Baking Pumpkins

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Wanna know what happens around here when you wait until the day before Halloween to buy your carving pumpkin? You don’t get one!

This year we waited too long (oops) and didn’t grow our own, so we ended up with this pumpkin as our Halloween display:

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Yep, that’s a pie pumpkin that the kiddo painted since we didn’t have a good carving pumpkin.

Well, what should I do with a pie pumpkin when it’s time to decorate for Christmas and the jack-o-lantern is getting a little bit soft? Make pumpkin puree!

I’ve always avoided making homemade pumpkin puree because it seems so messy and time-consuming. I really didn’t want to spend all day peeling and scooping for a few dollars worth of pumpkin puree…sorry, I’m just that kind of lazy, I suppose!

So, when I saw a post on one of my favorite blogs, Heavenly Homemaker, that said pumpkins can be roasted whole, I wanted to try.

Start by placing the pumpkin in a baking dish, no oiling or water required. Bake at 350 degrees for about 75 minutes. (It might not be a good idea to bake paint, I suppose, but it’s the pumpkin I had so…whatever.)

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Our pumpkin looked a little darker and crusty when he was done baking. The skin was easily pierced with a fork or fingernail.

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Our pumpkin flesh cooked down inside the skin formed by the shell. The skin separated easily from the flesh. After it cooled, it was time to peel and mash!

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The skin was so soft and broken down that the skin and seeds separated easily from the flesh. The flesh was also so soft that it easily mashed into a puree-like texture with just a fork.

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I probably could have put the mash into a blender at this point to make a very smooth puree, much like homemade baby food. But, it was smooth enough for my purposes, which will probably include pumpkin scones and other baked goods.

Bagged and tagged and in the freezer… in about 15 minutes total work time!

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(Yes, that is Anna, Elsa and Olaf on our plastic bags…don’t judge :-)

Can You Re-Use Canning Lids?

 

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Rarely does a home-canned batch of anything I make come out with matching lids. Why? Because I re-use most of my canning lids, leading to many mismatched lids, some with a prior year’s label still written on top, such as this batch of sunshine juice that has one re-used metal lid, two re-used plastic lids and one new lid.

When I first started canning, I bought brand new lids for each batch and tossed the once-used ones in the trash. But one day I thought about how much that was costing me and how much it was wasting…and I decided to try re-using them instead.

Even though canning companies that sell the lids do not recommend re-using the metal lids, I have had no problems re-using them at least two or three times as long as they are not bent. If you plan to re-use your lids, be careful when you pop them loose to use what’s in your jars. If the lip of the lid is bent, it won’t seal properly.

One downside to re-using the lids is that you may occasionally have a lid that doesn’t seal quite right–probably because it was ever so slightly bent. Of course, you probably won’t know that until after it’s too late to fix it. But I figure that’s where the fridge comes in, and I just refrigerate the unsealed jar and use it before the product spoils.

Another way to re-use lids is to buy lids intended for re-use, like the Tattler lids pictured above. These work a bit differently than one-piece metal lids because they have a rubber gasket and separate plastic lid. But they’re not difficult at all to use once you try them. They are a little spendy, though, so you’ll need to use them for several seasons before you’ll get your money back compared with purchasing the metal lids. I purchased mine about four years ago, though, and they’re still going strong, so I expect they will more than pay for themselves.

Do you re-use lids?

Omaha Zoo review

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Going to the zoo, zoo, zoo…again! Zoos may be one of our new favorite places, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha was a fantastic place to visit.

We had a brief stop in Omaha as part of our summer vacation so we decided to check out the zoo we’ve seen advertised along the interstate during several previous drives through Omaha. The zoo is literally right next to I-80, making it an easy stop on trips to and from pretty much anywhere along that interstate. One of the great things about this zoo is that you can easily make it a short stop to let the kids get some energy out or an all-day adventure.

Although it rained throughout our visit, many of the zoo’s exhibits are indoors so we had fun anyway. I absolutely recommend the aquarium portion and the jungle building even if you only have a short time for a visit. Both are indoors but they put visitors right into the action. It’s no dull trip through a building full of caged animals!

The jungle building walks visitors through a rainforest with monkeys and birds roaming throughout exhibits. Hippos, tapirs, rays…oh, my! Even though the animal areas are actually separated from each other, the building is designed to make it feel like more of a natural habitat. And the zoo does a great job of grouping friendly animals together, such as in an area that housed tapirs and monkeys or another that held a snake and turtle together.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The rainforest had a rope bridge and waterfalls, too.

The aquarium has several large tanks of colorful fish and, on the day we visited, a touch tank of sea stars. The best part, though, is the walk-through tunnel where sharks, tuna and other fish literally swim overhead and all around you. Very cool and something I would not have expected to see from the Omaha zoo!

Shark week, anyone?

Shark week, anyone?

Eli’s favorite part of the day was feeding the fish at a pedestrian bridge over the zoo’s small lake. There’s a monkey habitat on an island in the lake and a ton of brightly colored koi in the water. If it happens to rain on the day of your visit, take a break on the covered bridge and invest a few quarters in fish food. The little pellets cause a feeding frenzy down below as the koi swim on top of each other to grab them. (And if you forget quarters like we did, you can probably use a few leftover pellets dropped on the bridge by previous visitors.) Several hours and a nap later, Eli was still talking about the “fish and monkeys.”

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don't like feeding fish.

The monkeys are a hoot to watch, even if you don’t like feeding fish.

Overall, we cut our visit a little shorter than we would have liked because a certain somebody (not me, I promise!) was getting a bit fussy. But we were there at least four hours and didn’t see everything they had to offer. So, I’d say the $15 admission price is a bargain for a full day of fun! And they allow visitors to bring in food and beverages so there’s no need to spend extra cash on meals and snacks while you’re there.

As I’ve said before, Omaha isn’t really that far from our corner of Kansas, and we plan to be back for a long weekend sometime. The zoo will definitely be included in future visits!

The Henry Doorly Zoo and Visit Omaha kindly gave us free passes to the zoo in exchange for this review. But the thoughts and opinions herein are entirely my own.

Easy Homemade Sauerkraut

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Sauerkraut is amazingly easy to make at home. No canning, crocks or maintenance required!

Ingredients
Cabbage (one head makes about three quart jars of kraut)
Pickling salt (sometimes called canning salt)

Method

Chop the cabbage very thinly. If you have a mandolin, you may find it useful for this step.

Pack the kraut tightly into clean quart-sized canning jars. Wide-mouth jars make this easier but are not essential. As you can see from the picture above, I ran out of cabbage as I was finishing the jar on the right and, thus, it did not get packed tightly enough.

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Pour 1 tsp. pickling salt into each jar. Fill each jar with enough water to cover the cabbage.

Screw the two-piece lids onto each jar and tighten. Place the jars on a pie plate or pan with a bit of a lip in case they ooze as they ferment. Cover the jars with a dishtowel to let them ferment in the dark.

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Let the jars sit for three weeks and enjoy! We like ours cooked down on the stovetop with a bit of Bavarian seasoning added.

Once the kraut is ready at the three-week point, unused jars can be stored in the fridge for a few months.

Delicious Edamame Hummus

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I love edamame (soybeans). In fact, I am specifically attracted to restaurant dishes that feature edamame. But other than tossing them into Chinese dishes and salads, I don’t use them much at home. Fortunately, the soybean promotion folks sent an entire booklet full of soybean recipes to the newspaper where I work sometimes and my publisher passed them onto me.

This hummus recipe was one of those in the booklet, and it is delicious! I know, it sounds weird and it looks a little weird (green mush anyone?). But it has a great, fresh flavor with just a hint of Mexican spice.

The best part of the dish is its fancy flavor without the fancy cost. The main ingredient, edamame, can be found relatively easily in the frozen veggie section of most grocery stores for just a couple of bucks. I found the particular bag I used for this batch on clearance for just $1.49!

Ingredients

  • 2 c. edamame, cooked according to package directions
  • 3 T lemon juice
  • 1/4 c. olive, soybean or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic

Method

Blend it all together until it is mostly pureed but still has a little bit of texture. How’s that for easy?

Serve chilled with crackers or other crunchy, scoopy things. With the fiber and protein the edamame provides, the hummus makes a great lunch or hearty snack.

Oh, and the little fingers in that picture above? Those belong to my kiddo who is quite the fan of Ritz crackers but refuses to try the hummus :-)

Canning Myths Video Available

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The folks at Ball (you know, the people who make jars and other canning goodies) held a webcast today addressing common canning myths. I missed the live broadcast, but they have the recording posted on their website to watch anytime. Free and convenient!

If you’re just getting started in canning or thinking about getting started, this may help answer some of your curiosity. If you learned to can from someone who was full of advice that was likely based on decades-old science, you might find some of their tips useful, too. And, hey, if you just love canning things, it’ll be interesting for you, too!

 

 

Rhubarb Cake

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If you think this photo looks a little odd, you might be right. I cut a small hole in the middle to test for doneness and we started cutting slices from there…which should go to show you how yummy this cake is!

This is the first year I’ve had a rhubarb harvest, incidentally, and I discovered something about rhubarb from a local veggie farmer who also has several rhubarb plants. Not all rhubarb plants turn red when they’re ripe. Mine appears to be one of those that stays green even when it’s ready, I guess.

Anyway…on to the recipe, which I adapted from one published by Penzey’s Spices. (Although I disagree with some of the company’s stands on social issues, I find that Penzey’s is one of the best places to get low-cost, high-quality spices.)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 c. sugar
  • 1/2 c. melted butter, cooled
  • 1 egg
  • 1 c. plain greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 c. flour
  • 1 1/2 c. chopped rhubarb
  • For Topping: 1/3 c. sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon

Method

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix sugar, butter, egg, yogurt and vanilla together in a large bowl. Stir in baking soda and flour, mix well. Fold in the rhubarb.

Spread the batter in a greased 9×13 pan.

Combine the topping sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cake batter. It will probably seem like there is too much topping for the size of the cake, but trust me, it’s right. The sugary topping forms a crust of sorts that is very yummy.

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Bake 30-35 minutes. Serve warm and refrigerate leftovers.

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