Friday, October 2, 2015

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup

    With fall fast approaching there is nothing better than a hot bowl of soup to warm you from the inside out. One of our family favorites is the following recipe for creamy chicken wild rice soup. Add  a loaf of warm crusty bread for a hearty 'stick to your ribs' meal that tastes like you have spent all day in the kitchen cooking. We like to make a double batch, so we do all the work once, but can throw a couple meals in the freezer for later.
Double Batch (7+ meals for us!)

My mom had to have a bowl right away! :)

Creamy Chicken Wild Rice Soup

2 c. chicken breast ( approximately 2 large)
4-6 chopped/diced carrots
1 medium chopped onion
4-6 stalks celery (can use the leafy tops as well)
1/2 c. butter
1 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. parsley
3c. cooked wild rice
1 c. water
8 c. chicken broth
1 pint of heavy cream
1/2 c. toasted slivered almonds (optional)

COOK: Saute the chicken in your stock pot using 2 tbsp. of the butter, when juices run clear remove from the stock pot and set aside. In the same pot saute the vegetables with the remaining butter (carrots, onions and celery), when tender add the flour and seasonings (salt, pepper and parsley) to the vegetable mixture and incorporate until well mixed. This will create a rue that will thicken the soup. Add the water and the chicken broth and whisk well until the rue is completely blended into the added liquids. Simmer until the broth is starting to thicken. Add the chicken (diced/cubed into bite size pieces) and the rice and bring to a gentle boil reduce heat and add the heavy cream and almonds (optional) and simmer until hot. 

Serve with a crusty bread or even in a toasted mini bread bowl.

*I use Zatarain's Wild Rice blend (or any other brand will do) that totals 3 cups cooked rice. I add it uncooked along with the water needed to cook it at the same time that you add the water and chicken broth, adjust your cooking time to allow for the rice to get tender before adding the chicken and heavy cream. These rice blends come with a season packet that makes the soup taste wonderful. When using the seasoning packet I omit the salt called for in the recipe.

** Use garden produce to help make this meal cheaper!

***I like to use my food processor to quick chop the carrots and onions and slice the celery.

****Use a rotisserie chicken if they are on sale or if you previously froze cooked chicken for future dinners. 

*****I have also made this where I cook up a bunch of chicken breasts in the crock pot a day or so ahead of time, when I get them on sale. Then I shred them with a fork and toss into the soup at the end. 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Eggplant Bacon - dehydrated

     Having a good sized vegetable and fruit garden has allowed me to save on grocery costs. However sometimes when a particular crop is coming in...I can end up with more than what we can consume freshly. The solution is to either can, freeze or dehydrate the excess bounty.
     That is where I found myself recently with a large amount of Japanese eggplant, normally I dehydrate them in slices to be used in cooking at a later time however... I wanted to try something different.

Dehydrated eggplant slices - plain

    I had come across this blog Real Food Tulsa that had an interesting post on Eggplant Bacon. Intrigued, I decided it was worth a try especially since I had all the required ingredients on hand.

Dehydrated eggplant bacon

    When dehydrating any food item it is important that the size or thickness of what you dehydrate is consistent. To maintain a uniform thickness in the sliced eggplant I originally opted to use my mandoline slicer. But I was having some trouble getting it to slice nicely, the eggplant was not feeding through the mandoline slicer easily. I needed to improvise... so...I cut each eggplant in half lengthwise set each half between a pair of chopsticks then using the chopsticks as a guide for my knife I was able to get perfectly proportioned and uniform slices. My slices ended up approximately 1/4 inch in thickness. This results in a finished product that is similar to thick cut bacon.

Improvised slicer guide for proportioned slices

    I followed the posted recipe with just a few minor adjustments to suit my tastes and using what ingredients I had on hand. Since I had more than the suggested 2 eggplants, I doubled the marinade. After slicing all the eggplant I let it marinate for one hour. I then placed the marinated eggplant slices on my Excalibur Dehydrator trays and set the dehydrator temperature at 125 degrees.

'Bacon' Marinade
2 medium eggplant cut into bacon like slices
4 Tbsp soy sauce
4 Tbsp maple syrup
4 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp liquid smoke
1/4 cup bottled lime juice
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp paprika
fresh ground black pepper approx 1/2 tsp
2 Tbsp olive oil (Optional)

    While the eggplant was dehydrating I decided to reduce the remaining liquid marinade to a syrup like consistency. I simmered the marinade over a low flame until it was fairly thick and nicely concentrated. I then used this to brush over the slices before they were completely dry. I did this approximately 4 hours into the drying process, I brushed each eggplant slice with the concentrated marinade glaze on both sides and returned each tray to my Excalibur to finish dehydrating until crispy. Since I had started this project late afternoon, I let my dehydrator run over night and by morning the eggplant bacon was nicely dry and crispy. Drying times will vary depending on how thick you slice the eggplant and the wattage of your dehydrator.

    After cooling I stored the eggplant bacon in quart sized mason jars and vacuum sealed them for storage...

Vacuum sealed jars for long term storage

    But not before I had some with my lunch...turkey swiss on white with garden lettuce, tomato and eggplant bacon...delish!!

Turkey swiss on white with garden lettuce, tomatoes and eggplant bacon...delish!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Sweet Corn Cob Jelly

    I was recently gifted some lovely early bi-color sweet corn from some very good friends. Since it was more than we could eat at once I decided to prep it for the freezer following the directions on our site Cooking the Deals. As I was getting ready to take the clean cut corn cobs to the compost bin, I recalled seeing a recipe for Sweet Corn Cob Jelly on this site: Canning Homemade! I decided to give it a try, I followed the direction exactly as written and I have to admit that it was probably the easiest jelly recipe I have ever made. The jelly set perfectly and has a very light, sweet almost lemony floral flavor.
    Corn Cob Jelly

12 large corncobs
4 cups sugar
4 cups water
1 package powdered pectin

yellow food color ( optional)
    Prepare 7 half pint jars, lids and rings. Sterilize the jars and keep them in hot water until ready to use. Cut corn kernels from cobs and save for canning or freezing. It is not necessary to cut right to the core. 

    In a large stainless steel pot add corncobs and water. Heat to a full boil for 10 minutes. Remove the corncobs and using cheesecloth strain the liquid. You will need to measure 3 cups. (Add water if necessary or add additional water to corncobs and boil again to get the full 3 cups.) Put the strained liquid back into the pot and add stir in the pectin. Bring to a full boil. Add in the sugar and bring back to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat. If necessary skim off any foam with a metal spoon. If you want add a few drops of the yellow food coloring at this point. 

    On a dishtowel place your hot jars and fill leaving 1/4" head space. Using a clean damp cloth wipe the jar rims removing any liquid jelly that would interfere with a good seal. Place lids on the jars and seal with the rings to 'finger tight'. 

    Process the jars in a water bath canner following proper water bath canning procedures and process for 10 minutes starting to time after the water has come to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the jars to sit a few minutes before removing, set the jars on a dishtowel in a place where they can sit overnight without being disturbed.   

  Sometime within the next hour you will hear the pinging or popping noise as the jars cool and seal. If you have any jars that have not sealed reprocess them the following day or put in the fridge for immediate consumption.   Be sure to properly label and store the jars.  

This recipe is an excellent way to get even more from your produce. So this lovely gift of a dozen ears of corn netted a total of one dinner,

seven containers for the freezer for future dinners and one pint and 3 half pints of sweet corn cob jelly. This will definitely be one for must make file!

Dill Pickles

My husband LOVES pickles. Specifically, dill pickles. This year from our garden I was able to make 15 quarts and 1 pint of dill pickles. (Okay, if you count them in the picture, you'll see we're one quart short... that one is in the fridge being eaten. ;) )

Dill Pickles
Cucumbers (sliced lengthwise for spears or across for slices for sandwiches & burgers)
Dill (1 head per jar)
Onions, quartered (1 quarter per jar)
Fresh Garlic (1 toe per jar)
Peppers (hot or sweet optional)
Pickle Crisp (1/4 teaspoon per quart or 1/8 teaspoon per pint)

For the brine (makes about 5 quarts):
1 quart water
3/4 cup sugar
3 cups white vinegar (5% acidity)
1/4 cup canning salt

Prepare the brine in a pot and bring to a simmer. Prep your jars in your water bath canner by sterilizing for 10 minutes in boiling water. Add pickle crisp to sterilized jar and layer in dill, onion, garlic, peppers, and cucumbers. Add the brine leaving 1/2 inch head space. Wipe the lip of you jar clean with a damp cloth to be sure nothing will prevent the jar from making a good seal, put on lid and ring, then return to the water bath canner. Once all jars have been returned to the canner, bring the water to a boil and process for 15 minutes, then remove to cool and seal (the *ping!* sound you hear... Love that sound!). Allow to sit for at least 2 weeks, but over a month is better, for the flavors to really be infused into the pickles.

This recipe is well suited to a refrigerator pickle as well. Just combine all your above ingredients in a large container, I used an ice cream pail, and store in your refrigerator once it has cooled down. You will still need to wait at least 2 weeks for the flavors to develop. When making multiple batches be sure to mark the date you made each batch so you know when each is ready. Refrigerator pickles are a great way to make a home 'canned' pickle without the investment in canning supplies which can lower the initial canning investment significantly. These pickles can be bottled up in recycled jars and kept in the refrigerator or given as a hostess gift during the holidays. In this batch I added lots of red ripe jalapenos and plenty of onions which are great on those burgers or sandwiches. I also added some small yellow summer squash which is a great addition to those refrigerator pickles.

This year I spent about $7.31 for 15 quarts and 1 pint of pickles. To buy that equivalent in the store would be about $40. That means I saved over $32 on pickles.

Here's the break down of approximately what I spent on each item. 
Sugar $1.49
Vinegar $1.78
Canning Salt $1.18
Garlic $1.95
Pickle Crisp $0.96
Cucumbers Free from the garden
Dill Free from mom's garden (mine didn't grow so well this year)
Onions Free from the garden
Peppers (I used banana) Free from the garden

Cucumber Chips

What do you do with garden cucumbers too large for pickles and too many to eat before they go soft? Make cucumber chips in three flavors...garlic herb, ranch and sea salt vinegar... a healthy no guilt snack that is easy to make.

Slice your cucumbers approximately 1/8 inch thick either by hand or with a mandolin into a bowl. Add just enough olive oil to just barely coat the cucumber slices and toss gently. The olive oil can be optional, it mainly aids in keeping the cucumber chips from sticking to the trays for easy removal but is best if you plan on eating the chips in a short amount of time the oil can soften the chips again over time. For longer term storage, omit the olive oil, any seasoning you add will cling to the damp slices and stay once dehydrated. ( I personally prefer them without the addition of the olive oil.) Place the sliced cucumbers on your dehydrator trays (to prevent sticking you can very lightly spray the trays wiping off any excess with a vegetable oil like Pam) and lightly sprinkle with your seasoning of choice. I made two trays each of three different flavors.

The first was ranch using Hidden Valley powdered ranch seasoning and dressing mix.

The next two trays were made using the Weber Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning, this seasoning is great on any vegetable.

Lastly, before placing the last of the cucumbers on the dehydrator I added some balsamic vinegar and after placing them on the trays I sprinkled lightly with Morton sea salt however a kosher salt or any larger grained salt would also work well.

I have also experimented with a light basting of Frank's Hot Sauce for a buffalo version that is simply amazing with humus as a dip...or even a blue cheese dressing dip.

For a little sweeter version try brushing with a balsamic vinegar reduction and sea salt a less tangy version of the straight balsamic vinegar sea salt.

Place your trays in your dehydrator and set at 125 degrees and dry for approximately 4-6 hours or until they are crisp. Times will vary due to temperature and humidity levels in your area and the moisture content of the cucumbers being dehydrated.

If you plan on storing the chips long term, omit the olive oil as it can soften your crisp chip to a more leather like chip over time. If you have a Food Saver vacuuming system for mason jars it helps to vacuum seal the jars. Another option is to use oxygen absorbents instead or in conjunction with the Food Saver vacuum system.

These make a great, guilt free healthy snack.