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Dear readers, I’m always so surprised that anyone visits my little blog, and I want to thank you with my first giveaway.  I’ve known from day one that I want to share some of my favorite things with you, whether that’s recipes or products.  This spring I was privileged enough to win two beautiful pottery bowls from Polly of Polly’s Path.  It’s time for me to pay it forward.

Like this one only new!

My first giveaway is a 2-quart cast-iron camping Dutch oven from Lodge.  (Yes, I picked it up when I visited the outlet this summer.)  You don’t have to camp to use a Dutch oven like this one.  (Yours will be new!)  You can still use it in your oven, in your backyard, or even on the stove top, depending on the type of burners you have.  If you’re not sure how to use a Dutch oven with coals, check out all of these great ideas from a recent Dutch oven cook-off. (You can even roast a whole chicken in a larger Dutch oven outside.)  The Dutch oven I’m giving away is great for a family meal.  It’s ideal for two chicken thighs and two chicken drumsticks with a smattering of veggies.  It’ll roast a whole chicken breast, as long as its not too big.  The Dutch oven works as a casserole for side dishes and desserts.  It’s perfect for your next camping trip or everyday cooking outside or inside.  And if you take care of it, you can pass it on for generations to come.

You’ll also get a lid lifter–as shown here–that is made by Lodge to work with its Dutch ovens.  Yes, yours will be new too.

How do you win these gifts? Tell me here in the comments section that you’re interested, and let me and other readers know how you’d like to use the Dutch oven–inside, outside, on your annual canoe trip, as a gift, as a door stop. You’ll automatically get an entry that way.  You can get a second entry by blogging about this giveaway on your own blog.  Be sure to post a second time here with a link to your blog entry.  That way, all of the readers at Ozark Homesteader will get to learn about your blog too, and I can use the posts in the drawing.  Tweets get you credit too, as long as the tweets show up on WordPress’s tweet counter and you post here.  🙂

Here’s the fine print:  Entries close at midnight central time on Sunday, September 26, 2010; late entries will not be counted.  Entries are limited to US and Canadian addresses.  Entries will be selected at random.  I’ll post the winner by Sunday, October 3, 2010, if not sooner.  And, no, there’s no catch.

Chances to enter the giveaway are now closed.  You can read about the winner here.

If you missed this one, though, check back as the holiday season approaches.  The Homestead’s next giveaway may help you decorate for the holidays and will help you care for your hearth through the winter.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.

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Spring is in the air, and the chickens know it.  Small-scale chicken farmers across the country are finding themselves with an overabundance of eggs.  Let’s use them!  If you don’t raise your own chickens, now is a great time to buy eggs grown on a small farm.  Today we’re going to use the egg whites to make meringue cookies.

Meringue cookies are exceptionally light, crispy clouds that dissolve in your mouth as you bite into them.  Vanilla meringue cookies are fat free (about 19 cals per cookie!), but adding almond meal or miniscule gratings of dark chocolate scarcely change the fat ratio while adding to the nutrition, making them still a healthy choice for a sweet bite.  They are also cholesterol free, wheat free and gluten free.  We’re going to make all three kinds (vanilla, chocolate, and almond meringue cookies) today.  These cookies are easy enough to make for kids to join in the fun, and they could become as much of your spring family tradition as Easter eggs or Passover* favorites.

Meringue cookies are made with egg whites (fat free:  hooray!), cream of tartar, sugar, and flavoring, like vanilla.  You’ll also need parchment paper.  That’s it.  And meringue is super easy to make as long as you remember one basic principle:  egg whites will not whip into fluffy masses unless you keep them absolutely free of any fat, including residual fat on prep equipment or tiny bits of egg yolks from improperly separating the eggs. (Don’t worry about wasting the egg yolks; we’ll be using the yolks from this project to make custard, a.k.a. American pudding, later this week.)

Ingredients

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (use a whole teaspoon if you are not making variations)
  • 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar  (I have seen recipes for these cookies with half the egg whites and 150% the sugar I’m recommending here.  I guess you could go to 3/4 cup sugar if you’re transitioning to a healthier diet but aren’t quite there yet.)

Optional ingredients:

  • 1/2 ounce dark chocolate, grated
  • 2 tablespoons almond meal
  • 2 tablespoon sliced almonds and bits
  • drop of almond extract or orange extract

Method

Begin by lining a large cookie sheet with ungreased parchment.  Remember:  fat is the downfall of meringue.  We’re going to peel the parchment off the cookies at the end, because peeling the cookies off an unlined, ungreased cookie sheet is not an option.  That’s the way the cookie crumbles! Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F.

Now separate your egg whites from the yolks.  I recommend the 3-bowl method.  Each time you crack an egg, let the white fall into a small bowl (the little white one here).  Then put the yolk in a small yolk gathering bowl (the measuring cup here).  After you’ve checked the white for any signs of yolk, put it in your mixing bowl (the medium-sized peach-cased bowl here).  Now crack the next egg, letting the white fall into the small whites bowl, and so on.  That way, if you do mess up the separation, you’ll mess up one egg, not the whole batch.

Now mix the whites on low speed until they get frothy.

Add the cream of tartar.  Up the speed and whip until the whites form stiff peaks.  Now add the vanilla and sugar, a little bit at a time.  Whip to stiff peaks.  Do you see the stiff peaks?Are your kids home for spring break?  Are they going stir-crazy?  Are they driving you crazy?  Let them whip the egg whites using an old-fashioned, hand egg beater.  They’ll have much less energy when they’re done.

Now, drop about one third of the meringue onto the parchment-covered cookie sheet as is.  If you want, you can do what I did here and make a few meringue shells, pretty receptacles for things like fruit and dark chocolate pudding.

Now separate out about another third (half of what’s left, that is).  Grate extra-dark chocolate into one of the remaining thirds, pausing in between to scoop spoonfuls onto the parchment.

For the record, I used a portion–about half–of a square of 88% cacao Endangered Species chocolate. I ate the rest.  It’s okay; it’ll lower my blood pressure.

Now add two tablespoons almond meal and two tablespoons sliced almonds to the remaining third.  If you want to, add a drop (no more!) or almond extract or orange extract.  Fold gently to combine.  You know the drill:  spoon out the rest in dollops on the parchment, wherever you can find room.  I like to push a slice of almond into the top of these cookies to let people know how they are flavored.

Now put the cookies in the oven at 225 degrees F for at least two hours.  Why such a low temperature?  We’re not really baking the meringue; we’re drying it.  Take out the cookies.  Let them cool a bit and then peel them off the parchment and store them in an airtight container (that is, those that don’t get eaten right away).

You can also use meringue to pipe baskets to fill with other confections, and you can make freeform meringue bowls to hold ice cream, macerated fresh fruit–like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries–, or even pudding, which we’ll make in a later post, to use up the leftover egg yolks.  Just be sure to wait to fill meringues until you are ready to serve them, because they’ll start to collapse almost immediately when they are touched with anything damp.

Now that you’ve had your meringue primer, we’ll make a chocolate or key lime or lemon meringue pie in the near future.  I think was a key lime meringue pie I made when my father was visiting earlier this year.  Or maybe it was a chocolate pie.  Either way, yum!

*I’m not Jewish and no expert on kosher cooking, but it’s my understanding that meringue cookies are kosher (or, rather neutral:  pareve or parve) for Passover, as long as your vanilla and chocolate pass.

Let me know if you have questions about separating eggs or making these cookies.  And if you make them, let me know what you think!  Are they really crispy clouds?  What are your favorite spring holiday dishes and desserts?

Summer baking note:  If you live in an area of the country that gets humid, I would not even attempt to make these meringue cookies, any peanut brittle, or any crisp toffee during the humid times of the year.  You will get soft, sticky meringues and chewy, sticky brittle that’s not and toffee that’s just annoyingly gooey.

Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader.  Short excerpts with full url and attribution to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome.  Contact me via the comment section for permission to use photographs.

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Cole slaw has the refreshing flavor of summer, but the cabbage that makes up most of cole slaw is primarily a winter vegetable here (although I do get it to keep growing all summer with careful planting placement).  On warmer winter days, cole slaw with pulled chicken barbeque feels like a summer picnic, although slaw is plenty tasty as part of a good vegetarian meal too.  The colors can be bright enough to attract the pickiest kids.  Cole slaw can also be incredibly frugal.  And the fresh veggies are really healthy–just keep the dressing light!I made this cole slaw from all-local, organic vegetables either from our own garden (the peppers via the freezer) or from Conway Locally Grown.  You can vary quantities and ingredients depending on what you have on hand, but this slaw contains

  • thinly sliced green cabbage
  • thinly sliced red cabbage
  • grated carrots
  • grated colorful radish
  • thinly sliced roasted red pepper

I find that it’s easiest to slice the cabbage thinly if I begin by cutting a wedge out of the head and then cutting off the wedge instead of the whole head.

The dressing is what really changes slaw’s flavor.  I like to make mine with leftover pickle juice.  For a frugal, delicious sweet, sour, creamy dressing, I use mayonnaise mixed with bread-and-butter pickle juice.  You could use any sweet pickle juice.  If you are serving the slaw with salmon, try using dill pickle juice.  It won’t be sweet, but it’ll be tasty.  (You may want to increase the ratio of carrots to increase sweetness.)  If you want an Asian flavor, try using pickled ginger juice.  Here’s the basic measurements I use as a foundation.  You may want to add a little more of one of the ingredients after you taste the mix.

  • 1 tablespoon real mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon pickle juice

Start light with the dressing.  You can always add more later!  Enjoy.  My husband likes to put his slaw on barbeque sandwiches.  You might like it that way too.

Copyright Ozarkhomesteader 2010.  Short excerpts with full links to Ozarkhomesteader are welcome!

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Copyright 2010 Ozarkhomesteader. Short excerpts with full links are welcome.

Beans and ham, beans and cornbread, navy bean soup, ham-bone soup, Senate bean soup:  no matter what you call it, this old Southern favorite that’s not quite soup, not quite vegetable stew can include pork ham, turkey ham, or no animal flesh at all.  The beans can be pretty darn healthy, really healthy, or phenomenally healthy.    Today I’m going to give you all three variations (smidgen of red meat for a low-fat bowl, ultra low-fat bit of poultry, or fat-free vegetarian) on classic Southern beans, any of which can be prepared on the stove top or in a slow cooker.  Oh, they are soooooo good!To duplicate the Southern experience, serve these beans with cornbread (to complete your vegetarian protein), good greens (like turnip or collard), and pickles, chow-chow, or tobasco.  My ancestors made these beans on the top of a wood stove or in a kitchen fire in a big cast iron pot in colder months.  They might have cooked them all day, slowly, on a March or April day after they’d polished off an Easter country ham and just had the bone left.  They might have gathered wild greens, or perhaps they had greens growing in their kitchen garden.  Regardless, these beans with cornbread and greens made great healthy, frugal cuisine then, just as they do today.  They are a classic case of “meat and three,” where any meat included is a seasoning, not the main focus of the dish, and they are a great choice for today’s environmentally and economically conscious culture.

makes about 7 cups

the vegetables:

  • ½ large yellow onion (a full cup diced, give or take a bit)
  • 1 cup  to 1 ½ cups (split) carrots, diced
  • 1 cup to 1 ½ cups (split) celery, diced

the dried beans:

  • 1 1/2 cups dried navy beans (the classic!), pinto beans (more like chili), black beans (think southwest), or another bean like Jacob’s cattle or Anasazi (I used navy beans, black beans, and Anasazi!)


the liquid:

  • 5 -6 ½ cups water, vegetable broth, chicken stock, or turkey stock (or 1/2 smoked turkey stock*, half water)

Use the larger amount for Anasazi beans, the lesser for most other dried beans.  (Anasazi beans need 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans, whereas other beans of similar size need 3 cups of water for every one cup of beans.  We’re adding ½ cup more liquid to make the beans a little brothier.)

optional animal products:

  • 1 ham bone
  • 2-3 slices pork bacon, diced, rendered, and drained of fat (save it!)
  • ¼ cup turkey ham steak, diced

Stove top method:

Measure, sort through for pebbles, and rinse the beans—something you should do with all dried beans.  Soak the beans overnight or at least all day in a very heavy-bottomed stockpot or a cast iron Dutch oven.  This recipe may be a bit too big for a 2-quart Dutch oven, but you could start with just a portion of the liquid and add the rest as the beans absorb it. You’ll need to cover the beans by at least double or possibly even triple the depth of water.  (You could easily start soaking the beans in the morning and then cook them in the late afternoon.)  Drain off  the soaking liquid and add the cooking liquid (water, stock), onions, half of the carrots and celery, and any animal product you are adding.  Simmer beans, covered, for 1 ½ to 2 hours (less for Anasazi, more for black, the full two hours for navy).  Stir occasionally, but if you’ve picked a suitably heavy pot, you shouldn’t have to worry much about sticking.  After the initial cooking time, add the rest of the carrots and celery and cook the beans for ½ hour to 1 hour to finish softening them.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Slow Cooker (Crock Pot) Method

Measure, sort through for pebbles, and rinse the beans—something you should do with all dried beans.  Add the beans, the chopped onion, half of the carrots and celery, all of the optional animal flesh and/or bone, and all of the liquid to a slow cooker (known often by the trade-marked name Crock Pot).  Put on the lid and set the slow cooker to low.  Let the beans cook all day.  An hour or so before supper (depending on the type of beans—more time for navy beans, less for black and Anasazi–and your slow cooker), add the rest of the carrots and celery and crank the slow cooker to high for about an hour to finish cooking the beans.  What if you come home and the beans are already soft?  You could turn off the beans, saute the carrots and celery, add them to the beans, and then turn on the cooker right before dinner to reheat it. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In order to get the best nutrition from these beans, serve them with whole-grain cornbread (recipe to follow in a future blog post) to make a complete protein (something you can get by mixing whole grains with beans).  Add gently cooked seasonal greens, like mustard greens, turnip greens, or collard greens—or you could even just make a side salad of healthy baby greens.  Serve with cucumber pickles like bread-and-butter or chow-chow (pickled vegetables).  Some people add pickle juice or tobasco hot sauce to the beans and greens.

*Smoked turkey stock. Did you smoke a turkey this year or get one as a gift?  Did you toss the carcass?  Don’t do that again!  For a great smoky stock, cover the smoked-turkey carcass with water, add aromatics (a stalk of celery, some onion chunks, herbs), and simmer for about two hours.  Strain off the bones, vegetables, and herbs then cool the stock.  Skim off the opaque fat that forms at the top.  Use your stock in soups and beans.  I recommend using it for no more than half of the liquid in a recipe, since it is quite strong.

Do you have questions about cooking with dried beans, Southern food, or vegetarian options?  I’ll do my best to answer them!

I’ve posted a traditional, hearty cornbread recipe.  It is all corn meal and minimally sweet, like people used to eat before every bread came to taste like dessert.

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A few years ago, my husband had to attend a conference in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Hot Springs is an historic resort area.  As a matter of fact, the whole resort area of Hot Springs is a national park.  Given that my husband’s conference was at the time of my birthday, he invited me to come along and made arrangements for me to get a full spa treatment while he attended his meetings.  The mineral bath was fabulous, and the massage was terrific.  What I really appreciated the most, though, was the foot scrub with the pedicure.

I was all leaned back and drowsy after the bath and massage when the foot treatment started.  I smelled a pepperminty scent and felt a wonderful combination of scrubby stuff and emollient.  I had to look.  Hmmmm.  It was a white substance that looked mighty familiar.  “What’s in the scrub?” I asked.  “Oh, it’s canning salt with olive oil and peppermint oil,” my pedicurist replied.  She then proceeded to tell me how they always had to stock up on canning salt–used instead of other salt because of its purity–during the late summer because otherwise they’d run out when everyone was making pickles.  “Really?” I queried.  “It’s just canning salt, olive oil, and peppermint oil?”  “Oh, yes, but if you get a facial, we’ll use sugar instead of salt because it’s finer and less drying,” she replied proudly, perhaps not realizing she had probably just given away two deep dark secrets of the Hot Springs resorts.

Today I’m sharing that secret with you.  Every year since that birthday, as canning season comes to a close, my husband discovers my cache of canning salt.  I explain to him that I buy it on sale and that it will keep until next year, but my real reason is because I use it for a home spa.  I have no idea what the spa charged my husband, but I can guarantee that this home treatment is a tiny fraction of the cost and exactly the same–except you (or your husband) has to do the scrubbing.

Home Spa Foot Scrub, just like the pros use

Start with a nice oil (no need for olive oil), canning salt, peppermint oil (which you can get at your local pharmacy or in the baking sections of some grocery stores), and a small dish that you don’t mind taking in the bathroom.  A candle is nice too.

Begin by soaking your feet in warm water for several minutes.  Just relax.  Then dry your feet.

Next pour about 1/4-1/2 cup of canning salt into the dish–depending on the size of your feet!  

Add several drops of peppermint oil.

Add a tablespoon of two of regular oil.

Now massage the mixture into your feet, being careful to rub well around all the rough spots.  When you’re finished, wash your feet to remove the salt residue and then dry them well.  If you are up for wearing socks, go ahead and slather your feet with cocoa butter, lanolin, one of Burt’s Bees rescue salves, or something similar.  Repeat the process in a few days, and within no time you’ll have baby-soft feet!

No, I do not have foot photographs!  My husband seemed to think they might attract men with foot fetishes.

Add-in oils

Try adding lavender oil, rosemary oil, or similar fragrances to your spa mixture.  If you have a spot of, um, athletes foot, oil of oregano will cure it (but it is very strong!).

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Some of my favorite seed suppliers almost all have fabulous collections of seeds either in single packets or groups of packets. Today I’ll highlight a few multi-pack collections.

Botanical Interests offers several gift-wrapped multipacks, including kids’ favorite seeds to grow, Italian favorites, bountiful harvest, fragrant flowers, and Asian cuisine.

Renee’s Garden’s multi-pack collections include a kids’ garden too plus easy-to-grow collections, more fragrant flowers and cottage garden flowers, and more.

Burpee has a Money Garden collection for those wanting to weather the recession.

Seeds of Change has several collections too, including a Natural Dyes collection and a White House Seed the Change collection.

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds has tins with giant and smaller collections.  Baker Creek has excellent ratings through garden sites, but I am wary of ordering from them after reading some negative ratings on Dave’s Garden’s  Garden Watchdog, where consumers can rate companies.  It sounds like they are a relatively small outfit that still does things the country way but have not coped well with expansion.

Dave’s Garden’s  Garden Watchdog is an invaluable resource if you want to protect yourself in online ordering!  Be sure to rate your favorite (and most disliked) sites while you’re there.

What are your favorite suppliers’ seed collections?

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A dying garden can be depressing, but it can also hold the seeds of your future, literally.  This spring I let some red winter kale go to seed and then gathered the spiky seed pods to keep through the summer.  I scattered them on the ground a couple of weeks ago, and now I have a profusion of free red kale seedlings, which we should be eating within a month or two.

I also gathered seed pods from garlic chives.  I’ve sprouted some to add to salads.  Others I’ll keep to start a new garlic chive bed and to give away to friends for their own gardens.

Here is a cabbage that decided to grow entirely of its own accord.

And, voila!,  borage plants, all volunteers, with amaranth seeds, awaiting spring.

A volunteer cilantro plant awaits a Mexican or Vietnamese dish.

And here my husband collects flower seeds.

We even had dozens of volunteer tomato plants produce this year before frost hit.  Your garden  can give you so much, if you just give it a little time to show its offerings!

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