Friday, April 18, 2014

EASY Homemade Lacto-Fermented Carrots

For today's 'frugal friday' post I'd like to show you how I make lacto-fermented carrots. Why is this a 'frugal friday' topic? Glad you asked! Lacto-fermented vegetables can be purchased at the health food store and even in some regular grocery stores however you will pay a hefty price for them. For example, I've seen a quart of lacto-fermented sauerkraut going for over $5!! Some organic options are even WAY MORE than that!! The actual cost however is mere pennies in comparison and it does not take much time or effort to accomplish it on your own. Let me show you how ...



Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Savory Muffins (Gluten Free, Dairy Free) Freezer Meal

Tasty Tuesday!

I developed this recipe last week and it turned out GREAT! I made mine gluten free, however you can use whole wheat, kamut, unbleached, or any other combination of gluten-containing grains in place of the gluten-free flour mix. I use a whole grain gluten-free mix in place of the norm which is full of refined starches. I assume this is a healthier choice!

Dry Ingredients:
2c gluten free flour mix (I like Sun Flour Mills all purpose flour mix*)
1 1/2t xanthan gum (omit if you are using gluten-containing flour(s))
1T baking powder
1t salt
1/2t garlic powder (or 1 large clove with the wet ingredients)
1t dry basil
1t dry oregano

Wet ingredients:
2 eggs or equivalent egg substitute (I like Ener-G Egg Replacer*)
1T honey
1 1/2c pureed tomatoes (blend canned or fresh tomatoes till no longer chunky)
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1c small pieces of cooked meat (I used ground beef)
1 1/2c minced vegetables (I used a mixture of approx 1/4c onions, 1/4c black olives, 1/2c red bell peppers and 1/2c zucchini)

Optional: 1/2-1c shredded cheese substitute (I do not like substitutes and I cannot have the real deal, so I just leave this out. However please feel free to add it in if you prefer!)

Topping:
2T melted dairy free margarine or real butter (obviously if you want this to remain dairy-free you will have to use a dairy free margarine! I like Earth Balance*)
1/2t garlic granules 
1/2t salt

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. If not already done, cook the meat. Saute the vegetables (ok, some of them are technically fruits but we'll just call them vegetables!) until tender. Mix dry and wet ingredients separately and then combine along with the optional cheese. Grease or line your muffin cups and fill them 2/3 with the batter. Bake till golden brown and done, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from the muffin pan and cool on wire racks. Combine the topping ingredients and brush the tops of each muffin till the topping is all used up.

Cool completely and freeze for future easy meals or snacks (YAY!) or serve with dipping sauce. I like homemade pizza sauce for these, however you may use spaghetti or marinara sauce ... any tomato-based sauce would be yummy. These are great for on-the-go activities.

Enjoy!

*I purchase these products from Azure Standard, however that may not be an option in your area. Some may be found on Amazon.com, VitaCost.com or other such websites. You might even find them at your local stores, however the price will more than likely be higher.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: Healthy Rice Crispy Treats

A few weeks ago I was searching for a healthy alternative to the much loved 'rice krispy treat' to pack in lunches. After reading a few recipes I made my own ... and we all like it A LOT, so here it is.
Healthy Rice Crispy Treats
1/2c nut butter (I used almond)
1/2c honey
1t vanilla extract
1/2t salt
6c rice cereal (like Rice Krispies)
1/2c chips, dried fruit, nuts &/or seeds (I used unsweetened carob chips) 

Gently melt the nut butter and honey together in a large pan (large enough to be able to stir in the remaining ingredients comfortably). Remove from heat and add the vanilla and salt. Stir well. Gently fold in the rice cereal and chips/fruit/nuts. Spread into a greased 9x13 baking dish and allow to cool completely before cutting into your desired shape/size.

Our almond butter was very soft to begin with, so the rice crispy bars did not stay together as well as if it were marshmallows ... but we did not care one bit!! Also, the carob chips began to melt pretty much right away, however once again we did not care. The flavor was definitely there.

This is a keeper!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

How to flute a double-crust pie

A few months ago I experimented with the video camera on my phone. The video did not turn out the best, but it did well enough to get the point! Thankfully, the pies turned out GREAT. I took pictures too, so here is the whole process, from start to finish.

The filling
For a 9" pie you will need about 6 cups of thinly sliced green/tart apples (like Granny Smith). Sometimes I leave the peels on if I am in a hurry and no one in our house seems to care, however we do prefer them peeled if time allows. In a small saucepan gently melt 1/4-1/2c honey and stir in 3T flour, 1t cinnamon and 1t vanilla. Pour over the sliced apples and toss or gently stir to coat well.

The crust
pastry blender
Combine 2 1/4c flour (I like to use a mixture of whole meal and unbleached flours, however 100% unbleached flour will produce a lighter crust) and 1/2t salt. Cut in 2/3c shortening with a pastry blender or a fork till the mixture has pea-size chunks. Now it's time to add the water, and here is the crucial step! Be sure to use ICE COLD water - I just fill a cup with water and add several cubes of ice. You may simply dip the tablespoon into the cup of water, avoiding the ice. Add water, ONE tablespoon at a time, till the dough just begins to form a ball. Stir GENTLY after each water addition and be very careful not to overmix or add too much water. Depending on your flours, you should need at least 5T of water for this recipe however sometimes you could need more (I've used 8-9T before). You might be tempted to add a few tablespoons at a time to speed things up, but I'm here to tell you that haste makes waste.

When your dough has formed a ball (it is smooth, holds together and is not sticky) you should be able to see the fat 'marbleized' in the flour ... it will have swirls just like marble does. This is what makes a nice, flaky crust. If you do not see the swirls of fat, then you have probably over-mixed your dough. It will still work fine, it just will not have a light, flaky texture. Practice will help, so keep trying ... your family will not mind! It helps to allow the dough to rest and cool in the refrigerator for a half hour or so, however this is not necessary if time does not allow.

Now you are read to roll it out and put it in the pie pan. This is for two crusts, so divide your dough in half first! Here are photos for that process, however this is also what I showed on the video (after the photos, at the bottom of this post). Be sure to have flour on hand to dust the working surfaces!
1: Roll the dough evenly and big enough to fit the pan.

2: Dust with flour to prevent sticking and fold in half.

3: Dust and fold in half again.

4: Unfold the crust into the pie plan.

5: Scoop in filling. It will rise over the top but that's ok.

6: Get the top crust ready as before and unfold on to the pie.

Continue unfolding...

7: Now it's ready to seal, flute and vent - see the video!

8: Bake at 375 till done - the crust will be golden brown. ~50min or so.

You may brush the top with egg and sprinkle on sugar before baking, however this might cause the crust to brown quicker - if it seems your crust is browning too fast, simply cover loosely with foil.

For saving time, make more than one pie and freeze the excess while still raw. When needed, remove from the freezer with enough time to thaw on the counter before baking. I just take mine out in the morning and bake in the evening. On this particular day I made two pies, had one that day and one a few months later. The frozen pie was just as good as the other. I've heard you can bake it right from a frozen state, however I have not tried this yet. Obviously the cooking time will increase.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

How To Filter and Melt Beeswax

Through a lot of trial and error I think I have finally made a homemade deodorant recipe that actually works, however yesterday when I was doing a little research on filling deodorant containers I learned that some folks were putting a little beeswax into their recipes to keep the deodorant from melting in hotter temperatures. Genius. I wondered what our hot summers would do to my homemade concoction and assumed I'd have to keep my deodorant in the fridge.

I looked online for beeswax and then remembered that I actually had some of my own sitting in my pantry waiting to be cleaned up. This was what was left from last year's honey harvest. The only problem? I did not know HOW to do it ... but of course youtube did.

I watched 3 short videos (at the end of this post), all with different methods of filtering the wax. All of them seem very doable, however the slow-cooker method seemed the best option for my needs. I am glad I watched all videos though because each one had a little bit more information and all complimented each other.

Regardless of the method used, the left-over honey must first be rinsed off the wax. To do this, I put my whole blob of goo into a 5 gallon bucket to be sure I had PLENTY of room to swish it around. After much swishing and breaking up any chunks, I drained it into another 5 gallon bucket, catching the wax bits (and other stuff) into a fine, plastic mesh colander. The blob was no longer as gooey, however I gave it one more good swish and rinse in the bucket and strained it. The rinsing water went out on the lawn each time so as to prevent too much wax bits from going into my kitchen drain.

I then followed the instructions given on the video using the slow-cooker method; I'll post that video first. It worked beautifully and was very easy to do. The hardest part? Cleaning up. I decided the cost (a few dollars maybe?) of the net strainer I used in the slow cooker was well worth getting the 'free' wax ... so instead of spending my time and energy cleaning it off the next day I just threw it away. It took some effort to scrape the left-over bits off my crock-pot, so next time I was thinking of having a pot exclusively for wax melting. We'll see. All in all, this was a very easy project and took minimal effort. Just right for me.

And here's the fruit of my labour ... more than I expected for what little bit I started with (6 small frames with a plastic foundation):
~6oz of beeswax - it smells really yummy!
I really should have taken a 'before' photo ... it was so nasty looking!! Really dark brown and even almost black in places. I was pleased to see my wax turned out just as nice-looking as the wax in the videos. Now I'll have to see how it does in my homemade deodorant. I'll share that information some other time.

Oh yes, and as a final thought, I could melt this wax down and dip wicks in it for homemade beeswax candles ... but maybe some other time? Candles are not a big need for us right now, but it's nice to know I can make them if I want/need to!

Slow-Cooker Method

Stove-top Method (this one does not seem as practical as the other two, but it works!)

Solar Oven Method (if I had a solar oven or a smaller green house I would like to try this method as it looks the easiest. Maybe some day.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tasty Tuesday: altering a basic cake recipe

Last week I shared a little about the evolution of my cooking skills. My main partner throughout this evolution was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook (1989 edition). This is a very basic cookbook, filled with all sorts of nifty tips and helps. I learned a lot from it and still use it the most out of all my cookbooks. The recipes are basic and easy to alter, but there are some not-so-basic recipes as well, which have added a good variety to our cooking adventures.

Many of the recipes are now just used for ideas; today I am going to show you one example of how this works.

Here is a page from the 'cake' section of the book:


As you can see, it's well worn and loved! Dirty, stained (it should be near-white in color) and crispy from years of use. From this basic yellow cake recipe on the right I have made several other recipes to suit our tastes and needs. The basic recipe is:

3c flour
2c sugar
1T baking powder
1 1/2c milk
1/2c margarine or butter, softened
1 1/2t vanilla
2 eggs

Let's break it down ...

FLOUR
3c of flour is 3c of flour. I will sometimes use a mixture of flours, but it's always 3 cups. When using different flours in recipes other than all-purpose or whole wheat, you must keep in mind that different flours do different things. You can get away with substituting some of the flour with rice flour or oat flour for example, however if you use too much of the alternate flours your cake will be really heavy and will not rise properly. For this reason, I generally stay away from any flour that does not contain gluten, and if I use a lower gluten flour I will often times do half wheat, half lower gluten (like kamut, spelt, or rye). 100% kamut or spelt work just fine too, but the cake will be a bit dense. So ... if it's texture you are after, be careful not to over-do the alternative flours.

A final note on flours: if you do choose to use non-gluten flours, be sure to add xanthan gum, a binder and a thickener. 

SUGAR
No way am I going to use 2 cups of sugar in a cake!! That is way too much sugar!! Several years ago as an experiment I began cutting the sugar in every recipe I used in HALF and no one seemed to care. In fact, it seemed like the other flavors in the recipes came out stronger with less sugar. And then about 5 or 6 years ago I discovered stevia. In recent days I learned that there is some controversy around the safety of stevia use (apparently there is a concern that using stevia may cause miscarriages, among other issues). I'll leave the research up to you, however before I even learned of potentially harmful side effects of stevia use I had already drastically cut my stevia use down to probably a teaspoon or two a month for the whole family 'just in case' there is an issue. We really did not use much before, but what I started to do is use 1/4 the amount of sweetener called for in a recipe and add in 1/2-1t powdered stevia. Over the last year or so, I stopped using stevia in cake recipes; so for the recipe listed above I will use 1/2c honey.

You will have to experiment to see what works for you and your family. Keep using less and less, noting the changes each time, until you come to a point where you think "this is not enough" ... and then go one step higher. Keep in mind too that fruits (dried, pureed, whatever) can be sweeteners as well.

We use honey exclusively now. This is affordable for us because our sweets are quite low. I'll make one or two dessert type things a week - we have dessert with supper on friday night and also there is usually something to pack in the boys lunches.

LIQUID
This recipe calls for milk, however any other liquid is just fine. If you are making a chocolate cake, use coffee for the liquid. An apple cake, use apple juice. An orange or lemon cake, use orange juice or even lemonade if you want to. You can even just use water. It really does not matter and it all depends on your tastes and what kind of cake you are making. Usually I just use water since it's always on hand. Sometimes I'll use part water and part something else. Sometimes I'll use all coffee or all juice. It just depends on what I'm making and what I have on hand.

Sometimes I'll use a can of crushed pineapple or applesauce or home-canned apples - the additional liquid must then be adjusted accordingly. I guess or read my previous notes.

FAT
I prefer butter, coconut oil or olive oil for the fats. In a cake, it is just fine to substitute a liquid fat for a solid. The solid fats give a richer texture, but the liquids work well too. I usually cut the amount of fat called for in half. For this recipe, I use 1/4c instead of 1/2c. The type of fat depends on what kind of cake I am making. I prefer coconut oil (virgin ... has lots of flavor) for chocolate/carob cakes, carrot cake and spice cake. I use olive oil for the rest. We do not seem to notice the distinct flavor of olive oil in the cake, so no one cares. As much as I love coconut oil though, I am trying not to use it because of its high saturated fat content. Studies show a very low saturated fat diet is best for those with MS.

EGGS
Believe it or not, eggs can be left out of cakes altogether with no substitutions. Yes, there will be a difference in the texture, however it works just fine without them. But, we use the amount of eggs called for because we have egg producing machines in our backyard. :~)

If you would like, an egg substitute can also be used ... but once again, it works without it too. 

OTHER STUFF
Leave the leavening the same. The extracts will depend on what you are making. Vanilla is always a good option, however maple tastes really nice in carrot cake, lemon in blueberry cake, orange in cranberry cake, and so on.
For some reason this recipe does not include salt. I always add 1/2 to 1t of salt; it really helps to bring out the flavors.
Other spices and seasonings can be used as well - like cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg and so on.

Now for some examples!

Apple Cake
I made home-canned apple slices last fall. Turns out it works perfectly to eliminate the liquid and just put in a whole quart of sliced apples, liquid included. This makes a wonderfully moist cake! I also add 2t-1T cinnamon to the dry ingredients. The rest of the recipe is the same: 3c flour, 1T baking powder, 1/2t salt, 1/2c honey, 1/4c olive oil, 2 eggs, 1 1/2t vanilla.

Chocolate/Carob Cake
To the basic recipe listed in the apple cake above, add 1/2c carob powder. Substitute coconut oil instead of olive oil. Use brewed coffee for the liquid.  If someone does not like coffee, they will probably never know there is coffee in this cake ... the coffee flavor really makes the cocoa or carob stand out. Be careful however for those who are sensitive to caffeine.

Pineapple Coconut Cake
Add one 20oz can of crushed pineapple (do not drain), 1/2c coconut flakes, omit the liquid. You might need to add 1/2c of water or pineapple juice too. Coconut oil instead of olive oil.

Carrot Cake
Use the same recipe as the pineapple cake above except add 1c of packed shredded carrots, an additional egg and 2t cinnamon. Raisins and/or nuts may also be added. If the raisins are hard, it's good to soak them in some water for a few hours before using. The soaking liquid can then be used in the cake or in something else. This cake is best with an additional half cup of oil - so 1/2c coconut oil total.

Squash Cake
Add 2c of runny pureed squash. If it's thick, then only use 1c and add some water. I know on my photo I have a note with a few instructions for squash cake, however I no longer follow them. This is good with a combination of spices like 1 1/2t cinnamon, 1/2t each of ginger and nutmeg and a 1/4t of cloves. Coconut oil is good with this as well. The rest is the same (unless you would like to also add 1t of maple flavor).

There you have it! I do not frost my cakes, so I will not be including any frosting recipes here. Sometimes I will mix up a little cinnamon and sugar to sprinkle over the top before baking. This is a nice substitute for frosting and it uses hardly any sugar.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Frugal Friday: Free Living History Shows

Some time last year I discovered a neat series by the BBC ... basically a small group of people go 'back in time' and live just as people did 'back then'. There are several different shows with an overlapping cast of experts in various fields; we have learned A LOT by watching these videos! I have not seen all of them but will put what I have found here for you all to watch (6 in all, each with more than one episode; I have only watched two all the way through to the end - Victorian Farm and Tales From Green Valley). A word of caution though, in one of the series the woman takes a bath. I get so frustrated with stuff like that!! Why do they have to show so much? It was not bad enough that I felt the need to censor it from my children, but then my children are all pretty much adults and have seen far worse. Even still, it just bugs me that they have to go showing so much skin.

Of course there are other things too like mild language and joking/humor that I do not agree with ... but once again, I've been much worse myself and my children have been around so much worse than that, so I am not willing to throw out the whole thing because of it. Some however might disagree with me. That's ok. You must use your own discernment. If this is something you would like to show your children, it's easy enough to watch the show yourself first and decide which episodes are appropriate for your situation.

One particular episode still sticks with me - when an expert basket maker (using the old methods of course) came and made a basket from start to finish. WOW! Very fascinating indeed. I had no idea so much went in to one basket. And their use of the hazel branches to make fences ... makes me wonder if we can grow hazel here? Those fences look very sturdy. I guess the dry stone wall was really neat too ... and thatching a roof ... and raising sheep ... and ....

Anyway, here they are. Enjoy ... or not ... it's up to you. Once again, I have NOT seen all of these ... some might be terrible, I don't know. Based on what I already saw, I cannot see it being too terrible????? But let me know if you see something I missed or something in one I have not seen yet that you think I would not appreciate. Also, if you think there are historical errors, please share!

Tudor Monastery Farm


Victorian Farm


Tales From Green Valley


Edwardian Farm


Wartime Farm


Victorian Pharmacy