Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thinking Outside the (Cereal) Box: Pumpkin Pie Bars

This is going to sound strange at first, but I the more you think about it, the more it makes sense . . .
We had pumpkin pie for breakfast this morning.
Well, technically, we had pumpkin pie bars for breakfast this morning. Call me a wimp - I just don't do pie crust.
We haven't been eating boxed cereal for a long time now, and at first we were going with the usual pancakes, muffins, waffles, etc. Lately, however, I've been wanting to cut back on the carbs a bit and expand our breakfast repertoire. We can only eat so many scrambled eggs! Then one afternoon I made homemade pudding for the kids for a snack, and realized: milk, eggs, seasonings, and less sugar than a muffin . . . this would make an awesome breakfast! Substitute honey for the sugar (which you can't always do with muffins), add some raw whipped cream (sweetened with maple syrup - yum!) and add pumpkin (we still have some in the freezer from our garden last year). This could work!
So I did it. I have to say, it was very nice to be able to make it ahead of time and have it ready and waiting in the morning (making pancakes for hungry and impatient kids gets old fast!) I just had to whip up the cream while they were getting dressed. So simple, and so tasty - we're definitely going to do this again!

Pumpkin Pie Bars
Crust:1 cup flour (fresh ground whole wheat, if you have it)
1 cup ground pecans or walnuts (if you can soak them, ala Nourishing Traditions, so much the better!)
5 Tbsp cold butter, cut up
Mix together well and press into a 9x13 pan.
Filling:3 cups pureed cooked pumpkin or squash
1 cup heavy cream (or milk works just fine)
1 cup honey or maple syrup
3 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp each ginger, nutmeg, and vanilla
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp salt
Mix all well, pour over crust, and bake at 350 degrees for about an hour. Refrigerate overnight for flavors to develop.

Serve with a dollop of honey (or maple syrup) sweetened whipped cream!

This post is part of Real Food Wednesday.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Homemade Guacamole From Scratch

This one's for my wonderful mother-in-law, who taught me to love guacamole, and at whose home I will be staying this weekend (yes, we will be making this!)

2 avocados
1 large bunch of cilantro
1 Tbsp lemon or lime juice
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp salt
one medium seeded and chopped tomato (optional; I usually leave this out)

Cut the avocados in half, pop out the seeds, scoop out the yummy green part, and discard the skins (you're putting all of those veggie scraps in your compost, right? Or at least giving them to your chickens?)
Mix that yummy green stuff and the spices all together and puree (you can do this with a fork, or for a finer texture use a stick blender)
Serve with tortilla chips, or add to your favorite Mexican recipe.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

On a snowy, blustery day like today, it's good to have a healthy comfort food recipe to fall back on. This tastes similar to the stuff from a can (so yes, your kids will eat it!) but is so much better for you!

Tomato Soup
12 oz can tomato paste (or about a cup and a half of homemade)*
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
4 cups milk or cream (you can substitute up to half with chicken stock or water)
2 tsp honey
1/2 tsp salt (unrefined sea salt is best - the kind that has color)

Mix tomato paste, 1 cup milk, and butter in a medium saucepan until smooth. Add all other ingredients and stir until smooth (if you have a stick blender, you can mix it all at once). Warm mixture over low heat until very hot, but not boiling. Boiling will cause the soup to curdle.

*if you want to make this with tomato sauce instead of paste, use two 12 oz cans of sauce, and reduce the milk by 2 cups

Mmmmm . . . grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch, then a good read-aloud with the kids. That's my kind of snow day!

This post is a part of Real Food Wednesday.

Wisconsin March, you are such a tease!

March in Wisconsin makes it hard for an agrarian to stay cheerful. In my last post, you may have noticed my giddy optimism as the snow melted away and green sprouts appeared. It seemed like I would only have to wait a few days for the final vestiges of snow to melt away so I could get out in the garden and start putting in my early spring vegetables.
Alas, this was the view of my chicken coop out my bedroom window this morning:
Looks like I won't be planting any seeds outdoors any time soon!
On the bright side, this gives me more time to work on that quilt I basted the other day, and read that new history book to the kids, and bake a loaf of bread, and . . .

Monday, March 21, 2011

A little garden time

Sorry for the break, but I've actually been getting outside! I am a giddy agrarian ;)

We still have a little snow, but most of the herb garden is uncovered now, and about 1/3 of the vegetable garden. I was shocked to see that not only are the daffodils and crocus peeking out, but the oregano and spinach are almost harvestable (which is a really good thing, since I ran out of my dried oregano from last years' garden on Thursday)

We are still very firmly in the "MUD" stage of spring, though, so I can't do any planting or digging yet. It's just so exciting to see plants growing again!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Soaking and Cooking Dried Beans

You'll need these to make those yummy chicken enchiladas!

Soaked Beans
1 cup pinto or other dried beans
2 tsp whey or lemon juice
2 1/2 cups warm water
Cover beans with water and lemon juice. Let stand in a warm place for 12 -24 hours. Drain, rinse, place in a large pot and cover with a fresh 3 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off foam, then simmer until beans are tender. Mash or serve whole.

Chicken Enchiladas

I know now you're all asking, "She said she uses her leftover chicken for making enchiladas. I wonder what recipe she uses?"
I'm glad you asked! ;) I've had this recipe pretty much forever, but of course once I started following Nourishing Traditions I had to find something to use instead of cream soup (blech!). Here's my revised version:

Chicken Enchiladas
1/2 cup pinto beans (measure them dry), soaked, cooked and mashed (or a 16 oz can of refried beans)
One recipe of cheese sauce
1 cup sour cream
4 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 cup shredded cheddar
8 tortillas
2 cups salsa
Mix first four ingredients and spread down the center of each tortilla. Roll up and place into 9x13 pan. Top with salsa and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.

What to use instead of Cream of Something Soup: Quick and Easy Cheese Sauce

My mom always made this to drizzle (ok, pour!) over broccoli. I found it to be a great substitute when a recipe calls for "cream of something" soup.

Quick and Easy Cheese Sauce
4 Tbsp butter (half a stick)
1/4 cup flour (I use whole wheat)
2 cup milk (use about half as much if you want it the consistency of condensed soup)
cubed or shredded cheese to taste (I usually use cheddar or colby)

In a small saucepan, melt butter. Turn off heat and stir in flour until smooth. Add milk and heat until thick; add cheese chunks and stir until melted.

If you don't want the cheese flavor, just leave out the cheese chunks  - this is your basic white sauce (roux).

This post is featured on Real Food Wednesdays

Monday, March 14, 2011

Simple Chicken Stock

Note: "Stock" and "Broth" are often used interchangably. Technically, "stock" is made from predominantly bones, while "broth" is made mostly from meat scraps. Since my kids usually eat all of the meat (or I save it for enchiladas, etc.) what I make would be a stock.

I think of chicken stock as one of the main building blocks of homemade food. I use it in so many dishes, and of course, if you make it from quality ingredients it is so much better than anything you can buy. I also love it because it's made from something you would otherwise throw away - which makes it pretty much free! It's also chock-full of nutrition - I could go on and on!

Most stock recipes include vegetables, but I like to leave these out so that the finished stock can be flavored to complement whatever dish I will be using it in later.

I include vinegar in my stock, because, according to Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions, "Acidic wine or vinegar added during cooking helps to draw minerals, particularly calcium, magnesium and potassium, into the broth." (p. 116)

Simple Chicken Stock
Bones, skin, and scraps left over from cooking a chicken*
4 quarts cold water (I simply fill up the crock pot to cover the bones)
2 Tbsp vinegar or wine

Place all ingredients into stock pot or crock pot. Let stand 30 minutes to an hour. Bring to a boil, and skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat and simmer for 6 to 24 hours (I usually just leave it in the crock pot overnight). The longer you cook it, the more flavorful it will be. When done cooking, remove the bones and scraps, drain through a cloth, and refrigerate.

*You can use a whole chicken, meat, skin and all. This makes your broth more flavorful. I often do this with my old laying hens, which are too tough to eat otherwise. After making the broth, I save the meat for enchiladas and such.

Apparently, using the chicken feet makes the stock extra nutritious - but I haven't been brave enough to try this yet!

This is actually beef stock, but it's made exactly the same way!

What to do when your bread doesn't turn out right (part 2 - Easy Stuffing)

Here's another recipe I make with leftover or messed-up bread. I think it tastes a lot like the boxed stuff, but without all the nasty added chemicals!

I usually make this as a side dish when I cook a chicken (which I invariably do in the crock pot, so there are lots of drippings - which I use instead of the stock, which in turn makes this dish much more flavorful. I also simplify things by mixing up the seasonings in a quart jar, adding the chicken drippings, and then simply standing the stick of butter in the hot liquid to melt (saving a dish to wash and the extra energy to heat it - I'd like to say it's because I'm so eco-conscious, but really it's just because I'm that lazy). When it's completely melted, I stir it up and pour it over the bread. So easy!)

Easy Stuffing
1 cup chicken stock or drippings
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 Tbsp onion powder
2 tsp parsley flakes
1 tsp celery salt
1/8 tsp thyme
1/8 tsp sage
pepper to taste
4 cups cubed bread

Mix all but bread, then pour over cubed bread in casserole dish. Toss lightly to coat. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.

Friday, March 11, 2011

What to do when your bread doesn't turn out right (part 1 - Overnight French Toast Bake)

Believe it or not, I have not always been a bread baking guru (ha!). I have had more than my share of flops and doorstops (note my previous post on what NOT to do - I made this recipe a LOT last month!) So, what to do with bread that just doesn't make the cut? Here's my favorite "Bread Flop" recipe:

Overnight French Toast Bake
Cubed bread (enough to fill 8x8 pan, although this can easily be doubled in a 9x13 pan)
Sprinkle with:
1/8 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
In a separate bowl, mix together:
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk or buttermilk
1/2 cup maple syrup
Pour over bread, then soak all, covered, overnight in the refrigerator.

In the morning, bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes (one hour for 9x13 double batch).

Five minutes before finished, grind 2 tablespoons of flax and sprinkle on top (optional). Bake last five minutes. Let cool slightly before serving.

This is great with maple syrup or fruit topping! We like to use homemade applesauce.

This post is part of Fight Back Friday at Food Renegade

How to Make Homemade Cultured Buttermilk

If you're going to make those waffles, you'll need some buttermilk!

Buttermilk is one of the simplest dairy products to make. All you need is some milk and a starter culture. For a starter culture, I begin with a small carton of cultured buttermilk from the store; in future batches, you can just use some from your previous batch.

How to Make Cultured Buttermilk

1/3 cup cultured buttermilk (either purchased or saved from a previous batch)
enough milk to fill up your quart jar
Mix together, let stand at room temperature, tightly covered, 1-2 days (until the smell and consistency look right)
Store in refrigerator.

Couldn't be simpler!

If you're adventurous and have access to raw milk, you can try making this without a starter culture; the enzymes and bacteria in raw milk naturally turn milk into buttermilk! Just make sure your milk is clean and fresh when you start.

In case you were wondering, cultured buttermilk is not the same as the buttermilk left over from making butter. You can culture the buttermilk you have leftover from making butter, though, and it works great (that's what I usually do).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sourdough Waffles (or Pancakes)

Overnight sponge:
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons honey
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup sourdough starter, straight from the refrigerator (not fed)

Mix all together, cover loosely, and let rest at room temperature overnight. The next morning, mix together:
all of the overnight sponge
2 large eggs
1/4 cup melted butter or coconut oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Beat together eggs and melted butter. Add to sponge. Add salt and baking soda. The batter will bubble.
Prepare in a waffle iron or fry like pancakes

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Super Simple 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

Ok, so now that you know what NOT to put in your sourdough bread, here's what you SHOULD put in it!

I have three criteria for my bread recipes: 1) is it healthy? 2) is it easy? (If I'm going to be making this every day, it's got to be easy!) and 3) will the kids eat it? (It's no good making super-healthy bread if I'm just going to be feeding it to the chickens!) This recipe fits all three (although there was a bit of a "training" period to get the kids used to the sourdough tang. Some nice homemade butter and elderberry jelly helped with this!)

Update: I now have a digital kitchen scale (yay!) so I can weigh my ingredients (you're supposed to feed your sourdough with equal weights of water and flour). So my one cup of flour ends up being about 140 grams, which means I should be using 140 grams of water as well, which turns out to be closer to 2/3 cup. I was wondering why my starter kept getting more and more dry!
Using this amount of water, my starter is more of a pancake batter consistency, and my bread rises much better and has less of a sour taste (meaning my kids like it much more). Score!

Update #2: I've since started adding 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp honey to this recipe, which the kids really like much better (it tastes sweet instead of sour) My husband even asked, "Is this a new kind of bread? It doesn't taste like your sourdough!" It also helps to reduce the salt to 1/2 tsp; it rises better. I'll post the adapted recipe here.

Super Simple 100% Whole Wheat Sourdough Bread

2 cups sourdough culture (this would be a culture you feed 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup water at each feeding)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground is best)
1/3 cup water
1 1/2 tsp salt (sea salt is best)

Mix all together and knead for 10 minutes (I use my Kitchen Aid stand mixer). Don't forget to save at least 1/4 cup of starter and feed it!

Place in a greased loaf pan and let rise until doubled (this will take a while - anywhere from 4-12 hours, depending on your culture and your room temperature. You can also put this in the refrigerator (covered) to slow it down (if you'd like to go to bed and finish in the morning!), but make sure it's at room temperature and fully risen before you bake it).

When fully proofed (risen), bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes (it will be lightly brown; if you stick a meat thermometer into it, it should read at least 200 degrees)

If you don't have a starter culture, the easiest and cheapest way to get one is to "catch" your own: Here's my adaptation of Sally Fallon's recipe from Nourishing Traditions:

Starter (takes one week):
Mix two cups freshly ground flour (rye works best, but wheat is fine too) and two cups water in a glass bowl. Mixture will be very soupy. Cover with a double layer cheesecloth attached with a rubber band and let sit in a warm place.

The next day, and every day for the rest of the week, pour starter into a clean bowl and mix in 1 cup flour and 1 cup water. Cover and let stand. After a few days the starter will begin to bubble and develop a wine-like smell.
After 7 days the starter should be ready to use (although it will get stronger as it ages, producing lighter breads). Once the starter is ready, it can be stored in the refrigerator until you're ready to feed it again, at which point you'll want to let it sit out again.

(to use this starter in my bread recipe, you'll have to convert it to a 2:1 leaven (2 cups flour, one cup water) instead of a 1:1 (one cup flour, one cup water). To do this, simply take out 1/4 cup of starter and feed it 1 cup flour and a half a cup of water. If you feed it roughly every four hours or so, you should have the two cups of starter required for my bread recipe by the end of the day.

Now, what to do with all of that extra starter? How about making some sourdough waffles?)

For more information on sourdoughs and starters, try the book Wild Bread by Lisa Rayner or the blog Sourdough Home.
Ooh! I couldn't find this when I first posted, but I stumbled upon it again - this is a wonderful video about sourdough starters from gnowfglins. My kids even enjoyed watching it with me (can you say homeschool science for the day?)

The Big Cover Up

We have a lovely stone fireplace in our living room. It goes all the way up to the ceiling, it has a rustic wooden mantel for holding knickknacks, and it makes a great focal point for the room. Unfortunately, lovely decorative built-in things seem to be a magnet for destructive children.

My wise and prophetic husband long ago banned crayons from the house. Our poor, deprived children were stuck with either washable markers or colored pencils. Apparently, his mother didn’t get the memo; one Christmas she gave all of the kids crayons in their Christmas stockings. In the spirit of the season, I figured I’d let the kids play with them while Grandma was here, and then they would mysteriously disappear in the night while the kids were sleeping.

I should have known better. Later that afternoon I found my six-year-old merrily coloring on the fireplace. *sigh*

So, for the last year, I have been trying to figure out just what I should do. All of the tips I found on the internet for removing crayon didn’t seem like they would work on the very porous stone of our fireplace – or they might even make it worse. So I just left it, cringing every time someone came over to visit.
Then yesterday, I though of a plan. I couldn’t get rid of it, but maybe I could just hide it . . .

So here’s what I made:

I think it hides the crayon marks nicely, without looking too out of place.

(But I would still appreciate any good tips for getting crayon off of stone!!!)

Banana Oatmeal Cranberry Muffin Cake

Technically, these are supposed to be muffins, but I hate cleaning muffin pans, so I usually make these in a 9×13 pan instead!

Banana Oatmeal Cranberry Muffin Cake
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup oil (I use coconut oil, melted)
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar (preferably rapadura or sucanat, if you have it. Don’t try honey – the texture gets all funny)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
3/4 cup dried cranberries (“craisins”)

Mix all together, pour into 9×13 pan, bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes (or you can make muffins by baking them in a muffin pan for the same amount of time).

The Greatest Thing In Sliced Bread

. . .or not.

One of the things I love about eating traditional, nutrient-dense foods is that I can make food at home that is BETTER than what you can buy in the store. One of these things is sprouts. Sprouted seeds contain exponentially more available vitamins than the seeds offer before they’re sprouted. Plus, sprouting is easy. The sprouts you get in the store, however, are usually past their prime.

Another thing I learned was that the seeds of grains, even when you grind them, contain enzymes called phytates, which bind to minerals so that your body can’t absorb them (so all of those vitamins and minerals – the reason you buy whole wheat flour - pass right on through you!) BUT sprouting deactivates some of those phytates, making those nutrients more digestible.

So of course I decided to make my own sprouted wheat flour. I had the equipment I needed (wide-mouth quart jars, a dehydrator, and a grain mill), and it’s actually very easy to do. Hooray! Healthy bread.

Except, with most recipes, the bread didn’t bake all the way through. It was all gummy and underdone in the middle. Oddly enough, there are a couple bread recipes that turn out just fine with 100% sprouted wheat flour. They’re wonderful. And I probably should have stuck with them . . .

Except then I read that sourdough bread, due to the wild yeasts and the long sprouting time, do an even better job at reducing the phytates in grain flours. And EVERY SINGLE ONE of the sourdough recipes I tried turned out mushy in the middle. Yuck. We ate a lot of french toast bake and chicken stuffing for a while!

And then, while going through Wild Bread by Lisa Raynor (an excellent book, by the way), I read: “Diastatic malt is a sweet flour produced from sprouted wheat, rye or barley. Diastatic malt is naturally high in grain enzymes (amylases) that are produced during the sprouting process. The amylases transform grain starch into malt sugar (maltose) . . . Commercial wheat millers enrich their wheat flours with diastatic malt to ensure a proper level of enzyme functioning.” BUT: “Beware: Too much diastatic malt will transform too much starch into sugar and create gummy dough.”

Aha! A little poking around on the internet, and sure enough, sprouted wheat flour is just another name for diastatic malt powder. And when I looked for how much DMP is usually used in bread recipes, I found bakers usually used about 1 tsp per 3 cups of flour. I think I found my problem!

So, I plan to minimize my sprouted flour usage (at least in bread making – it’s great for pancakes, quick breads, and such!) and go back to *just* using freshly ground organic whole wheat flour.

Although I do wonder . . . could leaving some phytates in my diet actually be a good thing? Since they like to attach themselves to heavy metals (like magnesium and calcium), could they help in cleaning out the bad minerals in my body, like mercury (old amalgam fillings) and aluminum (Mom always used aluminum pans for baking when I was growing up)? Or would they only bind with minerals in the digestive tract? Hmmmm . . . looks like I’ll need to do some more research . . . ;)

Chicken Liver Pate

This one’s for my sister-in-law, who butchered chickens yesterday and asked me, “So what should I do with the livers?”

Ruth’s Chicken Liver Pate
(this makes a very small batch; I ate all of it for lunch today on toasted whole wheat sourdough bread)
2 chicken livers (preferably pastured or free-range)
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp thyme
1/2 bay leaf
pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

In a small saucepan or skillet, melt butter and mix in seasonings. Add livers and heat until just cooked through. Remove from heat; discard bay leaf. Puree. Serve on hot buttered toast or chill and serve on crackers or toast rounds.

Maple Syrup Sweetened Chocolate Sauce

. . . and chocolate sauce . . .

I like this recipe because it's so easy, and it keeps its consistency even when stored in the fridge. My old recipe (which included butter) would get gunky when it was cold.

Chocolate Sauce
1/2 cup cocoa
1/3 cup maple syrup
3/4 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
Mix well and boil one minute. When cool, add:
1/2 tsp vanilla
Store in refrigerator.

Honey Sweetened Whipped Cream

 . . . of course if you’re going to make the Short Schaumtorte, you need a good Whipped Cream recipe!

Honey Sweetened Whipped Cream
1 cup whipping cream
3 Tbsp honey (maple syrup works well, too)
1 tsp vanilla

In a chilled bowl, mix all at medium speed until soft peaks form. Makes 2 cups.

Did you know whipped cream can be frozen?

Spoon or pipe extra whipped cream into mounds on a baking sheet lined with wax paper. Freeze until firm. Transfer frozen cream to a container and freeze for up to one month.

To thaw, remove the amount you need and let stand at room temperature for five minutes.

Short Schaumtorte

This is definitely one of my new favorite recipes. I made it today for my 5-year old daughter’s birthday instead of the usual angel food cake, since this recipe doesn’t use any flour (I have a thing about white flour, and you really can’t make a decent angel food cake with whole wheat flour!) Next time I think I’ll try it with honey instead of the sugar, too – I’ll keep you posted!

Short Schaumtorte (have all ingredients at room temperature)
¾ cup egg whites (about 6)
1 tsp vanilla (optional)
1 tsp cream of tartar
1 cup sugar
Preheat oven to 225 degrees.

In a large bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, and cream of tartar on medium speed until soft peaks form, then add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, until meringue holds very stiff peaks.
Pour into 9-inch springform pan prepared by lining the bottom with parchment paper with greasing and flouring the sides. Smooth the top.

Bake for 2 hours, then turn off the oven and let the meringue cool in the oven.
Slide a slim knife around the meringue to detach it from the pan, then invert and remove the parchment paper. Cover and refrigerate.

To serve, uncover and top with strawberries, whipped cream, and chocolate sauce.


Ok, so it's March in Wisconsin. So what's a cheerful agrarian do in the middle of winter? I cook! I sew! I homeschool 5 adorable munchkins! And, of course, I read farming books (currently The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer by Joel Salatin)!

I also move my garden inside (or at least a small part of it). I have my six pots of herbs on the kitchen windowsill (parsley, rosemary, garlic, oregano, chives, and a (currently dead) :( thyme). Also an 8x8 glass pan with lettuce (although I think it's too shallow; it's pretty root-bound already). Downstairs I have an Earthbox with more chives, lettuce, and some newly-planted onion seeds. And three bags of organic potatoes that started to sprout before I could use them, resting peacefully in the fridge, waiting for the ground to thaw.

So, I probably won't have many gardening posts for a bit yet; I'll have to keep you entertained with tales of the reason I garden - yummy food! :)