10 Tips for Quick Cooking

Never to be a gourmet chef, I consider myself more of a “home cook”.  There’s always something to eat, hopefully it’s tasty and filling!

I’m not sure cooking is a fast thing to do, but I have found ways that with a little planning I can speed up cooking for busy nights.  Whether you’re trying to manage a family meal during those precious few hours after work and before bedtime or a farm wife planning meals around harvest – I hope these tips might help you.

These are 10 of my tips for quick cooking, in no particular order, except maybe #10.

  1. Brown hamburger, let it cool, and freeze for a quick meal that requires ground meat such as spaghetti or tacos. I freeze it in quart size zip lock freezer bags.  Freeze the bags flat then they stack nicely in the freezer.
  2. I make a Bierock Bake which is a casserole version of bierocks, cabbage pockets, runzas, whatever your local name is for this yummy creation. When I make this casserole, I’ll make up a half dozen packages of the meat and vegetable mixture and freeze them in quart size freezer bags (I freeze the mixture similar to how I freeze the hamburger in Tip #1). IMG_5580 Then when I need a quick meal, I’ll defrost the meat mixture, add the top layers, and bake. Look under the “My Kitchen” tab for the Bierock Bake recipe.
  3. When making mashed potatoes, I make a double batch. We’ll eat regular mashed potatoes and gravy the first night.  Later in the week, I will heat up the leftover in the microwave until warm and the potatoes stir easily.  Then I’ll add cheese, chives, celery seed seasoning, salt & pepper, butter, anything that sounds good, and mix it into the plain mashed potatoes.  Pour the potato mixture into a dish and bake in the oven until hot and slightly toasted on top.
  4. Keep small loaves of quick breads in the freezer. My favorites are banana nut bread or pumpkin bread.  Both freeze beautifully.  We have a lot of people who stop by and it’s nice to have something quick to serve.  I have a defrosting pan that will defrost the loaf in minutes.  I also take quick bread to the field to serve the harvest crew as a snack or quick dessert.
  5. When I make cookies, I like to freeze half to have on hand for a quick dessert. I freeze them in an ice cream bucket.
  6. Rather than making a 9”x13” casserole, sometimes I will put the casserole in two 8”x8” dishes, and freeze one casserole. Because two 8”x8” casseroles are a little bigger than a 9”x13”, I do increase the fillings.  For example, if the 9”x13” casserole recipe calls for 1 pound of ground meat, I would use 1 ½ pounds, I would also increase any vegetables.  My favorite casseroles to do this with are taco lasagna and regular lasagna.
  7. Most of my soup recipes make a big batch. Rather than eating it for days and days, I will package a meal or two worth and freeze for a future meal.
  8. When I need to shred meat, I use my KitchenAid mixer. I can’t remember where I found this tip a few years ago, but it’s amazing how much quicker meat can be shredded using my KitchenAid mixer. IMG_5583
  9. An entire ham is too much for us to eat. With leftover ham, I slice as much as I can, and the slices go into freezer bags to make sandwiches in the future. Then with the odd bits and chunks left of ham that are left, I cube.  The ham cubes go in another freezer bag to be used in casseroles.
  10. Although I usually cook somewhat from scratch, prior to our busy seasons (spring planting and fall harvest), I’ll stock up on some convenience items to have in the freezer. Our favorites are shrimp scampi for my hubby, individual servings of steamable edamame, and just recently I found 1-1 ½ pound marinated pork tenderloins that are delicious and quick. IMG_5582

After reading back through this, I’m realizing that I have a complete dependence on my freezer.  There’s definitely a theme going on there.

I’d love to hear your tips too.  What do you do to speed up cooking in your home?

 

 

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2015 Soybeans

I’ve been taking pictures of the soybean crop all season and look forward to sharing the entire growing season with you soon.

Soybeans 9/3/15

There are no more blooms on the soybeans, and pods have replaced where the blooms were.

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Look at all those pods!

These soybeans are 46″ tall – which is pretty tall.  Did you know that tall soybeans don’t necessarily indicate a good yield?  Sometimes shorter beans produce better.

We’re starting to see some insect pressure.  Notice there are some holes in the leaves – that is where the insects have been munching.  The insect pressure is not bad, and we don’t anticipate needing to treat for them.

 

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Tall soybeans with some insect pressure

The soybean pods look a little bit like garden peas in their pods.  It’s typical to find 2-4 beans per pod, 3 beans in a pod is most common for our area.

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Baby soybeans

 

We would like to get another rain to help filling the soybeans out.  Without a rain soon, we have some risk that some pods may abort and the beans will be small.  Small beans mean it takes a lot more to beans to make a bushel.

Did you know that it takes 60 pounds of soybeans to make one bushel?

 

My Farmer’s Planting Notes

In farming, every year has its own set of unique challenges, but this year seems especially challenging.

Notes from my farmer’s planting book –

May 2, 2015  Corn planting is complete. It looks like nearly every seed that was planted came up. Warm and dry weather perfect for establishing a stand. Couldn’t look much better!

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On April 29th every seed seemed to have come up. The crop looked amazing!

May 3, 2015  Right on time to start planting soybeans. Chances of rain next week.  My wife says she saw a forecast for up to 5” of rain next week. Our truck driver says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

May 5, 2015  Rain. Nice break to work on equipment.

May 10, 2015  Still raining. Wife and the weatherman might have been right about 5” of rain.

May 17, 2015  A farmer friend posted on Facebook, “Rain, rain go away, come back on July 1st!”

May 21, 2015  Crazy as it sounds, we’re going to visit my wife’s family over Memorial Day Weekend. Never, ever believed that to be possible during planting.

May 25, 2015  Returned from wife’s family visit. It rained 3” while we were gone.

May 28, 2015  When was the last time I planted? The corn looks yellow. There are drowned out spots all over the fields. Only a few acres of soybeans have been planted and we’re well past the ideal time to plant soybeans.

June 1, 2015  More rain in the forecast?

June 5, 2015  The river is cresting, and will likely get out. Move equipment off fields by the river. Pull motors off pivots on the fields next to the river, otherwise, they will be ruined.

June 5, 2015 (afternoon)  10’ (yes, 10 foot) of water at the entrance of the field. Hope the river goes down quickly so the water can drain off the field soon. Guess I can go to my board meeting dinner tonight after all.

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The river got out of its banks on June 5th and flooded part of this field.

June 8, 2015  Three days of sun before a 70% chance of rain on Thursday. Start planting the sandy fields and hope for the best.

This too shall pass. It’s hard to know how this crop will turn out, but we’ll certainly work hard to get it planted and cared for. Harvest sure seems a long ways off when there are these kind of difficulties with planting!

 

 

 

 

Moms! You’re Needed – At All Stages

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important moms are.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m approaching a tipping point in my life where I’ve been a mom for more than half of my life.  Maybe it’s because my oldest is in college and I get giddy when he “needs” me or calls for advice.  Maybe it’s the fact that my youngest will soon be off to kindergarten, and is growing up way too quickly.  I’m not sure, but the importance of moms has been on my mind lately.

I’ve always thought of children as resilient. But I’m realizing more how fragile children are and how important it is to be careful with our words and actions with our children all ages and stages.

We know how important moms are to young children.  It’s clear that bonding with our babies is so very important – even to the child’s development.  The days when they are little can be so tedious.  Then as if in the blink of an eye, they’re self-sufficient in most ways.

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In my journey of motherhood, I’m finding that parenting a young adult is more challenging than any other stage.  When children are at home, there are fairly easy consequences that you can help them understand for their actions.  As they move out and start their own journey some of the consequences cost real money or take an emotional toll.  Lessons we all have to learn, but agonizing to watch as the mom.

What I don’t see talked about often is the importance of mothers to adult children. It’s been impressed upon me recently that relationship is of great importance.

I know adults who have had their confidence shaken by the critical words of their mother.

Many farms are multigenerational, and moms are critically important to their success.  Moms do so many things that no one sees or are aware of – taking food to the field, always having water bottles, paperwork, picking up parts while running errands in town.  There are just a lot of important things that moms do that others may not be able to easily place a value on.

Most importantly, moms are usually the one that everyone goes to with their problems.  Often farm moms are the great confidante, they keep the peace between siblings and dad.  Recently, a farmer friend spoke of his mom being the glue to their farm, ‘she just did what moms do!’

As was the theme of an agriculture conference that I recently attended, moms are the “unsung heroes” of many farms.

I’m blessed to have a strong mom and mother-in-law.  Each a farm mom who cares for their kids, husband, and farms more than most can understand.

A mother’s most important crop just might be her kids!

Easter Cookies

Several years ago this recipe was given to me to do with my oldest son in preparation of Easter. This is a great project to do with your kids the night before Easter to reinforce the events that led to the glory of Easter morning.

To be made the night before Easter.

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Easter Cookies

Ingredients:

1 c. whole pecans

1 t. vinegar

3 egg whites

Pinch of salt

1 c. sugar

Additional Supplies:

Zipper baggie

Wooden spoon

Cold metal mixing bowl works best.  Put a metal mixing bowl in the refrigerator an hour before starting the recipe so the bowl is really cold.

Tape

Bible

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  This is important – don’t wait until you are half done with the recipe.

Place pecans in zipper baggie and let children beat them with the wooden spoon to break into small pieces.  Explain that after Jesus was arrested He was beaten by the Roman soldiers.  Read John 19:1-3.

Let each child smell the vinegar.  Put 1 t. vinegar into cold mixing bowl.  Explain that when Jesus was thirsty on the cross he was given vinegar to drink.  Read John 19:28-30.

 Add egg whites to vinegar. Eggs represent life.  Explain that Jesus gave His life to give us life.  Read John 10:10-11.

 Sprinkle a little salt into each child’s hand.  Let them taste it and sprinkle the rest into the bowl. Explain that this represents the salty tears shed by Jesus’ followers, and the bitterness of our own sin. Read Luke 23:27.

 So far the ingredients are not very appetizing.

Add 1 c. sugar.  Explain that the sweetest part of the story is that Jesus died because He loves us.  He wants us to know this and how to belong to Him.  Read Psalms 34:8 and John 3:16.

 Beat with a mixer on high speed for 12 to 15 minutes until stiff peaks are formed.  Explain that the color white represents the purity in God’s eyes of those whose sins have been cleansed by Jesus.  Read Isaiah 1:18 and John 3:1-3.

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 Fold in broken nuts.  Drop by teaspoons onto was paper covered cookie sheet.  Explain that each mound represents the rocky tomb where Jesus’ body was laid.  Read Matthew 27:57-60.

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 Put the cookie sheet in the oven, close the door and turn the oven OFF!

Give each child a piece of tape and seal the oven door.  Explain that Jesus’ tomb was sealed. Read Matthew 27:65-66.

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 GO TO BED!  Explain that they may feel sad to leave the cookies in the oven overnight.  Jesus’ followers were in despair when the tomb was sealed.  Read John 16:20 and 22.

 On Easter morning, open the oven and give everyone a cookie.

Notice the cracked surface and take a bite.  The cookies are hollow!  On the first Easter Jesus’ followers were amazed to find the tomb open and empty!  Read Matthew 28:1-9.

 **This was the first time I had made this recipe with my 5 year old. It would have worked better to read the passages from the Bible if there was another adult – one to work on the recipe with him and another to look up and read the passages.  For his age, it really worked a little better to just tell him the meaning as we went along.  However, this is a project that could be done with children for several years to reinforce the events leading up to the first Easter.  Older children could take turns reading and looking up the scripture readings themselves.**

How Does Urban Sprawl Affect Farms?

We went my home state of Colorado over Christmas.  I had an urge to walk across my alma mater – Colorado State University in Fort Collins.  I hadn’t been on campus in 11 years.  We picked up one of my BFFs near Boulder, CO and made our way northward.  Although I knew that the Front Range has had a huge population growth the past several years, it was shocking to see how many houses, stores, and other buildings were now on what used to be farmland.  My BFF commutes to Downtown Denver daily and she could share a lot about the expansion that has occurred.

Fort Collins to Pueblo is almost solid city.  Although I like to reminisce about how the Front Range looked when there was more open space, I certainly appreciate that people want to live there and this is what we like to refer to as progress.

My husband and I farm in Northeast Kansas, not terribly far from Kansas City.  Our own farm has been impacted by similar expansion from the cities.  It’s more difficult to drive large farm equipment when there are cars whizzing by at high speeds.  Some certainly do not understand why the equipment moves at such slow speeds or why a loaded semi truck can’t stop as quickly as a car.  These are challenges that we and other farms face as the city has grown up around our farm.  In the meantime, we adjust our business to reflect the changing times.

Urban sprawl most certainly occurs as productive farmland is taken out of production to be cemented or asphalted over to build various services for more people.  But how is that land’s production compensated for with an ever-growing population?  There are over 7 billion people in the world today, and projected to have 9 billion by 2050.  With this type of population increase certainly additional farmland will be taken out of production.  There will be less land base to be farmed yet much more food will be needed.

There are a lot of different ways that our farm and other farmers are becoming more efficient in producing food on their farms.  We take the decades of farm education that we have and marry that with new technologies to improve the production on our farm.  We are able to manage things that could not have been understood very too many years ago.  Grid sampling, prescription based farming, GPS, seed spacing and depth, GMO seeds, optimally using inputs, soil health, conservation practices – these are just a few examples of technologies we use on our farm.  All of these things together help us to produce more on less land.  Is it about making a profit?  Absolutely, our farm is a small business that supports three families along with some occasional hired help.  Is our farm also about leaving the land better than it was before?  Yes.  Our family has farmed much of our land for over 50 years (my husband’s grandparents started this farm in the mid 1940’s).  We are raising the 4th generation on the farm right now.

We are not only growing the next generation we are also growing crops that go into the production of food that we and other eat every day.  The farmers that I know don’t take that responsibility lightly.

Christmas in the Country 2014 – Gift Reveal

This year was my first time to participate in blogger and non-blogger Secret Santa type gift exchange.  It was so much fun learning about other blogs!  It was fun trying to pick out gifts for another blogger and receive gifts from someone I’d never met.

Amanda from http://www.barstowthree.blogspot.com/ got my name.  Her blog and family are beautiful!  I’m sure she and I were somehow meant to be connected because she highlights Romans 8:37 on the front page of her blog.  Romans 8 is the chapter of the Bible that I had chosen to focus on during the 2015 year!

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Christmas goodies!

When we signed up to do the gift exchange, we each filled out a short questionnaire about our likes and dislikes, Amanda nailed it for me.  My gift box had a Vanilla Caramel Swirl candle, Vanilla Nut coffee, Sandhill Cowboy’s Jelly made from wild chokecherries and plums, white chocolate covered pretzels, and a necklace.  Now this necklace wasn’t just any necklace – Amanda had it made for me and it has angel wings.  I had noted on my questionnaire that I collect angels.  What a wonderful and thoughtful gift!

Thank you, Amanda, for my great gifts from Nebraska!

My gift went to Mary from Illinois who blogs at www.mackinsondairy.com.

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the ladies who organized the gift exchange – Jamie (This Uncharted Rhoade), Laurie (COUNTRY LINKed), Erin (Diaries from the Dirt Road) and Robyn (The Ranch Wife Chronicles).

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