Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Making Your Own Pumpkin Puree from Fresh Pumpkins

I finally had a chance to work on some of my pumpkins this last week. I made pumpkin puree for the freezer and roasted pumpkin seeds. My son Isaac helped me by taking some pics and he was in charge of doing the seed roasting, and he liked that quite a bit..

I planted smaller size pumpkins that were meant for pies. The big ones you get in the grocery store this time of year are not really pie pumpkins. I have heard that they tend to be stringy and not too tasty. Pie pumpkins are sweeter.. so my suggestion is if you want to do this at home see if you can locate some pumpkin varieties that were grown for making into pies (maybe farmers markets or health food stores).

I processed 4 pumpkins on this day weighing a total of 33bs. Here is how I did it…

The first pumpkin was about 8lbs.

I started by carefully cutting it in half..

Then cleaning out the insides by scooping with a spoon until all the seeds and insides were gone. Make sure you save the seeds.. I will show you at the end how to roast them.. I did all 4 of them this way..

Then it was time to cook them. I have a 14 quart stock pot and that was big enough to hold half of them. I would have used my big canner pot for the job but at the time it was sitting on the stove simmering beef broth. So I did the cooking in two batches. I added a couple inches of water in the bottom of the pot, cut my pumpkin halves in half again to get them to fit in the pot. I brought the water to a boil, put the lid on, reduced the heat and let it basically steam until the pumpkins for fork tender. This took about 45 minutes..

When they were done cooking I pulled them out of the pot and put them in a bowl.

Then I began to peel them. The peels come off pretty easy at this point. You can use a knife to loosen the peel and take it off…

But what I found to be the easiest way is to use the same thing I use to peel potatoes.. a cheese slicer .. if you have never peeled potatoes with one of these little guys.. you should.. once I tried it, I never went back to a regular potato peeler. I found the skins came off quick and easy this way..

After peeling, it was time to puree… I used my food processor. You could also use a hand blender. But the food processor made very fast work of it all…

After all the pumpkin had been processed I had a large bowl full of puree….

Which I bagged up into quart size bags. I ended up with 5 ½ quarts of pumpkin puree…

Now you can freeze this. You can not safely can pumpkin puree.  It is too heavy and dense and can not get hot enough to be able to can safely so it must be frozen.This puree can now be used in any of your favorite pumpkin recipes! 

Now for the pumpkin seeds…

This was my sons job to do and he enjoyed it quite a bit..

Begin by removing the seeds from the inside goop.. and putting them in a bowl..

Then put the bowl of seeds in the sink and fill the bowl with water to start rinsing the seeds off. Make sure you remove any pumpkin pulp you find.

Then strain the seeds to remove the water…

Measure and see how many seeds you have. Put the seeds in a large pot. For every ½ cup of seeds add 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt. Bring this to a boil. Let the seeds boil in the salt water for about 10 minutes. As you can see below we did not have a big enough pan and our water boiled over a bit.. but nothing was lost..

When the boiling time is done, strain the seeds…

Get a baking tray (preferably one with sides) and pour a little olive oil on the tray…

Spread out your drained seeds and stir them to coat with the oil….

Put your own rack at the top of you oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Put the seeds in the oven…

Bake until the seeds are golden brown. You may need to stop and stir them occasionally as they are roasting…

And here are the finished seeds!! And boy are they tasty!!  :)


Monday, October 18, 2010

Soap, Soup, Garden...

The other day I had the urge to try out a new soap recipe.  Every now and again I like to give new recipes a try.  I make so much soap every year that I have to stick to what works and I use the same recipes to ensure that my soap customers get the same product every time they order from me.  But as a soap maker I like to play around once in awhile too!  LOL..  so I tried this recipe:   I just happen to have all the ingredients on hand and the recipe used some ingredients that I have never used in making soap namely, grapeseed oil and beeswax.  I also wanted a nice fall smelling soap so I scented it as the recipe said with pumpkin spice fragrance oil and a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice..   yum.. the smell from the bars has been permeating my dining room every since!!   This is info for all the soap makers out there if you decide to try the recipe.. it traces really fast!  So be ready to pour into your mold as soon as youreach trace.  The lumpy top of my soap is because as I was trying to smooth the soap out (just after pouring it into the box) it was already setting up.  Since it was a tester recipe I just used my favorite easy and quick mold.. a cardboard box lined with a plastic garbage bag.. works like a charm..  :)   I covered it with a thick blanket for 24 hours and then took the blanket off and left it for another 24 hours.  Then I removed it from the mold…

And cut it (just like you would a pan of brownies :) ….
Now it is curing..  I can’t wait to use it but it needs about 4 weeks to harden up and finish curing. 

Soup Recipe
A few years ago a friend and I stopped at the Olive Garden for lunch and I tried, for the first time, their soup Zuppa Toscana.. it was so good.  I always wanted to try and make it myself.  Well I looked around at several recipes and never did make it.  Then a few months ago a friend shared a recipe for it.  I felt like the recipe needed a bit of tweaking for my tastes..  plus I need a large pot of soup to feed my crew and this one was too small for me.  So I played around and came up with my own version of this yummy soup.  I simplified the original recipe and used spinach instead of kale because I just don’t buy kale but I do buy spinach and I had some in fridge.  I also use whole milk in mine and the original recipe used whipping cream.. I also used my own homemade stock.  If you don’t have stock on hand you can use water and bouillon cubes or broth powder to your own tastes.  But I think the homemade stock really makes it.  I have used both chicken stock and veggie stock and felt both were equally good.  The batch I made the other night I used a mixture of both chicken and veggie because that was all I had in the freezer and it worked great.  Now, onto the recipe…   

Zuppa Toscana Soup 

2lbs sausage
1 large onion, chopped
½ lb bacon, cup up
4 to 5t minced garlic
4qts stock (can be vegetable or chicken stock)
3lbs potatoes, cut up in bite size cubes
6 cups chopped spinach
2 ¼ cups milk 

Cook sausage in 8qt stock pot until done, add bacon, onions and garlic and cook until bacon is done and onions are soft. Add stock, potatoes and spinach.  Bring to a boil and cook about 15 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.  Add milk and simmer another 5 minutes.    This meal goes great with oat dinner rolls, soft bread sticks or French bread  and a salad.   

My son Jacob and I spent 4 hours on Sunday putting the garden to bed.  We pulled weeds and cleared out plants and then he rototilled for me.  It really still needs another rototilling but I am not sure the nice weather and his schedule will come together again for that to happen…  The only thing we did not pull out was my little patch of zinnia’s, my sunflowers, my cosmos (which are just now starting to bloom!) and some alyssum my daughter planted, plus my cabbage plants..  here is what my garden looked like after we were done… 


I am sore this morning..  :)  Over the weekend I also made some beef soup stock and processed a few of my pumpkins.. I have a whole blog post coming on making your own pumpkin puree from fresh pumpkins..  so stay tuned!!  :)  Have a great Monday everyone!  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cleaning and Organizing Bug…

Well I’ve been bit.. by the cleaning and organizing bug. I think it has something to do with all the canning I have done. You know canning can make a mess of the kitchen.. so in-between canning jobs I have been deep cleaning my kitchen and everything I scrub and clean I think of the other areas in my home that need attention.

One of those areas is my laundry/pantry room. The problem is not the laundry part but the pantry part. Actually I use the room to store my cleaning supplies, small appliances, misc food stuffs, and some pots and such. It also becomes the room where things get tossed and shoved and stuck without order. It was driving me crazy every time I looked in there. 

Today I could take it no more.. So I did something very brave.. I took before pictures so you could see my disaster and then took after pictures to show that it is possible to reclaim a disaster!!! LOL..

OK.. here we go...

When you walk into the room to the left are the shelves where I store my kitchen and cleaning towels, wash cloths and rags, plus my cleaning supplies and equipment and my vacuum attachments and things like plastic trash bags..

It was so lacking organization that I cringed every time I was searching for stuff.. I began this project by removing everything on these shelves and going through it all. I had a bunch of stuff to toss out and found things I thought I lost.. LOL.. I washed down the shelves and the back wall and then began to put things back..

The 3 white baskets on the bottom shelf hold my kitchen and cleaning towels and wash cloths. To the right of that are my cleaning supplies. On the next shelf up on the right the first clear plastic tote holds my vacuum bags and attachments. Then I stack full size towels (used to clean up big jobs :), the next clear plastic tote holds cleaning equipment like brushes, squeegees and such.. prior to this they were just being tossed on the shelf.

Now comes the long shelves… When you step into the room these shelves are right in front of you.. Below those shelves is a counter and a sink and yep, the counter was full of stuff too…

Yea a real mess.. I did the same thing.. took everything off the shelves, sorted through it all, tossed some things, found better homes for other things, washed the shelves and the wall behind and then began to put it all back..

Also next to my washer and dryer (to the right when you walk in the room) I have my plastic buckets with their gamma seal lids that hold my wheat, oats and other grains. Here you can see the before (as well as the end of the counter) and by the way the little white basket you see at the end of the first shelf holds the used cloth napkins.  When we are done using them they get put in that little basket until they are washed..

And here it after I cleaned up the area, washed down the buckets and reorganized it all…

When I was done I vacuumed all the corners and edges of the floor and did a super good scrubbing of the floor..

When my hubby came in he was not only shocked but very impressed.. :)  The only other area of my home that currently is still a disaster is my basement storage area..  It gets this way every year.. and I do the big toss and clean there too..  When I do get to that room I will do the before and after pics too.. 

But for now, I plan to tackle my kitchen baking cupboards (as I mentioned in a previous blog)..  it's a small project in comparison..  :) 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Tomato Harvest and Crockpot Cooking

I bet you are getting tired of me talking about tomatoes! LOL.. but probably not as tired as I am getting from dealing with them!! Haa..haa.. actually it has been a great blessing.. to think I was worried I would not get any tomatoes! Yesterday Isaac and I picked another 32 lbs of tomatoes!

Whew.. I do think this will be the last significant picking. I have been weighing the tomatoes when I bring them from the garden and so far we have harvested about 160lbs! Out of the last batch (60lbs) I made and canned 15 quarts of spaghetti sauce and 31 pints of salsa. My canning cupboard is definitely filling up. My plan at this point is tomato sauce.. I will smoosh them up in my Victorio strainer and cook and can the sauce..

Along with the tomatoes we harvested all my pumpkins. You can see them in my new blog pic above. I got a few questions on how to process and can pumpkin. Just to clarify, I freeze my pumpkin puree and I can pumpkin in chunks.. you can’t safely can pumpkin puree. In any case, I will be posting all about that very soon.

Now the only veggie left in my garden besides a few tomatoes are my cabbages. Next week I am hoping it will be dry enough to get some work done in there. It is time to pull up plants, rototill and prepare to put the garden to bed for the winter.

I still want to do a little more canning. I love canning my own soups and such. It is so nice to have my own convenience foods on the shelf. This weekend I will be making a batch of beef stock and then plan to make this into beef and bean soup to can. I also would love to get some chili canned as well. We will see how long my canning endurance lasts! LOL..

Getting Ready for Fall Baking
Now is the time to clean out some of my cupboards in preparation for fall baking. I have a cupboard above where my Bosh sits and I keep my measuring spoons and essential baking supplies like salt, baking soda, baking powder and some spices. I also store my glass measuring cups there. Right now it looks like a disaster. So, my plan is to pull everything down, wash out the cupboards, reorganize and set myself up for not only fall baking but the holiday baking season as well.

Crockpot Cooking
When I made out my menu this week I included a few crockpot meals. My crockpot cooking comes in phases. I get really into it and then I don’t. But with canning and homeschooling and keeping up on the house, it is so nice to have dinner going in the morning and not really have to think about it until dinner time. So I guess I am going into my latest “crockpot phase”. :)

Yesterday’s crockpot meal was the recipe I have for pork roast w/sauerkraut . I did not have a pork roast so I used pork chops. I also cut up some little red potatoes and put that on the bottom of the crockpot first, then I layered the pork chops, sauerkraut, onions and apple. I added some salt and pepper between the rows too. It was yummy! :)

Today I already have my chicken and gravy in the crockpot . I doubled the amount of gravy and used 4 cups of chicken broth from the freezer in place of the water and broth powder called for. I also have a bag of cooked rice defrosting and plan to sauté up some onion, celery and red peppers and add the rice after the veggies are soft and heat it all up. I will serve a big green salad with this.

On Saturday the plan on my menu is to make a big batch of meatballs putting half of them in the freezer. With the over half I will cover them with homemade bbq sauce  heat it up in the crockpot. I also plan on a batch of mac & cheese in my smaller crockpot .

Maybe by Sunday I will have enough leftovers to serve! :) If not, then it will be a pot of soup.. Next week I will see what other crockpot inspirations I come up with for the family!

That’s all from the homestead.. I plan to be back soon and chat some more about organizing the kitchen for holiday baking..

Saturday, October 2, 2010

October Already?

I can’t believe the time just flies by like it does..  October is here?! Tobin and I were chatting yesterday and he made the comment that the heating season will begin in about a month and we will be back to starting fires every morning..  I had to laugh..  The windows in the house were open and the afternoon breezes were coming through and I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and flip flops..  hard to believe the picture will look so drastically different in one month.   

Two weeks of school are done and we are getting into the groove a bit better.  During the summer I always have all the household chores under control.  The kids and I do the chores in the morning following my schedule.  I even print out the weekly schedule each week so I can pull out the day’s chores and we can cross them off as we get them done.  But then we start school and our focus changes and then I find that things in the house start to falter a bit.  So this year I made a list of exactly what chores I want to be done before we shift our focus to the school day.  The remaining chores on the list are done in the afternoon after school.  This is what my before chores list looks like: ******************************************
Before School Chores

Feed kitties and clean them and the food area up
Unload dishwasher
Deal with breakfast dishes and clean up
Sweep kitchen floor
Clean up laundry room
Empty recycling
Start laundry – either household laundry or personal laundry
Vacuum entry rugs
Sweep dining room floor
Do a quick run through the bathroom
Pick up the living room
Clean up any personal clutter in dining room and sunroom

I have this hanging on the fridge..  I just focus on school stuff so much better when the basics are done in the morning first.  I can’t concentrate when the floors are dirty, clutter is sitting around, laundry piling up, etc..   So we all chip in and get the basics done first and then sit down in an orderly house and crack open the books!!  :) 

Garden: Thanks to several warm days more tomatoes started to ripen up!  Isaac and I went down to the garden on Wednesday and picked 60lbs of them!  Some were not quite ready so I have them ripening in the house.  But today I am sure I have enough tomatoes for another round of spaghetti sauce.  That will use up half of them.  After that I will do another batch of salsa, but that will have to wait until I pick up some cilantro from the grocery store.  I did end up getting 16 more pints of salsa canned last Monday.  So another 15 or 16 pints would be wonderful.  Any tomatoes I have left at that point I may just can .. we will see what I have left and if I get any more from the garden. 

Isaac and I also picked the first pumpkin!  It is big and orange :)  Isaac was particularly excited about this pumpkin.  It is the biggest one in my little pumpkin patch and he asked me if he could have it to carve it and I said yes..  so it is sitting on the deck now waiting to be carved by Isaac!

However the rest of the pumpkins growing are mine!  LOL..  They are actually a pie pumpkin variety.  I plan to make them into pumpkin puree and freeze it for our pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving.  If I end up with more pumpkin then I need I will cube the rest of it and can it, it would make a great addition to soups and stews. 

Today my boys and I are also going to go down to the garden to do some clean up.  I have corn plants to pull up and maybe get some rototilling done as well. 

Baby kitty update..  Our baby kitties are doing well.  They are just sooo stinking cute!  LOL..  I went to the vet on Wednesday and got some wormer for them and bought a bottle of kitty formula.  They were so much happier after formula than they had been after drinking milk, so it was the right choice.  Of course it only took 3 days and they bit the end off the bottle.. so the bottle feeding days are over, but they are getting the hang of eating normally.. it they just would not sit in the of food while they ate it!  If the container has sides on it, they dump it over….  if it is flat, like a plate, they sit in it..  so many things to learn..   But in the meantime, it is beyond cute to have two little furry balls of fluff follow you around whenever they see you outside.. 

Before I end this blog post I have a story to share..  The other day I started my computer in the morning as usual.  When it all was loaded up I had a bunch of virus warnings and could basically not do anything at all with my computer..  could not access any files.  I looked at a few other issues, started up my virus scanner, etc..  Well my virus scanner found nothing, which I knew was not the case, I ran a second virus scanner but could not get on line to update it..  Finally I got online with my laptop and downloaded the latest version on a usb drive and took it to my computer and was able to update my version and run it again.. While updating my virus scanner online I looked up how to manually remove the virus myself.. and tried but with no success,  by this time I was feeling pretty frustrated, I had spent 2 ½ hours on this and still could not get the darned thing off my computer. My son Jacob wakes up and I tell him what is going on and my frustration.. and he says to me, hmm..  let me take a look..  and in less than 15 MINUTES  He had the problem dealt with and I was back in business! .. LOL..   It is a real blessing to have your own IT support right at home..  :) 

Hope you all have a great weekend on your homesteads!!