Thursday, May 16, 2024

Making Fresh Mozzarella Cheese

In the past few years this blog has turned into a recipe book more than anything else. I apologize for that but nothing very interesting happens anymore. Everyday is a Choose your own Adventure and most of the time that revolves around taking pictures of the same things or making something in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, I have a very nice fulfilling life, but it’s nothing to write home about or blog about. Today I made Fresh Mozzarella cheese. 

Mozzarella Cheese

1/2 gallon of milk

1/2 cup of white vinegar 

Heat the milk on the stove to 120 degrees. You will need a thermometer for this.

Next stir in a scant 1/2 cup of white vinegar. The milk will start to curdle. Put a cover on the pan and leave it for 20 minutes.

It looks kind of disgusting at this point but don’t worry. After twenty minutes take out the curds in any manner that works for you. I have a fine sieve I use for yogurt but putting cheese cloth in a strainer works just fine. Press out as much liquid as you can.  This process is separating the curds from the whey. Save the whey and start forming the curds in a ball. The ball will be a bit crumbly at first but stretch and knead it just like you would a ball of dough for bread. 

At first it looks a little rough and bumpy, but just put it in the microwave for 30 seconds. When you take it out, it will be a little hot but just keep working with it. Add some salt or even Italian seasonings at this stage and stretch and knead until the cheese is smooth. You can microwave again and again if you need to get to the smooth end product.

Now you can drop the ball in a bowl of ice water to cool it. I cooled it but then refrigerated it for an hour or two. It is ready to use. I sliced some so you can see the texture. It’s good for whatever you use fresh mozzarella for. It is good on pizza, in salads, on crackers or eat it plain. This cheese is lactose free for the most part because all the lactose is in the whey.

Now for the whey you have saved. It can be used for many things. It can be used in place of water or milk in recipes, it can be fed to animals or put it in your smoothie. Some people dilute it and water plants with it. I haven’t done that but Mr. Google says whey contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chlorides. I will try it on a few plants and see if I notice a difference. I mainly use it to make bread. I just substitute the liquid for whey. It gives the bread a little sourdough flavor and adds protein.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Chicken Noodle Soup Mix in a Jar

We all have struggled to think of something to prepare for our meals. If we haven’t prepped ahead of time and want a meal in a hurry, we end up with a pizza or take out.  Even myself, who has all the time in the world, wants something quick most of the time. We have to eat.  I like to know what I am eating so I like making my own food.

I have made Hamburger Helper in a jar including the lasagna version. I have jars of side dishes like rice-a-roni and herbed rice, cream soup mixes, vegetable bouillon mix and a variety of freezer meals, but today I made chicken noodle soup mix in a jar.  It is so easy to just open a can of high sodium soup but as I have said many times real food is the best tasting and the healthiest. This process does require a little prep work, but I think it’s worth it. I will freeze this batch in individual servings. I don’t really like to freeze soup because the texture changes a little, but it’s what I have to do with leftovers.

This is the recipe. I divided it in half which is enough for 2 jars. I put 1/4 cup of the spices in a plastic ziplock bag and 1/4 cup in another. Then I put 1/2 cup of the dried mixed vegetables* in each bag. I put 1 1/4 cup pasta in the jar with the plastic bag containing the other ingredients. I sealed the lid with the lid sealer. 

Chicken Noodle Soup Mix

1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. celery seed
1/2 t. black pepper
1 t. parsley flakes
1 T minced onion
4 1/2 T. chicken bouillon*
1 cup dried mixed vegetables**

2 1/2 cups pasta (I like to cook the pasta noodles separately and add them to the soup at the end. I think they are less starchy and it takes a while for the dried vegetables to reconstitute. If you put them in together the noodles would be overcooked.) That is why I separate them in the jar.

Bring 12 cups (6 cups for one jar) water to a boil
add in soup mix from the plastic bag.
Reduce heat, cover and
simmer for 30 minutes.
Add in 3-4 cups of cooked cubed 
chicken (I bake several chicken breasts and cube them to use in recipes. I freeze the cooked chicken in 1 or 2 cup portions. Sometimes I buy the rotisserie chicken off the bone at Costco and separate it into portions) and add the cooked noodles. 
Simmer 5 more minutes

* This is the bouillon I found. It is gluten free and doesn’t have any high fructose corn syrup.  It does have corn protein which is a by-product during the manufacturing process of corn starch. I am not really sure of its function except it is 50% protein and maybe a flavor enhancer.  If you want to eliminate this ingredient just cook the dried veggies and other spices in boxed chicken broth instead. You may need a bit more salt to taste.

 **If you can’t find dehydrated vegetables, it’s easy to make your own. 

I diced 4 cups of carrots with the Vidalia Chop Wizard, and spread them on a parchment lined cookie sheet. I have a dehydrate setting on my toaster oven but basically it’s the oven set at 150 degrees. The carrots took 4 hours to dry. Then I diced 4 cups of celery and did the same. It’s amazing. 4 cups of carrots will dehydrate to 3/4 cup and 4 cups of celery will equal 1/2 cup. I also dried 5 cups of frozen mixed vegetables. That made about 3/4 cup. Bottom line is 13 cups of produce dries to 2 cups. 

Saturday, January 20, 2024

The Pheasants In My Neighborhood

I have lived on my property for over twenty years. Once in a great while I would see a pheasant, but they were few and far between. For the past three or four years, in September, I am seeing a dozen or more. At first I didn’t know what was going on, but in talking to others it seems that someone is releasing them in bunches. I don’t know who, but I am very happy to see them in my yard. 

For a couple years, only a few would hang around. I don’t know if they were hunted or if they left to find a mate, Sometimes in the Spring the males will lose their minds and start flapping their wings and puffing up to look huge. They also make very strange loud sounds. Then they would disappear. I always figured there was a girl in the neighborhood they were trying to impress. For the first couple years I never saw females, but now there are a few. I think it's a ratio of about five to one.

This year is very different. They showed up as usual but instead of leaving or spreading out, they are spending the winter as a group. One day I saw three males under the bird feeder, then two females showed up. The guys were showing off by strutting their stuff and suddenly five more males came out of the woods. Then three more females.  I was watching but couldn’t get videos because they were all running around and posturing for the girls. As I am watching more male pheasants came running out of my side yard as fast as they could. It was a circus and reminded me of the phrase "herding cats". In this case it was pheasants. They can run very fast when they want to.  

All these pheasants have become quite tame. I think having available food has made them very comfortable. I can walk outside within a few feet of them, and they just slowly walk away. When I go into the house, they are back before I close the door. I can hear them. Recently I heard one on the step to my porch. I think he was wondering where the corn was. A recent snowstorm covered a lot of their food. I really didn't want to go out to the garage in the cold for seed, so I made popcorn.

Has anyone made popcorn this way? I knew they couldn't have oil or salt so this was my technique. It is actually a really good way to make popcorn without any added calories. I don't eat much popcorn because I like it smothered in real butter. 

All you need is a cake pan, popcorn, water and plastic wrap. Put 1/2 cup of popcorn in the pan and add 1/4 cup of water. If you are making it for yourself add some salt to the water. I wanted it plain this time.

Cover the pan with plastic wrap and poke a few holes in the plastic to vent the steam. Microwave for five minutes. If it isn't starting to pop, then add one minute at a time until all the corn is popped. My popcorn was stored in the refrigerator so it took nine minutes to complete. No oil needed.

I took the popped popcorn and threw it outside. I didn't realize it isn't the best thing to feed birds. It doesn't have much food value and nutrition. It is probably true for humans too. Especially the way I eat it. I ended up adding some corn and seeds to the mix. The bluejays and Dark-eyed Junco's are loving it.

I look forward to seeing these birds everyday. They are in the yard and in my driveway to greet me when I come home. Hopefully this year they will nest nearby, and I will be able to enjoy seeing baby pheasants. The turkeys have become somewhat of a nuisance, but I doubt if anyone will complain if they see more beautiful pheasants in the neighborhood.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Homemade Rice-A-Roni

On the heels of my Hamburger Helper recipe, I also tried one for Rice-A-Roni. I don’t buy that product either because of all the sodium and preservatives to give it shelf life. The box mix has palm oil, corn syrup and lactose. These are all ingredients we should avoid.  You have to be careful with dried soup base because some of them have corn syrup and high sodium also. 

In a clean mason jar add 1/2 cup of broken up vermicelli. You can make the pieces as small as you want.

Then add 1 cup of plain long cooking white rice (not instant), 4 t. of the best dried soup base you can find (either beef or chicken), 1 t. dried parsley, 1/2 t. Italian seasoning and 1/4 t. garlic powder.

Seal it up and keep it in your pantry.

To prepare brown 2 T. of butter in a pan. Add the dry ingredients from the jar and brown to your desired color without burning it.

Add 2 3/4 cups of water and simmer for 20 minutes. The liquid should be absorbed.

This can be eaten as a side dish or add some meat and vegetables for a hot dish.  It’s very good.

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Baked Breakfast Egg Cups

If I actually had a job or somewhere to go in the morning, this recipe would be a perfect for on the go breakfast. I see them at Costco whenever I go but because these are so easy and less inexpensive to make, I don’t even consider it.  They are egg bites. I will include the original recipe, but I rarely follow a recipe exactly. I like to use what I have on hand. Most recipes have wiggle room. I had leftover ham cubes, green pepper from the freezer and some cheddar cheese leftover from Christmas. That is what I used. These are good right out of the oven or you can freeze them for later. If you freeze them either thaw first before heating or heat on a paper towel to absorb moisture. 

Bacon and Egg Breakfast Cups 


12 slices of Canadian bacon (I used Ham cubes)

1 dozen eggs

2 T. grated parmesan (I used cheddar)

3/4 cup chopped grape tomatoes (I used green pepper)

1 T. chives (I omitted)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F and spray or grease a 12-cup muffin pan

Arrange a bacon slice in each muffin cup. You might have to cut the circle half way through to fit

Crack 1 egg into each muffin cup (I mixed like scrambled eggs)

Sprinkle with salt and pepper

Put the cheese on top.  If you use chopped tomatoes, put them on top also.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400F.  When cool pop them out of the muffin cups and eat or let them cool before freezing.

When frozen warm in the microwave for a few seconds. They heat up quickly.

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Make Your Own Hamburger Helper

You wouldn’t think it would be necessary for someone in my situation to make meals in a hurry.  For me it’s a waste of time to spend hours making meals. Not that I don’t have time but food has become a necessity more than an experience. Recently I watched the Tic Tok of someone named "The Organizer Man”. He helped me out by coming up with an idea. For a year I could not remove the bowl from my kitchen aid mixer. I tried anything I could find on the internet to solve the problem. Washing it was an ordeal, but I love the mixer so I had to make it work. Since this contributor was addressing how to adjust the height of the beater, I asked if he had any ideas on how to remove a stuck bowl. He said his sticks too but he whacks the handle until it loosens. Mine didn’t have a handle to whack so I told him that. He wasn’t sure but said to wrap a piece of electrical tape around the bowl and pull. I used duct tape instead. I made a little loop at the end and put the handle of a mallet through the loop for leverage. In less than two seconds the bowl released. I have since bought a mixing bowl with a handle in case it happens again, but it was a simple idea that I would not have thought of. 

Since I was sucked into Tik Tok by that time, I watched a few more of his videos. He likes to make dry mixes like ranch dressing, creamed soup mix and the one I made.  It’s a Hamburger Helper mix. I am not sure I ever made Hamburger Helper. Maybe I tried it back in the 1970’s because it was cheap so I really can’t say if this recipe is as good as the box mix but this fellow says it is better. I looked up the product and found the ingredients. I am not sure what flavor it was because there are many but it is very high in sodium, and it has ingredients not included in the homemade recipe.

"Enriched Pasta (wheat flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Corn Starch, Salt, Wheat Flour. Contains 2% or less of: Modified Whey, Onion Powder, Color (caramel color, annatto extract), Maltodextrin, Potassium Chloride, Hydrolyzed Corn, Soy, and Wheat Protein, Yeast Extract, Natural And Artificial Flavor, Vegetable Oil (canola, soybean, and/or sunflower oil), Spice, Monoglycerides, Sugar, Safflower Oil, Silicon Dioxide (anticaking agent). "

Here is the recipe. It is all real food. There is no oil, citric acid, whey protein or dyes. If you want to add cheese, just use “real” cheese. I don’t like things salty so I used scant teaspoons of salt and garlic. 

Hamburger Helper

1 1/2 cups mini lasagna noodles or egg noodles 
2 t. paprika
1 t. onion powder
1 t. garlic powder 
1 t. salt
1 t. cornstarch

Save in jar. When ready to prepare just add to

1 lb. browned ground beef
1 cup water
2 cups milk 

Boil and simmer until noodles are done. Don’t overcook the noodles. Add more liquid if necessary.
About 10-12 minutes.

You can add sour cream and mushrooms to make it taste more like stroganoff.

You can add peas or any veggie you choose.

The dry ingredients are put in a jar one ingredient at a time.  I made a label with how to finish making it.

When the jars were filled and labeled, I used a mason jar sealer. It pulls the air out of the jar and seals the lid. This way the mix will last for months on a shelf just like a box of Hamburger Helper. It will probably last even longer.

The prepared product doesn’t look very appetizing, but it tastes pretty good. Adding other ingredients like peas or mushrooms modifies the flavors and adds more bulk. This is a terrible recipe for those who won’t mix their food, but for me it’s great. This recipe isn’t huge. Some recipes I have to eat for five days or freeze it. This will only last three or four. It is really hard to cook small quantities. 

I make herbed rice mix, vegetable bouillon and dry cream soup mix which I also put in sealed jars. It is so convenient when you don’t know what to make for dinner. I have blogged about how I always have browned ground beef in the freezer. I buy big packages and brown it all at one time.  I have blogged different techniques but this is my favorite and easiest. 

When looking up the ingredients for Hamburger Helper, I noticed many different varieties. They have a taco flavor that I may try to duplicate. At least it will be more colorful. Stay tuned.