The three stages, 1. Print, 2. Cut and Score, 3. Glue to finish
For the last several Christmases we’ve gotten a bit creative with our letterpresses – first the kids have to do their own lino-cut suitable printing block for our Christmas cards, and secondly I design, carve and print up a box to hold the homemade candy we’ll give to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.
I find the box making to be a fun and creative process that also makes the homemade candy stand out – or at least I think so!
Christmas Tree Candy Box Template
So this year I came up with a Christmas tree design box. It actually just fits on a 8 1/2 x 11 piece of paper – so tight that the upper flap has the corners missing – but since it gets stapled closed that doesn’t really detract from it – and I wanted the maximum volume for the candy – so it seems a fair trade off.
While you might not have a letterpress you can produce these boxes for yourself. Download the image and print it out on cardstock. As a heavier weight it works well for making these boxes, regular printer paper is OK for demos but won’t stand up when filled.
Cut out around the external solid line and then score along the internal solid lines in order to allow for easy bending. Fold and glue the tabs to the back of the tree sides and your box is complete and ready to be filled.
I love the slow cooker. It makes great meals incredibly easy. If you are busy you need a slow cooker, or a couple. There are many great recipes producing tender melt in your mouth meals from cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough.
With garlic, ginger and Asian sauces this is a great take on slow cooked pulled pork and it goes great with Chinese steamed buns.
Ahhhhh, Autumn. Leaves start turning and the peak of the harvest comes in. It’s a time of abundance – but translating this brief period abundance before winter sets in takes a bit of work – especially if that abundance truly is abundant.
Old and New Apple Peelers
For our family apples play a big part of that fall harvest period – save for those years where a late frost kills the majority of the blossoms. We get apples not only from our own trees but from those of our neighbors, and in good years we get loads of apples. That was the case again this year, which is great since this is the second year in a row that there was a crop failure for blueberries around our cottage.
But, how do you get bushels of apples once picked from the bins into shape to last? Well, as with so many things efficiency is the key – and that translates into both strategy and tools.
Steamed apples ready for processing into apple sauce
From a strategy standpoint gleaned or home harvested apples aren’t the perfect orbs you see in the grocery store where a huge amount of culling has taken place. That means the apples you pick will include perfect ones as well as misshapen ones, bruised ones and tiny ones.
I save the best for fresh storage, the next grade of nicely sized ones get peeled and sliced to be frozen, dried, or canned as sliced apples. Next along the line are those apples which have a bit of decay which I’ve cut out, misshapen ones and small ones these end up going for sauce or cider. Cider and sauce is also the outlet for the better apples once I’ve filled the freezer and pantry shelves with sliced, dried and spiced apples.
Apple sauce from the Victorio food mill
You can do that by hand, but in any volume you’ll need some solid tools. An apple slicer is key here – now I love my Bonanza apple peeler which is in my opinion the apex of hand cranked apple peeler development, even if that apex was achieved a couple of generation ago. I started with a more modern hand cranked unit – and it’s a good stop gap – better I think than the Reading 76 I also have. The modern unit is low cost and is an investment that will pay off very quickly in improved efficiency.
For apple sauce – my Victorio food mill is awesome – steam the apples until soft and the throughput is fantastic – and sauce makes great fruit leather!
Apple cider – both fresh (and canned) and fermented to hard cider, is truly ambrosia, and apple cider syrup makes for a great addition to a lot of recipes. It’s also easy to make when you have a cider press – commercial ones can be pricey but homebuilt ones can be readily assembled and come at a low price point.
It’s a bit of work putting the harvest down – but the bounty will pay off through the year with readily available healthy food at the cost of the effort to put them down. It’s a pretty good deal in my opinion.
Many great styles of bread have fantastically chewy crusts which can seem difficult at first to replicate at home. The secret is steam. Commercial ovens use steam injection which home ovens lack.
But there is a cheap and easy way to get those chewy crusts at home – air charged plant misters. Unlike the hand pumped sprayers and misters the air charged ones see you pump the air/water bladder with air and then when the trigger is pressed releases a large volume of fine mist. Compared to the hand pumped versions you get more volume and a finer spray.
There are a number of variants on the style, but the one I use and Iike is the Spraymate which I also see marketed as the Eco-Sprayer. It comes as the spray unit alone and sees you use a soda bottle as the reservoir. I picked it up from Princess Auto (the Canadian version of Harbor Freight), but it’s also available from Amazon for $11 or Lapond though I see it’s priced there for $14 which is about three times what I paid for mine.
To make those great chewy crusts I preheat the oven to temperature, charge up the mister, quickly open the door and quickly mist the interior of the oven. Then I allow a minute or two for the oven to come back to temperature open the door again slide in the sheet with the bread and do a second misting of the interior of the oven. While you could open up the oven later and mist again I usually don’t bother.
The result, awesome chewy crusts on things like baguettes and sourdough loaves every bit as good as that which you’d get from a professional bakery but for a fraction of the price and without ever having to leave home.
Owning a meat grinder is a great way to save money on your food bill – which let’s face it isn’t likely falling. In fact, there’s a good chance you can pay for the addition of the grinder to your household the first time you use it – and that is a pretty incredible payback.
#32 hand cranked meat grinder – simplicity and durability
You’ll often see bigger cuts of meat, beef and pork roasts and whole turkeys selling on special for a fraction of what ground meat costs. While you could make a paying proposition of simply grinding up these cuts instead of buying ground meat there is an even more lucrative possibility. I like to cut up roasts into thick steaks and chops and then trim off the parts that will be extra fatty or gristly – you know the parts that would otherwise end up being left on the plate. I wrap the steaks or chops in a good butcher paper and toss the trimmings in ziplock bags and everything goes in one of my freezers. Then once a year I’ll grind and process all of the accumulated trimmings.
When it comes to the turkeys, which can be offered up at crazy low prices to induce Thanksgiving and Christmas shoppers to visit one retailer or another I trim the breasts off first and wrap those to use in place of chicken breasts. Then once the breasts are off I like to cut off the easy to remove meat for grinding, and then toss the carcass(s) into a big pot with a bit of water and boil them down. I like to use a reciprocating saw to cut the turkey skeletons up so that I can cram more into one pot. Once the carcasses have been cooked cool them down and then strip the remaining meat off of the carcass and then pressure can the meat and broth for cooking and easy hearty soups. I usually freeze the cooled fat rather than can it and then add it after.
#12 Electric Meat Grinder
So a meat grinder makes a great fit into an active home kitchen – given this what are some realistic options. Well the lowest cost entry point is a tinned cast iron hand cranked grinder, they are a bulletproof design, and are very affordable. I’ve had one of the smaller ones – a #10 (about $30) and it did a good job, but while it is bulletproof and easy to crank it is limited in terms of throughput. One advantage is that it can be clamped on a counter – as long as your counter isn’t something that mars easily. I found this grinder too small for my purposes – but then I tend to do big batches in a single go.
I now have the largest of the hand cranked cast iron grinder, a #32 – which costs about $40. It requires a solid mounting to a working surface – usually by bolting them down, so it probably isn’t something you are going to be affixing to your kitchen counter. I generally bolt it to the surface of a workmate portable workbench which I then need to hold down with some of my weight applied with one of my feet while cranking. It does a great job but certainly does give a good workout. If you are smaller you might want to opt for the medium size #22 which like the #32 needs to be bolted to a work surface.
There are #32 grinders which come with big pulleys in addition to the crank. If you’ve got a bit of space this might be a good option – bolting the grinder and a big electric motor (a Harbor Freight farm or compressor duty motor would be my choice) to a solid work surface. This would combine the last a lifetime or two design of the cast iron mill, the capacity of the #32 and the advantages of electric grinding with hand crank back up. But you’ve got to have the space to store a setup of this size.
#32 meat grinder left and #12 grinder right with the plates in front showing size difference
On the electric grinder front, I’ve got a #12 Kitchener brand grinder which features a 400 watt motor. This is a pretty good home size grinder – I’ve done a lot of grinding on it, but it definitely isn’t a professional or industrial model. The construction is solid, but you can hear the motor laboring at points and it needs to be shut off an cooled periodically to avoid overheating. Now, it’s priced right – this brand and similar models run about $70, they have a pretty good throughput rate, and it doesn’t require any mounting to counters or work surfaces, but while I’ve been using it for about three years now I’d be surprised if it end up being handed down to my kids. I know my #32 hand cranked unit will be still going strong for my great grand kids.
I’ve also seen small grinders that are mostly plastic and use suction mounting to attach them to a counter. I haven’t used one of these, but even the #10 sized mill needs to be solidly attached to the end of a counter with the pretty strong built in clamp. Since I have used apple grinders that feature the same suction mounting and had them move around I can’t believe these will do anything more than waste your $25 and frustrate you – if you are looking for something on the smaller size go for a #10 cast iron mill, or one of the electrical ones.
What about one of the mill attachments for your stand mixer? Since they are similarly sized to the electric grinder I have my reasoned guess would be that they would be pretty good buy you’d have to watch the motor and ensure that you shut things off and let it cool unless you really do have a heavy duty mixer.
In terms of incorporating these into you food strategy, I usually spend part of a day or two once a year grinding the meat trimmings I’ve accumulated in the freezer from cutting up beef, pork and venison and making them into burgers and fresh and cured sausages. Another day gets spent grinding up those discount turkeys and then canning cases of stock that result.
Check out the price of these meat products in your grocery or butcher shop and it should be clear that this is a strategy that can not only add capacity to your home but save loads of money.
I feel like you should be reading this and thinking monster truck announcer voice for this epic showdown between the two leading brands in vacuum bottle technology battling it out to see which is the champion of the lunch box! The reality is slightly less epic.
My guess is that for many folks the value of a vacuum food bottle has diminished as microwaves have become pervasive in many workpalce kitchens. But that isn’t the case for all workplaces, nor is it true for many kids – including mine.
For them especially this is relevant because food restrictions due to allergies can really cut down on what you can put in a kid’s lunch box – no nuts or nut butters is pretty standard, but last year there was even a prohibition against bringing fish to school because someone had an allergy or at least one that was close enough that the administration didn’t want to trouble themselves with deciding what was in or out.
In anycase, a vacuum bottle allows you to pack a warm lunch that can not only diversify the regular fare, but at least in my home is a very economical means of packing lunch. We’re talking here things like leftover butter chicken, Thai curries, and hearty soups with a chunk of homemade bread or a wholesome whole wheat biscuit.
Vacuum Bottle Heat Loss Chart
All those things do best nice and warm, and I’ve found that cheap vacuum bottle just don’t cut it given I reheat lunches shortly after 6am. So this fall when shopping for a few quality vacuum bottles I found those made by – Stanley and Thermos brands came with a variety of competing claims on how long they would keep contents warm or cold. With them priced reasonably closely I decided to pick up a few and trial them to see which ended up being better.
Well, the end result is that all claims aside they all perform equally well and seem to loose heat at comparable rates – the biggest determining factor being the starting volume of the contents you load rather than which brand or model you choose as can be seen in the chart.
So knowing that which ones win out. Well, for adults I like the 17oz Stanley – it’s a nice size and had the much better designed top. Thermos tops should really be redesigned to give better grip. As the contents cool there can be a pretty substantial vacuum pulled which fights against easy opening of the top. But all things considered for the kids the 16oz Thermos brand ones win – particularly based on size to volume. They are a nice meal size for kids and they are only 2/3rds the size of the Stanley which makes a difference in a jammed backpack. The folding spoon originally struck me as gimicky, and likely to get lost in short order – but somewhat surprisingly we’re about five month into their frequent use by the kids – at least once a week – and those spoons are still around.
Slightly more worrying is the silicon gasket. I worry every time I wash them that the gasket will go missing – but so far so good. I will probably end up contacting Stanley and Thermos and asking to order a few replacement gaskets to have in the spare parts drawer. Apart from that I can see both of these living up to their claims of a lifetime of use, and both have already paid their cost back in lunch savings (roughly $25 to $30).
These definitely trump the cheap thermoses that will end up disappointing and being chucked time and again. Buy something that will deliver and keep you happy.
These mills are cheap (like $25) and readily available, but are they any good? Definitely, and you probably should pick one up. But, like so many things you need to understand what they are good for.
Now, what they are great for is making nixtamatal – that is grain corn processed with alkali for making things like tortillas. It’s an easy grind material which is the perfect fit for this machine – and fresh nixtamatal is awesome!
It’s also OK cracking grain for animal feed or malted barley for brewing beer. Now, what it isn’t perfect in that latter role – a roller mill would be better – but hey for $25 it’s a pretty affordable malt crusher.
So what doesn’t it do well? Now, that’s grind grains for flour. That is why I first picked up this mill a couple of decades ago – and the poor results and high cost of mills capable of producing fine flour prompted me to start on the path that resulted in the Homestead Grain Mill that is simple to build for yourself at low cost and produces great flour.
Replace the cotter pin holding the rotating burr in place with a bolt (in this case a #8)
Dissembled Corn Mill
But that mill isn’t designed to make nixtamatal – which is why this cheap cast iron mill still sees loads of use in my home. Fresh tortillas made from homemade nixtamatal are awesome – and this cheap mill and a good tortilla press make turning them out easy as well as cheap. Bags of feed corn are running $10 for 50 pounds!
Now there is something that is lacking on these mills – all of those I have seen hold the front rotating burr in place with a cotter pin – which bends and allows the burr to slip back and freewheel. This can be easily overcome by replacing the cotter pin with a bolt.
Apart from that weak part these mills are all pretty well and solidly made. Sure, they look like they have loads of adjustment range – but I’ve got a number of slightly different variations and they all have loose tolerances, which is perfectly ok for grinding nixtamatal.
With prices starting at $25 you can order one on amazon and pick up a sack of feed corn and the fixin’s for a great night of Mexican food for less than the cost of the same meal out – and you’ll not only end the night with several meals worth of grain corn left but also with a mill that will last you a lifetime of enjoyable quality meals.
Fresh Oatmeal Barley Raisin cookies packed for a day of skiing
You know those cookies from the store, the “fresh like” ones that are soft and chewy and oh so good. I have a soft spot for the Oatmeal-Raisin ones. These ones trump those. They taste better, feature all whole grains, and can be whipped together in under ten minutes. They go together quickly, if you are doing it by hand try to grab a Danish Whisk – you won’t go back to a wooden soon after you’ve tried it – or they can be made with even less effort with a stand mixer if you have one.
I think cookies have an undeserved reputation in some folks mind that they are a hassle. I think a big part of that can be resolved by using silicon baking sheets. They pretty much guarantee that you won’t suffer from the burnt bottom syndrome and they are reusable for many years – my oldest ones have been around for about ten years and are just about at the point that they need to be retired.
This recipe uses whole barley flour milled in the Homestead Grain Mill but you could just as easily substitute whole wheat, rye, triticale or spelt flour.
A number of solid fats can be used for baking including lard, butter and shortening as well as tallow. The first three can all be handled in a fairly consistent manner – chill and then cut into the flour mix.
Pieces of tallow sliced off large block
Tallow though doesn’t respond well to this treatment – it’s simply too hard to effectively break up in this way.
The good news is that by altering your handling strategy from the more conventional fats you can easily produce great baking with tallow.
As with the softer fats you’ll want to chill the tallow first. Then instead of cutting it in the flour mix use a knife to shave the chunk of tallow into smaller pieces and then add these to the flour mix. It’s that simple to make use of tallow rendered from either beef or deer in your home baking, and the results are excellent.