Show Me the Good Life

Fruit and Yogurt

Show Me the Good LifeWe love homemade Greek yogurt, and we use a whole lot of it. I'm making yogurt at least three times a week. There are many ways to make yogurt and I've tried quite a few of them. These days, I make it easy on myself and use a yogurt maker. Here's a recent blog post I did about how I make yogurt.

It shouldn't be long until many of us have fresh fruit or berries on the farm that we can add to our yogurt. 

Our current favorite way of eating yogurt is to mix fruit (blueberries, strawberries, peaches, bananas ... whatever you can easily get), yogurt, a bit of sweetener if desired, rolled oats and nuts. This can be breakfast or dessert and it's delicious.

Fruit and Yogurt 

Want your children to eat yogurt instead of ice cream? Try this! 

On this particular morning, I used a banana.

Start with however much yogurt you want to use. I use about 3/4 cup. Add a bit of sweetener if desired. I add sugar, my husband does not. Honey, maple syrup, brown sugar, artificial sweetener ... whatever you want to use will work. If using granulated sugar, let it sit for a few minutes to allow the sugar to dissolve.

In a separate bowl, mash the fruit.

Mashed Banana for Yogurt Dish 

Add the yogurt, and a few spoonfuls of rolled oats.

Fruit and Yogurt

Stir it all up, top with chopped walnuts, pecans or other nuts, and you have a quick, yummy and healthy breakfast, snack or dessert.

Chicken and Dumplings

Show Me the Good LifeIt seems that everyone has their favorite chicken and dumplings recipe. Some like thick dumplings, some like round drop-type dumplings. We like them thin and a bit chewy! This is a recipe my mom has made for years, and I have no idea where she first got the recipe, but now my son makes the same recipe for his family. On a cold, icy, winter night, this is the perfect comfort food.

 

Chicken & Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken broth (see notes below)
Chicken meat (see noes below)
2 cups biscuit mix
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg
1 1/2 cups milk

This recipe makes a LOT of dumplings. For the two of us, I half the recipe and we still have enough for two meals. The photos shown below are for half the recipe. I use a Bantam egg for half the recipe.

Note: We like more dumplings and broth than meat so I roast a chicken, we have roasted chicken one night and I save the leftover chicken and the "broth" from roasting and this is what I use for the dumplings, with about 3 cups of water added. The chicken has been seasoned before roasting so the broth never needs much additional seasoning.

If you're starting from scratch with a chicken, boil a whole chicken or the parts you want to use in water to which you've added an onion (quartered), celery, peppercorns, salt, and whatever spices you would like to include in your broth. 

Once the chicken has cooled, remove the meat from the bones and shred or chop ... however you want this in your dumplings. Allow the broth to cool and skim off the fat you don't want to use, though you need some fat remaining in order to have a rich stock.

For the dumplings, stir together the biscuit mix, flour, salt, pepper (we use more pepper than the recipe suggests), milk and egg. It will be a sticky dough. Sprinkle a generous amount of flour onto your countertop and roll the dumplings thin. My mom says she rolls them as thin as a potato chip! Don't worry if they get wrinkled up a bit or tear when you're taking them off the countertop. It's not a pie crust. Once they're cooked, no one will ever know they weren't perfect.

Dumplings Rolled Out 

Cut them into strips, and then cut those into squares. Mine are probably roughly about 1 1/2-by-2 inches.

Here's the trick to getting them chewy. Separate the dumplings. I place mine on parchment paper on cookie sheets or cooling racks. Sprinkle flour over the top and let them sit for an hour or so to dry out a bit. Then, flip them over, sprinkle more flour if needed, and let them dry for another hour or so. If you leave them sitting out half the day ... that's OK too.

Dumplings Left to Dry 

When it's time to cook them, bring the broth to a slow simmer. Shake off a bit of excess flour from the dumplings, but leave some on as that's what thickens the broth nicely. Drop the dumplings into the broth, one at a time. Drop enough in that they're about two deep in the broth. Let those cook for about 1 minute, then drop more in on top. Do not stir or the dumplings will break apart.

Use a wide spoon or spatula to press the dumplings down into the broth and gently swirl to make sure they're separated. Simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes. Add the cooked chicken and continue to cook until the chicken is heated.

You should have a nice, thick broth with thin, chewy dumplings!

Chicken and Dumplings | iStockphoto.com/eurobanks

Another version of Chicken and Dumplings. Photo: iStockphoto.com/eurobanks

Living The Country Dream

Show Me the Good LifeHow many times do you hear folks telling you how lucky you are to be living in the country, trying to live off the land, doing the things you want to do without interference from city ordinances telling you how many chickens you can have or a homeowner's association dictating the height and materials to be used on your greenhouse? Maybe you're even the person saying that ... while dreaming of a time when you can move to the country. On the other hand, there are folks like my mother who look at where we live and say, "I wouldn't live there if they gave that place to me!"

When I last blogged here, we were living in a small town in Missouri. Prior to living in Missouri, we had lived in Kentucky. We had wanted so badly to live in the country but, when we moved to west, for several reasons we bought a house in town, even though we knew it was probably not the best choice for us.

The rules and restrictions of city/subdivision living were about to get the best of me. Even though I had always told my husband, "I will move anywhere in the south, except Texas ...," when he told me he had an opportunity to transfer to Texas, I was ready to start packing. It was our chance to get out of the city limits ... to get to a spot where we wouldn't have neighbors; no one to measure my weeds to make sure nothing was taller than 8 inches; no one to tell me how many chickens I could have (though, based on the number of chickens we've accumulated, maybe we do need that kind of supervision).

It wasn't easy because it seems there are lots of folks wanting to move to Texas and live in the country, but we finally found out little piece of heaven. 

Home 

We moved into a house less than half the size of our previous home but we got what we had always wanted – not a big house, but land where we could do what we want (within reason I suppose), with few rules and no restrictions. We call it our little piece of heaven, and it truly is. Look at that glorious blue sky! It's that way almost every day. The downside of having few cloudy days is that we're in a drought.

Chicken Coops

We're able to have chicken coops anywhere we want them, with no one measuring to see how far they are from the neighbor's house. No one (except my husband) is counting to make sure I haven't exceeded the allowable number of chickens. No one complains about the symphony of roosters crowing before daylight.

We've fenced off our garden area, added a small orchard, added a solar-powered well for the orchard, added solar panels for power (though we're grid-tied ... not our preference but the way it had to be). Life is great! We're working hard to make this place what we want it to be and creating our perfect retirement spot.

This is the place I've always dreamed of having. Honestly 15 years ago, 10 years ago, even five years ago ... I had almost given up hope of ever living in the country and feeling freedom from city rules and neighborhood restrictions.

If you're wanting to live in the country, I hope it happens for you. Things don't always happen the way or in the time frame that we want them to happen but don't give up hope. We're proof that the near impossible can happen and dreams do come true!

Seasonal Fruits in Chutneys

A photo of Judy LaquidaraWith an abundance of peaches and blueberries in our area, I was struggling with what to do with them to make the most of what's available.

I had dried peaches, made peach jam, blueberry jam, peach pie filling, frozen some with sugar, frozen blueberries and then came across recipes for Peach Chutney and Blueberry Chutney.

Blueberry Chutney simmering on the stove

We had never used much chutney but I decided to try the recipe and after a few changes to the original recipes, our family can't seem to get enough of it. We've shared a taste with everyone who has visited us this week and so far, everyone who's tried it has asked for a jar. It's been a hit on pulled pork, fried chicken strips and even biscuits! We've also served it with crackers and cream cheese and that would make a great quick appetizer any time! I've canned quite a bit of both peach and blueberry chutney in half pint jars.

Blueberry Chutney jars just out of the canner

Both, along with an apple curry chutney will be includd in gift baskets for friends for Christmas.

For both of these recipes, adjust the spices to suit your desires. We like our food hotter than most so the amount of jalapeno peppers may be too much for you. If in doubt, start with fewer, and add more if needed.

Blueberry Chutney
(makes 2-1/2 - 3 pints but can easily be doubled if you want more)

4 cups blueberries
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 cups cider vinegar
3 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
3 tablespoon chopped or thinly sliced ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced (more or less to suit you tastes)

Add all ingredients to a large pot. Make sure the pot is large enough for the ingredients to simmer without boiling over. Simmer, stirring often til as thick as you’d like it. I simmer mine for about 1-1/2 hours.

Put into jars as you would for any canning procedure. Process in water bath for 10 minutes.

Peach Chutney
(makes 7-1/2 - 10 pints depending on how thick you cook it down)

4 quarts peaches, pitted, peeled and chopped
3 cups brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
1 cup raisins
2 cups chopped onion
1/4 cup mustard seed
4-6 tablespoons finely sliced, peeled fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4-10 jalapeno peppers, sliced (remove seeds if you want less heat . . we leave them in)
4 cups cider vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a pot that's plenty large enough that it won't boil over. Simmer til thick, stirring real often. It tends to want to stick if you get the heat too high or if you don't stir it enough.

Fill hot jars, leaving 1/4" head space. Remove air bubbles. Adjust lids and rings. Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

Homemade Bread Recipe for Beginners and Seasoned Bakers Alike

JudyWe always have homemade bread at our house. 

Mostly, I make whole wheat bread and use a bit of a variation of the recipe that came with my Bosch mixer.

Sometimes, only white bread will do, especially when making grilled cheese sandwiches with fresh tomato soup!

Bread Fresh From the Oven

Here's the recipe for my favorite white bread.

Ingredients:

2 cups warm water
2/3 cup white sugar
1-1/2 T. dry yeast
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil or melted butter
6 cups flour

Directions:

In a large bowl, dissolve sugar in warm water.  Stir in yeast and let sit for 5 minutes.

Mix salt and oil/butter into the yeast.  Add flour, one cup at a time.  Knead dough on a lightly floured surface ‘til smooth.  Place in a well oiled bowl, turn dough to coat.  Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap.  Allow to rise ‘til doubled .. about 1 hour.

Punch dough down.  Knead for a few minutes and divide in half.  Shape into two loaves and placed in two well oiled 9" x 5" loaf pans.  Allow to rise for 30 minutes or ‘til dough has risen 1" above sides of pan.

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

A few tips for those who have not made bread or need help.

Make sure your water isn't too hot to kill the yeast or too cool to activate it.  Get yourself an instant read thermometer or any good kitchen thermometer will do.  The water should be between 105 degrees and 112 degrees when adding directly to the yeast.

It's best to use salt that does NOT contain iodine.

When making bread, after a bit of experience, you will know how bread dough needs to feel.   Adding too much flour may result in a loaf that is too dry and the bread will be hard and crumbly.  Adding too little flour will result in a loaf that will not hold its shape and will tear easily when sliced.

There's a big difference in the flour available. I've had success using all times of flour, though my favorite is Wheat Montana Prairie Gold, which may be available to most only through mail order. Bread flour is available in pretty much every store and it's fine.

Treat your recipe as a "guide."  It doesn't have to be followed exactly! Once you have a recipe that has worked for someone you trust, keep working with that one recipe.  Don't jump from recipe to recipe.  The first time you make your bread, it may not be the best but pay close attention to everything you do.  Next time you make it, if you want different results, try changing one thing.  If you change several things at once, you won't know what worked or what didn't so maybe try adding less or more flour, or kneading longer or less time.

Depending on the size pan, the size of your oven, and whether or not your thermostat is exactly correct, you may need to adjust your baking time.  What takes 30 minutes for me might take 25 or 35 for you. My favorite bread pans are the Norpro dimpled pans.

Norpro dimpled bread pans an 8 with bread rising and an empty 10 pan

Bread making isn't something that will work for one and not for another.  If you want homemade bread, you can have it but like everything else, it may take a little practice and a bit of patience.

Old Sewing Machines: Working Treasures

JudyAnyone who sews, whether a prolific seamstress, or someone who needs a sewing machine for mending a torn seam or hemming a pair of pants now and then knows the value of having a sewing machine that will make a great seam without causing you to pull your hair out just to get it to stitch!

Through the years I've come to realize what a treasure the old sewing machines are. My very favorite machine is the Singer 301. Singer-Sewing-MachineProbably the most popular of collectible sewing machines is the Singer Featherweight. Singer-Featherweight

Both the Featherweight and the 301 are fantastic machines, and in my biased opinion, two of the best machines ever made. The 301 weighs approximately 16 pounds vs. the 11 pound Featherweight. The 301 is gear driven vs. the Featherweight being belt driven.  The feed dogs can be dropped on the 301 for free motion quilting, whereas the Featherweight feed dogs cannot be dropped. Both can come in a convenient carrying case, though the 301 machines were often sold with a cabinet instead of a carrying case. Both only do a straight stitch, though there is an attachment for the 301 that allows it to make a few decorative type stitches.

Almost all of my sewing is done on the 301. The stitch quality is always perfect! There's nothing that can go wrong with either a 301 or a Featherweight that my husband cannot fix, and he is not a sewing machine repairman!

Due to the Featherweight being in such high demand as a collectible, they're often very expensive. In our area, the 301 machines are more readily available for a reasonable price. I've seen them from $30 to $150.

And, if you're a serious lover of sewing machines, you want to be on the lookout for a treadle machine. I have this White model that works great. I don't use it but my grandma had a Singer treadle and she taught me to sew on that old treadle. If ever we're without power for an extended amount of time, you can bet this machine will be sewing up a storm! Treadle

When you find yourself in the market for a sewing machine, the new ones are shiny and make lots of stitches you may never use, and the cost of new machines may cause you to do a double take.  Don't overlook an older model machine, especially those made in the 50s.  They're definitely worth having.

Missouri Living: An Introduction

JudyVince and I moved to Missouri in December 2006 from Kentucky. We thought our residence in Kentucky was a bit rural but moving to Nevada, Missouri, has brought a whole new meaning to “rural.” Even though we’re currently living in the city limits, we’re looking for land where we can have the freedom to grow and build as we please, without restrictions, covenants, city ordinances and . . neighbors! We have fallen in love with southwest Missouri and hope to stay in this area.

Vince has never had much desire for living in the country, but with the current economic times, and the need to feel more in control of our own lives, he is coming around, and we’re looking for more land. He wants to have bees. I want a milk cow. Of course, there will always be chickens and a big garden.

Judy and chicken

I love to cook from scratch and will share recipes here. I can as much as possible, so I’ll share my canning experiences.

canned tomatoes and apple jam

I grind wheat to make yummy and nutritious whole wheat bread, so you’ll hear some about wheat grinding and bread baking.

grinding wheat

I quilt (a lot!), so no doubt, there’ll be some quilting stories here.

peaches and dreams quilt

For now, we’ll be happy with our 9 hens and our little garden in town, but I hope that very soon, readers will be able to follow along in our journey as we find the perfect piece of land and prepare to live “the good life” as amateur rural farmers.