Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Doctor Who!!!

Okay, shameless plug for Doctor Who - the first of the "new" series is now available on Amazon for less than half price. Like... for the price of a new release video at Walmart:

If I had $22 I'd be buying it! It's a savings of $57 freakin' dollars... *GRIN*

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Oyster Soup from the Little House

The beginning of something wonderful...
"In all her life Laura had never tasted anything so good as that savory, fragrant, sea-tasting hot milk, with golden dots of melted cream and black specks of pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters at its bottom. She sipped slowly, slowly from her spoon, to keep that taste going over her tongue as long as she could." -- from By the Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder, pp 204

Anyone who knows me, knows that I have an uncontrollable fascination with the Little House series. It was my introduction to Christianity, and the reason why I invited the minister to dinner when we moved to New England (Ma insisted it was right and proper, so therefore it was what I ought to do, yes?). I've been through the series so many times that I've had to buy new copies on several occasions, the older ones having worn out. I learned morals and ethics from them. For me, Laura and Ma and Pa and the other people there are just as real as you and me.

Several years ago (several severals of years ago), I was living on the west coast and had managed to become unemployed and rather destitute. I was scraping by on unemployment insurance payments, but it was pretty dicey. My partner D and I were approaching the Christmas and Yule season with as much joy as we could muster. After all, we had a roof over our heads, heat, and each other. It was lean, but love fills a lot of gaps.

Some kind soul had told the local fire department that we were living lean over the season, and a soft spoken gentleman brought us a hamper of food. I tried to protest, but he insisted that it was alright, we weren't taking anything from someone else. I'll admit, once he was gone, I tore into that box like ... well, like it was Christmas morning. D and I went through the rice and pasta, a tiny canned ham, some fresh vegetables, and then at the very bottom we found the single precious can of smoked oysters.

We could have eaten that can of oysters in two seconds. We're both in love with them, their smoky flavor, savory and oily... But I looked at him and ran to the book shelf. I pulled out "By the Shores of Silver Lake" and went skimming through it to find the New Year's Eve scene. There it was, Laura's description of the oyster soup Ma had made for their guests. He and I started laughing, and we recreated that soup for Christmas Eve for ourselves. It was a wonderful meal.

This year, I wanted to make the soup again. I remember how delicious it was way back when I was barely an adult. Tastes change, though, and I wondered if it would still be as magical. I picked up three cans of cheap smoked oysters and sacrificed some of my coffee half-and-half, and made the soup as a starter to our Yule meal last night.

Everyone enjoyed it. I made enough that I assumed there would be much in the way of leftovers, but there wasn't. Barely a drop was left in my soup tureen when we were done! It was just as Laura described it, with the oil and butter, the salty sea taste.

Merry Yuletide, my readers, and Merry Christmas as well. I hope you will enjoy this (terrifically easy) delicious soup as much as I and our guests did.

Oyster Soup
  • 6 tsp butter
  • 1 cup minced onion
  • 3 cans oysters
  • 1 to 2 quarts half-and-half
  • salt, pepper, paprika  to taste
  • parsley and oyster crackers for garnish
In a soup pot, melt the butter. When it is just starting to sizzle and is completely melted, add the minced onions, and cook for two or three minutes, until it begins to soften. Add the oysters, oil and all, and cook for another two minutes. Add the cream and spices, and heat until it just begins to boil. Sprinkle with parsley, stir, and ladle into bowls. Serve with the oyster crackers on the side.

Literally, this soup takes ten minutes to make, but it tastes like you spent hours fussing over it. It also does fine if you make it earlier and then re-heat it just before serving. That's what I ended up doing, because we had too many things that needed to be on the stove top at the last minute. It turned out incredible. Enjoy!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Winter is here!
Beef Barley Soup
Got Cheese?
Rendering turkey fat
Making turkey broth from your leftovers

Monday, December 17, 2012

Winter is here!

Snow out back of the house
Well, winter is sort of here (though certainly not in a truly New England proper way). It's definitely time to double-check all the safety procedures for your vehicle and person. You might think your car is pretty safe (and you'd be correct), but there's always the chance of skidding off the road, being in an accident caused by someone else, or the variety of "Acts of God" that sometimes just happen.

I love using the phrase, "Preparing for the zombie apocalypse," because it doesn't make anyone nervous. I'm not the type to be stressing over the end of the world, really. But I do know that emergencies happen, and that they're less likely to happen if you're prepared for them.

What emergency gear do you have in your vehicle? Remember your Rule of Threes and check your "Goodi bag" to make sure it has everything in it you need (for a great refresher check out CTJ's articles, Goodi I and Goodi II).

In the winter, especially in the colder parts of the world, you want to make sure you have a change of clothes in your car. If you fall in a snowbank or get soaked pushing the car out of a ditch, or are simply cold in whatever you're wearing, you need to be able to change into something practical, warm and dry. Two changes is great, but one is a necessity. If nothing else, pack a few pairs of extra socks. Cold feet can cause you to fall, making the whole, "I'm cold," thing even worse.

First aid kits are really important parts of any emergency bag, but especially so in winter. Be prepared to deal with frostbite, injuries from trauma (snowboarding and skiing and such), and broken bones from falls on ice. Also have on hand a manual to explain the details about winter injuries, and if you have a smartphone, consider picking up a first aid app!

Husband wrapped in camo sleep system
Along with your extra clothing, have a good quality sleeping bag or sleep system in your vehicle. You can stay in your car for a very long time and still be alright if you have blankets and sleeping bags and warm clothing, as your car makes a VERY good shelter.

If you are in an area that gets hit by fast, deep snow, you may want to invest in a tall orange or red flag that you can place on top of your car. Whether you're stuck in the car on the side of the road, or have to abandon it during an emergency, the flag will let emergency and road crews know there's a vehicle there.

On the food front, MREs are a great option for in a vehicle, both because they don't take up much space, and because the heater they contain is not dangerous to use inside the car. The vast majority of snow accidents that would leave you in your car for a time, should be solved within a day or two. A single MRE can feed one person who isn't doing hard work (ie sitting in the car staying warm) for a couple of days easily. Even one warm meal can give you hope and help you think more clearly.

The technical aspect shouldn't be ignored, either. Having your first aid app available is great, and having a GPS in your phone is also good. If you're stuck but unable to explain where you are, you can call emergency and let them home in on your phone's signal. You can use a phone to call for help, either from emergency crews or family. In order to use your phone, though, it must be charged. If you are in your car and it is turned on, put it on the charger. This assures your phone is always at full, available for you to use in any emergency.

There are tons of other suggestions for keeping yourself safe in the car. Have sand on hand to get you out of slippery situations, for instance, or kitty litter. Put blocks in the back of your car (if you have rear wheel drive) in order to give you more traction. Carry a shovel and extra gloves in case you have to deal with the elements. Some people even carry a chain saw or foldable saw, in case they're stuck behind downed trees!

What sort of things do you have in your car to help keep you safe? Please, share!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Beef Barley Soup
Got Cheese?
Rendering turkey fat
Making turkey broth from your leftovers
Protein - it's good for you!

Friday, December 14, 2012

An apology - Beef Barley Soup

I have let the days get away from me. Between the virtual Advent calendar over on my professional blog and Capturing December on my religious blog, I haven't been making time to write here. I'm profoundly sorry! To make up for it, I'm going to share my easy-peasy recipe for Beef with Barley Soup today!

Assemble the ingredients
This is the world's easiest soup to make that doesn't come in a can (though it CAN be canned!). I make it in the crock pot so that I can put it on during whatever free moment I have, and it is all ready come dinner time. You can make it on the top of the stove, too, but you have to watch it more carefully.

2 lbs of beef
You want to have about 2 lbs of beef to fill a standard crock pot, and that can be chuck meat like I have in the picture above or it can be bones with meat still on them, or a mix of marrow bones and meat. Marrow bones will add a darker look to the broth, and a stronger flavor, as well as adding vitamins and minerals that straight meat does not. However, some children balk at the stronger flavor (and some husbands, too!) so I don't always use them.

You'll also want on hand some olive or other healthy oil, a large onion, a small turnip (and/or parsnip), two or three carrots, a potato or two, a couple stalks of celery, some butter, and your spices (I use salt, pepper, and Nature's Seasoning). You can add fresh minced garlic or a bit of garlic powder. As I didn't have fresh on hand, I used the powder, but I prefer it with real garlic.

Bob's Red Mill Barley
When it comes to barley, you have many choices. If you're going to can, use Bob's Red Mill hull-less barley, as it holds up better during the heating process. Otherwise, use what ever form you like! There's pearl barley (the standard in most grocery stores), as well as some colored versions (my favorite is purple barley, which gives your soup a really exotic look!).

All the ingredients in the pot
Turn on your crock pot and let it start heating up. Add a tablespoon or so of butter to the bottom. When it begins to melt, put in the meat (in one piece - don't cut it up) and then start chopping up your veggies. The onion, turnip and/or parsnip, and potato should be diced into small, bite-size pieces. If your family dislikes anything, dice it up really fine as it will likely turn to mush in the pot and disappear, thereby adding the goodness without the complaints. The carrots and celery should be coined into thin slices. Pour in the barley, and the garlic goes on the top, whether in powder or minced form.

As each vegetable is processed, put it in the pot. At the end, add a tablespoon of salt, a teaspoon of pepper, and as much other spices as you like (though don't overdo it, as it's easy to add spices at the end if the soup needs it). Drizzle 2 tbsp oil over the top of the whole thing. Fill the crock pot with water until it's about an inch from the top. All your ingredients should be submerged beneath the water. Put the lid on, crank the pot up to high, and forget about it for an hour.

Just enough water
If you're going to be home, keep it on high and check it each hour. If you're going out, put it on low, just to make sure it doesn't over-cook. Stir it once an hour so long as it's on high, and once the meat is fully cooked, you can pull it out and let it cool on a plate. Bones should be removed as well, and any meat removed from them and set to cool. Some people like to poke out the centers of the marrow bones if they haven't already fallen out but I'm not one of those.

When the meat is cool, cut it into bite size pieces and toss back in the soup. If it was not on low, set it to low or even warm, and let it continue to simmer until you're ready to eat. This tastes wonderful served up with a buttered bit of bread or a salad. It takes almost no effort to make, either, and left-overs can easily be frozen or canned (pressure canning only, by the by).

Simmering on high
You can also mix up the ingredients in this soup fairly easily. If you like cabbage, toss some in for the last hour of cooking. Turnip and parsnips are good, but you might like the deeper flavor of rutabaga, or maybe you have some Jerusalem artichokes to use up. Don't be afraid to experiment a little bit!

To make this soup on the stove-top, use a large stock pot and cook on a medium high heat (a 6 or 7 on my electric stove) until the meat is done. After that, lower the heat to a medium low setting (about a 2 or 3) so that it barely simmers but does continue to cook. The cooking times will be much reduced on the stove top. You could also make this in a dutch oven over a camp fire, or on a wood stove, or in your oven!

Beef with Barley Soup

  • 2 lbs beef and/or bones, whole
  • 2-3 carrots, coined
  • 1-2 celery stalks, sliced thin
  • 1 turnip, diced small
  • 2-3 small potatoes, diced
  • 1 medium-large onion, diced
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1-2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • spices to taste

Turn the crock pot on high and add the butter. Layer the meat on top of it, then add each of the vegetables as they're processed. Add your spices, then drizzle with the olive oil. Add water to within an inch of the crock pot rim, and cook on high for one hour.

Stir once an hour until the meat is done, then remove the meat (and bones, if you used them) and turn the crock pot to low. When the meat is cool enough to handle, cut into bite size pieces and return to crock pot. Continue to simmer on low, or turn to the 'warm' setting until dinner time.

Serve with a side salad and fresh bread!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Got Cheese?
Rendering turkey fat
Making turkey broth from your leftovers
Protein - it's good for you!
Creamy Potato Soup

Friday, November 30, 2012

Got cheese?

I love cream cheese... (1)
There's this decadent feeling you get when you cut into a cheese ball. I don't know why cheese balls are different from any other appetizer or finger food, but for me, it leaves a rich impression. I almost always buy one during the Thanksgiving holidays, either for putting out before the main meal, or just to sit and munch on during  a movie with the kids. This year, I decided to make our cheese ball.

I was zooming around on Pinterest a few weeks ago and found a recipe for a cheddar cheese ball. I swear I bookmarked it, but when I went back to find it, it was gone. Damn you, Pinterest! After looking online and realizing I didn't have the stuff to make any of the cheese balls mentioned there, I had almost resolved myself to purchasing one last minute, when a light bulb came on.

If all those other people can mix stuff together, so can I! I can cook, so I can make my OWN cheese ball recipe! And so I did. This is the result, and I am happy to say there was squabbling over the remains of it.

2 packages room temperature cream cheese or neufchatal
1 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp pesto
1 clove minced garlic OR 1/2 tsp dried minced garlic
several tbsps each of parsley and chives, minced

In a large bowl, mix together the cream cheese, pepper, pesto and garlic. I use the MixMaster with the paddle and it whips right up. Using a rubber spatula, form it into a ball shape in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

On a large piece of plastic/saran wrap, lay out a layer of the mixed parsley and chives. I used fresh parsley, minced up with my mezzaluna, but my chives were freeze dried because I couldn't find fresh and my garden ones were pretty sad. Flavor-wise, I was glad I went with the freeze dried ones, because if I'd used my own dried ones, the taste wouldn't have been as good. Spread the herbs in a thin layer, then pick up your cheese ball and sort of roll it around on the herbs. They'll stick to the cheese.

Set the ball in the middle of the plastic wrap and bring the sides up. Twist the top closed firmly, so that the cheese and herbs are held together in a tight ball in the wrap. Now chill it for at least four hours. I made mine the night before, and it was just the right consistency.

Cheese ball heaven
This cheese ball turned out marvelously. It was nice and herby on the outside, and light green on the inside (the pesto turned the neufchatal green!). It was spreadable, attractive, slightly spicy from the basil, and gone before I could get a decent picture of it. This is the sole image of my cheese ball! The little "Christmas tree" is a cheese spreader that we had. It looked like there was a little tree sitting on a grassy hill.

Have you ever made your own version of a recipe before? What's your favorite? Care to share?

PS: We've added this post to the Homestead Barn Hop #90! Click the Homestead button to share your homesteading post.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Rendering turkey fat
Making turkey broth from your leftovers
Protein - it's good for you!
Creamy Potato Soup
Prepping 101

1) Photo by Renee Comet / Wikimedia Commons

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wicked Good Wednesday!

Wilderness Wife has a neat "blog party" each Wednesday at her blog. :) Go have a peek and see if there's anything you'd be interested in! Click the link to visit Wilderness Wife!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Vacant Lot Offers Refugees a Taste of Home -

A Vacant Lot Offers Refugees a Taste of Home -

Old ideas are suddenly new again. In Phoenix, AZ, the mayor has started using vacant lots as city vegetable plots. Families are growing food for themselves and to sell to local grocers, making lives just a little bit better and a lot more sustainable. The Victory Garden is making a come-back, and America has made a tiny step into self-sufficiency again. Let's just hope that other cities follow suit, until we see green springing from corner lots and backyards across the country!

Monday, November 26, 2012

How to render turkey fat

Rendered turkey fat
There are a lot of things you can do with left-over turkey, and I'm sure that everyone's getting their fill of it by now. Whether you had your feast on Thursday or the weekend, the likelihood is that you have a significant amount of turkey in your fridge or freezer, and are wondering what to do with it all. I'll touch on a few recipes this week, some easy and some more labor intensive, but first I want to cover the basics - what to do with all that fat!

Believe it or not, turkey fat isn't as bad for you as butter is. It isn't as bad for you as most vegetable fats like canola or "vegetable oil" and is naturally low in saturated fats. If your turkey is pasture fed, it's also full of a lot of necessary vitamins and minerals. This means you can save that turkey fat and use it in any recipe that calls for lard or animal fat, and it can be used in place of butter.

Fat on top of broth
Before using your turkey fat, though, you need to render it. The process of rendering fat (of any kind of animal) means to remove all the non-fat from it. For me, that meant all the little bits of turkey that remained in it, as well as some herbs. It's not a difficult process, but it does take a bit of time and patience.

The easiest way to get at the turkey fat is to take all your leftover skin, bones, gristle and assorted drippings, put them in a big pot, and make stock from it. Once your stock is made, set it outside (if it's cold enough) or in the fridge until it is thoroughly chilled. The fat will float to the top and harden.

Removing fat with a spoon
Fat in a bowl
Once the fat is hard, remove it with a slotted spoon to a bowl or small sauce pan. The broth can then be heated and canned or poured into containers and frozen. Your broth will be largely fat free, because you will remove the majority of it!

The fat can then be heated on top of the stove to melt it. Use a medium high heat, and it will melt down very quickly. You'll see in the picture that my fat has bits of herbs in it, which floated to the top and got stuck there. Before finishing, I need to remove those herbs. They will go bad if they are not removed, and that will ruin your fat!

Melting turkey fat
Once the fat is melted, but before it gets really hot, pour it through a coffee filter to remove the last of the impurities from it. This helps make sure there are no bits of meat or bone or herb left in it, which might cause it to go rancid. If it doesn't look clear, re-heat it and pour through another filter. This is the most important part of rendering, and it makes a huge difference on both the length of storage of your fat, and the flavor (donuts fried in fat that contains meat are going to taste a little funny, and let's not even consider what will happen if you're washing your face and bits of old turkey end up on it!).

Removing the water
When the fat is completely strained, put it back onto the stove in its pot and let it come to a full boil. It will hiss and spit quite a bit, usually, as it steams and cooks out all the water. Continue to cook the fat on a low heat (just enough to make it bubble but not enough to cause it to boil over) until all the spitting stops. This can take anywhere from a few minutes to hours, depending on how much water is in your fat. If it looks like it'll be taking a long time, consider doing it in your crock pot on high, where you can leave it without worry of spilling over or burning.

The finished product can be stored in air-tight containers in the fridge for about three months, or in the freezer for up to a year. Turkey fat can be used in place of palm oil in soap recipes, and can be used for making pastries or anything that asks for butter or lard. It will harden up in the fridge until it looks just like store-bought lard, although it will be a darker color.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Making turkey broth from your leftovers
Protein - it's good for you!
Creamy Potato Soup
Prepping 101
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Making turkey broth from your leftovers

Brine soaked, oven roasted turkey (1)
Ahhh... The pleasantly full feeling of satisfaction after the turkey has been devoured. The parade has been and gone, and you're half way through the Purina Dog Show when it hits you. You have two weeks worth of turkey sitting on the counter in the kitchen, and no room in the freezer for it because it's full of the other leftovers. Oy...

Well, ladies and gents, I'm here to tell you that this is not your worst nightmare. Indeed, it is your Lucky Day! Hooray for leftovers and especially for leftover turkey! Rejoice, because you are about to make ... BROTH!

Making and canning turkey broth is very simple, and better yet, takes up no refrigerator or freezer space at all. It does require a pressure canner, though, so if you don't have one then you'll need to squeeze the broth into the freezer after all. However, if you can beg, borrow or steal a pressure canner for just a few hours, you can make this, put it on your pantry shelf, and have a ton of home-made broth ready for any occasion.

I'm going to be making our turkey (on Saturday, not today, because we like to celebrate Thankfulness by being damn thankful we're not stuffing turkey butt at 6am LOL) in a Westinghouse roaster, but this recipe translates just as well to a regular roasting pan in the oven. The major difference is that if you're using a regular roasting pan, then you'll need to scrape the leftover contents of it into a large stock pot, whereas with the Westinghouse, you just continue right on without doing any extra dishes (there's that thankfulness again!).

Bacon wrapped turkey (2)
When you're finished roasting your turkey, you'll serve it up either whole or disjointed, and people will feast. The leftovers will likely sit on the platter for an hour or two while you burp and digest and generally allow the tryptophan to sooth your frazzled soul. Once you recover enough, brave the kitchen mess and pull off the majority of the meat from your bird and toss it into baggies in the fridge or freezer. Plastic containers will also do. Do reserve some for later, though, for adding to soup (if you make some) and sandwiches (for the day after).

All that jellied stuff in the bottom of the pan, all the drippings left over from making gravy, all the bones and the whole carcass can be slid right back into your Westinghouse, or alternatively into a large stock pot. If it doesn't fit, hack it into pieces that will. You don't need pretty or neat, here; just make it fit. You'll be straining it later anyhow.

You can add many of your leftovers to the broth, if you like. Any onions and carrots (provided they're not candied) can be tossed in, as well as leftover gravy, green beans (so long as they're not in a cream sauce), cabbage, parsnips, and other root vegetables. Avoid potatoes, both sweet and regular, as they tend to make the broth a bit gritty sometimes. Fill the pot or Westinghouse with water, add a teaspoon each of salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and thyme, and then set the broth to simmering.

Making soup (3)
Ideally, you want to let it simmer overnight, however as long as it gets several hours of cooking you should be fine. Your broth should not come to a full boil during this process, or it won't be nice and clear (although it doesn't change the flavor much, in my opinion). Eventually, the carcass will fall apart, the neck bones will disappear into a mass at the bottom of the cooking container, and the vegetables will likely turn to complete mush. All this is fine. You may see a frothy scum at the top of your pot, and this should be skimmed off with a wooden spoon. Fat, on the other hand, should be left on the top for now. You'll remove that later.

During the later part of the cooking process, take a few sips of your broth. If it needs something, feel free to add it. Likely requirements will be more salt, and possibly such things as oregano, thyme, bay leaf, rosemary, and other "stuffing" herbs, as well as more onion, garlic, or chives. Don't be afraid to experiment, but use small amounts. Keep good records as you go through this process, because it will streamline the process for next time!

When the broth is done, you need to strain it. Line a colander with cheesecloth (or an old tee shirt or towel if you don't have cheesecloth) and pour the hot broth into another container (or two, if you're like me and make several gallons worth of broth). Remember to use hot pads and keep your face out of the steam!

The contents of your cheesecloth can be thrown away. At this point they are devoid of nutritional content and you can rest assured that you've plumbed the depths of their vitamins and minerals. The resulting broth, be it clear or cloudy, should be put in a cold place to chill for several hours. It is ready to work on again when the layer of fat on the top is solid and opaque.

Using a wooden spoon, carefully remove the hardened fat from the top of your broth. Depending on your preference, it can be saved in the fridge or freezer for use in other recipes (it's great in place of lard), rendered for use in pie crusts, soaps (it replaces the palm or coconut oil!) or other items, or tossed. There should be very little fat left in the broth when you are done (a bit is just fine).

Re-heat your broth, stir well, and then ladle into hot, sterile jars and process according to the directions for your pressure canner. Generally speaking, you'll want to process it at 15 pounds of pressure for 20 minutes for pints and 25 minutes for quarts. Always check to see if there is a different pressure for your area (if you're above or below sea level, pressure and timing can change dramatically!). Never "wing it" when it comes to pressure canning.

Another option for those little bits of broth that don't quite fill the last jar, is to freeze them in an ice cube tray. Each ice cube tray holds about one tablespoon of liquid. Once your broth cubes are frozen, store in a ziploc style baggie, and pull out anytime you only need a couple of tablespoons of broth. This way, you don't waste an entire jar opening it for such a little bit!

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Protein - it's good for you!
Creamy Potato Soup
Prepping 101
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls
Danger, Will Robinson!

1) Photo by TheKohser / Wikimedia Commons
2) Photo by Dennis Crowley / Wikimedia Commons
3) Photo by Claus Ableiter / Wikimedia Commons

Friday, November 16, 2012

Protein - it's good for you!

TVP - Textured Vegetable Protein

Prices are going up. The price of just about everything is going up, and will continue to go up. The price of meat, however, is going to move a lot faster than most other things. For those of us who are omnivores, that gets a bit scary. What do you eat when you can't afford to eat beef, chicken, turkey or pork?

Since the price of meat started going up about two years ago, we've been slowly cutting down on the amount of it that we eat. It used to be (and yes, you'll be shocked) that we would sit down as a family of three adults and two small children, and eat 2.5 lbs of meat easily along with a variety of vegetables and grains. This is no longer the case.

Generally speaking, I allot 2-2.5 lbs of meat for dinner now. That feeds four adults, one older teen, and two seven-year-olds, plus leftovers most nights. That's a much healthier ratio of meat to "other stuff" at our table.

TVP repackaged
Still, finding 2 lbs of meat that we can afford to purchase for our family is becoming more and more difficult. The cheapest of ground beef (that I'll buy, and I'm guaranteed is not pink slime or worse) is currently $2.99/lb. Chicken legs with backs can be found for $0.79/lb but I have to drive to get them. I can pick up whole chickens for $0.99/lb, which is what we seem to end up doing most times. Breasts are easily $3.99/lb. Beef is anywhere from $3.99 to $16.99/lb depending on the cut. Pork is in the middle, ranging from $4.99 to $8.99/lb. Turkey is usually a bit more expensive than chicken, except around Thanksgiving. Right now, we're getting turkey at $0.49/lb, and I'm going to be filling the freezer with as much as we can afford.

When I'm cooking something made with ground or finely cut meat, I often substitute half of the meat for TVP, or textured vegetable protein. TVP is a meat substitute that is made from defatted soy beans. It doesn't have any flavor to it, and will easily pick up the flavor of whatever you are cooking. It's a dehydrated product, and requires about five minutes of soaking in broth or water before cooking with it.

The best things about TVP are that it is inexpensive (under $3.00 a bag) and a little goes a long way. A 10oz bag of Bob's Red Mill TVP will last weeks worth of meals. I mix it up with water and then sauté it in a tiny bit of butter and bacon fat for flavor. Sometimes I'll rehydrate it in broth to give it flavor of its own. I discovered that TVP rehydrated in water and then cooked in fresh bacon fat until it's crispy tastes almost like bacon bits (certainly more so than the "artificial" bacon bits you get at the store!).

When I make meatloaf or meatballs or spaghetti sauce or chili, I now use half or 1/3 ground beef and the rest TVP. The family can't tell the difference, and they get just as much protein (and less bad fats) as they would if I used all meat. For those who are on a restricted fat diet, TVP can be a real help.

A scant quarter cup of TVP makes an amount that is about equivalent to a pound of ground meat in both bulk and amount of protein. Use it in place of any ground meat, or in conjunction with it. I find that if I mix in a little real meat with the TVP it makes the flavor perfect. It's dehydrated, so it's incredibly light and stores in a small space.

Stored in the OJ bottle
When I buy my TVP, it comes in a plastic bag with the label on it. I don't like keeping stuff in bags, because they can be chewed on by mice, popped open accidentally, and once they've been opened for use you can never quite get them closed tight enough. I re-package my TVP into vacuum sealed baggies or into hard plastic containers. It just so happened that this week when I was re-packing the TVP, I happened to have an empty, clean, dry orange juice bottle that is squarish. It took two full bags of TVP plus a bit (the remainder went into a jar by the stove which I dip into frequently). It was easy to pour in, easier to close, and I no longer have to be concerned about children or rodents.

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Creamy Potato Soup
Prepping 101
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls
Danger, Will Robinson!
Cooking without electricity

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Troglodite Services: Risk Assessment

Troglodite Services: Risk Assessment: What is risk assessment? Risk assessment is the process of determining the relative probability and consequence of taking an action in...

Chris goes over the importance of risk assessment and how it is used. Really great article, very in-depth.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Homestead Barn Hop #87

I've had a bit of a hiatus from the various linkies of late. With the twins' birthday, Halloween, 2 weddings, and a bunch of other stuff, I just didn't make time for it. But today I'm glad I went to look at the Homestead Barn Hop, because there's a dozen interesting links over at the Hop! I posted up my potato soup recipe and the prepping 101 commentary I did about the kids. Do you have things to share over at the Hop? Go peek at what they're up to! You can also enter your own links here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Creamy Potato Soup

You know those nights, when you've planned out a complex, delicious dinner, and then your kid needs to be rushed to the clinic with major ear pain? Yeah, me too! The hubby has been working on the sauce for lasagna since yesterday, and the whole house smells incredible. Then last night, just as he was about to start making the noodles and put it all together, sis called to explain the girl child was experiencing some ear pain and liquid draining. I got an appointment for her, and they went rushing off while I was left holding the dinner bag.

My secret ingredient
What do you do when you're trying to eat well and healthily when your planned meal doesn't happen? I turn to soups, because they can be done very quickly if you have some pre-made broth or organic bouillon cubes. With an hour and a bit of patience, you can turn out a gourmet soup that will impress family and friends and that takes very little effort. Most soups start with a basic stock, and some combination of onion, carrot, celery and potato. If you keep those five ingredients on hand, you'll have a quick supper whenever you need it.

Browning sausage
Since I was stuck at home with no vehicle, no money to pick something up, and no meat defrosted, I was limited in my choices. I decided to make some potato soup, but with a bit of flair to it just because I could. The result was a creamy, delicious soup that was thick enough to stand a spoon up in. We served it with grilled cheese sandwiches, although a crusty french bread or some warm biscuits would have worked as well.

  • 10 cups of broth (or 10 cups of water and bouillon cubes/powder)
  • 8 potatoes, in small cubes
  • 1 carrot, finely diced
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely diced
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 lb ground sausage
  • 1/2 to 2 cups dehydrated flaked potatoes
  • 1/2 cup of half-and-half, cream, or milk
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
Dicing the potatoes
In a soup pot, add your broth or water and bouillon, and bring to a boil. The potatoes should be fairly small, about the size of dice, and you can leave the skin on as I did, or peel them, depending on your taste. Add in your potatoes and allow them to cook for about ten minutes while you prepare the other vegetables. Dice up your onion, carrot and celery finely, so that the pieces are about the size of a pencil eraser. Add the carrot and celery to the potatoes in the pot, and continue cooking until the potatoes are softened.

Garlic in the mincer
In a separate pan, brown your ground sausage. I used a Jimmy Dean style (but organic and local) sausage, but you could also use any other ground sausage you happen to like. Alternatively, you might try cooked pork loin, in small pieces. Once the meat is cooked, use a slotted spoon to set it aside in a bowl. In the remaining grease, cook up your onions until they are soft and beginning to become clear. Add these to the pot as well.

When the potatoes have become quite soft, use a potato masher to squish them up. The idea is to make the soup a bit thicker (it will be fairly brothy at this point), and not to completely mash the potatoes. Our family prefers a potato soup with chunky bits in it, but if you like a smooth soup, you may want to run it through your food processor or blender before moving on.

Sausage and parsley added
Once your potatoes are the way you want them, add in a half cup of potato flakes at a time until the soup is the right consistency for you. I added about 1.5 cups of potato flakes, but we do like a very thick soup. Let it simmer for about five minutes, then add the cream and the parsley, and stir well. Continue to stir and simmer for another five minutes, then serve hot, right out of the pot.

All ready to serve
This soup is incredibly filling. The flavor is quite nice! I didn't have any broth on hand, so I cheated with some Goya bouillon that we'd picked up on sale. It does have MSG in it, but that's it's only objectionable ingredient (for us... your mileage may vary). It has a delicate flavor that really started us off right, without being too salty or thick. I like a light broth to start any soup with, and often can my own chicken broth from left-over carcasses.

Because of the bouillon, the soup had a slightly pinkish tinge to it (the bouillon was tomato and chicken flavor, though you cannot taste the tomato at all) which made it quite pretty to look at. The tiny bits of vegetable swirled around in the creamy base, and the chunks of potato and skin gave it a good body. The sausage I used is a real favorite in our house, and I found it was the perfect foil for the slightly starchy potato base.

What is your favorite go-to meal for when you're in a rush? Do you have any secret ingredients that you keep on hand?

Check back often for information on canning, preserving, general homesteading and more. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! You can follow the blog via Network Blogs and Google Friend Connect (see the left hand column for the button). If you purchase items I have linked through Amazon or the ads on my site, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
You may also be interested in:

Prepping 101
Hungarian Cabbage Rolls
Danger, Will Robinson!
Cooking without electricity
Making dilled green tomatoes

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Prepping 101

Learning new skills
Yesterday, the kids were off school. In our area of New England, they get the day off on Election day. So do most teachers. This means that we were all at home yesterday, enjoying some well-deserved time together. We took down a couple of trees, bucked them, and brought them over for splitting. We loaded up wood for the house (there's our first winter storm on the way), and brought much of it inside. We had delicious food for each of our meals, and Halloween candy (and popcorn) for snacks. Voting took almost no time at all, and was a pleasant experience. All in all, it was a pretty good day. 

We also watched a movie together. We decided to watch The Day After Tomorrow with Dennis Quaid. I chose this movie because I wanted to see what the kids would think of the choices made by the various people in the story. We didn't watch the movie all the way through, but instead stopped at several points throughout, having discussions and answering the children's questions.


Our kids just turned seven last week. They're in first grade. They've grown up in a fairly middle class family with an interest in sustainable living, and with many loving and caring adults (and younger people) around them. They're also incredibly smart, and they've grown up being rewarded for thinking "outside the box." I wanted to see how they'd stack up against others in a survival situation, at least via talking points.

Cooking stew at the campsite
The first thing we discussed was "global warming," a theme throughout the movie. We talked about climate change versus global warming, and why we work with the former and not the latter in our family. We talked a bit about Hurricane (tropical storm, tropical depression) Sandy, and how scientists have said that the warmth of the water on the coast helped make the storm much larger than it might otherwise have been. We also explained that the movie was completely fictional, but that climate change is real and that Sandy and her storm surges and flooding was quite real as well.

I think that part of the lesson was over their heads a bit. Though they asked some good questions, I suspect much of what was said is going to be "in one ear and out the other" as they say. I don't blame them, considering that's also true for most adults.

When we began to see the storms rising in the movie, our girl flipped out. There were tourists taking photographs of the developing funnel and she was literally screaming, "That's a tornado, you dummies, get out of there!" We had to pause because she was so upset that people could be so stupid. Our boy, being autistic, was more constrained on the issue, but he also seemed upset that people would just stand there as a giant destructive thing started coming for them.

We talked, also, about whether it was safe to be in a car or house during a hurricane or other natural disaster. We asked the kids what they'd do if they were on their own for some reason, with no grown ups around, and saw (or heard) that a storm was on the way. Their answers were gratifying. Despite never being taught directly, they had picked up some pretty decent strategies.

Her first sewing project
The girl child immediately said that in some storms it was okay to be in a car, but that she'd rather be in the house. Both children said they'd head for the basement if they knew a hurricane or tornado was on the way, and that they'd go to the very back where the heavy brick walls are, and crouch there. They said they'd take flashlights, too. Since that was the most correct answer, I was extremely pleased.

Later in the movie, when the snow started falling, we paused again. Once we all had popcorn and drinks, we asked the children what the most important thing is in a winter storm. There was a bit of guidance involved, but they eventually got to the correct answer: shelter.

They listened to the climatologist explain the (pseudo)science behind the storm cells ravaging North America, and when some of the people decided to go out and try to walk in the snow (presumably to escape to somewhere warmer, although I've no idea where they thought they'd go on foot) they both gasped. We were told emphatically that it was stupid to leave perfectly good shelter with lots of burnable things in it (the characters were in a library). Yay, team kids!

Our boy, ready for anything
When we were all done with the movie, we sat together as a family and had a long discussion about what the most important things are in an emergency, and what that means to them personally. They've heard us talk about the Rule of Threes numerous times, and got to see it put into action during our talk.

The Rule of Threes states you can live for:

  • three minutes without air
  • three hours without shelter
  • three days without water
  • three weeks without food
  • and three months without hope.
Major first aid is beyond our little ones,  but they have bandaids and such in their packs. Shelter is something we spent a lot of time on, because we wanted them to understand just what shelter is. Shelter is your car or house, or a tent, but it's also a bivy sack, a tarp held up with paracord, a log cabin, a lean-to made out of branches, warm clothing (both inner and outer), and much more. We covered everything from having extra socks to using space blankets. Since both kids have had the experience of sleeping in their daddy's bivy sack (and the boy did so in the middle of a rain storm where he was basically in a huge puddle in the bottom of the tent, and still quite warm and dry), they were able to use that experience to expand on the other things.

Water was the most interesting topic that we went over, in my opinion. Both kids came up with fantastic outside-the-box ideas for where to find water. The boy pointed out that the ice in the fridge and freezer can be melted and used for drinking water, something I admitted to him that I hadn't even thought of myself! Then our little princess, who wears pink and doesn't like to get dirty, sported a disgusted face and started to giggle. With a bit of coaxing (and assurances she wouldn't get in trouble), she noted that the toilet is full of water. Bingo! I could have hugged them both into little piles of love at that moment.

Canned summer harvest
Food they know way too much about, having been involved in the canning and drying and otherwise storing of our harvest and purchases. Hope, too, they're fine with. They know that books are precious friends, that board games and card games are a ton of fun, and that little projects like cross stitch and quilting and the like are also a lot of fun to engage in.

Our children passed the Prepping 101 test with flying colors. They understand the mentality of putting away food for lean times. They are very aware that home grown food tastes better. They know that we care for them, but we also expect them to care for themselves and be responsible children. They might give a bit of lip while sitting around the house (yeah, okay, sometimes a LOT of lip) but in an emergency they're pretty darn good.

In the process of our family day together, our kids learned valuable lessons. They taught us, too, that they're hearing a lot more of our talk than we thought. We found out that they not only have some pretty fantastic ideas, but that they're not bound by the standard thoughts held by most people (how many people do you know that would think to drink the water out of the back of the toilet in an emergency?).

I hope they never have to deal with an emergency like Sandy or Katrina. I hope they live their whole lives with nothing more upsetting than a lost election, and the usual sibling rivalry. I also am comfortable knowing that they are aware of what needs to be done if we're not that lucky.

What things do you teach your children about? Do they know what to do in an emergency? Are you willing to teach them some elements of preparing for emergencies of various kinds? Why or why not?

Dealing with power outages more efficiently

Dealing with power outages more efficiently

The article is a decent one, talking about how to deal with crisis management for emergency personnel trying to restore power after a problem.


I am aghast that their huge example was a 90 minute power outage in Germany. I am shocked that they talk about how much money is lost during a power outage. There are many considerations, I agree, but ... frankly, that isn't one of the big ones for me, at least.

I think I shall put on my Queen of the Universe hat and direct things As They Should Be.

First, it's winter. If you live in a place where snow comes, be prepared for it. That means buying a snow shovel before the snow hits, having salt or sand or ashes on hand to melt ice in walking paths, and fuel for any equipment you might own and wish to operate.

Second, there are emergencies at all times of the year, and each season presents its own dangers and risks. Right now, coming into winter, we need to consider a number of things, but first and foremost is heat. If you live in a house, have a fireplace that can function if you have no other choice. Better yet, have a wood stove (can't afford to buy a nice new one? check craigslist for cheap or free alternatives!) that you can use to supplement your (very expensive) oil or electric heat, thereby reducing your costs. Don't heat with your stove, and don't bring a big generator inside your shelter, because it puts off carbon dioxide and that can kill you faster than the cold. Shelter (which includes heat) is vastly important - don't leave your home (or car, if you're stuck at the side of the road) during a snowstorm.

Third, think water. If you're snowed in, you have TONS of water all around you, and as long as you have a means to melt it (see 'heat' above) you will be fine. It's best to consider a gallon per person per day for drinking and washing, although you can get along with less if necessary, for a short while. We keep "cubes" of water in the back pantry. They're just water from the tap which we circulate when necessary (ie a few days before we know something's coming). They're the difference between scrounging and being comfortable, though.

Fourth, it's winter. Be prepared for getting snowed in (or iced in or rained in, depending on your location). If you wake up and find your car buried and your work for the day canceled, you should be able to sigh happily and snuggle back under warm blankets and know that there's enough food in your pantry to last you for a week or two. If you think that's out of line or too expensive, consider the people who are currently living on FEMA handouts in NYC and NJ. Food prep might not have helped those who lost their houses (bless them all), but for those who had "only" (and I apologize for the term) damage but not loss of home, and those who have perfectly fine houses but just have no power, that two week food supply can carry you through most natural emergencies. If nothing else, it can supplement what FEMA or local disaster people give you, meaning the difference between bare survival and hunkering down 'til the emergency is over.

Fifth, but by no means last, have light and entertainment available to you that is not dependent upon the power grid. Break out those dusty board games and a deck of cards. Teach your kids to play cribbage. Read books together in front of the fire. Pull out the workbooks from your kids' school and go over what they'd be doing if they were there. Have fun together, even if the going is tough. If your focus is on the positive, that's where you'll head. Likewise if you focus on the negative.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hungarian Cabbage Rolls

The cabbage
I grew up with two distinct cultures in my life: Scottish and Hungarian. The Scottish side comes through in such things as the way I swear, my penchant for tea in the evening, and my endearing love for Doctor Who and all things British. My Hungarian side shines through my cooking, though, and my family enjoys the fruits of that labor.

I adore cooking the things my grandmother used to make for me when I was little (even though I sometimes didn't like them back then!). Chicken paprikash, potatoes and sausage stew, pork goulash, and cabbage rolls are some of the favorites around here. In the late autumn, when the huge cabbages are available everywhere for such cheap prices, it's the perfect time to make a huge batch of cabbage rolls.

You can find the actual recipe at the bottom of this article, after all the pictures and explanations are done with. This allows you to use the recipe as stand-alone, or to refer to the images. I know when I'm trying something new, I like to be able to see what the original chef did!

Taking out the core
Once you've found the perfect cabbage, give it a wash and remove the outer leaves until you're left with a covering of unblemished light green. Use a thick, sturdy knife to cut out the core in a wedge shape, preserving the size of the inner leaves as much as possible. This is done in order to help the leaves loosen during the next stage of preparation. It may take several tries to get enough of the core out, and that's okay. There is no perfect way to do cabbage rolls, and once they start eating them, you will find that most people don't care in the least what they look like.

Boiling the leaves off
I use my huge stock pot to boil the leaves off the cabbage.  You need to have a pot that will allow you to totally submerse your cabbage, as the boiling water is what helps ease the leaves off in one piece. This particular cabbage was so large that even in the stock pot, a tiny bit of it popped up out of the water. You should use a wooden spoon to push the cabbage under the water once it's boiling, in order to get the leaves to soften and come off whole. It may take quite a while to boil the water, especially if your cabbage was in the fridge before you started this process, but it'll get there eventually. Be patient, because this is the most difficult part of the whole ordeal.

Spray a pan
Some people cook their cabbage rolls in a stock or stew pot, but I like to do mine in the oven. Carefully grease a turkey or other large lidded pan (I use no-stick spray) so that the bottom and sides are completely covered. If you forget this part, your cabbage rolls will stick to the sides and/or bottom, and will fall apart when you take them out to serve them. You can do this while the cabbage is boiling, or while you're waiting for it to boil. I suggest bringing a book along, too, or some music, because it takes a while!

Grate an onion or two
You need to grate up your onions for this recipe. Chopping or dicing them just doesn't work. I use a hand-held grater and the handle part off of a mandolin slicer (to save my fingers from getting grated along with the onion!). Cut off one end of the onion, but leave the other end intact as you'll be using it to hold onto as you grate. I like to use two onions, but the amount is optional. Grated onion seems to expand and fill a lot more space than chopped does, so don't be surprised if your whole pan fills up. If you're like me and your eyes fill up with tears at the mere peeling of an onion, you can try the little trick I learned from Pinterest: wear goggles! I had a pair left over from soap making (lye and water can be dangerous) which I pulled on. I still got a little bit in through the edges, probably due to the fact that I had glasses on underneath the goggles, I didn't suffer at all through the grating process. I will always remember this.

The secret to not crying: goggles!

Cooking the onion
In a little bit of oil, butter, or melted bacon fat, sauté  your onions until they are clear. You'll know they're almost ready when most of the liquid is gone and the smell of fried onions fills your home. This is the beginning of the fun part of making cabbage rolls. Of course, you'll be doing this while your cabbage leaves are softening in the boiling water. That part takes a long time, and is quite tedious. However, the wait is completely worth it.

Loosening leaves
Throughout all the other parts of making the cabbage rolls, you'll be going back to the pot of boiling water with the actual cabbage in it. I use a large meat fork to hold my cabbage in place (with a plastic or wood handle so that I can leave it in the cabbage and not burn myself) and a wooden spoon to slide under the edge of the outer leaves. As they become cooked, they'll loosen up and you'll be able to encourage them to slide off. Generally, you'll get four to five leaves off and then have to wait again while the leaves that are now on the outside get soft. Scoop out the leaves that have come free, and set them on a towel to cool and dry off a bit.

Paprika makes it red
Once your onions are about done, add a couple tablespoons of good quality Hungarian paprika. I like the sweet kind myself (which still has a tiny bit of heat to it), but some people like to mix the hot and sweet together. Cabbage rolls are not meant to be spicy, so don't use all hot paprika. As you stir the paprika in, the whole pan will turn a lovely dark red color, and the scent of your onions will change slightly, taking on an earthier aroma. You will find that you know that aroma well if you do Hungarian cooking on a regular basis, because onions and paprika are the start of most Hungarian dishes.

Garlic, ready to mince
At this point you want to add about six to eight cloves of garlic to your onion mixture. I prefer to squish mine in a garlic mincer (as pictured), but you can also mince it up by hand, or even use bottled, pre-minced garlic. Fresh garlic has oils and flavors in it that no bottle can ever provide, though, so keep that in mind. Once the garlic is added, stir it around and let it cook into the onion mix fully. It should only take about three to five minutes for the garlic to be at the ready stage. Don't overcook the garlic, as it takes away from the essential oils and flavor of it.

The insides!
In a large bowl, mix together your (uncooked) rice, the onion and garlic mixture, and your ground meats. I used a blend of ground beef and TVP, but you could also use ground pork (though not sausage meat), ground turkey, or even ground venison. Each meat gives a slightly different finished flavor, but the results are similar enough that it's more personal preference than anything else. Use your hands to mix up all the ingredients well, forming a thick paste-like product that holds together in a ball without falling apart.

De-veining the leaves
While your meat is sitting, it's time to take all those leaves you've been drying and cooling, and process them. Each of the leaves needs to be carefully de-veined. Using a sharp knife, cut down each side of that thick middle vein and then remove it. The butterfly-shaped remains can be used as is or cut in half. The larger ones can be cut in half, and smaller ones used whole. You'll get a feel for this as you go along, but you'll want each piece to be about the size of your hand or a bit larger. Any smaller than that and you'll find that you don't have enough cabbage to tuck and roll, and your meat will fall out during the cooking process.

Use the veins
In Hungarian cooking, everything is used. There's no waste, because the Hungarians have been a poor people for so long, they've learned to use up everything. All the veins and trimmings from your cabbage get put into the bottom of your greased pan or pot. These will cook underneath the cabbage rolls, both imparting flavor and keeping them from sticking to the bottom. When raw, they're too big and crunchy to be edible, but after stewing at the bottom of the pan for hours, they become soft and delicious, and you may find yourself eating them.

Leaves on the veins
On top of the veins you put a layer of leaves. Use the ones that aren't quite the right shape or size, or that you accidentally ripped. These ones do not need to be perfect - save the perfect ones for the cabbage rolls themselves! You can also use some of the smaller inner leaves of the cabbage here. There comes a point in the peeling off of leaves that you reach leaves that are too small to use for rolling. While we have a use for the remaining core, a few of those smaller leaves can certainly be used here.

Making the roll
Pick out one of the largest leaves from your pile, and lay it out flat on a cutting board or clean counter top. In the bottom left corner, place an elongated ball of your meat mixture. The meat should sit comfortably in that little curve of leaf, as in the picture to the left. Don't use too much meat, and don't skimp, either. The meat should form into a fairly solid shape which keeps itself together. If it's too dry, you may need to add a bit of water or egg, but be careful not to add too much. If it's too moist, you can add a bit more rice or a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Again, be careful.

Roll it up
Roll up the bottom edge of the leaf, tucking it under the farther edge of meat. You should have your meat inside a cabbage "tube" now, with both ends open. Don't be disappointed if it doesn't work out right the first time or two. Do your best, and as you make your way through all the cabbage rolls, you'll get better at it. If there are bits of vein or hard cabbage that is stopping you from rolling, use a sharp knife to slice it off or cut it in such a way that you can continue to roll.

Tuck it under
Tuck the left edge under the meat, closing up one end of the cabbage roll. Roll again, so that it's held firmly in place. Then tuck in the remaining parts to seal the other end. If you have to undo it and re-do it a few times, don't despair. Do your best, as I said above, and you'll get better with practice. Eventually your fingers get a physical memory of the process of rolling cabbage rolls, and you'll look just as my grandmother did when she was doing it, whipping through the whole tuck-and-roll thing without even looking.

Finished rolls go in the pan
As you finish each roll, tuck it into place on top of the leaves in your pan or pot. If you have any rolls that seem a bit loose, tuck them in at the edges, where the other cabbage rolls will hold them in place. In a tall stock pot, you'll add a layer of leaves between each layer of cabbage rolls. In a pan like mine, you may only get one or two layers.

Add the sauce
Different places in Hungary differ on the types of sauce you should use. I grew up with the sauce being made from tomato soup which my grandmother made from scratch in massive batches and then home-canned. I later used store-canned tomato soup, and that's also effective. Lately, however, I have come to like adding fresh tomato sauce to my cabbage rolls. This time I used pureed tomatoes mixed with a few herbs and some paprika, which were then poured over the top. I also added a cup of V-8 because it is nice and juicy and has the right flavor. If you're cooking in a stock pot, you may want to add sauce in between each layer. In a pan, it isn't such a big deal because the sauce will move around as it heats up and boils.

Melting bacon fat
To make this meal traditional, you'll want to cook up some of the cabbage you had left over from pulling the leaves off. Dice or slice it however you like, and toss it into a pot with some melted bacon fat (I save mine whenever I make bacon, so that I can use it in recipes like this!). My grandmother would have used a half pound of bacon fat or lard, but I use about two tablespoons for a large pot, and then I add chicken broth, usually home-made, for the rest. This results in a finished product that my grandmother told me tastes just like hers, but with a reduction in calories of about 200%. A little bacon fat in something like this goes a long way, flavoring the whole pot of cabbage. This is true of most recipes, in fact.

Simmering cabbage
Let the cabbage simmer on low heat (or in a crock pot) while the cabbage rolls are cooking in the oven or on the stove. As long as you continue to stir it, and add liquid if it begins to dry out, you can cook it for hours and not hurt it. My grandmother would let it simmer for many hours, and the house would smell incredible. If you're feeling frisky, you can also add a bit cooked bacon to this pot for extra flavor. I often serve it all with noodles and sour cream, which rounds it out nicely.

Cabbage rolls, served hot (1)
Cabbage rolls should be brought to the table on a serving platter with sides, or in a large bowl. They become a bit sloppy after cooking for so long, and especially your first few times, you may have some that fall apart. The extra juice in the bottom of the pot is usually mixed with a roux and thickened, and served over the top of the cabbage rolls. Finish this dish off with a nice, warm crusty loaf and a stick of butter, and your family will clamor for more.

One of the best things about these cabbage rolls is that they freeze incredibly well. In freezer containers, add four or five rolls and pop them into the deep freeze for use later in the year. They microwave up beautifully, or can be dropped into a pot with a drizzle of water and stewed up.

  • 1 large head of cabbage
  • 3 pounds ground meat (single type or mix)
  • 2 cups long grain rice
  • 2 onions
  • 6-8 cloves garlic
  • paprika, salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 quarts tomato sauce or soup

Boil the cabbage until the leaves come off. De-vein the leaves and set aside. Sauté onions and garlic with 1-2 tablespoons of paprika, and cook until soft. Mix together meat, rice,  onion mixture and 1-2 tablespoons of paprika, then set aside for the flavors to blend.

Well grease a large roasting pan or pot. Put cabbage veins and spare leaves into the bottom. Into each cabbage leaf, add a palm-full of the meat mixture, and roll up tightly. Place finished cabbage rolls into the pot or pan. Layer evenly, with spare leaves in between each layer.

Pour the sauce or soup over the cabbage rolls, being sure they are thoroughly covered. Cook, covered, in a 350F oven for 2-3 hours or more, or simmer on top of the stove for similar time. Near the end of the cooking time, check to see if the meat and rice are both done. If not, cook longer. Throughout the cooking process, check on liquid levels. Do not allow the cabbage rolls to boil dry! Too much liquid is self-correcting, while too little liquid will cause your cabbage rolls to burn and possibly be inedible.

Serve cabbage rolls with a dollop of sour cream, and some of the sauce. Traditional sides for cabbage rolls include crusty white bread, dill pickles and home-made noodles.

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1) Image by Loyna / Wikimedia Commons