Saturday, October 29, 2011

Bread Results

I have finally managed a nice full size loaf, and the added grains are wonderful. The extra gluten allowed the plain wheat loaf to rise beautifully. The grain loaf, where I added milled flax and steal cut oats after the first rise, didn't do as well. I don't know if it was the extra kneading necessary to add the grain or the grain itself. These are wonderfully smooth loaves perfect for sandwich making. I must say that I do like a heartier flavor in my bread; that's one of the things that makes baking your own bread so great. For the kids who are used to store bought wheat bread though, this will be a perfect and oh so much healthier substitute. I think I will keep a pre-cut loaf in the freezer for the children's lunches; using it frozen in the morning since it will easily defrost by lunch time, and at the same time help keep other things in the lunch cold. I have not attempted this as 100% whole wheat yet. It's about half and half unbleached bread flour and whole wheat, but I think it should work fine. I'm going to pick up some King Arthur's white whole wheat and see what happens with that. King Arthur's seems to be reputed to be a very good flour for yeast breads. Meanwhile, I will keep experimenting to find something that will satisfy my husband's and my desire for a something a little more hearty. I'm going to wait to share the recipe because I'd still like to tweak it a little in an effort to make it a smoother process with measurements that will be easy to remember so that when one is attempting as I am to quit buying store bought bread, it is a simple procedure to whip up a couple of loaves once or twice a week without pulling out any cook books and without dirtying every measuring instrument you own. Clean up is my least favorite part of the baking process and the less I have to do the better.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Fall is here. Time for Chili!

It's that time of year. The cold is creeping in and a steaming hot bowl of chili could be just what you need to warm up! This recipe must be credited to our good friend Adam Haslag. After some googling I decided to tweak it just a little to see what would happen. It turned out just right.

2 lbs ground beef or ground turkey, browned
1/2 onion, diced
4 stalks celery
2 cans Brooks chili beans, one hot, one mild, undrained
1 can chunky Rotel, undrained
Williams tex mex chili seasoning
2 tsp. bakers chocolate
1 c. coca-cola (not diet!) or other cola drink
Tomato juice to taste.

Put all ingredients in a crock pot or large kettle or dutch oven. Pour tomato juice over it all until it is as thick or smooth as you like. Cook on high 4-6 hours or simmer on the stove.

The chocolate and cola add a layer of flavor that makes this the best chili I've ever had. Eventually I'd like to experiment with my own seasoning and eliminate the canned stuff, but for now this is perfect! If you like more veggies in your chili, adding more celery, some frozen corn, zucchini, carrots, and/or mushrooms would be great.

For dessert, what would be more appropriate for welcoming fall than fresh apple crisp? Pick a sturdy apple such as Granny Smiths.

Apple Crisp
Taken from Better Homes and Gardens Magazine, August 2010, Pg 152

1 1/2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour                                 8 c. peeled apples, sliced 1/2 in. thick
1 c. granulated sugar                                                         2 T fresh lemon juice (I used one lemon.)
1/3 c. packed brown sugar                                                1/4 c. granulated sugar
3/4 t. cinnamon                                                                  1 T unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. kosher salt                                                                1/2 t. kosher salt
2/3 c. unsalted butter, cut into pieces                                1/8 t. nutmeg
                                                                                         butter or cooking spray for dish

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. With your fingers or a pastry blender, work butter into flour mixture until it just begins to cling together. (The topping can be made up to a week in advance and stored in the refrigerator, or frozen for up to a month.)

In a large mixing bowl, toss together apples and lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine the sugar, flour, salt, and nutmeg. Sprinkle apples with sugar-nutmeg mix then mix well. Heap apples into a lightly buttered or sprayed 2-quart baking dish. Pile them high because they will shrink as they cook and you could end up with a sunken crisp. Cover the top of the apples with the crumb mixture, breaking up large piece as necessary.

Cover the dish with a layer of parchment then foil and bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove the cover and bake for 30-40 minutes more until top is golden and apples are just tender. To ensure the flour is cooked, bake until thickened juices bubble up fro the fruit. Let cool 15-30 minutes before serving.

When I made this the cover flattened out the crust a little and I had to fluff it with a fork and bake a little longer which resulted in over cooked apples that more closely resembled sauce, but it was so delicious I can't say that was entirely a bad thing. Hubby said it was probably the best dessert he's ever had, besides homemade pecan pie. He wants me to add blueberries and pineapple next time...I have some pineapple languishing in the fridge that is about to go bad, (if it hasn't already) so maybe if I get my other things done quickly today, and my one year old cooperates, I can give that a go. (I need to get more apples so I can make that fruit leather recipe I keep putting off!) You can also try adding 1/2-1 c. of quick-cooking oats or walnuts to the crust. I was out of vanilla ice-cream so I served the crisp with left-over custard sauce from my last bread pudding. A perfect pairing! You can find the recipe here.

This morning we had a treat for breakfast. The kids have gotten tired of blueberry muffins and I was out of chocolate chips for the pancakes, so we did loaded blueberry pancakes. YUM! The pancake recipe can be found here. I've said it before but these are the lightest, butteriest pancakes I've ever had. I adjust it to 12 servings and just stick to 1/4 c. each of the vinegar, sugar, and butter. If you have extra, they freeze well.

Some were more loaded than others.

That's it for now. I'm off to try that bread again!

Go check out all the other great posts at the Homestead Barnhop!

Monday, October 24, 2011

My Week

Woo hoo what a roller coaster the last week has been! Hubby home from his latest trip to Guatemala, kids off from school for parent teacher conferences, in-laws visiting, the start of hockey games, and trying to begin clearing out the annuals from the garden and winterize the lawn have kept me super busy. I even managed to try out some new recipes, but unfortunately out of four tried in one day, only one was a stellar hit. On Thursday I made bread, sweet and sour green beans, fruit leather, and chicken nuggets. As has been the usual, the bread was good, but just not risen as much as I would like. I bought some vital gluten to try out this week that will hopefully solve that problem once and for all. My fruit leather was a disaster. Stuck to the parchment and burnt on the edges. I'm pretty sure I spread it out waaay too thin. I'm going to try the recipe here; posted by my current absolute favorite blogger The Morristribe. The homemade chicken nuggets were tasteless. I've made better a looong time ago so it's time to go digging in my hugamongous recipe stash to see if I can find that one. The green beans recipe was the only keeper that day. It is a wonderful combination of flavors. You can find the original recipe here. I made a couple of minor changes to suit what I had on hand. I had bacon already cooked and frozen so I used that which left me without drippings to cook the onions in. Luckily, we had purchased a half hog the day before which came with a generous supply of already rendered lard, so I used a small bit of that. I tend to shy away from canned goods due to BPA which left me without canned grean bean juice for the sauce. (I drained the frozen cooked ones before I realized I should have saved some of the water!) I had however purchased some canned chickpeas to try out in some hummus so I went ahead and cracked open one of those and used the liquid. (I have yet to make the hummus though...) I probably could have halved the sugar, but other than that these are great! Another way I like to do green beans, if you are in a particular rush, is to just add a splash of Italian dressing and crumbled bacon after boiling them. Cooking a couple of pounds of bacon at a time and keeping it in the freezer can be a great time saver and so much better than using those store bought bacon bits! I also tried what looks like a wonderful pita recipe from here. Unfortunately I started it on Friday afternoon, thinking that when it said 8 hours to 3 days to rise in the fridge that I could bake them on Sunday after all of our hockey and other weekend activities were finished. The dough rose faster than anticipated and was falling by late Saturday afternoon so it was discarded. I'll give it another try tomorrow. So, no real headway on my baking expedition, but I'm trudging onward.

Friday night my wonderful mother-in-law volunteered to stay home with the kiddos so that my husband could take me out on a date; the first in a very long time! We went to a Japanese steak house where they cook all of the food right in front of you and had a wonderful evening. Afterwards we explored a little Indian food grocer next door called Ambica Foods. What a great discovery! They carry many exotic vegetables and spices that would be such fun to experiment with. Anyone in the KC area that might be looking for a source of good, fresh spices, flours, grains, and exotic vegetables, I highly recommend checking them out! The address is 9054 Metcalf Ave, next to the Walmart market and across from Whole Foods.

Well, that's what I've been up to this week. Unfortunately it looks like our Indian Summer might be almost over. A cold front tomorrow is supposed to bring highs down into the fifties. Although the rain that is to accompany it will be very welcome, I will miss the gorgeous seventy and eighty degree days we have been having. We'll be back up into the mid sixties by the weekend though so hopefully I still have some time to wrap things up in the yard. I plan to welcome the cold and rain with some homemade chili. Hopefully that will make it a little less painful.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Our Pumpkin Patch Visit

What a great day! After a hardy breakfast of homemade bread (more on that later) and homemade apple sauce, I spent the rest of the day at a local farm with my boys. The last two years we have chosen Johnson Farms as our pumpkin patch destination out of several options in the Kansas City area. I can think of seven just off the top of my head. We like Johnsons for several reasons. It is one of the closest to our home, the corn maze is included in the entry price, they have a ton of activities besides the pumpkins and corn maze such as hay bales to climb on, a wood maze, wooden climbing toys and slides, swings, a pumpkin shooter, pig races, animals to see, and more. There are many vignettes to be found for great fall pictures of the children and lets not forget that wonderful roasted sweet corn! I also enjoy the green house and u-pick fields that are still operating. I was thoroughly delighted to find u-pick flowers available. We loaded up on sunflowers, zinnias, and cosmos in every shade imaginable. Even my oldest enjoyed making his own bouquet. And they were a steal. I think they price them the same as the vegetables and flowers don't weigh very much. We walked out with an arm full of beautiful flowers for under a $1 in addition to our pumpkins of course.

You can find all of their info here:

My youngest taking off through the maze.

The Perfect Pumpkin!
I do have one gripe. I could have done with out the Michael Jackson blaring through the entire yard where the majority of the activities are all day long. It just didn't fit. Maybe some folk or blue grass, or nothing at all would have been fine. Even the patriotic stuff they were playing earlier in the day was ok. Could have done without Michael though.

When we got home, my dear oldest son decided he was going to take care of dinner. He heated up the left over pizza, set the table beautifully with our flowers from the farm, and decided to make strawberry atole as a special treat. (For those not familiar with it, atole is a corn starch based drink, similar to carnation instant breakfast.) He thought that was a more grown up option than just plain old chocolate milk. So we sat down to our pizza, Doritos, pecans, atole, and Dr. Pepper (which was served in wine glasses) and enjoyed a wonderful meal together. Perhaps not a particularly rounded, healthful meal, but a great time spent together all the same.

Fascinated by the chicks.
So many to choose from!

Back to the bread. There was no change at all. Putting the entire three loaf recipe into two pans did not increase the size of the loaves one bit. I'm hoping now that it is just that the yeast was old and needed replacing. It's on the grocery list and I will try again soon. If anyone out there has any input as to why my loaves are not fully rising I would be glad to hear it!

I'll end with the bouquets we made from our cut flowers that we brought home from the farm. Check out those dark, dark red sunflowers. So pretty!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Applesauce and Local Honey

I had a productive day today! I thoroughly cleaned the basement, made homemade applesauce, and bread, and got little caesars pizza for dinner. I know I know, epic fail! I must say, we eat little caesars a little too much. And I was particularly unimpressed with the usually greasy stuff they served up tonight. They have raised the price of the hot and ready pizzas from $4.99 to $5.99. Not only that, but the quality has gone down. The crust was half as thick as usual and the bread sticks were hardly cooked. Note to self: need to work harder at meal planning so that I don't end up feeding that junk to my kids any more! Although I love the pizza crust recipe I posted a couple of days ago, I'd like to find a quicker version that doesn't require the time to rise. I think there is such a thing?

Well, with out further ado...on to homemade applesauce. This is not a new creation. I made this for the first time when I was still in high school, 10 and some years ago. My best batch ever was made with Johnathan apples. It seams like the grainier, softer apples work better for sauce. The Johnathans simply fell apart while cooking and didn't need to be mashed or blended at all. Tonight I used Galas because that is what was on sale. They worked beautifully as you can see.

Cinnamon Applesauce

Homemade Cinnamon Applesauce

5+ apples such as Johnathan, Gala or Red Delicious
water just to cover bottom of pan
sugar and cinnamon to taste

Place all ingredients in a pan and boil until the apples are cooked through. Mash with a potato masher, or run through a blender or food processor. 

Note: omit the sugar and use as homemade baby food! You could use any alternate sweetener you choose. I think I might try it with honey next time. YUM! 

Speaking of honey, I have found a local bee keeper who sells his wares out of his house, just a couple of miles away, year round. Yeah!!!! It's really good honey too, and VERY reasonably priced. I bought three pounds from him at the farmers market last week for just a couple of dollars more than I spend at wally world for just one pound. If you are in the Kansas City area and are interested, he can be reached at 816-331-4143. (I tasted it side by side with the Fishers brand raw honey from Walmart. It is SO much sweeter and much more flavorful. I had no idea there could be such huge a difference! I totally licked the spatula, and the measuring cup.)

I got a really late start on my bread today. It's still rising, at 10:00pm. I think that my yeast was going bad too because I didn't start it thaaat late. It should be done by now but I just started the final rise. I finished up the last of the jar of yeast. Perhaps a fresh one will solve my problem of short loaves too. I did use the full three loaf recipe for only two as I mentioned in another post. I'll let you know tomorrow how it turned out. For now though, it's time to watch some mind numbing TV and fall off into dream land as soon as possible. I'm taking the boys to the Pumpkin Patch tomorrow and fully intend to gorge on some roasted sweet corn.

I'll leave you tonight with some eye candy from my garden. Many of my flowers have perked up and are blooming like crazy despite the dry weather we've had the last couple of weeks. Enjoy!

Flowers from my Garden. Blanket flower, Zinnias, Marigolds, and Mums

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Country Ham Hash

Well, my day started eventfully. One of my kids almost got ran over by the school bus! When I say my kids... I watch several boys before and after school and it was one of the younger ones. He had forgotten his jacket and ran back in the house to get it. The driver wasn't paying attention and shut the door. The boy ran back out toward the bus and at about three feet away, the driver took off and rounded the corner. The little boy, a kindergartener who didn't know any better, took off running after the bus and came way, way, way too close to the back wheel. We (myself and two neighbors) were yelling and screaming for the bus to stop. I found out later that my other four boys were directly behind the driver telling him that the one had been left behind. The driver was just totally oblivious and unaware of what was going on around him. How did this guy even get a job as a bus driver in the first place? He shouldn't even be driving a bike!

At least we had all powered up with a good breakfast before hand. Thank-goodness because I was still shaking two hours later. Add a cup of coffee and no food to that and I would have been in bad shape! Here's my recipe for a super simple, protein packed breakfast hash. (This also happens to be one of my toddler's favorites.)

Country Ham Hash
1/2 bag country style hash browns
1/2 package cubed ham (the tiny ones)
1/4 lb cooked breakfast sausage
1/2 onion, diced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil of choice in a large skillet over medium heat. (3.5 on my stove) Pour in frozen hash browns and stir to coat. While hash browns start to cook, dice the onion (in a food processor if you have one) and add it to the potatoes. Cook for about 3 minutes, or until the hash is starting to soften. Add sausage and ham and continue to cook until potatoes are soft and meat is heated through. Salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 6 servings.

Optional: You can add any vegetables you like to this. Try peppers, tomato, spinach, mushrooms, chives, artichoke hearts, cooked black beans, squash or zucchini. You can also add eggs (beaten), cheese, and/or salsa. Experiment and share your favorite combinations!

Note: I cook at least a couple of pounds of breakfast sausage at a time, divide it and freeze the extra. Hubby likes to take the portions to work for breakfast with some eggs.

After all this I had to take the baby to the doctor for his check-up. (31 inches and 21.5lbs at 15 months) He received four vaccinations and I felt so bad that I took him to the park to play afterward. Poor thing had his whole hand stuffed in this mouth trying to comfort himself. But after a couple of big pushes on the swing he felt better. Unfortunately its a bit cool and windy today and our park is a huge open space with few trees or buildings to provide any sort of wind break so we didn't stay long. Now he's sleeping soundly and I have got to get caught up on some housework. The older boys decided to go on a rabbit catching expedition last night and tracked a bunch of mud into the dining room. I hope someday we can get that house out in the country that has a mud room on the back! (And more space for a garden!)

By the way, vaccines seem to be a hot topic among parents these days. I could do a whole post on that but not today. I'll content myself by simply stating that I do fully believe in vaccines. We did space them out some in the beginning with this baby. He never got more than a couple at a time so at least it wasn't quite as hard on him, but he's all caught up now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Inital Post

Welcome! my menagerie. I've entitled this a suburban homesteading blog and that is primarily what I intend to write about: my journey to become an authentica homesteader in my little suburban home. Homesteading encompasses so many topics though, many that I am interested in pursuing at some time: gardening, soap making, candle making, fiber arts, sewing, frugality, animal care, raising children, organics, healthy living, cooking...I could go on. First, lets start with an introduction...

Hi! My name is Amanda. I worked at a bank until the economy took a nose dive and my position was eliminated in the fall of 2008. I've been home ever since. I have never considered being a writer but something about sharing my journey appeals to me. Lately I have desired more and more to get back to my roots so to speak and learn more about what has been coined as urban homesteading. I've always had an interest in gardening and crafting but I'm ready to take it to another level. The definition of an urban homestead from is a suburban or city home and garden of a person or family who practices self-sufficiency through home food production, storage, cottage industry and simple living in a sustainable way.

One thing I have already learned, and this is a very important lesson...ONE THING AT A TIME!!! Too many goals all at once WILL quickly get overwhelming and then you end up not accomplishing anything at all. My first goal, and this was a new years resolution last year that I'm just now getting around to addressing, is to learn how to cook. I'm a horrible cook. I tend to burn things, in fact I actually lit my oven on fire the other day trying to bake biscuits from scratch on a flat cookie sheet. Note: get a cookie sheet with sides if you're going to make biscuits from scratch so that butter doesn't drip into the bottom of the oven. Anywho, I occasionally baked cookies with my mom growing up and worked in a bakery for a couple of years in high school, so I have a good foundation for my first goal: quit buying bread. Nothing beats the taste of fresh baked homemade bread and butter, nothing. (Well, maybe fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, but that's another post!) :)  I have a whole list of bread products that I am currently working through in an effort to perfect my baking. Here it is:

Whole wheat all-purpose loaf bread, bread pudding, bread crumbs, croutons, pita/flat bread, bagels, pretzels, biscuits, dinner rolls, herbed loaf (rosemary and olive oil), quick breads; cranberry, banana, zucchini and lemon poppy seed, pizza crust, carrot cake, and to diverge slightly- sugar cookies and icing. I also have a list of breakfast items that seem to fit in this category: scones, coffee cake, blueberry muffins, baked donuts, pancakes, waffles and cinnamon rolls.

So far, I've mastered bread crumbs (who knew they were so easy!?), bread pudding, pancakes, blueberry muffins and a nice thick pizza crust that I ate as a child. I have a good honey wheat bread recipe but it never rises above the pan. One commenter on the recipe site recommended just combining the three loaves that the recipe calls for into two. I intend to try that next time. I've also tried recipes for several of the other items but I don't feel they've been perfected yet.

Here are links to the recipes I've decided to stick with so far. I'm also working on a family cook book...more on that later.

Bread Pudding:

Pancakes: (These are so light and fluffy and buttery! I like to throw in some peanut butter and/or chocolate chips. I also triple the recipe to make about 2 dozen. Extras can be frozen for later.)

Blueberry Muffins: (I triple this to make about 2 dozen regular sized muffins, and throw in extra berries.)

Bread Crumbs: Just throw some stale bread (Leave it out on the counter for a couple hours if you don't have any.) in a food processor or blender and pulse until the desired consistency is reached. Use herb bread or add seasoning as desired.

Pizza Dough:
Combine in a large bowl:
     1 c. warm water
     1 pkg yeast
When dissolved, add:
     1 T sugar
     1 1/2 t. salt
     2 T veg oil
     1 1/4 c. flour
Beat until smooth. Add:
     2 c. additional flour, or enough to make stiff dough (may use part whole wheat)
Knead until elastic, about 5 minutes. Place in greased bowl and let rise until double, about 45 minutes. Form 2 balls . Pat and stretch to fill 2 greased pizza pans (or one cookie sheet). Let rise an additional 10 minutes.
Spread with prepared sauce and top as desired.

(From the More-with-Less Cookbook: suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world's limited food resources. c. 1976)

So, that's where we are right now. I am just jumping in where I am, as recommended by certain other wise bloggers, and running from here. I have been doing other things lately. I've made a couple of really good dinners recently; shepherds pie and chicken noodle soup. I finally finished my raised bed boarder along the foundation on the south side of the house to be planted this spring. (Hopefully I'll get them filled up and ready to go. And if I really keep it in gear, maybe I'll get some garlic planted!)

My new salsa, herb, and what ever else I can fit garden!
 I made a necklace recently that I'm pretty proud of.

My latest piece of creativity.
And last but definitely not least, I've been super busy doing stuff with the family! We spent a week in Jamaica in early September and I have to say, I am in love with the country. It was a week spent at a resort but I sooo want to go back, rent a car and explore everything there is to see. (Although driving on the left could pose a bit of a challenge!) The people are friendly, the music and food are great, and the countryside is beautiful. What more can you ask for, oh, sun and sand and lots of it!! After all it never rains in Jamaica, it's only liquid sunshine. And everything's always Irie :)

View of my middle child from our breakfast table.

My oldest and youngest enjoying the surf.
This month we went to the Kansas City Renaissance Festival for the first time, very cool. The boys got to throw knifes and ride an elephant! Last weekend we headed to the old home town to enjoy a fall festival and visit family. Next weekend, the pumpkin patch at Johnson Farms (highly recommended if you're in the KC area!- make sure to partake of their roasted sweet corn, grown right there on the farm...the best!!), one more trip out to Worlds of Fun before the end of the season the following week, and Halloween festivities the week after that. Not to mention the start of Ice Hockey season for both of the older boys. Whew! And then right into the holidays.

I'll end with a brief explanation about the name of the blog: KC Irie. Obviously, I live in Kansas City, one of the southern suburbs actually. The definition of Irie (Jamaican Patois) is to be at total peace with your current state of being. The way you feel when you have no worries. When I am learning and growing and doing things to improve my life and that of those I love, I feel totally Irie. Life is good when you accept that you are not perfect, but strive to be better. Be ok with where you are at. Take one step at a time and don't let things overwhelm you. Make one thing a habit before moving on to the next and know that every new change you make benefits your family in some way, no matter how small.