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

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 Retaurant.com Deal

I received a Restaurant.com 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 Restaurant.com 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, Restaurant.com 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 Restaurant.com 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 Restaurant.com. 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 CT...so grab 'em while you can!

I received a Restaurant.com 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.

Breakfast

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
Lunch

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.

Dinner
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

Snacks

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 salt...in 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 : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.html
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 : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.ht

 




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 : http://www.ehow.com/how_4926523_convert-cooker-times-oven-time.htm

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: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpuf
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: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpuf
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dp
Dr. Robert Brackett, the Director of the Institute for Food Safety and Health at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  - See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/health-fitness/prevention/how-to-kill-e-coli-on-vegetables?page=all#sthash.0ZdcRWYw.dpu

Oct 8, 2015

How to Roast Pumpkin and Squash Seeds

When the leaves start turning brilliant shades of yellow, red, and orange, it's winter squash season - something everyone in my family looks forward to. It's no secret I think winter squash is an awesome food - yummy, nutritious, and perfect for we homesteader types. But did you know nearly all squash have deliciously edible seeds packed with protein, calcium, folate, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin K?

Most of us are familiar with roasted pumpkin seeds - but most other types of winter squash seeds are equally wonderful when roasted. Some are even superior to pumpkin! (My personal favorite is roasted butternut squash seeds.) In fact, the only winter squash seeds I've discovered that aren't particularly yummy are the seeds of red kuri squash.

Happily, making roasted squash seeds is very easy. Here's how I do it:

1. When cooking the winter squash of your choice, scoop out the stringy parts and seeds. Separate the seeds from the stringy parts. If a little bit clings to the seeds, that's okay. Compost the stringy part, or feed it to your chickens.

2. Place the seeds in a single layer on a plate; set aside. Once a day for a day or two, stir the seeds so they don't stick to the plate. Do not refrigerate.

3. Once the seeds have dried for a day or two, pop them onto a rimmed baking sheet and drizzle them with olive oil. Toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. If desired, use other spices, too.

4. Place the baking sheet in a preheated 350 degree F. oven. Check the seeds every few minutes until they are golden.


Aug 26, 2015

9 Back to School Lunch Hacks

Whether your kids go away to school or they home school with you, a little planning - and a few tricks! - make giving them healthy lunches a whole lot easier.



1. As much as possible, prep on the weekends. Sandwiches are usually best made the day of, but many other things can be prepared and refrigerated ahead of time, including: chopped veggies, chopped fruit, things like cracker and cheese that need portioning out and bagging.

2. Make a salad more fun by putting it on a kebab! Cherry tomatoes, olives, pieces of cheese, pieces of deli meat, and baby spinach or lettuce are perfect.

3. Portion things out yourself. It's almost always less expensive to buy in bulk and package in inexpensive bags, rather than buying boxes full of portion-sized bags.

4. Add a little air. Bagging up something that might turn into crumbs, like chips, cookies, or pretzels? Take a tip from food packagers and add air to the bag. This works best if you're packing lunch the evening before school or the morning the child will be eating the lunch.

5. Give them last night's leftovers. Not only will it save you time, but it will help prevent waste.

6. Bake lunch items like muffins ahead of time and freeze them. Pop them into your child's lunch the evening or morning before they will be eaten and they'll be thawed by lunch time.

7. No-brown sliced apples are easier than you think. Simply slice up the apple, holding the pieces carefully together, then wrap a rubber band around the apple. (The slices don't brown because they aren't exposed to air.)

8. Consider letting the kids pack their lunch. Let the children pick which items go in their lunch box the night before. (Don't think they'll make healthy choices? Let them only choose from certain foods.) You'll probably have to supervise to make sure it gets done! Kids are more likely to eat their food if they have a hand in preparing/choosing it - and it this encourages independence, too. For more tips on making this work, visit Coffee Cups and Crayons.

9. Notes or jokes are an addition to the lunch box most kids will look forward to. Bible verses are excellent, too!

Aug 24, 2015

Healthy Dinner Strategies for Busy Moms

If you're a mom with kids at home, you're busy. And many of us find ourselves even busier (and more tired!) than usual once the school year starts. That makes feeding our families healthy food a real challenge. And while modern moms have more unhealthy food options than ever - we also have more options when it comes to feeding our families healthy, quick meals.


Crock Pots

I have a love/hate relationship with my crock pot. I love that I can throw some ingredients into it in the morning and have a healthy dinner ready for my family by evening - no matter how busy I am. And if I plan ahead just a little, I can even prep the ingredients ahead of time, toss them into the freezer, and literally spend less than a minute making dinner on weekdays.

What I don't care for is the somewhat bland flavor many crock pot recipes have. Fortunately, there are fixes for that; click here to learn how to pump up the flavor of crock pot foods. Another not so great part of crock pot cooking is that so many recipes you find online are contain processed food (condensed soup, Ranch mixes, and so on). Sometimes you can easily substitute homemade versions of those processed foods, other times not. Happily, though, you can turn your favorite non-crock pot recipes into recipes you can use in a slow cooker. Also, check out this blog for healthy crock pot recipes...and my Pinterest Slow Cooker board, too.


Freezer Cooking

You may have seen blog posts showing ambitious moms cooking and freezing 30 days worth of meals in one weekend. If you can do that, good for you! I can never seem to get my act together to make this many freezer meals. But that doesn't mean freezer cooking isn't for me.

Courtesy of Elin B and Wikipedia Commons.
The easiest way to start freezer cooking is to double meals and freeze the extras. An even easier way is to simply cook up, say, all the ground beef soon after bringing it home from the store. Freeze it and you've just cut at least 10 minutes off each meal you prepare with it later in the month.

Other ideas include starting modestly by cooking and freezing a week's worth of dinners on a Saturday. Premeditated Leftovers also has ideas on spending just 30 minutes each day to fill your freezer with cooked food. For freezer-appropriate recipes and guidelines for beginners, be sure to check out my Freezer Cooking Pinterest board.


Pressure Cookers


For some reason, pressure cookers aren't mainstream in the United States. I really have no idea why, because they are such a quick, easy way to produce a healthy meal. For example, you can cook a moist, delicious whole chicken in just half an hour! Unsoaked black beans? 24 minutes. (If you soak them first, they take just 6 minutes.) Brown rice? 20 minutes. And you can cook whole meals, too, usually for 20-30 minutes. And unlike stove top cooking, pressure cooking takes less work on your part. You just stick in the ingredients, watch for the pressure to reach the right level, and then set the timer. In short, cooking time is cut by 1/3, saves 70 - 90% in energy, and retains 90% of the vitamins in your food! (Source.)

One word of caution, though: Don't confuse pressure cookers with pressure canners. Pressure canners are designed specifically for home canning. Sometimes they are appropriate for cooking, too, but not always. Pressure cookers are designed specifically for cooking. Do NOT use them for canning! I use my Presto canner as a pressure cooker; my only complaint is that because it has such a large capacity, it's difficult to get into the sink for cleaning. On the other hand electronic pressure cookers are favored by many because you don't have to tend to them at all: Just put the food in, turn them on, and walk away.

Not sure where to begin with pressure cooking? Check out my Pinterest Pressure Cooker board!


Which One Is Right For You?

Personally, I don't know what I'd do without all of these strategies! When my family grows tired of crock pot food, I can pop something in the pressure cooker. If I'm too tired for that at the end of the day, I can pull something out of the freezer. You see, having all these options available to me means I don't have to be hyper organized. And that is a very good thing!


Aug 13, 2015

My Crazy Life...and Back to School

The give away pile.
Has anyone ever told you I'm crazy? They were right, you know. Or at least, that's how I feel this week. You see, I've started packing. We have some repairs to make on our house, and we need to have our stuff out of the way before we can start on them. Our little hauling trailer is empty now (the first load of things is already in our shipping container) and soon the shipping container will be insulated and completely ready to be filled with furniture, family photos, books, and yes, even my piano. But I'm doing the packing alone - in my spare time (ahem). Time is a little critical here (gotta get it done before the rainy season). So I'm feeling a weeeee bit stressed.

Because in addition to packing and working on and off for clients, I'm prepping for school. My daughter is begging to start, but I'm not quite ready yet. This year of homeschool will be my most complicated ever, since my son is starting kindergarten and 1) it will be the first time I've really taught two grades at once (to my way of thinking, preschool is so easy, it doesn't count) and 2) I'm working hard to make kindergarten as interesting as possible for my son, who is an unwilling school kid. So there's that.

Plus, I'm preparing for a birthday party. Every year, my husband and daughter share a party, and most of our local family comes. As it happens, this is also the year my daughter turns a decade old, so it feels like a bigger deal than usual. So as I pack, work, and prep for homeschool, I'm also working up games (like a bean bag toss, pin the tail game, and pinata). The good news is, my daughter wants to help with everything. Finally, her "I want to do it myself" attitude is paying off!

At any rate, you can see that all this doesn't leave much time for blogging. So today, I just want to point you to some archived posts about getting the kids back to school. I hope they help you!

* Back to School Breakfast Ideas - Quick, healthy ways to get your kids off to a great start each day.

* Back to School = I Love My Crockpot - Make school time easier by making good use of your slow cooker.

* Age Appropriate Chores for Kids - Back to school time is an ideal time to set up or revise chore charts!

* Sleep Deprivation: The Childhood "Epidemic" - Poor sleep means poor learning; here's how to help your child sleep better.

* 5 Safety Rules for Every Kid - School time often means more time away from mom and dad. Be sure your kids know these important safety tips.

* Why Homeschool Preschool? - Why I, and so many others, choose to homeschool during the preschool years.

* Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness - How do you know when your child is ready to learn?

* Letter of the Week Activities - Easy crafts to help toddlers and preschoolers learn their letters and the sounds they make.

* Activities to go with The Little House on the Prairie Books - This series has been a real blessing in our house. If you're considering reading it to your children, consider some of these easy "go-withs."

* Keeping Toddlers Busy While Homeschooling - Tips from a mom who's been there!

* 10 Ways to Save Money on School Supplies - In case you missed it.