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

Apr 21, 2014

How to Make Meatloaf that's Not Greasy {Grease-Free Meatloaf Recipe}

Meatloaf is an easy, nutritious meal that even kids enjoy. But I have always disliked how greasy it often is. Recently, however, I found a simple solution to this problem.

Yes, you can buy super lean beef. But this makes for a very dry loaf.

And yes, you can buy special meatloaf pans. But I don't like having kitchen gadgets that are used for only one thing - especially if I can make a multipurpose tool (preferably one I already have!) work just as well. So...I use a wire cooling rack.

I simply place a wire cooling rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet, then place the meatloaf on top of the wire rack. This allows all the fat to drain out of the meat during cooking. The resulting loaf is moist, but not greasy. Perfect!

Just be sure to use a wire rack with a mesh pattern on it. The smaller the mesh, the better. (Large holes in the rack allow meat to drop down onto the baking sheet. If you don't have this sort of cooling rack, they are pretty easy to find - and you will use it for other things, like cooling baked treats and canning jars.

A simple wire rack makes meatloaf grease-free.
I should note that some of the meat will stick to the cooling rack. This is acceptable to me because I can't stand greasy meatloaf. If you want, do as I do and scrape off the bits that stick to the rack - then go ahead and serve them. They don't look tidy, but they taste great.

You can use any meatloaf recipe you like with this method. The recipe below is my family's favorite. It's easy and basic. You can dress it up, if you like, with additional spices or a sauce on top. I usually serve it as is. It's adapted from a recipe I found at Housewife How-Tos.

Easy, Grease-Free Meatloaf Recipe

1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 tablespoon of butter or olive oil
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef (90% fat or fattier)
1/2 cup regular oatmeal
1 egg
4 tablespoons catsup
2/3 cup milk

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place a wire cooling rack onto a rimmed baking sheet. (For easiest cleanup, you can line the baking sheet with foil first.) Set aside.

2. Place a skillet over medium high heat and melt the butter (or warm the olive oil) in it. Add the onion and saute until translucent.

3. Pour the onion and remaining butter or oil into a large mixing bowl. Add the beef, oatmeal, and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Add the catsup and milk. Mix together with your hands until well blended. If the mixture seems too runny, add more oatmeal, just a tablespoon at a time, until you prefer the texture. If the mixture seems to dry, add just a tablespoon of milk at a time until the texture is right.
4. Shape the mixture into two loaves and place on top of the prepared wire rack. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted in the center of a loaf reads 150 degrees F.
Before baking.

After baking.

Apr 14, 2014

Read All Food Labels. Every Single One.

We avoid processed foods because we've come to the conclusion all those ingredients you can't pronounce aren't very good for our bodies. Our rule is that if man made it, we'll take a pass.

Recently, though, it seems it's more of a challenge to find good, wholesome food. I think some of this is due to skyrocketing food prices. Our local stores, knowing nobody around here is terribly affluent (at least by U.S. standards), tries to keep our food prices low-ish. But in doing so, it seems I must be even more rigorous than usual. Case in point:

We've been buying frozen salmon. I felt good about this because it was sold at a reasonable price, in my opinion, and was wild caught, making it healthy (or so I thought). But after months of eating the salmon, I happened to look a little more closely at the smaller print on the bag. Here's the label, with the important part circled in red:

That's right. Our "healthy," wild caught salmon had an added ingredient! I wish you could have seen my face when I read this, because I was so sad! Go ahead and look up sodium tripolyphosphate. I found it particularly depressing because it's only real use is to make the product look fresher and increase the weight of the fish. Who needs that? Not me!

Thankfully, the next time I went to the store, I found another brand of frozen, wild caught salmon that contained no added ingredients. (Now my face looks happy!)

And now I read ALL labels. Every single one. Because sometimes unlikely foods are processed.

Mar 28, 2014

Ridiculously Tasty Rhubarab Recipes

Last year, I planted my first-ever rhubarb plant. Since it's best not to harvest from a first year rhubarb, this spring will be the first time I pluck those beautiful red and green stems from the plant. I'm excited! And already planning all the yummy things I'll make with my rhubarb.

If you have a rhubarb plant, or if you're tempted by rhubarb at the farmer's market or grocery store, here are some great ways to cook it up!
Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie.


Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie (you can can it!)

Rhubarb Banana Muffins

2 egg whites
2/3 cup milk
1/4 cups olive oil
2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose flour)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup mashed banana (about 1 banana)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2/3 cup chopped rhubarb 
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a muffin tin with nonstick oil spray; set aside.
2. In a bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. 
3. Stir in the milk and oil. Stir in the flours, sugar, banana, baking powder, salt, and nutmeg, mixing until just moist. Fold in the rhubarb.
4. Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tin, filling each cup nearly to the top.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean. Cool the muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes about a dozen muffins.

Spiced Rhubarb Bake
4 cups sliced rhubarb
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon mace
6 whole cloves
1 orange
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a large baking dish; set aside.
2. Juice the orange. Grate the orange peel. Set aside.
3. In a bowl, mix together the rhubarb, sugar, cinnamon, mace, cloves, orange juice, and grated orange peel (zest). 
4. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot or cold.
Serves 4 – 8.

Upside-Down Rhubarb Cake

2/3 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/4 cups diced rhubarb
4- 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar

For the Batter:
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
 Whipped cream (optional)

1.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease a 9 inch baking dish.
2. In a small mixing bowl, stir together the brown sugar and butter. Spread into the prepared baking pan. 
3. Spread the rhubarb over the brown sugar mixture. Sprinkle the sugar over the top of the rhubarb. Set dish aside.
4. In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla. 
5. In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Gradually add this mixture to the butter mixture, mixing well.    
6. In a another mixer bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until stiff peaks form. 
7. Gradually fold the egg white mixture into the butter mixture. Spoon over the sugar-sprinkled rhubarb.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched lightly.  
Cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a serving platter. Serve warm. Top with whipped cream, if desired. 
Serves 8 – 12.

Mar 5, 2014

16 Ways to Use Home Canned Meat

Canning meat is one of the best uses of canning know-how. It allows you to purchase meat when it's at its most affordable, and then easily turn it into something that will last for years without spoiling. Plus, in my opinion, it actually improves the meat! (Because the canning process makes the meat super tender and moist.) Best of all - having canned meat on hand is super convenient and really speeds up meal-making.

But not very many people are used to eating canned meat, so it can seem like a very foreign, weird thing. The number one hurdle is the very idea of canned if you're unsure you want to can meat, I suggest you go out and purchase a container of high quality chicken meat. Open it and eat it. If you like chicken, you'll love it canned. Now go can your own! (Canned chicken tastes fabulous and is very easy to can, so I suggest that if you've never canned meat before, you start with chicken.)

The second hurdle is: How do you actually use canned meat? Let me count the ways:

Homemade pizza featuring home canned chicken and home canned bacon.
1. On homemade pizza. If you have canned chicken, try using Ranch dressing as the pizza sauce. Add cheese, canned chicken, and maybe some green onions. Canned bacon is also terrific on pizza.

2. In salads. Canned chicken is perfect for any type of salad - fresh green, pasta salad, egg salad, etc.

3. Warmed up in a skillet. Canned ham, pork, or beef is great this way. I usually serve it alongside eggs , toast, or pancakes.

4. As sandwich meat. You can warm it up if you like, or leave it cold. And it's so much healthier than nitrogen-laced deli meats!

5. In scrambled eggs or omelets. Since canned meats just need warming up (not cooking), they are perfect added to eggs as you cook them.

6. As part of a hash or scramble. Canned ham is my favorite choice here.
A scramble featuring home canned pork.

7. In casseroles.

8. In soup.

9. In enchiladas.

10. In stir-frys.

11. In chili. Canned ground beef, beef chunks, or pork chunks are ideal.

12. In pasta dishes.

13. In stew. It really speeds up the cooking, because the meat is already tender and cooked.

14. Meat pies. An easy meat pie is just beef stew put between a bottom and top pie crust, so either beef or pork chunks or ground beef work here.

15. Shepherd's pie. Try canned ground beef, beef chunks, pork chunks, or lamb chunks.

16. In a pot of beans. Canned bacon adds terrific flavor to beans.

17. Any way you'd use frozen, cooked meat. Except canned meat doesn't require thawing!

A Few Tips:

* Whenever possible, use the liquid from the jars - there's a lot of flavor there! So if you're making soup, for example, pour the liquid from the jar into the soup instead of just dumping it down the sink.

* Canned ground beef has a different texture from the ground beef you are used to. It is softer and more moist. So I recommend always heating it by itself in a skillet; the heat will remove some of the meat's moisture, making it more like freshly-browned ground beef.

* When cooking anything that takes more than just a few minutes to make, always add canned meat at the very end of cooking. If you don't, the meat may turn to mush because it's already so tender and well cooked. Really, you just need enough time for the meat to become heated through - perhaps five minutes before the rest of the dish is done.

Jan 29, 2014

How to Keep Your Kids in Healthy Snacks

If you browse Pinterest, or a few mommy blogs, no doubt you've seen organized drawers for kids' snacks, filled with either small commercial packages or Ziplock bags filled with serving sizes. The idea here is a great one: Let kids be more independent by keeping a drawer where they can grab their own snacks. But I have two problems with this:

1. If kids have total access to snacks, they are likely to snack too often and not eat a balanced diet - let alone their dinner!

2. Every single snack drawer I've seen is full of processed food - which is not only expensive, but terribly unhealthy.

So here's how I keep my children in healthy snacks:

* I keep a counter top bowl of healthy fruit - usually washed apples and bananas, and mandarin oranges or pears, when in season (see photo to the right). Children are free to take whatever they want from this bowl.

* I also keep a drawer in the fridge for healthy snacks: mostly carrots, celery, a few cheese sticks, and when in season, grapes, green beans, peas in the pod, and cut up broccoli or cauliflower.

Refrigerator snack drawer. There are baby carrots from our garden, cheese sticks, celery (my kids are big enough to break off stalks by themselves), and cut up cauliflower.
You'll notice cheese sticks are the only expensive, packaged product I mentioned. I limit these, for the sake of frugality, by placing only a few in the kids' drawer. (If you like, you can slice blocks of cheese and place them in Ziplock bags, instead; it's cheaper. But my kids love string cheese!)

I also have other snacks available; mostly homemade dried fruit, nuts and seeds (if I can find a good deal on them), or (very occasionally) crackers.* However, I keep them up high and dole them out every once in a while.

We also have a two snacking rules:

1. Any child who doesn't eat everything he snacks on looses the privilege of getting himself snacks. (No half eaten apples allowed!)

2. All children must ask for a snack before taking it. This allows me to help the kids to learn to wait for our main meals, if appropriate. (It's also a good way to teach them to think about what time they normally eat meals and whether it's smart to snack right before a meal.)

Simple. Healthy. And it works!

* Why do I limit crackers? Because they are usually full of GMO ingredients, in addition to preservatives, soy (which may increase estrogen in the body and is almost always GMO), corn syrup, and other unhealthy ingredients. I could make healthier ones from scratch, but it's time consuming and not worth it at this point in my life.

Jan 27, 2014

How to Freeze Waffles and Pancakes - It's SO Easy!

For many years now, I've been freezing pancakes and waffles. And, really, it's one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your dependance on unhealthy, expensive, processed food! In fact, it's so easy, for years I didn't write a blog post about it; I thought: "Well, the post would be all of one sentence!" But because so many people don't know about this, I decided to write up some tips and point you toward some from scratch recipes, in addition to giving you the really easy info on how to freeze pancakes and waffles at home.

How to Freeze Pancakes and Waffles

1. First, choose a good time to make waffles and/or pancakes. I like to pick an unhurried morning, cooking up enough that I can feed my family and make tons of extra to freeze. If that doesn't work for you, just choose a time when you can whip up a big batch of pancakes or waffles. The freezing part takes no more than 5 minutes, TOPS - so you really just need time for the actual cooking.

2. Next, choose a really good recipe. You can certainly make your waffles or pancakes with a product like Bisquick, but it's cheaper, healthier - and so easy! - to make them from scratch! I also recommend you try making your pancakes and waffles with some wheat flour. Not only does this make the end product considerably healthier, with more nutrients, but it makes the pancakes and waffles much more flavorful. Plus, pancakes and waffles made with wheat flour fill tummies far more quickly!

My recipes for whole wheat pancakes and whole wheat waffles are very simple. Even my husband, who chooses white bread over wheat bread every time, prefers my wheat pancakes and waffles to those made with white flour.

3. Once you have your recipe and ingredients together, just whip up the batter and start cooking. For pancakes, it might be nice to have a large electric skillet - but if you don't, no worries. I don't have one, yet I'm able to cook up quite a lot of pancakes in a short amount of time.

As the pancakes come off the skillet (or the waffles come out of the waffle iron), set them onto a plate to cool. It's fine to stack them.

The pancakes or waffles need to completely cool, so don't be afraid to leave the kitchen at this point and do other things. It won't hurt the waffles or pancakes to sit on the counter for a while.

4. Once the pancakes or waffles are completely cool, you have a few options:

* Place one each into half pint freezer bags.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, separated by pieces of wax paper.

* Place many in a gallon-sized freezer bag, without anything to separate them.

Honestly, after years of doing this, I do the latter: I just throw them into a freezer bag and pop them into the freezer. Occassionally, some will stick together, but it's usually easy to just pull them apart. For those that aren't as easy to separate, I stick a butter knife between them - and they pop apart right away.

That's it! I told you it was SO EASY!

To heat homemade, frozen pancakes, I suggest using a microwave. To heat waffles, I suggest sticking them in a toaster or toaster oven. There is absolutely no need to defrost the pancakes or waffles before reheating.

Jan 13, 2014

A Simple Way to Make Homemade Bread Better - with an electric knife

Last year I read somewhere that cutting homemade bread with an electric knife made cutting easier - and made the slices much less crumbly. I thought that made sense, since commercial sandwich bread is cut with, essentially, band saws. So I put an electric knife on my wish list.

Inexpensive electric knives - which are just fine for cutting bread - aren't expensive. You can easily buy one for about $20. But then I noticed something: Local thrift stores were inundated with electric knives! Most were in terrific condition, looking as if they'd been used only a handful of times (probably at Thanksgiving and Christmas for a couple of years). Best of all, they were only $2 - $3 a piece! (Most thrift stores also allow you to return electronic items if they don't work the way they you don't even have to worry about loosing $3.)

So yes, I can now confirm that using an electric knife to cut homemade bread is easier - and it makes the bread far less crumbly to eat. And if you browse the thrift stores to buy your electric knife, you'll save a bundle, too!

Dec 3, 2013

Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook - now in paperback!

Many readers have asked for a print version of my #1 bestselling ebook The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook. Now it's available!

The print version of The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook has all the same great recipes and information as the ebook, with black and white photos inside. It makes a great Christmas present, too, since the best dandelion greens are just around the corner - after the snow melts!

From Amazon:

"An Amazon #1 Bestseller!
Become a dandelion hunter! 148 dandelion recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even dessert! What if someone told you one of the world’s most nutritious foods is also tasty, can be cooked many different ways, is easy to find, and is totally free? I know what I’d do: I’d run out and grab some! Well, the good news is, there is such a food: Dandelions. Yes, those pesky weeds with bright yellow flowers you’ve grown up thinking are the enemy of perfect lawns are actually food – brought to North America by immigrants who knew how valuable they are.
Every part of the dandelion is edible:
* Dandelion greens recipes are common throughout Europe and often used in salad, quiche, lasagna and other pasta dishes, and many other familiar and less-familiar dishes.
* The honey-like flowers are a healthy and tasty addition to bread, omelets, pancakes, and more – plus they make delectable dandelion wine, dandelion jelly, and dandelion wine.
* The buds are often pickled or added to stir frys and other dishes.
* The stems can be eaten like noodles.
* And the roots add coffee flavor to everything from ice cream and cakes to drinks. And let's not forget dandelion root tea!
The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook offers 148 recipes, plus expert advice and tips, for cooking all parts of the dandelion – one of nature’s best free foods.
Here's what readers have to say about the book:

"5 Stars. Here is what we had for dinner last night: Dandelion noodles, picked with revenge in my garden, and eaten up with zest! So great, and so easy to make this recipe from the brand-new Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook. You can see pictures on my blog."

Caleb Warnock
author of Backyard Winter Gardening and other books

* * *
"5 Stars. I was eager to read this book in order to find out the best ways to harvest, freeze and dry dandelion flowers. But what a delight to discover it also offered a treasure trove of info about the history, nutritional/ medicinal applications and new and traditional recipes for this humble, prolific plant. I was also surprised to learn about the different parts of the plant that could be used in cooking, especially the unopened bud. This book is worth it for the dandelion jelly recipe alone -- but, oh my! I can't wait to try the recipes for stem noodles -- and the dandelion tea . . . and the roasted roots . . . and the ice cream . . . and . . . ! I highly recommend this book to anyone curious about integrating fun and nutritious dandelion recipes into their diet. I consider it essential reading for fans of natural, wild foods and for culinary dabblers!"

Suzannah Doyle
Composer & Musician
* * *
"5 Stars. Kristina Seleshanko has created a wonderful collection of enticing recipes, all featuring those yellow-top, front yard pests: dandelions. She includes some rather expected dishes, like omelets, salads and soups. Other recipes, however, are likely to catch readers off guard, like pizza, soda, jellies, wine and even ice cream and cookies! What I enjoy most about this cookbook is the abundance of education. The author includes valuable nutritional information, but also instructions on how to harvest dandelions, how to preserve them and store and what alters the taste of these greens. She's obviously very knowledgeable. All in all, this book is an excellent value at a great price."

Tanya Dennis
Writer & Editor
* * *
 "5 Stars. What a fantastic book! I have seen dandelion recipes here and there, and am determined to try my hand at dandelion cordial, but this book has it all. The author went to great pains to give a very comprehensive book on dandelions in every form. With this book you will learn to use every part of the dandelion to make foods and beverages for every meal of the day. If you are interested in frugal living or just trying something a little different, get this book and get out in the yard and start picking!"

Jennifer Shambrook
Author of I Can Can Chicken!

The paperback of The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook is $13.29 on Amazon - and you can still get the Kindle ebook version for just $2.99. Order it today and have it in time for Christmas!

Nov 25, 2013

My #1 Favorite Recipe and Cooking Magazine

When Martha Stewart ceased publication of her magazine Everyday Food, I was really disappointed. It was my favorite magazine for finding recipes, and I just couldn't seem to replace it with any other magazine or website on the market. THEN I happened upon a copy of Allrecipes magazine. I was thrilled because not only had I discovered a magazine that replaced Everyday Food for it's quality, healthy, down to earth, recipes, but I discovered a magazine that, to my way of thinking, is even better than Everyday Food!

Yes, it's true that the recipes in Allrecipes can also be found on the website But I prefer the magazine to the website because:

* Every recipe in the Allrecipes magazine has been tested by the magazine's staff - and they only showcase recipes with the highest reader rating available.

* The photographs of the food are professional. (And yes, I'm one of those people who prefers to see what the food will look like when I'm done cooking.)

* The magazine not only reproduces the best of the best recipes from the website, but it includes the most helpful reader comments - the ones that offer useful alternative ingredients or techniques. Plus the magazine editors offer their own special notes from their test kitchen.

* The magazine contains not only great recipes, but it has some other interesting content, including notes about the best kitchen gadgets, rising star food business owners, and the like.

My personal test for any magazine is: How many pages do I dog-ear or rip out? If a magazine really only has one recipe or article good enough for me to save, it's unlikely I'll subscribe. But each month, I find myself saving handfuls of recipes in Allrecipes magazine - so I know I've got a keeper!

Here is the first recipe I tried from the Allrecipe magazine. It's just ordinary roast chicken - until you look at the ingredients: cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. What the heck? But I think you'll love the end result. I know my family did. (The way the recipe appears at the Allrecipes website is different from how it appeared in the magazine. The magazine version had the best tips and tricks for making this recipe the best it can be. Unfortunately, I can't reprint the recipe due to copyright issues. But I think you'll still love this recipe.)

Jul 29, 2013

The Easy Peasy Way to Freeze Tomatoes, Remove Tomato Skins, and Turn Green Tomatoes Red

Recently, I was shocked to hear a friend described how she froze extra tomatoes from her garden. It was complicated! "Really," I told her, "it doesn't have to be so hard! In fact, it should be almost magically easy!"

The Easy Peasy Way of Freezing Tomatoes

In just 2 steps:

1. Place clean, dry tomatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the freezer.

2. Once the tomatoes are hard, transfer to a freezer bag.

It works. Honest.

Tomatoes frozen in this manner may later be canned, if you like, or you can use them like fresh tomatoes for cooking.

The Easy Peasy Way of Remove Frozen Tomato Skins

You'll notice I didn't suggest removing the tomato skins before freezing them. That's because it's a little bit of work to do it that way. Instead, if you want skinned tomatoes, remove them from the freezer and put them under warm tap water. The skins practically slide off without help. (And while you're at it, consider keeping those skins to make easy peasy tomato paste. I dry the skins, crumble them, and store them in a Mason jar in the pantry. When I need tomato paste, I just add water. Please go here for full instructions.)
How to Ripen Green Tomatoes

As the tomato growing season ends, you'll want to know this trick, too. When frost threatens to kill your tomato vines, pick all the green tomatoes off your plants and bring them inside. Place them in a single layer in your pantry. With time, they will turn red. They won't be quite as delish as garden-fresh tomatoes, but they'll be better than store bought. As they ripen in the fall and possibly the winter months, I often freeze them. Once all my green tomatoes are red, I usually can them. Or you can just use the reddened tomatoes fresh, as they become available.

Or, check out my post on how to cook with green tomatoes.

Jul 5, 2013

DIY Popsicles

I don't know about your kids, but in the summer, mine fairly live on popsicles. And I don't mind; they keep them hydrated - and I make most of our popsicles, so I know they are healthier than store bought. (Seriously - have you read those labels?!) I use an inexpensive plastic popsicle mold I bought years ago; you can even buy BPA free ones now. And here are a few things I put in them:

* Yogurt. Just yogurt and nothing else. The full fat kind works best.

* Real juice. So simple.

* Lemonade. The homemade kind is healthier. Here's my favorite recipe.

* Healthier Fudgesicles: In a blender, pour 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1/2 cup canned full-fat coconut milk (or other type of milk – though the pops won’t be as creamy), 2 small ripe bananas, a pinch of salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract. Puree. Add sugar to taste.

* Healthier Orange Creamsicles: In a bowl, combine 1 cup real orange juice, 1 cup heavy cream or full fat coconut milk, 3 tablespoons honey, ¼ teaspoon orange extract, and ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract.

* Juice-Yogurt: Pour any type of juice you like 2/3 of the way up the popsicle mold. Add enough yogurt (usually plain flavored) to fill the mold, then swirl the juice and yogurt together using a knife.

* Watermelon: Put 2 1/2 cups of cubed watermelon (seeds removed), into the blender and puree. If desired (though it's not necessary), add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract or 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice.

Sometimes I want my very own popsicles. That's when I make Mocha Pops: In a bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 cup half and half, 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt. Add sugar to taste (I use about 3-4 tablespoons). Stir until sugar dissolves.

In all cases, once the liquid is in the mold, add the sticks and pop into the fridge. Most of these pops are fully frozen within 1 to 6 hours.

Jun 10, 2013

How to Cook an Old Laying Hen or Rooster

A couple of weeks back, we butchered our old laying hens. (Don't worry - I won't go into details, nor will I type about our mixed feelings on the subject - unless you'd like me to, in which case I'm happy to share.) But I am going to talk about how to put those old birds to good use.

UPDATE: 6/14/13: Tonight, we had our first taste of old laying hen...and it was GREAT. Really! I pressure cooked it and it was very moist and extremely flavorful. The white meat tasted like Kentucky Fried Chicken (!) - much more "chickeny" than grocery store chicken. The dark meat had an almost turkey-like flavor - almost, but not quite, the flavor of really good game.

There are several important things to know right up front:

* Meat chickens, which are the type of chickens you buy in grocery stores, are bigger than the hens you have for eggs. They are also butchered at a very young age. Therefore, meat chickens are larger - and much more tender - than laying hens butchered due to "old age" or inability to lay well. Backyard roosters are also smaller and more tough than store bought chickens.

* The older the hen, the more tough her meat is. Roosters, from what I've read, also tend to be more stringy.

* Old chickens can certainly be eaten - it's just a matter of knowing how to handle them properly.

The first rule is to never butcher a bird and eat it right away. You should let it sit in the refrigerator for 48
hours, making sure it's on a rack so it's not sitting in blood. Cooking or eating the bird right away makes it especially tough it is still in rigor mortis.

For the best tasting food, it's also wise to let the bird age in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days before eating or freezing it. Because of limited refrigerator space, I chose to freeze all our birds right away. When it's time to cook or can them, I let them defrost, then age them in the refrigerator for up to 5 additional days.

There are four tried-and-true ways to cook old hens and roosters:

1. Stew them (or put them in soups). In fact, some famous dishes were originally designed for using up roosters or old hens, including the famous Scottish soup cock-a-leekie ("rooster and leeks" - a recipe found in my A Vegetable for Every Season Cookbook) and the well known French coq au vin ("rooster in wine"). The key here is to cook the bird for a long time (8 hours is generally recommended) and with plenty of moisture. Here's a recipe that looks worth trying. Do not try to substitute a crock pot or slow cooker; neither is typically adequate to get old birds tender.

Traditional Cock-a-Leekie soup.
2. Pressure cook them. A basic recipe is to season the bird and cook it with about 2 - 3 cups water or stock for 35 to 40 minutes at 15 lbs. pressure.

3. Can them. But taking apart an older hen, with it's tight joints, isn't quite as easy as taking apart a tender grocery-store bird. You'll probably want to cook the bird before canning it.

4. Turn them into sausage. Click here for more information on this method.

In addition, soaking the bird in brine for a day or two before using it can make it more tender yet.

And don't forget the carcass and innards (gizzard, heart, neck, and kidneys)! Save them all for making stock.

Jun 7, 2013

What Type of Eggs Should You Buy?

Recently, a friend complained about the cost of grocery store, organic eggs. Having been in egg bliss for some years now - looking no further than my backyard for those staples of the kitchen - I thought: "I wonder if she realizes organic isn't necessarily the best way to go?"

I do understand that current food labels - including those for eggs - are ridiculously confusing and often misleading. And the truth is, I think a lot of people are parting with extra cash without getting the quality they really think they are getting. "Free range," "organic," and many of those other labels may not mean exactly what you think. Here's the scoop.

Certified Organic: These eggs come from hens who don't receive vaccines or antibiotics; they also don't get hormones - but no legally raised, U.S. commercial chicken is allowed to get hormones. In addition, organic eggs come from hens whose feed is grown on land that’s been free from chemicals for at least three years. But here's the problem: Certified organic eggs can't come from hens given a natural diet of bugs. (Which, incidentally, also means the hens can't free range.) The reason? The government doesn't know where those bugs have been or what they've eaten. So, organic eggs come only from hens fed grains (though those grains are free from GMOs). This means, as I'll point out in a moment, that organic eggs aren't as healthy as they could be.

Free Range: "Free-range” eggs come from hens who are allowed to free range - that is, scratch around and forage outside, as is natural. This sounds good, but according to current guidelines, to qualify as free range all a farmer has to do is give the hens one tiny door leading out to a tiny piece of earth. Most commercially raised free range hens live in overcrowded barns and have no real opportunity to scratch around outside.

Truly free range eggs come only from hens who spend most of the day outside, eating bugs and weeds; have higher nutritional value (2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3s, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene) and less cholesterol (about 1/3). Where can you find real free range eggs? From a backyard hen owner or smaller farms.
these eggs
Cage-Free: Most commercially-raised hens are live in small wire cages that don’t allow them to spread their wings or move around much. If eggs are marked "cage-free" and you're buying them in the grocery store, the hens who produced them live in a barn, not cages. Unfortunately, these barns are usually crowded. And even if they are not, chickens get extremely stressed when living in a large flock, as commercially-raised hens always are.

Vegetarian: This one makes me shake my head in disbelief. Chickens are not naturally vegetarians; they are omnivores - eating both plants and meat. Why would we want to turn them into vegetarians? Some people think it's bad to have animal bi-products in chicken feed. Even though chickens eat meat. Even though chickens are naturally cannibals, given the chance. And while I can't find any information about nutrition found in the eggs of vegetarian chickens, common sense says that depriving hens of their natural diet is detrimental to both the chickens' health and the quality of the eggs produced by them.

Certified Humane: These eggs come from birds that live cage free, usually inside barns that are not as crowded as the typical “cage free” bird; however, these hens are still raised in large flocks; this results in stress, which leads to pecking. Certified Humane hens are, however, allowed to nest, perch, and dust bathe – all things a hen does naturally, given a friendly environment. 

Pasteurized: Pasteurized eggs have been heated to 140 degrees F. for 3 ½ minutes. The pro here is that this heating kills harmful bacteria. The con is that the heat also reduces nutritional content.

Natural: A totally meaningless label. All eggs are natural. Nothing is injected into them. This label does not refer to what the chickens who laid the eggs ate, either.

Brown vs. White: There is no difference in taste or nutrition between white- and brown-shelled eggs. Why do some hens lay brown eggs while others lay white? It all depends upon the hen's ear lobe color (not the color of her feathers, as some claim). Hens with red ear lobes lay brown eggs; those with white ear lobes lay white eggs.

So...what type of eggs should you buy? As you can probably guess, I suggest backyard eggs, if you can have hens. Otherwise, I highly recommend finding someone in your area who has backyard hens and an overflow of eggs - or finding a small farm in your area that sells eggs. If you really must buy grocery store eggs, you will have to decide what's most important to you...I hope that after reading this post, you have a much clearer picture of what you are buying.

May 27, 2013

DIY Taco Shells - Easy Peasy!

At our house, one of those rare meals both adults and kids eat happily is tacos. But I really do hate buying taco shells. Half the tacos in the box are usually broken before I even buy the box. And all those preservatives and unhealthy vegetable oils found in ready-made tacos are a real turn off. So last week I decided it was time I try to make my own taco shells.

There are two ways to do this. For the healthiest taco shells, you can make your own corn tortillas, free of unhealthy fats and preservatives. But you can also use store bought corn tortillas, which is what I did because I needed a quick way to make taco shells.

But before I show you how easy this is, first let me tell you how not to make taco shells. This post, oft-cited on Pinterest, inspired me to make my own taco shells. I followed the directions exactly, but the oil on the tortillas made my stove smoke up the house, some of the shells stuck to the oven rack, and all the shells ended up dry and tough. I do not recommend this method.

Instead, try making taco shells the old fashioned way:

1. Warm some olive oil in a skillet. Once it is hot enough to sizzle when you flick water at it, move on to the next step.

2. Take 1 corn tortilla out of the bag and gently fold it in half (without creasing the fold line; the fold should be rounded, like a finished taco). Place the tortilla in the skillet and hold the taco open using tongs (see photo). Cook for about 20 - 30 seconds, or until golden and crisp.
3. Turn the taco over and cook the opposite side about 20 - 30 seconds, or until golden and crisp, holding  the taco open with tongs.

4. Remove the taco from the skillet and place it, fold side up, onto paper towels. The taco will further harden as it cools.

The resulting tacos pleased everyone in my family - which is really rare! We actually like them better than store bought because they were a little less hard, so they didn't fall apart as soon as we started eating them. (Cooking them a little longer will make them more hard.)

So, homemade is better and healthier - how about more frugal? I can buy 18 taco shells for $2 at Walmart - OR 24 corn tortillas for the same price. And if you make your tortillas from scratch, homemade tacos are even cheaper.

May 22, 2013

How to Cook with Scapes

As spring warmth bathes the earth, garlic sends up flower shoots. These shoots, called "scapes," are not only edible, but are considered something of a delicacy. But what fewer people realize (including yours truly, until a friend recently enlightened me) is that scapes from leeks and onions - which sometimes send up flower shoots if the weather is a bit unpredictable - are equally tasty.

You may find scapes at farmer's markets in the spring - or you may find them in your garden. Farmers and gardeners have good reason for snipping scapes off before they bloom: This allows the plant to put its energy into making bigger garlic cloves, leek bottoms, and onion bulbs.

What Do Scapes Taste Like?
Scapes taste like a more mild-tasting version of the plant they grow from. Garlic scapes taste like mild garlic, leek scapes taste like milder leeks, and onion scapes taste like mild onions. And, despite what some say, all parts of scapes are edible and tasty. The tougher parts (near the bottom of the stem) are fine once they are cooked and buds have the same flavor and texture as the stem.

Garlic scape.
How to Cook with Scapes
The easiest way to use scapes is to chop them up and use them just like you'd use garlic, leeks, or onions. For example, garlic scapes are a perfect substitute in recipes calling for garlic. If you have a lot of scapes, chop them up, stick them in a freezer bag, and freeze them. You can use them in cooking without defrosting them first. (If they clump together, just bang the bag on the counter to loosen them up.)

But there's much more you can do with scapes. Here are my favorites:

* Grilled Scapes. Brush them with a little olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over direct heat for about 1 minute, turn and cook about another minute. If you like, add some freshly squeezed lemon juice and flaky salt.

* Scape pesto. Use your favorite basil pesto recipe, but substitute 1/4 inch pieces of scapes for the basil. (Omit any garlic the recipe may call for.)

* Pickled scapes. These are costly in gourmet food stores, but you can easily make them at home. Heat 1 cup apple cider vinegar, 4 teaspoons kosher or canning salt, and 4 teaspoons sugar in a non-reactive saucepan. Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and bring to a simmer. Warm a canning jar by running hot tap water over it. Coil the scapes into the jar. If you like, add one whole chile. Pour the hot vinegar liquid over the scapes, covering them completely. Put a plastic lid on the jar and allow the jar to come to room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 6 weeks before eating.

Stir fried garlic scapes.
* Stir fried scapes. Add chopped scapes to your favorite stir fry. 

 * Steamed scapes. Cut scapes into 1 or 2 inch pieces and steam until just tender.

* Sauteed scapes. Blanch the scapes in boiling water for 1 minute, then immedietly drain and place in ice water. Heat some olive oil in a skillet until a drop of water in the pan sizzles. Drain the scapes and pour into the skillet. Cook for 1 minute, stirring 2 or 3 times. Season with 1 teaspoon Old Bay Blackened Seasoning, if desired. Cook until scapes begin turning golden, about 2 minutes.

* Scape seasoning. Chop the scapes and sprinkle on eggs, casseroles, and any dish where you'd normally use chives.