Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
For this week's Real Food Wednesday blog carnival I'll tell you a bit about my gardening experiment. I've been wanting to garden for years but the school/seasonal job year happens to perfectly bisect the growing season year. It's hard to get excited to plant stuff in April and May when you know you are going to be moving in June or July. Luckily for my gardening aspirations I have a "real" adult job this year and no plans of moving anywhere! I am actually going to be planting two gardens this year, one in the little yard at my duplex and a bigger one in my parents' backyard up the street.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
When this happened to me last week I did, at least, have one shining beacon of hope. In addition to putting black beans in the crock pot I had started a batch of Sue Gregg's Blender Batter Cornbread. You knew the blender batter method made great pancakes (because I told you it did and you all ran out and tried it this weekend, right?) but did you know it makes an amazing cornbread too? It does! Sue's recipe calls for whole kernel corn and wheat berries processed the same way as for the blender batter pancakes. I didn't have any wheat berries in the house so I used white flour, which is lower in phytates than whole wheat (if you are really worried about phytates in the corn and wheat then be sure to use wheat the way Sue recommends. Amanda Rose of Rebuild from Depression gives some compelling research results that corn does not have the phytase necessary to actually break down the phytic acid on it's own).
Be sure to check out Sue's recipe and then read on to see how I modified the recipe. Also, a chilling tale of new roommates gone awry, gnashing of teeth and flames. Seriously, keep reading.
2/3 cup coarse ground polenta
1 cup kefir, buttermilk or thinned yogurt
1/4 cup melted butter
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 cup unbleached white flour
*The night before combine the polenta and the kefir in a bowl. Stir to combine and leave to sit at room temperature over night.
*In the morning (afternoon or after work) pour the corn and kefir into your blender and grind. Again, start slow and once the mixture is making a vortex then allow it to grind for a couple minutes. Add the eggs and blend then add the melted butter while the blender is running.
*Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Combine the wet ingredients from the blender with the dry ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl. Stir until they are combined, but still lumpy. You don't want to overmix quick breads or they will be tough.
*Generously grease an 8x8 baking dish and pour the batter in. Cook at 350 for 25-30 minutes or until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean. Serve with lots of butter and honey.
My beans were a bust but the cornbread turned out perfect. It was golden, lightly browned, light textured, deeply corn flavored. I whipped up a soup to eat instead of my beans, cut a piece of cornbread and sat down to dinner. As I was eating my new roommate came into the kitchen and started a pot of water for pasta. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say our stove is set up strange but all I know is a few minutes later there was a pop like a gunshot. I turned around and the pyrex dish the cornbread had been cooked in was shattered and right before my eyes my beautiful cornbread caught on fire! He had turned the wrong burner on!!
Damage control was quick and some of the cornbread was even salvaged. I was angry and upset for a minute or two (my cornbread!!) and then we got down to the business of digging pyrex shards out of the linoleum. My cornbread! My beautiful cornbread!!
Luckily, I have this awesome recipe, more polenta in the cupboard and my roommate's pyrex dish to cook it all in.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Most of us in America grew up on some variation of fluffy, sweet, soft bread and pastries. My mom made sure we ate wheat bread, but it was as fluffy as the Wonder Bread my friends ate. And we certainly got bisquick pancakes, doughnuts, and white rice. As I learned more about nutrition I learned of the benefits of whole grains - increased fiber and increased nutrients. Then came Nourishing Traditions and their instructions for soaking or sprouting grains. Whoa - this is getting a bit heavy.
I'll be the first to admit that soaking or sprouting grains before consuming them is low on my priority list. I understand the benefits of reducing anti nutrients, increasing digestability and all of that. It makes perfect sense. Heck, I even believe that grains don't need to be the base of our diet. Humans have only been eating grains for a couple thousand years, compared with meat and vegetables which we have been eating since before we were even humans. That doesn't mean it's easy to implement.
But then I found a recipe that makes it easy. Last year I was introduced to Sue Gregg's blender batter method of making pancakes and waffles. She uses a blender to grind a mix of whole grains and fermented milk into a slurry that becomes the batter to make your pancakes or quick bread. The more I experiment with this technique, the more I love it. I'm going to write out how I make pancakes here, but I highly recommend that you go visit Sue Gregg's site. She has lots of information, her original recipes and links to buy her books (anyone looking to buy me a birthday present? Yeah, email me, I'll send you my address :)
Her site is here: http://www.suegregg.com/
1 cup whole grain*
1 cup kefir, buttermilk or yogurt thinned to the consistency of buttermilk
1 tbs (or more) liquid fat - melted butter or coconut oil, olive oil, etc.
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
up to 1 tsp vanilla extract and/or sweetner of your choice (optional)
The night before you want to make pancakes combine the grain and the milk in your blender. Using the pulse button start to grind the mixture. When the mixture starts to make a nice vortex in the middle let it run and grind the grains. Sue has you grind it for a full 3 minutes. I usually don't let my cheap blender run that long continuously and even if it doesn't grind the whole 3 minutes it seems to work just fine. Grind it for as long as you can stand it. If it doesn't make a vortex you can add a little more liquid, but do so sparingly. Chances are you have enough liquid and if you add more your pancake batter will be too loose.
Let the mixture of grain and milk sit on the counter for a couple hours or overnight. If your blender is nicer than mine you can just leave it in the blender jar. Mine leaks at the bottom so I scrape everything into a bowl and let it sit on the counter.
In the morning grind the grain/milk mixture again to loosen everything up. Since I probably didn't grind it a full 3 minutes the night before I give it a good grind first thing in the morning. Add the egg and grind it some more. With the blender running add the melted fat. This keeps the fat from clumping when it hits the colder batter. Add the optional sweetner or vanilla.
When you are ready to cook the pancakes (heat up you cast iron skillet, melt a bunch of coconut oil or butter in it, get everything hot, cook your bacon, etc) add the salt and leaveners. Again, do this while the blender is running to avoid clumping.
Cook your pancakes as usual, being sure to give the first one to the dog. That's traditional, remember? :)
*The cool thing about this recipe is that you can use ANY grain you want. The gluten in wheat is not very important when making pancakes so even if you aren't "gluten free" you can make these that much more healthy by using gluten free grains. I usually use a mix of oats (steel cut or rolled), brown rice (or white), wheat berries, cornmeal, and whatever else I have around. I like adding a tablespoon or more of sesame seeds to the mix and have been known to use my Arrowhead Mills 7 Grain Gluten Free Hot Cereal. Toasted buckwheat, or kasha, makes an amazing pancake! Quinoa, barley, amaranth, kamut, millet - whatever you have or like, use it! Just use one cup total of whatever grains you like.
These pancakes rock. No one would ever guess that they were whole seeds and fermented milk a mere 6 hours before. They generally don't have a "whole grain" texture, are light and fluffy, and incredibly flavorful. You can vary them any number of ways by adding berries or nuts, changing the grains, changing the sweetner and of course changing the toppings. I personally love jam and yogurt, but won't turn down a pancake with butter and maple syrup either.
I recently used this method to make a cornbread and am excited about branching out into other quick breads and muffins. The batter could also make crepes/tortilla-like-wraps if made thinner. I generally make a double batch and freeze the extras for quick breakfasts later on.
I just can't say enough good about this recipe and method. Give it a try, seriously. It's so versatile, and you feel so accomplished. "I used whole grains, soaked them and I can have a real breakfast all week!"
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
I have lots of reasons for rejecting commercial body care products. I don't like the chemicals, I don't like the marketing and in general I just don't believe my body needs quite so much "care" as Proctor and Gamble or Walgreens would like me to believe. For years I have been using baking soda and dish soap to do almost all of my household cleaning and this winter redoubled my efforts to remove chemical cleaners from my body cleaning routine as well.
This winter I made the switch to a no-poo method of cleaning my hair. I now use baking soda and apple cider vinegar and my hair looks great! I use only simple soap like Dr. Bronner's or local goats milk soap to clean my body and perfume free dish soap in the kitchen. Since I don't color, style or spray my hair I didn't have to worry about products for those "needs." The last hold out was deodorant.
I've spent a number of years accepting, and even cultivating, my "dirty hippy" persona :) I don't shave, I don't gel my hair, and only recently allowed myself to be held down to have my eyebrows plucked. I'm about as crunchy as you can get this side of dreads, patchwork corduroy or patchouli stank. That doesn't mean I particularly enjoy smelling like B.O. I gave up regular deodorant years ago because of aluminum and other health concerns but never felt my other options were particularly useful. I love all that Tom's of Maine does for this world, but controlling stink is not something they do well. I continued to use their deodorant for years because then at least I smelled like I was trying to control the odor but I certainly wasn't eliminating it.
Over the last few months I have kept running into blogs or flickr posts about homemade deodorant. I figured the universe was trying to tell me something so I did a little more research. Turns out, baking soda and coconut oil, two of my pantry staples that I already knew and loved the benefits of, were the base of most homemade deodorants. Baking soda is an moisture absorber and odor eliminator while coconut oil has some serious anti-microbial properties, as well as being a moisturizer and smelling wonderful. I saw that some folks had trouble with irritation when they used either baking soda alone or in high proportion to coconut oil and one recipe combined the baking soda with cornstarch or arrowroot powder. I took that recipe, added some tea tree and rosewood essential oils for their anti-microbial properties and amazing smell, and ended up with some amazing natural deodorant.
I've been using it for a couple weeks now and not only has it completely eliminated the unpleasant body odor on the days I use it (and leave a faint, pleasant natural odor) but it even has eliminated unpleasant odor on the days I don't use it! Wow!
1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
4 tbs baking soda
2 tbs cornstarch or arrowroot powder, or more baking soda, or none of the above
2 drops tea tree essential oil*
6 drop rosewood essential oil*
- Melt the coconut oil gently in a jar with about 1 cup volume (I used wide mouth half pint jar and think it's a great size) either under hot tap water or in a gentle water bath. Coconut oil melts at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit so hot tap water is all you need.
- When the coconut oil is completely liquid stir in the baking soda and corn starch one spoonful at a time. Stir well and make sure to scrape the powders up from the bottom of the jar. Add the essential oils and stir to combine.
- As the concoction cools to room temperature stir it occasionally to redistribute the powders, which will sink in the liquid oil. There will be a magic moment when the oil is still liquid enough to stir but solid enough to keep the powder in suspension - find that moment and stir like the devil! If you are doing this during the heat of the summer when room temperature is above 75 use the fridge to cool the deodorant.
- Allow the emulsified oil to cool all the way to room temperature (it will probably want to be kept in the fridge in the summer to keep the powders emulsified). To use scrape a pea sized amount onto your finger and rub into your underarms. Your body heat quickly melts the ball of deodorant and you can smooth it all in there. I used a fork to break up the mass of oil so I could easily scrape out the right amount.
*I actually used 1 drop rosemary and 2 drops sweet orange in addition to the rosewood and tea tree, but don't recommend going out and buying those if you don't want to. Any essential oil or blend of oils that you like would work. Make sure they are high quality, natural oils. Go to the essential oil shelf of your local health food store and sniff away. Watch the prices though - some natural oils go for 5 dollars for a small bottle, other for 30 dollars.
I really, really like this deodorant. I won't have to make more for a long time - months at least - but when I do I will probably eliminate the cornstarch all together, and reduce the amount of baking soda even more. The first night I made it I didn't know to stir as it cooled so for the first few days I was using only scented coconut oil. It seemed to work just fine.
There are lots of reasons to avoid buying personal care products at the store. Money is a big one and so is the toxic chemicals used to produce those products. If you didn't read the article I linked to about marketing beauty products to women you should - it's bombastic and may be offensive, but so is how women (and men, to some extent) are seen by the people selling everything from shampoo to toothpaste to tampons. I don't have to support any of that when I make my own out of food products like this. Whatever I can do to support my health and a non-consumeristic culture is more than many are doing. And next time someone asks me what that tantalizing scent is I can say "my armpits."
Thursday, March 12, 2009
There is a reason chicken soup is a food for sick people throughout the world. Studies are showing that the gelatin and other proteins found in properly made bone broth are essential in bone, joint and skin health as well as digestive health. In fact, bone broth is the base of the very popular GAPS diet for healing digestive and related psychological disorders. Every Jewish grandmother knows that chicken soup heals, and as is usually true of grandmother's wisdom, science is finally coming around.
Chicken broth is the most common homemade broth (in my kitchen and beyond) because we tend to collect more chicken bones than beef or lamb bones but I recently ventured into the land of beef stock. Last fall in a fit of panic over the economy and weather I went to a local discount grocery warehouse store and spent 75 dollars on food, including two packs of meaty beef "soup bones". I wrapped them up, threw them in the freezer and haven't looked at them since. Finally this last weekend I decided to get out one pack and make some beef stock.
I decided to roast the bones before boiling them as I had heard that imparted such great flavor to beef stock. I threw the bones in a foil lined pyrex into the oven at 500 degrees until things started looking a little browned and sizzly. The browned bones, their meat and accumulated juices went into a soup pot along with half an onion, a few garlic cloves, a celery stick and some peppercorns. A bunch of hours later this humble start turned into one of the most delicious things to ever come out of my kitchen. I used the same bones with more onion and garlic to make a second batch that was equally tasty. Talk about frugal!
One of the tricks to making good tasting bone broth is to skim the foam off the top as it comes to a boil. You need to start with cold water so the pot comes slowly to a boil and the gelatin can seep out of the bones before it sets with the heat. As the stock boils a foam will rise to the top and this needs to come out. It is a protein foam and is made by the same process that makes the foam on ocean waves. If left in the stock for the long simmer the protein will overcook and impart bitter flavors into the stock. Just use a spoon or a wire strainer to get that foam off.
There are two camps in the debate over simmer time for chicken stock. One camp says that after long simmering times, like 12 hours or 24 hours or longer, the minerals from the chicken bones have fully leached into the broth and it is most nutritious. The other camp says that a shorter simmer time gets enough minerals out but doesn't destroy the gelatin. I'm in the short simmer camp for both gelatin and flavor - I find long cooked chicken stock to not have much of the chickeny flavor I am looking for. I usually simmer my chicken stocks for between 4 and 6 hours, sometimes over two days with a cooling period inbetween simmering periods.
Beef broth, on the other hand, both requires and can handle a much longer simmer. My first batch of beef broth simmered for 12 hours the first day, and another 8 the second day. I simply put a lid on the pot, turn off the heat and let the stock sit on the stove overnight. The next day I turn the heat back on, make sure the stock comes to a full boil for a couple minutes, and then let it simmer away. This may freak out food safety officials, but I figure any bacteria growing in the soup get boiled off the next day. When I am done simmering I make sure to use a quick cooling method like a water bath, to get the stock as cool as possible as quickly as possible. Safety first!
I used some of this fantastic broth to make a very simple soup the other night. I sauteed some onions, celery and carrots in goose fat, seasoned with italian seasoning and herbs de provance, added the broth and cooked some egg noodles in the soup. With broth in the fridge or freezer a tasty, nutritious meal is only minutes away. And you can't beat that with a stick.
Thanks to These Days in French Life and Graygoosie for their gorgeous photos!!
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Sausage and Kale Quiche
1 prebaked and cooled 9 inch pie crust
1 cup chopped chicken sausage - I had andouille - or cooked spicy sausage
1 1/2 cups chopped curly kale
2 cloves garlic
2 green onions (or a small amount of sliced white onions)
3/4 cups kefir
3/4 cups half and half (or 1 1/2 cups dairy product of your choice)
1 cup shredded cheese (I used fontina and cheddar)
*Brown the onion and sausage in the bacon fat in a sautee pan. Add the garlic and salt and pepper and sautee another minute. Add the kale and toss and stir to get the fat all over the greens. Cover the pan and turn heat to low, stirring occasionally until kale is wilted and cooked. I deglazed the pan with a little vegetable broth, but water could be used. Cook until the liquid is almost all gone from the pan.
*Combine the eggs and dairy, either with a whisk or in the blender. Salt and pepper appropriately.
*Sprinkle the crust with half the cheese and then lay the cooked kale/sausage mixture in the crust. Pour the egg mixture over the kale and then cover everything with more cheese. I sprinkled a little paprika on top for color.
*Bake 25-30 minutes (mine took more like 35). The recipe says to serve immediately but I prefered the texture and flavor when it was cooled overnight.
I'm imagining the quichy possiblities - spinach and ham, broccoli and bacon, tomato and parmesan... mmmm. Quiche!