Thursday, October 27, 2011

Candy Corn

For the last 3 years we have been making our own candy corn. Conventional candy corn is often filled with chemical dyes, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, and gelatin all things we avoid in our house. Although it is quite a process to make candy corn (the shaping and cutting is the longest part) it is well worth it. I must say it tastes so much better then store bought and it has the added bonus of not having any nasty chemicals.
Next year I think I am going to increase the honey and decrease the agave (which is really just a very processed sugar just like corn syrup). 

Candy Corn
2 1/3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
Pinch of salt

1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup agave nectar or corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla
5 tbs butter
1 cup sugar –the candy corn base will turn out the color of the sugar
Use white sugar for a real white base, turbinado sugar for a slightly off white base, and rapadura sugar for a brown base.

Natural food coloring

Sift together the powdered sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Set aside.
In a saucepan combine the agave, honey, vanilla, butter, and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.
Reduce heat to medium and continue to boil for 5 min, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.
Add the sugar/cornstarch mixture to the agave/honey mixture. Mix well until fully incorporated a whisk works well. 
Let sit for 20 minutes or until slightly warm and easy to handle.
Place the dough on a large sheet of wax paper or other nonstick surface.
Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Add food coloring to one section of dough at a time. Kneading the dough to work in the color until it is evenly distributed and the dough is smooth. Repeat with the other 2 pieces. If leaving a section white knead it until it is smooth but do not add any color.
Most Halloween candy corn is white, orange, and yellow but you can use any colors you like. 
Roll the dough into long ropes, dividing them as needed so the ropes are easy to handle.
Line up the dough with the other colors and gently squeeze them together to form a long rectangle.
Using a sharp knife cut the rectangle into triangles. The tips will alternate colors.
Smooth out the edges and dust or roll in cornstarch to make them a bit less sticky.
Lay them out in a single layer on a surface lightly dusted with cornstarch. If possible let them sit for 24 hours to dry out. Not many of mine ever make it this long! 

*The dough can be used to make any shape you want- Try making little orange pumpkins out of the dough or just break off little pieces and roll them in to a ball for a much quicker way to make little candies.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ground Lentils

I am not a fan of the fake meats. They are overly processed and completely unnatural plus I do not like meat or anything that is suppose to taste like meat. I do want to add more protein to our diet and my husband is a meat eater so I am working on some more meat like vegetarian substitutes. So this is my ground beef substitute it passes our families picky taste buds and has become a regular addition in our recipes.

Ground Lentils
½ cup Barley
1 ½ cups water

1 cup lentils
2 ½ cups water

1 cup walnuts
1 tbs soy sauce*

Place lentils and barley in 2 separate pots with water. Bring both pots to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to med/low. Simmer lentils for 45 min and barley for 35 min or until most to all of the water is gone. Grind the walnuts in a food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients to the food processor. Pulse the mixture until well mixed, do not over mix you want it chunky not pureed. Spread the lentil/barley mixture into a large shallow pan and bake at 350º for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to evenly dehydrate mixture. Remove from oven when the mixture is very dry. Depending on how you want to use the mixture you may want it to be slightly moist.
I make it very dry when I am adding it to sauces but more moist if I want to make tacos with it.
Store the ground lentils in the fridge for a week or freeze in portion sized containers for 3-4 months. 

 *Try adding other spices, onion, or garlic to the mixture.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Ricotta Cheese

I can not beleive how easy it was to make Ricotta cheese. Another recipe that is super easy and will save me a lot of money, just like the yogurt. This is delicious with a little honey or fruit and wonderful in Lasagna!

Ricotta Cheese
1/2 gallon Whole Milk
4tbs Vinegar
1/2 tsp Salt

Heat the milk and vinegar slowly, in a crock pot on low or over the stove in a heavy bottom pan on med low, until it reaches 180º. Be sure to use a thermometer to check the temperature. Slowly heating the milk should take about 30min-1hr.

Remove the milk from heat, or unplug the crockpot and let sit covered for about 2 hours until curds form. It will look like one big curd. Drain the milk mixture in a colander lined with cheese cloth. Drain for several hours until most of the liquid is gone. I like to drain the cheese over a large pot. The whey is great for cooking, use it in place of water in breads, rice, or most other recipes where you want to add a little more nutrients. 
Break the large curds into smaller pieces add 1/2 tsp salt or more depending on your tastes. Store the ricotta in the fridge for a week or freeze for cooking later. It will not unfreeze with exactly the same texture but it is still great for adding to baked items like lasagna. 

Ricotta makes a very yummy snack and can be used in the same way you would use cottage cheese. 

Thursday, October 6, 2011


We love yogurt around here and for years we have been buying the large tubs of plain whole milk organic yogurt. I like plain  because there is nothing unneeded like colors, dyes, sugar, or flavorings in it, plus it is a lot less expensive. We love to make our own flavors with things like honey, vanilla, maple syrup, fruit preserves or homemade syrups. The kids love it with just a bit of honey but if you name the flavor we will come up with a way to make it. 

Recently though I started reading about making my own yogurt. This week I finally tried it and I was shocked at how easy it was and how much money I will save. I can make organic yogurt for 1/4 the cost of buying it!
Here is one of the best sites I found for detailed information on yogurt making.

Note: After 4 years of yogurt making I have added some extra notes and changes to this post from 2011. 
1/2 gallon whole milk*
2 tbs yogurt*

Crockpot Method:
Place the milk in a crock pot on low for 2 hours. You want the milk to reach 180-190º if you have a thermometer check the temperature. Unplug the crock pot and let cool slowly till 110º about 3 hrs. Again checking the temp is a good idea too hot and the cultures will die, too cold and they will not grow. 
Remove 1/2 cup of the milk and mix well with the yogurt. Then stir the milk yogurt mixture into the crockpot of milk, whisking helps to mix it in thoroughly. Wrap the crock pot insert in a thick towel and place in the oven with just the light on. The slight warmth from the light is suppose to help to keep the yogurt warm. Let the pot sit in the oven for about 8 hours (overnight is best).

Stove/Dehydrator Method:
Heat the yogurt on the stove using a thermometer to measure heat. Remove the milk from the stove when it reaches 180º. Let the milk cool until it reaches 110º. Be sure to use a thermometer to check the temp if it is too hot the cultures will die. Whisk the yogurt into the milk. Be sure to mix it well. 

Poor the milk into glass containers, quart size canning jars work well for this. Place lids on the jars and put them in a dehydrator set at 100-110º. Let it sit in the dehydrator for 12-24 hrs. 

When Finished the yogurt should be warm and thick. Eat it warm or pour into containers and refrigerate. It will keep for about 1-2 weeks in the fridge. I found it to be exactly the same as the store bought yogurt but some have said it seems slightly thinner. Be sure to save 2 tbs for your next batch. 
Over the years I have used many different yogurt starters and a few different types of milk. Both can make a difference in your final product. Using a really good pasture raised milk produces a better yogurt. You may need to experiment to find what you like best. 

I also froze some to see how it would defrost I will update with results when I defrost it. 
Update- It did not defrost well. The yogurt seemed to separate and was no longer creamy. I strained it through a cheese cloth though and made yogurt cheese which was very tangy and yummy!

* Be sure to use only milk that is not ultra-pasteurized and yogurt that contains live and active cultures.  If you are using Raw milk (the best) there is no need to preheat it. I find you get a thicker yogurt though if you heat raw milk to 110º before adding the yogurt culture. 

For a thicker yogurt
You can place the yogurt in a colander lined with cheese cloth to drain out some of the liquid for a thicker yogurt. Or drain out almost all of the liquid for a creamy yogurt cheese. 
Alternativly you can add extra cream to your milk when you are heating it for a thicker yogurt without straining.