Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dutch Oven Cranberry Beef

Over the weekend I was thinking about my fresh cranberries in the fridge that I wanted to use up. I know I can freeze them, but wanted to make something with them. So the idea that popped into my head was cranberry beef… and this was the recipe I came up with. I had no idea how it would turn out but took pics anyway. I figured if it did not turn out I would just toss the pics and not share. But if it did turn out I wanted to be able to share it with you. So I made this yesterday for dinner. And let me tell you it was sooooo good!! My family went nuts over it. So here it is…

Dutch Oven Cranberry Beef

Olive oil
1- 4 to 5lb beef roast
1 large onion, chopped
1T minced garlic
½ green pepper, chopped (or a few mini peppers)
2 cups cranberries
¼ cup water
½ cup honey
1t salt
½ t pepper

Heat your dutch oven over medium high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom. When the oil is hot set your roast into the pan and let brown for a minute or so and then turn and brown on the other side. Remove roast and set aside. In hot dutch oven add your chopped onions and peppers and let them cook until they are soft.

Add cranberries, water, honey, salt and pepper. Stir a few times to let it all get hot and some of the cranberries start to pop. Put the roast back in the pot and move it around some so the veggie/cranberry mixture is surrounding it.

Put the lid on and put in a 325 degree oven. Let this cook for 3 to 4 hours.

Now here it is in pics.....

Begin my chopping up your onions and pepper (I used several mini peppers)…

Heat a dutch oven over medium high heat and then add a layer of olive oil. When the olive oil is hot sear your meat. I had two roasts which came to about 5lbs. I had to cut up one of them so it would fit into the dutch oven…

When the meat has browned (a minute or so on each side) remove it and set it aside. Add the onions and peppers and garlic to the dutch oven cook them until they are soft…

Now add the cranberries, water, honey, salt & pepper…

Stir and let this cook until it is hot and the cranberries start to pop open a bit. Now put your meat back into the dutch over and smoosh it down and around so the veggies/cranberries are surrounding it all.

Put the lid on…

Put it into the oven and cook it at 325 for 3 to 4 hours…..

This meal is easy to make and tastes incredibly yummy!! I served it with buttered noodles, green beans and a salad. Lots of happy satisfied tummies last night!!


Monday, November 28, 2011

Homemade Gift Idea: Bath Salts

Bath salts are an easy and inexpensive homemade gift. The basic ingredients can be found in most any store such as Walmart or Target. The exception to this is the essential oil or fragrance oil. If you are doing small projects such as this one the best way to find the fragrance or essential oil is on ebay.com. If you plan on making a lot of items that need these types of oil then you can also try SweetCakes ( http://sweetcakes.com/ )for a nice variety of scents.

Basic Bath Salts
Crystal Miller

1 ½ cups Epson salt
1 cup baking soda
½ cup sea salt
Essential oil or fragrance oil, your choice

Mix all ingredients together well. I find using my hands to do this does the best job. Put in glass canning jars or zip-type bags for gift giving.

Now, lets make some bath salts!!

Gather your ingredients together…

Measure the Epsom salts into a bowl…

Then the baking soda…

And the sea salt…

Stir it around real well to make sure it is combined…

Now add your fragrance oil (or essential oil). I used warm vanilla sugar from sweetcakes.com for this batch. The amount you add depends on how mild or strong you want the scent. Add several drops at a time and then use your hands to mix it in. Otherwise you will end up with tiny lumps of super strong bath salts! :) Smell it and see if you want to add more..

When you are done you can spoon it into any type of container for giving away. The basic recipe will fill 4 half pint canning jars. You put a lid on the jars and decorate with ribbon, fabric, a homemade label, etc.. This recipe can easily be doubled or tripled to make as much as you need.



Saturday, November 26, 2011

Updates from the Homestead

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving Day! I know our family certainly did. It was the first time in 6 years that we had all been together. It was such a fun day. My daughters did all the cooking except for the mashed potatoes and stuffing which I made the day before and they were warmed up in crockpots for our dinner. I was super impressed by the team work of my daughters! They did an awesome job putting it all together.

Here are a few pics from our day..


Now it is time to decorate the house for Christmas! A real live fresh Christmas tree has always been our tradition. However over the last few years I have wanted to buy an artificial tree. My kids were not into the idea but, I personally was tired of the mess of a real tree makes (needles falling off the tree are a constant daily cleaning job :). Not to mention that typically a tree makes it a couple weeks before it starts really drying out. I have always wanted to put the tree up the weekend after Thanksgiving and enjoy it a little longer. I talked with my hubby about the idea and he was fine with it. A few weeks ago we were in Costco and they had their artificial trees for sale and we purchased one. The kids are all warming up to the idea! ~smile~ I am super excited to get the tree up today! My plan this morning is to get the living room all dusted and vacuumed and the furniture moved around to make room for our tree.

After the tree is up and the house is decorated it will be time to start planning out Christmas baking. I will be making cookies over the next couple of weeks and putting half of them in freezer for Christmas day and for cookie platters to give to friends and neighbors.

Here are my favorite cookie recipes…

Peanut Butter Oatmeal http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/peanutbutteroatcookies.htm 
Nadine’s Chocolate Chip Cookies http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/nadineschocolatechipcookies.htm 
Sugar Cookies: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/sugarcookies.htm 
Gingerbread Men: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/gingerbreadmencookies.htm 
Cherry Cheesecake Bars: http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/cherrycheesecakebars.htm 

That is all from the homestead for now!!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How to Roast a Turkey


I am sure a lot of you reading this already know how to cook a turkey.  But I also know that many ladies have never done it before.  I was in my late 20’s before I cooked my first turkey.  My grandma or mom or mother in law had always done that part.  When I went to cook my first turkey I was reading lots of cookbooks and talking with my mother to learn.  It is not like we have the opportunity to practice turkey roasting too often!  

I thought I would just share from my own turkey roasting experience how I have done it.  There are lots of ways to do this and tips, etc..  and I am sure I won’t cover them all but will share what has worked for me. 

First is the actual buying of the turkey.  I typically have purchased frozen turkeys.  The week before Thanksgiving you can find turkeys at the best price of the year.  In fact I usually take advantage of these great prices and buy another turkey or two for the freezer. A mini Thanksgiving dinner at another time of the year is actually kind of fun.   A couple of years ago I bought a fresh turkey from Costco and it was good too.   

If you buy your turkey frozen you will need a few days to let it defrost.  Do not sit it on the counter to defrost.  The outside of the turkey will start to spoil before the center has completely defrosted.  This is especially true for bigger birds. I put my turkey in the refrigerator to defrost.  Two days ahead of time for a small turkey (say 12lbs or under) and three to four days for a bigger turkey.   

The night before Thanksgiving I open the turkey up and wash him and remove the giblets.  I put those in a bowl and put them back in the fridge.  The next day I boil those with some salt and use the broth for my gravy as well as cutting up the giblets to add to the gravy.   I rinse the turkey off in cool water making sure he has defrosted completely.  I put him in a large roaster pan, cover him up with plastic wrap and put him back in the fridge until the next day.   

I also make up my stuffing the night before.  Don’t put the stuffing in the bird the night before to save time.  This can once again cause spoilage.  After I make the stuffing I store it in the fridge.   

On Thanksgiving morning I pull the turkey out, preheat the oven, remove the plastic and stuff my turkey.  I find the easiest way to do this is to set the turkey in my clean sink and use a big spoon (or my clean hands)  to spoon in the stuffing.  Then I set the stuffed turkey on my roasting pan.  I melt a cube (we call them cubes here in my parts.. some call them sticks) of butter and if it is a big turkey I melt 2 cubes.  I take a brush and brush the top of my turkey with this melted butter.  Cover the bird with foil and put him in the oven to start baking.  

After he has baked for about an hour I use my trusty turkey baster and baste him with the melted butter that has drizzled to the bottom of my pan along with any other juices that have also accumulated. 

I continue to cook and baste for the required amount of time.  The closer I get to the finish time the more frequently I baste.  I also take the foil off for the last couple of hours so the turkey can brown nicely.
Now for some specifics: 
Temperature to Bake a Turkey: 
325 is what I have always done
How Long to Cook: 

If your turkey is stuffed:
8 to 12lbs  about 3 hours
12 to 15lbs  about 4 hours
15 to 18lbs about 4 ½ hours
18 to 24lbs  about 4 1/2  to 5 hours
If you don’t stuff your turkey you can subtract about anywhere from 15 minutes to a half hour off the above times.  
However my experience has been that this is a rough estimate. I have had it take longer or shorter..  Your very, very best guide will be your thermometer.   

The temperature of the whole turkey, no matter where you put the thermometer (but not touching bone) should read a minimum of 165 (and that includes taking the temp of the stuffing).  I actually like it when the temps are a bit higher than that say..  180.   

I also wiggle the drumstick and it should move very easily.   When the turkey has finished cooking, take it out of the oven and let is sit for 15 to 20 minutes.  This will give you time to make the gravy and mash the potatoes.
I hope you all have a wonderful day of good food, family and much thankfulness.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

What would Thanksgiving be without cranberry sauce?! It is always a staple at our home for the holiday meal. I like to make my own cranberry sauce. I think it tastes better and I know it is a lot more healthy than the store bought stuff in the can. You can buy fresh cranberries this time of year, they are usually located in the fresh veggie section of your grocery store.

Here is my recipe…

Spiced Cranberries

2 ½ cups cane juice crystals (or white sugar) or 1 ¼ cups honey
½ cup water
2 T lemon juice
4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
1t ground cinnamon
½ t ground cloves

In a sauce pan add sweetener of choice, water, lemon juice. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Add cranberries,
cinnamon and cloves. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes or until sauce thickens up. Allow to cool. Can be refrigerated up to 1 week or frozen.

First begin by gathering your ingredients together. I used honey to make mine…

In a medium size sauce pan put sweetener of choice, water and lemon juice..

Bring to a boil and let it cook for 5 minutes…

Now add the cranberries, cinnamon and cloves…

Bring it back to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 12 to 15 minutes….

The sauce will be a beautiful red color and taste delicious…

The sauce can be kept in the fridge for 1 week or you can freeze it.



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sausage Potato Chowder

Potato chowder of any type is really easy to make. I’ve come up with a simple way to make this soup that is not only yummy (according to my family) but simple and pretty quick and can be very flexible.

Here is my recipe..

4 lbs potatoes, peeled and cubed into bite size pieces
½ to 1 lb sausage (like Jimmy Dean type sausage)
1 medium onion, chopped
½ of a green pepper (or any other type.. red, yellow, orange)
1t minced garlic
2T olive oil
2 cups frozen corn (or 1 can of corn, drained)
2T butter
Salt & Pepper, to taste

Begin by chopping up your potatoes…

Put them in a 6qt soup pot and cover with water (the amount of water does not matter because it will be mostly drained off later, just add enough to cover the potatoes). Add about a teaspoon of salt..

Bring the potatoes to a boil and cook until they are fork tender, usually this takes about 15 to 20 minutes. While the potatoes are cooking chop up the onion and peppers (I used about 3 mini peppers that were red, yellow and orange). I also used ¾ of a pound of sausage…

Heat a large frying pan and add a little olive oil to the pan. Add your onions, peppers, garlic and sausage and cook until the sausage is no longer pink and the veggies are soft…

When the potatoes are done cooking carefully drain off most all of the water (a little at the bottom of the pot is just fine)…

Now add the cooked sausage and veggies…

Then add the corn (mine was corn that I froze from my garden)…

Gently stir it a couple of times…

Now add milk .. Add enough to cover the veggies slightly…

The amount of milk varies according to your tastes. If you like a real thick chowder add less milk.. the potatoes will break up and naturally thicken the soup. If you want more broth and soupy consistency.. add a little more. As you add the milk, stop and stir and see if you have enough or want to add more.

Add the butter and salt & pepper to taste and let the soup heat up on the stove to get nice and hot before serving…

The best part of this chowder is that you can substitute chicken, hamburger, kielbasa, or clams for the sausage to have any type of chowder you would like..


Monday, November 14, 2011

Making Hot Processed Soap

I have been making soap for several years now but I had never made hot processed soap before this last weekend.

If you are not a soap maker you may not realize that there are two ways to make soap. One is called cold processed and the other hot processed. Here is the difference:

Cold Processed (CP): This method involves combining your liquid/lye mixture with your oils and stirring until the mixture thickens (also known as “trace”) . Then pouring the mixture into molds. In a day or two you unmold, cut the bars and let the soap lay out on a flat surface to cure anywhere from 3 to 6 weeks depending on the recipe. This ensures the soap is free from all traces of lye.

Hot Processed (HP): You follow the same procedures as CP but instead of pouring into your mold you keep cooking the soap. The soap is heated and cooked all the way through to the end (meaning there is no traces of lye left in the soap). After you remove it from the mold you can cut the bars and pretty much use them right away.

I have always used the cold processed method for many reasons (the soap is smoother in texture, looks nicer, essential oils are easier to add, etc..). But every now and again I like to have a little fun time with my soap making. So over the weekend I made a batch of HP soap in my crockpot. It was pretty simple to make (this is coming from an experienced soap maker!), and it was fun.

If you are not familiar with making soap you will want to make sure you are prepared with information and the proper equipment before you start. I don’t go into a lot of that in this blog post mostly because I already have a few web pages on making soap ( http://www.thefamilyhomestead.com/homesteadcrafts.htm#Lets%20Make%20Soap   ) and an entire ebook on how to make soap, step by step filled with pictures and information ( http://crystalscountrystore.com/handmadesoapebook.htm  ) … so this little tutorial is showing just the basics of what I did. Please be knowledgeable on proper soap making procedures and cautions concerning the use of lye.

Here is my recipe…

Crystal's HP Crockpot Soap
26 oz olive oil
6 oz coconut oil
3 oz. castor oil

4.75 oz. lye
12 oz. water

1 oz fragrance oil

First of all I gathered together all my ingredients. In the picture below you can see my oils all measured out by weight (3 types of oils), the little dark colored bottle is my scent oil (I had a 1 oz sample bottle of Lemon Sugar fragrance oil and it was perfect for this batch) and on the right my water and lye…

Here is my mold… I used a small cardboard box (this recipe needs a mold that will hold 48 oz) lined with plastic..

I started by setting my crockpot on high and adding the coconut oil (any hard oils are added first to melt). While that was melting I mixed up my water and lye. When the lye and water were mixed and the coconut oil was melted I turned the crockpot to low and then added the olive oil and the castor oil to the crockpot…

Now it was time to add the lye/water mix.. unlike CP soap, the temperature of the oils and lye don’t matter when making HP soap. When you add the lye/water mix you should be stirring constantly, I found this a little hard to do and take the pic! :) ..

As soon as it was stirred in I switched to my stick blender and mixed it up..

Until the mixture reached “trace”… this is where the soap is looking like thick pudding/gravy... (it is can be hard to get a good pic of trace..).. Then put the lid on the crockpot and wait..

Now this is the point it would be put into molds if I was making CP soap.. but instead I continued to cook the soap and watched as it went through the various stages of its chemical reaction called, saponification.. this is the process of oils, water&lye becoming soap…

After about 15 to 20 minutes my mixture was looking like mashed potatoes..

After another 20 or so minutes my soap looked a bit like applesauce in texture..

And another 20 min later I had a waxy Vaseline look. I touched a bit of the soap and rubbed it on my fingers and it felt like soap, then I did the zap test.. put a little on my tongue. If there had been any lye still left in the soap I would have felt a little zap.. but I did not, so I knew I had reached my goal.

Then I added my scent oil ..

Now I was ready to spoon it into my mold. I had to spoon the soap into the mold and then every so often tap the mold on the counter to make sure I got any air bubbles out. The soap at this point is very thick to work with. When I got it all in the mold I used a piece of plastic wrap to help smooth the surface..

24 hours later I took it out of the mold..

24 hours after that I cut it into bars. I ended up with about 9 (5.25 oz)bars…

My soap is still a bit soft so I plan to let it sit and harden up before I use it. I suspect the reason it is still on the soft side is because the soap is made mostly from olive oil (olive oil takes longer to harden up than other oils). I am excited to try it out when it is done. Olive oil soaps are extremely mild and gentle on your skin.