So much basil…so little time

The Summer season is filled with so many wonderful foods that are fresh for such a short time. But canning, freezing, drying and preserving allow us to stretch the season to last the year around.

One sad exclusion to this bounty has always been fresh basil leaves. Once dried, all the volatile oils are lost, and it might as well be parsley. In my quest to find ways to extend the freshness life-span of my all-time favorite herbs, I began freezing it a few years back. I can never eat all I have, fresh, before it gets wilty and sad, so I have used this method for keeping it amazing so much longer.

The Basil Cube!

Begin with fresh, clean basil. It doesn’t matter how many you have. You are limited only by number of ice cube trays you can fit in your freezer. You can also make one single cube, if you only have a little bit to work with.

whole basil plants

whole basil plants

Strip all the leaves from the stems. All we are using is leaves for this project.

leaves only

leaves only

The cut or tear the leaves into small to tiny pieces and begin to cram them into a clean ice cube tray.

basil bits

basil bits

Then, pour enough water to cover the bits over the tray. I like to use filtered water, but I can’t imagine it makes much difference, really, what kind you use.

cover with water

cover with water

Then, pop the tray into the freezer for a minimum of 5 hours, but overnight might be best.

The next morning, you have perfectly portioned, ever-fresh basil leaves which can be used in sauces and soups all winter long. I store mine in a zip-loc bag so the flavors aren’t diminished by air, or shared among food that doesn’t need the pungency of basil.

basil cubes

basil cubes

Because the leaves are frozen, this method will not give you back fresh leaves, like you might need to make pesto, but it does retain the flavor of fresh basil. Because cooking removes a lot of the flavor, drop the cubes in to your sauce immediately before serving. Just let ’em melt, and give the pot a stir. Boom! Fresh basil flavor, any time of year!!! And, don’t forget to grow your own, to really Stick It To Monsanto.

An endless Summer to you all!

Cubist Coffee: or, Handcrafted Summer Mornings

Ahhh, Summertime! Where I live, it is very temperate and pleasant. But in many, many places it is just too darn hot! Especially for a hot beverage to start the day. So this Handcrafted Hack is in celebration of getting your caffeine, without having your eyes sweat. *It should be noted, before we even begin, as with so many handcrafted projects, this is not instant! The cubes will need to be frozen overnight (minimum of 8 hours. 12 is better) I saw a post on facebook about making coffee ice cubes, and decided to put the theory to the test. I decided to start sort of small, since it was an experiment. I brewed about 1/3 of a pot of very strong, lovely coffee.

start with strong coffee

start with strong coffee

Then, I used a clean, empty ice cube tray

clean tray

clean tray

I filled the tray pretty full, and let it sit on the counter for an hour or so, as I filled it hot. You could simply turn off the coffee pot and let it cool before you pour. Obviously, you don’t want to put anything hot into the freezer, as it puts all your frozen foods at risk of thawing.

cooling coffee

cooling coffee

Then, place the trays into the freezer, where they won’t be disturbed until the next day. Just a note, here, I stacked my 2 trays I made, and the coffee froze onto the bottom of the top tray, which, of course melted into dark coffee drips as I was taking it from the freezer, and using the cubes. There is a pretty significant potential for mess, here, so, maybe, don’t wear white while you participate in this process. The next morning, I pulled the cubes from the tray and placed them in my glass:

iced coffee on!

iced coffee on!

Now, because I was just having an “iced latte”, I simply added milk (cow’s milk, for this experiment, but, of course, you can use whatever you fancy), and was on my way. As the cubes have melted, the coffee is mixed into the milk. It has been a spectacular way to start the day.

Iced latte!

Iced latte!

It should be noted that this concoction could just as easily be a mocha (add chocolate syrup), or a flavored latte (add syrup) or a blended drink (drop the lot in a blender and whirl). The thickness of the blended drink is the coffee cubes, which do not water down a blended or on the “rocks” coffee drink. And, let’s don’t miss the obvious indications for both alcoholic additions and ice cream! I believe this idea could easily b adapted to a bunch of other applications, such as tea-cubes for your iced tea (in any flavor, or even herbal); freezing juice cubes, or adding your favorite protein/diet/supplement powder to the mix. So, today’s tutorial not only saves a fortune in coffee house prices, but sticks it to both Monsanto and Starbucks! Double bonus for Awesome America!

Going Bananas

Ok, so here is the finished banana chip project. It went splendidly to plan. But I did make a minor modification in the plan:

done!

done!

I started the project dehydrating the banana slices on 125 degrees, but found, before I went to bed, they were drying out faster than I anticipated. So I turned the temperature back to 115. I had my husband turn the machine off at 7am, when he gets up, to complete a 12 hour cycle.

The chips were perfectly dried. Chewy, flavorful and lovely.

Just a note as to quantity- I expected my 2 large bunches to become a quart mason jar of dried chips, but they ended up being more like 2!

finished product

finished product

I am told that if you spray a fine mist of lemon juice over the slices they will stay truer in color. But I couldn’t be bothered. The color of them doesn’t put me off at all. If it bothers you, lemon juice is an option.

Thinking ahead to fruit leather, I am thinking of using the applesauce I canned in the Fall, and a puree of some fruit I have in the freezer. I have raspberries and blackberries, so I am excited for the future of healthy snacking!!! Take that BigFood!!!!!!

That’s it for today. It’s Day 5 of a 10 day run at my day job, so I will be along when I have time and inspiration.  Be well. Handcraft. Be awesome America! Stick It To Monsanto!

It’s ALIVE!

Greetings, all and sundry!

I am positive, by now, you have decided I died of eating nothing but handcrafted food. Or, worse, fell off the Handcrafted wagon, and was lost in a mire of Monsanto.

But, NO! I just had a lot of other stuff going on in my life.

Still, I am back in the saddle, and am ready to share some of the cool stuff I am doing and learning, lately. But first, the past year… I have still not mastered cheese . This saddens me, but I remain hopeful that one day I will get it.  I am still entirely sold on handcrafted toothpaste, and still use my own every day. It has helped me with a lot of the problems I was beginning to have with my aging teeth. I am not as keen on long-term use of the coconut oil and baking soda deodorant, and have eliminated the baking soda because it caused me to have some pH issues. No big deal, but after a month or so, my skin reacted and I didn’t like it. If I took a break, I could use it for about another month, but, ultimately, it happened again, anyway. So, I use just plain coconut oil most days and regular deodorant for “potentially sweaty” days.

I am still making my own sauces and soups and smoothies and croutons and bread. But not so much diligence on crackers and granola  . I am getting back in the swing of things, again, though, so I expect to have better reports very soon.

So, as to new stuff, I just got a brand new, giant food dehydrator- 10 racks all with mesh liners and the fruit leather trays, for $15!!!  🙂  I have been waiting for ages for this to manifest in my life! I have employed many other preservation methods, but have felt I have been missing a vital aspect of pantry-filling without it.

I wanted to get started immediately (of course!) so I went shopping for one of my favorite dried fruit items, bananas. They are easy, and practically instant, prep-wise. My shop had organic bananas for sale for $0.10 more than the regular, so I splurged for the good ones.

All I did was slice the bananas as consistently as I could, and pop them in a single layer on the tray. I started 4 full trays, from 2 bunches of bananas.

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

sliced bananas in the dehydrator

Then I turned on the machine (125 degrees) and will now wait the 12 hours to check for doneness. I like mine a bit “leathery”.

 

Tomorrow, I will be back with the finished product, which I will store in a mason jar with tight fitting lid.

Fruit snacks are as simple as that. Later, I am going to make fruit leather with apples and raspberries (because red is my favorite flavor!).  Take that, Big Food!!!

Thanks for tuning in, my precious blueberries! I look forward to a busy, prosperous and entirely handcrafted Summer!!!!

Making Handcrafting Easier: Make-Ahead Mirepoix

mirepoix: ready for the freezer

mirepoix: ready for the freezer

I know it is mid-Summer right now, but Winter is coming.

Lately, the urge to stock up and fill the freezer and pantry has become an obsession for me!

I have recently made chicken stock and canned it, have frozen several whole chickens I got for a good price, and have added some veggies to the freezer and pantry. Today, as part of making dinner for tonight (chicken pot pie), I decided to turn all the celery onion and carrots into ready-made batches of mirepoix, the Holy Trinity of all Fall and Winter savory meals. It will come straight out of the freezer and into a pot of ready made stock for stew, chicken and dumplings, soups or casseroles.

Taking the 30 minutes to sautee and soften the veg, today, will give me time back when I need it, during the busy holidays, when my time is better spent making cookies and watching movies and spending time with my friends and family.

Mirepoix is 50% onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery. You may make your mix in any combination and in any size batch you wish. I like a cup or 2 in each batch. You can also add fresh or dried rosemary and/or thyme for a lovely herbal boost of flavor.

Sautee the veg until soft. Cool. Bag and freeze.

That’s it.

Later, no need to thaw, just pull it out of the freezer, add it to a quart of stock, add 1 cup of chopped cooked chicken, and any assorted fresh veg you might have at the time (mushrooms, beans, broccoli, etc). Bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer. Boom. Soup. Drop in biscuit dough for chicken and dumplings. Top with biscuit dough or mashed potatoes and bake for pot pie or shepherd’s pie. Wholesome, homemade real comfort food is ready when you are.

Now, that’s Awesome America! Take that BigFood. This is how we Stick it to Monsanto. One delicious meal at a time.

We all scream for ICE CREAM!!!!

Today’s experiment in the kitchen, Double Vanilla ice cream.

While I cannot honestly say this has been “hand”crafted (because the ice cream maker did all the work) it is homemade, and that is why I feel justified in including it, here.

To begin, you will need an ice cream maker (either hand crank or electric. I bore easily, so I am using an electric. So sue me.) a whisk, a mixing bowl,and a big rubber spatula.

For ingredients and implementation, you will need 1 bag of ice and a box of rock or ice cream salt. Also:

  • 3/4 cup sugar (or sweetener of your choice)
  • 1 pint heavy cream
  • 1 pint milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 of one vanilla bean
  • 1/2 tsp table salt

Begin by slicing the vanilla bean lengthwise through only the top layer of skin. Scrape all the teeny, oily seeds into a 2 qt mixing bowl. They are kind of a mess, but sooooo worth the end result. Then add all other ingredients to the bowl and mix them together thoroughly.

Place the mixture into the “can” of the ice cream maker and chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Then, assemble the ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions. Add ice and rock salt in alternating layers around the can. Note: the smaller the ice cubes and the less salt used, the slower the churn, and thus, the finer the grain of ice cream product.

salt

salt

It is essential that your mixture fill no more than half the available volume in your can, as the mixture will expand to roughly double when complete.

Plug it in, or begin churning. Add ice, water or salt, as needed, as indicated by the directions for your machine. Keep the ice level up to the top to insure complete freezing.

I found that the addition of table salt kept the mixture from freezing “solid”. Not to worry. It is a necessary foil for the sweetness of the ice cream and makes a delicious difference to the finished product.

When the machine stops, or 50 minutes of freezing time has elapsed, turn out the ice cream into a freezer container, taking care to scrape all the yummy deliciousness from the paddle into your bowl or back into the can. It is ready to eat at this stage, but will have a consistency more like soft-serve. For a harder product, cure the ice cream in the freezer for at least an hour (2-3 is better).

Voila! The most delicious ice cream EVAH, with absolutely no carageenen, high fructose corn syrup or FD&C yellow #5. Ice cream will last up to one week in the freezer. But seriously, no it won’t!

Take that BigFood! What a delicious way to Stick-It-To-Monsanto. This mixture cost approximately half what a premium ice cream cost me to buy, and is all natural and contains no preservatives.

Now that is what I call some Summertime Awesome America!!!

Handcrafted Summertime!

This morning I started the first batch of experimental ice cream of the Summer! I just got a second-hand ice cream maker, and have been dying to try it out. It was forecast to be a scorcher, here on the Oregon coast, so I knew today was the perfect day for it. I used a frozen custard sort of recipe, which I will add to the recipes section soon.

But the biggest Handcrafted WIN of the day was the air conditioner unit my husband built!

homemade AC unit

homemade AC unit

He used ideas he found on the internet, and for under $22 built a really effective air conditioner that cools down our teeny house fast!

cooler $4.99

cooler $4.99

Materials needed:

  • styrofoam cooler
  • small personal fan
  • dryer vent tube parts
  • milk jug of water, frozen solid (also, a block of ice of any shape would work, so long as it fits in the cooler)
  • the fan, placed face down in the cooler

    the fan, placed face down in the cooler $11.24

We bought all these materials today, and the price was about $20. The cooler was $4.99, the fan was marked down from $14.99 to $11.24, the tubey things were $2.49 each and we needed 2. The frozen milk jug was free 🙂

Then, all he did was cut a hole in the lid of the cooler the same size as the fan, insert the tubey things into the front of the cooler, cutting around the inside, so they are a snug fit, place the ice into the cooler and plugged it in.

the tubey vent things (I don't know what they're called)

the tubey vent things (I don’t know what they’re called) 2 @ $2.49 each

BOOM! Handcrafted AC unit, that was very cheap and easy to make, does not use a lot of electricity, and really works!

homemade AC unit

homemade AC unit

We Be Jamman’!

‘Tis the Season for beautiful, jewel-shade, berry jellies, jams and preserves of all kinds.

jam supplies

jam supplies

I’ve been making cooked jam since I was a teenager, and it has always the same method, the same tools, the same ingredients. I like the fact I can spend a few uncomfortably hot Summer days cooking, and be rewarded with a year-supply of sweet, delicious condiment for my toast, peanut butter sandwiches and yogurt.

But this year, all that has changed.

I have made the most glorious change, and it has resulted in a jam with less sugar (and by less I mean 3/4 of a cup of sugar vs. 8 cups of sugar per 4-5 cups crushed fruit) that is a sure set, no need for lemon juice (in the basic berry recipe), a recipe that can be doubled or tripled (or more, if you have a large enough kettle) with no loss of gelling, and that results in perfect fruit distribution through the whole jar. That change was Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

best pectin EVAH!

best pectin EVAH!

The instructions I am going to give are for my experience with a triple batch~ which begins with 12 cups of topped, squashed strawberries. These instructions are taken directly from the information leaflet included in the Pomona’s Universal Pectin packet. One 1 oz packet will complete 1 flat of fresh berries.

for best product, always buy organic berries

for best product, always buy organic berries

washed, topped berries

washed, topped berries

Before beginning the process, I boiled all the jars needed for the batch I was making, for sterilization. The lids and rings were also placed in a separate pan and brought to a boil at this time. While this was happening, I topped berries and made up a jar of the Calcium water (monocalcium phosphate, which activates the pectin, included in the packet) as directed by the instructions ~ 1/2 tsp calcium powder per 1/2 cup water, shaken well to mix. There will be a lot of this left over after your recipe, and it can be kept for several months in the fridge, for future batches).

calcium water

calcium water

The squashed berries and 6 tsp of the calcium water go in the cooking pot, to be brought to a boil.

bring berries to boil

bring berries to boil

The sugar is measured separately (can be also be made with honey, using this recipe) and placed into a bowl. The pectin powder is added to the sugar or honey and blended. (I was making this recipe for family, and they are accustomed to a very sweet jam, so I used 2 cups of sugar per batch- in this instance, 6 cups total. The recipe calls for between 3/4 a cup to 2 cups per batch).

As soon as the fruit comes to a boil, the sugar or honey/pectin mixture is added to the pot, stirred thoroughly to incorporate and dissolve sugar and pectin, and brought back to a boil for 4 minutes.

Then, the finished jam is placed into the sterile, still-hot  jars, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace in each. The rims need to be wiped to remove any jam which would compromise the seals. Then lids added and rings tightened.

filled jam jars

filled jam jars

All the filled jars go back into the boiling pot to be water-bathed for 15 minutes past boiling. This is to kill any remaining germs, to allow it to remain fresh for many months on the shelf.

All the jars are removed from the pot, and placed on a towel on the counter to seal and cool. Once the tops “pop” which indicates a complete seal, I flip them over and over as they cool (every 15-20 minutes) so the fruit distributes evenly throughout the jar. The bigger the jar, the longer this takes. Fruit floats in the jam jar, so if this step is skipped, there will be a fruit layer on top and a syrup/jelly layer on bottom. This is a natural occurrence, as sugar is heavier than fruit.

In roughly an hour (for smaller jars, or 2 for quarts- I know, crazy large for a jam jar, but my Dad eats jam at every meal, every day. His open jars never go bad before he empties them!) the jam is finished, the gel process complete and the fruit completely and evenly distributed throughout the jars.

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

finished jam, fruit well-distributed through jar

This recipe is simple, a ton of time is saved by the ability to double and triple the recipe, so much cheaper and healthier because there is between 3- and 16-times less sugar in the jam as conventional pectin recipes, and the result is positively foolproof! You may never buy jam again. Take that BigFood!

Jars of jam make amazingly welcome gifts for all occasions, and are appreciated by everyone who receives them!

No treat so decadent as a mouthful of sweet Summer when the frost is on the pumpkin, or the snowdrifts pile up against the house.

Enjoy!!!!

Polly wanna cracker?

How about one loaded with protein and Omega-3 fatty acids?!?

I have been making my own crackers for about 6 weeks, now, and each time I make a batch, I modify the recipe a little. I am always attempting to improve on my recipes, as I experiment, and this time, I found a winner!

Now, please understand, as I give this recipe, my Mother taught me to cook using a little something she always called “ungefahr”, which is German for “approximate”. To her, it was an all-encompassing term which means, “you’ll know when you feel it”. A little of this and a little of that, added until you can just tell it’s right. This recipe is loaded with ungefahr.

The original recipe was for Graham Crackers, and can be found at kitchensimplicity.com . As I am making a savory cracker, today, the recipe had to be modified to limit the sweetness, but retain the texture and crunch.

I made a simple cracker built around the same ingredients and principle of techniques, and it was pretty good. This one came about because I sort of went nuts (or rather, seeds) with the add-ins. The result is delicious and super-healthy.

Savory Seedy Crackers:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (I use a very coarse, freshly ground flour from my local whole food grocer. It is commonly called “Graham flour”)
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder, seasoning salt, herbs or seasoning of your choice. (rosemary, cracked black pepper, thyme are all lovely choices)

here is where things get a little ungefahr…

  • aprox. 3 tbsp. flax seeds, 4 tbsp sunflower seeds, 4 tbsp raw pumpkin seeds all finely ground in a coffee grinder or food processor
  • this batch, I also added a small handful of cashews, finely ground

whisk all the dry ingredients together until fully incorporated. Then cut in:

  • 1/2 cup cold butter

when the mixture is incorporated it will resemble coarse crumbs and when grabbed it will stick together, but will break apart easily. Then add:

  • 1/2 cup water (more if needed to form a dough)
  • 1/4 cup honey

mix together until a dough forms. Add more water a tbsp at a time, if needed.

Knead until a smooth, somewhat elastic dough. Divide in half.

Roll between 2 pieces of parchment or plastic wrap (do yourself a favor and wipe the counter with a damp towel before laying out the plastic wrap. It helps it to stick to the counter, and not move around while you roll). Roll to 1/4 inch thick, as uniformly as possible.

Once rolled, take the entire sheet and flip it on to the cookie sheet. Cut into crackers using a pizza cutter. If you have ragged edges or parts that are thinner than the rest, peel them away and re-roll with the second half of dough. Sprinkle with coarse salt, and/or garlic powder or seasoning salt.

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. Check. If the edges are done, remove the done 0nes and then continue to bake until the middle is also done. If they aren’t done enough, the crackers will be squishy. If overdone, they will taste like charcoal. Watch them closely! They burn easily. Continue baking for a few minutes at a time until it is done all the way to the middle.

I always lose a few to burning. These are my offering to the birds 🙂

Roll and bake the second half of the dough, or refrigerate for up to a week.

Cool the crackers, completely, and store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks. (mine never last that long)

These are glorious with hummus or cheese or peanut butter.

Delicious!

savory seedy crackers

savory seedy crackers

 

Raw Strawberry Jam

I have become completely addicted to jam in my homemade yogurt, but I am also not happy with all the sugar in the jam I have been eating.

So, this Spring, I have decided to try some experimental jams that use little or no sugar, whatever. This batch is made of nothing but strawberries, chia seeds and water. My berries were so sweet and good I didn’t even add the honey I had planned to use to sweeten it.

The recipe comes from naturesnurture.com:

  • 1 cup fresh, washed berries
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp water
  • sweetener to taste

 

fresh, raw ingredients

fresh, raw ingredients

First, I washed and topped the berries and squished them into the measuring cup

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

1 cup berries, 1 tbsp chia seeds

Then, I added 1 tbsp of whole black chia seeds, which become very gel-ly when they get wet. They also have no flavor, whatever to interfere with the recipe’s taste.

adding the chia seeds

adding the chia seeds

My berries weren’t really super-juicy, so I added 1 tbsp of water.

adding water

adding water

Wait one hour, and boom. Jam!

jam!

jam!

I made one batch for now, which I will keep in the fridge, and one batch to try to freeze. I have no information on how this will affect the texture, so I am giving it a shot. Berry season is waaaayyyy too short to only be able to enjoy this when they are in season.

one for now, one for later!

one for now, one for later!

I will provide an quality control update, when I thaw the freezer batch.

Happy Berry Season!!!!