Category Archives: Recipes

Mike Mills’ Beef Ribs Recipe

Here’s a review of a recipe I made back in September after our new baby girl was born.  We’ve gotten very busy, but I wanted to share with you now.

Thanks, Robert.


Over the weekend I made this recipe for beef ribs from the Food Network website.  It is excellent and is the third time I’ve done the recipe.

Here is a picture of the meat being prepped.  Beef ribs have a pretty strong membrane along the entire inside.  That membrane must be peeled off before cooking because the heat will only toughen the membrane.  I use a butter knife and slide it in under the membrane and peel away.  The butter knife won’t cut through the membrane, so it is great to pry and peel.

The recipe instructions are easy to follow, so I don’t elaborate on that.  Here’s a few pictures of the meat on the grill.  It did take 2.5 or 3 hours on the grill.  This is another low and slow recipe, which is a great example of the way I like to cook.  I actually left the lid of the grill open the entire time with the burners on low.

And here is the finished product.

The leftovers (if any) won’t be around long.

Thanks, Robert

My Favorite Apple Butter Recipe

As you read in my post yesterday we are up to our ears in apples.  Free apples nonetheless.  What’s the best about free things is that you can experiment with new recipes and don’t have to worry that you are wasting your money in case you don’t like it.  So we tried three different apple butter recipes and I have combined them to create my favorite.

We tried Overnight Apple Butter from Martha Stewart and Amy Traverso, a spiced cardamom Apple Butter also from Martha and Classic Apple Butter from The Art of Preserving.  All were great but I combined the best of each to create my own and here it is.

My favorite Apple Butter Recipe 

Makes 5 half – pint jars or 2 pint jars (with a little extra)

4 lb apples, peeled, cored, and cut into rough 1 inch chunks

1 1/2 cups sweet apple cider

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice (shhh, I cheat and use bottled)

2/3 tsp ground ginger

1 cinnamon stick

1/3 tsp ground cardamom

1/3 tsp ground nutmeg

small pinch ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in a crock pot and set to high for 1 hour, then turn down to low and simmer all day or all night.  You are looking for consistency more than timing.  You want it to be brown and thick.  It usually takes me overnight and then several hours in the morning to cook down sufficiently.

After several hours cooking you can crush apples with potato masher to speed the process along.  We like ours chunky so I don’t bother putting through a food mill but you could do that.  It’s just one more thing to wash though.

Remove cinnamon stick, ladle into jars and leave  1/4″ headspace.  Process the jars for 10 minutes (high altitude 20 minutes) in a boiling water bath.  If you don’t can often check out a canning book to learn the detailed process of preparing jars and lids, etc.

Some more tips:

A large crock pot will hold a double batch.

Borrow a neighbors crock pot like I did to make your canning efforts more efficient.

I realize that there are no 1/3 tsp measuring spoons, we scaled this recipe down from another.  Just estimate the amounts.

I use Penzey’s spices and I always need to use less than called for on spices because theirs are so fresh and strong, especially the cinnamon.

Cardamom is my new favorite spice, so don’t leave it out!

Half a cup of lemon juice seems like a lot but we used sweet apples and I don’t like it really sweet.

Thanks,  Courtney

Inaugural Cider Batch

We’ve done it!  We gathered up a whole bunch of granny smith apples on Saturday morning (for free!) and turned them all into wonderful cider.

So, here’s how the process works:

Start by washing your apples.  I used the bottom section of the 55 gallon tub I used to make my chicken plucker, filled it with water and Courtney and I sat around while the kids were napping and inspected all the apples.  We sorted them into two buckets, one for good apples and one for those that had a moldy/wormy spot.  We rubbed each apple with our hands to knock off any dirt, etc.

Halve or quarter all of the apples.  This is so that they fit into the grinder.

Grind away!  The grinder will chew up the apples as fast as I can feed them in there.  It is amazing.

The ground up apple pulp is collected in a food grade bucket.

Another view of the grinding in action.

Filling the pressing bags.  The bottom three inches of a five gallon food grade bucket acts as the form.

Tie the bag with a piece of kitchen twine.

Loading the press.  Put a bag in the bottom, then a pressing disc, then another bag, and so on.  A lot of juice will come out into your catching basin before you even begin pressing, so have that in place first!

Start pressing.  On the ground is the scissor jack from our mini van.  You start with that and once there is room, switch to the 6 ton bottle jack.

The final product.  One sip and you’ll know what the “Wow” factor is all about on this fresh squeezed cider.  It is comparable to nothing else I’ve ever had.  Courtney and I drank a large pitcher of it over the next few days.  The rest was split between a few half gallon Ball jars to make vinegar with the balance put into a fermenter to make hard cider.

Thanks, Robert.

Other Apple Grinder/Cider Press Posts:

Project Introduction

Status Report

Cutting a Keyway


Being Bold: Apple Collecting

Apple Cider Vinegar (future post)

Hard Cider (future post)

High Altitude Adjustments

Living at a high altitude, roughly 5,000 feet has given us a brand new excuse.  When something doesn’t turn out right we say “Oh, it must be the altitude.”  We even use this excuse for things far outside the kitchen, toddler won’t sleep, the tomatoes got blossom end rot, grasshopper infestations, you name it.  It’s quite handy.

Our favorite place to use the excuse is in the kitchen.  Here are some of my disasters.  Once I made muffins that sank so low in the middle I had to turn them into cupcakes and frost them to hide the sink holes.  Several times I have made brown rice in the rice cooker and it has turned out crunchy, probably because I didn’t let it sit long enough but still it fell into the altitude category.  Several of our home canned goods have lost their seal and we are fairly certain this is due to a combination of the high altitude (they weren’t processed here) and the heat where they were being stored.  So now when we are canning and something doesn’t seal we blame it on the altitude.  A cake mix from a box was sunken in the middle and doughy.  How can I screw up a cake mix from a box?  That was a first.

We have learned some mighty helpful tips from the Cook’s Illustrated baking handbook.  I always thought that bread would be affected the most but this isn’t true.  It’s actually baked goods that have sugar and leavening agents.  This include cookies, quick breads and cakes.  Their book provides remedies for these problems but it’s still tricky.  When I ask locals how they change recipes they look at me like I am crazy.  How can I be the only one with this baking problem?  Well, I am not.  After some prying I have learned that many natives, have been natives for quite some time which means that all their family recipes are tailored for this altitude.  They don’t need to make any adjustments.

Another area where we have been affected by the altitude is in canning.  We have to add 10 minutes to all processing times.  This is kind of a bummer because that often doubles the processing time of most things.  There is no affect on the product but it does make the process that much longer and hotter.  Which is why we have become fans of drying.  And as Robert has mentioned we are planning on building a New Mexico style dryer.  The weather is perfect for drying here.  My clothes dry on the line in roughly the same amount of time as they would in the dryer.

When my sister was visiting from California she mentioned that her morning jog was a bit more challenging than it is at home.  Once I am able to work out again, I look forward to using this excuse.  The sun is also more intense here because we are up so high.  Think of the intense sun at the top of a mountain when you are skiing.  It’s bright and hot, while in the shade it’s cool and comfortable.

We are really enjoying living at a high elevation,  especially the new excuse we’ve gained.

Thanks,  Courtney

Potato Pancakes

Here’s a great recipe for your leftover mashed potatoes.  I’ve always loved potato pancakes.

Get your cast iron skillet nice and hot over medium heat and melt some butter in it.  You could also use olive oil.  Using your hands, shape the pancakes out of your potato leftovers.  I make them about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter.   Slap those babies in the skillet.  Resist the urge to flip them because you’ll mess up their shape.  Wait until you can see a light brown edge beginning to form around the bottom edge.  This way, when you flip them there will be the beginnings of a crust forming that will help them hold their shape.  Once the second side is done it is time to eat.

Thanks, Robert.

How I Cook Bacon

I learned how to make bacon only a few years ago.  I had been cooking bacon for a long time, but never doing it well until I learned how to do it in the oven.

Get out a rimmed baking sheet and line with foil.  Then place a rack on the foil.  Lay out the bacon flat and don’t let them overlap.  I even try to keep each piece from touching, but sometimes I just run out of space so that rule is the first to go.

Then the tray goes into a 300* oven.  Depending on the amount of bacon you are cooking this could take up to an hour and a half, so plan accordingly.  I usually start this at 6:00am while the rest of the house is still sleeping.

To me, the temperature is important.  I like cooking things low and slow.  I feel the end product is better.  It also affords you some flexibility.  An extra five minutes won’t kill you using this method and will allow you more time to read another blog post at His and Hers Homesteading, for example.

Courtney disagrees with all this.  She would rather turn the temperature up and have her bacon sooner.  My warnings of becoming part of our instant gratification society fall on deaf ears when the smell of bacon is in the air.  I admit that there is not much difference in the final product at 350*.  You’ll have to watch things much more closely, however.  That bacon will sizzle and crisp up very quickly at the higher temperature.  This is about the only thing that we can never seem to agree on, and we’re both dug in and holding the line.

I read recently about saving bacon grease and I’ve started my own collection.  It is great for cooking and for seasoning your cast iron cookware.  I collect the grease while it is still hot and runny in a glass bowl and put into the fridge once it cools a little.

What bacon is the best?  Our all time favorite is Trader Joes Applewood Smoked bacon.  A close second is the Niman Ranch bacon.  Both taste great.  Since relocating we are having to try new bacon brands and have yet to find one we love.  Most of them are OK, but none compare to our favorites.

Thanks,  Robert.

Thomas the Train Birthday Cake

My son’s second birthday was last week and we had a small celebration with family.  This was to keep my blood pressure from soaring and to prevent an overstimulated 2 year old meltdown.  Even though it was a simple affair mainly consisting of a cake it was so special.  But this was no ordinary cake, no, no nothing is ordinary when my sister, my mom and I are involved.  This was a Thomas the train cake.  And not just any old sheet cake decorated with Thomas, this was a 3-D Train cake!

For as long as I can remember we have decorated cookies at Christmas with zealousness, elevating it really to an art form.  My mom always had some new Martha Stewart technique to try out or new shape to test out.  We proudly displayed our cookies and watched with horror as hungry guests at our yearly brunch would eat the head off of a charming Santa or munch on the perfectly decorated Christmas tree.  how could they eat such beautiful cookies was beyond us.  Yes, we did set them out but really we wanted them to be admired, not eaten.  Well it seems nothing has really changed.  We made a beautiful cake but this time we didn’t eat it.  That’s right, we made cupcakes instead and just admired the amazing train.  In fact he is still standing and on display.

Now, I say we but really I mean my sister transformed the chocolate train, into the distinctive Thomas the train.  I baked the cake, my mom designed and made the base with the tracks and my sister did the icing.  She sat diligently studying the Thomas examples and trying to replicate it on the cake.  The cake pan was just a generic train cake and she made adjustments here and there to turn him into Thomas.

Here she is, isn’t she precious.

Here are some shots of the process.







Here are what we used to create this cake:

Wilton Choo Choo Train cake pan (not official Thomas)

2 cake box mixes (extra made cupcakes)

2 store bought frosting, one chocolate, cream cheese

Wilton gel icing colors (royal blue, no taste red, golden yellow)

Red rope licorice

Black licorice (cut in half lengthwise)

Coconut (tinted green)

Powdered sugar icing (tinted sand color to attach coconut to surface)

Pretzel rods (broken in half)

Picture of Thomas’ face from the internet

FYIs:  The cake slipped out of the pan remarkably well and I forgot to dust the Criso with flour.  The cake overflowed massively so a collection tray was a must.  The recipe suggested pound cake but we used dark chocolate cake instead.  We live at a high altitude where things seem to love to expand so I am not sure if this is why it overflowed so much.  There was no harm done though.

Thanks, Courtney