My Foray Into Food Storage

A regular gal learning about Food Storage, Home Cooking, Canning, Gardening, and more!


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8 Tips To Make a Good Lemon Bar GREAT!!

I cannot tell you how many times someone has asked me what makes some things I bake taste better than theirs when we used the same recipe. Over the years, I’ve learned a few very small things which a very big difference in improving the overall taste. 

Today, I’m going to share how to take a basic lemon bar recipe and make some of the best lemon bars you’ve ever tasted.  I made lime bars, because that’s what I had in my kitchen, but the same principles apply to any citrus bars.  You can use the recipe below for any citrus bar (lime, orange, grapefruit).  

  

First, start with a good recipe. I really like this one. It makes a very yummy lemon bar, and it contains very simple ingredients. My only complaint is that it is not lemony enough for me. I want my lemon bars to scream “LEMON” when I take a bite. 

Second, use high quality, fresh ingredients. If the recipe calls for real butter, use real butter.  If it calls for lemon juice, use freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than bottled.  This is particularly important in recipes with just a few ingredients. 

Third, zest your lemons and add it to your lemon juice. The zest adds that super lemony tartness lemon bars need to make them great. Wash your citrus fruit in your favorite fruit/vegetable wash, or soak it in some water with white vinegar before you zest it. Then rinse and dry it. Next, use a micro plane grater like this one for easy zesting. You can use a zester, but I really like my micro plane grater. I use it for many things in my kitchen (grating Parmesan, grating ginger, etc.), so it’s not a single use tool.  You can find these at many retailers. Amazon sells one here
  

Fourth, since you’re using freshly squeezed lemon, lime, or other citrus juices, make sure that you have enough juice. Some lemons have more juice, and some have less. The average lemon has about 3 Tablespoons of juice. Measure your juice after you squeeze it. If you don’t have enough juice, squeeze another lemon or supplement with bottled juice to ensure you have at least 6 tablespoons of juice (for this recipe). I know I said freshly squeezed juice is betterm and it is, but it is better to use some bottled juice and have enough than to have too little juice from fresh lemons. 

I use my favorite pampered check lemon juicer, but you can find these at Walmart, Target, and many other retailers. Even Amazon has one you can view here.  
   
   

Fifth, make sure that you pre-bake your crust long enough. It should be getting brown on the edges. This will give a nice flavor to your crust. 
  

Sixth, do not use a hand mixer to mix the custard for your lemon bars.   Using a hand mixer will make your custard a bit frothy which changes the texture into something a little less decadent. Use a whisk to combine the juice, eggs, sugar, and flour. 
  

Seventh, let your lemon bars sit for at least 12 hours before you cut and serve them. Sure, it’s difficult to wait, because your lemon bars will smell so delicious, but, if you let them sit, the flavors of the crust and custard will combine so nicely.  Of course, in my house, we don’t wait. We always eat some as soon as they’re cool enough for us to eat them without burning ourselves. However, when I eat one the following day, I wish I’d waited, because they’re so much better. 
Finally, dust them lightly with powdered sugar, but do not go overboard!  The sweetness of the powdered sugar is a nice counterpoint to the tartness of the citrus, and too much sugar will mask too much of the lemony goodness of the bars. 
  

(You may notice that my lime bars are really green. My son wanted me to add a little food coloring so that no one would mistake them for lemon bars, so I added with three drops of green food coloring and one drop of blue.  Be careful with your food coloring or you may end up with this on your skin.)
  

And there you have it!  My tips for the most delicious lemon (lime, orange, or grapefruit) bars you’ll ever eat. 
Do you have any baking or cooking tips which take a good recipe and make it great?  I’d love for you to share!

*** Please note that there are affiliate links in this post. ***

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Making Something From Nothing. Or, To Be More Accurate, From Another Person’s Trash. 

When you think of trash, what comes to mind?  It’s not something most people seek out and for good reason.  Yet, there is one form of “trash” which is actually a treasure!

What trash you ask?  This kind:

Lovely, isn’t it?  Can you tell what it is?   It is the typically discarded parts of veggies like carrots (ends and peels)’ onions, orange peppers, etc. I often include celery, but I don’t have any yet.

 
Well, I pull my trusty discard bag out of my freezer whenever I prep vegetables and save whatever I think will make a good broth. Then, I stick it bag into the freeze until I have enough to make this:

 

 

Homemade Chicken Stock

For years, I wanted to make broth, but I didn’t, because I rarely buy bone-in chicken.  Then, I made an amazing discovery.  You can used cooked bones to make broth!  Your broth will be a bit darker in color, but the bones from a roasted chicken or turkey give a lovely flavor.

 
YAY!   Now I save the chicken carcass whenever I buy a roasted chicken from Costco.  I put it in a bag and save it in my freezer along with my “garbage” bag of veggies.  (I saved my turkey carcass last year and used it to make broth as well.)  When I have a few chickens, I stick them in a big stock pot or two with my veggies. I let them stew for at least 24 hours to get out all of the chicken and veggie goodness and into my broth.  Then I skim any yuckies off the top of the broth and refrigerate it to make it easier to skim the fat. At this point, the broth is ready to season and use. I prefer to wait to add salt until I’ve cooked my broth, but you can add salt earlier in the process.

 

Here are a couple of pictures of my broth in process.

 

(This is one of my pots with chicken bones and veggie trimmings.) 

(This is my broth after it cooked for several hours.) 

Of course, I made an insane amount of broth at this point, at least 6 gallons. Unless I’m cooking for a crowd, I will never going to use all this broth before it goes bad.  This is where my handy dandy pressure canner comes into play. I can my broth, so I don’t have to pay for it at the store.  Canning it is not completely free, because I need to pay for the seals, but even with the cost of energy and water I’m using, I’m paying less than 20 cents for a quart of broth. That’s a smokin’ deal!

To can the broth, I simply wash and rinse my jars in not soapy water, then fill them with the hot broth (which I reheated after refrigerating and skimming the fat) and add salt. Then, I wipe the rims with a wet paper towel and place the seals (warmed in a pot of warm water) on the jars. Finally, I screw on the rings until fingertip tight.

The jars go into my canner along with the vinegar and water listed in my canner instructions. I put on the lid and turn on the heat. The water in canner needs to come to a boil and vent for 10 minutes before putting on the weight and allowing the canner to come to full pressure (10 pounds at sea level, but it is 11 pounds where I live). Once it’s at the correct pressure, the jars are processed to 20-25 minutes (20 for pints and 25 for quarts). When the timer goes off, I turn the heat off and let the canner depressurize on its own as it cools. Once it has depressurize done, I remove the jars to a cooling rack where I let them sit for 24 hours before moving them.
And this is the result!  This is not all the broth I canned. I ended up with 21 quarts and 9 pints. Not too shabby!

 

How do you make the most of the things you buy?


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Knock-off Recipe: Zebra Popcorn. So Yummy!

There’s a famous store in my local mall that sells “Zebra” popcorn, which, translated into English, is caramel coated popcorn with dark and white chocolate drizzled on top. It is quite delicious. 

Well, our church youth group is having an activity tonight, and one of the young women I work with suggested having zebra popcorn as a treat.  It’s a large group, so I decided to try my hand at making a knock off version.  All the recipes I found called for baking the caramel corn in the oven before drizzling it with chocolate. 

There’s only one problem with that. I don’t have an oven right now. It broke a week and a half ago, and I’m suffering without it. The repairman ordered the necessary part to repair it, but it’s not getting installed until tomorrow. And the activity is tonight!

Since I promised to make this yummy caramel corn for tonight, I had to find a substitute. I took my mom’s popcorn ball recipe and used that instead of a traditional caramel corn. It turned out really well!  It also came together really fast and didn’t heat up my kitchen. That’s a definite plus!

If you want a crisp, crunchy caramel corn, this recipe isn’t for you.  The resulting caramel corn from this recipe is softer and a tad chewy, but not overly or unpleasantly so.  

Want to know how I made it?  Watch and see. 

First, I made the popcorn by popping it on the stove in a big pot with a little oil. I didn’t take pictures. Sorry. You can use whatever kind of popcorn you’d like to use, but I think it is best if it is plain, unbuttered popcorn. 

Next, I made the “caramel” in another large pot (you can use a Dutch oven) by combining sugars butter, corn syrup (I made two recipes with light corn syrup and one with dark corn syrup), and salt (see actual recipe at the bottom of this post). When it was heated and combined, I added the popcorn and stirred it for a couple of minutes until the popcorn was coated with the caramel mixture. Next, I spread it on a parchment coated cookie sheet and let it cool. (This is the batch using dark corn syrup.)

  

Once it was cool, I broke it up into smaller pieces. It was pretty soft. 
Finally, I melted some dark and white melting chocolate in the microwave and drizzled it on the popcorn. 
   
 

And, voila!  That was is!  It took me less than an hour from start to finish to make three double sided batches of this corn. Now it’s bagged up and ready to serve tonight. I hope they like it as much as I do!
Before I close, here’s the promised recipe for the caramel corn. 

Popcorn Balls (or No Oven Needed Caramel Corn)
Recipe from my mom
1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup butter or margarine 

1/2 cup corn syrup (light or dark)

1/2 teaspoon salt

A few drops of food color (optional, I didn’t add any)

8-10 cups popped popcorn
Heat all ingredients except popcorn to simmering in a Dutch oven or a large heavy pot over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Stir in popcorn taking care to remove any unopposed or partially popped kernels. Cook, stirring constantly until popcorn is well coated, about 3 minutes. Cool slightly. 
If making caramel corn, spread popcorn on a parchment covered cookie sheet and let cool.  Is making zebra corn, break into pieces once the corn is cool. Then drizzle with chocolate of your choice. I used dark and white melting chocolate. Store in a sealed container or bag. 
If making popcorn balls, while popcorn is still warm enough to shape, but is cool enough to handle without getting burned, dip hands in cool water and shape mixture into 8 popcorn balls about 2 1/2 inch in diameter. Place on waxed or parchment paper. Cool completely. Wrap individually or place in plastic bags and tie or seal. 
This is particularly fun for Halloween and a throwback to the days of homemade treats given out alongside store bought candy. 
Hope you enjoy this fun recipe!