Easter Blessings and a perfect recipe for left-over ham

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A more beautiful day for Easter could not have been had. At least here in Pennsylvania. I hope you enjoyed a lovely and blessed day wherever you are and whatever you believe.

Since I am admittedly a bit wild and uncivilized, there was no church service to spiff up for. Instead, I went to the Church of the Great Outdoors and enjoyed a walk around some hard-to-reach corners of the farm neglected over the winter.

And looky, looky! Well Hel-lo Easter Blessing.

Molly got sick and tired of all those amateurs fussing and swishing their tails, sighing and looking at their bellies. She decided to show those vapid girls how a pro gets down.

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No fuss, no muss, just found Molly in the woods with her new little Lady. Cleaned, fed and hardly even wobbly –  Molly is the best. I’ve been hoping for a heifer from Molly for a long time, particularly with the Destroyer for a Daddy. It is a very promising cross for which I am very grateful and excited and she is beautiful.

Working in a local, nose-to-tail butcher shop as I do, we’ve been busy making ham, talking about ham, wrapping up and sending home lots and lots of hams. Holiday over, now what to do with all that leftover ham? To that I say, “Ham Loaf”.

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 Tender, moist and subtle ham meatloaf topped with spiced fruit – Homey supper and great next-day sandwiches

_________________________________________________________________________You say you’ve never heard of Ham Loaf?  Around here, people take their ham loaf seriously. I did not grow up in a ham loaf home, so I had no idea what all this ham loaf business was about.

Doing a bit of asking around, I got the gist of the recipe and right away knew that the rich, sweet loaf of ham and pork topped with a mustard + brown sugar glaze was not for me. But, for some reason, I knew the idea still had promise.

Cue up Lianna Krissoff’s Canning for a New Generation. I know, I know, I’m all Lianna Krissoff this, Lianna Krissoff that, but seriously.

More often than not, I get a great idea from one of Lianna Krissoff’s books that is a modern, healthy throwback to something old-skool. Never pretentious, always original and delicious, the sidebars and variations alone share a wealth of tips & tricks to change your cooking ways for the better. And when it comes to ham loaf, Lianna did not let me down.

This ham loaf is lighter, less sweet and lets the flavors of the ham shine through. The ground turkey or chicken is a perfect – though non-traditional – partner for the ground ham, but if you don’t have those, plain ground pork (not sausage) is fine too.

And, if you happen to have pickled fruit or fruit relish in your pantry, this is a recipe where that home-preserved fruit will really shine. Check out the printable recipe here.

I’ve seen the ham-loaf light.  How do you do ham loaf?

On previous Easters here’s what we were up to:

is there anything nicer than a sleepy Sunday morning?

Easter egg glut? Pickle ‘em!

 

 

 

 

 

a steamy cuppa valentine love

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Grand gestures are showy, but quiet, small ones are sweeter.

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Today is that favorite day of retailers, florists and restauranteurs everywhere, Valentine’s Day. And while I’m weary of the commercialized aspect of the day, you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted to not love one big collective day of appreciation for the special people in our lives.

We Pennsylvanians will tell you that this winter has been an old-fashioned, mettle-testing trudge. We’ve been very fortunate here in Western PA  – unlike our neighbors in Eastern PA who are suffering some real damage and hardship, we’re just inconvenienced and fatigued.  The kind of weariness that can be soothed with a steamy, creamy cup of home-made cocoa.

I nixed commercial hot chocolate powders a long time ago in favor of the old-fashioned, off the package Hershey’s cocoa recipe that my mom used to make. Real milk, cocoa, salt, sugar and a bit of vanilla – all things found in an average kitchen. Is it really too difficult to heat a pan of milk?

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But then , one day Molly at Remedial Eating wrote about something that stopped me in my tracks. Something I had to try ASAP. And I’m so glad I did. This is one of the nicest, sweetest DIY gift ideas around – a jar of chocolate ganache ready to spoon into heated milk for a perfectly delicious, creamy, real cup of steaming cocoa.

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Who am I kidding?? Try 3 or even 4…

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Of course, once that idea was planted, variants were inevitable. What about the hand crafted stoneground chocolate I bought from Rancho Gordo?  Maybe not for everyone, but definitely for me. A little grittier and cinnamon-ey, this is dangerous.

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How do I love thee Rancho Gordo? Let me count the ways…

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So, if you’re still struggling for not-too-big, not-too-small gift ideas, here you go. A nice jar of homemade chocolate ganache. A steamy cup of ready-made love for your beloved.

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 heating up the milk too difficult?  there’s always spoon truffles. Spoon truffles? You know exactly what I’m talking about – no double dipping!

Previous Valentine’s Day ideas:

Glazed Strawberry Poptarts

A Sweet Sack of Homemade Caramels

M is for cream pie

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This post is brought to you by the letter M

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Don’t be mad letter C, I know I wouldn’t have cream, coconut or cantaloupe without you. But mMother’s birthday, Mother’s Day, Memorial Day all start with the letter M. And, they all happen in the second half of the Month of May.

Something special my mother really likes is coconut cream pie. So I make coconut cream pie for her birthday. See?

Anyway, I’m really appreciating the Food 52 site lately. And this recipe from em-i-lis for coconut cream pie was, though I didn’t know until I found it, something I’ve sorely needed.

Not too sweet, rich and creamy with a dense, real custard filling – no gelatin, tapioca or other textural trickery. Pure, true and perfectly coconut. Thanks em-i-lis & Food 52 for making my day.

Even better? There’s a two-fer in this recipe. A homemade version of sweetened coconut flakes that’s so much more delicious and healthy than store-bought sweetened coconut. If you never ever make the pie, do yourself a favor and make the toasted, sweetened coconut.

I had no idea how many things were in need of a sprinkle of toasted coconut…

Bob's Red Mill coconut flakes

This is not a paid ad, I swear…

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Thanks too, Bob’s Red Mill for these amazing unsweetened coconut flakes. I like a rustic, chunkier texture which I realize not everyone will prefer, but these larger flakes toasted are unique and special.  If you favor a more delicate, finer grind, Bob’s has that too.

I know. Coconut is not local to western Pennsylvania.

While I’ve dramatically cut down on my dependence on non-local products, I still live in a world where lemons, oranges, almonds, avocados, olives, bananas and coconut are everyday items and they are sometimes impossible for me to resist too. Nor, as long as they are produced in a fair and clean way, do I see any reason I should.

Moderation, man. Moderation.

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Cantaloupe from last summer’s garden, pureed and frozen

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So, inspired by my coconut cream pie success, and cleaning out the freezer to make space for this summer’s booty, how could an idea be any more perfect than this: cantaloupe cream pie?

Em-i-lis’ recipe can easily be adapted for any pureed fruit, as long as the thickness of the fruit puree is right.

Aiming to match the texture of the coconut milk called for in the recipe, I took four cups of cantaloupe puree from the freezer and reduced it to about 1 1/2 cups, which worked out perfectly.  It doesn’t have to be exact, just pudding-thick.

Then, I followed the recipe exactly, except for these changes:

  • I replaced the coconut milk in the custard recipe with my thickened fruit puree
  • I did not add fruit puree to the whipped cream. I did use the sugar
  • I did not add flaked coconut to the cantaloupe custard
  • I kept the toasted coconut garnish since I thought it went well with the cantaloupe, but may not suit all your fruit flavors. It does add a nice texture
  • I used my favorite butter crust recipe, though em-i-lis’ crust method is pretty intriguing. If you try it, do come back and let us know how you like it

Success! Now I have a flexible, mix & match cream pie method for the juicy fruit bonanza  coming soon.

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 no weepy, runny fillings or soggy crusts need apply

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Peaches, plums, berries, cherries, pumpkin, squash… hurry up and get here already!  How about you? What’s your favorite cream pie?

building your real foods pantry: preparing for cookie emergencies

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Golden Raisin Icebox Cookies

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You didn’t know? Yes, there are legitimate cookie emergencies and times when a shortcut to a batch of homemade cookies is a real lifesaver.

I always thought refrigerator cookies sounded kind of stale and frumpy and would flip through those recipes to get to something better. But, as often happens, looking back through the dated and discarded,  this 1930’s trend is actually a perfectly modern solution to many snacking, entertaining & gifting needs.

Maybe the word “Refrigerator” just made them sound boring and blah. “Icebox” somehow sounds more hip & delicious so around here, we have Icebox Cookies. 

Icebox cookies add a simple, convenient and downright elegant trick to your pantry that will help preserve that element of snacking spontaneity we all love so much.

Modern convenience foods have nearly eliminated the distance between craving a snack and popping it into your mouth. Making your own snacks inserts a larger gap between the idea and the eating, naturally improves the healthfulness of the item and reduces the frequency of consumption.

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Salted Rye Cookies

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Why do I love prepared snacks in my freezer?

  • simple strategy for portion control – divide the dough into smaller logs and only bake what you need
  • a quick, fun after school treat kids can make themselves
  • something special on hand to feed unexpected visitors
  • strategy to keep those overly processed commercial cookies out of your pantry
  • a neatly wrapped log of dough is a perfect last-minute hostess gift
  • your kid tells you at 9 pm they need to bring cookies to class tomorrow: you can handle it

Basic icebox cookies are adaptable and delicious. They come in filled swirls, basic shortbread styles, with and without fruit and can be dipped in chocolate for an extra degree of fanciness.

As usual, I’m more of a get-‘er-done sort so I don’t spend much time making my swirls fancier nor do I especially care if my logs are perfectly round. But if you’re the sort to fuss over perfection, refrigerator cookies can be beautiful too.

Me, I slap together a dough in the morning, divide it into four separate logs, and wrap the logs in plastic wrap or waxed paper.  I write baking instructions on a freezer bag with a Sharpie, seal the logs inside and pop into the freezer for baking later.

The logs require almost no time to thaw enough to slice, arrange on a baking sheet, bake & cool. I doubt you could make a trip to the store or bakery any faster. All with no mystery ingredients.

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Here are three of my current favorite recipes for Icebox cookies:

  • Golden  Raisin Icebox Cookies – tender, crisp & rich, these are both rustic and sophisticated.
  • Fruit Swirls – an extra bonus to this one is the recipe uses no processed sugar. Instead, use honey and dried fruit. They’re tender, rich and easily adaptable for a variety of flavors.
  • My current obsession: Salted Rye Cookies. I love crunchy sugar crystals and was completely taken by this idea: these earthy rye rounds are rolled in a crunchy, crystal-ey mixture of coarse sugar and salt. Brilliant.

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Fruit Swirls – from Freezer to Plate

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Not so hard, right?  What real foods snacking tricks do you have tucked up your sleeve?

the key to worldly success: you’re not gonna like it

Drudgery is as necessary to call out the treasures of the mind, as harrowing and planting those of the earth.

-Margaret Fuller

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Are you kidding me? frozen salad again??

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That’s right; I’m talking about drudgery.  I told you you weren’t going to like it.

It’s nearly impossible to work on a small farm and not develop a sense of religious awe, amazement and/or wonder.

Spending so much time alone with your thoughts and directly engaged with Nature and your own limitations, you can’t help but be filled with humility and a sense of quiet joy.

But just as often, the mind chatters with frustration, discomfort and resistance. And, there’s just no avoiding the awareness of how helpless we really are against Nature’s random whims which can really undermine your sense of importance.

It’s true: some days, I just don’t feel like it. These icy winter mornings I admit the possibility of lingering in my warm sheets, enjoying another warm, slow cup of coffee and reading a good book crosses my mind.

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SOMEONE’S GOT his HAY HAT ON – CAN YOU SEE HIM? What’s this got to do with drudgery? Not much, but it’s one of the little amusements of the season…

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I don’t want to pull on all those layers and trudge out into the winter blast of a morning to  carry hay here, haul freezing water there, feed cows, pigs & horses,  shovel, dig, plow, sweep, mow, repair, haul, chop, fix, fill, empty, wash, or whatever.

It’s drudgery I tell you. But what is drudgery but the tempering of faith and character? Make peace with drudgery and you can do anything.

Whenever the darkness of drudgery and discomfort is getting the best of me, I talk myself into looking at it this way:  performing menial tasks with a willing and serving heart is like saying a prayer or performing a Devotion. Emphasis on the willing and serving part – that’s when real mastery kicks in.

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Henry’s got his hay hat on…

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Ego aside, performing lowly service free of grumbling and resentment always rewards with something good. It may be a special moment shared with the animals, an inspiringly beautiful scene, the satisfaction of becoming skilled and self sufficient, or the gift of a fantastic idea.

And, nearly always, performing chores Acts of Devotion  overcomes my weaker ego and I return home filled with energy and enthusiasm and renewed commitment, glad I got to be out there doing my thing and feeling sorry for those who missed out by staying inside distracted by aimless, soft pursuits.

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Silly Bess is wearing hers…

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So, see? Now you’re jealous that I get to go out and wrestle in the cold with the tractor, dirty bales of hay tied with frozen strings, a bunch of pushy heifers and freezing water. But no life is without it’s particular drudgeries. 

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Femme says I’m the silly one – she’s just saving some for later

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How do you manage daily drudgery?

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DIY valentine: sweet kisses straight from the garden

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What could be sweeter than a paper sack of wrapped handmade caramels?

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I know that strawberry and chocolate and all things red, white, pink and chocolate are kind of the official flag of Valentine’s Day. But, I can’t grow those things on my farm, particularly not in January.

And if you’ve been hanging around here for any time at all, you know I’m all about cooking from home.

Recently, I took part in a cook-along book club hosted by the awesome From Scratch Club where we read and cooked our way through Alana Chernila’s perfect book, The Homemade Pantry. If you think a cook-along book club sounds like a great idea (you know you do), check out FSC’s newest selection – I’m pretty excited about it – and join in.

Okay, I know, I’m starting to wander off. We’re talking Valentines. Homemade. From local produce, preferably your backyard. The reason for mentioning Alana’s book is that one of her recipes was for homemade caramels.

I don’t think I’ve ever in my life purchased a caramel, craved one or even given a moment’s thought to one. Who knows why, because whenever I’ve been given one, I always think they’re delicious.

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But somehow that recipe caught my fancy. Then, as weirdly happens so amazingly often, I stumbled across this recipe from Deb at Smitten Kitchen.  You know I just happen to have freshly made quarts of Apple Gack looking for work, so this was pure fate. I was even able to fast forward straight to the  middle of the recipe, since the first part is essentially making Apple Gack from cider.  Apple Cider Caramels were meant to happen. 

But wait! Then I found these Salted Pumpkin Caramels from Food 52!  You know Pumpkinpalooza lives on…

And, if you know me at all, you know I can’t just follow a recipe. If I can make apple cider caramels, what about my overcooked strawberry jam failure that I couldn’t bear to throw away?  Up from the basement those jars of stiff, sticky paste came, I thinned it with some boiling water & strained the berries to make strawberry gack. Maybe you have some unloved jam sitting around too.

Follow Smitten Kitchen’s recipe using your jam gack instead of the apple, adjust the spice to suit the fruit (or eliminate it altogether) and Wa-la! Your very own fruit caramels. I guess I could have dyed them pink or something, but I like the natural look.

The strawberry was delicate and hard to place as a flavor, but totally delicious. The apple cinnamon was unmistakable, as was the pumpkin.

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What could be more charming than a paper sack of sweet, handmade waxed paper wrapped caramels? I promise they aren’t difficult and you don’t need a candy thermometer or anything complicated, expensive or special.

So delicious and tender, it’s a staple around here now.

What! It’s fruit

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This post is part of Fresh Foods Wednesday.

“Fresh Foods Wednesday,” you ask?  

That’s right – it’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food, fresh food production, consumption, activism, and awareness… not to mention a rant here and there…

You really should check it out:

building your real food pantry: plan for a tomato workhorse you can count on

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Fresh from my garden tomatoes, onion and garlic ready for oven-roasting

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For a girl forever bawking about eating what’s in season, you might think what I’m about to share with you is a little out of whack.  Originally, like everyone else, I thought this would be a good topic for later in summer when tomatoes are front and center.

But recently, while writing this for A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, it struck me that now actually is the perfect time to talk about putting up tomatoes.

What?

I’m not kidding. Now is the time to start planning what you’re going to grow in your garden and/or how much preserving you need to do to fill your pantry with the basics you’ll need for the following 12 months.

If I wait to talk about it until you’re drowning in tomatoes,  I’ll be too late to be much help.

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A staple in my kitchen – tomato passata. like puree, only better

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Over the years, I’ve pared down my pantry needs to actual needs rather than whimsical wants.

I used to can cooked sauce, whole tomatoes and other more specific items like salsa or ketchup. Each pantry item involved a sweaty day in the kitchen and its own set of ingredients & procedures.

Now don’t get me wrong; I actually love that sweaty day spent in the kitchen. But today, I prefer one  multi-purpose workhorse item like this versatile recipe for tomato passata, rather than several specific items like different sauces & salsa.

What’s a workhorse recipe?

  • Seasoned as little as possible to let the flavor of the ingredient shine and for greatest kitchen versatility later.
  • Useful in a variety of ways and with little meal-time fussery. I still want to be able to cook super-fast from jars and cans – you know, the American way.  I just want my jars and cans to be ones I filled myself with ingredients I feel good about.
  • A flexible preserving process.  I often interrupt in the middle if necessary, break things up into 2 sessions and/or scale it up.  I need a recipe that’s not too persnickety.

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Home-made sauce in a jif, quickie childhood favorite cream of tomato soup with no processed ingredients and my very favorite ketchup

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Tomato passata is a recipe from my tattered and stained favorite River Cottage Handbook #2; Preserves.  The author, Pam Corbin, makes  passata to use as a base for all sorts of soups, stews and curries. Check it out here. 

I admit I had no clue what passata was, but now I wonder how I ever lived without it.  This one simple to make item is all I need to make a few of my often served favorites:

The beauty of making my ketchup from passata is that I can do it later in the season when the kitchen’s not so hot and I don’t have so many other pressing projects competing for my time. Plus, I’ve already done half the work, so it hardly takes any time at all.

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Holy-wow do I like this ketchup…

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Being the heirloom/heritage breed type, I grow my own, so it’s time to order your seeds to be sure to get the varieties you want and be sure to get the seeds started on time. How many plants will I need to make enough passata for the year?

I use about one quart of passata every two weeks, so I’ll need about 26 quarts. Each quart uses approximately 4 ½ pounds of fresh tomatoes, and a good heirloom variety tomato plant in Pennsylvania can yield approximately 9 pounds give or take. There will be some fudgery at first since everyone’s experience will vary, but this is a good place to start.

So, to keep me in passata for a year, here’s my tomato math:

26 (quarts of passata) x 4.5 (pounds of tomatoes needed for 1 quart) = 117 pounds of tomatoes.

117 (pounds of tomatoes) ÷ 9 (estimated pounds yielded per plant in my area) = 13 plants.

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Now, calculate the same way for your canned whole tomato needs then round-up to be sure to have plenty of fresh eating tomatoes and for sharing with your non-gardening friends.

I like to have at least 20 plants minimum for my two person household, though I’ve been known to attempt as many as 40.

Now, maybe the growing part is not for you, and I’m not here to tell you any different, although I admit I wish you’d consider it. Farmer’s markets are full of farmers growing all sorts of heirlooms and organics. If you belong to a CSA you probably get swamped with tomatoes in the summer, or maybe you have a great grocery selling locally grown produce.

No? Well, you can fix that by finding a local grower here.

Okay, you have no excuse for not at least trying this once, even if  just to say you did. I’m pretty confident once you get spoiled with a home-made pantry, you won’t want to go back to store-bought ever again.

What’s your  favorite tomato workhorse? 

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This post is part of Simple Lives Thursday. What’s that you ask? It’s an ambitious and enlightening collection of posts from bloggers all over about issues near and dear to my heart: real food and natural living. Check it out!