Food Pantry Meals

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Meals from the Food Pantry

One thing I loved about my learning to cook from my mom was that she could make an amazing meal out of anything! When I had my first baby, she came to stay for a while and helped out with cooking and cleaning. I can’t even express in words how great it felt to have some of the amazing meals she made for me while I was recovering (from a C section)! It wasn’t just the physical taste of the meals, it was emotionally uplifting.

Now that she’s retired and has a very limited income, she goes to a food pantry every week to help with groceries. Some of the last few times I’ve been to visit, she’s made such tasty meals with the limited items she gets! I thought it might be a good idea to help others learn how to make a meal out of whatever random food you’d pick up at your local food bank.

If you went to¬† Assumption Catholic Church this week for their free food pantry, here’s what you might’ve picked up:

Food Pantry Meals

They also had some turkeys left over from Christmas that they were giving away! My family did tamales for Christmas; we haven’t had a turkey since Thanksgiving. It sounded pretty good!

Want to know all the neat stuff you could make? Check it out!

Meals

  1. Turkey dinner! If you don’t have stuffing, you could use the Rice O Roni that you got and canned green beans! Mashed potatoes? Sure! Be sure you make complete use of that turkey – boil the spine and guts for soup (or broth for something else). Here are some recipes that could help you:

* Dry Brine Turkey

* Roasted Turkey with Parchment Paper & Gravy

* All Recipes: Perfect Turkey

2. If you have a small family, or just don’t want to cook a whole turkey at once, you could cut it into pieces and cook them separately. In fact, last Thanksgiving I cooked my turkey flat (by taking out the spine first) and it only took ~2 hours instead of all day! Substitute for any of your favorite chicken recipes! Check out these recipes that might help you:

* Baked Turkey Legs

* Roasted Turkey Legs

*Moist and Tender Turkey (Or Turkey Breast)

* Oven Roasted Turkey

3. Use the bread, peanut butter, jelly, and all those snack bags to pack your kids lunches over the next week! Don’t have kids? Pack yourself a lunch! Make it fun with a cookie cutter:

heart shaped pb&j

4. Ramen soup! When I was in my young adult days, I became a PRO at cooking ramen! In fact, I’ve almost started a page dedicated to ramen recipes! One of my favorite ways to eat ramen is by adding it to a can of soup! Pour the soup into a pot on the stove, add ramen, plus any veggies you want, and enjoy! Want more ramen recipe ideas? Try mixing and matching these items:

* Diced tomato

* Squeezed lime

* Your favorite hot sauce

* Beans

* Rice

* Hot dog

* Broccoli (or any other veggies you have)

* Diced deli meat

* Cheese

* Jalapeno

* Tuna

5. Spaghetti – Could be as simple as boiling the noodles and adding sauce, or you could spice it up. I prefer to make my sauce with meat. I cook the meat first, adding in onions, bell peppers, bay leaves, and seasonings. I add a bit of sugar with mine, to compliment the savory spices. I also add my tomatoes in while the meat is cooking. Once the meat is done cooking, drain if necessary, then add your tomatoes and sauce. I will either cut fresh tomatoes or just use a large can of petite diced tomatoes and a large can of tomato sauce. Use whatever you have; if you have tomato paste, throw that in with some water. If you need some recipes, check these out (but remember that if you use that can of pre-made sauce, you’ll need less seasonings):

* Easy Marinara Sauce

* Simple Marinara Sauce

* Easy Marinara Sauce

6. Mexican food! This is vague intentionally because when you have the ingredients to make Mexican food, you usually can make whatever you want. Tacos, burritos, tostadas, taquitos, flautas, enchiladas… With that can of green chiles, the rice, taco seasoning, and the purchase of some tortillas, anything is possible! Here are some ideas to get you started:

* Easy Spanish Rice

* Beef Taquitos

* Easy Homemade Taquitos Recipe

* Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

* Easy Green Chile Enchiladas

7. Take a day off from cooking all these meals and warm up those shells & cheese or one of the cans of spaghetti! You deserve a break! Add some protein to it and make some tuna mac (mixed with the shells). That tuna could also just be mixed with some noodles to make a casserole.

8. Goulash – My mom made the best when I was growing up! Use some meat (hamburger, ground turkey, pork sausage, etc.)… cook the mean on the stove. Place in the bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish, add some veggies (corn and green beans are my fav), then mashed potatoes on top. If you have some cheese, sprinkle some on. Bake it in the oven just long enough for the cheese to melt, then serve!

Other stuff

  1. All those samples of shampoo and body wash might not seem like much as they are, but try making a salt or sugar scrub with them! Not only is it better for your skin, it’ll help them last longer! Here’s what you do: find a container that has an air-tight lid. I like plastic food storage containers myself. Fill it about 3/4 of the way full of sugar (or epsom salt works well), then pour some shampoo or body wash on top. Mix it in with a butter knife, then check the consistency. Add more sugar or shampoo as needed to make it the right consistency. Now that sample body wash is going to last you MUCH longer!

 

And there you have it – a week’s worth of meals from the pantry! Please let me know what you think by commenting; questions & feedback are welcome!

Food Pantry Meals

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Homemade Jellies!

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Homemade Jellies

4 Homemade Jellies

So this is the first time I’ve EVER made a homemade jam (or jelly?). I had been reading up on all kinds of different jams, jellies, and marmalade recipes, and saw some berries and grapes for pretty reasonable prices at Costco. I thought, now’s as good a time as any to get started.

Things to know for any jelly:

  • You have to wash your jars, lids, and rings in soapy water. You can also put them through the dishwasher. The jars and rings can be reused, but the lids must be new.
  • You have to boil them in hot water to seal the jars and kill any bacteria living in them. If not done properly, you can get seriously sick from bacteria that’ll grow while the jar is in storage. NOT ALL FOODS ARE SAFE TO PROCESS THROUGH WATER CANNING, but in general jellies and jams ARE safe through water canning. Do your research if you’re straying from a recipe.
  • There IS a difference between jam, jelly, and marmalade. But for this post, I’m using the terms jam and jelly interchangeably.
  • You can make jam with or without pectin. Pectin is a natural ingredient that comes from fruit and can be found in the baking isle of most grocery stores. Many of the recipes I looked at did not call to add pectin, but the cook times take MUCH longer when you don’t use it. The results can also vary greatly (later I’ll give you a tip on how to tell if your jelly is done). In the end, I preferred to use it since it sped up the process, but it’s nice to know you don’t have to if you don’t have any.

Necessities:

  1. Fruit. Certain fruits require extra steps, or extra time in the boiler. Make sure to do your research.
  2. Sugar. Usually lots of it, but I got by with less than most recipes called for.

If you plan to store it long term, you’ll also need:

3. Canning jar, lid, and ring.

4. Large pot with some sort of rack inside for the jars to sit on. Should be large enough that your jars can sit UNDER water on top of the rack.

5. Some sort of tool to place the jars in boiling water and pull them out. They have an official tool for this, but if you have something else that works without burning yourself or anything around you, use it!

Optional:

  • Pectin. As I already stated, this just helps the jelly get firm with less cooking time. I prefer to use the no-sugar pectin because then I can add as much or as little sugar as I like. Seems to give you more flexibility. See also sugar substitute options below.
  • Lemon juice or zest. While this isn’t required for many fruits, I HIGHLY recommend it if you’re planning on storing for long-term. It will help to insure your jelly has a high enough acidity that bacteria can’t grow after your boiling bath. Most recipes call for it.
  • Other spices. Many recipes call for cinnamon or nutmeg.
  • Food processor or blender. This helps if you want to thin out your jelly (no chunks) or need to strain out some part of the fruit (i.e. seeds).

Substitutions:

  • Sugar alternative. This could be something like Stevia, honey, or agave nectar. Be sure to use the no sugar pectin if you’re using a sugar alternative.
  • Juice instead of fruit. Typically you’ll want unsweetened juice. Most recipes calling for juice are for grape jelly.
  • Lemon juice versus lemon zest. Some recipes might say to use the zest and juice of a lemon. You can simply use lemon juice out of a bottle if you want. As long as you use about the same amount, you’re good.

Tutorials

Prep for Canning Any Jelly

Before you start making your jelly, if you’re planning on canning you’ll need to complete these steps first.

  1. Wash all your jars and lids with hot, soapy water. Rinse thoroughly. You can process in a dishwasher if preferred.
  2. Keep jars and lids hot until they’re filled. This can be done by keeping them in the dishwasher or by keeping them in a pot with hot water.
  3. If you’d like to read more about food safety when canning, check out the USDA’s website. TONS of great info there.

Blueberry Strawberry Jelly

Ingredients I used:

2 c Strawberries, cut up into smaller pieces

1 c blueberries

1 c sugar

3 Tbl lemon juice

1. Put a spoon or plate in the freezer for testing later. When you think your jelly is ready, put a little bit on your frozen plate or spoon and see how well it gels. This will tell you if you need to keep cooking it.

2. Mix your sugar and lemon juice together in a sauce pan.

sugar & lemon juice cooking

3. The recipe I followed said to cook on VERY low heat for about 10 minutes (until sugar is dissolved). I accidentally added the fruit in the beginning, then took it out, then got impatient and put it back early. Turned out fine.

4. Add your fruit.

straw blue berry cooking in sugar

 

5. Cook it a long while on low heat until the blueberries have popped and all the fruit has released its yummy juices.

straw blue berries cooking

6. I like to smash the fruit up to be sure it’s all mixed together. Potato masher worked fine for me. Blender or food processor would work too.

smashing strawblueberries

7. Use your frozen spoon or plate to test the jelly. If it gels to your liking, move on. If not, keep cooking until it passes the test.

Jelly test

8. Remove any foam on the top of the jelly that’s built up while it was boiling. Spread it on some bread, or a muffin, or something and eat it. I gave it to the kids on some homemade bread.

9. If you’re not planning on canning for long-term storage, you can simply bottle it up and put it in the fridge or freezer now. Otherwise, keep reading.

10. Fill your jelly into jars that have been kept hot. Remember to leave head room. I left some extra room in my first batch. Make sure to get out any air bubbles in the jelly before sealing. They make a special tool for this, but I got by with a wooden skewer.

blue straw berry jam in jars

11. Tighten the lids onto the jars. Hand-tight is ok because it’s the hot water bath that will seal them.

water bath jellies

I used this pot that I bought around Christmas time to make tamales. It was only about $13 at the local Mercado. It has a shelf for the jars to sit on so they’re not on the bottom of the pot.

tamale canning pot

12. Once the water starts boiling, leave the jars in for a minimum of 10 minutes. If you live in an area with high altitude, you’ll want to go longer. I did 15 minutes.

13. Set on the counter on a dry kitchen towel (folded in half) to cool. Should cool MINIMUM 12 hours, up to 24.

Cooling jam

14. Once they’ve cooled, check the lids to be sure they sealed. If you press down on the middle of the lid, you shouldn’t have a pop. If you do, it didn’t seal properly. Store those ones in the fridge and use immediately. Out of 4 different batches of 24 jars, I had 2 not seal. Not bad.

Blueberry Jelly

Ingredients I used:

3 c Blueberries

2 c sugar

1 c water

3-4 Tbl lemon juice

1 box pectin (regular kind)

1 slice butter (~1/4 Tbl)

 

  1. Put your spoon or plate back in the freezer to cool.
  2. Start with half your sugar (1 cup) and lemon juice again. I didn’t rinse my pan between batches, so I needed a little extra lemon juice this time; 4 tablespoons. You can see the red tint to the sugar from the strawberries in the previous batch.
  3. Once it’s cooked down, add the blueberries. I was a bit more impatient with this batch and cooked it on higher heat for a shorter time. I added the water to keep it from burning.

Blueberries in pan for jam

4. Cook until the blueberries pop. Again, I got impatient and turned up the heat. Smash them with the masher again.

5. Add the box of pectin and mix it up, avoiding clumping. Turn heat to high if it’s not already there.

** A neat trick I learned from Ree at The Pioneer Woman is to put a small slice of butter in the pan while cooking the pectin. This helps it from frothing so much.

Blueberry jam

6. Bring it to a vigorous boil and keep it there 1 minute, stirring constantly. I probably went longer than a minute because I always forget to look at the clock when it starts boiling how I want it.

7. Add the remaining sugar & cook over medium to high heat until it starts to thicken.

8. Use your frozen spoon to test it out. If it’s not ready, repeat the vigorous boil for 1 minute. You can also try adding more sugar or pectin, both of these will help it gel up.

frozen spoon jam test

9. Scoop all the foam off the top. You don’t want it going into the jars for canning.

10. Bottle it up, get the air bubbles out, and put it in the boiling canner for 10 minutes (or more if you’re at high altitude).

11. Let set 12-24 hrs to cool, then check the seal like before.

empty jars with funnels

blueberry jam to be canned

 

Strawberry Jam

Ingredients I used:

4 c Strawberries, cut up

2 c sugar

1 c water

3 Tbl lemon juice

3 Tbl pectin (no-sugar needed kind)

1 slice butter (~1/4 Tbl)

  1. This time I just put the strawberries in the pan right away with the first cup of sugar and lemon juice. I added the water gradually, as needed. Medium high heat.

strawberries sugar and lemon juice

strawberries & sugar cooking

2. Cook it till the strawberries have released most of their juices, then mash it up.

3. Add the pectin on high heat and aggressively boil it for 1 minute. Remember to add butter to keep the froth down.

4. Add the remaining sugar and keep cooking on medium to medium high heat until it’s dissolved and thickening up. Test it with your frozen spoon.

strawberry jam

5. Remove any foam from the top, pour it in some jars (leaving room at the top), and seal them up!

6. Boil in hot water canner for 10 minutes. Let cool on counter 12-24 hours, then check the seal.

Red Grape Jelly

Ingredients I used:

~2 lbs Grapes – I forgot to measure the grapes before boiling. After the boiling and straining (see below), it yielded 4+ cups grape juice. I used 4 cups for the jelly.

2 c sugar

Enough water to cover the grapes in your pot

3 Tbl lemon juice

4 Tbl pectin (no-sugar needed kind)

1 slice butter (~1/4 Tbl)

  1. For this, I used a pot instead of shallow pan. Boil the grapes in water until they’re mostly all popped. Add 1 c sugar to them while they’re boiling.

boiled grapes

2. Pour the grapes and water (now juice) in a blender or food processor and mix them up. If you don’t have one of these, you can mash them with the potato masher, then strain them out. I had to do 2 batches in my blender since not all of it would fit.

blender full of grapes and juice

3. If you prefer more chunky jelly like I do, you could put this mixture back into the pot and continue on without straining. I accidentally bought grapes with seeds, though, so I had to strain them first. To strain them, you put a cheesecloth in a sieve or colander and filter the mixture through it.

chessecloth sieve colander grapes

4. Measure the juice to 4c (ish) and put it back into the pot. Bring it to a hard boil and add the pectin, mixing well so it doesn’t clump. Don’t forget to add the butter to help keep the foam down.

grape juice for jelly

grape jelly pectin butter

5. Boil the pectin very hard for 1 minute. I initially put in 3 Tbl, but ended up having to add more and boil it again. I’m thinking the thin consistency and low sugar levels required more. I also added the other cup of sugar here.

6. Remove the froth, pour it into jars, and remove air bubbles from the jars. Here’s the bamboo skewer that I used.

Bamboo skewer to remove air bubbles

7. Seal them up and boil them 10+ minutes, depending on your altitude. Let cool on counter for 12-24 hours before checking the seal.

grape & berry jellies cooling counter

 

Whew! I’m glad I’m done with all that! Unless you’ve got a lot of time and energy, I don’t recommend doing this many batches in one day!

Feel free to check out some of the places where I got my inspiration:

If there’s something you’d like to see me post, or if you just have a question or comment please share in the comments section.

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