Kombucha Challenge

If you’ve checked out my Kombucha page, you know that it’s something I love to experiment with. While I already drink some every day, I think this challenge is great for those who don’t yet. You can brew your own or buy the bottles from the store, trying the different brands & flavors. 30 day challenges are great because they have an end date that you can see isn’t that far away. Really, you can do anything for 30 days. Try this one & see what effect it has on your health!


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Free Book: Learn to Make Cultured Foods at Home

Cultured Food Life Giveaway: Learn to Make Cultured Foods at Home (for FREE)

I haven’t managed to write any new posts in a while because so much has been going on in our busy lives, but I saw this on another site and just had to share.

I love the idea of cultured food.  Probiotics are a wonderful way to stay healthy and that’s just so much better than having to cure something once it’s taken hold.

I make kombucha on a regular basis (nearly daily!).  Some years back I enjoyed making kefir (which has to be done daily!) and think it’s a great way to make milk into something healthier.

I have tried my hand a few times at making raw milk yogurt with varying results, and fermenting my own soda, which was wonderful – if also potentially very messy!

I tried whey-fermented sauerkraut once, but really didn’t have the right equipment and was unsure of how the finished product was supposed to taste, so I’m not actually sure if that was a success or not!  🙂  I heard that there are good crocks at Ace Hardware for $20, and keep thinking about buying one, but of course, my environmentalist (and cheapskate) side would much rather find an old one to put back into service.

Of course, I made my own sourdough starter, which is what I used for recipes like Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread, but that’s another thing which has fallen by the wayside lately.  😦

Hopefully at some point, I’ll have time to blog about all of these things and more, but I just wanted to let you all know about this giveaway – found here at Eat Nourishing.  I’d really love to win it myself and find some more ways to increase the healthy probiotics in our family’s diet!

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Keeping Kids Healthy & Happy: Smoothie Surprise

My kids love smoothies, and I love my stick blender for making them.  I remember reading a recipe at one point that used one cup of yogurt with some amount of fruit & ice….  But of course, I’m a throw it in the blender kind of gal – usually some sort of frozen fruit, yogurt, maybe honey, maybe juice or milk, who knows.  Occasionally I try to sneak something healthier in there as well.  A couple of weeks ago, a Blendtec demonstrator at Sam’s (man, I wanted that blender!) made a smoothie & threw some spinach in, and it must have gotten my gears turning.

A couple of days ago, I impressed myself with what I got away with sneaking in there.  I had some frozen strawberries we had picked at a farm in April, some yogurt & pineapple juice, a couple of bananas & then I snuck in milled flaxseed, spinach, and almond butter – talk about a meal in a glass!  I did use ice to thin it a bit, which I don’t normally do when I’m starting with frozen fruit, but it seemed necessary this time.  Of course the amazing thing was that all the kids loved it – not even one, “What’s in this?”  My kid who hates strawberries loved it, and the ones who hate spinach & nuts….  Well, it certainly made MY day!  We’ll just see what devious tricks I come up with next time, bwahahahaha!

How about you  – any favorite smoothie recipes?

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Barbeque Sauce Your Way

OK, by now you may have worked out that recipes aren’t my strong point.  I’m not really one to stand in the kitchen repeatedly making a recipe with slight variations until I find the perfect proportions.  To all those who do – I salute you.  It’s admirable, and I’m certainly happy to make use of your hard work at times, but for me – well, my life is just too crazy for that.  So my usual technique involves a mix of looking up recipes online, thinking about what sounds good & what seems crazy, smelling different spices to see if they smell like they belong in whatever I’m making, and just making it up as I go along.  Of course, this gets me in trouble when someone asks for my recipe because they really liked something, but it does make for somewhat more variety (or spice) in our lives.

So tonight I decided I needed barbeque sauce.  This is something that is very individual to start off with.  Some people prefer more it vinegary, some more sweet, some spicier, smokier,  etc. – I mean, we have a restaurant in town that has 5 different sauces on the table!  So really, the idea of a “recipe” that would make everyone happy seems ridiculous to start with – doesn’t it?  😉

This time I got a small bowl, started with some brown sugar & some salt, added some tomato puree (Pomi Strained tomatoes), Chipotle Tabasco (it’s smoked), Worchestershire sauce, powdered garlic, and some kombucha vinegar.  That didn’t quite make it, so I added some apple cider vinegar, and more hot sauce & Worchestershire.  Then I heated it for a minute just to make sure everything was melted together.  Parents & kids enjoyed it, and what’s leftover went in the fridge, where I’m sure the flavors will marry some more with time.

In typical fashion, I looked online for recipes after I made mine.  I found one with fresh onions & garlic – sounds good, but needs to be cooked – another with basil and mustard powder, and one that mentioned bourbon (mmmm).  There was lemon juice, chili powder, and butter (this would effect storage time, I’d assume).  I was thinking that some clove or allspice like you would use in home made ketchup would have been good too.  Maybe next time.  Also cumin or paprika could lend their smoky nuances.  This would be a good place to sneak in some healthy spices, like cinnamon or tumeric too.  Varying your sweetener – using honey (but don’t cook it, it will get bitter) or molasses would be good (definitely healthier).

Many of the recipes I saw involved cooking – some for hours.  I’m sure that does alot to blend the flavors and thicken the sauce, and it reminds me of when I was a kid & we used to cook spaghetti sauce for hours.  I don’t do that anymore.  Just don’t think the payoff is worth the effort.  I enjoy 10 minute marinara just as much – probably more since I don’t have to slave over the stove for hours!  The same is true for barbeque sauce.  I’m sure more effort might have improved it somewhat, but what I achieved in 5 minutes was perfectly lovely – and SO much healthier than anything you’d buy in a jar with a list of ingredients as long as your arm – not to mention cheaper than anything you’d buy in the health food store.  Quick, cheap & yummy – right up my alley.

What about you – any tips, tricks, or favorite spices for barbeque sauce?


This post is part of Monday Mania at The Healthy Home Economist

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Ginger – Tuesday’s Tips

I’ve heard lots of different ways to peel fresh ginger, from sharp knives to veggie peelers to spoons.  The latter are my favorite – especially when cooking with kids (which happens a LOT around here!) Spoons scrape the skin off easily enough & leave most of the ginger behind (although I have to admit to being lazy enough to just grate it with the skin on from time to time – particularly when making soda culture for home made fermented berry soda like this delicious one).

When you get your fresh Ginger home from the store or market, go ahead & peel it.  Use what you need immediately, and then freeze the rest.  It’ll actually be easier to grate once it’s frozen & it won’t shrivel up into oblivion like it does in the fridge!

Some health benefits of ginger – there are many!

Any tips you’d like to share?

This post is part of Kitchen Tips Tuesday, hosted by Katie at Kitchen Stewardship.

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Green Pasta Sauce

Looking for a rich & creamy pasta sauce, but don’t want all the dairy, wheat, or work?  Like to get your greens in different ways?  Well, this should be one for you!

I’ve been buying asparagus from Sam’s lately as it’s just been so nice & healthy looking (and I’d never find it at a farmer’s market around here).  I like it so much, I buy two big bundles, thinking I’m going to try that new roasting recipe, or something, and then I forget & just steam it all at once.  Suddenly I’ve come up with a way to deal with some of the leftovers.

First, make a basic pesto.  Traditionally, that’s olive oil, basil, pine nuts, garlic, & grated parmesan, but of course, you can add or leave out whatever you like.  Honestly, I had made one without enough basil.  I had wanted to add some dandelion, like in this recipe, but I couldn’t find any in my yard 😦  so I came up with this idea instead.  In your small blender (I used the chopper attachment to my stick blender), add a handful of asparagus spears to some pesto & blitz until smooth.

Mine's a little chunky because I put slices of parmesan in there instead of grated.

That’s it.  Just add it to whatever pasta you’ve got on hand.  Since my asparagus was cold, I heated the sauce before I added some tortellini, and yum!  Smooth, rich, & creamy – and healthy too!  This could be dairy-free if you leave out the parmesan, and of course it’s gluten free.  If you steam fresh asparagus, you’ve got a 10 minute time commitment, but really, if you just want to open a can, I won’t tell (just don’t do it a lot if you’re trying to avoid BPA) and the whole sauce should come together in about a minute.

Hooray for a new way to sneak green veggies in on the kids!

Or you could always use it as a topper for your homemade No Knead Sourdough Rye Bread:  

Enjoy!  And please share any improvements you come up with!

This post is part of the Hidden Veggies Linky Party at Cooking Traditional Foods.

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Faux Pho

Someone told me last week that the cheapest place to buy rice flour (for my gluten-free son) was the Asian market.  Since I happened to drive by there on Saturday (picking my daughter up from a sleepover), I went in to see what they had.  I was amazed at how much of what they had was full of chemical additives, but still, I suppose I was inspired.

So last night, at “what’s for dinner” time, I came up with this:

Faux Pho

  • Stock of some sort (mine was lamb this time – from some bones I had boiled – oh, and asparagus – I had boiled the cut off ends of my spears, too)
  • ground meat (I used turkey)
  • noodles (I used rice noodles – kids love ’em, but I think they prefer bean noodles.  Those had disappeared from the supermarket, but I did get some from the Asian store & will use them next time)
  • sliced onions
  • veggies (I actually left the asparagus ends in, and sliced some mushrooms in there too)
  • crunchy veggie for topping (I used thinly sliced cabbage my mung beans haven’t sprouted yet)
  • Spices (I used ground garlic, coriander, and ginger)
  • Salt & Pepper

While the stock was heating, I stirred the spices & seasonings into the meat.  Then I used my baby scoop to make meatballs.  I looked around for an egg to help hold it together, but we were out, so I threw in a little of that boxed baby rice to make it a little stiffer.  Neither are crucial, but either could be an option.  I put the sliced onions and then the meatballs in the stock (which already had the asparagus, some of which wound up being edible, some not so much).  I added the dry noodles & pushed them down into the liquid.  They said to soak for 10 minutes, so I sliced some brown mushrooms and tossed them in near the end of that time.  I had picked up some enoki mushrooms at the Asian store, but they looked too delicate to toss into soup, so I threw them on top to let them warm up, but not disintegrate.  A couple of minutes later, I served it with some sort-of julienned cabbage on top.  Left crunchy, it provided a nice contrast to the rest of the soup, but pushed down into the broth, it could be softened as well.

Not fancy, not full of the 50 scary ingredients that I usually see in oriental recipes (I have always wanted to make Hot & Sour soup – until I looked at the recipe – ugh!), and probably no where near what a real Vietnamese Pho contains.  But it managed to give the “feel” of a Pho, wasn’t too intimidating for the kids, and –  importantly – was cheap, quick, and easy.

What do you think?  Have you done anything similar?

And yes, in case you were wondering…the rice flour was cheap.  I bought one pound bag for $0.99 and another for $1.39 just to compare.  Makes Bob’s Red Mill seem like gold.

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Cinnamon Raisin Sourdough Bread

A friend of mine started a sourdough starter recently, which inspired me to do the same. Then she gave me some of hers, and I kept the two going separately for awhile.  Since I refuse to throw something good away (like some starter recipes suggest), I was making lots of bread for awhile!  Mainly I was experimenting with varieties of sourdough no-knead bread.  Whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel – some in the bread machine some in my cast iron dutch oven, some on my pizza stone.  I still had extra starter, so I made pancakes with some too.

I had decided I was going to try some cinnamon raisin sourdough, and I had probably found a recipe for it, but two things delayed the experiment.  First, I went to feed my friend’s starter one day, and it had a nice fluffy blackish-grey mold on top.  I don’t know if this was because I had used whole wheat & other “good” flours in this one, as compared to the el-cheapo white bread flour I use in mine, or if it was something else.  Nothing bad ever happened to the ones she has at home, so go know.  Secondly, Passover  arrived.  Not being observant enough to clear every grain of chametz out of my house (I can’t even get all the shoes out of the hall at one time in this place!), I put a tight lid on my jar (usually kept on the fridge covered with muslin & a rubber band), and hid it waaaay back in the back of my fridge.  Well, I tell you, I was amazed at how much I forgot already in a week!

So after my 1st fiasco, I googled sourdough cinnamon raisin bread and picked the 1st recipe I found that didn’t also have yeast in it.  Nicole said she had come up with this recipe by blending and altering two others she had found, so I felt that she was giving me license to do the same with hers.  Here’s her recipe:

Sourdough Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

– 1 cup active sourdough starter
– 1/2 cup raisins
– 3/4 cup lukewarm/cool water
– 2 cups bread flour
– 1 cup whole wheat flour
– 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
– 1 tablespoons melted Earth Balance (or other butter-like substance)
– 1 tablespoon cinnamon
– 2 tablespoons brown sugar
– 2 tablespoons cane sugar
– ½ teaspoon nutmeg
– ¼ teaspoon cardamon (optional)
– fine-ground cornmeal for anti-stick purposes

Take your cup of active sourdough starter (once it’s all bubbly) and mix it with the raisins. Let sit for about 20 minutes. Add in the water and bread flour, kneading the flour in a bit at a time until just combined. Lightly oil a bowl and let dough rise in there for about 4 hours covered with a damp washcloth. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead in the baking soda and earth Balance. Add up to 1/2 cup more bread flour if needed. Roll out into a rectangular shape about 14-16 inches long by 8 inches wide. Combine the cinnamon through cardamon in a small bowl and sprinkle all over the rolled out dough leaving about 1/2 inch around the edges. You can look at the pictures here. Roll up the dough long ways (the way that would allow you to roll the most) to get the spiral effect in the picture. Once neatly rolled, pinch together the ends and seal it off so it’s like a nice little package. You can wet the edges if that helps.

Line a mixing bowl with parchment paper, squish the dough more into a ball shape and plop it in the lined bowl to rise overnight. Like before, cover with a damp wash towel and let rise for at least 8 hours. It should increase in size by at least 1/3rd.

Preheat your oven (and baking stone if you have one) to 450F. Once pre-heated, take your stone out of the oven and sprinkle it (or your metal making tray) generously with fine-grouned cornmeal to keep the bread from sticking. Uncover the risen bread, lift it out with the parchment paper and then plop upside-down onto the tray/stone. Peel away the parchment paper. With a sharp knife, cut 1 large or 3 smaller slits in the dough about 1/2 inch deep. Put the bread in the oven. Fill a small metal baking tray halfway with water and put this in the rack below the bread to provide steam. Immediately turn the oven down to 400F. Let bake for 35 minutes and then carefully remove the bread. Let cool for 10 minutes before eating. Yum!

So, 1st of all, I doubled the recipe – 1) large household, 2) trying to save myself some work – thought maybe I could freeze the second loaf for another day (HA!)

But…I didn’t have 2 cups of starter (I’m still adjusting to not having two), so I just used one.  I had read here that you can get more of a sourdough flavor by using less starter but letting it rise for longer, so I thought it would might work to my advantage.  I’m not sure it did because I don’t know that I’d call mine “light & fluffy” like Nicole called hers.

Then I cheated & didn’t soak the raisins for that long (it was late – I really wanted to go to bed!).

Next, well…Bobby Flay had just been on TV doing one of those “throwdowns” with a cupcake baker.  She said she used oil instead of butter because butter makes the cakes dry. Bobby used butter – then complained that his were dry.  I had never heard this before – always thought of butter as a moistener, but that sounded like some pretty decent evidence, so I started cruising my kitchen for the appropriate oil & settled on coconut oil.  I used that instead of her Earth Balance.

Remember I mentioned it was late?  Yeah, well, that 4 hour rise thing wasn’t going to cut it.  That sounded like a plan for someone starting this in the morning, not at midnight, which tends to be my M.O.  So, I decided to reverse the proofs.  I mixed the dough (OK, I was struggling to mix the double batch, and someone seems to have lost the paddle to my bread machine (aargh!) so I threw it in the food processor with the dough blade.  I wasn’t happy with what that did to the raisins, so I don’t plan to do that again), put in a plastic covered bowl in my oven & went to bed (hooray!)  Then after more than 12 hours, I added the coconut oil & baking soda and rolled 1/2 of the dough out on parchment paper.  I made the topping (which took way longer than expected, since I had to pop the cardamom seeds out of their pods & grind them in my coffee grinder), spread it & rolled.  The first loaf I made a tube, tucked the ends under & placed in a glass loaf pan for the 2nd rise.  For the 2nd loaf, I followed Nicole’s instructions & let it rise in a plastic bag.  I left them for about 2 1/2 hours & decided that was long enough.  I cooked both next to each other on my pizza stone, but my pan of water was dry when I took them out and my loaves were darker than I might have wished, but well, let’s just say that there’s about 1/2 a loaf left!  I think I might use the rest for French Toast for breakfast.

So, what have I learned?

  1. I think next time I’ll use more cinnamon.  It is an extremely healthy food/medicine (great for blood sugar & heart health), and even though I used the pungent Vietnamese kind, it still wasn’t that obvious in the final product.
  2. I noticed that there was no salt in here and I felt like it was lacking, so I think I’ll add a teaspoon or two next time (one of the original recipes called for 1/2 tsp).
  3. I’ll use a deeper baking pan with more water underneath.
  4. I was worried that the loaf shape would be too dense, but I actually think the boule was moreso.  The loaf sliced better, had a softer crust, and of course fit in the toaster better!

Other thoughts are that mine might have been less fluffy because it was wetter, so I might use more flour next time, and I will try with the suggested amount of starter to see if it makes a difference.  Probably soon, as my husband came in with a piece in his hand asking, “When are you going to make more of this?”  Oh yeah, and no one even noticed the whole wheat in there – I love being sneaky!

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Spanikopita Soup

I love Greek food, I really do.  And it’s rarely anything I make at home because most of it is so labor intensive – involving lots of layers of things.  But this soup is so NOT.

I got the idea from a friend, and came up with another of my non-recipe recipes.  Basically, I chop or smash some garlic and maybe chop some onion (I admit, I frequently use dried onion flakes – they just don’t spoil as quickly as the fresh ones), heat it through in a little olive oil, throw a bunch of fresh spinach and some oregano (fresh or dried – your choice), then pour chicken stock over the top.  Of course, season with salt & pepper of some variety.   Once it’s cooked (what, like 2 minutes, maybe?), I’ll throw in some feta cheese, and possibly cream or milk.

Then I get my handy – dandy stick blender & whizz it all into a smooth puree.  Mmmmm…delicious.  Actually tastes very much like Spanikopita – Greek spinach stuffed pastries – but without the filo dough.  So it has the advantage of being gluten free.  You could of course leave out the dairy too, but then I think I’d call it Spinach Soup.  The cheese gives it a certain tang and smoothness.

So have fun with this.  Sorry there are no exact measurements, but of course everyone has different degrees of tolerance for garlic, salt, etc. – so this way you can design it for your own family’s taste!  🙂

This post is part of Pennywise Platter Thursday at the Nourishing Gourmet http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/2011/05/pennywise-platter-thursday-519.html

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Cuisinart Immersion Blender Giveaway!

I love my stick blender.  Well, OK, I’ve loved it to death.  I use it to whizz up soups in the pot – like Spanikopita Soup, or Vicysoisse, or the occasional pumpkin soup.  Even more frequently, we make smoothies.  We make smoothies out of yogurt, honey, & every kind of fruit imaginable.   Then, the blender I currently own has an attachment to convert it to a mini-food processor.  I’ve chopped herbs in there.  I’ve bought bulk garlic cloves, blitzed them with some olive oil & frozen it for future use, chopped onion….  Really, this thing has done it all!

So now I need a new one.  The silicone seal has come off, the large blender cup has been stepped on & broken (have I mentioned I have a houseful of kids?)…really, it’s seen better days.  Which is why I’m so excited to announce that Real Food Forager is having this great giveaway this month:

The lucky winner this month will receive a Cuisinart Immersion Blender! I love this tool. I use it for making mayonnaisecoconut milk, pureeing soups, etc. You will find it very useful. It comes with the deep cup that is so convenient. At the end of the month I will submit all the comments (which are numbered) to Random.org and they will pick the winner. Watch out for the announcement (May 31 at 11:59 PM EST). I will ask the winner to email me their address within 48 hours in order to send the prize. It may be you!

So if you’ve never tried one — or if you’re like me and really, really need a new one — this is the time to enter her contest to see if you can be the lucky winner!

I really want it myself (in case you couldn’t tell), but good luck to each of you too!

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