Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

This is the centerpiece that is going in the middle of my table for Thanksgiving.  It is really quite easy to make, doesn’t take a lot of time and other than the glue sticks, is practically free with upcycled materials and help from mother nature!

Rustic Woodland Candle Centerpiece

Gather pine cones, acorns, seeds, nuts, anything organic.  Have the kids help.  If you are lucky, like I was, you will find a stump where Mr. Squirrel dispatched a couple of pine cones looking for the nuts!  It’s so much easier that way. Otherwise, find a few large pine cones and snip off the scales with heavy duty scissors, or rip them off with pliers.

Rustic Woodland CenterpieceThe other parts to this project are a base and a candle holder.  For the base, I used the round cardboard that comes under one of those we-make-it-you-bake-it kind of pizzas.  You can make the base any shape you want, but circles, ovals and rectangles are easiest. You can also use wood or even posterboard, though the posterboard might be a bit floppy.  The bigger candle holder is simply a washed tin can that used to hold chicken breast meat. This size holds those jars with candles in them.  You can see in the picture that you can also use a tuna can, which holds a pillar candle. Caution:  never leave a burning candle unattended – especially around these flammable items!

The first thing to do is glue a rim of the pinecone scales around the top of the can.  You can glue them next to each other or overlapping, which ever you choose.  The scales I am using came from a Ponderosa Pine.  Some call it Yellow Pine. I have also used Sugar Pine before.  Make sure you glue the scales at least 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the top of the can. Then, after finding center of your base, glue the can down.

Note:  You can use white glue on this project – especially if kids are helping – it just takes a bit longer to dry.  If using white glue, put a rubber band around the can, then slip each scale under the rubber band with a dollop of glue.  The rubber band helps keep the scale on the can until the glue has dried.

Now you will want to place the pinecone scales all around the edge of the base.  I let mine hang over about 1/2 inch so the cardboard won’t show.  This is where a lazy susan would come in handy.  Wish I had one!  :DRustic Woodland Centerpiece

Now you glue the actual pinecones around the rim of the can.  You can make them all stand up like tin soldiers, or let them tilt a bit this way and that. Sometimes they have a mind of their own, but it doesn’t matter because imperfection is beautiful…  right? ;)

Then glue pinecones around the edge, covering the ugly side of the scale.  Don’t worry about some gaps showing here and there.  Those will be covered later. Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

Finally, fill in the middle with the rest of your pinecones.  Most of the pinecones I used are from a Douglas Fir tree, which I find to be the easiest to work with.  No sharp spiny points to prick my fingers, but you can see a few little prickly devils in the mix.  I like the variety!

Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

Now, gather all the rest of your woodland finds.  These are what you use to fill in the gaps. This is where the magic happens…  when it starts to look really lovely!  I wish I had some eucalyptus buttons – those are beautiful on this centerpiece project, but I just couldn’t find any this time.  Incense Cedars make beautiful fleur-de-lis like things, junipers make the beautiful silvery-gray balls.  Of course, there are several colors, shapes and sizes of acorns you can use – with and without caps.  I have even used liquid amber balls, seed pods, walnuts, hazelnuts, clove pods and star anise before (I have made several of these). Just make sure it is “natural”.  Have fun with it and keep filling in until you are satisfied with the results.

Rustic Woodland Candle Centerpiece

You may want to glue a piece of felt or thin cork underneath, which protects any finish below the centerpiece.

These can be saved year after year, but don’t be surprised if you find little pieces of stuff that looks like sawdust about and around the centerpiece when you get it out of the box next year.  It won’t hurt anything – it’s just the remains of the sawdust from the worms in the acorns (that have long since died)!  Turn the whole thing upside down and give it a few pats, or use your blowdryer to blow it off, replace any pieces that fell off, and enjoy!

Too late to make this for your Thanksgiving table?  That’s okay.  Just spray paint it silver or gold, or add sparkly ornaments, or glitter, or sprinkle on some fake snow.  Or all of the above! Then, you will have a beautiful Christmas centerpiece!

Rustic Woodland Centerpiece

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

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Beef and Chicken Jerky

Last Christmas I was given a really cool gift – a jerky maker!how to make chicken jerky

This thing works like a caulking gun.  You mix your ground meat with whatever spices or cure you are using, load up the barrel, and then smoosh the stuff out onto a dehydrating tray or cookie sheet.  After several hours in your dehydrator or oven – voila – jerky!  It’s that simple.  The coolest part about it is that you make your jerky from ground meat.  No need to thinly slice the meat anymore!

I actually prefer this kind of jerky.  Why?  Because it’s a lot easier on the teeth and jaws!  I have eaten (at least tried to) many commercially produced beef jerky products before that were just like shoe leather.  They had lots of flavor but took forever to actually eat!  The jerky made from ground meat tastes just as good but doesn’t cause sore jaws!

beef and chicken jerky recipe

hamburger beef jerky ready to be dehydrated.

The Nesco jerky maker I got has six packages of spices with six packages of cure.  If you buy this product, you should probably make a batch or two using the spices provided, just so you know what it’s supposed to look like, taste like, etc.. Then, branch out and try some other recipes.  I have gathered several good recipes and list them at the end of this article.  Once you try these, you can start developing your own recipe to reflect your own tastes!

One note about the “cure” package that is included in the Nesco Jerky Maker.  The cure contains sodium nitrite.  Large amounts of sodium nitrite isn’t good for you.  Period.  There have been lots of studies proving that it can cause cancer. Sure, small quantities here and there aren’t much of a concern simply because there are lots of naturally occurring nitrites in healthy natural foods that we eat every day.  Spinach has lots of nitrites.  So does celery.  By the way, so does your saliva!  So, what is the sodium nitrite good for?  It keeps the meat a nice pink color and it prevents botulism.  Deli meats are “cured” with nitrites to prevent botulism from growing deep inside the meat while it hangs in a cool room. However, I don’t plan to stop eating bacon or salami any day soon.  Nope.  So, why tempt fate and add more in the jerky when it’s not really necessary?

The biggest fear of not using nitrites is with the devastating effects of botulism poisoning.  It’s deadly.  But, for botulism to thrive (it’s actually the toxins produced by the botulism that causes the problems) it needs four things:  an anaerobic environment (no oxygen), moisture, warmth, and a low acid food.  When canning meat, you have an anaerobic environment, you have moisture and you also have a low acid food.  But, when you pressure can the food, you are able to kill the botulism before it can cause any harm.  That’s why you always pressure can any low acid food such as meats and most vegetables.

When making jerky, it’s perfectly fine not to add in the sodium nitrite cure if you are going to eat the jerky within a month or so.  Why?  Because you took out one of the major needs for the botulism to grow – moisture!  If you want to vacuum seal your jerky, which would put the meat into an anaerobic environment – just throw it into the freezer!  Now you have taken away the warmth AND the moisture requirement for botulism to grow.  That’s what I do.How to make beef and chicken jerky

One more word of caution.  Some dehydrators out there don’t get very hot.  For your jerky to be perfectly safe, the meat must reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees, poultry 165 degrees.  This temperature ensures that all the pathogens that the meat can carry are killed off, including E. Coli, salmonella and other nasty bugs.  So, if you are drying in a conventional oven set at 170 degrees (which is the lowest most ovens go), you are perfectly fine.  However, if you dehydrator temperatures do not go that high, you will need to place your almost dried jerky strips in a preheated 275 degree oven for 10 minutes.  Since this will cook the jerky just a bit more, you will want to pull your jerky from the dehydrator before it has finished dehydrating to do this.  If, after the 10 minutes in the oven your jerky still isn’t done, that’s okay.  Just put it back into the dehydrator (after you have thoroughly washed the trays!) and finish dehydrating.  You have already killed off all of the bad bugs!

So – lets make some jerky!

HAMBURGER JERKY

This is the standard – or what my Nesco Jerky Maker was meant to be used with.  You can always buy your hamburger, but I prefer to grind my own.  That way I know what went into my hamburger and I can better control the fat content.

Once the hamburger has been ground up, mix in the spices and cure package (if you are using it) until it looks pretty uniform.  I found that when using my Kitchen Aid with the food grinder attachment, if I grind the meat using the large extruder plate, mix the meat and spices, then put the entire mixture back through the grinder with the smaller plate, I get a really good consistency that isn’t totally mush, but has mixed everything together really nicely.

how to make chicken jerky

The jerky “gun” loaded with the hamburger mixture and ready to go!

Now, load the barrel of the jerky maker. It will hold about 1 pound of meat.  Following manufacturer’s instructions, extrude the meat mixture onto either your dehydrator trays or onto a cookie sheet. Or, if you don’t have a jerky maker, roll the meat out between two sheets of waxed paper on top of a large cookie sheet.  Cut the meat into strips then freeze the entire cookie sheet with the meat on it.  When frozen (it shouldn’t take too long), you can carefully lift each previously cut strip of meat off the paper and place onto your dehydrator trays.  If you are using your oven to dehydrate, just separate the jerky strips a bit, leave them on the cookie sheet, and dehydrate it that way.  Once the jerky starts to dehydrate, flip them over and remove the paper.  Whichever method you use, carefully flip the jerky strips after about an hour, and then again at two hours.  It could take anywhere from 4-18 hours to sufficiently dry your jerky, depending on the humidity, temperature, method used and thickness of the meat.

CHICKEN JERKY

You can make jerky from just about any kind of meat you want to.  Of course we have all heard of venison jerky, beef jerky and turkey jerky – so why not chicken jerky?

how to make beef jerky

Chicken jerky ready for the oven.

I took two breasts I had frozen last week (see how I prepared 40 pounds of chicken), cut them into strips and then ground them just like I did the beef.  You have to be careful with grinding chicken, however, because it tends to mush up a lot easier than the beef or even turkey.  I ground my chicken breasts on the large extruder plate, then added spices, and put only half of the chicken and spice mixture through the extruder again.  When it was mixed again, it was a perfect consistency. Proceed just from here just like you are making beef jerky.

Now, as promised, here are some jerky recipes I have found and used.  I listed the web site that the entire recipe can be found and an ingredients list.  If you find a recipe you like, just visit the website to find the entire recipe!  Enjoy!

This one comes from:  www.allergyfreealaska.com

jerky 1

 

This recipe is from:   www.food.com

jerky 2

 

You can find this recipe here:  www.modernistcookingmadeeasy.comjerky 3

One more beef recipe:  www.offthecuttingboard.wordpress.comjerky 4

Now for some Turkey (or chicken) Jerky recipes.

Find this one here:   www.foodpreservation.about.comjerky 5

One more:   www.beefjerkyrecipes.comjerky 6

Have fun making and developing your own jerky recipes!  If you have a blog and have posted your version of the best jerky in the world, please let me know in the comments below!

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Good Night, Sweet (stevia) Prince

Good night, sweet prince”  (Forgive me, I love Shakespeare.)

What I am referring to is the death of my stevia plant.  I killed him.  On purpose.

how to grow stevia

He was a beautiful plant, except where I kept cannibalizing him!  :D

Why?  Because for it to survive, he must live inside my house, as he did last winter, and that’s not going to happen this year.  Why?  Well, for one reason, we are in the early stages of selling our home in the valley so we can move up to our future homestead and build our new house. (It’s about time!!) The garden where the stevia was planted (before I potted it up last winter) has long since been turned back into lawn – which according to our real estate agent is what most potential buyers want to see. So, my poor sweet prince has had to live in his pot on my front porch. :(

But more importantly, I don’t want to have the stevia in the house because last winter he became infested with an itty bitty critter called scale.  I’m not sure where the scale came from, and though I think I finally got rid of that pesky pest, but I don’t want to chance infecting my other house plants, either here or up on our future homestead.

Salad in the window

Here is my sweet prince in my windowsill last winter. The plant thrived and even bloomed in that south facing, warm window!

He served me well.  Very well. ” And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!”

Well, don’t be silly.  I know plants don’t go to heaven.  But I will tell you, this plant was heavenly!  Next spring I hope to start at least four stevia plants, and I will use what I have learned about growing this plant so my future sweet leaf plants thrive as well as, or even better!  What did I learn?

First – they like water, but don’t like wet feet.  In other words, keep their soil moist but not wet.

Second – they love sunshine – sort of.  When my stevia seedlings were first planted in the spring, they actually did quite well.  That is until the zucchini horned in on their space and shut out their direct sunlight!  Once I pulled out the zucchini (it got squash mosaic virus), the stevia started growing like wildfire!  Well, not really like wildfire, but certainly faster than it did when it was partially shaded by the big bad zucchini! Of course, that was in the spring.  Once the hot days of summer set in, the stevia seemed to suffer a bit in the strong sunlight!  I think they would have done better with a bit more afternoon shade.  Lessons learned.

One of two stevia seedlings in the garden.  Can you see how that squash leaf is starting to encroach in the stevia's sunlight?

One of two stevia seedlings in the garden. Can you see how that squash leaf is starting to encroach in the stevia’s sunlight?

Third – humans aren’t the only critters who like the stevia leaves.  I don’t know if bugs can taste sweetness (I am sure they can’t), but it seemed like every aphid, white fly and eventually scale wanted to munch on my stevia.  The white fly and aphids were easy enough to control with a spray made of water and just a drop of olive oil steeped in rosemary.  The scale seemed a bit more resistant.  I discovered, however, if I examined the plant every day and scraped off each scale as I found it, then continued to spray on my organic pest concoction, the scale was at least controlled (I haven’t seen an adult scale in about three months now) or completely eradicated!

Since I knew I wasn’t taking the stevia with me up to the future homestead and I couldn’t bring her into the house, I decided to harvest the last of her sweet leaves.  The simplest way to preserve the leaves is to just dry them in open air out of direct sunlight.  They dry to crunchy status within a day or two.  Store them in a jar or some other air-tight container and they can be used for at least a year.

how to grow stevia and what to do with it

Air drying stevia. It only takes a few days – then store in an airtight container.

How to I use my dried stevia leaves?  I drop some crushed leaves into my herbal teas. The heat from the water produces a lovely, natural sweetness.  Or, soak in very warm water for about 15-30 minutes (until soft and pliable and cooled off), crushing leaves against the side of the container every 5 minutes or so, then strain water into a pitcher of a cool beverage that you want to sweeten.  Lemon balm and stevia is refreshing on a hot summer day!

I have also made a tincture with stevia, which works great.  See this post HERE.

how to grow and use stevia

Store stevia syrup and/or tincture in dark glass bottles in a cool dark place.

As I throw the stevia carcass on the compost pile, I can only dream of next year’s crop.  I hope to be able to keep the new plants in the ground year-round, but we’ll see if that’s possible on the future homestead.  Being a semi-tropical plant, stevia does not like frost, and freezing temperatures are a death sentence.  However, with careful tenting and heavy mulching, I am hopeful.

how to grow and use stevia

Stevia flowers are beautiful and the plant usually blooms in the fall (November in my area). However, the blossoms can make your stevia leaves a bit bitter, so harvest as soon as you see the first blossom…      In other words, do as I say, not as I do!  ;)

Do you have a stevia plant?  If you do, do you leave it in the ground for the winter or pot it up and bring it inside?  Also, do you have any special recipes you use your stevia in? If you do, please  share your recipe in the comments below, or add your post url containing the recipe!

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Forty Pounds of Chicken!!

This post contains an affiliate link. If you make a purchase from the link, I may earn a small commission, at no cost to you, which helps to finance this blog.  Thank you.

Recently I purchased a 40 pound box of boneless, skinless chicken breasts. The chicken came in four bags of 10 pounds each, and this is what I did with it…

(drum roll, please)

What to do with 40 pounds of chickenWith the first bag of chicken, I sliced the breasts into planks and soaked them in marinade.  My dear hubby, Ray, then smoked the chicken planks before grilling them to perfection.  Once they had cooled a bit, I placed them on waxed paper and slid them into the freezer.  An hour or so later, when they were frozen, I used my Food Saver (aka “sucky machine”) to package them into meal sized portions.  We have done this many times before and really enjoy using this chicken sliced onto salads or mixed into pasta. Because of the smoked/grilled flavor and spicy marinade, it’s also great shredded in tacos and enchiladas, or used to make southwestern chicken chili or soup.  Of course, it’s really good just eaten as is – you don’t even need to reheat – just thaw and enjoy!marinated and grilled chicken planks

While Ray was grilling, I took another ten pound bag, sliced the breasts into cubes, then packed them into pint sized canning jars.  After adding plain ole’ water with a generous 1 inch headspace, I wiped the rims with vinegar (to make sure there wasn’t any grease, which could prevent a proper seal) placed the lids and rings finger tight, and pressure canned Canned Chickenthem for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.  I opted not to add salt because this chicken would be used for cooking and/or baking, at which time I would add the appropriate amount of salt. The canned chicken can be used to make pasta dishes, ravioli fillings, chicken tacos, chicken soup – the list goes on and on!  The best part about canning chicken is that no further energy is needed to preserve it once it is properly canned!  If you will be pressure canning at an elevation above 1,000 feet, please follow current guidelines for processing time and pressures. You can get that information here: http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_05/chicken_rabbit.html

Freezing and vacuum sealing chickenNext, I prepared the rest of the chicken breasts for freezing whole.  There wasn’t really much to do except cut the two halves apart, and place them on a waxed paper lined cookie sheet to flash freeze. I used four cookie sheets to do this because it’s important that the chicken doesn’t freeze together.  Also, the air space between the breasts helps to freeze them quicker.  I did cut off that weird nugget piece that goes under the wing of the chicken, and any fat on the chicken, and saved these pieces to make chicken stock. Once frozen, they were individually placed into Ziploc Bags and vacuum sealed.  This ensures freshness for at least six months, usually longer.  Our’s won’t last that long because chicken is our favorite meat protein.vacuum sealed frozen chicken breasts

The bits, pieces and parts that were trimmed off the breasts were slow roasted for several hours (to get that how to make and can chicken stockwonderful flavor),  then dumped into a large pot of cold water and stored in the refrigerator overnight.  The next morning, I skimmed off the fat that was floating on the top of the water, and then simmered for several hours with carrots, onions, garlic, salt, pepper and one bay leaf.  The broth was strained (reserving the chicken meat) and returned to the heat to reduce until it was a beautiful amber color.  I let the broth reduce to about half the volume I started with  because this really intensifies the flavor.  The broth was strained once more as it was ladled into pint sized canning jars, then pressure canned for 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure to preserve it’s goodness.  I live lower than 1,000 feet in elevation, so 20 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure are sufficient to stop botulism in it’s track for me.  If you live at a higher elevation, please see the current recommendations for processing time and pressure for your area.  Again, you can read about the current processing times and recommendations on this website:  http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/can_05/chicken_rabbit.htmlmake and can chicken stock

The final tally from 40 pounds of chicken:

15 bags of marinated smoked and grilled chicken strips, each bag consisting of 5 to 6 planks (which is 2 meal sized portions – perfect for hubby and I)

8 pints of pressure canned chicken breast chunks.

14 frozen whole chicken breasts.

4 pints of canned reduced chicken broth (plus one half pint which is in my refrigerator)

2 cups of shredded chicken from the trimmings used to make the broth.  Chicken enchiladas, anyone?

So, where did I get this wonderful looking, fresh chicken?how to preserve 40 pounds of chicken

Zaycon Foods.  This is how Zaycon Foods describes their service:

Zaycon Foods is a privately owned company based in Spokane, Washington. The company was founded in 2009 with the simple mission to bring farm fresh meats direct to consumers at wholesale prices. You see, we knew all the farmers who had the best stuff around. Thanks to our experience in the grocery industry, we knew how to quickly move that great stuff from point to point, preserving its freshness, taste, and nutrition. So we asked ourselves: “Why are there middlemen involved? Why aren’t we just getting this food directly from the farms to the people who are going to eat it?” That idea grew into the company we are today. When we started off just a few short years ago, we offered only a few meats in a few areas. But thanks to the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response we’ve gotten from all of you, Zaycon has grown like wildfire!”

That sounded pretty good to me, but I am a skeptic, so I decided to try it out by buying just one forty pound box of boneless, skinless chicken.  I paid $1.89 pound, which is a very good price where I live here in Northern California.  Zaycon calls the delivery of their food an “event”, and there are “events” all over the place!  All I had to do was arrive at a certain parking lot in my city between 5 and 5:30 PM on the specified date.  Easy enough.

how to freeze and or can chickenI was amazed to see just how simple the whole process was.  Ordering was easy. Then, on the appointed day, we got in the line-up of cars (we were #4) and in just a few minutes we were at the front of the line.  The gentleman asked us our last name, confirmed that we had bought one box, and forty pounds of chicken was placed into the trunk of our car.  It took less than 10 minutes and we were already on our way home.

When I got the chicken home and inspected it…

Holy moly!  Heavens to Mergatroyd!

These breasts were huge!  And to be honest, I had never seen chicken breasts sold like this before, still attached to the other breast!  I was also pleased to see that there was very little fat clinging onto the breasts. When I opened the bag containing the chicken, the odor wasn’t at all like the odor ofl store bought chicken.  Ah ha…  so this is what fresh chicken is supposed to smell like!!

Will I use Zaycon Foods again?  Yes!  YES!  This was the best chicken I have ever purchased in my life – seriously!  Cross my heart!

The next “event” in my town that I will be ordering from will be the bacon event.  I have to be careful not to buy too much, because my freezer space will be limited when we move up to the future homestead (hopefully soon!).  But, this will give me a chance to try canning bacon!  To me, having to buy in bulk is really the only disadvantage of buying from Zaycon…   You see, 40 pounds is the smallest box of chicken breasts that they sell.  That being said, having customers buy in bulk is exactly how they are able to keep prices so low – which is okay for me because I am able to can some and freeze some.  However, sharing the cost of a box or two and then processing the meat with friends sounds like an excuse for a party!

If you would like to see the Zaycon web site, click HERE.  I promise, if you buy chicken from Zaycon Foods, you will be impressed!

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Where the party is:   The HomeAcre Hop; Share Your Cup Thursday;  Home and Garden Thursday; The Handmade HangoutCreate it Thursday;  Think Tank Thursday; Homemaking Party; Treasure Hunt Thursday; All Things Thursday Inspire Us Thursday; Inspire or be Inspired; Freedom Friday; Friendship Friday; From The Farm; Eat, Create, PartyPinworthy Projects PartyWeekend re-Treat; Family Fun Friday; Friday’s Five Features; Real Food Fridays; Friday FavoritesOld Fashioned Friday; Fridays Unfolded; Inspired WeekendShow Off Friday; Front Porch Friday; No Rules Weekend Party; Say G’Day SaturdaySuper Saturday; Strut Your Stuff Saturday;  My Favorite ThingsNifty Thrifty Sunday; DIY Sunday Showcase; Snickerdoodle Sunday;  Simple Life Sunday; Think Pink SundayThank Goodness It’s MondayHomestead Barn Hop; Clever Chicks Blog Hop; Grand Social; Mix It Up Monday; Create, Link, Inspire;  Amaze Me MondayMotivation MondayMade By You Monday; Homemaking Mondays; Backyard Farming Connection Hop; Show & Share Tuesday; The Gathering Spot; Tuesday Garden PartyGarden Tuesday; Brag About ItTuesdays with a Twist; The Scoop; Tuesdays Treasures; Two Cup Tuesday; Tweak It Tuesday; Inspire Me Tuesdays; Tuesdays at Our Home; Turn It Up Tuesday; Lou Lou Girls; Make, Bake and CreateDown Home Blog HopWildcrafting Wednesday;  Wicked Awesome Wednesday;Whatever goes Wednesday; Show and Share Wednesday; Wined Down Wednesday; What We Accomplished;  Project ParadeWake Up Wednesday; Fluster’s Creative Muster; Whatever Wednesday; Wonderful WednesdayHump Day Happenings

 

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