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Around The Ranch Table



Ecosystem

A system formed by the interaction of a community of organisms with their environment.
Usually the boundaries of an ecosystem are chosen for practical reasons having to do with the end goal. There are many examples of ecosystems - a pond, a forest, an estuary, a grassland...and out of necessity; my country kitchen.
  
I borrowed this term.  The author of a well known women's magazine referred to her kitchen as an ecosystem admitting to never throwing out any morsel.   I knew I was different, I very seldom gather ingredients to make a particular recipe.  If it's not in the frig, freezer, pantry or garden, it doesn't wind up in a dish I serve my family.  I didn't know there was a term for my disorder: an uncontrollable inability to throw out food. 

I thrive on thrift.  Very seldom do I throw anything away, especially food...ask my family.  I was sustainable before it was cool or subsidized.  I've been reducing, reusing and recycling for the past 40 years...
I love to see how far I can stretch a dollar, loaf of bread, turkey carcass or ham bone.




 I answer to the name Freezer Queen, because what's not eaten is delegated to the freezer in dated and identified Ziploc bags, glass jars (I don't throw these away either) or cottage cheese or cool whip containers (or these).


Raising 4 kids (at one point they were all teenagers at the same time) on a shoestring food budget was a challenge but  today they're strapping, beautiful healthy adults.

My pantry was always full and today, 10 grand kids later, it still is.  
It's always been important for me to keep the pantry stocked up on unsweetened generic cereals, lots of basics: flour, sugars- brown, white and powdered; yeast, oil, powdered milk, cocoa powder, onions, potatoes, canned vegetables, tons of spices, no sodas and lots of pure juice-mainly apple.


We live over 50 miles from a Wal Mart and 10 from our local grocery stores; both of them-one 10 east, one 10 northwest, so keeping stocked up is a high priority.

While cooking and baking I've learned to make do, do without...or make it up.

I'm not bragging but I've gotten pretty good at turning morsels into banquets, tidbits into hearty meals and crumbs into lush desserts. 

Osmosis, imprinting or innate? All of the above I suppose. I spent many hours with my Grandad Lenard who at the age of 82 could whip up a crock pot full of soup with nothing more than a wiener, onion and a potato (he lived through the depression) On those days I would pass when offered a bowl, but you get the picture...frugality is in my blood.




Growing up I spent many hours in the kitchen with my Grandma Grace and my mom, both wonderful cooks. My Grandma Grace, a "from scratch" cook and my mom, a recipe follower. These three people helped craft my love of creative "ecosystem" cooking.

"My Kitchen is an Ecosystem" will be the spot to try some of these affordable, dollar stretching, tasty  dishes that have sustained my family and others throughout the years.

                                                      More family favorites



 

                                           Easy Bread 
from sister-in-law, Dianna

3 cups warm water-not hot- it will kill the yeast
3 TBSP yeast
1/2 cup butter or oil
1/2-1 Tsp salt
1/2 cup sugar (for cinnamon rolls add more; less for bread)
Mix water, yeast and a little of the sugar  Let stand til the mixture bubbles (yeast is working)
Add remaining ingredients and enough flour to make the dough easy to work with.  For a hearty loaf add  ingredients of your choice while consistency is still batter-like (nuts, oats, bran, whole wheat flour, wheat germ, seeds,I've even used millet and sesame seed)

Cinnamon Rolls
(best to use white flour)
Roll out dough 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle with 1- 1 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cinnamon, drizzle with 1 stick melted, slightly cooled butter.  Roll jelly-roll style and cut in 1/2 inch rounds. Let rise. Bake 350 degrees until done in the center 15-20 minutes. Top immediately with glaze: 1-1 1/2 cup powdered sugar, 1/8 tsp salt, 1 TBSP cream or milk, vanilla.
Loaves can be  frozen unbaked, wrapped in oiled parchment  or wax paper  then pulled out separately, allowed to rise and baked later. 



I also freeze fresh baked loaves that have been cooled after baking.  If you freeze immediately they will be as fresh as the day you baked them, if wrapped with plenty of freezer wrap,.  I sometimes wrap in several plastic grocery bags after placing in Ziploc bags.  The more covering, the less likely they'll get freezer burned.

This particular night I used the homemade bread for  Bacon Salad Sandwiches.  I had 4 large slices of cooked bacon in the frig (that wasn't all I had in the frig, but what was saying, "eat me first"), an avocado that needed to be used and 1/2  package of  spring greens.  I chopped those ingredients and  added shredded cheese, chopped purple onion, 1 small tomato and enough Caesar Salad dressing to coat the ingredients.  The salad dressing was used because I was out of mayo or that would have been my first choice because #1RFM loves mayo

I found this recipe in an old 70's cookbook.  It seems like these old recipes called for way too much oil and sugar.  I experiment with these recipes and usually try to cut the sugars down and replace with applesauce or other ingredients.  I had a can of pumpkin opened from the night before (Pumpkin Soup) so decided to use it and also some of my homemade apple butter.  I doubled this recipe as I was feeding a large crowd.  The only problem...I had leftover batter, but just baked the extra in a small cake pan. I frosted the cake in thirds...no frosting...frosting with nuts...frosting without nuts.
Everyone's Happy


Oatmeal Cake
3 cups water
2 cups oatmeal
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
¾ cup oil
3 eggs beaten
2 ¼ - 2 ½  cup flour
 2 tsp soda
 2 tsp cinnamon
1 ½  tsp salt
½ cup pumpkin
¼ cup apple butter
Combine oats and hot water.  Let stand while mixing remaining ingredients.  Cream sugars, oil , pumpkin, apple butter.  Add eggs and beat well.  Sift dry ingredients.  Add to mixture.  Add oatmeal and beat well.  Pour into a greased sheet pan and bake for 25 minutes on 350


Second time I made the recipe I used my homegrown pumpkin puree from my freezer and crockpot apple butter  to replace much of the sugar
                                                       Frosting
1 ½ stick butter
1 ¼  cup brown
2 Tbsp cream or milk
1 ½ cup pecans

1 ½ flaked coconut
Boil sugar, butter and milk 1 minute.  Add coconut and nuts.  Pour on cake.  You can brown in oven for five minutes or not.  I like it unbrowned. 

 

 During the fall I remember my mom baking these cookies.  I absolutely love them.  The recipe came from the Dewey County News Cookbook and were submitted by  Mrs.Louis Dvorak.

Caramel Nut-Date Slices

 1 cup softened Crisco (1/2 butter)
2 cups brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
3 ½ cups sifted flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp soda
2 tsp vanilla
½ cup finely chopped nuts
½ cup finely chopped dates
Cream first three ingredients.  Add vanilla, dates and nuts, mix well.  Sift flour, salt, and soda.  Mix with first ingredients.  Shape into rolls, 2 or 3 depending on size.  Wrap in wax paper and chill.  Slice about ¼ inch thick.  Bake in 350 degrees   8 minutes on ungreased cookie sheet


 

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