Sunday, December 16, 2012

Beef TVP Soup

When it’s cold and snowy outside, my mom makes hamburger soup. As she says, “It warms you from the inside, out.” My version is less expensive and great for vegetarians because it uses inexpensive beef-flavored TVP pieces, rather than spendy hamburger. TVP stands for “textured vegetable protein.” As we mentioned in our post of July 27, 2011, TVP is made from defatted soy flour and various flavorings (including beef, chicken, and taco). The mixture is typically processed in a barrel-like device, then extruded through a screw-type mechanism to form granules, small chunks, and even strips. TVP can be used on its own or added to meat as a meat-extender, helping you to stretch your food dollar.

4 cups water
2 cups of beef-flavored TVP pieces
2 cans (15 ounces each) kidney beans, do NOT drain
1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans, do NOT drain
4 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 tablespoon beef bouillon granules
1 tablespoon dried celery slices
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon taco seasoning powder
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups water

  1. Combine all ingredients in a large stock pot.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
  3. Refrigerate any leftovers. The flavor actually improves after a day.
Beef TVP Soup


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Prepare for Emergencies

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. That’s what many people back East are facing after the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. How about you? Do you have enough water stored to get you and your loved ones through a few days should something happen to your normal water supply? Many people in New York, New Jersey and other areas impacted by the hurricane are discovering that being prepared could have made life much more comfortable. It can also save your life and the lives of your friends and family. As we saw last week, an emergency can occur quickly, without much warning, and rapidly turn into a life-or-death situation.

Back on April 7, 2011, we posted a list of some items to include in any basic emergency kit and we’re posting it again as a refresher. Make a backpack for each family member and put them in an accessible area. Backpacks are easy to store and very easy to grab and carry in an emergency. This list is not all inclusive, but having these items on hand will give each family member the basics to survive.

·       Water. This could be the most important part of your kit, especially if there are no nearby streams or lakes or if water supplies are contaminated. At the very least, plan on storing enough water for three days for each person (most guidelines recommend one gallon for each person per day). If you have access to a nearby body of water, be sure to pack a water filtration device, such as the Go Berkey Kit or Travel Berkey (both available from, any other reasonably portable filtration system, or even purification tablets (and a container to hold the water while it’s being purified).

·       Food. At the bare minimum, pack enough food for three days for each person. This could include crackers, granola bars, nuts, protein bars, and other foods that don’t require refrigeration. Fruit juice, tuna and other foods in foil packets (rather than cans) are great choices because they’re light-weight and easy to open. Regardless of what type of food you pack, be sure that you have a way to open the container and serve the food. A can of tuna without an opener is useless. Paper cups, paper plates, and plastic utensils will come in handy. This might also be a good time to learn to love MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). Obviously, if you have infants or small children, pack food accordingly.

·       Communication devices, such as a radio, a cell phone, and a whistle. Be sure to pack extra batteries or solar or hand-crank chargers.

·       Flashlight (and batteries).

·       First aid kit. A very basic kit could contain bandages of various sizes, sterile pads, antiseptic towelettes, alcohol prep pads, iodine prep pads, burn cream, antibiotic ointment, ibuprofen or other non-aspirin pain reliever, and first aid tape. Don’t forget a first aid guide.

·       The necessary tools (including wrench or pliers) to turn off natural gas or other utilities. This can be particularly important in the event of an earthquake or a fire. You don’t want to return to a building full of natural gas from a broken pipe.

·       Don’t forget creature comforts, including a small pop-up tent or other shelter. Also important are a change of clothes (the type will vary depending on the season) and a sleeping bag or a Mylar blanket (also called a space blanket) for each family member.

·       Speaking of creature comforts, pack waterproof matches so you can start a fire to stay warm.

·       Personal care items, including toilet paper, moist towelettes, sanitary products (for women), and garbage bags for waste.

·       If you have infants or small children, be sure to pack diapers and formula.

·       Don’t forget any necessary medications.

·       Pack copies of your important papers including insurance policies and personal identification.

·       Make sure you have some cash. ATM machines may not be available or even operating, especially if the electricity is out.

·       Entertainment – this could be books, art supplies, playing cards, whatever will keep your particular group occupied.

Plan ahead and stay safe!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

How to Dry Peaches

Although canned peaches are popular at my house, you can’t beat the concentrated sweetness of dried peaches. Dried peaches also weigh significantly less than canned peaches, so they’re a natural choice for backpacking, hiking, camping, or take-along snacks.

To dry peaches:
  • Make sure the peaches are ripe, but not overly ripe. Rock-hard peaches do not improve or sweeten as they dry. Also make sure the peaches have no blemishes or bruises.
  • Wash the peaches.
  • Dip each peach in boiling hot water for 20-30 seconds, then place in ice cold water for about a minute (this makes it easier to remove the skins).
  • Cut the peaches in half, remove the pit, and then slip off the skins (if you slip off the skins first, the peach will be so slippery that it will be almost impossible to hold onto long enough to cut it in half).
  • Place the peach halves in cold water to which you have added Fruit Fresh® (follow the package directions) or lemon juice (use 3 tablespoons of lemon juice for every 4 cups of water). This will keep the fruit from turning brown.
  • Slice the peaches ¼” thick and return to the Fruit Fresh® or lemon juice-treated water for a few minutes. Remove the slices and allow them to drain until they are no longing dripping.
  • Place the peach slices on a dehydrator tray.
  • Dry the peaches at 130-140° F for approximately 12 hours or until slices are dry but still pliable and leathery. If the slices are brittle, you’ve probably been dehydrating them for too long.
  • Once dry and cool, transfer the dried peaches to a glass jar or plastic bag to condition the fruit. Conditioning is important in order to evenly distribute any moisture that may remain in any of the peach slices. Stir the slices daily and transfer to a storage container after about a week.

To use:
  • Munch on a handful whenever you want a sweet treat (much healthier than candy).
  • Add a handful to a bowl of cold cereal or granola.
  • Add to oatmeal by placing the dried peaches in the water before bringing it to a boil (if microwaving, add peach slices to the water before heating).
  • Kick up some couscous, rice, or quinoa by adding a handful of crumbled, dried peach slices to the water before boiling. By the time you add the grain, the peaches will be ready to eat.
  • Reconstitute by placing a handful in a heat-proof container; cover with boiling water; set aside for 10-15 minutes.
  • Add to salads, yogurt, or smoothies or use in pies and cobblers
Dried Peaches with Dehydrator Tray Marks


Monday, August 27, 2012

Pressure Canner Gauges

Every year, my county extension agent offers to check pressure canning gauges for free. What a deal and a step too important to skip. My pressure canner is very old (manufactured in 1974), but it’s still functional. I replaced the pressure gauge with a new one two years ago, so my guess was that the gauge would be spot on. Imagine my surprise to learn that the gauge was off! When it read 14 pounds of pressure, it really only had 13 pounds of pressure. So, I need to compensate for the discrepancy whenever I pressure can (the agents will tell you how). Had I not had the gauge tested, I might have under-processed green beans and other vegetables, which could have resulted in unsafe food. Incorrectly-processed food is a major cause of food poisoning from botulism (Clostridium botulinum), a potentially deadly disease.

Over the years, I have contacted my local extension office many times. These agents are wonderful resources if you’re looking for an answer to a canning question or a gardening problem—anything having to do with food or agriculture. Now referred to as The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), these offices used to be called the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service. In case you’re wondering, NIFA is an agency of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is the job of the Cooperative Extension Service to provide “useful, practical, and research-based information to agricultural producers, small business owners, youth, consumers, and others in rural areas and communities of all sizes”—basically, to anyone who asks. If you garden, or process food in any way, the phone number to your local extension agent is worth keeping on speed dial.

If you need your gauge checked, click on the appropriate link below to find your county (or parish) extension office. They will be able to explain how and when to have your gauge tested:
State or Territory
State Extension Website
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia
American Samoa
Northern Marianas
Puerto Rico
Virgin Island


Monday, July 30, 2012

Blueberry Muffins

We used to live on the west slope of Mt. Hood where the climate is mild and very wet. All that rain made it easy to grow our 14-plus blueberry bushes. Blueberries are an ideal fruit to grow because they take almost no effort. We never sprayed them, we rarely pruned them, yet still harvested dozens of gallons of blueberries. We now live in central Oregon, where our annual precipitation is only a little over 6 inches. Our dry climate means we have to remember to water the plants year-round but, luckily, we can still enjoy the delicious taste of fresh blueberries.

Blueberries are loaded with phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, which function as antioxidants. Research shows blueberries can improve memory, reduce the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, improve blood cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure (in those with elevated blood pressure), fight cancer, and improve eye health. Pretty impressive. If at all possible, you should be growing blueberries in your garden. Check with your county extension agent to see if blueberries can survive in your area—they’re well worth the effort (and they freeze and also dehydrate well for long-term storage).

2 cups all-purpose flour
3/8 cup sugar
1/3 cup whole powdered eggs (dry)
2 tablespoons instant whole milk (dry)
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup blueberries

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Line muffin pan with paper baking cups (or grease and flour the muffin pan).
  3. Combine the flour, sugar, powdered eggs, dry milk, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir to evenly distribute all ingredients.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix the water and the oil.
  5. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir just until combined.
  6. Stir in the blueberries.
  7. Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full.
  8. Bake 20 minutes or until the tops are lightly brown.
  9. When done, remove the muffin pan from the oven; let cool for about 5 minutes and then remove the muffins from the muffin pan (to allow them to finish cooling in the pan will cause the moisture in the vapor to turn the muffin bottoms soggy).

Friday, July 27, 2012


As we’ve mentioned before, regardless of your wealth, you can’t store enough food to last forever. That’s why growing a garden and a few fruit trees or bushes is a must. Somehow, over time, many people have turned away from growing useful plants. Instead, most front yards in America contain ornamental flowers and lawn. Beautiful, but useless.

My grandmother had beneficial plants and fruit bushes lining the perimeter of her lawn. I particularly remember her gooseberry bush. It was peppered with wicked (and long) thorns and loaded with tart, nearly inedible fruit. But the jam and the pies she made with the gooseberries were delicious. I missed those tasty goodies, so we planted an American gooseberry (Ribes hirtellum) which produces berries about ½” in diameter. Today, we harvested our first crop.

A deciduous shrub, gooseberries used to be a common sight in gardens and landscapes all over the country. That is, until scientists realized that the gooseberry is a host for White Pine Blister Rust (a disease that is lethal for Western Pine and Sugar Pine). In an effort to control the spread of the disease, laws were passed to prohibit the transport of gooseberry bushes and currant bushes (a related plant) west of the Mississippi River. This particular quarantine wasn’t especially effective, though, since White Pine Blister Rust already existed out West. Gooseberry eradication programs began in the early 20th century in a number of states, but they, too, weren’t able to control the spread of disease. Some states still have laws on the books either prohibiting or controlling gooseberries. Check out the National Plant Board for your state’s rules and regulations concerning gooseberries.

Fortunately, rust-resistant gooseberry varieties are now available, so you can grow some of these delicious berries without endangering the local pine trees. Gooseberries are easy to grow and will reward you year after year with a tasty crop.

If you plan to cook or stew the gooseberries (for a pie, a fool, or to make sauce or jam), pick them while still green. They turn pink as they begin to ripen and eventually red when fully ripe. Fully ripe berries are much sweeter than green berries and are best if you plan to use them raw.

This recipe for gooseberry sauce is easy to make and a great topping on chicken, pork, or beef.

Gooseberry Sauce

9 cups gooseberries
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup water
¼ cup chopped dried pineapple slices
2 cups apple cider vinegar
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons dried ground ginger (I sometimes use 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root if I have some on hand)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon dried, ground cayenne pepper

  • Remove the stems and the blossoms from the berries; rinse and chop.
  • Place the chopped berries in a large pot with the chopped onion, the water, and the dried pineapple slices.
  • Cook on medium heat until the berries are soft.
  • Add the vinegar, sugar, ginger, salt, and cayenne pepper; mix thoroughly.
  • Continue cooking until the sauce thickens.
  • Be sure to stir frequently to keep the sauce from sticking or scorching. Enjoy and be sure to refrigerate any unused sauce.

Gooseberry Jam
Gooseberries naturally contain an abundance of pectin, so it’s easy to make jam without using commercial pectin. The green berries will turn pink as they cook.

5 cups gooseberries
5 cups sugar

  • Remove the stems and blossoms from the berries; rinse.
  • Place the berries in a large pan and turn stovetop heat to medium.
  • While they are cooking, use a potato masher to crush the gooseberries.
  • Add half of the sugar and stir. The sugar will act to draw moisture from the gooseberries.
  • Add the remaining sugar and stir thoroughly.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook until the mixture thickens, stirring frequently.
  • To test the mixture, take some jam from the pot and place it on a cold plate. Place the plate in the freezer for 2-3 minutes. The jam is ready when the mixture gels.

Gooseberry Jam

Gooseberry Plant