Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grandpa's Cornbread

Happy Halloween to those who take part in the celebrations!

It's a rainy day here, rainy enough that Trick-or-Treating has been moved to tomorrow.  So tonight, we are staying in and having ham and beans, fried potatoes and my Grandpa's cornbread.

I tried for years, YEARS to make cornbread like my Grandpa did.  His was always crunchy on the outside and so moist and fluffy inside.  No matter what I tried or how many times, it was never right.  A couple of years before he passed, he decided to share his secret with me.  It involved a cast iron skillet.  Knowing my Grandparents, I should have known.  LOL.  

Normally, I make it in a square cast iron skillet but this time I used this one, just an 8" round, well seasoned skillet:

The ingredients are pretty simple too:

1 cup corn meal
1 cup flour
1/4 +/- cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg (beaten)
1/2 can of cream corn
1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter

I have the butter cut like you see in the picture because the slices are to be melted in the microwave to be used in the batter and the other one is for the skillet.  You see, that is Grandpa's secret.  When you have all the ingredients out, you put 1/2 stick of butter (ok, Grandpa used a whole stick but dang, that's a lot of butter!) anyway, put it in the cold cast iron skillet.  Then, put the skillet in the oven and THEN set the oven for 400 degrees.  

Now you work on making the batter.  It's a simple "muffin method" to make it.  

I put all the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix them well.  I make a well in the center of the dry stuff, like in the picture on the left above.  I put the egg in the center and lightly beat it with the spoon, center pic.  Then I add the corn and milk.  Don't mix it yet.  I put the butter that was sliced in the glass measuring cup and melt it in the microwave.  (I try to dirty as few things as I can..LOL)  Once the butter is melted, I pour it in and lightly mix it.  Just until it comes together.  Don't beat it like a cake batter, just mix it.  

Let it rest for a minute or two.  

Check on the butter in the skillet.  

When the butter in the skillet is melted and looks like the picture on the left, you're good to go.  Put the batter quickly into the skillet.  You'll hear sizzling and the butter will rise up over the edges on the sides.  If you look closely, you can see the bubbly butter on the edge of the batter in the pic on the right.  THIS is how Grandpa got that wonderful crusty outside!

Bake it for 25 minutes or so in a 400 degree oven until done.  I use a toothpick inserted in the center to check to see if it is done.  If it comes out clean, it's ready!

See the crunchy edges?  Oh my word, that's the best part!  Back on track...I put a plate on top of it and flip the cornbread out of the skillet.  It's easier to do this if you have oven mitts.  If you don't use a couple of towels.  (Be VERY careful, that skillet is heavy and really hot!)  I do this because cast iron will stay hot for a good while and will continue cooking your cornbread.  

It looks like this on the bottom:

There you have it!  The best cornbread out there if I do say so myself!  Oh yea, the beans weren't bad either!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Fall and Apples!

Today was one of those absolutely beautiful Fall days.  The weather was cool but not cold.  There wasn't much wind and the sky didn't have a cloud in it as far as you could see.  It was crisp, clear and gorgeous out!  And we got to go to Brown County!  (for those not from Indiana, check out this site)

We had family pictures taken today by my very dear friend, Sarah of Lillybug Photography.  She always picks a different cabin in Brown County and she does Fall pictures there.  We love getting to go to the country, the Fall foliage there is breathtaking!  We walk around the woods around the cabin to find the best spots for pictures.  There is nothing better than a nice relaxing walk in the country.  We also always make a stop in Nashville, Indiana as well.  It has such quaint little shops and it's just a nice afternoon.  We were outdoors in the beautiful country.  Ahhhh.

Apples.  I was going to write about apples.  Apples mean apple crisp, apple pie filling and best of all, Apple Butter!  It seems like every waking moment not filled with school, kids sports or Scouts has been peeling apples.  I did get a wonderful peeling/coring machine from another friend that has been great, but, I'm a little picky and still take a paring knife to "clean up" any missed peels, seeds pockets, and whatnot.  

Yesterday, I peeled and cored about 30 pounds of apples to prep for apple butter.  I make mine in the crock pot and it takes about 18-20 hours on low for that quantity.  So after peeling and cutting all those apples, my hands are trashed.  I have so many nicks and cuts it's not funny.  I really whined about that after I did the apples when I cleared all the peppers out of the garden for the year and was cutting, dicing and de-seeding JALAPENO peppers.  Oh Lord, that stung...LOL.

Back to apples.  I rough chopped the apples and split them between multiple crock pots to cook.  I try to keep it fairly simple, apples, brown sugar and spices (cinnamon, cloves, allspice, ginger and nutmeg) and let the the crock pots do the work.  Once the apple butter is reduced and thickened I put it in sterilized jars and process them in a water bath canner.  

After feeling crappy about my hands stinging all day, I was kinda focusing on that as hubby drove us home...LOL.  Anyway, when we got home and walked in the house, oh the smell.  That wonderful smell of fresh, warm apple butter filled the entire house.  Oh, it was so yummy!  My husband even tried to convince me to fry some biscuits for him.  I told him no, he could wait.  Besides, I didn't have room to drag out the deep fryer when I had all the crock pots and the canning stuff out all over my tiny kitchen.  Don't worry, I'll make him some fried biscuits and apple butter this weekend!

So all in all, this weekend was an overall success.  Family pictures, a day in the country, apple crisp, homework done and several dozen jars of apple butter!  Woohoo!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Wind is Chilly!

It's cooling off outside, it's hoodie and boots weather as my friend says.  There seems to be a crisp breeze most days now.  It won't be long until Winter is here bringing with it that "S" word.  Snow.  One would think that growing up in Pennsylvania would make a person like snow.  I'm not one of those persons!  

Something that I dislike more than snow and coldness is paying the gas company.  My husband gives me a hard time about how much I detest paying that bill every month.  Don't ask, it's a long story...LOL.

Whether you have a gas bill or you heat with electric, now is the time check out your house to see where you could save money on those bills.  Some very little things could help to save bundles over the winter.  And with natural gas prices predicted to go up 13% and electricity predicted to go up, I think they said 6% (don't quote me on that one) every little thing that you can do to save on those bills adds up.  They can add up a lot.

One thing that can help save bunches is a programmable thermostat.  You can get them at your local home improvement store, modest ones are about $50.  It will MORE than pay for itself rather quickly.  What we do is since we live in a two story house (and heat rises) we set ours to turn down at night to about 62.  It is set to turn down to about 58 during the day, right after we all leave.  It comes back up about a half an hour before we get home.  I'm home a lot of those days but I am rather warm natured so I just get a sweater.  We have a different set of settings for the weekend since we're home more.  We save more than $25 per month over what we paid before changing the thermostat to a programmable one.

Something else that is pretty easy to do, especially with the windy days is to check for air leaks around windows and doors.  On a windy day you can easily hold your hand around windows and doors and feel a draft coming in.  Remember, if you feel a draft coming in now, that will be your heat going out in winter! Caulking is pretty easy.  Caulk is under $10 for a couple of tubes of it and the caulk gun is well under $10 here.  If you're unsure of the type of caulk you need, just ask at the home improvement store.  I would suggest you practice on a piece of cardboard to get the feel of how the caulk gun works.  It's pretty easy when you get the hang of it.

You should also change the furnace filter every month.  How many of you just went "The furnace has a filter?"  I did too before I married someone who is HVAC/R certified...LOL.  Anyway, the furnace will work more efficiently if it has a new filter every month.  On a side note, it's a good idea to have your furnace cleaned and serviced every year to keep it working at it's optimum ability.

Check for register vents too.  I had two that were getting the curtains fluttering until the curtains ended up over them and the heat was going behind the curtain.  A deflector is a couple of dollars and it keeps the curtain behind it.  Another little trick you can do is to sew big washers one the backside of the curtain on the hemmed part.  The weight will hold the curtain down so it doesn't flutter.  And by sewing it on the backside of the hem, you won't see the stitching.

Don't forget to check the bottoms of doors too.  You can buy one of those door snakes to put against the door or they make these things now that slide on the bottom of the door so you don't have to remember to put the snake in place.

Also, always remember that when it is sunny outside, regardless of whether or not it is cold, open the windows.  Let the sun shine in.  It not only lets some heat in from the sun but it just makes you feel better after days of dreary winter weather!  Just make sure you close them at night to help hold the warm in!

Remember too that some things that you can do to help insulate your home against the winter cold are tax deductible.  Check out the Government's Energy Star website for more information here.  

You can spend a couple of hours on a weekend to give the house a once over.  Check for any way that you can cut down on the amount of money that you give to the gas (or electric) company.  It's better in your pocket than it is in theirs, right?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Freezer eating

It's that time of year around here.  That time when we need to be sure that the freezer has enough space in it for our beef when the time comes.  We don't get beef from "meat markets" here in the city, I buy a cow (or part of a cow) from a farmer and have it butchered at a butcher.  I know they sound the same, but they're very different.

First, I've gotten beef from a farmer I know in the country for over 20 years.  It's worth the drive back to where I used to live to get it, too!  The way he does it is that he raises the beef and sells either 1/4, 1/2 or a whole beef.  One the day that they're to be slaughtered, we pay whatever "on the hoof" market price is on the day they are taken to the butcher based on how much the cow weighed that day.  We (those who are sharing a cow) share the "kill charge" based on our percentage of the beef.  That fee isn't much at all.

Next, the butcher.  It's not like the butcher at the grocery store.  This is a true butcher.  You can't buy meat at this type of butcher.  They only take in live animals, slaughter them and clean, but and package them.  it's important to find a great butcher.  I've heard of less-reputable butchers who will just butcher everything that comes in and then divvy it up, regardless of whose cow was whose.  That might not sound like a big deal but some people like certified organic beef, some like grass-fed and I've known some who believe you can taste the grass in the beef and absolutely don't want grass-fed.  So, it really does matter that you have someone reputable that you can trust.

I also like the fact that I can specify not only what cuts of beef I get but in what quantity as well.  For example, I prefer getting burger packaged in one pound packs where a larger family might prefer two pound packs.  I also prefer getting steaks packaged two per package because sometimes two steaks are enough to feed the four of us.  I pass on the organ meats.  ORGAN meats should tell you why I pass on them.  I do, however, request all the soup bones I can get.  They make amazing stocks and broths.

Overall, I get good, quality meat far cheaper overall than I can even buying sales.  Depending on the year (hoof weight is tied to the markets), I pay on average $1.39-1.59 per pound overall.  Now, I know with sales, you can find hamburger cheaper than that.  Sometimes.  But, I challenge you to find Steak or Roasts cheaper than that.

The quality is so far above what you can get at the grocery.  I can tell my butcher that I want my burger leaner, they just put less fat in it.  When I fry up a pound of beef, I don't even have to drain the grease, I just use a paper towel to sop up what little is there.  That's the best part.  I control the cut, the mix, the packaging.  I can make the most of my meat purchase.

It does require saving up to be able to pay for a year's worth of beef all at once.  For my family, a 1/4 beef isn't enough for a year but 1/2 is too much so, what we do is one year we get a quarter and the next year we get a half.  This year is a little easier because it is the year I get a quarter beef.  So I don't have to make as much room in the freezer.

Which brings me back to eating from the freezer.  The beef will be butchered in a month or so.  That means that first we need to not only move things around in the freezer so that the old and new beef aren't mixed up.  I generally use a red Sharpie to mark the old packages this way we eat the older ground beef before the newer.  We'll also eat some of the things I've put up like soups and stocks, the extra chicken/turkey that I've put up for other meals, basically anything that I can cook for dinner from the freezer will make it easier to make room for the beef.  I don't think the family will complain too much!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Rainy Fall days

It's a rainy day here today.  One of those days where you want to be lazy and sleep.  Unfortunately, I have too much to do for that to be an option...LOL.  A second option is to make the house smell fabulous!  Other than taking my short dude to a birthday party, I'm going to cook today. 

This is a great day for chili.  The nice thing about chili is that for a few minutes of work, you can just let it simmer for a while while you do something else.  I always make a double batch so I can toss some in a Ziploc in the freezer.  I love being able to grab it for a quick lunch on the weekend so I don't have to stop to cook.  And in all honesty, if you have a dinner failure then this is in the freezer to rescue the day.

I will also get my weekly menus together and do whatever I can to prep a head of time.  This might be pre-browning the meat or cutting veggies or setting things out of the freezer to thaw.  Whatever I can do to make the weeknight easier.  Although football is done for the year, I still have school and this week is Parent-Teacher conferences, Scouts...we only thought things would slow down after football season!

I will also bake today for the week.  I just had made 4 dozen cupcakes for Devon's football championship game (They won!  WooHoo!) so I think we'll go with something else this week.  I will make cookies for the week.  Remember too that if you make a batch of cookies but don't want that many cookies available that you can portion out the cookie dough onto wax paper, freeze it and then toss in a Ziploc.  When you want a tray of fresh cookies, just pop out enough to put on a tray and bake.  They take a little longer than fresh but you have warm, yummy cookies in a short amount of time.

I may come up with some other things to make ahead of time as well.  If I'm going to heat up the oven and kitchen, I'll go ahead and make things that I'll need for the week.

What do you do on a rainy day?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Onions, Carrots and Leeks! Oh my!

Since rain is predicted, by the weatherman AND my asthma, the family helped me last night to harvest the onions, carrots and leeks.  Today I am working on getting them put up.

Onions are pretty easy in that I just wash them, chop them up and freeze them.  Yes, there are tears.  Lots of them.  But I chop them all at once and it's done.  Once they're chopped, I put them in a Ziploc bag, not too many in each bag.  I like to get as much as out as possible and flatten the bag out.  I don't like the bag to be more than 3/4" thick this way because onions clump when the freeze, no way around it that I have found yet.  But by keeping the bag thin, it's pretty easy to break them up frozen to use just want I need.  That way, I don't have to use a ton of bag to freeze small amounts but I can still get out what I need without having to thaw them.  I've also been known to take the smooth side of my meat mallet and taking a few frustrations out on my bag of frozen onions...LOL.

The carrots are easy too.  I clean and slice them all.  I take the ends and pieces that aren't uniform in size and put those aside, we'll talk about those later.  The ones that are somewhat uniform, I will blanch and shock those like I do corn, you can find that blog post here.  I lay them out on a clean towel to dry and then on a wax paper lined cookie sheet to freeze them like I talked about int he blog post on berries here.  Once frozen, put them in Ziplocs and back in the freezer.  This will let you pull out just what carrots you need without having to thaw them all.

I haven't forgotten those ends and pieces.  I trim the carrots up nicely before I slice them but these odd pieces, I just put straight into a Ziploc back and into the freezer.  These are the pieces that I pull out when I am making stock and broth.  I do the same thing with Celery bottoms and leaves and the onion ends.  It's like free flavor into your soups and stocks.  I'd rather put them in broth than in the trash!

Leeks are new for me this year.  They grew very well in the garden this year.  I had to research how to deal with these but it was pretty easy.  They also go into the freezer.  I sliced the root end off and then sliced them up almost to the leafy part.  I put the slices in a LARGE amount of cold water, kind of separating the slices a bit.  Don't worry about getting them all, it will be ok.  I took the upper parts (not all of it but maybe 2" above my slices) and cut them in half lengthwise and soak them in a sink of water.  You soak them to get let the dirt between the layers to fall off.  Once they've soaked, I put them in a colander to drain and then in Ziplocs.  These pieces I use for stocks and broths.  The slices I put on towels to dry and then in Ziplocs once dry.  

Remember to label and date the Ziplocs!  You'll have them to use all year!