Canning (aka I am not Caroline Ingalls)

Canning (aka I am not Caroline Ingalls)

I have never really been much of a “live off the land” kind of girl. Sure, I love the romanticism of Laura Ingalls Wilder… making salt pork for winter and tossing around the pig’s bladder like a balloon. (Really?) But when it comes down to it, I like big cities, and grocery stores where you can get lobster in Iowa and watermelon year-round.

At one point in our lives, we lived in Michigan – a state where you only have to look at the ground and some fabulous fruit tree or berry bush will sprout up before you. (If you’ve never been to Traverse City, plan a trip this summer. If you like food, you won’t be disappointed.) While we lived there, I mentioned (or maybe my husband did) that canning some of this fabulous produce would be a good idea, but I had no idea where to start. Enter my pretty amazing mother-in-law, who made sure that this was in my stocking the next Christmas:

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Fast forward about eight years, to this week, when we got it out of the box. Of course, now we live in a much less fertile place, where we couldn’t get basil to grow in pots on our porch. But one bright spot of this region is that there are blackberries everywhere. My husband, Will, bikes and hikes with the ninjas often, and found numerous blackberry bushes along the paths. So one morning, before I had even finished my first cup of french roast, they set off with buckets and bug repellent in search of blackberry treasure.

I wish I could claim the excellent idea of trying our hand at canning – but it was all Will. I had always kept the canning set (pictured above) in a handy place in the kitchen, because I always thought that someday soon I would use it. But it took a huge bucket of fresh, wild blackberries (and a husband willing to take a turn with the ninjas’ cooking lesson) to actually do it!

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This was only half of the harvest – we had to save some to eat fresh!

The recipe we used was from the book pictured above, and it’s a pretty basic preserves recipe so I’ll let you find your own. But the process was fun, and not nearly like the exploding-jars-glass-and-scalding-hot-fruit-everywhere image I had in mind.

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So. Much. Sugar. I’d like to experiment with some honey or lower-sugar options, too!
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Mark got a lesson in stirring gently. Chase was much more interested in playing with the tools than canning. I can’t blame him, they are pretty cool.

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The result? One jar of preserves. And it was cooked a little longer than ideal, so it’s kind of the texture of gummy bears. BUT…. the entire process was pretty fun, simple, and definitely worth trying again.

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Another happy surprise that came out of this blackberry episode was the discovery of this ice cream at Aldi. Do you shop at Aldi? If not, you are missing out. Great prices on lots of natural and organic foods. This ice cream is easily the best I’ve ever tasted in the town we live in, and it has five ingredients, all of which I can pronounce. Try it. You will thank me.

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Does your family do canning? What kinds of foods to you enjoy preserving? Any tips for the ninjas and I? I’d love to hear them in the comments below! We need all the help we can get!


Hey, friends! Due to Facebook’s increasingly frustrating algorithms, most of you who liked our Facebook page are not seeing the updates. They want me to pay for you to see them, and as I don’t make any money from this blog, that is a financial impossibility. So would you do me a favor? Would you choose to “get notifications” for our page? I promise I won’t overwhelm you and that way you won’t miss a thing. Thanks in advance!

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A “Pressing” Project: The Tortilla (Mis)adventure

A “Pressing” Project: The Tortilla (Mis)adventure

Well, friends, I told you when I started this blogging project that I would share everything – the good, the bad and the ugly. I must confess that yesterday was NOT my favorite day. Despite the happy faces you see in the pictures, this adventure lasted ALL DAY and cost me my sanity. Well, at least for the day. The majority of my sanity has returned this morning and I have lived to tell you the tale of the tortilla (mis)adventure.

Tortillas have always been a staple in our home. Whatever we had for dinner last night gets put on a tortilla, sprinkled with cheese, and made into a quesadilla for lunch. (Meat loaf quesadillas, anyone?) Because we eat a lot of them, I like to make sure the ones we buy are the healthiest possible. Unfortunately, organic, or even all natural tortillas are not available in the supermarkets in the city we live in. Have you ever looked at the ingredients on a package of tortillas? On the ones we have in our deli drawer right now, there are fifteen. FIFTEEN?! Most of those are unpronounceable. I always knew the basic ingredients of a tortilla were very simple, so I thought (ever so foolishly), “What a great project to do with the boys!” I had grand visions of delicious, handmade tortillas that I would make once a month and freeze. I would be saving money and putting healthy food in my family’s bellies (Hello, mom of the year!)

This, my friends, will NOT be my reality. And so the adventure begins….

Our first stop on Wednesday morning was to the local Mexican Grocery Store. This is, by far, is the best part of our adventure. There we met Miguel, a very nice man who will become a friend of our family, I’m certain. (If I were a more dedicated blogger, you’d be looking at a picture of Miguel. I’m too self-conscious to ask strangers for pictures, so you’ll have to use your imagination.) We needed a tortilla press (a tool used to flatten the balls of tortilla dough), and although they were out of stock, the conversation was more than worth our time. He asked me why we were making tortillas and what we were making them with. He gave me some tips, and told me that his store offered made-from-scratch Mexican street tacos every Thursday afternoon. He also showed me the homemade tortillas available in the freezer that he claimed were the best available. Our discussion turned to our time in Bolivia, which led to him offering to order some frozen Maracuya (Passion Fruit) pulp that I miss so much from our time there.

I’m so glad I have a time machine, and I can go back to that moment and say, “Ok, great! Well, I will completely abandon this homemade tortilla idea and just buy the ones that very gifted culinary artisans with years of experience have made instead!” Oh, wait. My time machine is in the shop. So the adventure continued.

We found a tortilla press at another store, so we bought it, went home, and immediately got to work (ironically, after a lunch of store-bought tortillas and turkey).

We decided to make both corn and flour tortillas, partly because of the aforementioned temporary insanity, and partly because my husband prefers flour and they really hold up better for leftover quesadillas.

Below are the three (THREE) ingredients used in corn tortillas:

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The Masa de Harina is a great product. I already had it in my pantry for thickening soup.

We mixed by hand. This was pretty fun for the ninjas.

And this was the completed corn tortilla dough, which had to sit for an hour.

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While the corn tortilla dough sat, we started the flour dough. Again, such simple ingredients:

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The recipe called for a stand mixer for this one, so after working on our measuring skills, we whipped up the flour tortilla dough in a jiffy.

We cut the dough into equal parts, rolled it into balls, and then the fun part: pressing it with our new tortilla press! (For a fun instructional video by Ninja Chase, see our Facebook page.)

Here’s where it gets a little hairy: the cooking process. Seems simple enough: heat your pan over medium high heat, cook the tortilla dough for 30 seconds to one minute on each side, and voila! You are supermom.

Only:

  • I couldn’t get the temperature right.
  • So I may have ruined my favorite ceramic coated nonstick pan.
  • So I switched to my best stainless steel pan.
  • Which I also may have ruined.

Plus:

  • All the tortillas were different sizes.
  • Due to the extreme heat of the pan, I was a nervous wreck with the kids at the stove and I got very controlling and irritable.

And in addition:

  • The Ninjas are “totally over it” by this point.
  • So they are arguing.
  • And the kitchen is a floury disaster.
  • And it’s in the mid-nineties.
  • And I’m standing over a really hot pan.
  • Over. And over. And over.

The results were fair. The flavor of the tortillas was okay, but the tortilla press didn’t get them thin enough so they were more like pita bread. Some were doughy, some were scorched. (The process was very similar with the corn tortilla dough, so I will spare you the details.)

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After all the frustration and drama of this day, I realized my husband would be home in an hour and I still had to plan and make dinner. I knew I had to redeem the day somehow by incorporating these oddly sized and shaped, doughy/scorched pita-like “tortillas” into the meal. I had two chicken breasts thawed in the fridge that needed to be eaten, so after a quick Pinterest search I came up with this recipe. I had my handsome husband run by the store to pick up some ripe avocados, and an hour later, this was on the table.

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It was pretty good. And I got the head nod from Will, which is his highest form of culinary flattery.

In conclusion, I am pretty sure I will be making monthly trips to our closest Whole Foods (about two hours away) to stock up on tortillas. But I am happy that we met Miguel, and that we have a source for some really great Latin American ingredients.

Anyone want to buy a tortilla press?


Hey, friends! Due to Facebook’s increasingly frustrating algorithms, most of you who liked our Facebook page are not seeing the updates. They want me to pay for you to see them, and as I don’t make any money from this blog, that is a financial impossibility. So would you do me a favor? Would you choose to “get notifications” for our page? I promise I won’t overwhelm you and that way you won’t miss a thing. Thanks in advance!

Ninja Fuel for Fighting Bad Guys

Ninja Fuel for Fighting Bad Guys

Is it just me, or does anyone else find it difficult to get their kids filled up at mealtime? It seems that there’s a constant chorus of “I’m still hungry, mom!” or “Is it almost lunchtime?” (At 9:30 a.m.).

We do our best to fill up our kids with real food. But a lot of the time, that means fruits and veggies for snacks, which are great, but don’t really fill them up. That’s why I’m really excited to share this recipe with you today!

Not too long ago, I started following two amazing ladies who are gifted bloggers. Their work has multiplied into two blogs: Grounded and Surrounded, featuring Sammi, and Sarah Koontz.com, featuring Sarah. These are two beautiful ladies, inside and out. Sammi will feed your belly, and Sarah will feed your heart. If you are looking for something inspiring in your inbox or news feed, I highly recommend following both of them!

Like I said, Sammi  will feed your belly. She created this recipe for homemade granola bars , and I knew they had to be on our Silly Ninja summer menu.

Our first step was measuring out the dry ingredients.

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The recipe lists the liquid ingredients first, but since I rarely have the wherewithal to remember to take a stick a butter out of the fridge to soften, we had to improvise. Thankfully, it’s in the mid-nineties here and so it didn’t take long to get soft butter.

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Yes, that is our back patio. Worked like a charm.

This particular recipe didn’t have anything to cut (until the final product), so it wasn’t an exercise in knife skills today. But it did have a lot of ingredients, so we really tried to focus on the math of cooking… the measuring and fractions.

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“Show me the one-quarter cup, Chase!”

The ninjas really did well remembering things like “one quarter is half of one half” and “four fourths is the same as one”. Thanks to some really fun and smart mom on Pinterest (what would the rest of us do without you, fun Pinterest mom?) , I discovered a really easy way to teach kids about fractions: Legos.

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The gray Lego represents one whole, which is four dots, so the red Lego must represent half, which is two dots. Using this method they were easily able to show me what one fourth was. Genius, Pinterest Mom. Genius.

Let me stop for a minute here and share a very happy surprise that came from this recipe: The combination of liquid ingredients. If you haven’t checked out the recipe  for these yet, the liquid ingredients consist of softened butter, honey, peanut butter (I used crunchy), and vanilla.

Y’all. (Sorry, I go a little southern when it’s really, really good.) This is better than caramel sauce. I wish I could show you a picture of the look on our faces when we all had a spoon of the stuff, but the sheer euphoria we experienced caused me to momentarily forget the blog process. I want this on apples, drizzled over ice cream, and by itself with a big spoon if that’s what it takes to get in my belly.

After enjoying this for probably longer than we should have, we decided it would be good to finish the recipe and add the dry ingredients.

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I don’t usually buy the small chocolate chips, but they are a must for this recipe.

Then came the best part of all: the messy part.

The kids loved pressing the dough down into the pan, trying to get it as flat as possible on top. Note: Sammi intended for us to use an 8×8 pan for this recipe. Knowing it would be great, I doubled the recipe and used a 9×13. I wouldn’t recommend this, as the bars were a little thicker than intended. I’d use two 8×8 pans next time. 

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Gotta love the laundry in the background. This is real life, folks.

After baking, and enjoying the house smelling like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, our creation looked like this:

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We let them cool, cut them into bars, and: Ta-Da! I like to call this “Money in the Bank.”

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The ninjas LOVED them. I’m sure with all the nutritious and hearty grains and seeds in them (not to mention some delicious chocolate chips), they won’t be asking for additional snacks!

Please remember to check out this recipe and so many other delicious options at Grounded and Surrounded!


Extra Credit!

Mark took a marathon nap this week on a day that Chase didn’t nap at all. (We’re dealing with our first year in a new city and acclimating to the allergens, which hasn’t been fun.) We decided to do an extra little cooking project, just Chase and I: Breakfast Cookies.

Mark (the older Ninja) is pretty good with a whisk, but this project gave Chase a chance to practice by himself. As you can see, an excellent tip for cooking with kids is to use a sheet pan under your work bowl.

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The tool we practiced with for this recipe was my beloved ♥ Pampered Chef cookie scoop. I use it almost every day for something, and I wish I had five more in all different sizes. It worked great for making these little cookies, which seemed to bake very slowly while they were being watched….

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These turned out great for a quick breakfast-on-the-go, or a “this will hold you over until mommy finishes her coffee” snack.

This recipe comes courtesy of 100 Days of Real Food, another one of my favorites. If you want to start your family on a path of eating Real Food (not diet food), both 100 Days of Real Food and Grounded and Surrounded are a great place to start!

 

When Life Gives You Lemons…

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Well, it’s VBS week around here. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Vacation Bible School, it’s a full week of crazy fun for kids of all ages and a LOT of planning for a LOT of adults. IMG_4165[1]

For us, that means we wanted to keep our first Silly Ninja cooking challenge a little simple. Since we’re at the start of summer 2016, we figured making fresh lemonade would be a simple and fun way to embark on our cooking adventure. Before the squeezing and tasting began, however, I needed a little caffeinated beverage to get me through the project (we’re introverts around here and we usually nap in the afternoons of VBS week!)

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My “very fancy” afternoon coffee drink consists of leftover morning coffee with a splash of coconut milk. 

My idea of what lemonade means has changed in recent years. I’ve always been a fan of the sweet and sour beverage (Chik-fil-A’s version is hard to beat) and during both my pregnancies it was my most common craving. But my world changed in 2013 when our family entered the mission field in Bolivia. We went to a small restaurant and ordered a “limonada”, and what we received changed the way we will always think of this summer drink. It was thick and frothy, and very sweet, but with just enough sour to make it taste refreshing. This was like nothing we’d ever had, and we were ruined forever.

When we chose lemonade for our first Silly Ninja challenge, I knew we had to recreate this delicious concoction. So after doing a little research, this is what we came up with:

First of all, this lemonade is made with limes, not lemons. Now, when I asked some Bolivian locals about this, they assured me that they were not limes, but green lemons. This could very well have been a misunderstanding due to the language barrier, but since we don’t have green lemons in the US and the recipe  I found called for limes, we went with it.

The first step is to cut the limes (after thoroughly washing them, of course) into eighths.

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This process allowed the boys to practice their knife skills. They are both doing great with the sharp knives, but the lime was a little harder to cut so I left this one to Mark, who is a little stronger.

Next, all the chunks of lime were put into the blender with simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water).

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My Ninja blender was thinking, “What? Sugar water? Where’s the kale?!”
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Mark did a great job making the simple syrup.

Next, we pulsed the lime/syrup mixture until it was frothy, and strained it into a container.

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Then comes the really decadent part…. we added sweetened condensed milk. (Yep.)

We put it back in the blender to make it nice and frothy, and it was time to taste.

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The verdict: so, so good. I can’t say it was EXACTLY like the heaven in a glass we had in Bolivia, and it’s possible it needs just a little more sour to balance the sweet. But it’s truly like nothing you’ve ever had (unless you’ve had limonada in South America!)

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If you haven’t had enough of lemonade adventures (gosh, thanks for reading this far!), we also decided to experiment with another variety of lemonade: honey lemonade.

This one more closely resembles your standard lemonade recipe, but instead of using simple syrup with sugar, we used one made with raw, local honey. The honey is dissolved in water, and added to fresh squeezed lemon juice.

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We had to squeeze about eight lemons, and this was a very tedious process with my little lemon squeezer. But it taught the boys how to use a new tool (and it taught them some patience, as well).

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The honey lemonade was great, although after doubling the honey in the recipe, it was still a little sour. As you can see, we experimented with a few other flavors:

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If you’re interested in making the recipes in this post, these are the ones we used:

Bolivian Lemonade: http://playzwithfood.com/home/brazilian-lemonade/

Honey Lemonade: https://www.naturenates.com/honey-recipes/honeylemonadewithberryminticecubes

Thanks so much for joining the Ninjas and I! We’re excited to have you along on the adventure. If you decide to cook along, please let us know how it goes!

Until next week…

-Johanna, Mark and Chase