Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Food. Show all posts

Oct 4, 2016

Why Organic...Isn't

Nobody wants to hear this. Perhaps that's why most in the media don't report it. And trust me, I know how frustrating it is to be a mom wanting to keep her family healthy only to discover everything she thought about healthy food is wrong. It's a bitter pill, but it's the truth: Organic produce often isn't. At least, not in the way you think it is.

I've long preached that store bought organic food isn't all that. But for some time now, I've been learning about disturbing trends in the organic world. Stuff that actually could be hurting your family's health.

Sometimes They Lie

When I was researching my ebook Grow the Dirty Dozen, I learned there have been instances of farmers being caught using synthetic chemicals on their certified organic crops. For example, in 2011, the Pesticide Action Network discovered that a group of "organic" California farmers were dousing their strawberries with synthetic fumigants. Sometimes farmer's cheat. Imagine how many times they don't get caught.

In addition, as the New York Times pointed out in 2011, many seedlings and stock plants that are purchased and grown by organic farmers are exposed to loads of man made chemicals before they reach organic farms. Farmers know they aren't purchasing organic stock, and they continue to buy conventionally grown seedlings because they think they are less likely to become diseased. Still, there you have it: Your supposedly organic food that's actually been exposed to man made chemicals.

Sometimes Natural Isn't Best

But perhaps a bigger problem among organic farmers is that their produce is sprayed with natural chemicals. That's right. One can safely say that all the organic produce in your grocery store is sprayed. It's only considered organic because those sprays are considered natural.

Here's the problem, though, Not everything that's natural is safe for human consumption.

For example, a common "organic" spray called rotenone-pyrethrin is linked to Parkinson's disease. (And it's a well known fish-killer, too.)

It gets worse.

Conventional, non-organic lettuce, for example, is sprayed once or twice during its lifetime - only when the farmer thinks it's needed, since sprays are expensive. On the other hand, organic lettuce might be sprayed 5 - 10 times with a natural, organic spray like rotenone-pyrethrin. Why? Farmers often “have to use a lot of the natural pesticides because they break down faster,” says Linda Chalker-Scott, a professor of horticulture and landscape architecture at Washington State University. “One of the benefits of some of the more traditional synthetic pesticides is that they have been manufactured to be more effective at lower doses.”

The USDA has tested such lettuce and found that pesticides are 10 times (or more) prevalent on the organic lettuce than on conventionally grown lettuce. Many other studies show similar results on other types of produce.

And let's remember why farmer's use pesticides: to kill insects. Pesticides are poison, and some of the same poisons that kill insects have the potential to do harm to humans, too. And, it seems, many organic pesticides are rated with a higher level of concern by the EPA than many synthetic pesticides. (See chart here.)

They Linger

Here's another problem with organic produce. According to Science Daily, "an undergraduate chemistry student, in a...small-scale study, recently screened veggies for a number of banned pesticides and made an interesting discovery: The chemicals showed up on both conventionally grown and organic veggies—in roughly comparable amounts. In fact, organic carrots had higher amounts of some chemicals than the conventional vegetables did." Other studies support these findings.

Turns out, many banned chemicals stay in the soil. Some for many decades. Yet the USDA calls a farm organic if it's been synthetic-free for only three years. And so supposedly "organic" produce may contain synthetic chemicals.

What to Do?

I know; it's depressing. All you want is to feed your family food that's grown the way God intended. But the truth is, as long as we embraced mega farms and mono crops, farmers are going to have to spray our food. So what can you do?

First and foremost, I recommend avoiding grocery store produce; the produce found there is most likely sprayed with something.

In an ideal world, you would grow all your own produce. That way, you'd know exactly what's been put on it. If you don't already, I strongly recommend that you grow what you can - even if that means merely growing a few pots of lettuce on your porch.

For the produce you can't purchase, seek out local farmers at farm stands and markets. But just don't buy blindly. For one thing, a lot of local farmer's produce isn't organic. For another, you'll want to ask the farmer about his or her farming practices. Has her farm always been organic? If not, how long has it been organic? Does she use organic pesticides? How often does she use them? All this, asked in a polite way, is valuable information any decent farmer should be willing to share.

Finally, some of you are probably wondering if you should bother to buy organic at all. Sometimes I wonder this, too! But here's at least one reason to stick with organic: Only organic produce is 100% guaranteed not be GMO.

Photos courtesy of macor / 123RF Stock Photo

Jul 25, 2016

Sorting the Fruit Harvest - An Easy, Practical Method to Avoid Waste

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

When you buy fruit, even in bulk, the sorting has already been done for you. You just pick the fruit
that looks freshest, pay, and you're done. But when you have even one fruit tree, you'll soon discover you need to put a little more thought into gathering fruit. The method doesn't have to be complicated or terribly time consuming, but if you sort your fruit, you'll waste a lot less of it, and preserving it through freezing, dehydrating, canning, or cold storage will be much easier. Here's how I go about sorting our fruit.

Step 1: Windfall

When I gather the harvest, I always look for windfall fruit first; this prevents me from stepping on it and making it inedible. ("Windfall" just means fruit that has fallen to the ground due to wind or ripeness.) Some windfall fruit is too rotten or squashed to do anything with; I leave that on the ground for the critters and the soil. If you prefer, you can compost it. But if you gather windfall fruit every day, you'll find much of it is still useful. Don't worry if it has some bruised spots, bird "bites", or other less than pretty parts. You will cut those parts away later. I like to put all the windfall fruit into a separate bucket or bowl. (And, by the way, collecting windfall fruit is an excellent job for kids!)

Step 2: Harvest the Tree

Next, I like to gather everything I can reach by hand, then use our fruit picker for the rest. If you want, you can try to sort the fruit as you pick, putting the very ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit in one bucket and the rest of the ripe fruit in another. I prefer to get all the picking done without sorting, so I put all the picked fruit into one bucket (or more, as the size of the harvest dictates).

Step 3: Check the Ground Again

Often as I pick fruit, more fruit falls from the tree, so after harvesting the tree, I look around on the ground again for good fruit and place it in my harvesting bucket(s).
Sorting a plum harvest.

Step 4. Final Sort

When I bring the fruit indoors, I put the windfall fruit aside and separate the fruit that's super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) from the rest of the ripe fruit.

Ta-da! I'm done sorting!

What to Do With Sorted Fruit

Super ripe (its-gonna-be-bad-tomorrow) fruit: Eat it within hours; or prepare it that day in a dish (like cobbler or pie); or preserve it. Super ripe fruit is, in my opinion, best preserved by making jam or maybe pie filling. However, I usually freeze the fruit whole and make jam or filling when I'm not so overwhelmed with preserving the rest of the harvest.

Windfall fruit: This type of fruit often has bruising, so it's also good for jam, pie filling, or (in the case of apples) applesauce. Or, eat it within hours of picking off the ground.

Ripe fruit: Eat fresh, whenever possible. I recommend sorting through the ripe fruit every day, to look for fruit that is getting super ripe. Always eat this fruit first, or freeze it, or preserve it in some other way so it doesn't get wasted. Ripe fruit is also excellent for dehydrating; canning whole, halves, or in slices; or freezing in slices.

A Note About Harvest Abundance 

Recently, a reader commented that I should give much of my fruit to charity. We do give away some of our harvest, but we also think long term about our family's needs. Many Americans think only about the food needed for today or tomorrow - or maybe for the next two weeks. But homesteading philosophy dictates we think ahead at least a year. So yes, we have too much fruit for our family today, but we don't have too much fruit if we think in terms of the year. The reason I preserve so much while the harvest is ripe in the summer is that this food will be our fruit when fruit is no longer in season. This way, we aren't encouraging the modern idea that food should be shipped or trucked thousands of miles to us, and we know we can always have healthy fruit that hasn't been sprayed with chemicals or canned with unwholesome ingredients.

May 4, 2016

How to Make Popcorn Without a Microwave

This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are my own. Please see FCC disclosure for full information.

 At my house, popcorn is it's own food group. My picky eater will eat it every time. My always-starving boy finds it a filling, inexpensive snack. And I love that popcorn satisfies my crunchy, salty cravings without bad fats or gluten. Normally, I like to DIY air pop our popcorn in the microwave, but once we move into our tiny house motor home, I won't be able to do that. (The microwave/convection oven combo in the coach specifically comes with a warning not to. And you do know that store bought microwave popcorn not only has unhealthy fats, but the chemicals in the bag are known to cause cancer, right?) So I'll be popping our popcorn on the stove.

If you've always had microwave popcorn, you may be totally unaware that it's just as easy to make popcorn on the stove top using an ordinary pan with a lid - or, if you prefer, a whirly-popper. Some people actually prefer stove top methods, and I admit, the popcorn does seem to have more flavor when made this way.

How to Make Popcorn with an Ordinary Pot

What You'll Need:

about 3 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil, but I know people who love their popcorn made with coconut oil)
1/3 cup popcorn kernels
3 qt. pan with a lid (a heavier pan works best)
Sea salt
Butter (optional)

How to do It:

1. Place the pan over medium high heat and add the oil. (If using coconut oil, allow it to melt completely.)

2. Put about 3 kernels of popcorn into the pan. Put the lid on the pan.

3. When the kernels pop, add the remaining popcorn kernels. Put the lid on the pan and remove the pan from the burner for 30 seconds.

4. Put the pan back on the stove. Once the kernels start popping, shake the pan back and forth on the burner. (This helps prevent burning.) Keep the lid ajar just a little, to allow steam to escape.

5. When the popping slows down to one pop every two or three seconds, remove the pan from the stove. Remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a bowl.

6. If desired, drizzle melted butter over the popcorn. (I don't do this.) Season with salt.

Making Popcorn with a Whirly-Popper

I grew up making popcorn in an ordinary pan, but just recently, I found a whirly-popper at a church rummage sale. It was 75 cents. It came home with me. And I have to say, we love it! I think it does a better job than the pan method, and is a bit easier, too. You don't have to shake the pan or try to keep the lid ajar. Here's how you do it:*

1. Pour about 3 tablespoons of oil into the popper. Place the pan on the stove over medium high heat. (If using coconut oil, wait until it's totally melted before proceeding to the next step.)

2. Add 1/2 cup popcorn kernels. Shut the lid.

3. Slowly rotate the handle on the popper. In about 5 seconds, the handle should make a full rotation. This stirs the kernels and prevents burning.

4. The kernels will start popping. Keep turning the handle. Once you feel resistance when turning the handle, stop and remove the popper from the stove.

5. Pour the popcorn into a bowl. If desired, drizzle with butter. (Again, I don't do this.) Season with salt.

So, so, SO good!

* Always follow the manufacturer's directions, which might vary a bit from these steps. 

Mar 30, 2016

Get Dinners Out...on the Cheap! Limited Time Only Deal

I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

I love to cook - I've written three cookbooks, after all. But sometimes cooking every. single. meal can feel like such drudgery. That's why I think the best gift you can give any mom is dinner out. Because what mom doesn't love a night off from cooking??

The only problem? Eating out can eat up your food budget quickly...something I'm frequently bummed about.

That's why I was excited to see that is having a FANTASTIC deal on certificates. For just $3 you can get a certificate worth $25 at local restaurants! And not only do these certificates make mega-super gifts (Mother's Day is coming, friends), but at this price, you can do a little self care and buy a bunch for you, too.

Happily, certificates can be used at more than 23,000 restaurants nationwide. I live in a very small town, yet I found several local restaurants that accept certificates. Happy dance! The site is really easy to use, too; you can search for restaurants by zip code, city, state, type of cuisine, price range, etc.

All you have to do to take advantage of this deal is use PROMO CODE: SALE at All the site's other deals are on sale, too. For example, you can also get a $10 certificate for $1.20. Offer ends Thursday, March 31, 2016 at 11:59 pm grab 'em while you can!

I received a gift card for the purpose of this review. This post was made possible by Mom Spark Media. Thoughts are my own.

Mar 8, 2016

How to Get More Vegetables in Your Diet - Easily!

When the kids recently spent a couple of weeks at their grandparents' house, I admit I slacked off when it came to cooking. I still cooked from scratch, but somehow there was a lot less cooking to do when the kids weren't around - and I found myself not always eating very healthy. The main issue? Lack of vegetables! And did you know that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say ½ of every plate of food we eat should be covered with vegetables? Whoah! I was way under my quota - and probably you are way under that quota, too. That's why I wrote A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook. But even with that recipe-packed paperback, you might be wondering how to easily get more vegetables into your daily diet. Here are some ideas.


Pancakes, eggs and toast, cereal…The most common breakfast foods don’t contain any vegetables at all. But it's not that hard to add some to the breakfast table. For example, try making an omelet with vegetables in it. Common veggies to add include diced tomato, diced bell pepper, sliced mushrooms, chopped chives or green onions (scallions), sliced leeks, chopped spinach, and/or diced onion. (Have trouble making omelets? Try following these directions. For me, though, the key is simply to use a smaller pan; this results in a smaller omelet that's easier to flip.)
Vegetable omelet. (Courtesy Wendy.)

If you don’t like making omelets, make a scramble or hash instead; here are directions, but basically you just mix scrambled eggs with a bunch of veggies (and maybe some meat, like chopped ham or bacon). Just be sure to add vegetables that take a little while to cook (like potatoes, onions, and bell pepper) toward the beginning of cooking. More tender veggies, like greens or tomatoes, should be added toward the end of cooking.

Another idea is to add shredded zucchini to some flour-based breakfast foods, like pancakes or waffles, or muffins. You really won't taste the zucchini, but you'll get it's added nutrition. In fact, this is a great way to sneak veggies into the breakfast of a picky eater. I've not tried it myself, but many readers tell me shredded yellow summer squash works just as well as zucchini for this kind of thing.

Lettuce wrap "sandwiches." (Courtesy of

Unless you're more ambitious than I am, sandwiches are probably your go-to lunch food. You can make them healthier several ways. One is to omit the bread entirely and substitute large leaf lettuce. Another is to keep the bread, but instead of using iceberg or other pale-colored lettuce (which doesn't pack much punch when it comes to nutrition), use dark leafed lettuce - or maybe even other greens, like cabbage or kale. Also take a look at what you're putting into your sandwiches. You can easily add things like cucumber slices, sliced tomatoes, sprouts, sliced olives, thin-sliced onion, sliced peppers, thin-sliced (or shredded) kohlrabi, shredded carrots, sauerkraut, or shredded cabbage leaves.

Salads can also make an excellent lunch, and are filling if you make them large and include some protein, like sliced egg or chunks of ham, chicken, beef, or fish. Again, avoid light-colored lettuce and choose dark lettuces for more nutritional punch. You can also add things like cauliflower or broccoli, diced chives or green onions (scallions), sliced cucumber, sliced celery, sliced radish, shredded carrot, sliced mushrooms, sprouts, diced peppers, shredded cabbage, snow peas, sliced olives, fresh or sun dried tomatoes, sliced or shredded kohlrabi, artichoke hearts, and cooked or pickled asparagus spears.

Raw veggies, like carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, celery, cucumber, radishes, and snow peas are also excellent on the side - maybe with homemade Ranch dressing, vanilla yogurt, or hummus.


Parsnip fries (from A Vegetable for Every Season.)

I think it's easiest to find a way to use vegetables at dinner time, especially if you use them as a side dish. Right now, my favorite side dish is roasted vegetables. (Click here for the how-to.) Or, if you roast a chicken, for example, you can easy peasy toss in some chopped veggies, like carrots, parsnips, turnips, potatoes, rutabagas, sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes), winter squash, onions, and/or asparagus. The only trick here is to chop them so they are all approximately the same size; that way, they cook evenly.

If you like to serve stews, soups, or casseroles, be sure to add tons of veggies to them. I try to double the number of veggies called for in such recipes. Just remember, more dense vegetables (like potatoes and


I try to serve vegetables as snacks before I offer anything else. Not only are veggies a very affordable snack (compared to more common, processed snacks), but they are so much healthier, too. Raw veggies are an easy choice, of course. Or you can make veggie chips at home with a food dehydrator (or your oven). Good choices for chips include kale and dandelion leaves (picked before the weeds send up flowers and stems), zucchini and summer squash, parsnips, carrots, beets...and yes, potatoes.

You can also make "snack sandwiches" by substituting bread for slices of cucumber. (I prefer to cut them into rounds, which makes them "snack sized.") Add a little mayo, a tomato slices, and a strip or two of bacon. Delish!

A similar idea is to make snack sized pizzas, but instead of using dough or English muffins for the crust, use a sliced zucchini round or a large mushroom as the crust.

And, last but not least, an easy peasy way to add more veggies to your diet is by making smoothies. In fact, I'd go so far as to say you should avoid smoothies that are mostly fruit; they will spike your blood sugar, making you more tired and prone to snack. Instead, pack the veggies in, and then add a banana (my favorite) or a handful of berries to sweeten up the drink.

Now it's your turn. What are YOUR favorite ways to add more veggies to your diet?

Feb 16, 2016

The Truth About Salt

Recently, I had a conversation with someone that made me realize there's a lot of misunderstanding about salt out there. "The only healthy salt is pink sea salt," this person insisted. "All other salts have been bleached and the nutrients removed." I was stunned...because, well, that's not true at all.

So which salt is the healthiest? How much should we be eating? And how is sea salt really processed?

How Salt is Harvested or Processed

Harvesting salt is fairly simple process, really. First, salt water is driven into a pool. Sun and wind slowly evaporate the water. The salt crystallizes and is harvested - usually with a truck that scoops the crystallized salt into a factory. It may take five years for the salt to go from the pond to the factory. In the factory, the salt is washed to remove impurities. It may also be boiled in water  - which is the most transitional method. What's left is dried, packaged, and sent to stores.

A San Francisco salt pond. The pink color is due to organisms in the pool, not the salt itself. Courtesy Doc Searls and Wikipedia Commons.
In fact, this process is so simple, it's basically what humans have been doing for thousands of years - and what you can still do today. (In fact, it's possible for those who live near the ocean to harvest their own salt. Learn how here.)

Another way salt is harvested is through "solution mining." Here, wells are installed in natural salt beds and water is added to dissolve the salt. The resulting brine is pumped out and taken to a plant where it is evaporated. Salt can also be mined much like minerals, but this type of salt is typically made into rock salt - not the type of salt you cook with.

A mountain of salt in France. Courtesy of  Rolf Süssbrich and Wikipedia Commons.
The Healthiest Salt?

All salt is basically the same: it's sodium chloride. And, until recently, most health experts would have told you no salt is better for you than another. But now studies show that processed salt - any salt with additions to it - is linked to autoimmune disease.

Table salt is highly processed.
The type of salt that's sold for salt shakers - table salt - is the worst offender. It's processed to remove minerals and has anti-caking agents added (actually, any salt that's finally ground may have anti-caking agents, too; read labels carefully), as well as iodine. The addition of iodine began in the 1920s, when many Americans didn't have access to iodine in their foods - or just neglected to eat foods rich in iodine. They didn't know then, as we do now, that adults need just 150 micro grams of daily iodine, which is easily obtained by eating dark leafy greens, seafood, grains, and eggs. (Dairy products are also a good source of iodine, but largely  because of the iodine feed supplements and iodophor sanitizing agents used in the dairy industry.)

However, differences in unprocessed salt are very minor.

Pink Himalayan salt.

What About Pink Salt? 

Contrary to what my acquaintance said, sea salt is not bleached, nor does it have it's nutrients removed. I can only guess she thought all sea salt was pink, and that the white stuff in the store somehow had it's pink removed. I have no idea, however, where she'd get such erroneous ideas.

Pink salt comes from the Punjab region of Pakistan, about 186 miles from the Himalayas. (Hence it's other name, "Himalayan salt.") It does have some trace minerals in it, and while I sometimes buy and enjoy pink sea salt, claims about it are usually exaggerated. The minerals in Himalayan salt are so minute in quantity that scientists say they make zero difference in our diet. Further, the only list I can find of the minerals found in pink salt (which may or may not be accurate, since nobody seems to know exactly how or where the salt was scientifically examined) has a few disturbing items in it, including arsenic, lead, plutonium, uranium, and polonium. Fluoride, too, which I know many people try to avoid.

Trying to find true Himalayan pink sea salt can also be difficult. Many manufacturers lie about the origins of the salt, or add things to it to make it look pink. Also, it's important to know that salt can be colors other than pink or white. There are gray salts, red, black, and so on - it all depends upon the minerals that naturally occur where the salt was harvested.

Perhaps some confusion comes from the fact that the pools in which sea salt are harvested are sometimes pink. But this isn't due to the color of the salt, but to algae and (sometimes) brine shrimp that are attracted to the pool. 

So, long story short, pink salt is not healthier than any other unprocessed salt.

Why Salt Isn't Bad For You

I grew up hearing that salt is terrible for your blood pressure. However, salt is something everyone needs in order to stay healthy. In fact, too little salt can be dangerous, too. Salt only becomes a problem when it's highly processed, or when we eat processed foods.

Yes, it's true. Anyone who eats processed foods (foods not made from scratch) or restaurant food is consuming huge amounts of salt - far more than is healthy, and far more than they'd be consuming if they made their own food and salted it as they cooked.

Putting it All in Perspective

If you want healthy salt, consume only pure sea salt. Read ingredient lists carefully, since salts often labeled "sea salt" may have added ingredients you should avoid.

This is a healthy daily intake of salt. That's a LOT!
If using pure sea salt, you can salt your food liberally and you will eat far less salt than if you were consuming processed food. The CDC recommends adults eat up to 2,300 mg of sodium per day. That's about 1 teaspoon of fine other words, a lot! I can't imagine using that much salt, even for a day's worth of food for my entire family. Another way to put this into perspective: Experts estimate that in the average person's diet, only 5% of their salt intake comes from cooking at home, with another 12% coming from natural foods. 6% comes from adding salt at the table...and a whopping 77% comes from processed/restaurant food!

Courtesy the CDC.
What I Recommend

I personally use Old Thompson's sea salt because I can buy it locally (at Walmart). It comes in coarse form and is sold in a grinder. For most cooking, this works perfectly. But if I need to measure out salt (say, for fermenting or canning) it's a bit of a pain to grind the salt, then measure it. One of these days, I may buy fine sea salt without additives, like Celtic Sea Salt or Real Salt.

Just read labels, my friends, and you'll be well on your way to outing unhealthy salt in your diet.

Jan 19, 2016

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know-How: A Book Review

Backyard Homestead Kitchen Know How a Book ReviewWhen I first saw Andrea Chesman's The Backyard Homestead Book of Kitchen Know-How, I was skeptical. Was this really a book I'd find useful? After all, I regularly cook from scratch using backyard fresh ingredients, and I'm well versed in food preservation. Happily, however, Chesman's book completely exceeds my expectations.

The first three-quarters of this book were what I found the most useful. Here, Chesman gives tips on outfitting the homestead kitchen for "field-to-table" cooking; gives basic (though excellent) guidelines on how best to harvest, store, and cook fresh vegetables and vegetables; gives advice on dealing with a dried bean or grain harvest; looks at a few ways to make your own sweeteners (honey, maple syrup, and apple cider syrup); discusses how best to deal with eggs, various homestead birds, and rabbits; explains how to handle fresh milk; and explores the hands on aspects of  other homestead meats (beef, lamb, goat, and pig).

I love the author's advice on explaining to a butcher what cuts of meat you want; this is a process that can be completely overwhelming if you've never done it before. Chesman also offers interesting details on how to make boiled cider and cider syrup - something I'd never even heard of, but which is a viable alternative to syrup and molasses for those with apple trees. She also answered some of my questions about fertilized chicken eggs: Are they edible? Are they gross? And her information on handling a bird carcass in the kitchen, including how to freeze it (she favors the spatchcock method) and what to do with other edible parts (like hearts and livers, not to mention feet), is excellent. I also appreciate the details on how to properly render lard and tallow. And why is it I never thought to render chicken fat? Chesman claims it's a wonderful for cooking.

The author also covers preservation techniques, including dehydration, pickling and fermenting, cold storage (cellar or fridge), freezing (which she seems to favor), and canning. Oddly, Chesman admits she doesn't do much pressure canning; she prefers frozen vegetables and can't imagine what to do with canned meat. In fact, she claims the USDA recommends boiling canned meat before using it - something I've never read in any canning book or reliable canning site (like The National Center for Home Food Preservation). She does, however, put to rest botulism fears. (As long as you follow the basic rules, you are fine.)

There's also a section on what to make with homestead milk. Here, the author focuses on some of the easier items, like butter and creme fraiche, yogurt, ricotta, and mozzarella. Next is a section on charcuterie - or processing meats like bacon at home. I think she offers an excellent beginner's guide here, making homemade corned beef, ham, and sausage seem totally do-able.

The last quarter of the book is all recipes. I find this the least helpful section of the book, since most of the recipes I'm really attracted to (from scratch cream-of-anything soup, sourdough starter, no knead bread, making whipped cream from fresh milk, kimchi, homemade liquid pectin, etc.) are found in other sections of the book. In addition, I found some of the recipe choices odd. For example, the author mentions repeatedly that lard is a fantastic choice for pie crusts - yet there is no recipe for one anywhere in the book. Instead, she chooses to include a butter-based crust recipe.

Yet while there are some things I wish the author had mentioned (growing stevia or sugar beets, for example) or gone into more depth about (what are the best ways to use rendered fats?), the fact is, an author can only cover so much in a single volume. Yes, Chesman is opinionated (in her mind carrots are great for grilling but parsnips aren't), but I don't mind this. Her opinions come from years of experience cooking on the homestead. I may not agree with every little point she makes - but the fact is, they are just little points. Overall, Kitchen Know-How is an excellent reference and one I recommend for every homesteader or field-to-table cook.

Related Posts:
The Backyard Homestead book review
The Backyard Homestead Guide to Raising Farm Animals book review

Jan 14, 2016

Easy Trick for Making Family Friendly Meals

Easy Trick for Family Friendly MealsBack before I had kids, I knew I'd never be the sort of parent who played short order cook, making
my children dinners that were different from what my husband and I ate. Ahem. Then our daughter came along. Three months early, in fact. And her months with a feeding tube made her sensitive to eating certain textures. And her tiny little body didn't tell her to eat nearly enough. So - yes, I started making her special meals, full of high calorie foods I knew she'd eat.

Then my son came along - a big, full term baby. There was no need to make him special meals, but I didn't want to show favoritism...So, in the end the children ate one meal and we parents another. Oh, how the mighty fall during parenthood.

Fast forward a few years, and I'd finally had enough of cooking double meals. I decided both kids needed to eat whatever the adults ate...and today both my kids - really without much struggle - do eat the same meal we do.

But, as I'm sure is true in most houses, some dishes go over far better with the kids than do others. At our house - and maybe yours - certain foods and textures just don't get eaten by the children. For example, neither of my children likes chunks of tomatoes in cooked foods like chili. Well, I've finally come up with a solution to that. Maybe it's obvious to some people, but it sure wasn't to me: Puree the offending food.

You see, I noticed my kids ate my mother-in-law's chili without complaint, whereas they tended to eat around the tomatoes in my chili. "Oh, I just puree them in," my mother-in-law told me. DUH! Why didn't I think of that!

Of course, this works not only for tomatoes, but also for onions, sweet peppers, or just about any other ingredient your kids don't like chunks of.

So now when I make chili (or other dishes I normally make with chunks of cooked tomatoes in them), I just open a jar of home canned tomatoes and stick my immersion blender in it. In a few seconds, the tomatoes are liquefied and the liquid goes into whatever I'm cooking. If you don't use tomatoes in a glass jar*, just empty canned tomatoes into a bowl or pot and puree with an immersion blender before adding them to whatever you're cooking. Don't have an immersion blender? You could use a blender or food processor instead. (But seriously, an immersion blender is really cheap and super useful!)

The solution is SO simple. And simple is SO good.

* If you use canned tomatoes, you ought to consider buying them in a glass jar. That's because the acid in tomatoes tends to leach chemicals from cans. This not only makes the tomatoes taste weird (you'll be pleasantly surprised by tomatoes canned in glass), but it puts potentially harmful chemicals, like BPA, in your body.

Jan 5, 2016

How to Turn Crock Pot Recipes Into Oven (or Stove Top) Recipes

Believe it or not, last week I wanted to turn a crock pot recipe into an oven recipe. Um, I never
thought I'd want to do that, either. Turns out, though, I had a good reason: My crock pot wasn't big enough to properly cook the recipe I wanted to try. (For good results, slow cookers should be no more than 2/3 full.) There are a few other reasons you might want to covert crock pot or slow cooker recipes into recipes that work in the oven or stove top:
  • Your crock pot is tall, instead of wide - which doesn't work that great for things like lasagna.
  • You're cooking a large piece of meat (like a whole chicken) that doesn't fit into your crock pot.
  • You planned for a crock pot meal, but totally forgot to get it going in the morning. (I'm sure - ahem - someone has done that!)
  • You remembered to put the ingredients in the crock pot, but forgot to turn the crock pot on. (Again, I have no experience with that! Ha!)
  • You don't have a crock pot, but the recipe sure looks yummy. (Maybe you should just buy a crock pot?)
How to Convert Crock Pot Recipes to Oven Recipes

It isn't difficult at all! Just follow this basic formula:

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

2. Put the food in some sort of oven-safe container that has a lid. Dutch ovens are perfect for this, but you could also use a lidded casserole dish.

3. If the crock pot recipe calls for cooking the meal on high, divide the number of cooking minutes by 4 to learn how long to cook the meal in the oven. If the crock pot recipe calls for cooking the meal on low, divide the number of cooking minutes by 2 to learn how long to cook it in the oven. In other words:

HIGH: /4
LOW: /2

4. Check the meal every few hours, to make sure the liquid hasn't evaporated. Crock pots do an excellent job of retaining moisture and dishes cooked in the oven will dry out more quickly. Add additional liquid, if needed.

5. If the dish contains meat, use a meat thermometer to check for doneness.

How to Convert Crock Pot Recipes to Stove Top Recipes

For soups, this is a better choice than using the oven. 

1. Cook any meat the recipe calls for. Beef should usually be browned well in a skillet; pork can be cooked in the oven or in a skillet; and chicken can be cooked in the skillet or boiled.

2. Put the cooked meat and all the other ingredients into a pot and cook over medium low heat. I recommend barely simmering the soup for at least an hour. The longer you cook, the better the flavor will be, but you don't want to reduce the soup too much, or it will be more of a stew.

Related Posts:
Converting Conventional Recipes for the Crock Pot 
Improving Crock Pot Food - Making Better Recipes

Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more :
Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more :


Keep in mind that when cooked in an Dutch oven, the liquid in a braise or stew evaporates more quickly and may result in a drier dish. Check it every hour or two to ensure the liquid doesn't evaporate completely. Before converting a slow-cooker recipe to a Dutch oven, make sure you have a comparably sized Dutch oven or you'll need to adjust the ingredient amounts.

Read more :

Dec 29, 2015

Most Popular Posts 2015 - and All Time!

I've been blogging at Proverbs 31 Woman for six years (and have written over 1,140 posts!), but honestly, I never have any clue which posts are going to be the most talked about or viewed. They say the Lord works in mysterious ways, and judging by what posts are most popular here, I have to agree! It's always a pretty eclectic list. I hope you enjoy it!

(P.S. Want to see more popular posts from Proverbs 31 Woman? Check out the Pinterest page "Most Popular Posts at Proverbs 31 Woman.")

Most Popular Posts from 2015:

1. Why I Don't Watch HGTV (And Maye You Shouldn't Either)

2. Free Art History Curriculum: Edgar Degas (this whole series is popular, but this is the most popular post from the series)

3. How to Kill E.Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

4. No Fail Healthy Pie Crust Recipe

5. Keeping the House Cool in Summer (With and Without AC)

6. 12 Old Fashioned Birthday Party Games for Kids

7. How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

8. "I Am..." A Self Worth Craft for Kids

Most Popular Posts of All Time:

1. How to Train Chickens (and Get Them to Do What You Want Them to Do)

2. Best Free Apron Patterns on the Net

3. 6 Ways to Teach Kids the Books of the Bible

4. Best Ideas for Upcycling Jeans

5. How to Clean a REALLY Dirty Stove

6. How to EASILY Clean Ceilings and Walls - Even in a Greasy Kitchen

7. Canning Pickled Green Beans (Dilly Beans)

8. Easy Refrigerator Pickled Beets

9. Freezing Apple Pie Filling

Dec 7, 2015

How to Kill E. Coli on Vegetables and Fruits

In the last few weeks, there have been several recalls on fresh produce due to possible E. coli contamination. Since then, I've seen a myriad of Internet articles and posts claiming all sorts of ways to kill E. coli, salmonella, and other bacteria on fresh produce. The question is: Do any of them work?
How to Kill E. Coli on Vegetables and Fruits
First, How Common Are E. Coli Infections?

According to the CDC, there are an estimated  265,000 illnesses E. coli infections in the United States each year. However, it's important to note that this figure is an estimate only; experts say most people don't seek medical care for infections, and even those who do usually don't have a stool test for positive identification. Also remember that not all incidences of E. coli outbreaks are caused by contaminated food. For example, E. coli is also spread by hands (which are usually contaminated with human waste), or when human hands touch (live) animals (for example, at a petting zoo)

Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at:
Does Washing Kill E. Coli?

Most Internet articles, videos, and news reports about bacteria on produce say to scrub fruits and vegetables in hot water to remove bacteria. But according to Dr. Robert Brackett of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology, washing fruits and vegetables - whether with plain water, vinegar, bleach, dish soap, or hydrogen peroxide - does not remove harmful pathogens that make you sick.

This is because E. coli actually attaches itself to the surface of the food and produces something called a biofilm - which you can think of as a sort of protective bubble that makes it extremely difficult to wash away the bacteria. Because of this biofilm, something like bleach, which would normally kill E. coli, is ineffective. (Not to mention that putting bleach or hydrogen peroxide on your food could make you sick all by itself)

So yes, something like a vinegar wash may remove some bacteria (and certainly dirt and some portion of the pesticides used on the food), but it certainly won't get rid of everything that makes you sick.

How to Kill E. Coli on Produce

The only way for consumers to be sure their produce is free from bacteria is to cook it thoroughly. Sadly, a quick toss in the skillet or a light steaming isn't enough to kill E. coli and other bacteria. Instead, you'll have to make sure your produce reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. for at least 15 seconds. (That means testing it with a good thermometer, folks.)

What About Home Grown Fruits and Vegetables?

There are no statistics about home grown food and E. coli. This is probably mostly because most people don't know what's making them sick. Is it the flu? Or food poisioning? Most of us never learn. My personal belief, however, is that home grown produce is less likely to make you sick. After all, it's not fertilized with sludge (human waste), watered with manure-contaminated water, or handled by very many people. However, home gardeners must follow certain basic precautions:

* Don't use greywater on edibles. (Though it should be fine for watering fruit and nut trees.)
* Don't use roofline water on your edibles. (It can contain animal feces and other contaminantes.)
* Never use fresh manure in the garden. Always age it at least 6 months before applying it. As an added precaution, dig composted manure into the soil, instead of using it on top of the soil.
* When handling produce, always make sure your hands are clean. (Wash them for 30 seconds in the hottest water you can stand, using soap, then rinse thoroughly.)

Do Does This Mean We Shouldn't Eat Raw Vegetables and Fruits?

Most experts say no; it's unlikely you will get E. coli from produce. Some experts recommend peeling fruits and veggies to lesson your risk of exposure (but often the most nutritious part of a veggie is it's peel). Others suggest removing the outer leaves from lettuce and cabbage heads to reduce the risk of exposure of harmful bacteria.

My best advice is to grow the veggies you eat raw and to cook all those you buy. Those who are at higher risk of death or serious injury from E. coli, such as small children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, should probably only eat vegetables if they are well cooked.

they produce a substance called “biofilm,” which encases the bacteria in a sort of shell and helps them stick to whatever they’ve latched onto. This coating keeps them from being washed away and also protects them from chemicals that could otherwise disable them.  In other words, adding a few drops of bleach to the water you use to wash vegetables will kill any bacteria in the water but won’t do much to the bacteria on the vegetables. - See more at:
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at:
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: