Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Homemade Vanilla Extract & Mint Extract, too!!

2 different types of vanilla bean~lg bottle are Madagascars, sm bottle are Tahitians 

I always like to start out my little "forays" with a "why I got into THIS particular funk" story, & I suppose that this time will be no different.  So, here goes.
Recall that wonderful Pear Vanilla Jam recipe I was going to make?  The one that inspired me to go look up vanilla beans on eBay?  The one that I didn't actually end up making with the load of pears I currently had? 
Well, I DID end up ordering 10 Tahitian vanilla beans & 40 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans from eBay.  The Tahitian beans came from VanillaProducts, & although they weren't that plump or oily, they were only extract grade, & only cost $5.99  (includes shipping cost!!!)  The Madagascar beans came from Serris, France, from a seller named vanilladiscount.  They were BEAUTIFUL!!!  Plump, oily, lots of caviar.
(The caviar is the little tiny black seeds that can be scraped out of the interior of the bean.)
And they only cost $9.99, w/ free shipping!!  VERY inexpensive!  (I seem to just walk into these deals, I don't know.  I call it blessings)

you can see how pretty these madagascar beans are~click the pic to enlarge & then again for even more detail

So, ok, I have ordered the beans, & I have every intention of making that Pear Vanilla Bean jam.  (Which I am still going to make, by the way, my second load of pears just aren't quite ripe yet.)
But as with all things that I OCD on, I seem to "go long".  Get a little more than really necessary.  And you guessed it, I really did get WAAAYY too many vanilla beans for pear jam.  I mean, even if I used every last pear in the four boxes of pears that I have (which, by the way, came free from a very generous ward member's father!), I would only use up about 10 vanilla beans.  And that's going stark raving WILD with the vanilla.
So yah...maybe I OCD'ed.
Anyway, enough of that.  You already all know my sins of indulgence if you read this blog. 
So I seem to have this plethora of vanilla beans, & they smell SOOOO heavenly, they are just begging me to do SOMEthing with them.  And naturally that led to several long research sessions on different vanilla bean recipes.  And the most AWESOME of all of them was how to make your own vanilla extract.  OOHH how lovely that looked.  And since I do cook & bake quite a bit, the thought of having limitless supplies of  pure vanilla extract just seemed so COOL!

And I also saw that a few people were making mint extract as well, which sounded really good, too, since I like to make my own blend of hot chocolate.  That & I seem to have a never-ending root of mint that refuses to die, no matter how many times, how vigorously or how dedicated we are about pulling the stuff up every year.  And I already have 2 #10 cans full of dried mint.  Needless to say, I had a bit of mint available.

mint in a pint jar with vodka, 1st day

There was only one serious issue I had with this.  For most people it probably wouldn't mean much, but this recipe requires vodka, & lots of it.  Not a problem, you might say ~ so go get some vodka.  But see, I don't all.  I mean, I didn't even know where the liquor store was, or how much it would cost or even how to know what sort of proof or alcohol content it was or ANYthing.  I had literally NEVER bought any alcohol in my entire life!  And I really don't agree with alcohol.  I don't support it, I think the stuff is truly harmful, because it's used so poorly.  BUT ~ ok here's the rationalization story ~ I thought, you know, how hard can it be?  I'm an adult.  I can do this.  It's not like I am going to drink the stuff.  (just the scent is enough to give you a whiz, let me tell you, it's like getting a whiff of rubbing alcohol... the stuff is strong!!)
So I did it.  I bought 2 bottles (1.75L each) of Monarch Vodka (40% alcohol, 80 proof, double charcoal filtered) at $13.50 per bottle.  I have no idea what all of that means, but I suspect it's probably a very cheap vodka.  The whole point of using vodka, however, is that it apparently has no flavor to it, so the beauty of the vanilla beans can really shine.  I have read about folks using bourbon or rum, but since I don't drink, I don't know what those flavors are, & I wouldn't begin to know whether the flavors would be correct.  I DO know I like pure vanilla flavor though, so that's what I stuck with.  Vodka.  Cheap vodka.

mint 2nd day ~ already darkening into a deep green

All right already, get to the recipe, right?  I know, I know, but I like to indulge in background color, it's the only way to let you know (sort of, I guess) that my ducks are truly in a row.  Credibility, provenance...

I'm giving you quantities in pints & quarts, since I really had no clue as to what sort of volume vodka came in, nor how much that volume equated to quarts & pints, & I didn't want any leftovers.
This is what I came up with:
Two 1.75L bottles of vodka = 4 full quarts or 8 full pints

Home made Mint Extract
~1 pint jar with a ring & dome
~about 1 to 1 1/2 really big handfuls of mint (maybe 100 to 150 leaves?)
the mint should only fill half to 3/4 of the jar.  There needs to be room for the vodka to swish & swirl
~about 2 cups of vodka

Make sure the leaves you pick are nice large, mature leaves, with deep veining, & therefore lots of flavor & oil. 
Pick them off of the stems, carefully wash them & dry each leaf.  You don't want a lot of extra water in there.
Pick up a pinch of leaves (about 5 or 8 leaves) & bend & twist them & sort of crunch them up, without tearing them, then drop them into the pint jar.
 That bruising action helps to release the oils, & allows the vodka to soak into the leaves better.
Once you have finished crunching & bruising the leaves, pour vodka in to the pint jar, leaving about 1/4" headspace.
Dome & ring the jar, and give it a healthy shake, to get the vodka distributed nicely.
Set the jar on the countertop, & put a heavy dark towel over it, so that there is no light getting to it.  Some folks say to put it into a cupboard & shake it daily, but I would forget about it if I did that, so I put it on the counter, & shake it whenever I go past it, & then put it back under the towel.  Do whatever works for you.
In pic one, you can see that at the end of the day, the leaves are already starting to give off their goodness.
And in the second pic, after a little more than 24 hours, the extract is already ripening into a nice dark green.  I personally think the constant shaking helps that along quite a bit.  I opened the jar today, & sniffed it, and I can already smell the mint coming through the alcohol.

pint jar of madagascar beans after only 2 days

Homemade Vanilla Extract
~3 quart jars & 1 pint jar (assuming you used the other pint's worth of vodka for the mint extract)
~rings & domes
~32 - 41 vanilla beans
~All the rest of the vodka ( remember that one bottle of 1.75L vodka = 2 quarts)
for each quart jar, I used 11 vanilla beans
I also used 8 beans in the pint jar, just to see if that would make it go faster, & the answer to that is an emphatic YES!  (see pic above, much darker than my quarts) I first used 8 beans per quart jar, but
 have since added 3 more beans  per jar than shown in the pics to each quart of vodka, because I want this stuff ready to go by Christmas.

Now here's the easy part ~ get a sharp NON-SERRATED knife ( no sense in having the caviar stuck all in the knife, you want ALL the goodness in your extract) & a smooth cutting surface.  I personally did not want to use my regular cutting board, because the vanilla is so strong that the flavors would stay in the plastic for a long time.  For the same reason, I did not want to use my wooden bread board, so I ended up using a china plate.  That way, the very most amount of vanilla oils & caviar would make it into my extract.  My mother always did say "Waste not, want not."  ;-D
Lay the vanilla bean down on the plate, & give it a little tug.  It should be pliable enough that that action straightens it out.  Then slice the bean open roughly, leaving a little bit connected at the top, but sliced completely through at the bottom.  personally, I did not cut all the way through on the first cut, I instead used my fingers (touching only the very tips) to separate the bean; I think that the torn cells help the bean to accept more vodka, since they are not pressed closed from the sharp cut.  Which is why I say cut it roughly, so that the knife does not penetrate through both sides very often.  This may take a bit of skill, but again, I believe it helps make extract faster.
Once you have separated the sides, take your knife & use it to gently open up or spread apart the "lips" of the bean halves, trying to not disturb the caviar as much as possible.  This will allow as much vodka as possible to get into those cells & therefore "extract" the vanilla that much faster.  (Also why shaking the bottle every time you walk past it helps speed up the process as well.)  Any caviar that you get on the knife should be scraped back onto the bean. 
Drop the prepared bean into the jar, till you have as many in there as you want, (filling all of the jars first, so that you aren't losing any of that bean goodness to handwashing each time), pour the vodka in, leaving a 1/2" to 1/4" headspace, cap & ring. 
Now shake those babies.
Put them on your counter top, with a dark heavy towel over the top.  Light & heat are the enemy of good extraction, so you want to protect them against it. 
Every time you walk past them, give them a good shake.
After 2 days, open up the pint jars & smell ~ amazing, it's already starting to smell like the real deal!!

How much did this cost?  Let's tally it up.
Vodka ~ 2 bottles of 1.75L Monarch, @ $13.50 ea.= $28.80
Vanilla beans ~ 10 tahitian extract grade @ $5.99
+ 40 madagascar gourmet AAA @ $9.99= $15.98
mint (I'll PAY someone to take it!)=$0
jars, domes & rings ~ already had = $0
grand total = $44.78
Plus, I found some really adorable bottles to re-bottle this into from Sunburst Bottle Co., for about 40c a bottle.  ( I will post follow-up pics once I do that).  I plan on giving away 32 one ounce bottles as gifts. (If they like it. I may give them more in larger bottles, cross that bridge when I come to it.)
So add in the price of the decorator bottles, 32 @ .40c ea= $12.80
GRAND grand total = $58.35  for 32 gifts, that's only $1.82 per gift! 
And, it's a cool, homemade gift.  (I suppose it's sort of cheesy to put the dollar amount on here, since a number of the folks I would be gifting this to will read it, but, for those of you who don't know, my whole family appreciates quality that costs less.  Yes, we are sorta cheapskates.  I prefer to think of it as "thrifty, practical, & being a wise steward over that which I have."  ;-D)
PLUS. that still leaves me PLENTY of vanilla left, to use for myself, plus to keep a steady amount going in case I decide to make it a perpetual gift.

madagascar beans after a few hours

tahitian beans after a few hours
These pics show the extract on a window sill, with the sun shining in on them ~ that is for picture purposes ONLY!! ~ Remember to put them under a towel or in a dark cupboard.  And when you buy bottles to re-bottle the extract into, remember that the dark amber or cobalt ones are going to protect the flavor intensity far better than a clear one. 
Also, although you don't want high heat or light, the refridgerator is NOT a good place for you to put the extract.  This will retard the extraction, as it will be TOO cold.  Room temperature or basement storage room is good.

tahitian beans after a few days

One  ( or two...) last thoughts ~ how long will this stuff last?  Should I, if ever, remove the beans?  What if I use up my vanilla & want more, should I get all new beans?  Should I strain the extract before using it or gifting it?  I notice that commercial varieties have water & sugar added.  Should I do that too?  What if I do decide to remove the beans, what should I do with them?

~Do not worry about this ever going bad, it is preserved with the alcohol, & will never get spoiled.

~On removing the beans ~ those beans continue to add flavor & depth to the extract. I'd leave them in.
Now, a great trick to perpetual vanilla extract is this: each time you refill your little "kitchen bottle", top off the main "mother jar" with more vodka, & give it a healthy shake up.  By the time you need to refill your kitchen bottle again, the beans in the mother jar will have extracted more.  Also, every time you use up a vanilla bean in your kitchen, just put the used pod into the mother jar. 

~These beans can really go quite a while.  Even if you bought no more beans at all, the original beans can be used for extraction at least three more times.  So topping off your mother jar is not going to be a dilution issue.

~Here is where there are some diverse ideas ~ some folks out there don't like the idea of a bean slowly disintetraging in their extract, & for some recipes (such as icing) you may not want the flecks.  If this is the case, you can always measure the amount of extract needed through a small coffee filter, then add it to your recipe.  Again, however, want not waste not.  Many chefs & consumers of expensive foods pay quite a bit to have those little flecks in the food, as it proves that real vanilla or vanilla bean was used in the recipe.  Those flecks add flavor punch, & they lend a "gourmet" touch.  For me, I'm not getting rid of them.

~As to adding water & sugar ~ this is just the way that commercial producers of vanilla extract can insert cheaper fillers into the product, creating greater volume & less expensive product for the consumer, & yet still stick it to them with the price.  If you want to dilute your vanilla that way, go for it.  I don't know the quantities & I don't reccomend it.  If you are concerned about the vanilla being too strong or having too much of an alcoholic taste, ( if adding to something like a smoothie, where there would be no cooking involved), just measure out the amount you need into a porcelain or glass cup, & add a touch of sugar to it, & zap it in the microwave for a few seconds before adding it to your recipe.  That should cook off any alcohol.

~And finally, if you do decide to remove the beans, let them dry out & stick them upright in a pint jar, pour sugar over the top, & use that sugar to flavor your smoothies. ;-D

all 5 jars after a few hours

all five jars after a few days

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Shortbread Fantasies recipe (SSSOOOO Good!)

Shortbread plain

Ok, so I have a little admission ~ I LOVE shortbread!  It all started when ....  no, it actually all started when I was a little girl, & my mom made all these awesome homemade goodies ~ granola, pickles, bread, jam, fruit leather, you name it, she made it, and in GOURMET style. 
Amongst all those tasty delicacies, was melt in your mouth shortbread. 
Fast forward many (many....) years to last week. 

There we were, My son & I , standing in the cookie isle, while he tried to decide what sort of cookies he wanted for a scout trip.  As my eyes wandered about, I saw a package of Lorna Doone's.  And then I remembered with fondness (much, actually) the delicious taste of my mother's shortbread.

That sort of started something in the two little OCD brain cells I have left.  In fact, it sparked a long-held-off desire for that heavenly buttery goodness.  I've been eating so righteously for years...surely one little bitty bit of shortbread wouldn't kill me off, right?

I sort of denied the desire to have shortbread... thought. oh no, not a wise choice.  But then ~ my son ALSO decided he wanted to try it.  He said " Wait, what?  Shortbread is a cookie that tastes of butter & sugar?  Can there be anything better?  Can it include chocolate & carmel?"

Being a ~ love to cook for those who will appreciate it ~ type of cook, I immediately began mulling over just WHAT sort of shortbread to make.  (Yes, yes, I know.. but if my son was WANTING to eat it, why I could justify 1 pound of butter shorbread immediately ~ no qualms about it!)

Since I couldn't find my mother's recipe, I started searching the net, basically researching shortbread.  I found several tasty looking recipes, & lots of commentary on different recipes ~ thought I might make one recipe, then would find yet another, seemingly better one.

Finally, however, I decided to just make up my own.

Shortbread with caramel & chocolate on top

Since my husband likes things a little less sweet, I kept half of the pan plain, & on the other half I spread caramel, Ghiradeli's extra dark, semi-sweet, & butterscotch chips.  I reccomend serving these with vanilla icecream, as they are soooo good, but soooo powerfully rich!

Close-up of the shortbread, you can see the flaky nature of the cookie, you must cook them long enough, cut while warm, & then CHILL them before serving.

I served these up for dinner tonight, and literally, an entire 18"x12" pan was gone (GONE) in 7 1/2 minutes!  So I guess they turned out allright.  ;-D
Ok, so get to the recipe already, right?  ;-D

Carol's Best Shortbread Ever (humble, I know :-D)
Oven: 325*F
Bake Time: 20 - 30 minutes, depending on desired crispness
Yield:  18"x12" pan, when baked as bars, 72 thumbprints as cookies

Ingredients:  2 cups (4 sticks, or 1 pound) GRADE AA Butter ~ room temperature
3/4 Cup packed Brown sugar
1/4 cup powdered confectioner's sugar ( also called icing sugar)
1 tsp REAL Vanilla extract
1 tsp REAL almond extract
1 cup cornstarch
2 3/4 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup flour for board to knead

A few words about the ingredients ~ as all good chef's & cooks know ~ there is NO SUBSTITUTE for butter, & the higher the grade, the better the butter.  Shortbread simply should NOT be made with anything else.  The butter is a huge contributor to overall flavor, flakiness, & melting point.  Another NO SUBSTITUTE ingredient is the vanilla & almond extracts.  Also, yes, I know, the one whole CUP of cornstarch looks wrong, but it isn't.  Cornstarch is a type of flour, & in this case, it contributes to the lightness & texture of the shorbread. 

Process:  Put the four sticks of butter into a bowl with the packed brown sugar ( I only like to use the Dark Brown from C&H, it's real cane sugar) & powdered sugar.  Use a pastry cutter to mix up the butter & sugar.  Once you have mixed in the butter & sugars, scrape off the cutter ( & your hands! ;-D) & add the vanilla & almond extracts.  Fold in with spatula a bit.

In a separate bowl, measure in the 2 3/4 cups flour, salt, & cornstarch.  Whisk together, then add to the sugars, butter & extracts mixture.  Make sure you have that little 1/4 cup of flour in a measure cup waiting for you to use, because you will need it to flour the counter/board.  This is where it gets fun.  CAREFULLY stick your hands in the bowl, & start squishing away!  If you aren't careful here, you will poof flour all over.  Moosh & goosh till you have worked it into a dough. (There may be a bit of flour left on the sides or bottom ~ scrape this all out & work it in when you knead the dough.) 

Now is the time to sprinkle some of the flour onto the counter ~ then dump your dough onto the floured counter.  Knead the dough for a few minutes.  This is really quite fun, & it makes a beautiful workable dough. 

This is where you have to decide ~ what am I going to do with all of this lovely dough?  Should I pull off little balls, shove my thumb into them, dump some of that tasty spiced pear jam into the middle & bake them?  Or should I press the whole thing into an 18"x12"x1" cookie sheet, prick randomly with a fork, & go for the bars?

In this instance ( as you can see from the pics), I went for the bars, & then added some more tasty goodness after they finished baking.  By the way, the cookies should only have the lightest of browning on the bottom & edges.  Here's what to do for carmel:

1 can of sweetened condensed milk
A little bit ( maybe 1/4 cup) of whipping cream

Heat the milk up slowly, on low heat, add in the cream a little at a time, once it has darkened some ( it won't be the dark color of store-bought carmel, if you wait for it to get that dark, you will have rock hard carmel that is difficult to spread.) test it for taste, & spread it across the top of the shortbread.  One can spreads nicely over half the pan, so if you want to cover the whole shebang, you'll need to double the recipe.

Don't worry if the top of the shortbread pulls up in a few places, the chocolate will cover it.
Speaking of the chocolate, here's my easy cheesy way of doing it ~ sprinkle chips ( I used Ghiradeli's extra-dark, semi-sweet, & butterscotch chips) evenly over the top of the carmel.
Now pop the whole thing in the oven ( still at 325*F) & let it sit in there for about 5 or 6 minutes.
To test if the chips are melted enough, take an icing knife and spread the edge.  If it spreads, its done.
Take it out, spread it, & then cut the squares.
Make them smallish ~ these are DEVASTATING! ;-D
Now, if you can resist, only cut a few out for tasting ~ they will crumble.  Put them in the fridge to chill for a bit.  This GREATLY helps relieve the crumble issue.  But don't let them sit there too long, or they will be hard to get out (we are talking butter fats here ~ fats harden in cold temps...;-D... yes, I learned the hard way...)
 If you can possibly handle it, wait till the next day to eat these ~ they will make you sigh with sweet happiness.... oh, and you will likely need a glass of water nearby, cuz, again, VERY RICH!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Pear Rhubarb Jam

from left to right ~ pear rhubarb jam, peach butter, spiced pear jam

This jam turned out so tasty & delicious, I decided to share it around.  I originally got the idea from a recipe on the Hitchhiker to Heaven blog, & had indeed intended to make the very recipe she posted.  However, that wild little creativity hair got loose again, & well, this is the end result.  Oddly enough, though the vanilla bean portion was the original inspiration & draw to even google a recipe with that ingredient, in the end, once again, I diverted.  ( Is this starting to sound like one of my crochet stories?....)
Wood Genius claims the issue is that I have a difficult time taking instruction / orders / direction from anyone.  Period.  I don't necessarily think that is so,  I just seem to have a ..... digression.. issue.  ;-D
But I digress.
If any of you would like the peach butter or the spiced pear jam, I will post those recipes as well. 
I have half a box of pears left, so I still do have a chance to make the vanilla pear jam......

Pear Rhubarb Jam

1/4" to 1/2" headspace
12 minutes waterbath  (10 minutes for most folks, I am at a higher altitude)
yeild : 7 pints

4 cups rhubarb ~ rinsed, cut into 1" pc's ( I had put mine in the freezer to keep it while the pears ripened, so mine was frozen)
16 - 20 ripe pears ~ peeled, cored & halved
1/3 cup water
1 c brown sugar
2 c white sugar
1 heaping full tablespoon frozen orange juice concentrate
1/8 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp fresh ground nutmeg
optional ~ a bit of red food coloring

*Take your rhubarb & the 1/3 cup of water & cook down in a saucepan, till rhubarb is quite soft. Set aside, with lid on to keep warm.
*In the meantime, peel, core & halve the pears. Put into your large kettle & mash. ( I used one of those awesome 5-spined mashers from Pampered Chef that my mother in law got me ~ I think it's meant to break up hamburger, but it works perfectly to mash up fruit without pulverizing it, & makes it so that you don't have to chop finely. Thank you Delora!!)
*Heat the pears up till softened, then mix in the rhubarb.
*Let this mixture simmer, stirring frequently.
*While that is simmering, measure all of your sugars, spices & pectin into a bowl, & mix thoroughly.
*Once you have done that, bring your pear/rhubarb mixture up to a boil for a full 2 minutes.
*Add red food coloring here if you desire. About 10 drops makes a very pretty rhubarby color, especially once the brown sugar & o.j. get added in, but some folks don't go for fake colors, & it really isn't necessary ~ just looks pretty.
*Now that your mixture is up to a full boil for 2 minutes, you are ready to add in the sugars & spices.
*Fold those in quickly, making certain everything is dissolved & bring your jam back up to a boil.
*Add in the heaping tablespoon of frozen orange juice concentrate.
*Maintain the boil for another minute or so, then remove from heat.
*Fill jars, wipe rims, cap & water-bath process 12 minutes.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Harvesting the Bounty (or Fall is the Color Orange)

I love Autumn!  And I love the color orange.  It seems the two go hand in hand so well.  Take this beautiful bowl of peachcots, for instance.  Beautiful (free!!) fruit makes canning a joy!  Yes, it takes all day, (sometimes all week) & I am usually swearing off ever canning again by the end of it all, but ohhh... how lovely all that beautiful fruit is!  It just begs to be put up & brought back out again in the depth of dreary winter ~ to remind you that indeed the sun will shine again, earth will give up her bounty, & you will once again know the flavors & scents of fresh produce, straight from either your own backyard or your neighbors.

In this instance, my neighbor has a lovely peachcot tree that she no longer can harvest, so myself & another neighbor went & picked all that we could, canned it, & then went & shared some of the results with that neighbor.  That's how we do it around here.  If you happen to come across a tree that is just dropping produce on the ground, you find the owner, ask if you could maybe pay to pick some of the fruit ( this is the polite thing to do), they of course will deny that & just give you the fruit for free ( that's also the polite thing to do), & then once you've made up some of the goods, you of course return & give the kind neighbor some of the tasty end results.  It works out well for all involved. 

Here are some of the peachcots all halved & ready to go in the top of my Nutri-steamer.  Once again, I must pronounce happiness upon the heads of the Nutri-steamer manufacture'ers (sp?).  This product is one of my awesomest & most beloved pieces of canning equipment EVER!  I'm putting it right up there with the pressure cooker.  Seriously, if you can ever put enough away to get one, DO IT! They are worth every penny & then some!  This one cost me $120 or so ( it's been a few years) & I bought it off of eBay.  The stainless steel pot on the bottom of the set-up alone is worth it.  It just makes canning so EASY!
You have minimal preparation, stick the fruit in the top of the juicer, ( fill the bottom pot with water & a few tbspn's of vinegar to retard hard water staining), let it go a few hours on simmer, & VIOLAA!, the middle section fills up with juice or nectar, ready to drain off ( has a handy dandy drain hose & pinch) at 220+ degrees F right into your hot jar, pop on the dome & lid, & it's done, baby!

Of course, some of those peachcots & some of the apricots that another neighbor brought over got put into the dehydrator.  They will make great additions to trail mix when the family goes hiking next summer.  I also made up about 10 sheets of peachcot fruit leather.  ( For every 1 cup of fruit, add 1/2 cup of honey.)  One thing about fruit leather, however, don't forget to put a very thin sheen of olive oil or saffola oil onto the dehydrator sheet, or you will be cursing every little tug & tear of that leather! ;-D
Here's another awesome thing about that Nutri-steamer ~ if you love fruit leathers, you can simply use the left-over pulp in the top of the steamer for your fruit leather. (provided you pitted the produce, otherwise, you'll have to pick pits first.)   Easy sqweezy!

More peachcots ~ they were just so beautiful!

This is some of the peachcot nectar produced in the Nutri-steamer.  Have you ever bought apricot nectar from the store, in that big old can?  Have you ever looked on the back & been dissapointed to find out that it's only a stupid 20% juice?  The rest of it is high fructose corn syrup & crap?  Well, this home canned golden treasure in the bottles is 100% true nectar, & I would even say somewhat of a concentrate, as you can water it down some & STILL get a better flavor & healthfulness at HALF potency than that horrid store-bought excuse for fruit juice.

This is the pureed peachcots just before I added some other goodies to make a very unusual & yet highly delicious mixed fruit jam.
As it happens, I had some leftover strawberries in the freezer from last year ( I usually freeze berries, since we make a lot of smoothies) that I wanted to use up, so I decided to make up a jam after my daughter's favorite smoothie combination.  I used about 2 lbs of frozen strawberries, 1 can of orange juice concentrate, & probably 12 to 18 cups of peachcot puree, all blendered together, then sugar (5 or six cups) & 2 or 3 tablespoons vinegar.  Cook till thickened, & waterbath process for 10 minutes.
I called it strawberry peachcot surprise.  My kids said "what's the surprise?"  I said "It tastes divine!"   They said " good point".  ;-D

This is a whole counter full of peachcot goodness.  We put up 28 quarts total! 

Aren't they lovely?

Hehehe, had to insert a pic of the eggs in here.  We got a whole new flock of hens this year, & they finally ( finally!!!) began producing!  I was so thankful, I just had to take a pic to show you all.  Note the very large brown egg on the right, middle ~ yes, it looks larger because it's sitting next to a fart egg, but it really
IS larger as well ~ we have a buff orp consistently dropping doubles every other week. I love it!  Twinner eggs rock!

Here is a pic of some of the delicious peach butter my daughter & I canned today.  We put up 14 pints!  My daughters are doing canning as part of their home ec classes, & tomorrow my 14 yr old will be passing off her canning requirement by putting up another 14 pints entirely by herself!  I am really proud of her, because today she answered all of the questions correctly, she knew what to do, & tomorrow ( although I will be right there for just in case) she will be doing it herself!  I know, I know, I just repeated myself, but I am really quite proud of her.  I'm a bit of a stickler on asepsis, produce, & process, (you know, botulism,  flat-sour, & all that.. death.. nothing much..), so she actually has had quite a bit to learn, but I guess they HAVE all been canning with me ever since... well, since they were old enough to use a sharp knife.  ;-D

AHHH, & here we have the last ( so far!) little orange-ish gem.  It's actually more amber.  ;-D  This is honey that I cold processed into smaller, more use-able quantities.  What it WAS was a giant ( I am talking SIXTY [60!!] pounds!!) tin of pure raw honey from 1958 that we have been lugging around for Lo, These Many Years.  But in that form, it just wasn't very usable (obviously, still in the original square tin!).
I was a little nervous about it to begin with, but I did a TON of studying on the matter, & honey just doesn't go bad if it's pure. Also, I didn't want to heat it up, because I didn't want to ruin any of the beneficial enzymes & properties, so I wasn't quite sure how to proceed.  But here is where I had a stroke of genius ~ ok, ok, so it wasn't me, it was divine inspiration ~ I just bi-passed the whole idea of pouring it out or heating it up or anything, & got a can opener & rolled it around the top, & it came off beautifully!! 
Then I carefully inspected the honey ( it was quite granulated, as was to be expected), and I VERY carefully scooped away all the parts that had touched the top of the tin & seemed to be in any way tainted by rust.  (Although I later determined that it was just darker honey, not rust)
Then, I just used a flat, heavy-duty icecream scoop ( NOT the ball kind) & proceeded to scoop out the honey & put it into pint jars, put a dome & a ring on them, washed them all up with a cloth, & called it good.
I will also say, I was very careful to cover most of the honey while I packing it, with a piece of plastic wrap pressed right down on top of it, to keep off any yeasts or molds that might settle on it.  ( I guess yeasts & molds float around invisible in the air all the time... who knew?)
Cool thing about this honey ~ the flavor is SOO delicious!  Very intense, & the honey is a beautiful dark amber.  I have not ever heated it up enough to completely de-crystalize it, because I don't want to destroy any enzymes, but the grains are very tiny, so it's not a problem.  It has a look of dark creamed honey, or maybe a honey/butter, but it is just pure honey.
Another cool thing about this honey ~ Several times now, we have been getting sick with a cold, & have eaten this honey, & the cold has gone away.  Headache, sinus issues, cough... all gone.  Even the allergies!  How cool is THAT? ;-D

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yorkipoo Madness (or Why did I say yes... to THREE???!?)

These are our three Yorkipoo's (yorkie poo's, yorkiepoo's, yorki poo's....sp??)
I know, I know, they aren't real dogs... they are too small to do any good, they can't be potty trained.... yada yada yada. 
Or so says Wood Genius.  (Secretly, however, I have seen him cuddling & playing with them too! ;-D )
However, I have to say this:  these little dudes are sooo sweet, they love us, we love them, they cuddle, and they ARE potty trained.... well, kennel trained, anyway.
Wood Genius calls them yapper rat dogs.  We call them adorable!

Who can deny this cuteness though? 
This is Gustaf, or Guss, or Gussguss.
He is a  merle yorkipoo.  That means that he has one blue eye & one black eye.
It also means he looks a little dorky from time to time.  But he is SOOO cute!!!

He looks like a chinchilla or something.  Whatever a small furry rodent would look like. 

Here he is in a teacup.  No, it isn't a real teacup, it's one of those planters, but it still LOOKS cute as heck, doesn't it? 

Here is Gussguss just chillin' in the teacup~ these pups are a yorkshire terrier x miniature poodle cross, so I think they will likely get a little larger.  We think they are about 4 or 5 months old right now.  Story is, we found them at the pound, & they are all siblings.  We couldn't just take home one......oh no, I just couldn't do it.... so, we now have all three.

Typical Guss look ~ that little black nose is just so ADORABLE!  And my daughter just loves the fact that he has that one blue merle eye.

Here we see that Guss actually mans up once in a while.  These three siblings play very well together, but they also rough house very well together.  Jack is clearly the alpha amongst them, & believe it or not, the little girl Penny is the next one, and then there's poor Guss at the bottom.  But he does man up from time to time.

This is Sir Giacomo, or more commonly, Jack.  Like I said, he is the alpha.  And he takes that role very seriously.  When we found them at the pound, they were in a long cold cell, & he & Guss were protecting the little sister, Penny.  When he thought they were being accosted, he literally stood over the other two, ( while they hid under his belly) & snarled at the pound warden.  It took several days of constant loving to bring these three little sugars back to feeling like happy, playful pups. 

He is now a very happy, well-adjusted pup, however.  And I think I favor him over the other two just a bit.  He is a very good dog, & has learned to share the dog dish much better, as well as being the first to potty train.  In fact, if the other two make a peepee mistake, he really gets after them.  But he is also loving towards his siblings, and licks them & cuddles with them too.

I just can't believe that someone left these little guys in a box & then called the pound to come get them. We are pretty sure this must have been what happened because the box that the pound warden said they came in didn't have any urine or poo in it at all, nor was the puppies' hair dirty with it, or even leaves or dirt.  Their hair WAS matted, but it wasn't filthy, so I think that whoever had these little guys must have called the pound right away. 

I guess I should start from the beginning ~ The pound warden said that somebody called & said there was a box of puppies in a factory parking lot.  He went to pick them up, & put them in a cell at the pound.  The very next day, I happened to come along asking if they had any dogs in that I could take a look at. 

My daughter had been begging... I mean BEGGING!... me for a dog for some time (about 5 yrs), & so we had gone to the pound in our town to look for one, but the one that she wanted had already been spoken for.  She was rather heartbroken about it, so I told her that I would be going to my mom's town with the 3 younger kids to help out with some yard work, & that while I was there, I would stop by their pound to see if they had any dogs that might look a little like that one she had wanted so badly.

When I got there, the pound warden told me that he only had three pups in, so I asked if I could take a look.  Well, when I went into see them, I saw that there were some other dogs being boarded there as well, & it was plain that one of those boarded dogs had parvo, as there was a mess of dark red bloody diarrhea stool in it's cell.  The three yorkipoo pups, however, had absolutely nothing in their cell, so I figured that if they DID have parvo, it would have been only just barely.  At any rate, I saw the little girl, Penny (Miss Penitence), & I knew immediately that my daughter would just love her.  So we bought her & took her home.  Well, those other two dogs were just eating away at my conscience & my heart.  All night long I couldn't help but think how cold it was in that pound cell, & how that other dog  a few cells down had parvo, & SOOOO ~
the very next day,  I called my dad, & asked him if he could please go get the other 2 pups for me, & I drove the 2 hours back to my parents' town & picked them up! 

Am I a sucker??  OOOhhhh yeah!!  Here is Jack all washed up.  We waited a few days for them to feel comfortable, and then gave them all a bath & a nice brushing to remove the matted hair.  Of course, they all acted like new pups then!  It was also sooo sweet to see Penny meet her brothers at my folks' house.  (Yes, I took her back with us, so that she could help them feel better on the ride back home.  Which she did.  I think because they saw that she trusted us, they did too.)

Another pic of Guss.

And this is Miss Penitence, or Penny.  She is just such a sweet-natured doll. 

Isn't she precious?  I honestly can't imagine who or how they managed to end up in a pound cell on the very day that I actually consented (finally!, my heart wasn't ready to commit to a new dog after Amadeus, our Standard poodle.) to get another dog.  The only possible explaination I have is that God blessed us.

This is her sassy pose, & she does look like this a good deal of the time!  ;-D 

Now you are probably wondering how we could know that these are Yorkipoo's if they were just some mutts in a pound?  Well, I will tell you, first of all, we did a lot of research as to what various terrier cross pups looked like, then we took them into a groomer, to have their coats examined.  Now, having owned a poodle before, I can tell you that I was positive that these pups had to be part poodle, because their undercoats are curly, don't shed, and are soft as silk.  And looking at their faces, you can clearly see that it is Yorkshire terrier that has to be the other half. 
Also, since they are larger than a real teacup, or a teacup poodle or a teacup yorkie, I am certain that they had to be at least crossed with a miniature poodle, other wise they would have been smaller.

All of that aside, they are now happy, well-adjusted, kennel-trained pups, they have clearly put on a little weight, & even grown a little ( & we've only had them 3 weeks!), they DON'T have parvo, ( hallelujah!, I was SO worried about that!), & though they have added to the complexity of our lives, they have also added to our hearts, & we are so happy with them!!
So, yes, I said yes... to THREE ( & at the same time we are raising our new set of layers, too!), but in the end, I AM glad.  ;-D