’t smell like vinegar once your hair dries. Works wonders for shine and removing build up.

Mix it in some baking soda as a carpet powder. Smells great when the vac hits it, again, make it super fine and soft though or it’ll clog.

Once powdered, you can also stick in a muslin bag with some cinnamon and nutmeg and make a spicy tea.

Zest the citrus fruit, removing all the pith, and dry them. You can store them in the cabinet in a jar this way.

You can make citrus sugar. Zest the fruit, like above, dry it and powder the ever living hell out of it, and mix some in a jar of sugar. It’ll flavor the sugar.

Some things you can do with FRESH peels:

I’ve only ever done this orange peels but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with most citrus peel: Cut fresh peels into thin strips. Blanch them (dip them in hot boiling water , then cold water again). Make a super thick syrup of sugar and water. Think 1 cup sugar to 1/2 cup of water. Stir this on the stove over low until totally dissolved. Add the peels and simmer 3-5 minutes. Pour the whole thing, warm syrup and peels, into a bowl with a lid. Place the lid on and stick them in the fridge overnight. The next day, drain the peels or use a slotted spoon, and roll the peels in more white sugar to coat. You can use them in recipes, but I’ve eaten them just like that and people love them. Mind you you can’t eat many straight like that but you can freeze them. Try dipping them in dark chocolate too after you’ve covered them in sugar. So Good! (Diabetic coma time!)

Zest the peels and freeze them for use in recipes. This skips the drying step and you can just wrap them in a bit of foil and store them in the freezer nearly indefinately.

You flavor sugar using fresh peels too. Just stick a fresh peel in a jar of sugar. The sugar should dry the peel out and leave you with flavored sugar.

Use the fresh peels to flavor teas! Lemon is great for this one.

Make vinegars, just like above.

Make a flavored liquor. Pour vodka over some fresh citrus peels to infuse it with flavor. It won’t be sweet, but it’ll be seriously citrus flavored.

Put them down your disposal, it’ll fresh it up!

Rub the peels on your counters, lemon works great for this, it’ll clean them and give them a beautiful scent.

You can put some zest in a food processor with some sugar and olive oil for an awesome body scrub.

Stick a piece of peel, lemon works best for this too, in some brown sugar to keep it soft!

Ok seriously, I could keep going. And going. And going. But by this point you are either snoozing OR itching to go run to the grocery store and buy a bag of oranges. (HEY! Now’s the time! They are on sale this time of year!) But these little buggers are really versatile. So consider me the devil on your shoulder and go do it!

Bread is a moody bitch

Bread and I don’t get along. It’s not just the diabetes. It sincerely hates me.

I love bread. No. Let me correct myself: I love eating bread. Probably because I can’t have it. Bread and peppered olive oil is my favorite thing ever. I mistakenly thought I would love making it too. I don’t. Mostly because out of the 500 times I’ve tried to make it, I’ve had about 5 good loaves. No. I’m not joking.

My obsession with making bread started with a bread machine I bought at a thrift store about ten years ago. It was 5 bucks and it seemed like such a cool idea. I even bought a bread machine cookbook with it. Yet, I couldn’t get consistently good loaves. I followed the recipe exactly. I even busted out the thermometer to check the temperature of the water. Nope. Still crappy loaves.

About every ten loaves it’d throw me a good one. Just enough to keep my hopes up. Eventually I got pissed and gave it away.

A few years later I ran into my kitchen aid. Boy do I love my kitchen aid. One of the main reasons I got it: the dough hook! Hey! I could do this! It was the machine making crappy bread not me! Yeah. Right.

Consistently crappy loaves still. I tried every recipe known to man. Same thing. Maybe one or two good loaves.

To make matters much worse, Mr Super, former pastry chef turned truck driver who also happens to live here, decided to give it a try on one of his days home. I watched him. He didn’t even follow the recipe exactly! He was throwing pinches here and handfuls there, not even measuring. I gasped at this blaspheme. I giggled cruelly to myself: couldn’t wait until his bread came out all nasty so I could say I told you so and feel better about myself.

But it didn’t. It came out perfect. Boy was I pissed. So. I did what any green with envy aspiring bread artist would do. I made him do it again. And again. One more time. Perfect golden loaves each time. The bastard.

Next I made him supervise me. I made him tell me what to do, just like he’d done it. Door stop bread.

I made him write down the recipe so I could try it when he wasn’t home. Same thing. Crap bread.

He swore to me that bread just didn’t like some people. That his mother couldn’t make bread to save her life but his step dad, who didn’t do much cooking, could bake bread like a pro. The goofy trucker he is he insisted that I don’t talk nice enough to the ingredients while I’m doing it. That he whistles tunes and is all happy while he’s measuring and so is his step dad. So I tried that.

No. I’m not kidding. I really did try it.

I stood in my kitchen forcing a smile and appealing to the yeast. “I just want to be able to make bread for my family, you see” I appealed to the evil flour.

Yet another doorstop.

At this point he claimed that the yeast, which was a living thing after all, could sense my insincerity. That was it. I’d had enough. If I needed bread, I’d just buy it. I don’t expect you to understand how hard that was for me. I don’t just “buy” anything. If I can make it, I make it, and I like doing it too. Bread was quickly becoming my nemesis.

So my dough hook sat lonely in a drawer for another couple years.

I tried my hand a few times at making bread kneading with my own hands. Nope. Still messed up every load in some way. Didn’t rise. Too doughy. Too dry. Too heavy. I added flour, I added water, I added more yeast. I bought all new ingredients. Nothing. Yet Mr. Super would do it and out comes perfect bread even when we worked side by side out of the same damn cookbook.

Maybe there was something to this yeast not liking certain people thing.

I repeated this cycle yet again with another bread machine I found at a garage sale. It was a super fancy one that could make rice and jam and everything. I made rice and jam like once. I made bread.  Loaf after loaf with yet again only a few good loaves. Yet Mr. Super’s came out perfect.

So I eventually gave that one away too. Stupid machine.

I tried again the old fashioned way. I tried sour dough rye. The instructions read to me like Greek but I have it my best shot. The starter was great. The bread itself sucked. Was blood awful in fact. It smelled like socks and beer and it didn’t rise.

I tried the kitchen aid again and back to the old fashioned way again. Nothing was improving my odds no matter how fresh my ingredients, how perfect the recipes, how adjusted my techniques. And all I kept hearing was maybe yeast just didn’t like me. I thought I was beaten. I was pretty sure I was. I had accepted it for the most part: I suck at making bread.

Then I, completely by happenstance, came across a machine called the Zojirushi Home Bakery. It’s a bread machine. It’s THEE bread machine. This puppy was like $300 and I had convinced myself, as desperate people will do, that this was going to solve all my problems. It made jam, it made cake, it made meatloaf for the love of God. And most importantly it made bread.

The Home Bakery

I fancied myself not a fool this time. Perhaps it was my bread  machines all along, and not me! Mind you I completely ignored the fact that Mr. Super seemed to be able to make perfect bread in the same bread machines that gave me crap.

Smug and self assured, I researched it like crazy. It always got good reviews. There were a few peppered here and there about how the blades needed replaced too often, but nothing about door stop or non risen bread. This was the one for me. So I bought it. And I used it. I used to make cake. Make jam. But I was afraid to use it to make bread. Until one day I got the balls to do it just using the manual’s recipe. By God, it came out great.

Alright, alright. I talked myself down. Maybe it was just a fluke. So I made another loaf. It was good. By the time I got to my fifth loaf, it had once again descended into bread hell. Door stops, unrisen, too doughy. But I was get MORE good loaves than I had before, that’s progess.

That’s where I am at right now. More and more good loaves. Just like anything else I learned I had to improvise but not mess with the recipe TOO much. Some of the really funky breads I tried didn’t come out but then I didn’t really expect them to. Just for reference: Cheesy Jalapneno Cajun Bread…not so good.

So here I am, still making bread. I learned what dough should look like. It should bounce around the maker, nice and elastic, once it’s on it’s second knead. Too dry or too doughy and it won’t rise. More important, peaking constantly at the bread by opening the top isn’t a good idea. It really does affect it. This machine has a preheat cycle, so I don’t have to worry AS much about the temperature of the water. I still make sure it’s luke warm though. As far as wheat bread goes, I don’t know. I’m the wrong person to ask. Not a single loaf of wheat bread I’ve ever made has come out. Go figure.

I recently ran out of bread flour. I bought a 25 lb bag of it awhile back and used that up trying to figure out how to make the perfect loaf. So now I’m stuck with white flour only. I don’t tend to USE a lot of flour unless I’m baking, which I do mostly around the holidays, so I don’t opt for the super expensive stuff. But I’d heard all bread flour is is regular flour with gluten. About a year back I found Gluten on clearance at the grocery store, super cheap too. I bought a bunch of it thinking it would help my bread making adventures. Note to self: Adding TOO much gluten makes the bread rise too much and then it falls. Just like yeast. I’ve had that happen a million and one times.

Yesterday we were out of bread for lunches, so off I went to make some more. I altered the recipe from the manual a bit.

1 1/3 cups of water

4 1/4 cups white flour

4 TB Sugar

2 TB dry milk

2 tsp salt

2 1/2 TB butter

3 tsp active dry yeast

3 TB gluten

Don’t just throw everything together, there is actually a method to this madness. Whereas most recipes call for bread flour, like I said, this one is altered by the addition of gluten AND an extra teaspoon of yeast. If you’ve got bread flour, skip the gluten and reduce the yeast by a teaspoon.

Dual Paddles Baby

Ok, now you can’t just go all willy nilly and throw the stuff in there. Because it won’t work. It really won’t I’ve tried it. You have to add the liquid first. Make sure it’s roughly room temperature, maybe a little warmer. Too hot and it’ll kill the yeast. Too cold and it won’t rise. Don’t let the liquid ever come in contact with the yeast when you put the stuff together. Why, I dunno. But it does make a difference.

Then add your flour. Kind of sprinkle it around the machine so it’s even. It’s worth noting here that if you have more than one paddle on your machine make sure they are both facing the same way or you’ll get lopsided bread.

Now you add your dry stuff, save the yeast. The dry milk, the salt, the sugar, the gluten. It’s important to sprinkle these ingredients around the sides of the pan so that they don’t come in contact with the yeast prematurely, especially the salt.

Now add the butter. Chop it up into little bits and pepper it around the sides.

Now comes the yeast. I like to make a little well in the middle of the flour, kind of like you do when you are making pasta, and put the yeast in there. Set it on a regular crust cycle (depending on your taste) for white bread.

Make a well to put the yeast in

You are done. Now you hold your breath and pray. Now you decide to leave the house because you can’t stand waiting 3 hours to find out if you are a total failure.

I peaked. It was looking a little lumpy, but it was only the first knead so I held out hope.

It might look lumpy at first

One holiday shopping trip later and my bread is done.

And it actually came out good. This time. It was a LITTLE more crusty than I’d like, but hell I’ll take it.

The bread cooling. It didn't suck! Yay!

Thank God this machine makes loaves that look somewhat normal instead of those weird vertical loaves

I put the crust setting on medium and I wish I would have done light. But I was afraid to do that, what if it didn’t cook? When I’ve toasted up home made bread before it gets MUCH harder than regular store bought bread so make sure if you are gonna toast it, you use a lighter dough cycle, that seems to help. Or if it IS too hard when it’s toasted, make milk toast. Again, not something I can normally eat (BUT DEAR GOD I LOVE IT), but it’s so damn good, and something that you really can’t do with store bought bread. Just toast up your home made bread, put it in a bowl, cover with milk and butter, and microwave that bad boy until the butter is melted. Then eat it. It’s like a soupy, yummy, milky, buttery bowl of goodness. (Made myself go into a carb fit overe here).

Storing home made bread is a bitch too. Let me save you a bunch of heartbreak by giving you these pointers. There’s nothing worse than getting a great loaf that goes crusty and moldy in 2 days:

Don’t bother with fancy bread holder tupperware nonsense. Yes, this is me, the kitchen gadget QUEEN telling you this. Don’t waste your money. No matter how many vent holes it has, it’ll either mold or go hard.

You can wrap it in foil and leave it on the counter but keep in mind it’s really annoying to wrap and unwrap. Ditto on plastic wrap.

Don’t put it in the fridge, it’ll dry out.

Don’t put it in the freezer, same thing.

Linen bread bags are ok I guess, but they are usually too small and kind of a pain to get the bread in and out of.

Just as an FYI, I’ve never successfully frozen unbaked bread dough no matter what I do to it. It doesn’t rise once it’s out of the freezer. If I could pull this off I SO would.

THE BEST method I’ve found to keep home made bread fresh, soft, and anti moldy for the longest time is putting it in a grocery bag. Just a regular old plastic grocery bag on the counter. Simple, effective, and free. It works perfectly. All my years of buying this and that and trying to invent a bread holder and it was staring me in the face the whole time. So simple. Damnit.

Also, don’t slice it before you use it. Slice as you go. Otherwise the bread is stale. Mind you, slice thinner than you think. We have a tendency to slice REALLY big slices when it’s not needed.

Speaking of slicing, I have a gadget for that. On my second bread machine garage sale purchase they had this. A wooden fold up bread slicer. Just put your knife in the grooves and perfect slices. Cut the bread when it’s cooled down a bit, otherwise you run the risk of it deflating. And use a serrated long knife. They work the best.

Fold Up Bread Slicing Guide

Here it is open

Only problem is, for me anyway, once you do this long enough you don’t need the guide to slice any more. You just do it naturally. I don’t know why I kept this thing. It is cool though.

Free Hand Slicing

If you followed this recipe and your bread came out screwed, please don’t blame the recipe. Don’t blame yourself. Don’t blame the machine. It’s fate. It’s God. It’s bread, the cruel bitch. She’s moody. Just try again. And again. Eventually, you’ll probably get it. Maybe you won’t. Maybe bread really IS one of those thing some people can do and others can’t, but you never know until you try. God knows I’ve been trying. I suspect I’m NOT a person bread likes, but maybe I can play pretend with it.

And if you don’t have the patience to keep trying, then start buying stock in wonderbread, grab your machine, go to your driveway and drop kick your machine before you drive over it. No one will blame you.