Picture
Cold, sweet, and slightly tangy Strawberry Pops. 

Photo courtesy Anitra Kerr

Today I bought more strawberries, they weren't as cheap as they've been past years, but they're awfully good.  Meanwhile, I'm anxiously waiting for all the blossoms on my strawberry plants to become fruit!

I got this recipe in a newsletter (SimplyLivingSmart.com) and wanted to pass it on.  The original recipe called for powdered sugar or agave, but use whatever sweetener you like.


Strawberry Pops
1 1/2 pints strawberries, rinsed and hulled
sweetener to taste: about 1/4 c. sugar or agave, or 3 T. honey, or 1/2 c. powdered sugar, or 3-4 packets of stevia

Pulse strawberries with sugar and 1/3 cup water or orange juice (YUMMIER) in food processor until pureed, with some chunks of berries remaining. Pour half of mixture into a bowl.
Pulse remainder until smooth. Stir puree into mixture in bowl. Pour into 3-ounce molds or plastic cups, insert sticks or wooden spoons, and freeze until solid, at least 8 hours.

I'm going to make some strawberry-rhubarb pops: using one chopped and cooked stalk of rhubarb in place of a half pint of the strawberries.  There should be enough sugar in the recipe anyway (if not, I'll add 'til it tastes good), and the rhubarb with give it a little kick.  Kind of like the orange juice does, but a little more tangy.  And a dash of vanilla is always good.
 
 
Picture
                 
 

Have you found good deals on strawberries?  Or are your plants starting to produce them?  We love to make and eat strawberry leather, though I often mix strawberry puree with applesauce or any other mashed fruit, to make the strawberries go farther.  For a simple way to make fruit leather, see http://www.theprovidenthomemaker.com/1/post/2010/11/what-to-do-now-in-the-garden-fruit-leather.html

___________________________ 

If you’re in the Salt Lake valley, I just learned about a lady who puts together group orders every month; she lives just a mile down the road from me.  The prices are great, and the food is good quality.  It comes from a Utah/Idaho farmers’ co-op; most of the items are even organic.  Her website is http://www.organicemily.com 

____________________________

The following excerpts from an article are from Ezra Taft Benson, published in the Ensign magazine, January 1974, entitled “Prepare Ye”.  He repeats D&C 38:30 three times in it (“if ye are prepared, ye shall not fear”), and this talk has been extensively quoted.  It contains at least 12 segments I’ve quoted or heard quoted.  Read through the talk, and see how many pieces of it you’ve heard before.


Here are some excerpts:

“In Matthew, chapter 24, we learn of “famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes. …” (Matt. 24:7.) The Lord declared that these and other calamities shall occur. These particular prophecies seem not to be conditional. The Lord, with his foreknowledge, knows that they will happen. Some will come about through man’s manipulations; others through the forces of nature and nature’s God, but that they will come seems certain. Prophecy is but history in reverse—a divine disclosure of future events.

Yet, through all of this, the Lord Jesus Christ has said: “… if ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.)

…At the April 1937 general conference of the Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints], President J. Reuben Clark, Jr., of the First Presidency, asked: “What may we as a people and as individuals do for ourselves to prepare to meet this oncoming disaster, which God in his wisdom may not turn aside from us?” President Clark then set forth these inspired basic principles of the Church welfare program:

“First, and above and beyond everything else, let us live righteously. … Let us avoid debt as we would avoid a plague; where we are now in debt, let us get out of debt; if not today, then tomorrow.  Let us straitly and strictly live within our incomes, and save a little.

Let every head of every household see to it that he has on hand enough food and clothing, and, where possible, fuel also, for at least a year ahead. You of small means put your money in foodstuffs and wearing apparel, not in stocks and bonds; you of large means will think you know how to care for yourselves, but I may venture to suggest that you do not speculate. Let every head of every household aim to own his own home, free from mortgage. Let every man who has a garden spot, garden it; every man who owns a farm, farm it.” (Conference Report, April 1937, p. 26.)

There are blessings in being close to the soil, in raising your own food, even if it is only a garden in your yard and/or a fruit tree or two. Man’s material wealth basically springs from the land and other natural resources. Combined with his human energy and multiplied by his tools, this wealth is assured and expanded through freedom and righteousness. Those families will be fortunate who, in the last days, have an adequate supply of each of these particulars.”

 Healthful foods, proper rest, adequate exercise, and a clean conscience can prepare us to tackle the trials that lie ahead.”

 
 
When you buy dried fruit, what do YOU do with it?  For a long time we mostly just ate it straight, as a snack.  The exception was raisins, which occasionally got thrown into oatmeal cookies, cinnamon rolls, or hot cereal.   So how do I use dried fruit now?  We still love to snack on it, but I use it several other ways, too-

·
        
as part of trail mix- any dried fruit is great
·         granola- think beyond raisins- cherries, figs, dates, papaya, apricots.
·         cooked with hot cereal, especially with a nuts and a little spice- often you won't need any extra sweetener
·         stirred into yogurt (unsweetened or flavored)
·         as a ‘fruit compote’-  reconstituted and served in the soaking liquid, especially with a little cardamom or cinnamon added
·         sprinkled into salad- try dried cranberries, strawberries, cherries, diced dried pear or apple. For an extra kick, soak the fruit in balsamic vinegar or any kind of citrus juice
·         throw into a smoothie
·         soaked and put in yeast bread- my favorite sweet bread  adds snipped apricots, pecans, and diced candied orange peel .
·         fruit cake.  Homemade.  This is entirely a different animal than those artificially-colored and –flavored ones from the store.  Use a rich butter, egg, and brown sugar base.  My favorite combo is dried apricots, pecans, and diced (homemade) candied orange peel.  Sometimes with raisins.
·         soaked (or not) and snipped into quickbreads or muffins.  Maple-fig-walnut is really good.
·         Reconstituted and baked into pie, cobbler, or crisp. 
·         soaked and run through the blender as a puree- use in cakes, muffins, breads to increase moisture and sweetness.  You can usually reduce the fat in the recipe by the same amount as you added of puree.
·         pureed (as above); use as a fruit sauce on pancakes, waffles, cake, or icecream.     You can even make this puree into jam. 
·         mixed into cookies.  Favorite-ever recipe is at the bottom of this post.

_____________________________________________
When should you soak the fruit?    Do this when you are adding it to anything that depends on moisture- if you add it unsoaked to breads or anything else baked, the fruit will soak itself while the food cooks- taking liquid away from the dough or batter.  This leads to tougher baked goods.  For this reason,  I prefer to soak raisins before swirling them inside cinnamon rolls or raisin bread.   You can also soak it anytime you want the fruit softer and less chewy, as in salads.  Don’t add soaked fruit to granola (unless you’re going to eat it immediately); moisture in granola can cause mold.

When you’re reconstituting dried fruit, don’t expect it to look and feel just like fresh.  Drying breaks down cell walls some, so the reconstituted fruit will more closely resemble the cooked version.  (In other words, reconstituted apples will NOT be crunchy.)

How do you reconstitute the fruit?  Soak it:  boiling water works fastest, but will kill any enzymes remaining in the fruit.  Cold water works, but takes about three times as long.  Warm water is a happy medium.  Plan on 5-30 minutes when using hot water, 10-60 minutes for warm, or 30 minutes plus for cold water.  Times will vary depending on the hardness of your water (soft water works faster), how old the fruit is, how dried-out it is, if it’s sweetened (sweeter=longer), and how big the pieces are.   Use only enough water to barely cover the fruit; using more will rob the fruit of more of its sweetness.  Save the soaking liquid; use it in the recipe if you can.  I love to drink it… this can also be used as a pancake syrup.   If you find you’re sensitive to the sulfur dioxide that some fruits are treated with (to improve  color and shelf life), draining and discarding the liquid can remove some of this preservative.   

______________________________________________________ 

If dried until crisp, the fruit can be turned into a powder, using a blender, food processor, or coffee grinder. Use in any recipe you want fruit flavor- baking, hot cereal, smoothies, and more. What about shelf life?- it's best within 1 year; quite a bit longer if oxygen-free, cool and dark.  When not at its best, it's still food!

______________________________________________________
 

Here’s the recipe for one of my favorite cookies.  Ever.  A friend of mine who DOESN’T LIKE COOKIES loves these!   They’re  good without the glaze, but adding that last little kick of flavor (and eye appeal) elevates them to fantastic.   You could substitute dried chopped tart cherries for the apricots.  (If you add chocolate chips to that variation, leave off the glaze; it’d be overkill.  Unless maybe you’re drizzling melted chocolate!)


Chewy Apricot-Almond Oatmeal Cookies

1 c. butter, softened
¾ c. brown sugar
½ c. (granulated) sugar
1 egg
½ tsp. almond extract
1 c. flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 ½ c. regular or quick-cooking oats
6 oz. (1 c.) dried apricots, snipped
½ c. finely chopped almonds (toast first for best flavor)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Beat butter until almost smooth.  Add sugars and beat until fluffy.  Mix in egg and almond extract,  beat well.  Add flour and baking soda and mix.  Fold in oats, apricots, and almonds.  Add 2 tsp. water if needed.

Scoop by heaping teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheets.  Bake about 8-10 minutes or until just brown around edges.  The centers should still look wet, they continue to cook internally for the next twenty minutes.  Let cookies cool on tray for one minute, then remove to a cooling rack. Drizzle almond glaze on them in a criss-cross pattern.  This is really fast when you put the cookies close together and drizzle them with long sweeping lines.

 Glaze:
2 c. powdered sugar
½ tsp. almond extract
2-3 Tbsp. water

Mix to get a good drizzling consistency.  Put glaze in a plastic baggie, poke or snip a small hole in it (how big depends on how thin your glaze is), and  drizzle this on the cookies.  Leftover glaze can be mixed into pancake or muffin batter, or used as a glaze on muffins. (Almond Poppyseed, anyone?)

 
 
Picture
Dried tart cherries: my favorite cherry for recipes.

Photo from Nutty Guys

Next week’s post will have several ideas for using dried fruit.
_____________________

Why buy, or make, dehydrated fruits?  My favorite reasons are that it preserves fruit without needing electricity (as in freezing), and it stores in a smaller space when compared to canning.  It also intensifies the flavors, allowing me to use it as a sweetener.  


If you’re buying them, how do you know what a good price is?  The simplest way is to judge by serving size.  One ounce of dried fruit is a serving, about equal in size to one medium fresh apple or peach.  If a one-pound can of dried apples costs
$5.75/lb (which it does at the Home Storage Center), that means you’re paying about 35 cents per apple.   If you want to figure how that compares with price per pound fresh, 25 lbs of fresh apples reduce down to about 4 lbs.    4/25 of 1 lb @$5.75= .92/lb fresh apple price.    

For other fruits, a fairly good estimate is 1 lb very-dried fruit = 5 lbs fresh; most fruits are somewhere around 80% water to begin with.  1 lb moist-dried fruit = 3 lbs. fresh, figuring about 2/3 of the water has been evaporated away.   This isn’t exact, but is close, and is simple enough to remember and use.  Dried blueberries (moist) at $ 12.30/lb are like paying $ 4.04/lb for fresh, or about $ 1.53 for a 6-oz clamshell.  It costs around four dollars a pound to buy frozen blueberries, plus then I pay to run the freezer at home. Twelve bucks a pound sounds expensive, but it’s about half  the price of fresh around here.  They’re definitely worth having some on hand.  Just keep them out of reach of the kids, or you won’t have any left!

If you live anywhere around Salt Lake City, you can get ‘returns’ at Nutty Guys’ warehouse for $1.50 per one-pound bag (of anything they sell).  Returns are anything that didn’t sell within their 6-7-month “sell by” date; they get returned to the warehouse.  Returns are unpredictable, you never know what will be there on the shelf, but they make for incredible bargains.  Dried fruit is considered at its peak for one year.  You can extend this by keeping it sealed, dark, and cool.  This is something at its best when rotated regularly.
_____________________

Here’s one way to use dried tart cherries;  I always get them cheapest from Nutty Guys. (Returns shelf, hooray!)  I created this recipe for a bake-off at the state fair a few years ago.  The ingredients sound strange together, but, boy, are they good.  The balsamic vinegar accentuates the chocolate and adds brightness to the cherry.    (The recipe took 1st place.)  These are like a very dark, intense truffle, with bits of sweet-tart, chewy cherry.  They take only five minutes to mix.

CHERRY-CHOCOLATE BLISS BITES

1/4 cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 (4 oz) bar Ghirardelli 60% cocoa bittersweet chocolate, broken*

Place dried cherries in a small microwavable bowl; pour in balsamic vinegar and almond extract. Microwave 30 seconds to help plump the cherries; set aside.

Microwave condensed milk 45 seconds or until hot but not boiling. Add chocolate and stir until mostly smooth. Add cherry mixture. Stir until well combined.

Pour into a loaf pan or other 2 cup container, bottom lined with parchment. Chill in freezer for 15 minutes or in refrigerator for 45 minutes until set.

Cut into squares or roll into balls.    This recipe can be doubled or tripled.

*Any semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (bar or chips) can be substituted.  Try to get something around 60% cocoa solids.  I used Ghirardelli’s because that was who sponsored the contest.  If you quadruple the batch, you’ll use the whole can of sweetened condensed milk (1 1/3 c.) and one whole pound of chocolate.


 
 
Picture
What is this weed? 

Learn from a free, full-color weed guidebook online.

Photo courtesy USU Extension

One of the secrets to good gardening is knowing what you're dealing with.  This applies to pests, soil, weeds, fertilizers, plants, growing seasons, and more.  This week I found two great resources to help you with a couple of these.  I'm especially excited about a guidebook, Common Weeds of the Yard and Garden, from the USU Extension office.  It's a FREE, 220-page guide with photos, plant descriptions, information on how to manage the weed, and any historical uses it has had, whether medicinal or edible.  If you want a hard copy, either print it out yourself, or contact the USU Extension Office.  Their information is included in the guidebook.

In case the link above deoesn't work, you can get it at http://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/publication/Horticulture_Weeds_2011-02pr.pdf

Understanding Fertilizer  is a quick-to-read, one-page article about the basics of fertilizers. 

And just for good measure, here is a l
ist of 50+ free cooking/baking e-books from
The Prepared Pantry
http://www.preparedpantry.com/Free-cooking-baking-recipe-e-books.htm 

Did you know the plant in the photo above?  It's Common Mallow.  My kids call the little round seeds "cheesies" and love to eat them.  Every part of this plant is edible, and the 'cheesies' can even be used to make meringue and marshmallows. (There are recipes for these in Edible Wild Plants, by John Kallas.  He also has a website, http://www.wildfoodadventures.com)

Have a happy day!

 
 
Picture
Rescuing food can help you rescue your food budget, too.  The average American family wastes about 15% of the food they bring home.  How much money could you save?

There are sites online, like stilltasty.com, that list the shelf life of foods.  One problem with them, though: the sites give the 'best by' information.  This means the manufacturer can guarantee the food is at peak quality and nutrition.  Food doesn't automatically spoil after that; it's generally a slow deterioration.  You control the speed of it, by the amount light, heat, oxygen, and moisture/humidity your storage conditions have.  Because of this, all charts tend to give very conservative numbers in case storage conditions are less than ideal.  Store something in the dark, where it's cool, and you can easily double its stated shelf life. 
Another type of date you'll find on products is the 'sell by' date.  Dairy and eggs are two products that have this.  This date assumes you'll take a little longer to actually eat the food, so the 'sell by' date is about a week earlier than the 'best by' date.


Higher-fat items go rancid sooner.   Watch for that.  How can you tell if it, or anything else has passed its useful life?  Smell it.  Your eyes, nose, and tongue can tell you a lot.  Use common sense; if it smells bad or has gone moldy or foamy, there's no need to taste!!  And if you are feeding people with low immune systems, err on the side of caution.

If a can squirts at you when you open it, that can be an indication of botulism growth.  Boil the contents for 10 minutes.  If food has started eating through the can, well, I wouldn't eat it unless I was starving.  Even then, I might not.  But the sealed Mason jar of peaches from ten years ago that you just found at the back of a shelf?  Yeah, they've turned an interesting peachy-brown. Puree them and use as the liquid in a cake, make a smoothie, or some other creative use.  Is ten years old ideal?  No, of course not.  You'll get better nutrition if you're rotating the food more often than that.  But older food is still... food.  Use it.

 
Cutting Food Waste at Home

 
My #1 tip! Before you cook dinner, look in the fruit basket, crisper drawer, fridge shelves, or freezer to see what needs used up first.  Use that in your meal.  Be creative if you have to.



·         My #2 tip!  Don’t waste what’s on your plate.  If you have small children, serve them very small servings (a couple of bites) of just a couple foods. Use a small plate.  They only get seconds on anything after the firsts are eaten.  As my kids hear, “Firsts of everything before seconds of anything.”  They can learn to eat everything on their plate if the servings are small enough.  When they’re older, progress in the teaching by letting them learn to serve themselves small/reasonable portions.  If they have leftover food (either at home or eating out), SAVE it for the next meal; they “get to” eat that before any new food. 

·         Freeze leftovers.  You get instant dinners for later! 

·         Use leftovers as a ‘variety pack’ meal: put all the leftovers on the table, and let everyone choose which they like best.  Or pack them for take-to-work (or school) lunches.

·         Keep a bag in the freezer for celery tops, mushroom stems, bits of raw or cooked meat, leftover oatmeal, whatever odds and ends you have.  When the bag is full, make it into soup.

·         When you have heels or crusts of bread, leftover toast, or stale bread, add it to a bag in the freezer.  Use it when you need breadcrumbs, or to make bread pudding, poultry stuffing, or bread salad.  I also save the breadcrumbs from when I slice homemade bread.

·         Trim away bad spots, eat the rest.  Brown edges on lettuce can be trimmed away, same with black on cabbage, mold on apples or strawberries, etc.

·         Chop shriveled apples or other fruit and mix them into muffin batter.  Or make smoothies.  Find some way to use the food where looks don’t matter.

·         Freeze overripe bananas to use in recipes and smoothies.  For simplicity's sake, peel before freezing. 

·         when you have so much of something that it will spoil before you can use it all, freeze it, dry it, or bottle it.

·         Moldy cheese?  Trim off the mold, use the rest or shred and freeze it.


 
For other ways to save money on food, see the post from Feb. 3, 2011.


When should you throw out food?

My general guidelines are to throw it out if it is:
-foaming (unless it's bread dough or batter, or if you're fermenting something intentionally),
-molding (except for cheese, and small bits on fruit or vegetables),
-turning slimy,
-developing unusual colors, or
-smells bad.


  
Learning how to tell when food is still good can really help out your budget.  We waste huge amounts of food here in the US, the average family of four throws away just under $600 in food AT HOME per year!  (See http://uanews.org/node/10448)   And total food waste, from the field to your stomach, runs between 40-50%.  Really.  

This higher number includes the following steps:

·         cultivation
·         harvest
·         storage/processing/packing/transport
·         supermarkets
·         consumption (restaurants/schools/home waste)

As a side note, so you don't think the US should be singled out for condemnation, total waste percentages are about the same in undeveloped countries- but they lose more between the field and the store, and less at home.  (See http://www.siwi.org/documents/Resources/Policy_Briefs/PB_From_Filed_to_Fork_2008.pdf,  pages 18-23)