My Foray Into Food Storage

A regular gal learning about Food Storage, Home Cooking, Canning, Gardening, and more!

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8 Tips To Make a Good Lemon Bar GREAT!!

I cannot tell you how many times someone has asked me what makes some things I bake taste better than theirs when we used the same recipe. Over the years, I’ve learned a few very small things which a very big difference in improving the overall taste. 

Today, I’m going to share how to take a basic lemon bar recipe and make some of the best lemon bars you’ve ever tasted.  I made lime bars, because that’s what I had in my kitchen, but the same principles apply to any citrus bars.  You can use the recipe below for any citrus bar (lime, orange, grapefruit).  

  

First, start with a good recipe. I really like this one. It makes a very yummy lemon bar, and it contains very simple ingredients. My only complaint is that it is not lemony enough for me. I want my lemon bars to scream “LEMON” when I take a bite. 

Second, use high quality, fresh ingredients. If the recipe calls for real butter, use real butter.  If it calls for lemon juice, use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than bottled.  This is particularly important in recipes with just a few ingredients. 

Third, zest your lemons and add it to your lemon juice. The zest adds that super lemony tartness lemon bars need to make them great. Wash your citrus fruit in your favorite fruit/vegetable wash, or soak it in some water with white vinegar before you zest it. Then rinse and dry it. Next, use a micro plane grater like this one for easy zesting. You can use a zester, but I really like my micro plane grater. I use it for many things in my kitchen (grating Parmesan, grating ginger, etc.), so it’s not a single use tool.  You can find these at many retailers. Amazon sells one here
  

Fourth, since you’re using freshly squeezed lemon, lime, or other citrus juices, make sure that you have enough juice. Some lemons have more juice, and some have less. The average lemon has about 3 Tablespoons of juice. Measure your juice after you squeeze it. If you don’t have enough juice, squeeze another lemon or supplement with bottled juice to ensure you have at least 6 tablespoons of juice (for this recipe). I know I said freshly squeezed juice is betterm and it is, but it is better to use some bottled juice and have enough than to have too little juice from fresh lemons. 

I use my favorite pampered check lemon juicer, but you can find these at Walmart, Target, and many other retailers. Even Amazon has one you can view here.  
   
   

Fifth, make sure that you pre-bake your crust long enough. It should be getting brown on the edges. This will give a nice flavor to your crust. 
  

Sixth, do not use a hand mixer to mix the custard for your lemon bars.   Using a hand mixer will make your custard a bit frothy which changes the texture into something a little less decadent. Use a whisk to combine the juice, eggs, sugar, and flour. 
  

Seventh, let your lemon bars sit for at least 12 hours before you cut and serve them. Sure, it’s difficult to wait, because your lemon bars will smell so delicious, but, if you let them sit, the flavors of the crust and custard will combine so nicely.  Of course, in my house, we don’t wait. We always eat some as soon as they’re cool enough for us to eat them without burning ourselves. However, when I eat one the following day, I wish I’d waited, because they’re so much better. 
Finally, dust them lightly with powdered sugar, but do not go overboard!  The sweetness of the powdered sugar is a nice counterpoint to the tartness of the citrus, and too much sugar will mask too much of the lemony goodness of the bars. 
  

(You may notice that my lime bars are really green. My son wanted me to add a little food coloring so that no one would mistake them for lemon bars, so I added with three drops of green food coloring and one drop of blue.  Be careful with your food coloring or you may end up with this on your skin.)
  

And there you have it!  My tips for the most delicious lemon (lime, orange, or grapefruit) bars you’ll ever eat. 
Do you have any baking or cooking tips which take a good recipe and make it great?  I’d love for you to share!

*** Please note that there are affiliate links in this post. ***

Homemade Chicken Stock


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Making Something From Nothing. Or, To Be More Accurate, From Another Person’s Trash. 

When you think of trash, what comes to mind?  It’s not something most people seek out and for good reason.  Yet, there is one form of “trash” which is actually a treasure!

What trash you ask?  This kind:

Lovely, isn’t it?  Can you tell what it is?   It is the typically discarded parts of veggies like carrots (ends and peels)’ onions, orange peppers, etc. I often include celery, but I don’t have any yet.

 
Well, I pull my trusty discard bag out of my freezer whenever I prep vegetables and save whatever I think will make a good broth. Then, I stick it bag into the freeze until I have enough to make this:

 

 

Homemade Chicken Stock

For years, I wanted to make broth, but I didn’t, because I rarely buy bone-in chicken.  Then, I made an amazing discovery.  You can used cooked bones to make broth!  Your broth will be a bit darker in color, but the bones from a roasted chicken or turkey give a lovely flavor.

 
YAY!   Now I save the chicken carcass whenever I buy a roasted chicken from Costco.  I put it in a bag and save it in my freezer along with my “garbage” bag of veggies.  (I saved my turkey carcass last year and used it to make broth as well.)  When I have a few chickens, I stick them in a big stock pot or two with my veggies. I let them stew for at least 24 hours to get out all of the chicken and veggie goodness and into my broth.  Then I skim any yuckies off the top of the broth and refrigerate it to make it easier to skim the fat. At this point, the broth is ready to season and use. I prefer to wait to add salt until I’ve cooked my broth, but you can add salt earlier in the process.

 

Here are a couple of pictures of my broth in process.

 

(This is one of my pots with chicken bones and veggie trimmings.) 

(This is my broth after it cooked for several hours.) 

Of course, I made an insane amount of broth at this point, at least 6 gallons. Unless I’m cooking for a crowd, I will never going to use all this broth before it goes bad.  This is where my handy dandy pressure canner comes into play. I can my broth, so I don’t have to pay for it at the store.  Canning it is not completely free, because I need to pay for the seals, but even with the cost of energy and water I’m using, I’m paying less than 20 cents for a quart of broth. That’s a smokin’ deal!

To can the broth, I simply wash and rinse my jars in not soapy water, then fill them with the hot broth (which I reheated after refrigerating and skimming the fat) and add salt. Then, I wipe the rims with a wet paper towel and place the seals (warmed in a pot of warm water) on the jars. Finally, I screw on the rings until fingertip tight.

The jars go into my canner along with the vinegar and water listed in my canner instructions. I put on the lid and turn on the heat. The water in canner needs to come to a boil and vent for 10 minutes before putting on the weight and allowing the canner to come to full pressure (10 pounds at sea level, but it is 11 pounds where I live). Once it’s at the correct pressure, the jars are processed to 20-25 minutes (20 for pints and 25 for quarts). When the timer goes off, I turn the heat off and let the canner depressurize on its own as it cools. Once it has depressurize done, I remove the jars to a cooling rack where I let them sit for 24 hours before moving them.
And this is the result!  This is not all the broth I canned. I ended up with 21 quarts and 9 pints. Not too shabby!

 

How do you make the most of the things you buy?

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What the Heck Am I Going to Do With All This Wheat? Make Bread, Of Course!!

It has been a goal of mine to learn to make bread. It took me a while, but I have created a yummy white sandwich bread recipe (found here) that I love! Finding a wheat bread recipe wasn’t so easy.

Why? Because my children turn up their noses at wheat bread. I’ve spoiled them with fiber-less bread, and they are super picky about the whole grain breads they will eat in abundance. So, unless I wanted to eat loaves and loaves of less than perfect bread, I wasn’t too keen on trying different wheat bread recipes.

A couple of months ago, I decided to bite the bullet and try a recipe I found on one of my favorite food storage websites, Food Storage Made Easy. (Click here for a link to their recipe.) It was so easy. moist, and yummy that I haven’t tried any other recipes. And, unlike so many other things I make, I have not made any modifications to the recipe either (other than halving it).
Watch me make bread!
 

To begin, I added most of the wheat flour, the yeast, and vital wheat gluten to my mixing bowl. 

 I stirred them together and added the hot water and let it sit for about 15 minutes. That’s a tad bit longer than the recipe says, but I got distracted, and no harm was done. 

   

Next, I added the remaining ingredients (honest, salt, oil, lemon juice, and the rest of the whole wheat flour) and let my kitchenaid mix it for about 6 minutes, until the dough pulled away from the sides of the bowl. See?


I transferred it to my counter (which was sprayed with Pam). 

 

I divided the dough into the appropriate sixes needed for the loaves I was baking. I was using a 9×5 pan and a 10×5 pan. This recipe can also do three smaller loaves (8.5×4 or 9×5 pans).   
 
Next, I kneaded the individual loaves a few times, like maybe 7-10 times, not much. Then I rolled it up the react of the way and pinched the bottom shut. 
 
I turned it over and rolled it a tad bit on the counter to press the raised, pinched part of the dough into the loaf. This is the view from the top.   
 

I repeated that step with the other loaf and out both in pans sprayed with a non-stick cooking spray. 
 

I let them rise for about 40-50 minutes until they were a little more than double their original size. You can speed this up a bit if you use a proofing box or put it in your oven (turned off) with the light on. The original recipe from Deals to Meals has a quick rise method which I haven’t tried. If you are interested, I strongly recommend visiting Food Storage Made Easy’s website and following the link to Deals to Meals’ website. 
 
Finally, I baked the bread in a 350 degree oven for about 22 minutes. The recipe gives a bake time of 22-30 minutes, and your time may vary from mine depending on the temperature of your oven and the pans you use. 
Take a look at this gorgeous bread!  
   

Not only did it smell delicious, it tasted delicious, too.

 
Here are the measurements I used to make this bread. I have a smaller mixer than they do on the Food Storage Made Easy website, so I halved it. 

Emilie’s Whole Wheat Bread – Half Recipe

Makes 3 small loaves (8.5×4 or 9×5) or 2 large loaves (10×5)

From Deals to Meals blog, directions modified for Julie’s methods (Julie from Food Storage Made Easy)

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

1/3 cup vital wheat gluten (sometimes called gluten flour)

4 teaspoons instant yeast (I’ve used active dry and instant yeast. Both work fine.)

2 1/2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees F)

1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup oil

1/3 cup honey or 1/2 cup sugar (I use raw honey, and it is delicious!)

4 teaspoons bottled lemon juice

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 

Mix first three ingredients together in your mixer, then add water, stirring for about a minute. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Add oil, honey (or sugar), salt, and lemon juice, and mix until incorporated (about 1 minute). Add remaining flour one cup at a time mixing between each cup. Mix for 6-10 minutes until the dough pulls away from the sides of the mixer. 

Spay your countertop with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to counter and divide into desired number of loaves. Knead a few times (usually less than 10 times), form into loaves and transfer to loaf pans which have been sprayed with Pam (nonstick cooking spray). Let rise until double. Bake in a 350 degree F oven for 22-30 minutes or until brown. Cover with foil if it is getting too brown. 

This cuts more easily if you let it cool completely, but it will smell so yummy, you may have a difficult time waiting. Sometimes, I’ll put a little dough in a mini loaf pan so I can eat some bread fresh out of the oven. 

And that’s it!  It’s a super simple recipe, and tastes oh so good!  Try it out and let me know what you think. 

Until next time…

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