Nov 22, 2014

Thanksgiving Preparation

Our Thanksgiving table will be small this year, but full of love, nonetheless. It will be my husband, my daughter, my two grandsons, and myself. It doesn't matter to me if we have 30 people at the table or three - Thanksgiving needs to feel like a holiday!

Which means, of course, we eat in the dining room with the good china. LOL

I made up my To Do List today to get everything done for Thursday's big day. Here's how I've planned it:

Saturday (today)
Clean out refrigerator

Wash tablecloth and napkins
Iron if needed
Make grocery list

Grocery shopping
Run good china and silverware through dishwasher

Clean house, including
Vac dust downstairs
Clean downstairs bathroom
Put tablecloth on, napkins out
Get out serving bowls, platter, serving utensils

Baking day
2 pies - apple and pumpkin
Dinner Rolls
2 loaves bread
Jeff goes to store to pick up fresh turkey

Thanksgiving Day!
Roast turkey
Mashed potatoes
Carrots (home canned)
Boiled onions in cream sauce
Cranberry sauce (home canned)
Green Bean Casserole (daughter)
Macaroni & Cheese (for B)
Apple and Pumpkin Pie
(home canned apple pie filling)


Nov 9, 2014

This week's food money saved

It's been a great week for both stockpiling and saving money on groceries! November seems to be sale time for pork products.

I purchased two boneless pork roasts, on sale for $1.99 lb. (If I can find meat for under $2 a pound these days, I'm REAL happy!). I kept one roast whole to have in the freezer for a "company" meal. Pork roasts are definitely my "go to" company dinner.

The second roast I had the butcher (in this case, just the guy who happens to work in the meat department - I doubt he's a true butcher) slice it in 3/4 inch slices. The end result is 14 beautiful boneless pork chops at $1.99 a pound instead of $4.19. I used my FoodSaver vacuum sealer to seal up two chops per bag - that's 7 meals in the freezer at a $2.19 lb. savings.

Bone-in ham was also on sale for $1.49 a pound. Again, I had the butcher slice it in 1 inch slices for me. This gave me 7 very large ham "steaks" - each ham steak is two meals for us. I had him leave the end 5-6 inches in one piece, and I'll use this to make ham and bean or ham and lentil soup this winter. I'll add carrots, diced potatoes, onions beans or lentils and hope to get about 16 quarts of soup. Ham steaks currently go for $3.99 lb. and a simple ham hock goes for even more! Those are huge savings for me.

This week I made two loaves of honey wheat bread, and a chocolate sourdough cake - both from scratch, of course. Mr. B took home one loaf of the bread (oh my, he does love my homemade bread!), with a jar of my strawberry jam to go with it. The chocolate sourdough cake - ehhh... I didn't care for it too much, though Jeff loved it. I used a peanut butter frosting with it - thinking chocolate and peanut butter go well -- but the frosting over-powered the cake. The cake on it's own has a rather "flat" taste - perhaps if I make it again I might add a little coffee to it to give it a jolt of flavor.

I went to the grocery store once this week. I bought butter. TWENTY POUNDS of butter! It was on sale for $2.59 a pound, down from $4.19. I've been patiently waiting for butter to go on sale for several weeks. I simply toss the boxes of butter into the freezer - no wrapping, no vac seal bags. They stay just fine. Hopefully this much butter will last until the next sale. Boxes of pasta were also on sale for .49 a box. I picked up 5 boxes of elbow macaroni, 5 boxes of spaghetti, and 5 boxes of miscellaneous other pasta. I had a coupon for $1.00 off, so two of those boxes were free!

Potatoes are always on sale in November and December, so I bought two 8 pound bags of russet potatoes, and canned one bag, resulting in 8 jars of potatoes I can pull out a jar to make mashed potatoes, fried potatoes, or use in soup. I left the other bag as-is and stored them in the dark part of the basement so they will be available for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.

We had sausage and lentil soup for dinner last night. I canned it in December of 2013, so it needed to get eaten (I try and keep to a one year shelf life on all my canned items). Oh my - it was so good! Made with kielbasa sausage, lentils, carrots, potatoes and green beans. I made corn bread to go with it - from my Make Your Own Jiffy Cornbread mix - and they went with the soup perfectly. That was the last of my mix, so today I had to make up more. I haven't found a recipe to make this in "bulk", so came up with my own.

Make Your Own Jiffy Corn Bread Mix

2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups yellow corn meal
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp salt

Mix these well and store in an air tight container or jar.

To make cornbread or corn muffins:
1 1/2 cup mix
1/3 cup milk
2 tbsp vegetable oil or melted butter
(I also add: 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1 tsp sugar, plus I use 2 eggs instead of 1. We like ours a little "cakier" than standard cornbread.)

Mix ingredients, put in greased muffin tin or square or round cake pan. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes. (I take them out, brush with butter, and put back in the oven for another 2 mins.)  Let cool a few minutes before serving.

So now I have plenty of pork chops, ham, chicken and ground beef in my freezer, along with bacon and pork sausage. I even have about 10 lbs of cod fish frozen from a sale a few weeks ago. I believe I have everything I need to make Thanksgiving dinner except for the turkey, which I'll order fresh. My freezer is quite literally full, and my canning and dehydrating shelves are full as well.

I think it's time for a new grocery challenge - with the exception of coffee, milk, eggs and cheese, I'm challenging myself to NO grocery shopping for the months of November AND December! Oh my! Can I do it!?

Canning pantry

Dehydrated vegetables and fruits

Nov 3, 2014

Zaycon Foods - What to do with 40 lbs of chicken breast

I started buying meats in bulk from Zaycon Foods about 18 months ago. Their products are high quality, their prices are competitive, and they sell in bulk - which is perfect for anyone wanting to stock their freezer or add to their canning pantry.

Last week I received 40 lbs of beautiful, plump extra large chicken breasts from Zaycon. They sell these only in 40 lb boxes, so you really have to have a way to preserve all this beautiful chicken. For me, a combination of canning and freezer is the answer.

So what do you do with 40 lbs of chicken?

I'm spoiled by my local grocery store. I like chicken breasts to be tear-dropped shaped and without any back or side meat attached. So I pull these breasts out one by one, trim off any fat (there certainly isn't much, but there is some and if you're canning it's better to have as little as possible), then trim off any side or back meat. Of course I don't waste any of that fat or meat! It all goes into a large bowl to be dealt with later.

I  use my vacuum sealer to bag up 6 packages of two breasts each - enough for a nice meal of baked chicken for the two of us. (Actually, these breasts are SO large that we've been dividing one between us!).

32 pints of beautiful chicken
But I don't have much room in my freezer these days, so the remaining chicken will be pressure canned. If you've never had home canned chicken you're missing out - it is so juicy and so tender and flavorful (if you use great chicken to start), and there are so many ways to use it. Along with that, we once lost our power for a full ten days when a severe wind storm hit our area. I never want to be in a position again where we lose a freezer full of meats because of a power outage! With pressure canning, the shelf life of the chicken will be about 1 year, while chicken in the freezer needs to be eaten by 9 months.

Chicken is especially easy to can. I cut all the chicken into large chunks - about 2 inches by 2 inches, packed it into a pint mason jar (you could do quarts), and pressure can according to current tested safety measures (See National Center for Home Food Preservation). I add no water or broth. As the raw chicken is pressure canned, it creates it's own broth.

Trimmings for broth 

So, from my trimmed chicken breasts, I canned 32 pint jars of chicken. Each pint jar is more than enough for 2-4 people, especially if you're using it in a soup or casserole or salad.

Once the chicken was canned, it was time to move on with those scraps of meat, fat and skin I kept when trimming the chicken breasts. I chopped up (all measurements approximate) 1 cup of celery (with leaves!), 1 cup of carrots, 1 cup of onions, and 2 cloves of garlic. I put a tablespoon of olive oil in the bottom of my soup stock pot, added the veggies and just cooked until the onions were translucent. Then I added the chicken (meat, skin, fat) and 15 quarts of water. . I brought this to a gentle boil, used a slotted spoon to skim off the top of the broth, then let it simmer all afternoon - about six hours in all. I let the stock cool for a bit, then poured it through a sieve into another large stockpot. I put the stockpot full of broth, covered, out in my garage to cool for the night. I hand picked through the veggies and chicken to find the nice chunks of chicken to use later in soup. I threw out the veggies and chicken skin.

The next morning after the chicken stock had cooled thoroughly, I brought it in and used a spoon to spoon off the chicken fat that had risen to the top and solidified. What was left was 15 quarts of a beautiful golden chicken stock.

Chicken soup, broth and I made 4 qts of grape juice too!
Since I wanted to make and can chicken soup, next I diced up two carrots, two stalks of celery, an onion, and the chicken pulled from yesterday's pot of stock. My pressure canner will fit 7 quart size jars, so that's how many jars of soup I wanted to make. Into each quart jar, I put equal amounts of the carrots, celery, onions and chicken. Plus I added a half-clove of garlic, and 1/4 tsp of salt, pepper, oregano, dried parsley, cumin and poultry seasoning. I also added about 1/8th cup of defrosted frozen corn and frozen peas. Then I filled each jar with the beautiful broth I'd made, and pressure canned it according to directions.

There's still more! After canning the 7 quarts of chicken soup, I still had lots of broth left, and canned 9 pints and 2 quarts.

So, from my 40 lbs of chicken, I made:
6 packages - 2 breasts each - for the freezer
7 quarts of homemade chicken soup
32 pints of canned chicken in broth
9 pints of chicken stock
2 quarts of chicken stock

What will I use all that canned chicken in? Lots of YUMMY dishes! First, anything you use canned tuna in - salad, casseroles, etc - you can substitute the canned chicken. I use it in Chicken Alfredo over spaghetti, or in a yummy Chicken Alfredo and Brocolli Pizza. I combine it with black beans, corn and salsa to make chicken burritos (these freeze well too). And probably my favorite recipe is to make No Butter Butter Chicken (just adjust the recipe to simply reheat your chicken, since you don't have to cook it.). I can make another family favorite, Southern Style Chicken and Dumplings. Mmm. it's all good!

If you're new to pressure canning, here are some links that will help you. It's important to follow strict safety guidelines in canning, especially when canning meat.

Basic pressure canning instructions:

Basic freezing instructions:

How to pressure can chicken broth:

Safe recipe to make chicken soup for pressure canning

Other pressure canning recipes for chicken:

Here are the exact supplies I use:

Nov 2, 2014

Precious time with family

Our three precious grandchildren - Riley (7 mo.), Brayden (8) and Aimee (3)
It was a hectic, but joyful week last week, with my son and his family visiting for a few days. I absolutely loved having my three grandchildren together even for a short time. Three year old Aimee is quite a charmer! She's a little peanut of a girl, has beautiful manners, and loves to help in the kitchen.

We really only had one full day of the grandkids all together, but the weather was cold and rainy, so we couldn't go outside or the playground or the Zoo, which would have been nice. Luckily, I had a great activity for Mr. B (8) and Miss Aimee (3) that I'd picked up on Amazon. It's a cardboard rocket ship that the kids colored before we put it together. It kept them (and some of the adults) busy for quite awhile! (Providing a link in right hand column of the blog.)

We ate well while the family was here. For lunch, I made homemade pizza - a simple bread dough crust, home canned tomato sauce, sausage and cheese. Brayden and Aimee made their own small sized pizzas - Brayden is a pro in the kitchen because he's been cooking with me since he was two. It was my first time cooking with Aimee, and she knew just what to do! It was fun.

Dinner for all seven was a boneless pork roast cooked with garlic and rosemary, mashed maple sweet potatoes, and home canned green beans cooked with onions, bacon and garlic (southern-style). I also made some homemade wheat rolls and an apple syrup gravy for the pork roast.

Aimee loves Elmo
My house was a mess for the entire time company was here, with coffee cups and drink cups, bags and suitcases, toys everywhere. And I loved it. That mess meant my family was home and comfortable. That mess meant my house was filled with kids. I picked up after myself and attempted to keep the kitchen clean, but other than that I'd rather sit down and watch the kids have fun than be cleaning up behind them all the time. I knew my time with everyone was temporary - the mess could wait.

I love my family. They mean the world to me. Life is always good - but it's especially sweet when my family is sitting together at the kitchen table, and I have those three little faces smiling at me.