Saturday, October 26, 2013

Voila! First Successful Chicken Canning!

So a couple weeks ago I picked up my chicken from Zaycon Foods. I have to admit that I was excited. (It's the simple things in life my friends!)

I was scheduled to pick up my 3 units, which equates to 120 pounds of chicken breast. I know, I know, you should have seen the look on Husband's face when I told him how many pounds it was...

"Okay. How many pounds will that give us?"

I paused momentarily before I actually told him. It had occurred to me earlier in the week, as I was calculating the amount of time it would take me to wash the chicken off (yes, I have to wash it off's the OCD in me), cut the butterflied breasts apart, slice up the meat, then prep the jars, prep the broth, and coordinate it all so that the meat wasn't out of refrigeration too long, then process it. Needless to say, I knew I wasn't going to have enough hours to do it all in one day.

"It will give us about one-hundred pounds of chicken," I said off-handedly.

"What? How much?" He asked looking over at me, his eyebrows up way over the top of his glasses.

"It'll give us plenty of chicken," I said looking him straight in the eye.

"Exactly how much chicken?" he asked suspiciously.

"One-hundred-and-twenty-pounds of chicken breasts," I said confidently.

"HOLY CR#P honey! Do you know how much chicken that is?" He asked shocked. "Do you know how long that's going to take you?"

"Yes, I know how much chicken that is. It's 120 pounds," I said giving him a warning look, which after 23 years of marriage he knows means, "you are treading towards dangerous waters, so select your next words carefully." ;-)

"Okay...well I guess we'll have plenty of chicken."
Smart man. Very. Smart. Man. (And just one of the reasons why I love him so...)

Traffic was pretty calm & steady for 2 hours straight.
Interestingly two days before I was to pick up my order Zaycon's customer service called me wanting to know if I was interested in helping out at the 2-hour event in exchange for earning credit on my account towards my next order. Absolutely! I can spend a couple hours helping out in exchange for food credit - sign me up!

So I showed up at 7:30 am and worked until 9:30 am and helped direct traffic. It was pretty easy, definitely not as physical as the ladies lifting and loading the boxes into the cars. Traffic came in waves and the time went quickly. It was interesting that there were cars of all makes and models - from a beat up pickup truck to a jaguar sports car. I guess everyone can use a way to save money on food.

My chicken looked just like the images online!
I was pleased that the chicken looked just like it showed on Zaycon's website. The breasts were significant in size and very little fat. I did have a total of about 1-2 pounds of skin across all three boxes, but it's not a big enough deal to cause me any pause.

The chicken was extremely cold, but not icy - which is important in keeping it safe during transport, and since I was going to freeze most of it, I didn't want it half frozen before I began processing it.

So about 13-14 years ago I was in TJ Maxx or Marshall's in the home section and came across a meat grinder and decided that I needed it. It was a very good price ($14.99) and I figured I would use it...someday.

Well my someday was here! And I do have to say it worked really well. I connected it to the end of my very heavy, industrial-strength, child-proof kitchen table and ground up one of the boxes of chicken.

I do have to admit though, the sound of chicken being ground up is a very unique sound. I now know where the foley artists get the sounds for the horror movies and the last episode of The Walking Dead.

I did think it was pretty funny that both my teenaged children thought the sound was disgusting and had a time dealing with it without spontaneously gagging. LOL!

So into the grinder it went...

And out came beautiful ground chicken!

The ground chicken I froze in my seal-a-meal in ~1.25# packages. This netted me about 22 packages of ground chicken. 
I canned about one full box, which gave me 21 pints. I have to admit that canned chicken is not the most visually appealing canned food. In fact, Husband kept joking that he half expected to see an eyeball suddenly spin around and look at him. It must be because it's October and Halloween is right around the corner...
Raw packed with broth netted cooked, tender chicken!
And BTW, I tested out my Tattler reusable canning lids and seals, since I have only used them for water bath canning not pressure canning. I wasn't surprised that they all turned out sealed and perfect! 

I have to plug this product. They're infinitely reusable (awesome!), dishwasher safe (even awesomer!), and eliminate the chance of spoilage due to corrosion (very nice). AND...most importantly...BPA free! (cue the angels singing and the ray of sun light!)

The one thing I noticed that is quite different that using the single-use metal lids is that they are rounded or curved when you first take them out of the canner (pressure and water bath), and as they cool, they seal and become concave. And there's no audible, satisfying 'pop' as they seal. 

I miss the 'pop' but I like that I don't have to buy lids each canning season - saves me money! 
Flaked apart and was so tender.
So I had to test one jar out, just to see how it smelled, tasted, and what the texture was. And I have to admit, I was really happy! It was so tender, flaking apart with a fork. It looked just like the canned chicken I buy at Costco. Just cost me much less per pound! 

The remaining chicken I sliced up into long strips, and froze it in ~1.50# bags in my seal-a-meal. I didn't have the time to marinate and freeze. Maybe next time, when I only buy one or two boxes. ;-)

Now on to my tomatoes...I've got to find a green-tomato recipe to can, since my San Marzano tomatoes were prolific but didn't seem to ripen in time for me to can tomato sauce. =0/ 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Buying in Bulk

Having a family with three children (two of them teenagers) means we go through a lot of food between their hungry mouths and friends. I'm always looking for ways to buy at a savings AND try and buy non-GMO certified or organic. This can be a tough combination. But, it is becoming easier...just not fast enough. =0/

I'm trying a new food service: Zaycon Foods
I'm excited about it because of the money you can save by planning ahead and investing a little work. The philosophy is that by buying direct, cutting out the middleman, you save significant money per pound. I'm all for investing some time and saving money...who isn't? So I went big - I bought 3 units of chicken breast (40 pounds per unit) which works out to $1.84/pound. Granted it's not organic (which is my first preference) but it is boneless, skinless chicken breast, that is direct from the processor with no additives or artificial ingredients and no hormones. This will provide me with chicken for my long-term meal planning, and I can extend how far out I can plan meals by supplementing with organic meats as my budget allows.

I'll meet at the pick-up spot and take my 3 units; they'll be in a bag-lined cardboard box.

I'm eager to see if my chicken is as clean and lean as what is pictured on their website.     
I'm planning on breaking it into thirds so I can freeze 1/3; cut 1/3 into strips, marinate and freeze; and can the remaining third. I'm actually really excited about trying out this food service (you know how I get the time of year, and 'Squirrel Girl' is ready to put food up for the winter!) ;0)

This weekend I did a small test run of canning chicken, just to see how difficult it was. Since I have never canned meat before, I thought it would be prudent to do a small test batch before having 120 pounds of chicken in my kitchen. It was so easy! It took me about 15-20 minutes to prep the jars, cut up the fresh chicken, and put everything together. And 75 minutes later I had my three test jars done.

October 12th is the day I pick up, so I'll post the results when I've gone through all my prepping. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

First Of the Canning Season

I love fall. And I really love preparing in the fall. This sense of preparation or "need to prepare" kicked in full gear when I was expecting our first child many years ago. Until that time, I just got really excited about the "back to school" season - even though we didn't have any children at the time. I assumed it was left over excitement of starting a new school year. New adventures...

My favorite time is coming!
Once the babies started coming though I would go into what Husband referred to as "squirrel girl" mode. It always hits in the fall. It always starts the same.
  • Lists. I start making more lists than I normally do. Lists for repairs. Lists for chores. Lists for food. Lists of what needs to be cleaned. You name it, if it has to do with "preparing for winter" squirrel girl is on the job! 
  • Cleaning. I have never done the deep spring cleaning that you always read about. I do clean (I promise...please don't let my previous post on soap scum give you a poor impression of my housekeeping skills), but I do my deep cleaning in the fall. Before we're all tucked inside for the icky weather and long months. I think it is also the tax incentive that encourages me to go through what we're not using and give it to the VVA or local charity. 
  • Decorating. I start to look at different spaces in our home, and since it's cleaned and streamlined, my thoughts turn to how to refresh the space and "make it new" (...I already have ideas about the laundry room...). Plus, the holiday season is just around the corner!
  • Food Storage. Maybe it harkens back to ancestors...or maybe it's childhood memories of a lot of snow in the winter...all I know is that fall starts a strong desire to make sure I have stores for the family's needs, and it goes beyond food to include toiletries, clothing, and any other supplies a family might need.
This summer I put up 20 quarts of fresh, organic peaches. I also used some of the peaches for jam. I tried a new variety -- Diamond Princess -- and they were amazingly sweet! I only used 1.5 cups of sugar instead of the called-for 7 cups! The family has been circling around the jars ever since, asking when we can open them. "Not yet!" I say, "It's still in the high-80s and 90s!" I did break down and my youngest took some for lunch earlier this week. They were so good -- it was like tasting a fresh-picked peach! YUM!

Mmmmm! This is going to taste SO good on toast on a raining morning!
My biggest challenge is finding organic produce in bulk and at a reasonable price. I was so excited when I found an excellent wholesale produce company not too far from work and home: ProFarm Produce. Shane and Ryan are awesome...and Shane is great at responding and keeping up with my regular inquiries on what's ripening. (** wink **)

Next up on the agenda are PEARS. I'm going to can pear pieces so they're easier to fit into the Ball freezer containers. These containers are perfect for freezing left over broth or drippings for soup stock (another staple in our home during cold evenings...I think my teenage son would live off soup during the winter if I let him!), and the leak-proof flexible lid is perfect for lunch containers too. It's only topped off by the fact that they're BPA free! (THIS all makes me a very happy mom.)

These come in a set of 3 for $4.99 at my local Winco
After pears comes APPLES! I do a chunky apple sauce with cinnamon. Generally I don't add any sugar, depending upon what types of apples I'm saucing. I'll probably do up some apple butter as well. It reminds me of my Mom, and I have yet to make some, so this fall seems the perfect time. 

The fruit, jams, and butters will be joined this fall and winter by the green beans and zucchini (prepped and frozen for soups and breads). Sadly our corn experiment was a bit of a bust (more in my next post). And all the other produce is being eaten as fast as I can pick it. 

Each year I learn so much about gardening. And while I'm having fun and taking great pride in growing some of our food, I am really glad that I'm not solely dependent on my garden for feeding my hungry brood. I'm going to need more time to learn and optimize my garden space!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Round Two: Me vs. Soap Scum

As promised, I'm posting the results of my experiment with oven spray to remove tough soap scum (read: black, nasty build-up). Husband took an interest, because like I said in my earlier post, he's a guy and lots of guys are interested in chemistry....but nothing exploded. =0)

So here is the shot of my shower floor. I really cannot believe I'm posting this out to the Internet and exposing my domestic soul...but I figure its good therapy (right? Right?!). In my slight defense, the lighting (you can see my shadow darkening the left side of the picture) makes it look slightly scarier in the picture than it does in person...

Yeah, pretty discussing...I know and am appropriately ashamed.
So here is the brand and type I bought. Starting at the bottom of the shower and the floor, I worked my way up the walls and used the entire can. Even though it states "frame free" on the bottle, it still does have a smell, so I turned on the fan and tried not to breathe a lot while spraying. 

I let it sit for one hour (yes, Husband checked on it several times to see how it was going), then used a stiff scrubbing brush to scrub and remove the junk. And here is the result:

I was SO hoping that it would be a miracle solution like the rubbing alcohol on the soap scum build up, but not quite. I DO have to admit, it really DID breakdown the soap scrub, but I did use my scrub brush some to get it clean. This of course wasn't good enough. So back to the store for another bottle - this time I bought the spray bottle not the aerosol can (appealed to the recycler in me).
Here is the second result:
SOOOOO much better!
WHOO HOO! Pretty impressive huh? I now know that my showers and tubs will never look anything but exceptional from now on! I've bared my domestic soul and I feel really clean now. ;0)

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again!

Oh my gosh! I cannot believe how quickly time has passed...
Like many of you, I've been busy raising our family and working full time.  But the last several months I've come to rely on the advice and information on other blogs and thought, "I need to post the comments and feedback on MY blog." So here I am.

I stumbled upon a miracle last night. While husband and I read after falling into bed after a busy day (mine cleaning all day, playing catch up), I came across a comment made on a Canadian blogger a Mum 'n the Oven. They were talking about how to get soap scrum off shower doors, etc. one person posted "wipe the glass with rubbing alcohol."

What!? Rubbing alcohol? Seriously? I was so curious, I crawled out of bed, grabbed the alcohol and a cleaning rag and went into my shower. I COULD NOT BELIEVE IT! The soap scum that I had been battling FOR YEARS wiped off without any effort.

I know, I's soap scum...why is she getting so excited. I may be late to the party but dog-gone-it this is a life changing moment for me (at least in the cleaning portion of my life)! For those of you who know me personally, I can get a bit...particular about things...down right anal. It has served me well in business and in life in general...but I have to admit, it was causing me some problems in the "cleaning the bathrooms" department. Because I would have to scrub so hard and so long just to get a little bit ahead of the soap scum, I was disheartened and didn't want to do it often enough to stay ahead of it (my Momma is currently looking down at me from above, nodding head and giving me one of her famous looks of "uh huh").

Needless to say, when I tried the rubbing alcohol, I was so amazed I called Husband in to take a look. Yep, called him out of bed to take a look at what the rubbing alcohol had done. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, he's a smart man...he knows that "when Momma's happy, everybody in the home is happy." He was rightfully impressed, being into guy things (which usually involves chemistry, blowing things up, and the like).

I waited until this morning to take some before/after shots. Here there are. And note, these before shots are not as bad as they've been before...this is what I got the soap scum level down to after drubbing a few weeks ago. The bottom of the doors were completely fogged and coated.

Here are a couple of the beforehand; and no there's nothing weird with my's the soap scum and their shadows.
 Before and after - pretty amazing!

Here are the after photos. Pretty freakin' amazing if I do say so. And it was only 10 minutes with little effort.

And my new best friend:

Next, I'm going to try out a recommendation to use oven cleaner to get ride of the nasty soap scrum/mineral build up on my shower walls and floor. Figured I'd give it a try, and even if it only loosened it, I always have a bottle of my new best friend, right?

I promise to document it and share the results. Please don't judge me though...I fully admit that my shower is pretty gross and something I'm NOT proud of...

Monday, September 12, 2011

Busy as a Bee

The summer heat finally arrived - we've had multiple days in the high-80s and low-90s in a row - and all the plants are growing like crazy. There are hordes of butterflies, honey bees and bumble bees buzzy through our backyard. I know hordes sound like a scary term, but I mean this in the most "action-packed, productive" use of the word.

My volunteer zucchini are growing into monsters. I've had to trail them out into the open area of the garden (where my future green house will be), and into the walking row. They were beginning to attach themselves to son's bike, so we needed to move that out of the way.

The head lettuce have grown fuller and rounder and I managed to harvest all five heads before all the slugs found them. And the potato plants are looking really good. The tomatoes plants (my only two of the season) are growing taller and taller. I'm finally now seeing the fruit grow and ripen. The day after taking this picture, the vines have bent over and are now growing horizontally along my make-shift support.

I need to figure out a better support system for the dozen+ tomato plants I'm planning for next spring's garden...these determinate variety just keep vining. I see some research in my future this fall.

Good tomato...
Unfortunately, the soil I have these plants in had a calcium deficiency (at least that's what all my books say), given the blossom rot several of the first fruits had.

I've been picking off the really bad ones and tossing them into the composter. I figured I didn't want the plant wasting energy ripening a fruit that is lost to the rot.

Bad tomato... =0(
Now I know what to prepare and look for, for next spring's garden. This is the part of gardening that I find so fascinating...that I am constantly learning and surprised by new discoveries.

With all the growth and all the plants blooming, the bushes are heavy and hanging down across the walkway and into the walking spaces. And as busy as everyone is in my backyard, I end up doing a funny little dance and I weave past various plants, trying hard not to knock into the fat bumble bees or interrupt the honey bees. Bob and weave...bob and weave...
Busy, busy bee.
One of several very thirsty butterflies.

I love these little "mini-carnations"
they smell like perfumed cloves.
I'm think that I may be spending too much time in my garden...I'm beginning to see faces in all my plants and produce! Here's one I pulled off our tomato plant. I swear, it looks like one of the characters in the Veggie Tales cartoons. When I went to cut it up for our dinner salads, none of the children would stay in the kitchen! They said it made them too uncomfortable to cut up something that looked like a cross between Bob the Tomato and Mr. Lunt the gourd! 

Off to other chores...planning on canning tomato sauce soon.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Happy Birthday Momma!

Today would have been my Momma's 70th birthday. Three and a half years ago she left her earthly bonds and slipped back home.

I know she watches over me and mine as we all go about our busy days...and rarely does a day go by that I don't have a conversation with her as if she's sitting next to me in the car (but I know the "damn seatbelt" isn't bothering her now). I think about her as I'm throwing in a load of laundry...I think about her as I'm moving around my kitchen pulling dinner together each night...I think about her as I'm tooling through my garden harvesting blueberries, herbs and pulling a few weeds. Some days I feel as though she's standing right next to me saying, "Don't miss that little weed hiding under your lettuce leaf there...."

Sometimes I can't believe this woman is no longer a physical, everyday presence in my life...I feel her with me so strong that I swear I see her out of the corner of my eye. I occasionally hear her movements in my home, which was as much her space as it was ours all those years she took care of my babies and lived in our home during the week. 

As I continue going through my day today, spending time in the office, planning dinner and heading out to the season's first official soccer practice for her youngest grandchild, I will think warm, loving thoughts of gratitude of how blessed I was to have had this woman be such a positive force in my life and the lives of our children. I am the wife, mother, sister and woman I am today because of what this beautiful, kind, funny woman taught me. She was my mom and my best friend. 

Happy Birthday Momma!
I love you.