30 September 2013

Granola Bars

The kids have been in school for awhile , and I have been experimenting with their lunches. One new venture is granola bars. They can be a win-win. A little sweet with nutrition to back it up. However, most store bought options contain way too much sugar and some random, less desirable ingredients.

So! To the kitchen! I decided to go with this recipe, since most were just variants that I found online. These are dense, so smaller servings will be plenty. They are not just like the beloved Quaker chewies, but they are delicious and highly customizable.

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 2/3 cups of oats, 1/3 ground oats (I used a coffee grinder), 4Tbsp bran, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup slivered almonds, and 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
2. In a smaller bowl, mix 6 Tbsp melted butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 4 Tbsp honey, 4 Tbsp brown sugar, and 4 Tbsp peanut butter.
3. Toss ingredients together until thoroughly combined. This was easier with oiled, gloved hands.
4. Spread into a loaf pan that is lined with parchment. Press firmly. Really get in there!
5. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. I left the parchment over the top to prevent browning, but this is not necessary.
6. Let cool, then chill until stiff.
7. Slice into desired pieces using a serated knife. Store in an air tight container for up to a week. It can also be frozen for later use.

I will be trying this with crushed pretzels, peanuts, and chocolate chips next time. I love those Take 5 candy bars, so this may be a healthier alternative. The notes from the link have lots of alternatives, like maple syrup instead of honey, or ground wheat instead oats. More suggestions for the mix-ins: mini marshmallows, seeds, cereal, candies, nuts...

My son just said caramel. That would delicious swapped with the peanut butter! With dried apples. Mmm! Perfect for this time of year. Well, I think that is next week's experiment.

PS: I am having glitches with photos. I'll have Mr. Technology take a look.

12 September 2013

Moar Bacon

Bacon. I love it. You love it. I'm pretty sure even pigs would love it.

So, you buy bacon. How can you store it long term? The refridgerator is only good for a couple weeks. Freezing is an excellent choice. You can just toss the whole package right in. However, you have to thaw it at least a bit to get strips. If you are going for bits, use a serated knife to cut straight across the slices. This is really easy and quick. To keep the remaining bacon safe, put the package inside a freezer bag.

Can you make bacon shelf stable though? Yes! I have my first batch of bacon in the canner right now. This is a test run, so I used cheapo bacon. One quart is slices; the pint is bits. The slices are a bit more time intensive but not too much. They'll have their round in the canner, and tomorrow I'll pop them open to try them out.

1. Place bacon slices out on parchment paper and layer. You will have to see how many layers will go in a jar, since bacon is cut to different thickness. Make sure you end and begin with a layer of parchment.
2. Fold in half vertically and roll tightly.
3. Pack into jars, no liquid needed. I would not recommend adding liquid, as the slices may fall apart.
4. Pressure can for 90 minutes. Let cool. Ping! Rejoice.

I have no experience drying bacon, or drying anything for that matter...well, besides herbs. That is next on the skill to learn list.

So, the bacon was great! Like the bbq, the smoke just developed more. You could eat it right out of the jar, but ew. Just crisp it up a bit either on the stove or in the oven.

Both ways, strips and pieces, worked well. The bits I just nuked for a bit and drained off that glorious fat for later.

Tip: If you have a large family or just enjoy gorging on bacon, baking in the oven is the best way. I line mine on a cooling rack over a sheet pan and bake at 325 about 20 minutes. I would jot recommend going much higher on the temp, because the grease could splatter. Grease+heat=fire! And, most likely, you will burn it despite your best efforts. Like this awesome gal.

Canning bacon is a good option for shortcuts, stockpiling, and mmmm bacon!!

Little Cabin in the Woods

I recently took a short trip to a friend's cabin. This trip taught me some things, mainly about what I want for my homestead.

First, the popular micro housing is not for me. The cabin was approximately 400 sqft. Two adults and two children would fit comfortably...for a few days. A week tops. I tried to envision my family living there, but we would not make it without several other structures. 3 out of 4 family members require an amount of alone time to function well, which usually takes place indoors. Plus, I have mild claustrophobia. I now think a minimum of 1000 sqft is right for me, even without children.

One surprise is that ample running water is now on the must have list. The cabin is on spring water, so use is limited. Military style showers. If it's yellow, let it mellow. And forget soaking in the tub with a good book! This isn't to say a natural source of water isn't in the cards. However it gets there, I prefer a lot whether or not I choose to use a lot. I will still insist on some sort of water source nearby for emergencies. That's just common sense.

The biggest shock was how much I missed people. Maybe it was because we were on vacation and didn't have any chores or projects to tend to. Whatever it is, and I expect it to change back and forth through the years, I think it would be wise to be within 15 miles of town and give focus to social outlets. I find it easier to feign seclusion than feign a decent population.

I loved the setting, which was completely unseen from the road. Nothing but woods, fields, and a creek. It has been a dream since childhood, in fact, to have a completely hidden house.

A lady lives on one corner of the property with 8, yes 8, dogs. My friends Jeff and Amy have been trumped. She lives alone and is very self sufficient. She lives on the same water, uses solar energy, has an impressive garden, and raises bees. In addition, her house is mostly repurposed materials and handmade. It is truly beautiful,  and I did not take a single picture unfortunately. She also has 2 micro houses for visitors, which she has often. One is about 600sqft with a lovely screened in porch. The other is in progress, about 150sqft. It has a loft for a queen bed, and the rest is just like a European studio. No electricity or plumbing.

We had a great little break though! I was really happy to get a clearer picture of what I want, what is practical, and what others are doing.