Saturday, May 17, 2014

Easy Meat Pie--and a Reason to Learn to Can Foods

This post is in part an encouragement to all of you to try your hand at canning food. There are many foods that you can process using just a water bath canner. But if you really want to have full pantry shelves, a pressure canner (that's not the same as a pressure cooker!) is the way to go. With a pressure canner, you are able to process low-acid meats of all kinds, vegetables, and dried beans as well as soup, spaghetti sauce, chili, stew, and anything else your heart desires and your imagination can dream up.

Let me give you just one example from my kitchen: I eat a lot of organic dried beans. A can of organic pinto, kidney, navy, or black beans costs close to two dollars at my local grocery store. Spending that amount of money on a can of beans goes against my frugal nature. So instead, I buy my beans in bulk (usually around 25 pounds at a time because they store for years on my shelves), and always have a batch or two canned up and ready to eat. Those jars of home-canned beans--besides being ready to heat and eat, and healthy as all get out--cost me about 25 cents per jar.

So am I an advocate of home canning? Why yes, I am. And I'll also admit it up front: I have written a canning book. If you're interested I can assure you that I have made every effort to have the very latest safety recommendations in it, and the recipes are tried and true. You won't go wrong should you decide to get a copy:


I've been so busy lately because I'm finishing writing another book and the deadline is looming, and recently I needed desperately to eat dinner but didn't want to take the time to make anything elaborate. (Well actually, I didn't want to take any time at all, but to know me is to know I'm not much of a one for going out or buying premade food so I had to do something right at home if I was going to eat.) So to my pantry I went to "shop" for dinner. And in just a matter of a few minutes I had this: (Well, if you don't count the baking time.)
I had a pie crust ready to go already (see recipe below). I mixed together a pint jar of home-canned hamburger meat that I had canned with a bit of broth, and another jar of mixed veggies (peas, carrots, corn, and green beans). I cut a potato into small pieces so they'd cook while the meat pie baked.

I threw everything into a saucepan along with a bit of water and about 3 tablespoons cornstarch (maybe a wee bit less)and heated it to boiling so the cornstarch would thicken and turn the broth into gravy. Then into the prepared pie crust it went. I had preheated the oven to 400 degrees and as soon as I put the meat pie into the oven I turned it down to 350 degrees and baked it for about 25 minutes...until the crust looked done since the meat mixture was already cooked through and only needed a good heating.

Dinner was served. And it was good! Filling and comforting. Just what I needed on an extra busy day.

Okay, so now for the pie crust recipe. You can use any recipe you might prefer, but I think this particular recipe is a good one for meat pies or for handheld fruit or meat pies because it seems to hold together well. Plus, the recipe makes enough for about 3 crusts, so you can freeze two of them (pie plate and all) for use another day. And in fact, that's what I did with this crust. It was already in the freezer, so when I say this pie took me just a few minutes to make, I'm not exaggerating.

Pie Crust Pastry

4 cups flour
1 3/4 cups shortening or lard
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon vinegar (use regular white vinegar)
1 egg

With a fork, mix together the flour, shortening, sugar, and salt. You want the shortening to break apart and have the mixture look crumbly.

In another bowl, beat together the water, vinegar, and egg. Add this to the flour mixture and blend with a fork until moistened. Try to have a light touch when mixing. Using your hands, mold the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic or a towel and chill the dough for at least 15 minutes.

Roll out into pie crusts and use one for dinner and freeze the rest.

That's it! Simple and satisfying. and completely homemade, which to me is the very best kind of meal.

I wish you and yours the very best day. Spring has sprung, and that means gardens will soon be taking much of our time. So go out and dig in the dirt and enjoy God's creation.



Saturday, May 3, 2014

Homemade from Scratch Corn Tortillas--Success!

I have been on a quest to make my own corn tortillas from scratch--that is, starting with dried field or dent corn, making nixtamal, grinding the processed corn, and then pressing and frying the tortillas.

I blogged about my efforts some time ago. (See Homemade Masa and Corn Tortillas--An Adventure)

The part that didn't work well for me was the actual grinding of the wet corn. I tried various grinders that advertised they could do the job, but to no avail. Further research indicated that I needed to buy a traditional wet corn grinder, such as Corona, Estrella, or Victoria. So I started haunting eBay and bought this:

I was so excited to try it out, but held my excitement somewhat in check because of my previous dismal experiences. Still...

I poured about 3 quarts of water into a large stainless steel pot and stirred in 2 heaping tablespoons of cal. Cal is calcium hydroxide, sometimes called slaked lime or pickling lime. You can pick up small packages of cal at Mexican grocery markets, or you can buy large bags (for cheap!) like this one:

Pour in a quart of dried field corn into the lime and water mixture and turn on the heat to medium high. Stirring regularly with a long-handled stainless steel spoon, bring the corn and water to a boil and boil for 5-10 minutes. Take the pot off the heat, cover it, and let the concoction sit on your stove for about 8 hours. (If you boil the corn at night, you can continue the process the next morning. Likewise, you can boil the corn in the morning and make the tortillas for dinner that evening.)

When it's time to grind, you first need to drain and rinse the corn. This is the process: rinse the corn and, while rinsing, rub the kernels through your hands. Your aim is to rub off the papery skin from the corn. Supposedly you'll get the corn looking white, but that has not been my experience--my corn still looks yellow even though I know I've rubbed and rinsed enough. (I know that because the rinse water is no longer cloudy.)

Now, I hate the thought of wasting all that running water while I'm rubbing and rinsing. So instead, I put the rinsed and drained corn in a large bowl and cover it with plenty of fresh water. Then I rub and rub the corn. When the water looks cloudy, I drain the corn and repeat the process. I find that about six rinse-and-rubs is enough. Here's my cleaned corn, covered with clean water:

When I'm satisfied, I rinse one last time and drain the corn and put it back into the bowl. Then I grind. This has always been the part where I'm unhappy with the results. But having the right type of grinder made all the difference this time. The nixtamalized corn ground effortlessly and it was way easier than when I hand grind my wheat into flour.
Hard to tell in the photo, but the ground corn (masa) was smooth, so when I made the tortillas, I was able to press them very thin:
I mix in a small amount of salt into my masa because I think it tastes better, but I've made it without added salt, so suit yourself.

The masa wants to stick to my tortilla press so I use a quart freezer bag: I cut off the zipper top and then cut down each side so only the bottom of the bag is hinged. I place half the bag on the press and then lay my dough ball on it. (The dough should be about the size of a golf ball. Place it a bit nearer to the hinged side of the tortilla press so it presses evenly.) Lay the other half of the bag on top of the dough ball before pressing. Gently peel the tortilla off the plastic bag and then fry it. I use a cast iron tortilla pan and because it's seasoned I fry the tortillas on fairly high heat (a few minutes each side) with no oil. Here's the result:

And finally, this (spicy refried beans, tomatoes, and avocado):

I realize that making corn tortillas from scratch isn't as quick as buying a readymade package. But the taste is out of this world, and I fill up much faster with my homemade ones. Two of those bean, tomato, and avocado tortillas were more than I could eat. Plus I love knowing how to make them...successfully, at last!