Showing posts with label Recipes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Recipes. Show all posts

May 18, 2015

How to Make a SCOBY for Kombucha

Last week, I typed about kombucha - the fizzy, fermented drink - and why you might want to make it. Some of you said you already drink it, but buy it in the store. But because it's about $3 a bottle, and because most store bought kombucha is pasteurized, thereby killing all the good-for-you-stuff in the drink, you might want to try making it at home. Thankfully, it's very, very easy.

But before you begin, you need a SCOBY (an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast," otherwise known as a "mother"). This is the "starter" that will make your kombucha ferment. There are three main ways to get one:

1. Get a SCOBY from a friend who makes kombucha.

2. Buy a SCOBY

3. Or make your own.

When I started making kombucha, I made my own. Here's how.

How to Make a Kombucha SCOBY

You will need:

4 cups water

1/3 cup of granulated sugar (cane is best)

2 black tea bags

One bottle of store bought kombucha (Read the label carefully; you need raw kombucha with live, active cultures or this process will not work. I used Synergy brand. Most other tutorials say to use unflavored kombucha, but I couldn't find this, so I used the flavored kind. It worked just fine.)

a large, nonreactive pot

a stirring spoon

a 1 gallon glass jar (or 2 half gallon glass jars)

1 piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter for each jar, plus a length of string or a rubber band for each jar

1. Begin by thoroughly washing everything (jars, spoon, pot) in hot, soapy water. Or run everything through the dishwasher. Wash and dry the cheesecloth, too. Wash your hands thoroughly. This prevents unwanted bacteria from contaminating your SCOBY.

2. Pour four cups of water into the pot. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until the water looks clear. Add the tea bags.

3. Allow the tea to brew until the pot and water are completely cool.

4. Pour the cooled tea into the glass jar. Add the bottle of store bought kombucha. Cover the opening of the jar with cheesecloth or a coffee filter, securing in place with a rubber band or a piece of string. This keeps bugs, dust, and debris from entering the jar. Keep the jar in an out of the way location, with a relatively steady temperature, and out of direct sunlight.

5. Check the jar every day. Within a few days, you should begin to see some scummy stuff growing on top of the liquid. This is part of your future SCOBY. Within 2 - 3 weeks, there should be a layer of rubbery stuff across the liquid in the jar. Your SCOBY is ready!

A Few Notes:

Don't remove the SCOBY until you're ready to make kombucha.

Don't touch the SCOBY, except with well cleaned hands. (It's better just to leave it alone until you're ready to make kombucha.)

When you are ready to use the SCOBY, you can discard the liquid it grew in. It's very acidic, and not suitable for drinking. I have, however, heard of using it in place of vinegar in a meat marinade.

Next week, I'll show you how to use the SCOBY to make kombucha.

More in this series:

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make it

May 11, 2015

What is Kombucha? And Why You Might Want to Make It

Perhaps because I'm doing so little gardening this year (because we're preparing for our move), I find I'm spending more time experimenting in the kitchen. One of my recent successes has been kombucha (hear how to pronounce it) - a drink I'd heard of, but never thought much about until a friend of mine said she was using it to wean her family off sodas and fruit juices. I tried a store bought version and wow! It was fizzy and delish! Then I learned the drink has health benefits, too. I knew then I had to try making some at home. I did. And it was easy. And even better-tasting than store bought! And even my kids like it.

So over the course of the next few weeks, I'm going to blog about kombucha: What is is, why you may want want to drink it, and how to easily make it at home.

Today we start with...

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is an ancient Chinese drink made by fermenting tea. I find it tastes similar to apple cider (or, if you use green tea, it supposedly tastes similar to champagne...I've only made black tea kombucha). It may or may not be effervescent (bubbly), depending on what steps you take when making it.

Why Drink Kombucha?
Kombucha fermenting.

Throughout history, people have tried to claim kombucha is a cure all, but studies don't back up the vast majority of these claims. One study on rats showed kombucha aided liver function, and since the tea contains probiotics, the drink is good for your digestive system. Also, kombucha contains anti-oxidants, which boost the immune system.

Many sources, such as the Mayo Clinic, tell readers not to make kumbucha at home because they might poison themselves. Of course, any food you make at home could lead to food poisoning - and sometimes commercially prepared products are recalled for serious contamination issues, too.

People have been fermenting foods and drinks since ancient times. Today, with the ease of keeping things clean, it's even more do-able, in my opinion. But you must decide what the risks are for yourself.

Also note: Those who are allergic to tea, or have histamine or yeast intolerances shouldn't drink kombucha.
Histamine or Yeast Intoleranc

What is in Kombucha?

Green or black tea and sugar, which are then fermented.

Most of the sugar in the drink is eaten by the wild yeast you'll capture during the kombucha-making process. The longer you ferment the drink, the less sweet it will be, the less sugar will be in your finished drink. Some sources say the average, no-flavors-added kombucha (fermented for 7 - 10 days) contains about 1 - 2 grams of sugar per 8 oz. glass.  (In comparison, the same amount of orange juice contains about 24 grams of sugar.)

Cane sugar is widely considered the best choice for kombucha. For one thing, it's been used for thousands of years. For another, it does a great job during fermenting. (And, unlike beet sugar, or granulated sugars that don't indicate what they are made from, it's non-GMO.) It's also possible to use molasses or pasteurized honey in place of granulated sugar. (However, it's vital not to use raw honey; it contains bacteria that may adversely affect the fermentation process.)

In addition, homemade kombucha contains a tiny amount of alcohol (between .5 and 3%). According to the Federal government, that means it's non-alcoholic. Nevertheless, if you are an alcoholic or are sensitive to alcohol, it makes sense to not drink kombucha.

If you want to minimize the alcohol content, omit the second fermentation, which is what also makes the drink fizzy. (Incidentally, store bought kombucha usually contains more alcohol than home made, because the drink continues to ferment in the bottle while it's waiting to be sold. To avoid this, most brands pasteurize the drink - which completely kills all the good, healthy stuff in kombucha. But even unpasteurized kombucha must contain less than 5% alcohol, or it can only be sold as an alcoholic beverage. Despite what Lindsay Lohan claimed, you'd have to drink a ton of the stuff to fail an alcohol test.)

Finally, finished kombucha contains caffeine - just as much as whatever tea you chose to use to make the drink already contains.

What Tools Will I Need to Make Kombucha?

You probably already have all the tools you'll need to make kombucha:

* A large, non-reactive pot
* A non-reactive stirring spoon
* Glass jars (I use two 1/2 gallon Ball jars)
* Cheesecloth and a rubber band or string (or a coffee filter and rubber band/string/canning jar screw band that fits your jars)
* And more glass jars/bottles for putting the finished drink in (I use bottles similar to these, because they are unlikely to burst during fermentation, but you can use canning jars or upcycled glass bottles or jars from store bought items)

It may also help to have a non-reactive funnel.

What Else Do I Need to Make Kombucha?
SCOBYs. (Courtesy Simon A. Eugster and Wikimedia)

You'll need:

* Black or green tea of your choice
* Granulated sugar

SCOBY is an acronym for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast." I know - sound yummy, doesn't it? But it's essential for making kombucha. If you've ever used raw apple cider vinegar, you'll notice it contains a strange looking "mother" in the bottle. A SCOBY is basically a "mother" - and is the result of wild yeast and fermentation. You can either purchase a SCOBY, get one from a friend who makes kombucha, or make your own - a process that requires some unpasteurized kombucha.

In addition, you may wish to infuse your kombucha to change the flavor. Most often, fruits are use to flavor kombucha. I like to use lemon, or a combo of lemon, blueberry, and strawberry.Some people prefer to add a little fruit juice to the drink.

NEXT WEEK: How to make a SCOBY for kombucha. 


May 4, 2015

How to Make Brownies Without a Box (Brownies From Scratch Recipe)

Growing up, I never had brownies from anything other than a boxed mix. And until a few days ago, I'd never made brownies from scratch. Yes, the boxed mixes are full of preservatives, GMO soy, and bad-for-you oils, but because brownies aren't something we eat often, they were low on my list of things to learn to cook from scratch. But when I did finally get around to them...oh my! They were the best brownies my family had ever tasted. And there's even better news: They are quick and easy to prepare! Never eat brownies from a box again, my friends.

How to Make Brownies Without a Box

1/2 cup butter
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate (I use dark chocolate, which is lightly sweetened)
2 eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon real vanilla
3/4 cup all purpose flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8 x 8 in. pan. (I use coconut oil; butter is a healthier choice, too.) Set aside.

2. Place a medium saucepan over low heat. Add the butter and chocolate. Melt, stirring now and then, until both the butter and chocolate are fully melted. Remove from the heat.


3. Add the eggs, sugar, and vanilla and stir until just combined. Stir in the flour until just combined.

4. Spread into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes. All to cool on a wire rack.

Variation: If desired, you may add 1/2 cup chopped nuts, while stirring in the flour.

Apr 20, 2015

The BEST Pizza Crust Recipe

Over the years, I've blogged about several different pizza crust recipes. I've also tried about a gazillion others...but I am finally certain I have the perfect pizza crust recipe. I've used it for several years, and my sister in law (who gave me the recipe*) has used it years beyond that. It's easy. It's no-fail. It rolls out well. It's healthier than a lot of pizza crust recipes. And it tastes good, too.

A lot of the other pizza crust recipes I've tried have either been a bit tough or too puffy, or they had quite a lot of olive oil in them. Olive oil is a healthy fat, but pizza, with all it's cheese, is already pretty fat-filled. Plus, good olive oil isn't cheap, so if I have to use a lot of it in a pizza crust, it makes homemade pizza not nearly as frugal as I'd like it to be.

I usually make this is my bread machine, but I've also included instructions for making it with a food processor or by hand.

The BEST Pizza Crust Ever Recipe

1 cup warm water (about 105 - 115 degrees F.)
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1. Measure out the water in a measuring cup, then add the yeast and sugar. Set aside until the mixture is foamy. (If it doesn't turn foamy, your yeast is bad.)

2. Pour the remaining ingredients into the bowl of your bread maker, then add the yeast mixture. Turn to the dough setting and let the dough mix and rise.

To make in a food processor, pour the flour, salt, and olive oil into the bowl. With the machine on low speed, pour the yeast liquid into the feed tube. Pulse until the dough forms into a ball. Process another 30 seconds, to knead the dough. Transfer to a large Ziplock bag; seal the top and let rise in a warm location for about 45 minutes. Or, transfer to a bowl covered with plastic wrap or a cotton cloth and let it let rise.

To make by hand, mix the ingredients in a large bowl, then knead until elastic. Cover and let rise in a warm location for 45 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Yes, I prefer to use a child-sized rolling pin. Don't laugh!
4. Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll into shape. Transfer to a pizza tray. (Follow the pizza tray manufacturer's instructions; my trays need a wee bit of oil rubbed on them before I place the dough on top. Others may need a sprinkling of cornmeal to prevent the crust from sticking to the tray.) Parbake (this just means you're pre-baking the crust) in the oven until the crust is golden, about 10 -15 minutes. Remove from the oven and put sauce and toppings on the pizza. Bake until cheese is melted, toppings are heated through, and crust is the desired level of doneness, about 5 - 15 minutes more.

To Freeze the Dough: You can also make up the dough, and as soon as it's been mixed and kneaded, transfer it to a freezer bag and place in the freezer. To use, remove the bag from the freezer and leave the dough inside the bag. Place on the counter in the morning. By evening, it's ready to roll into a crust. To read more about freezing pizza dough, click here.

Two of Our Favorite Toppings

Pepperoni Pizza:  Spoon pizza sauce, marinara sauce, or spaghetti sauce onto the parbaked crust. Don't over do it or the pizza will be very moist and messy to eat. Spread shredded Cheddar cheese over the sauce. Layer pepperoni on top. Bake.

Chicken Pizza: Spoon Ranch dressing (preferably homemade) over the parbaked crust. Sprinkle shredded cheese of your choice over the sauce. (I usually use Cheddar and/or Mozzarella.) Sprinkle chicken over this. (We love canned chicken on pizza, but you can also use leftover roast chicken.) Sprinkle chopped green onions, scapes, or chives over this. Bake.

* This recipe originally came from a Cuisinart food processor manual.

Mar 23, 2015

15 Bean Stew Recipe - With or Without the Crock Pot

15 Bean Soup is a classic that's inexpensive, filling, and tasty. But when you want to up your ante, 15 Bean Stew is what you really need to cook. It's so much more tasty!

This recipe is based on one I found over at 365 Days of Slow Cooking. My version has slightly different ingredients and I actually prefer to make it on the stove top. But you definitely can make it in a crock pot - and I've included instructions for doing so at the bottom of this post.

15 Bean Stew Recipe

1 (20 oz) package of 15 Bean Soup (you'll find it in the dried beans aisle)
2 tablespoons dried minced onion (or 1 onion, diced)
1 tablespoon dried garlic (or 3 garlic cloves, minced)
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 (6 oz.) can of tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
Juice from one lemon (or 2 - 3 tablespoons of bottled lemon juice; fresh tastes better!)
1 lb. sausage

1. The day before you want to serve the stew, open the package of beans and set aside the flavor packet for later. Pour the beans into a pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Allow to stand overnight.

2. The next morning, drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add 8 cups of fresh water, the onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and chili powder. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours, or until beans are tender.

3. Add the 15 Bean Soup seasoning packet*, tomato paste, tomatoes, and juice. Season with a little salt and pepper. Place over low heat.

4. In the meantime, cook up the sausage in a separate pan. I like to crumble it (like ground beef), but if you prefer to slice and brown it, that's fine, too. Once cooked through, strain off the fat and add the meat to the stew. Cover the stew pot and continue to cook on low.

5. Allow the pot to just barely simmer for about 2 hours. The longer it sits in the pot, the better it will taste. In fact, sometimes after barely simmering for a few hours, I put the whole pot in the refrigerator, reheat the following afternoon, and serve that night. This is when the flavor is at it's best!  

Crock Pot 15 Bean Stew Recipe

There are a couple of reasons I prefer to make this stew on the stove top. One is that this recipe overfills my crock pot, making some of the liquid sputter out while cooking. Those of you with larger crock pots won't have this difficulty. Also, this recipe takes quite a while to cook in a crock pot; for me, it's not practical, unless I soak the beans one night, cook the beans in the crock pot the next day, refrigerate them, then finish the stew in the crock pot the following day. Finally, I prefer to cook the sausage in a separate pan because this allows me to drain off the fat before adding the sausage to the stew.

1. The day before you want to serve the stew, open the package of beans and set aside the flavor packet for later use. Pour the beans into a pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Allow to stand overnight.

2. The next morning, drain the beans. Pour them into the crock pot and add 8 cups of fresh water. Add the onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, and chili powder. Cover. Cook on Low for 12 - 14 hours, or on High for 8 hours, or until beans are tender.

3. Add the 15 Bean Soup seasoning packet*, tomato paste, tomatoes, juice, sausage, and some salt and pepper. Cook on high for 30 - 60 minutes, or until the sausage is heated through.

* Yep, I know this seasoning mix has non-whole food ingredients. Anyone got a from-scratch equivalent?

Feb 25, 2015

Making Farmer's Cheese in a Crock Pot - a From Scratch Recipe

In 2013, I posted about how I was going to learn to make cheese. I bought a bunch of specialized
ingredients and a few tools, and attempted to make mozzarella - supposedly a good choice for beginning cheesemakers. Well, it was awful. Terribly grainy and rubbery. I figured it was probably the milk I chose to use (which I think was ultra-high temperature pasteurized, even though it wasn't labeled as such), and planned to make another attempt with a different brand of milk. It never happened.

But it's always been in the back of my mind that I need to give it another go...even though I thought that meant buying all new rennet and other specialized cheesemaking ingredients. Then I saw the March/April '15 issue of Backwoods Home magazine. In it, Leah Leach writes about making a type of cheese I'd never heard of before: Farmer's Cheese. The recipe was instantly appealing to me because it required only ordinary, everyday ingredients: milk, butter, and lemon juice.

Why Make Your Own Cheese?

It's fun, for one. And it's always satisfying to make something from scratch. But my main motivation is the high cost of cheese, and avoiding preservatives used in grocery store cheeses.

What Does Farmer's Cheese Taste Like?

I Googled this question before I attempted to make Farmer's Cheese. Most people seem to think it tastes something like cottage cheese or ricotta or a mixture of both. I think it's a bit more like mozzarella. When made with lemon juice, there is certainly a mild lemony flavor. (Fresh lemon juice has a milder flavor than bottled.)

 How to Use Farmer's Cheese
Farmer's Cheese on pizza.

* As a substitute for mozzarella cheese
* On pizza
* In casseroles or other dishes where you want a nicely melting cheese
* Crumbled over salads
* On crackers
* Added to omelets or scrambled eggs as they cook
* Added to mashed or baked potatoes
* In place of cream cheese in dishes like jalapeno poppers
* In macaroni and cheese (use along with other cheeses)
* Sliced (and perhaps pan fried) and put on toast or bread
* In this amazing-looking Farmer's Cheese Chocolate Cake (oh my!)

The Versatility of Farmer's Milk

There are a lot of variations that change the way this cheese comes out. (But don't worry! That doesn't mean this cheese is tough to make! It's SO easy, and once the milk is heated, takes just minutes to complete.)

Ingredients for Farmer's Cheese. (I prefer to use vinegar instead of lemons.)
Type of Milk

Nor surprisingly, the type of milk you use will change the flavor and texture of this cheese. Goat, sheep, or cow's milk are most commonly used for Farmer's Cheese, but assuming you don't have a source for farm fresh milk, it's fine to use ordinary, grocery store, pasteurized cow's milk. But you do not want ultra high temperature pasteurized (UHT) milk! This is milk that's pasteurized at a very high temperature, killing all the good stuff that helps you make cheese (or yogurt). Unfortunately, as I learned back when I tried to make mozzarella, not all UHT is marked as such. All shelf stable milk is UHT, and some refrigerated milk is, too. A hint that it's UHT? It has an expiration date that's considerably farther out than other brands, or it lasts an extra long time in your refrigerator.

Type of Acid

The Backwoods Home recipe calls for fresh lemons. You could also use bottled lemon juice. White vinegar is also a common choice. Some recipes call for part buttermilk (often leaving out the butter); others call for rennet. Each of these choices will affect the flavor of the cheese. (Personally, I lean toward simple, inexpensive ingredients that I can easily find locally. For me, that means lemons or white vinegar.)

Other Factors

How much whey (liquid) you squeeze from the cheese affects the texture of the cheese greatly. Squeeze every drop out, and you'll have a dry, crumbly cheese (but it will still taste good). Squeeze too little out, and your cheese will be very soft and spread-able (and still yummy). Most Farmer's Cheese is somewhere in between.

In addition, how long you leave the curds (bumpy parts) and whey on the stove before you drain the whey affects the cheese texture and flavor. Some people insist on leaving the curds and whey undisturbed for at least 20 minutes; others don't wait at all. Some recipes also call for heating the cheese extremely slowly over low heat; this is mostly about flavor.
Farmer's Cheese on a salad.

Finally, Farmer's Cheese is sometimes seasoned with herbs, citrus zest, or garlic. These can be stirred into the cheese before it's shaped into a loaf, or you can roll the loaf in them before chilling the cheese.

How to Make Farmer's Cheese

So knowing these things, I decided to try the Farmer's Cheese as exactly laid out in Backwoods Home. I used store bought, pasteurized whole milk, fresh lemons, and a minimum of seasonings. When I got to the stage where the curds and whey separate, I thought I'd failed. I couldn't really see that the milk had separated. I continued with the process of cheesemaking, however, and ended up with a tasty - though quite soft - cheese.

The next time, I took a slightly different route. I used white vinegar in place of the lemon juice, and remembering how well my crock pot made yogurt came out, decided to use the crock pot for heating the milk. Success! The curds and whey almost instantly separated, and I had yummy cheese - and more of it than when I used the Backwoods recipe. So, here's my method. (If you don't have a crock pot, that's fine. Just heat the milk in a heavy, stainless steel saucepan.)

1 quart (4 cups) whole milk
1/4 cup white vinegar (or 2 - 4 lemons, juiced; put the juice from 2 lemons into 1 bowl; put the remaining juice in another bowl)
1 tablespoon butter

Crock pot
Stainless steel spoon
Cheesecloth or flour sack dish cloth
Large bowl
Small bowls
Plastic wrap or air tight container

1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover and place over high heat. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. How long this takes depends upon your crock pot. Mine took about half an hour. (Incidentally, I didn't use a thermometer and that's fine for this type of cheese. Just keep checking the milk without lifting the lid of your crock pot. When it just barely begins to have bubbles, it's ready.)

2. Turn off the crock pot and remove the lid. Lift the crock out of the metal shell of the crock pot. Stir the milk.

3. Add about half the vinegar (or the lemon juice from two lemons - which you have in one bowl). Stir. If the curds (the white, lumpy parts that look like cottage cheese) and the whey (the liquid) don't separate, add the rest of the vinegar or lemon juice.

4. Line a colander with four layers of cheesecloth (unless you have the high quality stuff that's woven very tightly, in which case you can use two layers) or a flour sack dishcloth. Place the colander over a large bowl. Carefully pour the curds and whey into the lined colander. Take up the edges of the cloth, turning it into a sort of bag. Use a large spoon to press down on the cheesecloth bag, making the whey stream out and into the bowl beneath the colander. Be careful; the curds and whey are hot!
Taking up the edges of the cheesecloth.
5. When you're satisfied that most of the whey is separated from the curds, empty the curds into a small bowl. Add the butter, and, using the back of a spoon, press and mix the butter into the warm curds until the butter is melted and well blended. At first, the mixture will probably feel rubbery, but just keep mixing and soon the cheese will soften.

The whey is now strained from the curds.
6. Season with salt and pepper, then shape into a loaf. Cover with plastic wrap or place in an air tight container in the fridge.

The cheese will last at least one week - perhaps two. It is fine to double this recipe.

What to Do With The Whey

They whey from Farmer's Cheese is called "sour whey" or "acid whey" because you've added acid to it. Whey is packed with protein, vitamins C, B, E, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc, phosphorous, copper, selenium, and manganese.

Whatever you do, please don't dump it down the drain. Whey changes the acidity of water, which can be a huge issue for nature. Whey can also cause problems with septic and sewage disposal systems. Instead, do one of the following:

* Give it to your chickens or pigs (the traditional thing to do)
* Add it to soup
* Use it as a substitute for milk or water when baking (I hear it makes fluffier pancakes!)
* Use it to fertilize acid-loving plants, like tomatoes and blueberries (Use sparingly and don't place in the soil before seeds have sprouted or it may prevent germination)
* Add it to smoothies
* Use it in place of water to reconstitute fruit juices
* Use it, along with spices, as a meat marinade
* Add a few tablespoons to the water you soak beans in
* Use some in place of water when making stock
* Use it to make lemonade
* Use it for fermenting
* Freeze it for later use

Related Posts:

Failproof Yogurt in the Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)
The Easy Way to Make Butter
Butter in a Jar

This post was featured at the Homestead Blog Hop.

Feb 18, 2015

Cauliflower Chowder Recipe - low carb, gluten free

I'm always looking for ways to lower my higher glucose carb intake because, well - they make me fat. Plus, I feel better when I don't eat them. But balancing this need with the need to keep our food budget small and find food everyone in the family - including a picky, low weight kid - will eat, is tough. But with this cauliflower chowder recipe, I have the best of all worlds! It's very much like a potato chowder - only much lower in carbs. It's inexpensive to make. AND it's totally delish and everyone in the family loves to eat it!

Cauliflower Chowder Recipe

4 bacon slices, cooked and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/4 cup flour (any type, including gluten free varieties)
4 cups beef stock (I've also used ham stock)
1 cup milk
1 cauliflower head, roughly chopped
1 bay leaf

1. Place a large Dutch oven or stockpot over medium high heat. Add the butter and let it melt. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Saute, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender.

2. Add the cauliflower and bay leaf. Saute, stirring often, for about 4 minutes.

3. Add the flour, stirring until you cannot see it any more. A little at a time, stir in stock and milk. Stir constantly until thickened.
4. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cauliflower is fork tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If you feel the mixture is too thick, add a little milk. Stir in bacon and serve immediately.

Other good toppings for this chowder include grated cheddar cheese and chopped green onions.

Adapted from a recipe at The Miniature Moose.

Feb 11, 2015

Homemade Yogurt - in the Crock Pot (Slow Cooker)

"When the food was ready, Abraham took some yogurt and milk and the roasted meat, and he served it to the men. As they ate, Abraham waited on them in the shade of the trees." 

My 6 year old's review of the yogurt I made last weekend: "This is very super duper ultra 3,000 yumminess!" This means a lot because he's a huge store bought yogurt fan.

His delight in my homemade yogurt was especially satisfying because a few years ago, I tried to make yogurt and completely failed. But with the price of groceries going up, up, and up, and with my increasing desire to omit GMOs, preservatives, and other unnecessarily chemicals in our food, I recently decided it was time to give yogurt making another try. This time, I asked a friend who makes her own yogurt what her method was. Her advice was golden! (Thank you, Kim!)

Homemade yogurt is less expensive. One batch of homemade yogurt costs me $1.59. To buy the same amount of yogurt in the store is $5.12. This recipe also has NO food dye, no high fructose corn syrup, no hormones, no GMOs, and zero preservatives. In my experience, that's impossible to find at the supermarket. (Heck, some grocery store yogurt doesn't even have live active cultures - the stuff that makes yogurt so good for you!) Plus, I no longer have all those little plastic yogurt cups to throw away...and my homemade yogurt - well, it just tastes better.

As I considered trying to make yogurt again, I was also encouraged by the fact that people have been making the stuff for thousands of years - all the way back to Bible times. And I love the fact that Abraham may have served the Lord yogurt during the visit in which God promised Abraham a son. (I say "may" because not all translations use the word yogurt.) If people back then could make yogurt without thermometers and electricity, surely I can make it with modern conveniences! And you can, too.

As it turns out, I didn't use a thermometer this weekend (because we only have one and my hubby was using it for barbecuing) - and I also forgot about the yogurt and had to remove it from the oven for over an hour because I needed to bake something for dinner. No, I'm not suggesting you follow my example - but it's a good indication of how foolproof this method is.

A Note on Ingredients

For this recipe, you can use any type of cow's milk. (You could probably use goat's milk, too, but I've never tried it.) Whole milk will give you a thicker finished product, but if you use a reduced fat milk, you can thicken it by adding a little powdered milk, or - other yogurt-makers tell me - by draining off some of the liquid whey once the yogurt is finished. You will also find that the yogurt thickens once it's refrigerated. (By the way, commercially made yogurt is thickened with gelatin - which is made from animal bones, skin, and connective tissue - or pectin - which is made from apples or other fruits.)

Yes, you can use pasteurized milk. I don't recommend ultra pasteurized milk (UHT), simply because it's heated to a very high temperature (higher than regular pasteurization), which kills all the good stuff in the milk. Most organic milk falls into this category. But, if you must use UHT milk, you'll want to also use powdered milk, to make the yogurt thicker.

In order to get all the good bugs in your yogurt - bugs that make yogurt yogurt and also aid the human digestive system - you need to add active cultures. You can buy these in little packets, but it's easier and probably cheaper just to buy plain (no flavorings added), grocery store yogurt. Just be sure it has "live active cultures." Not all brands do!

The next time you use this recipe, you can substitute 1/2 cup of homemade yogurt for the store bought stuff. Over time, however, your homemade yogurt will begin loosing it's active cultures - so periodically, use store bought yogurt when you use this recipe.

How to Make Homemade Yogurt in a Crock Pot

You will need:

1/2 gallon (8 cups) of milk
1/2 cup of plain yogurt with active cultures
1/2 cup powdered milk (optional, but makes the yogurt thicker if using lower fat milk)

1. Pour the milk into the crock pot. Cover. Turn the crock pot onto high. Heat the milk until almost boiling, 180 degrees F. Most crock pots will take at least 2 hours to heat the milk this much, but the first time you try this, start checking after an hour. Remember that every time you lift the lid on the crock pot, you're releasing heat and it will take longer to heat the milk.

2. Turn the crock pot off and remove the lid. Allow the milk to cool to 115 degrees F. (or until you can stick your finger in the milk and comfortably leave it for 10 seconds. Don't rush; not letting the milk cool enough will kill the active cultures you need to make yogurt.) Stir the milk once in a while, using a zig-zag pattern.

3. Add the plain yogurt. If desired, add the powdered milk, too. Stir in, using a zig-zag pattern.

4. Put the lid back on the crock. Lift the crock out of the outer shell of the crock pot. Wrap the crock in an old bath towel and place it in the oven. (The oven should be cool; don't turn on any heat in the oven. The idea here is to keep the milk away from drafts and let it slowly cool off.) Let the crock sit like this for 8 - 12 hours.

5. The yogurt is finished! Stir it and store it in glass jars in the refrigerator. Makes a little over 2 quarts.

You may eat the yogurt plain, or you can:

* Add a little honey to sweeten it.
* Add some applesauce to it.
* Add a bit of jam or jelly to it, to make it fruity, like store bought yogurt.

My little boy loved this yogurt with a little homemade applesauce or homemade jam; it takes just a teaspoonful to sweeten an average serving.

Feb 2, 2015

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie

This past month, my family's been enjoying dandelion leaves in all manner of dishes, but one of our current favorites is in smoothies. If you've had a good, hard frost, or if the snow is melted and the dandelion leaves are coming up, you, too can enjoy this super food drink. (If you don't get hard frost or snow, all is not lost. You can blanch dandelions with a box, for example - something I explain in my book - which happens to be FREE today -  The Ultimate Dandelion Cookbook.)

As it turns out, common dandelion leaves from what most people consider a pesky garden weed, aren't native to North America. They were brought here by European immigrants who prized them as a food source. And no wonder! Dandelions are one of the best greens you can eat, beating out spinach in terms of protein, vitamins A, C, K, Omega 6, iron, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium. Yes, dandelion leaves are very, very good for you.

The trick is to catch them before they get bitter. To do that, you must pick the leaves before the plant begins blooming, and ideally after it's been quite cold. Even so, this smoothie recipe will cover up leaves that are slightly bitter. Oh, and if you wish, you can substitute other greens for the dandelion leaves; kale and spinach are especially yummy.

Dandelion Leaf Green Smoothie

To your blender (I use and love the Magic Bullet NutriBullet our Grammy gave us this Christmas):

1. Add about 1/2 cup (packed) of washed dandelion leaves. If you're unused to greens, you may wish to put in a bit less, or just not pack them down in the measuring cup.

2. Add 1 banana, broken into chunks. If you like icy smoothies, use a frozen banana.

3. Add about 3/4 cup of apple (or as much as you can add without going over the fill line). You can also use a ripe pear, instead, but we prefer the smoothie with apple.

4. Add enough liquid to almost come to the fill line. This is a very personal thing; add a lot if you like thinner smoothies, or add less if you like them thick. We like to use unsweetened almond or coconut milk, but you could use any type of milk - or even water (although I think this recipe tastes much better with milk).
5. If desired, you can sprinkle in some walnuts, but I don't always do this and it doesn't seem to affect the flavor of the smoothie.

6. Puree and drink drink away. Makes about 1 pint - enough for 2 people as a snack or supplement to a small meal, or enough for 1 person whose not eating anything else.


Jan 7, 2015

Mom's Super Easy, Flexible, and DELISH Banana Bread or Muffins

Growing up, this was the banana bread recipe my mom used:

Dontcha love the splattered and written-on paper? Sadly, the cookbook fell apart long ago, so I can't tell you where it originally came from.

But now that I'm the one doing the baking, I've found that even though we've tried many other banana bread or muffin recipes (including Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Muffins - which are very good, too), my mom's recipe is the one that's everyone's favorite. I've only made one major change, which is to not use unhealthy shortening - and I always feel free to play around with the recipe with added ingredients. Here's how I do it.

Mom's Super Easy, Flexible, and Delish Banana Bread or Muffins

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour (or use 1 cup all purpose flour and 3/4 cup whole wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup of butter (room temperature) or coconut oil
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
3 ripe bananas*

Optional ingredients:

chocolate chips
peanut butter chips
chopped walnuts

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. If making muffins: Put paper liners in a muffin tin, or lightly grease the tin with coconut oil; set aside. If making bread: Lightly grease a 9x5x3 in. loaf pan with coconut oil; set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the eggs and bananas. Once the butter or coconut oil is thoroughly mixed in, add the eggs and beat until just incorporated. Finally, fold in the bananas and any of the optional ingredients, if using. (You'll notice there are no measurements for these optional ingredients. I just toss in a handful, stir, then add more until I like what the batter looks like! Bear in mind that adding berries - especially frozen ones - will make the batter more moist and will increase the baking time.)

3. Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pan or muffin tin. If making muffins, fill each cup about 3/4 full. Bake in the preheated oven. If making bread: bake for about 70 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. If making muffins: Bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

* When making banana bread or muffins, the bananas should be well browned - even black. For me, this is no problem; when I buy bananas, one or two always seem to get overly brown before my family eats them. I pop these into a freezer bag and freeze them. Sometimes I take the time to peel them first, which means they can be popped into this recipe even while still frozen. Other times, I don't bother to peel them, so I defrost them for a bit on the counter, or microwave them for few seconds; you only need to defrost them enough that you can peel them,

If for some reason you don't have any ripe bananas in the freezer, you can instantly ripen them by putting them in your oven.

Nov 25, 2014

Last Minute Thanksgiving Recipe: Tender, Crowd-Pleasing Dinner Rolls!

Most Thanksgivings, my mom-in-law does most of the cooking, and I'm only responsible for one or two food items. This year is no exception. What am I bringing? The soft, delish dinner rolls I brought last year! This is a simple enough recipe, and the resulting rolls are tender and a real crowd pleaser. I've given instructions from easiest (partially made in a bread machine), to slightly more time consuming (partially made in a Kitchen Aid mixer, or made entirely by hand).

Crowd Pleasing Dinner Rolls Recipe

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 1/4 cups bread flour (yep, it has to be bread flour)
1 egg2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature + 2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt

Bread Machine Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. Place the flour, water, egg, sugar, room temperature (unmelted) butter, yeast, and salt into the pan of your bread machine. Make sure to put them in the order the manufacturer recommends. Close the lid and select the dough cycle. Press start.

3. When the cycle is finished, remove the dough from the pan and punch down. Divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

4. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

5. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.

Mixer Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In the bowl of a mixer with a dough hook, place the flour, sugar, egg, and butter. Mix until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl.

4. Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Put in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.

By Hand Method:

1. Grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

2. In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Set aside.

3. In a large mixing bowl stir together the flour, sugar, egg, and butter until just combined. The yeast mixture should now be foamy. Add it to the flour mixture and mix until well combined.

4. Lightly flour the countertop and knead the dough until elastic. Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm location and allow to rise for bout 30 minutes, or until doubled in size.

5. Punch down the dough and divide into 15 pieces of about equal size. Place in the prepared baking pan.

6. Brush the rolls with the melted butter. Cover pan with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm location until doubled (about half an hour). (If you prefer circular rolls, instead of squared ones, use two pans and set the rolls well apart from eachother.) In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

7. Bake rolls until golden, about 12 - 15 minutes.

Makes 15 rolls.

Oct 29, 2014

Stuffed Winter Squash Recipe

Winter squash is a wonderful thing. It's filling and packed with good nutrients; it's easy to grow; it's prolific; and it keeps for a long time without freezing, canning, or dehydrating (just keep it in a relatively cool location). But because I did not grow up eating any type of squash, I've been working on trying every variety I can find. (Hint: Try farm stands for better variety than grocery stores offer.) From there, I can determine which variety I want to grow in next year's garden.

There are lots of ways to eat winter squash, but it's pretty hard to beat eating it stuffed. And here's a simple, easy recipe that works with any type of winter squash. (I happened to use it with carnival squash, which has a very mild flavor.)

Stuffed Winter Squash Recipe

1 medium sized squash (like butternut, delicata, or carnival squash)
1-2 teaspoons butter, melted
Garlic powder
2 bacon strips
1/2 small onion, diced
1/2 lb. ground beef
4 oz. fresh baby spinach
1 garlic clove, minced

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

2. Cut the squash in half. Some winter squash, like butternut, are easy to cut open carefully with a sharp knife. Others, like the relentless tough-skinned hubbard are really, really difficult to cut open. (But the hard outer skin is part of what makes winter squash store so well.) For toughies, carefully use a hatchet or powered saw to cut the squash in half.

Removing the seeds and "slop."
3. Scoop out the stringy inner part of the squash, along with the seeds. (But be sure to save the seeds! They are highly nutritious and easy to roast for a yummy treat. Learn how to roast squash seeds here.) Place the squash, cut side up, on a rimmed baking tray.

4. Brush melted butter all over the "meat" of the squash. Season with a little garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about one hour. (Larger squash will take longer to bake; smaller will be ready in a shorter amount of time.) You'll know the squash is ready when it is fork tender.

Freshly roasted carnival squash.
5. In a skillet placed over medium heat, cook the bacon. Transfer to paper towels and set aside.

6. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings out of the skillet. Add the onion and saute until golden brown. Transfer the onion to a small bowl with a slotted spoon; set aside.

7. Add the ground beef to the skillet and cook until no longer pink. Return the onion to the pan. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper. Add the spinach. Cook, stirring often, until the spinach is wilted.

8. Spoon the beef stuffing into the cavities of the squash. Sprinkle crumbled bacon on top. Serve.