If it seems like a struggle just to get dinner on the table every evening, consider planning menus in advance. Planned menus can help you organize grocery shopping and speed up dinnertime on those busy nights. Menu planning does not have to be complicated, it can be as simple as choosing a theme for one night a week or a cyclical menu that repeats every month.
If you choose a theme; Italian, breakfast items, or soups, it makes planning easier since you have already narrowed the categories. Think of your families favorite meals and while you are planning, jot down those items you would not typically have on hand. Remember to balance the meal and include fresh fruits and vegetables. Typically there is not much preparation needed with fresh produce, especially if it can be eaten raw. Frozen fruits and vegetables are also very nutritious and sometimes easier to have on hand, especially if you like to grocery shop only once or twice a month.
Designating one night a week to eat leftovers will help eliminate food waste—unless someone in your home consistently takes leftovers for lunch.
Designing your own cyclical menu may take a bit of time at first, but since you will be reusing it on a regular basis, in the long run it will be worth the time invested. Remember to work on your grocery list as you plan the menu. Cyclical menus typically repeat once every month to six weeks. You may want to plan a cyclical menu to have on hand and vary the routine by planning menus for several weeks between uses of the cyclical menu.
1. Prepare the apples–peel, core, slice. Place in a bowl and cover with water and lemon juice; this prevents browning while you make the crust. When filling the crust, add 1 extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca or 1/2 tablespoon of corn starch. This will help prevent leakage of filling during baking.
2. Prepare the crust, roll and place in pan. Add the top curst but DO NOT cut vent holes. You will do this just before baking.
3. Wrap the finished pie well, or place in large freezer bag.
When you want to use the frozen pie, follow these directions for baking:
1. Cut vent holes in the frozen crust.
2. Put pan on cookie sheet.
3. Bake without thawing at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Lower temperature to 375 degrees and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until top crust is brown. Enjoy the taste of the freshly baked pie.
It seems that we speak to people making fruit spreads all summer long. It starts when rhubarb and strawberries are ripe and continues into the fall. The terminology of fruit spreads can be confusing so here is a simple explanation of the variety of products that can be made from fruit.
Jelly—possibly the most popular product for home food preservation. Jelly is made from fruit juice, sugar, and pectin. Jelly is somewhat clear and translucent with a bright color. The sugar in jelly is what preserves it, thus it is an important ingredient. Jelly should form a thick enough jel to “jiggle” when shaken, yet tender enough jel to spread on bread or toast.
Jam –probably the second most popular product for our callers. Jam is a thick, sweet spread made with the whole fruit. Often the fruit is chopped or crushed. Jam will be spreadable but somewhat thicker than jelly.
Preserves—these are made from whole fruit or chopped pieces of fruit. The fruit is plump and tender surrounded by somewhat thickened, clear syrup.
Conserves—have a consistency more like a jam and often include nuts and dried fruits along with the fresh fruit.
Marmalades—are soft jellies that contain bits or pieces of fruit and fruit peels. Often they are made of citrus fruits.
It’s time to think about harvesting vegetables as the gardening season winds down. After you have spent hours choosing seed, planting, weeding, and watering your garden it only makes sense to store the vegetables carefully. You have many options for storing vegetables. Canning, freezing and drying are not your only choices. Many vegetables benefit from moist storage in a cool, dark area. If you are fortunate enough to have basement storage that can be heated without being overheated, you can build shelves and bins for vegetables. A small room that can be insulated from the rest of the basement with shelves and separate ventilation works even better. Plans for such a room are available.
Roasted vegetables are one of my favorite foods. This time of year it is really easy to roast vegetables on the grill. Any vegetable fresh from the garden is enhanced by this slow cooking method that caramelizes the natural sugars present. Vegetables can be roasted in the oven any time the grill is not a convenient option. Spend Smart. Eat Smart. website has a great recipe for oven roasted vegetables.
Vegetables can be roasted individually–think fresh roasted asparagus stalks, or in a combination–think potatoes, onions, carrots and mushrooms. Remember to cut the vegetables in uniform sized pieces so that all the vegetables will cook evenly.
Roasting vegetables can be done on the grill or in the oven. They are a special treat especially this time of year when the vegetables are coming fresh out of your garden! The best roasted vegetables are soft and tender, browned and caramelized and full of flavor. It is easy to roast the vegetables, but there are some tricks to making them come out delicious. These tips are adapted from How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson.
Preheat the oven. Set the oven anywhere between 350°F to 450°F. The lower temperature will take longer to roast the vegetables.
Cut the vegetables into even sized pieces. If you have smaller vegetables they can be roasted whole as long as they are similar in size to the other vegetables.
Toss with oil. Oil will help the vegetables brown so toss them with 1-2 Tablespoons of olive or vegetable oil. It will also help to hold the spices or seasonings that you add.
Don’t crowd the vegetables. The less the vegetables touch each other the more surface area on them will brown.
Add a small amount of salt before you roast. Many restaurants add salt at the beginning of the roasting process and also at the end.
Use the top third of your oven. This will help them to brown the best.
Shake or turn the vegetables. In order for the vegetables to brown evenly move them around by using a spatula or shaking the pan, after they start turning brown.
Roast them thoroughly. Your goal is to have the vegetables both brown and tender. If they start to get too dark, cover with foil until they are tender and take the foil off for the final 5 minutes. If they are tender but not as brown as you want move the pan to the upper part of the oven.
Finish the vegetables. Add a final drizzle of olive oil and a little sprinkle of salt to finish off the vegetables. You could also add fresh pepper, lemon juice, minced herbs (parsley, thyme).
Serve the vegetables warm. Any vegetables left should be cooled in a single layer so they don’t get soggy.
With these tips you will be offering your family and friends delicious roasted vegetables from home!
There is nothing more frustrating than taking the time to pick, prepare, and can something and open the canner to find broken jars and wasted food. Here are the top 12 reasons your jar might break inside the canner.
Using old jars. Antique canning jars are attractive but perhaps not the best choice for a product that is very labor intensive to prepare.
Nicks or small cracks in the jar. Always check for small nicks or hairline cracks before filling jars.
Not releasing trapped air bubbles inside the jar.
Using metal utensils to release trapped air—this can cause scratches or weak spots inside the jar.
Fluctuating pressure inside a pressure canner. Watch the gauge or listen to the “jiggle” of the weight to maintain a constant pressure.
Reducing pressure too quickly. Resist the impulse to run cold water over the pressure canner after the processing time is up. That is a quick and easy way to destroy all your hard work.
Placing hot jars into a canner of cold water.
Forgetting to add water to the pressure canner.
Forgetting to put the rack into the bottom of the canner. Jars bouncing around during processing are at a high risk of breaking.
Setting your hot, already processed jars into a draft to cool.
Screwing the bands onto the jars too tightly. Remember, finger-tight only.
Following canning directions carefully will help you avoid jar breakage.
There is nothing better than a fresh, homemade pie. Fresh fruit is so abundant this time of year; it is nice to preserve that fresh flavor. It is easier than you think to freeze a pie and enjoy it later.
Directions for freezing a two crust pie:
Make your favorite pie recipe as usual but remember to add an extra tablespoon of flour or tapioca. If you use corn starch as a thickener, add an extra half tablespoon. This will prevent boil over while the pie is baking.
Do not cut vent holes in the top crust. You will do that at the time you bake the pie.
Freeze your completed pie in the pan. Package it for the freezer.
An unbaked pie will have more of a fresh-fruit flavor than a frozen, already baked pie. If you are using a very juicy fruit, you may want to cook, thicken and chill the filling before filling the pie crust.
Directions for baking your frozen pie:
Cut some vent holes in the top crust of the still frozen pie.
Place pie onto a cookie sheet.
Bake without thawing at 450° for 15-20 minutes.
Reduce temperature to 375° and bake an additional 20-30 minutes or until the top crust has browned.
I’m beginning to harvest some of the peppers growing in my garden. Now is a great time to make some pepper jelly. It is really important to follow the directions in a tested recipe as the ingredients in this recipe are lower in acid than other jellies made of fruit. My family really enjoys taking a jar of this jelly and pouring it over a brick of cream cheese. This makes a really easy appetizer when served with crackers. It also goes well with roast beef.
Pickled beets are another way to enjoy one of the lesser used vegetables. The process for making pickled beets is really pretty easy. Just remember that you want to leave one inch of stem and one inch of root on the whole beet when cooking them before beginning the pickling process. Leaving some stem and root intact prevents color loss in the beets; also called bleeding. After the beets have cooled, it will be an easy task to slip the skins off the beets.
Most pickled beets call for pickling spices. This is readily available at grocery stores, or you may choose to make your own. The Ball Blue Book contains an easy to follow recipe for pickling spice.