Category Archives: Back To Basics

Sweet Berry Vinegar!

So I have been experimenting with making my own vinegar. There has been a lot of ups and downs but I am excited to say, I got this now!

back to basics

Vinegar is very useful. I am not sure it is the cure all that some people say, but I’ve found it the most useful thing in my pantry. It clears up dandruff, helps digestion, kills parasites, cleans the house, and helps with inflammation. I am told it does even more, but that is what I have tried.

The vinegar you buy in the store is pasteurized and distilled and that kills a lot of the stuff that is good for you. You can not buy unpasteurized vinegar, so I learned to just make my own.

I have read many methods of making vinegar, and to be honest it is a little overwhelming how much I found. Some recipes sound simple, where some sound like you need a full lab to make it.

Let me tell you how I did it:

vinegar

First I started by making a Mother of Vinegar. That really was not as hard as I thought at first.

To make vinegar you have to feed the mother sugar that it can ferment to create alcohol and that is what turns to vinegar. Anything that ferments can be used, but you do want to keep the flavors of that in mind while doing it. Old, but not rotten fruit is the best thing to use. Most old fruit is starting to ferment already.

I used a glass one gallon tea pitcher with a spout on the bottom. It has to be glass or ceramic. Vinegar is an acid, so you do not want anything corrosive. I cleaned everything with a bleach sanitizing solution (1 tablespoon bleach to 1 gallon of water), and let it air dry.

A few weeks before starting this I bought a bunch of fruit. I let the kids help themselves but I got extra hoping some would get old. I used what was left to make the vinegar.

  • 1 plum
  • a handful of strawberries
  • a handful of grapes
  • 1 green apple

I cut everything up, making sure nothing was rotten. I covered the fruit up with wine and apple cider vinegar. I used the Bragg kind with the mother in it. For extra sugar I added some honey.

Honey can slow things down, because it does not go bad. I found it really added to the over all flavor though.

I poured in the mother of vinegar, and the solution it as made in. I used a coffee filter to cover it up. It’s important that it is able to breath, but you want to keep things out. It is possible to attract vinegar flies. Store it in a warm, but not hot dark place.

Do not be surprised when you smell an alcohol smell in the room it is fermenting in. Once a week I would pull it out, and check on it. The whole family would smell and taste it. We were always surprised by how good it was!

After a week we noticed, it formed a new mother.

 

Every two weeks we would feed it by adding more fruit, or a little wine.

Last weekend when tasting it, we realized it was done! I pulled out the many layers of mother, and set them aside. I poured out the vinegar into the bottles, and filtered the fruit out. Since it is unpasteurized I am keeping it in the fridge.

I sure it will be great in salad dressing! I know it was good when the bratwurst was cooked in it!

I have started a lemon vinegar now, using the mother I saved from this one. I have used 8 lemons, some white wine, and some apple cider. It  is almost a week old now.

Advertisements

Starting Sourdough

Bread has been a staple food for longer than written history. There are countless ways to make it, and each type has it’s own history. Buying bread already cut from a store is a fairly new concept. What we now call artisan bread used to just be called bread.

back to basics

Today I am starting a sourdough starter! I know these are passed down from generation to generation, but do you know how hard it is to find a starter in the city in Texas?

I have planned on doing this for about a month now, but I have not had the time, and energy. I did set aside a glass jar for the project. What I did not realize at that time how big of a container I needed.

Being the avid coffee fanatic that I am, I always have a spare coffee maker with coffee pot. So I cleaned up the glass coffee pot, removing all the stains with vinegar. I made my starter in that. There is a joke in there somewhere but I am not sure what it is though.

After the starter is good I can start making my own sourdough breads. I hope to experiment with a pumpkin sourdough, but right now I will just be happy to make regular sourdough.

Here is how I made my sourdough starter:

  • 2 cups warm water
  • 1 package of active dry yeast
  • 2 cups water

Mix yeast into the warm water. You need a glass or ceramic container. It needs to be big enough to let it expand.

Once yeast is whisked in slowly add flour, mixing so that it does not get clumpy. Cover with a towel and find a place to let it sit. Once ready store in the refrigerator until you are ready to use.

I have mine on the counter, in a corner. You want to check it often. once it is bubbly and smells sour but good, it is ready. If it shows and weird colors like pink or orange through it out ASAP. That is mold and can make you very sick.

To feed your sourdough just replace equal parts of flour and water that you use. If you take a cup of starter add a cup of flour and a cup of water and a pinch of sugar. Leave it back on the counter until it is ready again. If you are not using it all the time, you will need to feed it. I am still learning about that, but I did find a website that is useful! Be sure to read through Breadtopia, So far this seems like a useful page! I am reading Managing your Sourdough Starter for tips!

Container Victory Garden

back to basics

I am starting a victory garden.

There is nothing more basic than growing your own food. Kids can get really into this too. When you do not have time to work on it, kids are often more than willing to help you out.

431px-Victory-garden

Because of where I live I am doing a container garden. People have been going to jail for planting gardens all across the country, and that is something I would like to avoid. My plan is to grow as much as I can in movable containers.

I have been testing some ideas and things for years, but never did any serious gardening. I am starting now. I have looked into fall season plants, but living in Texas and having the option of growing indoors opens up even more possibilities.

Thanks to Listia I am going to be getting some heirloom seeds. I have a few of my own put away too.

I am just getting started, but I will share with you what I have learned in a lifetime of experiments of growing food.

  • Seed depth is important! Read about any plant before you grow it.
  • Read to see if that plant does well in containers, not all plants do. Some plants thrive in them.
  • Make sure your plants get the right amount of light. Some plants need lots of light, but some like partial light.
  • Careful what plants are near each other. Some plants cross pollinate. Sometimes this is good, sometimes you get bland strawberries with sweet tomatoes (with strawberries in them).

What am I going to grow?

I want to start with important foods. Lettuces, Tomatoes, and Popcorn.

I want some squash and potatoes too. I am not sure how well squash does in a container though. I have to do some research. The potatoes do really well at least. I want to do some beans too, but I need to look into what type of containers I need.

Popcorn can grow in pots, but it makes it smaller, so I am doing colorful popcorn hidden in the flowers around my house. I have to find them but I have strawberry popcorn seeds hiding in my house.

Today I am starting some yellow popcorn seeds and potatoes germinating. If I can find them, the strawberry ones too. I have lettuce and tomatoes coming in the mail, and will get them started as soon as they come.

How to Cook Pumpkin for Pies & Breads

A long time ago I was taught how to cook up a pumpkin for pie. I love pumpkin pies, and I really can not get enough of them.

Every fall I cook a year’s worth of pumpkin, portion it out and freeze it. This is a really easy but time consuming project. Once you taste a pie made from fresh pumpkin you will never settle for less!

back to basics

IMG_1261

First thing you should do is pick the kind of pumpkin you want. I did not take pictures of this, but I wish I had. There are different types of pumpkin but the most common will be Pie Pumpkins and Large Pumpkins.

  • Pie Pumpkins: These are smaller and sweeter to taste. You can reduce the amount of sugar in the recipe, but these will yield less pumpkin goo.
  • Large Pumpkins, or Jack O Lantern Pumpkins: These are larger, and less sweet.  They are more common and have a stronger gourd taste. If you increase the brown sugar in the recipe it really brings out the flavor. This is my favorite, if nothing else because of volume.

Other Pumpkins:

I have never used these before so I do not know anything about them. Feel free to experiment. I am sure the cooking would be the same. Here are some of the ones I have seen.

  • White Pumpkins
  • Heirloom Pumpkins

I am sure there are far more varieties then most people know. Keep in mind, a pumpkin is just a winter squash, so you can use it in any squash recipe! I LOVE pumpkin! Be sure to try my Pumpkin Stir fry recipe too!

Once you decide what kind you want you get to cook it!

There are many methods to cooking pumpkin and I have tried at least most of them. This is my preferred method.

First I cut the top of the pumpkin off, like you would a jack o lantern. After cutting off any usable pumpkin from the top I just throw it away. Next I cut the pumpkin in half cleaning out the seeds and goo.

You will quickly learn that pumpkin is a little harder to cut than you expect. I suggest using a very sharp knife with a comfortable grip.

Cut the pumpkin into cubes, about the size you would for potatoes, or a little larger. Once cut toss into a large stock pot and fill with water. I also add salt so that it will cook a little faster.

As you see I have kept the dark skin on the pumpkin. That is because it is difficult to remove raw. I have destroyed so many knives and potato peelers trying to remove it.

I prefer to only fill the stock pot half way, and cook fewer pieces at a time. I find it takes just as long to cook fewer all day as it does to fill the pot. You get your temperature up faster this way and the pieces cook quickly.

To check if the pieces are done I insert a knife into the chunks. If it’s soft enough to go through, it’s done. Once soft I strain it with a colander and and let it cool.

When cool I use a simple table knife to cut the dark skin off. It is not harmful to eat but it does not blend well and does not digest well either. I think it makes for ugly pumpkin goo.

When I am making my Honey Pumpkin and Shrimp Stir Fry I stop the process here. You can eat the pumpkin like any other squash at this point!

If you want to make pumpkin goo there is one more very simple step.

Mash the Pumpkin! I use a food processor.

In the past I have used mixers, and blenders too. I have even used a non electric hand mixer before. All of these have about the same results. I suggest avoiding blenders though, because they get hard to clean and turn out to be more mess and hassle. I mash them just like I do potatoes.

As you see, this really is easy. The bigger the pumpkin, the longer it takes. If you use a lot like I do, a full day of pumpkin cooking is worth it. If you use less you can get a smaller one and only spend an hour or two.

Cooking With Fresh Pumpkin Tips:

  • This method of pumpkin cooking makes the pumpkin watery. You may want to reduce the liquids in the recipe, or strain the pumpkin overnight.
  • Fresh pumpkin is lighter in color than canned. Your pies will not have the same rich color as store bought ones. This is also a way to tell if they used fresh pumpkin or not.
  • Unfrozen pumpkin goes bad quickly. It is important to freeze right away. Remember you did not add preservatives.
  • Once thawed out, use within 24-48 hours. As with all things, if it smells bad throw it out!
  • Cooked, frozen pumpkin in a deep freeze can last a year. Most people say only 6 months. I have kept mine for a year, but if it gets freezer burn it does not taste as good. After a year it sometimes smells bad once it is thawed out.

I finally have a Mother Of Vinegar

back to basics

What is more basic than making your own vinegar? I have not made vinegar yet, but I have made a mother. This is key to making good vinegar.

This was easier the second time around than I expected. Anyone can do this, and learn from my fail! Do not let your forming mother get hot. Do keep it warm in a dark place though.

On July 1st I posted about trying to start a Mother of Vinegar.

The method I used to start it is a pretty common one, but it didn’t work. After some reading I decided that I may have let it get too hot. I read it should be warm, but this is Texas and warm means something else here.

mov

So this is what it looked like from start to finish. I was really disappointed.

Lots of people suggested using Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar to make the mother. So for the second one I mixed 1 part apple cider Vinegar to 2 parts old white wine. I did not take a photo of this, for some unknown reason.

(PS: on the Bragg website I saw a thing about a free sample so I just signed up for that!)

I also stored this one in a different place. I found a warm, dark place that was different than the last. This was almost 3 weeks ago.

The other day, I glanced at it really fast, and was shocked to see a mother already starting to form! I am so excited!

sept25edit

This picture was taken this morning!!! The mother is still kind of thin. I want to wait to use it, so I can give it time to get thicker. Once thicker, I can peal a layer off to use for vinegar. I want to start with apple, but I was reading something about pineapple vinegar, and I think that would be an interesting flavor.

I have never eaten homemade vinegar, but I am told there is a world of difference. I noticed that the Bragg smells better than other vinegar I have bought. I am sure homemade will be even better.

Here is a better picture to give you an idea what is in my jar:

sept25 mother angle

I hope that in a week or so I can start some of my own apple cider vinegar! I found these really pretty apples at the store that I want to make a pie from. I am planning on using the scraps from that. I may include some pears or berry bits too!

Have you ever made vinegar?

If so, did you use a mother? What methods and flavors do you make?

A Stitch in Time Saves 9

This is a tutorial for basic mending skills. If you have no practice with a sewing machine you may not be able to do this right. As long as you can operate the machine, you should be able to.

 

back to basics

My grandmother was a very good seamstress, and made amazing quilts. I had no sewing talents in my youth, and oh I tried. It often ended with me in tears. Years later I decided I was going to teach myself to sew. Drawing on the lessons of my youth, and my amazing googlefu I managed to do it.

These days I find myself more mending something. So this Back to Basics post is something different from my normal kitchen posts.

I’m short.

I am 5 foot tall. Just that, there is no quarter inch or anything extra. 5 on the line. It is really hard to find pants that fit. I wear a lot of boots and that helps a lot. It never fails though, I end up with pants that are too long.

For work I have to have black slacks, and I found me a nice pair of dockers that fit me perfect except the length. They were not too bad, and I thought with the boots, I would have no problems.

So I was wrong:

Before

In fact it was so bad I managed to get a rip up on of the back

I neglected fixing this for a while and the rip just got bigger. The words of my grandmother, “A stitch in time saves nine,” echoed in my head. As my work days got longer for the busy season I had less and less time. My last day off I decided to not only fix the rip, but take the pants up too.

Here is a basic tutorial on mending pants:

Hopefully you are smart enough to fix your pants before they get as bad as mine. If so you can skip a few of these steps!

The first thing I did was fix the rip. I cut off all the longer strings and cleaned up the tear. I did a quick hand stitch first. This will keep everything in place.

When hand stitching I do not tie a knot at the end of some thread like most people do. I use another method I learned from cross stitching. I cut a length of thread twice the size I need it, and fold it. I thread the needle through both of the end pieces, leaving a loop on the other end.

I start a stitch, careful not to pull everything through, leaving the loop open. Insert the needle through the loop and then you pull it tight. From there stitch as normal. I took pictures of this, but I decided to spare you the boring details.

Next I needed to clean up the bottom of the legs.

Using a ruler and some contrasting chalk I found the highest point of damage and cut everything below it off.

Once it was cut I tried them on, to see how much room I have to hem and take them in.

The important thing to remember

is that you need to sit down when measuring. When you sit, pants rise. If you take them in too much you will end up with high waters when you sit.

Measure twice, cut once!

I know this is a wood working rule, but really this is important in most crafts.

I always measure before I start pinning and I keep a ruler or a seam gauge close and check my seams as I go.

Personally I hate raw edges, so I always do a double hem. The first pinning is half the size I want to take the pants up

Once this is stitched up, I need to trim it up more, to make the final seam cleaner.

Anytime two seams meet, things get bulky. This can make it hard to sew, and you can even break a needle on your sewing machine.

Cut a small arch in the fabric over the other seam. When you go to pin this part be aware, and watch it closely when sewing.

Like the first time make sure your seam is even all around. Always double check your measurements.

After pinning, I always try them on again. Make sure everything is lined up right, and everything hangs correctly.

Be VERY Careful!!!

Stepping on a stick pin hurts REALLY bad!

Once you are satisfied that you have everything right, finish it up!!

I’m so happy that I now have nice clean edges on my work pants!!! Maybe I should take up some pajama pants on my next day off. Well maybe not, but I can dream right?

I still have to make a week’s worth of muffins and about a ton of yogurt. I need some cream cheese for a new recipe I found on Facebook! I will sharing the results of that on my friend’s new facebook page: Recipe Results.

Homemade Butter

IMG_1184

back to basics

Homemade Butter is one of my favorite treats! Spread some of this on some crackers and you have a happy Mamma Kitty (That’s Me!)

This is by far the easiest thing in the world to make. If you have kids, it is even easier.

Pour heavy whipping cream into a container and add a pinch of salt. Be sure the lid is closed tightly. I like to use a clear container so that I can see how it is forming up.

Shake the heavy whipping cream. First it will become a solid creamy mass, this is not butter yet! Keep shaking. If your arms get tired, pass the jar off to a kid. After a while it will start to separate. This is good!

The solid part is butter! The liquid is real buttermilk. To me this taste nothing like buttermilk you buy. I hate the buttermilk in stores, but I have always loved fresh.

Once it is completely separated, you strain it. Save the butter milk for cooking with and enjoy your fresh butter!

Real butter is a creamy white color. It is not yellow like margarine. If does not have to be refrigerated either, but it does last longer when it is.

When does it expire?

Both the butter milk, and the butter should be dated with the same date as the heavy whipping cream. Really though it may last longer. When butter spoils it gets mold on it. If it is kept out on the counter, this is about a week. When kept cold it is much longer. I have never had any go bad when chilled, because we eat it so fast.

Feel Free to Experiment:

Butter is a great base for flavors. Not only is it amazing by itself, but when you add herbs and spices it can be amazing!

Garlic is an obvious idea, but do not limit yourself to that. In the Victorian era rose or lavender butter was very popular. I like mine extra salted, but you can add cinnamon and sugar if you prefer sweet.

Try a rosemary butter with your next baked potato! Get creative!

Another fun idea is shaped butter. I use candy molds. Smooth soft butter into a clean candy mold and freeze it. I like to make mine the night before. Use a smaller mold like flowers or sea shells, that will be about a tablespoon of butter. If the mold is too large you are stuck with a big portion of butter.

Have an interesting flavor idea?

Let me know! I always love trying new things! I wonder what we can come up ith?

Back to Basic: Lemon Vinegar

8569832562_4de386881c

back to basics

Lemon Vinegar: Cleans your house and your insides!

For the last year I have been really into lemons. They have the amazing health benefits and I love the taste. I have even read that adding real cane sugar does not reduce the health benefits.

If you are not familiar with some of the benefits of lemons, here are some of the things I know from my own personal use of them.

  • Drinking Lemon water gives you energy boosts, helps hydration, and helps constipation. Lemon water is also good for sore throats.
  • Lemons are very high in Vitamin C.
  • Lemons are an acid, but they make your body more alkaline.
  • Immune building and clears skin

Although I have not had problems with kidney stones or gallstones I hear it is good for that as well. I have also heard that lemons neutralize free radicals linked to aging and disease.

There is a reason that so many cleaners are lemon scented. Vinegar is also a great cleaning tool!

I recently starting making a lemon cleaner!

I can use this same recipe and dilute it to fit my needs!

  • Cut 6 small lemons
  • Squeeze the lemon slices into a large glass container.
  • Put the lemons into the container as well.
  • Add 1 quart of white vinegar to the container.

Let the mix sit over night to a few days. I like to let it sit until it is a deep yellow color like lemon-aid. Once you are happy with it, strain, and dilute to need. I keep it in the fridge, but I am not sure it has to be. I am honestly not sure how long this is good for. I would discard if it ever smells bad. You want it to smell lemon fresh but still like vinegar! 

For an all purpose house cleaner:

Dilute with equal parts water and lemon vinegar. This can be used to clean anything in your home and is completely non toxic. My floors have never been so clean!!! While cleaning there is a strong vinegar smell, but that is gone once it dries. The lemon smell lingers a little longer. Since this is antibacterial and antiseptic I also use it to clean door knobs and handles once a week.

For an internal cleaner:

Mix 1 oz lemon vinegar to 8 oz water. I mix it in water bottles and drink a glass a day as needed. This is a great colon cleanse, aids digestion, and helps with constipation.

For Pets:

This can also help with most parasites that pets may have. This does not replace anything that your vet recommends. About once a week I mix 1 oz of the internal use diluted lemon vinegar into the pets water. This will dilute it more and is safe for most pets. The dog loves it. The cats are annoyed but drink it. Be warned, they will poop more!

Mother of Vinegar update

A while ago I posted about starting a mother of vinegar. Well that was just over a month ago.

I am sad to update that there has been no change in it. I should see something by now. I am about to look into another method of making one.  I added vinegar to old white wine.

If you have ever made one, and have tips and tricks I would love to hear!

Back to Basics is more than a blog post for me. Sometimes these posts are things I already do. Sometimes they are the results of experiments. I am thankful that most of them have been successful. So far this one has not been. I really hope to be able to make a Mother of Vinegar. I know you can buy them, but hear they do not ship well. I do not know anyone who has one to cut a piece off.

This post is more of a reminder that you may not get everything right the first time, but when you keep trying it is often worth it. Sometimes though you need to know when to cut your losses. I am not there yet with this, and I really hope it does not come to that!

Homemade Cream Cheese and Cheesecake Recipe

Sorry for not having a Back to Basics post last weekend. I was just too busy. The fun part is that I was busy with this recipe!

My oldest son, an aspiring chef, turned 14 on the 5th and on the 7th we had a big BBQ with homemade cheese cake in his honor. He helped in every aspect of the making of his birthday cake.

back to basics

Before I get started I want to say this project does take a lot of time and you want to keep that in mind before starting. It take 2-3 days for me (depending on my work hours).

This is very easy, a little messy and very time consuming.  To make cream cheese all you need is milk and a yogurt starter!

Cream cheese is made from yogurt!

IMG_1163

I didn’t know this until recently. I got really excited, because I have recently started making my own yogurt. Making yogurt can take like 16 hours, but is very easy. If you do not know how, check out my post with instructions: Homemade Yogurt

When making yogurt, some people strain it to get Greek yogurt. If you strain it over night it becomes cream cheese. The longer you let it set the firmer it becomes. When straining your yogurt you should save the clear yellow liquid. This is called Whey and is very useful. I even have a recipe for oatmeal muffins with whey, that my whole family loves.

Most cheese cake recipes call for 2 cups of cream cheese. To get 2 cups you need  about 4 cups of yogurt. This can vary of course and feel free to make extra. Some recipes do call for more cream cheese so keep this in mind before you make it. After spending 2 days, you really do not want to find yourself short.

Here is some fully strained cream cheese

When does it expire?

When does this expire is a question I often find myself asking when I make stuff. My best guess would be like yogurt, it expires on the date the milk used to make it does.

Easy No Bake Cheese Cake

for the crust:

  • 20 sheets of gram crackers (I like chocolate ones)
  • 1/2 c. soft butter
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  1. Put the gram crackers in a large storage bag and crush with a rolling pin. You can also brake with your hands. You want it coarse.
  2. Mix in sugar an butter and press into the pan, and set aside.

for the cake:

  •  16 oz (2 cups) homemade cream cheese, room temp
  • 14 oz can of sweetened condensed milk
  •  1/4 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tea vanilla
  1. Fold the sweeten condensed milk into the cream cheese until fully mixed.
  2. Fold in lemon juice and vanilla.
  3. If you want to add fruit or melted chocolate this is a good time.
  4. Pour the mix into the prepared pan, and smooth it out with a spatula.
  5. Leave in refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving. You can smooth the top with wax paper after it is firm too.

For Dante’s birthday BBQ we made a bunch of toppings from fresh fruit. All we did is reduce the fruit with a little cane sugar to make a simple syrup. We set it up like a Sunday bar letting people choose their own toppings.