Thursday, February 20, 2014

You're Nuts!

Wayyyyy back in the summer...remember that time of warmth and sunshine???...we were intrigued by a vendor at our local Farmer's Market.  What was it?  Hickory Nut Syrup.  We had never heard of it, but the second the sample hit our taste buds, we were hooked.  This stuff will knock your socks off with the intensely incredible taste that, in our opinions, far surpasses the taste of ANY real maple syrup we have ever eaten.

Confession time, there is quite a bit of pancake syrup use in our house.  Waffles are my dearest's favorite breakfast treat, so we have them or pancakes just about every weekend and sometimes on the occasional lazy cooking weeknight.  I like maple syrup the best, but Wes prefers pancake syrup, so we primarily use that and I reserve my stash of good maple syrup for use in homemade granola.  Neither of us are crazy about the HFCS in the pancake syrup, but none of the alternative recipes I have tried seem to taste that great, plus they involve the use of artificial flavorings so, not exactly how we want to roll.

Then we tasted this stuff and immediately shelled out (ha ha, pun intended) the $15 for a HALF PINT of this sweet elixir.  Sticker shock to the extreme, but worth it for the short term enjoyment.  The couple selling this crack yummy stuff, shared with us that it was made from local shagbark hickory nuts.  Hmmm, given my propensity towards investigating how to make stuff myself, perhaps divulging that tidbit was not very smart on their part!  WHOA NELLIE!!! We have a shagbark hickory right beside our garage.  The nuts are everywhere in the Fall.  In years past, before Chase the wonder dog German Shorthair Pointer was killed, he actually had a great time chomping on these nuts (and watching the squirrels).  It always amazed us to watch the ease with which he could chomp down and crush these incredibly hard nuts.

True to our nature, we decided to try making our own.  I set forth on the journey of finding out how to do this and Wes began trying to grab all the nuts before the squirrels could get them.  My search was fairly short.  Turns out there is a lot of information about making this syrup, but for some reason, it is not done by many people.  I had the easier task.  Wes gathered huge trays of nuts that we dried out over the winter, after he removed the outer hull.  The bowl of nuts sat taunting me...until this past weekend.

The "recipes" found online, never really gave definite numbers regarding how many cups/pounds of nuts, water or sugar to use.  What have we got to lose except the time from picking up and shelling nuts, some water and sugar?  So, I winged it and guessed and stirred and sniffed and sampled...and smiled!  Bingo!

What did a bowlful of nuts, some water and some sugar yield?  A grand total of 17 PINTS (and one lonely half pint) of deep brown, rich, sinful syrup.  Wow, nothing like making the Farmer's Market price equivalent of $525 worth of syrup in my own kitchen with my own ingredients in one afternoon.  It was really quite simple to do.  An interesting side note to this little adventure is that not only can the syrup be made from boiling the nuts/shells but also from the bark of this tree.  I think we are set for a while syrup-wise!

Here's the slightly vague, but really pretty simple 411 on how I did this:

Put 8 to 10 cups of cracked hickory nuts and shells into a large (mine was 16 quarts) stainless steel stock pot.  Fill the pot, to within about 3  to 4 inches from the top, with water.  Boil until reduced by nearly one half.  Drain solids out, saving only the liquid (I used a double layer of cheesecloth lining a fine mesh strainer and strained the liquid a second time).

Pour the liquid back into the stock pot and add sugar (about 1-1/2 cups of sugar per cup of liquid.  I used granulated white sugar, but brown sugar can also be used.  If I had had enough on hand, I would have used only raw sugar, but it is what it is...and certainly is NOT HFCS!)

Boil on medium for about 45 to 50 minutes at a temperature of 220 to 234 degrees...use a candy thermometer to monitor.  Add more sugar to help thicken, if needed.  Caution needs to be used to avoid adding an excessive amount of sugar as it can crystallize out once the syrup is processed and cooled.  

Pour syrup into warmed/sterilized jars and apply lids/bands according to standard canning practices, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.  

Easy peasy and super tasty!


Monday, February 17, 2014

Tattler Tale

A few months ago, I stumbled across Tattler lids while reading one of the many blogs I follow.  Intriguing.  A lid and seal that can be re-used for an incredibly long stretch of time.  Nothing to throw away and nothing new to buy each year, what a concept.  And then I saw the price and had an initial sticker shock reaction.  They are NOT cheap on the front end.  Or is it really a concern?

For a small order of only 48 lids/seals (24 each of wide mouth and regular mouth jars) it comes out to about $0.92 each.  Obviously, the more you order, the better the price.  Compare that to the metal canning lids you normally have to purchase every year at a price of about $0.20-.30 per lid every single year.  When you factor in the quantity that is required for an average year of canning, it does not take much time before the Tattler lids have drastically decreased in their cost and essentially have paid for themselves.

This past weekend, I decided to play around with the lids/seals I ordered to see if I liked them and could follow the directions correctly.  There is a little bit of a learning curve with these.

Like many other people, I buy a bag of potatoes and often have to throw out what is left because they get soft or sprouty.  So, what the heck...I've got potatoes and new lids to play with.

Easy peasy...a partial ten pound bag of potatoes yielded 6 quarts of canned potatoes (complete with cute lids) ready to open up and transform into mashed potatoes or get thrown into soups or stews with no waste.  Seems like a good idea to me!

Consider this a post about being a Tattler teller.  ***NO, I am not being compensated in any way, shape, or form (they have no clue who I am)...I just like these suckers and sharing nifty cool things is the nice thing to do!


Friday, February 14, 2014

Lamb Chops or Little Bits of Sweat

Some time ago, I purchased a smallish half rack of lamb rib chops.  They sat in my freezer taunting me for months.  What was I afraid of?  Well, there is that whole fear of the unknown.  I had tasted lamb once in my life that I can recall, and it was not a pleasurable experience.  So why the heck would I purposely buy lamb???  The best reason of all: to try to expand my palate and choices available for meals.

The burning question every time the freezer door was opened zoomed towards me:  what are you going to make from me and WHEN???  I was scared, people.  Scared of vacuum sealed itty bitty pricey rib chops that I did not want to screw up and have to throw out because they tasted like, well, like little bits of sweat.  All I saw when looking at them was Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory."  (Fast forward to around minute 1:33 for a glimpse into my head.)

I searched and searched for recipes.  I quizzed my friends.  Yet the little buggers continued to frighten me.  One lazy weekend morning, while watching some food shows and knitting happily, a yummy sounding recipe was shared for Asian Lollipop Lamb Chops.  Sounded incredible, so it got printed out and set aside until I could work up my courage to give it a go.  

What the heck took me so long???

Don't be afraid of the 3/4 CUP of fresh minced garlic in the marinade.  It is all for the good!

They smelled divine while cooking.

And, when paired up with sesame noodles, well all I can say is this a'int no little bit of sweat tasting meat.  We have a keeper here and I can proudly proclaim that I have now overcome my fear of lamb!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Miles and miles...

Every day that I commute to work, my knitting sits in my lap and the needles clack away.  It is beautiful uninterrupted knit time.

My constant companion...Knitting Bag:  don't leave home without it:

Yesterday, while we were traveling along, it occurred to me that there is a lot of mileage accomplished...not only on the road, but also on the needles.

Our daily work commute has a round trip total of 70+ miles.  It is no wonder the odometer on my SUV is soaring!  While contemplating this travel, it spurred me to consider how many miles of knitting I have done.

The math is quite interesting.  A mile is 1,760 yards.  The average sweater for an adult can range in yardage from 1400 to more than 2000 yards, depending on the size/style/features.  Holy Guacamole, my fingers have multiple marathons worth of knitting miles on them!

Too bad I haven't been able to figure out how to convert this knitting mileage into counting as an aerobic exercise...yet.


Friday, February 7, 2014

Breaking Mom...

I have a weakness, albeit a common Mom weakness, that overtakes my life sometimes.  My three sons.  Lordy, I love those boys and love spoiling them.  They are grown and doing their own thing literally all around the world.  So, when they say, "please, Mom, would you...", I am on it!  (remember the Converse Slippers??)

While we were in Florida for Christmas, Alex showed me a picture of a sweater he had seen online that was a "Breaking Bad" themed sweater.  All he had to do (and he knows it!) was show me the picture, flash his smile and blink those gorgeous eyes and it would be a done deal.  Dang, I really am that predictable!!!  Chris, chimed in with an "I want one too" and my fate was sealed.  Right about now, I am kind of glad that Wesley did not want one.

The thing with this request was it was going to involve A LOT of hours of prep work.  The sweater in question is a one of a kind, no longer available hand knit creation with no pattern available for purchase either.  So, what to do?  I printed out several copies of the available pictures and blew them up as large as possible to be able to see the stitch definition to count out and create a similar design.  Lemme tell you, this is the project that has sealed my fate with the need for reading glasses.  After searching for a free online chart generator, I set about coloring in each of the little squares.  Guess what?  This is a huuuuuge chart that quickly exceeded the "save" capacity of the program, which forced me to tape a bunch of pieces of graph paper together and break out the colored pencils.  Once I finished coloring, I could go back to the web and attempt to transfer to the chart generator.  Well, after more hours of clicking/saving/cussing, an acceptable to me version was on my computer screen, but the program had locked up and quit saving about halfway in.  Fortunately, I was able to screen shot save it and print for mock up use.

The whole concept of sweater design is new to me and presented multiple challenges.  First, what kind of sweater to knit and how to incorporate the design into an existing pattern?  Stranded colorwork or duplicate stitch?  Set in sleeves or raglan?  Yarn weight?  Yarn type?  One of my friends suggested merely purchasing a ready made sweater and using duplicate stitch to incorporate the design, which was a good idea except it is not easy to find sweaters with the right gauge sight unseen.

After the chart was as ready as I thought it could be, I decided to do a test knit beginning with the bottom.  Grabbed some crap scrap yarn hanging around and got the needles clicking with stranded version.  It was obvious that if a similar weight yarn was used, not only would this thing weigh a ton, but the front would be so thick it would act as armor and would create an ungodly amount of heat.  The latter being of extreme concern as one son is in an area that is rapidly approaching tropical temperatures again and the other is on the downslide of winter also.

An afternoon chatting with my gal pals at the Nook, convinced me that duplicate stitch on a top down, raglan sleeve sweater with a machine wash/dry friendly yarn that is soft and sort of lighter weight would be the way to go.  Flax became the pattern choice and a selection of appropriate acrylic (can't believe I went that route!) yarn was made and my fingers began to fly.

The sweater itself is a breeze to construct and is probably going to stay on my radar as a repeat knit.  The duplicate stitch, well, I have a new, not appropriate for print name for this eye gouging process.  Not because it is difficult, but more so because of the number of hours/entire nights straight into early morning hours that the center component required.  The raglan sleeves and chart design required some adjustment to the initial plan.  (That could also possibly be interpreted as me getting sick of messing with the chart and trying to figure out how to get most of the elements included and be done!)  I rather like the final version...and most importantly, so do both boys.  The first one is took me about 7 days...and is boxed up to fly to the other side of the world.  The second one is currently on needles and hopefully will go faster so that Cupid can deliver it next Friday.  We shall see.  Really depends on how much I would like to sleep and whether my fingers/elbow lock up in screaming agony.

The funny thing...I do not even watch "Breaking Bad" and have no idea what anything on the design means.  All I do know is that, yeah, I am a sucker for those boys and their requests.



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