Monday, October 31, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Soup

It's turning off cool, and the lower temps make it the perfect time to start having soup for supper.
So, as promised ladies (we have the nicest bank tellers), here's my recipe.

Loaded Baked Potato Soup
baked potatoes               raw potatoes
1 small onion                   bacon
cheese                            sour cream
green onions (optional)    butter
flour                                salt and pepper

Bake several potatoes.
I usually plan on making this the day after I served baked potatoes with a meal. That way I can just go ahead and bake several extra potatoes to have on hand for soup the following day.
Oh, and in case you can't tell from the list of ingredients, I'll warn you in advance that this soup is not low calorie. :D

Peel and cube your raw potatoes, and get them boiling in a large pot.
You'll want to cook these until they are very done - as in, practically falling apart.
Once they are done, just turn the pot on low and let it sit until everything else is ready.
While those are cooking, you want to cube your baked potatoes,
grate your onion,
and fry your bacon.
Fry your bacon slowly because you don't want to scorch the bacon grease. You want to use that to make the rue. After the bacon is done, pour the grease off in a small bowl (or coffee cup) and wash your pan.
Melt a little butter in the pan and cook your grated onion just 'til it barely starts to turn light brown.
You don't want to do this in the bacon grease because the grease can scorch too easily.
Then pour your bacon grease back in and add flour to form a rue.
You can use all butter for the rue if your bacon grease did get scorched.
Turn your pot of potatoes back up until they come to a boil again and whisk in your rue.
I'll be honest here, once I whisked my rue in, my soup still wasn't thick enough so I had to make a bit more.
After you have it as thick as you like, season with salt and pepper and add your baked potatoes and some shredded cheese. Cook for a few minutes until the baked potatoes are warm. Because it's already thick and you've added your cheese, you'll want to keep this stirred so it won't scorch.
Then turn off the heat and stir in 2 or 3 healthy size dollops of sour cream.
Serve it topped with a bit more shredded cheese and some crumbled bacon.
It's very pretty topped with some green onions or chives too, but it was already dark outside, and damp, so I didn't want to forage around in the garden for chives.

Go ahead and bake some potatoes for supper tonight so you can make this tomorrow.
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Friday, October 28, 2011

Well, there you go.

T.Lynn has an aversion to taking a shower. She always has. It's not that she minds water. Any water she's playing in is fine, and she likes getting in the jetted tub, it's just bathing she has an aversion to. Don't get me wrong. She really dislikes being dirty, and can't stand having sticky hands, but if she doesn't feel dirty, she doesn't want a bath.
Last night I was trying to get her in the shower and she had more than her usual arguments against it. She has a cold and was trying to convince me that standing for the length of time required to take a shower would just be too exhasusting. I did my best to change her mind by telling her how taking a shower makes you feel better when you're sick. I told her the steam would help her stuffy nose. In the end, I nixed all further discussion and sent her for her shower. She returned to the sewing room a bit later, with her hair wrapped in a towel and a frown on her face.

"All that shower did was get me clean!"

Oh the horror. :D

She was highly put out.  On the other hand, Ri and I were more than a little amused.

BTW - If you have a child that has tons of reasons why she/he shouldn't take showers, you may not want them watching any documentaries on America's aging infrastructure. One look at the inside of a badly clogged water main and your child may have a reaction similar to T.Lynn's. Her comment?

"See that pipe? I knew we shouldn't take baths. Hobos are cleaner than us!"
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Under construction

Ri here again... Yes, I did just design a blog for Mom, thanks for asking. I swear, I am gonna ban seasonal blog designs. Mom, you are stuck with this until the 4th of July.. no I don't care about Christmas designs or Spring!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Canning: Apple Pie Filling

I love keeping this apple pie filling on hand. It's just so easy to whip up a last minute dessert if you keep a stash of pie shells/dough in the freezer.

This is what we canned this year.
I also like giving this, along with a ziploc baggie of crumb topping (minus the butter of course) as a gift.

Apple Pie Filling
Peel and slice enough cooking apples to fill 7 quart jars.
I like Granny Smiths, but if you have a favorite cooking apple, feel free to try that.

1 stick butter*
6c. sugar
1c cornstarch
1/2tsp allspice
3tsp cinnamon
8c. water

Bring to a good boil, stirring constantly. It will be very thick.
Feel free to taste and adjust the spices as you wish. I add a few dashes each of apple pie spice and ground mace.

Pack your apples in clean, hot quart jars. Fill well, but only pack them to the neck of the jar. I prefer to use the wide mouth jars for this because it's easier to get a small spatula in there to remove the air bubbles. Pour syrup over apples, making sure it's gets all the way to the bottom (I actually start with a little of the syrup in the bottom - it just makes it easier). Remove air pockets as you go. Leave 1/2" headspace, wipe rims, fit on lids and rings, and process for 20 min. in a water bath canner after the water reaches a full, rolling boil.

A couple of things to keep in mind.
1) These are not complete canning instructions, so if you're new to it, check out basic steps before attempting this recipe.
2) I know - the syrup will boil out from under the lids after you pull them out of the canner and you'll have a mess on the towel and counter. Do not try to use less syrup the next time in order to keep this from happening. The 1/2" of headspace is very important for developing a good seal. If you fill the jars with less, they will not seal properly and you'll be left with a bunch of pie filling that will need to be re-processed. You may not figure out the seal is bad until a jar or two pops its seal later on in the cabinet. Yes - I know this from experience so trust me, fill to that 1/2" headspace. You can clean the outside of the jars, and anything they came in contact with the next day, once the jars have cooled down.

1 quart jar will make a standard pie. It will seem a little skimpy for a deep dish pie shell, but you can fill in a bit with some extra crumb topping if that's the only size pie shell you have on hand.

*Please read the comments, as I received a very good question with regard to the butter in this recipe.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Canning: Strawberry Applesauce - A++

I saw a recipe for this in one of my canning books this year and just had to give it a try. Several of the kids made a few disparaging noises at the thought of strawberries mixed in their applesauce, so I decided to make a small batch of it out of whatever we had left when the rest of the apple stuff was finished. Boy - do I wish I had tried it out right at the beginning. Even the first round of tasting, while it was still warm, was recieved with very little enthusiasm, but all that changed once a jar (the last one - not quite full enough to process) had been refigerated. The final verdict? Massive success!! It is absolutely scrumptious.

And quite pretty too - don't you think?
I couldn't resist using these cute little jars I found on one of my rare trips through a Walmart.
Is it bad that I can't go through a store that carries canning equipment without checking out what they have in stock? I was only at Walmart because I was out of coconut oil and none of the grocery stores near me carries it. I didn't even need to be on that side of the store. My buggy just went that way and I followed.
Oh well - this applesauce certainly won't curb any addiction to canning that I may be developing.
On to the recipe!!

First I will give you the recipe as I found it in my book. Then I'll tell you what I did, because you know I changed it.

Strawberry Applesauce 
7 lbs tart cooking apples
1 lb strawberries
2 c. water
1/4 c. lemon juice
3/4 - 1 &1/4 c. sugar

Combine everything except sugar in pot and cook until apples are tender. Process fruit through a food mill or blender, return to pot, add sugar to taste, and water if necessary to reach a desired consistency. Bring to a boil and proceed to can. Leave 1/2" headspace and once your canner reaches a boil, process pints for 15 min. and quarts for 20 min. Makes about 6 pints.

There's the original recipe. Here's what I did.

My Strawberry Applesauce
8 lbs. apples (this was 8lbs after peeling and coring)
1 & 1/2 lbs frozen strawberries

I did use tart apples, Granny Smiths in particular, but that was only because that's all we had left after everything else was canned. Personally, I don't know why anyone would use tart apples for applesauce, only to have to add sugar to sweeten it up - it makes no sense. Plus, the tart apples don't usually cook down quite as well.  They hold their shape, which is why they are called cooking apples, and are generally used for pies. You know, so your pie doesn't end up with a bunch of apple mush as it's filling. My sauce is delicious, but it doesn't have quite as smooth a consistancy as I usually like my sauce to have, even though I ended up running it through a blender. I'll use sweet apples next time.

Next, I did not add 2c. of water during the cooking. Expierence has taught me that you only add enough water to cover the bottom of the pot at no more than 1/2" before you start adding the apples. You just need it to get some steam going to start cooking the apples without scorching the ones that touch the pan. They will start to release their juice as they cook and you may well end up with very runny sauce if you start with a bunch of water in your pot. You can always add it if needed, but you can't take it out, and cooking it down without burning it is a tedious process, best avoided if possible.

I also didn't add any additional lemon juice. I don't know why you'd need it. I've seen numerous recipes for applesauce, and none of them require lemon juice (this was the only one I've ever seen, and the strawberry was just a variation allowed in the recipe). I know some jellies/jams do in order to bring up the acid level for safe canning/storage, but strawberry is not one of them. Plus, I keep my cut apples in cool water with lemon juice added in order to keep them from turning brown while I get the rest cut, and I sprinkle them with a little Fruit Fresh, or Mrs. Wages fresh fruit preserve as I place them in the pan (also to keep from browning), so I don't imagine I'd need any additional acid even if that were the reason. Finally, more lemon juice would just have required more sugar to offset the tartness, so I left it out.

Since these were Granny Smiths, I cooked the apples by themselves for a bit before I added the strawberries. I knew it wouldn't take long for the strawberries to turn to mush, but the apples would take much longer. If I were using softer, sweet apples I may put them in at the beginning, or shortly thereafter, but I waited to add them this time until the Grannies were starting to get soft. As I expected, they never softened as much as the other apples do, so I got them as soft as I could and then added the strawberries, running it all through a blender once the strawberries were mushy. I did have to add a bit of water to a few of the batches in the blender, but I didn't really need to add much because the frozen strawberries released quite a bit of moisture as they cooked. When it was all blended I put it back in the pot and started tasting and adding sugar until I thought it was sweet enough. I think I ended up adding about 1 &1/2c of sugar, but I will add, while it's warm you taste the tartness more than you will once it's cold. And if you use sweet apples you won't have to add as much, and maybe not any additional sugar.

Though I used pint jars, I processed them for 20 min. out of habit. I don't usually can applesauce in pint jars so I'm used to the 20 min. for the quarts. I got 9 pt. plus one pint jar that was about 3/4 full.

You should really try this out. It is wonderful.

*Update - I do think I'll put the lemon juice in this time.  The taste was fine through storage, but it did darken after a couple of months and I want to see if the lemon juice will help it keep its color.  

I've linked this post with the Carnival of Home Preserving.
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crockpot Cooking: Camp Stew

I got this recipe from a salesman who frequents history reenactments, and while the smell of a real wood fire and dishing a bit of this up out of a cast iron cooking pot do add to it's appeal, it still tastes quite good when cooked on your stove, or in your crock pot. I'll give you the quatities for a regular sized batch.

Camp Stew
1 smoked sausage or kielbasa                4-5 potatoes
2 carrots                                                 1 small onion
1 can diced tomatoes                             2 ears of corn (or 1c. frozen)
1/2 head of cabbage                              Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning
cornstarch (optional)

Clean and chop your onions, carrots and potatoes. I only peel the potatoes if they are russets.
Cut corn from the cob. I cut my sausage in half rounds to make it easier to eat, but that's optional.
Place all of this, along with the tomatoes and 2tsp. seasoning in your crock pot and cover with water.
Cook all day.
If you're doing this on the stove it will cook in about 30-40min - just 'til the carrots and potatoes are tender.
A few minutes before serving, turn off the heat, chop your cabbage and add to the pot, stirring to mix it in.
As you can see, I had to transfer mine to a large stock pot because of the quantity I was making, but if you're making a standard sized recipe this can all be done in the crock pot. Taste, and add more seasoning if necessary.
That's all there is too it - or to the original recipe anyway.
We prefer to thicken it with some cornstarch, but that is entirely up to you. If you do, mix your cornstarch  with a little cold water and stir it into the stew before turning off the heat. Allow it to heat through for a few minutes, then turn it off and add the cabbage.
This is currently the only way I eat cooked cabbage because, in reality, the cabbage isn't cooked, it's just kind of heated up. That way you don't have slimy, yucky cabbage in your soup.
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Saturday, October 8, 2011

Back to the Mountains

In a rare moment of spontaneity, we decided to drop everything after Beenie's guitar lesson yesterday and go to the mountains. Actually, I have to admit here that it's only rare because, though hubby loves to do things at the spur of the moment, I greatly dislike having my plans for the day disrupted. But I relented and we had a fabulous day. When we went apple picking we went north-west, a bit over the Virginia State line, staying just this side of the Blue Ridge Parkway. This time we headed south-east, going past the Parkway.

Being your "typical" homeschool family, we chose to turn this into a field trip and visited a very old mercantile. Mast General Store now has several locations in NC and surrounding states, but we visited the orginal store, located in Valle Crucis, that opened in 1883.
It still holds a small, operating post office for the tiny community.
If you click on the picture, you may be able to read the sign (to the right of the window) warning patrons of the store that the post office is still operational, so they should not try to open the postal boxes.
Aren't these the coolest, old organizing bins.
They still use them to keep their selection of carriage bolts and other, small hardware.
The store also comes complete with it's own pet, who apparently thinks the counter is a perfect place to sleep. What is it about cats wanting to sleep right where you need to work?
You get a clear picture of the fact that they don't take to kindly to salesmen.
This is part of the view behind the store.
I hope if you click on the picture you can see that a house sits on the very top of the mountain.
There is already more color in the trees here than down where we live, but they're still a week or two off from peak color. We did see a few isolated areas where the trees were in full color, but none where we could stop and get a good picture. Hubby has said that we may take a picnic and go up on the Parkway once the trees have reached full color. I kind of hope we do. It's so beautiful.
Isn't it beautiful, even when the colors aren't quite at they're best?
And barns are everywhere. I love big red barns.
All decked out for fall.
After we left the mercantile, we headed back to Boone in order to eat supper at the Dan'l Boone Inn and Restaurant. It's an adorable old farm house, turned inn and eatery. They serve things family style, meaning there's a fixed menu and they just bring you some of everything in bowls to pass around the table, just like you would do at home. There are precious few of these type restaurants around here anymore.
The place is just too cute, and I couldn't go home without a jar of the black cherry preserves they serve with the biscuts.
They used to have a live tree in one of the dining rooms. They had just built right around it when they added on. But after many years it finally died and they had it taken out. We got to sit at a huge round table with a lazy susan built in the center that had been placed where the tree once grew.
That lazy susan made eating so enjoyable. No-one had to interrupt anyone else's meal to ask for dishes to be passed. Maybe we should look into getting one for our house.
I have to admit that all the moss on the roof of this little store front is what grabbed my attention. I didn't even notice the sign until the photos were uploaded on the computer. Interesting name isn't it? Kind of makes me want to stop and check it out next time.

If we do indeed head out for a picnic on the Blue Ridge Parkway during peak color, I'll be sure to supply you all with plenty of pictures of those gorgeous mountains.
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Monday, October 3, 2011

Ooohhhhhh, can you feel it??

It's fall!!!

I love fall, but most people already know that. Apples (preferably cooked ones with cinnamon and brown sugar), hot soup, turning leaves, falling acorns, and pumpkins everywhere. I have a thing for pumpkins. It's probably not healthy, but hey, I can't help it. They are just too cute!! And the things you can do to decorate them, or with them. But I digress.

It's fall and that means it's time for apples, which for us means a trip to the mountains. Yay!!

We thought picking the Granny Smiths was tricky - trying to get one without the adjacent ones getting knocked off, until we got to the red delicious. There were so many, and they were growing so close together we eventually had someone try to stand under where some of us were picking so they could catch whatever else fell. The trees were very prolific this year.

Kind of looks like Kay is spying on someone doesn't it?
Maybe she was - she's good at helping to keep an eye on younger siblings.
T.Lynn and I looking for a good Granny Smith tree.
The first several trees on each row had been picked pretty bare, but if you went further down the rows the trees were still heavy with apples.
Beenie and T. looking for small apples for some friends with younger children.
Bree and T.Lynn.
I asked Ri how T. got into so many of the pictures and was told she is Ri's favorite subject. T. says that's because she is the only one who'll voluntarily be in a photo. Ri only partially agrees.
Bree was probably our fastest picker this year. She decided not to use one of the picking baskets, preferring to walk around and choose trees with apples still on the lower limbs. Everytime I turned around she was heading back our way with her arms overflowing with apples.
These were her secret weapons. She remembered from last year's trip, and had the forethought to wear her boots so she could get much closer to the trees. Although the pathways between the trees had been mown down fairly well, the area right under the trees wasn't and there tended to be various plants with thorns growing all around the bases. Since most of us wore our standard footwear for about 70% of the year (that would be flipflops) we just didn't want to get that close. The rest of us will have to keep that in mind next year.
All in all, we picked 6 bushels. Only five were for us. One was for one of the families at church.
2 bushels of Granny Smiths (1 1/2 for us and 1/2 for them), 2 bushels of red delicious (1 1/2 for us and 1/2 for them), 1 bushel of Fugi, and 1 bushel that was a mix of Braeburns and Romes.
Draining juice from the apple pulp.
So far we've only processed about half a bushel of the red decicious, but from that we got 13, 1/2pt jars of apple jelly, 12, 1/2pt, and 1, 4oz jars of cinnamon apple jelly (would have had a full 13, but my pot overboiled - that was fun to clean up), and 5, 1/2pt, and 16, 4oz jars of apple butter.

Now for the other 4 1/2 bushels.

In addition to the apple orchard, we went by one of my favorite country stores while we were up there. They have the best assortment of dried beans and ham side meat and hocks for flavoring those beans. All the paper sacks have dried beans - pintos, kidney, navy, and great northerns. They also have locally produced honey (we got a small one with the comb too) and sorghum molasses.
And just look at that head of cabbage. It was huge. As soon as I picked it up Ri and Bree started talking about all the soup we could make with it.
We keep peppermint on hand for when someone gets a headache, but I couldn't stroll through their candy bins without letting the girls get a couple of other things as well.:D
And finally, I'll leave you with a few mountain shots we got as we were driving down.
We were actually much closer than these pictures lead you to believe.
This is the original panoramic shot Ri took and in it you can see how the clouds kind of framed the mountains so they show up much better than they would have.
One of my favorites was this one she got as the sun was setting.
We were a bit higher on the mountain for this photo.

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