Author Archives: Celeste Beck

Crockpot Applesauce

Healthy applesauce with peelHere is some applesauce that recently made and canned at home, yielding 4 pints from about 15 Fuji apples. It was so easy, using a crockpot and very little hands-on time. In the past, I have been unsure if it was worth the effort to can my own applesauce because you can easily buy applesauce with no added sugar from the store. Usually I will only go to the pains to can something if I feel like it is better quality, healthier, or tastes better compared to what I can buy. I found that my applesauce came out with a lot more flavor compared to the store-bought applesauce I had in my fridge, so I give a few reasons below why it is totally worth it to can your own applesauce, if you have some time to make it happen!

REASONS TO CAN YOUR OWN APPLESAUCE FROM HOME

1. More fiber and nutrients (if you leave the peel on): Most of the fiber and nutrients in apples are found in the peel. Unfortunately, a lot of applesauce recipes suggest removing the peel before processing the apples – this is done mostly for aesthetic and texture reasons. Know that you don’t HAVE to remove the peels before turning your apples into applesauce – it is totally optional. Yes, the color of your applesauce will be slightly darker from blending the peels into it, compared to leaving the peels out, but you and your family will be glad that you are getting the extra fiber and nutrients later!

2. Better flavor: Canning applesauce at home gives you the leverage to choose your own, favorite apples with the flavors that you prefer. I personally prefer gala, honey crisp, and fuji apples for a lot of my recipes where I am going for a sweet flavor. But you can also use tart apples if you prefer, or a mix of both tart and sweet. Trust me, like about anything else homemade, your applesauce will taste much better than what you can buy from the store.

3. No added sweeteners: There is plenty of applesauce out there to buy that does not contain any added sweeteners, but there is also plenty of commercially canned applesauce that has had extra sweeteners added to it. If you want to buy applesauce from the store for convenience, just check the ingredient list to make sure it doesn’t contain added sweeteners. Otherwise you will be increasing your caloric intake with empty, sugary calories.

EASY STEPS TO MAKE YOUR OWN APPLESAUCE

1. Wash, core, and cut your apples into slices. You can peel the apples if desired, but I prefer to leave mine on for the extra nutrients and fiber.
2. Fill your crockpot with the apple slices, all the way to the top. Pour 1/2 cup water over the apples and cover with crockpot lid.
Easy Crockpot Applesauce3. Turn the crockpot on high, and allow the apples to cook for 2-3 hours, until they completely break down and can be mashed easily. While they are cooking, stir the apples every 30 minutes.
4. Using an immersion blender, blend the apples (peel and all) until they form the puree consistency that you would like for your applesauce.
TIP: Do not blend your applesauce in a high-speed blender if you are planning on canning it. This will add lots of air bubbles into your applesauce.
Immersion Blender Applesauce

Your end product will look like this.
Homemade crockpot applesauce5. While it is still hot, pour the applesauce into hot, sterile canning jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace at the top. Follow proper canning procedures and appropriate boiling times based on the altitude where you live. If you are unfamiliar with canning, you can find instructions on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website HERE. Label and date the jars after they have cooled, and store in a cool, dark place for up to one year to retain maximum quality.

During the following year, pull your canned applesauce out for a quick, healthy snack for you or your family!

Ways to Save Money at the Grocery Store

LOOK FOR RED-BANDED, OR REDUCED-PRICE FRUIT

how to save money on produce, how to shop smartThe fruits shown here are ones that I just picked up from my local grocery store. Notice that they both say the word “Reduced” on their label. This is because the bananas are to the over-ripening point, and some of the apples have a small hole poked in them (hardly noticeable) – but they are still perfectly good fruit! I paid only $1.66 for the nearly 5 1/2 pounds of fruit shown above ($1 for the apples, and $0.66 for the bananas).

So where do you find reduced-price fruit? Many stores will have a separate shelf where they consistently stock overripe or slightly damaged fruit – mine is located right in the produce section. If you don’t see one at your favorite store, you can ask an employee from the produce department. This is now a habit of mine to check the reduced-price shelf each time I make a trip to the store.

So what do you do with overripe bananas and a bag of apples? Here is a picture of what I did for my family.

healthy banana muffins, banana ice creamFor just $1.66 worth of produce, I was able to make a dozen banana-nut muffins, banana-chocolate chip ice cream, an apple salad to feed four people, and still have 3 apples left over for an after-school snack the next day! This made up 2/3 of the dinner I served to my family of 4 that night, including dessert! Yes, these food items did involve some other ingredients, but they were simple ones that I already had on hand, stocked in my fridge or pantry.

Looking for overripe or reduced-price fruit at your local grocery store can save you money and help you feed your family. So next time you go to the grocery store, don’t forget to look!

Cinnamon-Raisin Apple Leather

homemade apple leather, apple raisin leather, healthy fruit leatherMaking homemade apple leather is a great way to store extra apples in a healthy, fun way. Homemade apple leather can be fun since you can add different spices and ingredients to make fun varieties. This recipe is much healthier than fruit leathers from the store, since it is mostly fruit (including the apple peel) with very little added sweetener. The sweetener that I suggest is raw local honey, which I prefer any day of the week over high fructose corn syrup that is generally found in fruit rollups from the store. If you want, you can decrease or leave out the added honey altogether. Added sweetener is not necessary to dry the fruit – it is just a matter of taste and your personal preference.

This leather makes a great, healthy snack for kids (or adults)! It can easily be included in a lunch box, and is great for travel, hiking, or any day of the week!

HOW TO MAKE HOMEMADE CINNAMON-RAISIN APPLE LEATHER

INGREDIENTS

4 large red apples, cored and chopped (no need to peel)
1 Tbsp honey
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of sea salt
2-4 Tbsp raisins

DIRECTIONS

  1. Chop the apples into pieces that are small enough to blend well in your blender (this may vary depending on the type of blender you own).
  2. Add all ingredients to the blender. Blend on high speed until the apple mixture becomes a smooth puree.
  3. Pour puree onto a lightly greased dehydrator sheet into a liquid layer that is about 1/4 inch thick. Using the back of a large spoon, smooth the liquid out over the sheet, leaving at least half an inch space at the edges of the sheet to prevent the liquid from spilling over the edges.
    how to pour fruit leather on dehydrator sheet
  4. Sprinkle raisins over the liquid mixture according to taste. (This step is optional, and you may leave the raisins out entirely and still make a great fruit leather.)
    homemade apple leather, homemade fruit leather
  5. Place the dehydrator sheet into the dehydrator at 135 degrees F for about 8-10 hours, until it has completely dried, but is still soft enough to bend and fold into a fruit roll.
    Checking for dryness: Be sure to check the middle for dryness, since fruit leathers tend to dry starting at the edges and dry in the middle last. It should easily peel off the dehydrator sheet when it is sufficiently dry, and should feel slightly sticky, but not wet or moist. Do not overdry it, or the leather will become brittle and will be difficult to fold onto itself without breaking.
    what does dried fruit leather look like, how to tell when fruit leather has dried
  6. To store fruit leather: Remove the leather from the dehydrator sheet (it should come off easily if the sheet was properly greased before drying). Place the fruit leather on plastic wrap or wax paper, and starting from one of the corners, roll the leather into a fruit roll. how to store apple leatherPlace the leather into an airtight container for storage, and label with the date. Fruit leather will store well for 1-2 months in the pantry, several months in the refrigerator, and up to one year in the freezer.
    how do I store fruit leather, how to wrap fruit leather

Fun Option: When leather is partly dry (about halfway through the drying process), use cookie cutters to cut fun shapes in the leather. Then allow the leather to dry the rest of the way. I did this one night, and my kids were so excited when they saw the little “gingerbread men” in the morning. Your kids will love it!
shapes with fruit leather

Whole-Grain Pumpkin Muffins

how to use canned pumpkin, whole-wheat pumpkin muffins, whole-grain pumpkin muffinsThese muffins provide tons of nutritional value from whole grains, pumpkin, and added calcium from the powdered milk (as well as Vitamins A and D if the milk was fortified with these vitamins). The ones pictured here were made using previously frozen pumpkin puree. Ones made with canned pumpkin tend to look a little darker.

INGREDIENTS

1 can (15 oz.) solid-pack pumpkin (or 2 cups frozen, thawed and drained pumpkin puree)
⅓ cup honey
⅓ cup coconut oil
½ cup water
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 ½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
Optional: Add 2 Tbsp dry powdered milk for extra calcium
Optional: Add ½ cup dark chocolate chips or raisins

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease muffin tin (enough for 12 muffins).
  3. Place pumpkin, honey, coconut oil, water, and vanilla extract in a small saucepan. Heat mixture on low heat until coconut oil is liquid, and you are able to stir all ingredients into a smooth liquid mixture.
  4. While liquids are warming, mix whole-wheat pastry flour, baking soda, salt, and optional dry powdered milk in a large bowl.
  5. Pour liquid mixture into the bowl, and stir well until mixture forms a thick, batter-like consistency. Add optional chocolate chips or raisins if desired.
  6. Fill muffin tins with batter. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If using previously frozen and thawed pumpkin puree, add an extra 10-15 minutes to the baking time.

Pumpkin – How do I Use My Halloween/Fall pumpkins?

how to preserve pumpkin, how to freeze pumpkinHere is a picture of my son’s cute Halloween pumpkin that he brought home from school this year. I loved displaying it on our front porch. But after Halloween is over, how can we use these leftover pumpkins?

Pumpkin may be one freezer/pantry item that is easy to overlook. But don’t let your leftover pumpkins go to waste – they are chock full of nutrition! I personally love pumpkin, and it is something that I like to keep on hand regularly. Pumpkin is an excellent source of Vitamin A, with just ½ cup giving 280% of the daily recommended value for Vitamin A intake!

Purchasing canned pumpkin from the grocery store and stocking it in your pantry is the easiest way to keep it on hand. But I also love to cook and freeze fresh pumpkin from all of those extra pumpkins in the Fall, especially after Halloween. Be aware that large pumpkins tend to be more stringy and watery, and not as sweet or flavorful as small pumpkins, so I would only recommend pureeing and freezing the small pumpkins. Here are the easy steps of how to prepare and freeze fresh pumpkin, if you have the time and some extra pumpkins on hand that you are wondering what to do with!

(Note: Previously frozen pumpkin is mushy when thawed, compared to canned pumpkin. Because of this, it works best in soups or something like a smoothie. For baking recipes, you can still use it successfully, but you will need to drain out extra moisture after the pumpkin has thawed, and you may also need to increase your baking time 10-15 minutes. 2 cups of fresh pumpkin puree = one 15oz can of packed pumpkin in recipes)

How to Puree and Freeze Pumpkin

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Wash pumpkin, and cut it in half.How to cut a pumpkin for roastingHow to roast pumpkin
  3. Cut off the stem on top, and remove seeds (you may want to keep the seeds for roasting for a snack later). If it is a larger pumpkin, cut into cooking-size sections.how to roast a pumpkin
  4. Place the pumpkin pieces face-down on a lined baking sheet. Bake for about an hour, or until the flesh is soft and can easily be pierced with a fork. (Alternatively, you may bring a large pot of water to boil, add sliced pumpkin, and cook in boiling water until soft. You may also steam or microwave the pumpkin. I prefer to roast my pumpkin in the oven, because it is the easiest and cleanest.)how to roast pumpkin
  5. Remove pumpkin pieces from the oven, and allow them to cool. Scrape the cooked pumpkin out of the shell.How to roast pumpkinHow to roast and puree pumpkin
  6. Puree chunks in a food processor or blender. (If your pumpkin puree seems watery, allow it to drain in a fine-mesh strainer or through a cheesecloth until the excess water has been removed.) Your pumpkin will puree into a beautiful, creamy texture. How to make homemade pumpkin puree
  7. Place pumpkin puree into freezer bags, in portion sizes that you will use in recipes. (I like to freeze puree in 2 cup portion sizes, which would replace a can of pumpkin in a recipe.) Leave ½ inch space at the top of the bag, between the top of the puree and the bag’s opening, to allow for expansion when freezing.How to roast and freeze pumpkin puree
  8. Flatten bags to remove excess air. Seal, label, and place bags in freezer. Frozen puree can maintain high quality for 12-18 months at 0 degrees F.

Wondering how to use your canned or frozen pumpkin? See healthy pumpkin recipes below:

Orange-Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

Whole-Grain Pumpkin Muffins

Orange-Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

pumpkin smoothie, how to use frozen pumpkinThis is one of my favorite smoothies now! I love the protein and calcium from the yogurt, and the vitamin A from the pumpkin. A fresh orange and banana give added vitamin C, folate and potassium. I also love that it requires very little added sweetener to be delicious!

INGREDIENTS

1 cup Greek yogurt (or substitute with your favorite milk)
¾ cup pumpkin (fresh puree, or frozen and thawed puree is best)
2 medium oranges (peeled)
1 ripe banana
½ cup ice cubes
½ tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Dash of cinnamon (optional)

Ingredient Substitutions (If you don’t have the above ingredients on hand, you can use the following substitutions for an equally tasty treat!):

1 cup Greek yogurt = 1 cup of your favorite milk
¾ cup fresh pumpkin = ¾ cup canned pumpkin, carrots (raw, or cooked and mashed), or favorite squash puree
2 medium oranges = 6 clementines (peeled) or 1 cup of orange juice

DIRECTIONS

Place all ingredients into a blender. Blend on high speed until liquid is smooth. This is best if served immediately, while it is still cold. Top with a dash of cinnamon to serve, if desired.

 

How to Make Low-Sugar Apple Butter

DO YOU HAVE TO ADD SUGAR TO CAN APPLES?

Generally, apple butter recipes contain a large amount of sugar in relation to the apples. Because I don’t eat a lot of added sugar in daily life, it felt weird to be canning apple butter and dumping multiple cups of sugar into it. So I researched some food preservation extension office articles to find out – do you really have to add all that sugar to safely can apple butter?

I found out that thankfully, you don’t have to add any sugar at all to apples to safely can them! In another article HERE it explains research-based guidelines on the use of sugar when canning fruit. Basically, when canning fruit, sugar aids in retaining flavor and texture of the fruit. The fruit’s shape and texture will be preserved better over time with increased amounts of sugar, compared to recipes with no or low sugar, but it is not necessary.

MAKING YOUR OWN HEALTHY APPLE BUTTER SAVES MONEY!

Sugar free apple butter

As you can see in the above picture, which I took when shopping at my local grocery store tonight, buying apple butter with no added sugar from the store, that is “just apples”, comes at a steep price! You will save a lot of money by canning your own healthy apple butter!

In the recipe below, I used naturally sweet apples – Gala or Fuji – which decreased the need to add sugar for a sweet flavor. I added just 3 Tbsp of honey, to balance out the sourness of the lemon juice, which was added to help retain color and quality over time. I would suggest using the apple butter within one year of canning for maximum quality in taste, texture, and nutrition. This apple butter really is nutritious, especially since it contains the apple peels, and is much lower in sugar compared to traditional apple butter recipes! I gave this apple butter out as a Christmas gift last year, and my husband’s grandma called me within a few days to let me know that it was the best apple butter that she had ever had! My favorite way of eating it is on top of whole grain pancakes along with a dollop of whipped cream – it tastes like apple pie for breakfast!

This recipe is great for people with diabetes, for people trying to lose weight, or for those who are just trying to cut down on sugar consumption.

EASY STEPS TO MAKE DELICIOUS LOW-SUGAR APPLE BUTTER

healthy apple butter, healthy canning, apple butter diabetes

(Recipe fills 4-5 half-pint canning jars)

INGREDIENTS

5 lbs sweet apples (about 10 large apples – I prefer gala or fuji)
½ cup water
2 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp honey
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp Allspice
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cloves

DIRECTIONS

  1. Core apples and slice them into wedges. No need to peel.
  2. Place cut apples in a slow cooker and pour ½ cup water over apples, into the slow cooker. Cover with lid and turn cooker on high.
  3. Cook apples for 2-3 hours until they become soft, stirring them every 30 minutes.
  4. After apples are soft, use an immersion blender to blend them into an applesauce-like consistency. (If you don’t own an immersion blender, you can use a blender to blend the mixture in batches, and then return it to the slow cooker.)
  5. Add lemon juice, honey, vanilla extract, and spices. Stir into mixture.
  6. Continue to slow cook apples on high for an additional 5-6 hours, removing the lid the last hour of cooking to allow moisture to escape. Butter is done when it remains rounded on a spoon, without liquid separating.
  7. While still hot, pour the apple butter into sterile canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace at the top. Follow proper canning procedures and appropriate boiling times based on the altitude where you live. If you are unfamiliar with canning, you can find instructions on the National Center for Home Food Preservation website HERE. Label and date the jars after they have cooled, and store in a cool, dark place for up to one year to retain maximum quality.

 

 

 

 

 

Healthy Ways to Preserve Apples

Right now it is Fall here in Utah, which means apple season! We are lucky to have some local apple orchards nearby,  and a local distributor has been selling freshly picked orchard apples, for $0.50/pound! So I have stocked up on Gala and Granny Smith apples, buying 34 lbs for just $17. Now what to do with them?

Traditional food preservation recipes call for lots of sugar. Commercially preserved apples, that have been either dried or canned, also generally contain significant amounts of sugar, corn syrup, or both. Over the next few posts, I will show you different ways to preserve your own apples in a healthy fashion, preserving maximum nutrition, without loading them with sugar! I will share with you how to make some of my favorite, storable snacks with apples.

How to Make Dried Apple Rings at Home (No added sugar!)

Homemade dried apple rings are SO much better compared to storebought ones. Most commercially dried apples that I have found have not included the peel (where the majority of the nutrition lies), they have already turned brown from oxidation, they have had oil and sugars added to them, or they have been sulfured as a food preservation technique. In the picture below, I compare home dried apple rings with a few commercial ones from my local grocery store – there is really no comparison!!! And the home dried one tastes MUCH better!

Difference between home and commercially dried apples, apple rings

Can you tell which ones are homemade? They are the pretty ones on the lower right! It is hard to tell in the picture, but the other ones are more brown, and the ones on the top right have oils, corn syrup, and other preservatives added to them. The ones on the top left actually taste pretty good and include the peel, but they are more crunchy compared to home dried ones, and they came broken in pieces. The rings on the lower left were taken from bulk bins in the grocery store health food section – they don’t include the peels and were highly oxidized (brown – meaning some nutrient loss) when I bought them.

SIMPLE STEPS FOR HOMEMADE, DRIED APPLE RINGS

  1. Wash and core apples. For maximum nutrition, leave the peels on. They also look prettier that way when dried!Picture of how to core apples
  2. Slice apples into rings about ¼ inch thick.
  3. Lay apple rings on a lightly oiled dehydrator sheet. The oil will prevent sticking. (Optional: Before laying the apple rings on the dehydrator sheet, soak the rings in pineapple juice or ascorbic acid mixture for 3-5 minutes. Pat the rings dry. Dipping apple rings is not necessary to dry them. However, it does extend shelf storage life by slowing oxidation of the apples. The ones shown here were not dipped.)
    Apple rings on dehydrator sheet
  4. Place apples in the dehydrator at 135 degrees for 8-10 hours (time will depend on thickness of rings). Check the apples for doneness – there should be no visible moisture when you bend the apple ring, but it should still be pliable and be able to bend without breaking.Homemade dried apple rings
  5. Store apple rings in an airtight storage container. I prefer quart-sized glass canning jars or airtight ziplock bags. Label and date your container.

Stored apple rings in quart jars

Tips for storing dried apples: I prefer to use a clear container so that you can see when the dried apples need to be used (you can see if there is any moisture in the jar, or mold growth). The container should be airtight, to prevent oxidation of the apple rings. You should also store the apples in a cool, dark pantry, away from light. Avoiding exposure to heat, air, and light will help to preserve maximum nutritional value. The dried rings last for about a year if stored properly. You can also put them in the freezer, in a freezer appropriate sealed container, for extended storage.

 

 

Best Garden-Fresh Tomato Soup (from frozen!)

homemade tomato soup

This is my favorite tomato soup recipe, and I can enjoy it with fully ripe, garden or locally grown tomatoes all year round using the tomatoes I froze during the summer/early fall. I found this recipe on the Food Network, but I altered it to be dairy free and to be more conducive to easily stored ingredients.

INGREDIENTS

3 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
1 Tbsp minced garlic (3 cloves)
2 1/2 lbs (or about 5 large) frozen tomatoes, thawed
1 ½ tsp white sugar
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp dried basil (or ¼ cup fresh basil if you are lucky enough to have it!)
3 cups chicken broth
1 ½ tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
¾ cup full fat coconut milk

Ingredient substitutions:

3/4 cup full fat coconut milk = can be substituted with heavy whipping cream, lite coconut milk, or half-and-half, depending on your preference

DIRECTIONS

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat.
  2. Add the onion and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender.
  3. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  4. Prepare the tomatoes by removing the top centers (where stem was attached) from slightly thawed tomatoes. Cut them in halves or quarters while they are still slightly frozen, enough to withstand pressure when cut. Add the cut tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken broth, salt, and pepper to the pot and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender.
  5. Add the coconut milk to the soup. Use an immersion blender or regular blender to process the soup until mostly smooth.
  6. Reheat the soup over low heat (if needed) just until hot. Serve with julienned basil leaves or whole grain orzo pasta if desired.