Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Weekly Challenge - It's a New Year!

Start Over!

 
Time for the weekly challenges to begin again tomorrow morning (or today for you if you are jumping in mid-year)!  So get ready, get set, and beginning on your journey:  "The purpose of the challenges is to gently guide you away from the typical American diet, and into a plan of eating foods created by God.  I hope these challenges (yes, some may be difficult) will reawaken your taste buds and help you make permanent, life-long changes to your diet.  I know you will reap the benefits, physically feeling better, mentally being more alert, and emotionally being less tossed about by the trials of life."
 
I hope you are filled with excitement and encouragement, even if you started last year and did not get as far as you would like.  As a new year or the start of your journey begins, don't dwell on where you have been, but focus on where you want to go.  I congratulate you on any progress you made last year, even if you just started to be aware and started thinking about what you are eating.  Taking baby steps is the key to success - the weekly challenges will help you take baby steps in changing your diet.
 
I love New Year's Day, looking back to all that has happened over the past year and looking forward to what is ahead.  It is a great time to review and renew convictions and goals.  Today might be a good day to read or review the 'In Advance' posts.  Don't forget the importance of finding a buddy to do these challenges with - for accountability and support and the fun of sharing a challenge together! 

"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

Monday, December 30, 2013

Homemade Pumpkin Puree


Easy to do, inexpensive, and you can taste the difference.  Pie pumpkins grow great in Texas, but you need an area about 10' x 10' or larger to grow them.  The year before my pumpkins grew up the fencing around my compost bin.  I always keep my compost bins in my garden, and then move them from spot to spot each year to help improve the garden soil naturally. 
 
 

Instructions:

1.  Cut the pumpkin in half, and pull out seeds and most of the 'strings'.  I have found what works best for me is to pull out the pumpkin seeds with my fingers, and then scrape out the strings with a metal spoon that has a sharp edge.  This is the most difficult part of making pumpkin puree, so don't get frustrated and stop at this point!  The seeds can be saved, soaked in sea salt water, and dehydrated to make edible pumpkin seeds.



2.  Next place the pumpkin halves face down in a glass baking dish (or on a cookie sheet) and bake in preheated oven at 375 °F for about 1 1/2 hours or until very soft.





3.  Remove from oven and allow to cool so you can handle them.  Then turn over and scoop out the flesh with a fork or a spoon.  It separates nicely from the outer skin and is very easy to remove.  Place in a large glass bowl.



4.  Sometimes there is a darkened ring around the edge of the pumpkin that was touching the glass pan.  Using a knife, carefully cut off this darkened edge before scooping out pulp. (This is what the above half looked like prior to cutting off the darkened edge.)



5.  Be sure to cool the pumpkin pulp in the refrigerator for several hours before freezing, if you will be freezing it in plastic.  Remember to never place hot or even lukewarm food into a plastic dish or bag or you will leech plasticizers into your food.


 
6.  Once the pulp is chilled, I measure out 1 1/2 cup increments (you can package up any amount that works best for you), and place it on a piece of saran wrap.  I then gently fold the saran wrap around it and place the package into a Ziploc bag.  Four packages fit into a gallon size Ziploc.  Mark the Ziploc so you know what you have in your freezer (I wrote the date, pumpkin puree and 1 1/2 cups on mine), and then place Ziploc bag in the freezer.  It can be kept for 6 months to over a year, depending upon your freezer.


 
 
7.  Don't puree the pulp until you are ready to use it.  I thaw the package fully in the refrigerator (place in a dish or it will leak) and then pour off any juice before placing in my food processor.  I have found that if I puree it before freezing, it does not age as well and results in very watery stringy mush when I thaw it.



Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Eve Dinner


Our Christmas Eve dinner tradition began about 15 years ago when the boys were small, prompted by the kind gift from Pam, a friend from the health food coop that I was coordinating.  She gave me a gift card to Whole Foods as a 'thank you' for running the coop that year.  Since we shopped regularly at Whole Foods, I wanted to do something special with the gift card, not just use it to pay for my weekly groceries.  So I took the boys and with the gift card, we bought special treats for our Christmas Eve dinner.
 
Past dinners on Christmas Eve had always been a stressful time prior to this.  I would be tired from preparing for Christmas Day, and we would get home late from Christmas Eve church service.  Everyone would be hungry and not very patient waiting for me to fix something for dinner.  So Christmas eve dinner was the perfect meal to buy stored prepared snacks that took minimal time to fix. 

We had a very special Christmas eve dinner that first year, buying yummy things that we did not normally indulge in.  Pam had no idea what a wonderful Christmas gift she had given us that has continued through the years.  It was so much fun that we have continued each year since.  Each year varies a little, depending upon what is available at the store.  For this year's dinner, we had the following:

 
 
1.  Organic whole wheat mini toasts (Whole Foods 365 brand) with crab dip.
2.  Organic clementine orange sections with pomegranate seeds.
3.  Gournay Cheese, Shallot & Chive, (Boursin brand from Costco) with organic water crackers (Whole Foods 365 brand).
4.  Organic carrots with Annie's organic ranch dressing.
5.  Little smokies in barbecue sauce.
6.  Smoked salmon pinwheels.
7.  Sparkling apple cider.

 
Thank you, Pam and Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

MERRY CHRISTMAS

 
Eat well, enjoy family, appreciate friends, and travel safely.  May you be filled with the joy and peace that only Jesus can bring this Christmas Day. 

Merry Christmas from my family to yours!   

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Weekly Challenge - Week 52 (December 24, 2013)

Be glad and rejoice while finding your balance.


This is the last weekly challenge of the year, week 52.  How have you done this year?  May you be filled with joy as you ponder over this past year!
 
As your Christmas gift to yourself, your family, your friends, please be glad and rejoice at your success.  You may not be where you want to be yet, but remember that changing your diet back to a diet consisting of the foods created by God is countercultural and is something most of us need to relearn.  It is all about baby steps, which is why I have given you these weekly challenges.  So if this year, you have only awakened your awareness and learned the importance of changing your diet - be glad and rejoice!  You can recommit and begin again in the New Year.

While you are rejoicing this Christmas week, if you have been following along with the challenges, then think about one last aspect of what you are eating.  Each of us needs to eat God's foods, rather than man-made processed foods, in order to reap good health and vitality, but you also need to figure out what balance of God's foods to eat.  Fewer and fewer people start with enough reserves to even cheat a little with their diet - so most people need to go 100% for success.  But everyone also needs to eat a balanced diet of God's foods, not cutting out complete food groups.  For example, you cannot eat only brownies and apples and maintain good health and vitality.  This last challenge of the year is a key aspect for success - find the balance of foods your body needs.  However, if you have not yet cut the foods/ingredients (such as sugar) that you are addicted to out of your diet, you will probably not be able to listen to your body's clues to find your balance.  It is important that you master these earlier challenges to be able to do this last step for success.   
 
So how do you find your balanced diet?  Keep in mind that we are all different.  We each will develop slightly different health problems as our bodies become deleted of various nutrients and become overloaded with 'toxins' from processed foods.  While rejoicing, with a thankful heart, think about your favorite meals and how they make you feel.  Some people need more meat (my husband requires more meat than me to feel energized and well); some people need more carbohydrates to feel satisfied (not calorie loaded nutrient void carbohydrates so prevalent in our culture); some people thrive on lots of fresh raw foods such as produce, nuts, and raw dairy to feel their best; and some people need a higher quantity of excellent quality fats, such as raw butter or expeller-pressed coconut oil to feel well nourished.
 
We all need a balanced diet, but you must determine the quantities of each food group that you need.  Your needs will probably be different than your other family members or friends (you probably already know this).  If you are eating 100% excellent quality FoodsbyGod, but you think you cannot eat anything without gaining weight, then you are eating the wrong balance.  Listen, evaluate, continue to learn, and most importantly rejoice this week!
 
"I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me."  Philippians 2:17b - 18
 
"Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again: Rejoice!" Philippians 4:4
 
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."  Isaiah 9:6

May our Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace bless you today, this week, and throughout this coming New Year.  Merry Christmas! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tarragon Mustard Chicken



Incredibly delicious and so easy.  My neighbor, Mary Ann, fixed this for us years ago.  The recipe is adapted from Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions cookbook.  It is important to buy excellent quality chicken.  The crunchy skin is very tasty!
 
Ingredients:
 
4  range-free chicken leg quarters, with skin
2 Tbl unsalted organic butter, melted
2 Tbl Dijon style mustard
1 Tbl tarragon
 
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Mix mustard and tarragon with butter.  Place chicken leg quarters is a glass baking dish, and spread mustard mix on chicken.  Place, uncovered, in preheated 350 °F oven and bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until crispy.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Pumpkin Bread



Pumpkin is excellent during the holiday season, and this bread is not only delicious but this modified recipe contains no addictive white flour or white sugar.  The original recipe came from the October 2000 Bon Appetit magazine. 
 
I use my own pumpkin puree which I make from small pie pumpkins that I grow in my garden.  I will post how to prepare your own pumpkin puree soon.  Pumpkins are very easy to grow in Texas.  You can also use canned pumpkin.  This is another recipe (like lemon poppy seeds muffins) in which you can use fresh cream that has soured if you have it.
 
Ingredients:
 
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  (or 1 1/2 cups soft white wheat berries, finely ground)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 stick unsalted organic butter, room temperature
2/3 cup pure honey
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 cup pumpkin, pureed
~ 1 1/2 tsp grated organic lemon peel (peel from one fresh lemon)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream (I use fresh heavy cream that has soured)
1/2 cup milk (I use fresh raw milk)
1 cup chopped walnuts
 
Preheat oven to 325 °F.  Butter and flour a glass or metal large loaf pan.  Mix together the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Set to the side.  Beat butter with honey in a large bowl.  Beat into the butter mixture the eggs, then pumpkin, lemon peel and vanilla.  Whisk sour cream and milk in another small bowl.  Beat flour mix and sour cream mix alternately into the pumpkin batter.  Fold in nuts.  Pour into loaf pan and bake until toothpick poked in center comes out clean, about 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Cool briefly in pan and then turn out onto a cooling rack.  Enjoy with homemade butter.
 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Swedish Raspberry Butter Cookies



 
This is a new version of Fred's favorite cookie that I used to make for Christmas every year when we were first married but I haven't made in years.  The original recipe (from Blue Ribbon Cookies by Maria Robbins, see below) uses white flour and white sugar, which are both on my list of foods/ingredients to avoid.  Since the challenge this week was to modify a favorite recipe, I decided it was time to work on this cookie recipe.  The result was delicious!

 

Ingredients:

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 Tbl honey
1 egg yolk
1 Tbl cream
1/2 tsp pure almond extract
1 cup soft white whole wheat pastry flour
   (or 3/4 cups soft white wheat berries)
1/4 tsp baking powder
 
1 egg white
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
raspberry jam for garnish (get one that is fruit juice sweetened such as Crofter's Just Fruit Organic Spread)

Preheat oven to 325 °F.  Cream together the butter and honey.  Beat in egg yolk, cream, almond extract, pastry flour and baking powder.  The dough will be very sticky.

Place unbeaten egg white on a small saucer, and the chopped walnuts on another small saucer.  Shape dough into small balls (~ 1/2" to 1" diameter), dip in the egg white, and then into the nuts.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and indent the centers with your finger.  Bake in preheated 325 °F oven for 5 minutes and then remove from oven.

Press in indentations again lightly, and then fill indent with a small amount of raspberry jam.  Return to the oven and bake for an additional 15 minutes or until the cookies are lightly browned.

Makes 1 1/2 to 3 dozen, depending upon the size of cookie.


 


Friday, December 20, 2013

Spicy Hummus

 


If you have tried hummus and not liked it, thinking it was bland and boring, it is probably because it was bland and boring.  This hummus recipe is not spicy hot, but is rich with flavor.  This is a recipe that uses a lot of those spices you have been learning to use!

Ingredients:

2 cups cooked garbanzo beans
2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1/4 cup mild organic olive oil
1/4 cup tahini (sold by the nut butters)
1 Tbl. fresh lemon juice
1 tsp ground cumin
3/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tps freshly ground black pepper
~ 2 Tbl filtered water

Garnish:  fresh parsley or fresh cilantro, paprika, red pepper flakes, pine nuts.  (Roasted red bell pepper and fresh basil are also excellent garnishes - I did not have any this time).



Place all ingredients, except the filtered water, in a food processor and puree.  Add the filtered water, 1 Tbl at a time, until you have a creamy texture. 



Place in bowl and garnish with paprika, fresh parsley or cilantro, red pepper flakes and pine nuts.  Serve with items such as fresh herbs, red onion, jalapeno, chives, carrots, crackers, etc.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Twelve Days of Christmas



Sandy, my Bible study teacher, suggested doing the twelve days of Christmas song this year for our husbands.  This is what she suggested:
 
As I was listening to the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas", it dawned on me that my dear, sweet husband has no need for a "partridge in a pear tree" or "ten lords a leaping"!  So, why not come up with my own version of this favorite Christmas song.

Starting the twelve days before Christmas,(Dec. 13th),  I plan to surprise my husband with some act of kindness/love each day until Dec. 25th.  It doesn't have to be anything big and I don't have to necessarily buy anything.  It will be small expressions of my love for him that, hopefully, will make each day special for him.  I am already getting excited about making "my list" of things I want to do for him during these 12 days!
 
I immediately loved the idea upon reading her email and started planning.  I started on December 14th and will finish Christmas Day.  You can also start on Christmas Day as day one and continue for twelve days total (in case you think this is a cool idea and want to try it too this year).
 
Today is day six and I did - "six snacks for munching".  What a wonderful surprise for Fred after working outside all afternoon cutting up limbs that had fallen in the ice storm.  Feeding my family good food, foods that God has provided that are healthy and nourishing (vs. man-made processed foods filled with cheap fat, salt and sugar) is very important to me this time of year.
 
My six snacks for him were:  Clementine sections, Brazil nuts, pomegranate seeds, chocolate chunks, frozen raspberries (from our garden last summer), and some of his trail mix.
 
This has been so fun - just a few days are food related.  Day three was "three meals together" and I fixed three of his favorite meals that day.  Coming up is "eight cookies a baking" - shhh!, don't tell him.  I will share with you the recipe for his favorite raspberry filled cookies when I make them. 
 
Whether or not you try "twelve days of Christmas" surprises for your true love, provide your family (and yourself) with some healthy snack options to enjoy after a busy day during this holiday season! 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Weekly Challenge - Week 51 (December 17, 2013)

Modify a recipe.


This slide was from the class I taught about five years ago on how to convert recipes, using God's ingredients instead of processed man-made ingredients. 
 
Learning to modify your favorite recipes and new ones that look good is an essential skill and takes just a bit of practice.  But in no time you will be amazed at just how easy it is and how much difference it can make in how you feel.  Most importantly, I think you will be amazed at how delicious what you are creating tastes.  It will give you a whole new understanding of the blessing excellent food is, not only for health, but for taste and enjoyment of meals. 

Involve your whole family, especially your children.  Buy the best quality ingredients that you can find and don't use any processed ingredients, especially those on list of foods/ingredients to avoid.

Here are a few guidelines which I use:

1.  FLOUR:  Use whole wheat pastry flour (or other whole grain flours) in place of white flour.  On the rare occasion I use a little white flour, I only use unbleached flour that has not been enriched, which I buy at Natural Grocer.  I grind my own whole wheat pastry flour and other whole grain flours.  When substituting whole wheat pastry flour, a little more liquid is required, but this works out o.k. since I replace the sugar with raw honey or maple syrup in my recipes.

2.  SWEETENER:  Replace all sugar (white or brown) with honey, maple syrup or dates (or other fruit).  I typically use 1/2 the amount of honey or maple syrup than the amount of sugar called for up to a maximum of 1/2 cup total in a recipe.  I like to limit the amount of even the natural sweeteners to 1/4 cup except for special treats, like brownies, which are very sweet and which we have only on special occasions. 

3.  MARGARINE:  Never use margarine, a man-made food.  Instead use real butter or good quality coconut oil.  I replace it one for one (i.e. 1/2 cup margarine, use 1/2 cup butter).

4.  CHEESE:  Use white cheeses only, preferably organic or European.  Never buy pre-shredded cheese, which contains anti-caking agents.  Grate your own.  Also, don't buy low-fat or nonfat cheese.  God did not make them this way.  I typically cut down on the amount of cheese I use in dishes. 

5.  DAIRY PRODUCTS:  Use only organic.  Also don't buy low-fat or nonfat dairy products.  As with cheese, God did not make them this way.  I use fresh milk with the cream skimmed off the top to make my yogurt, but when you buy low-fat versions from the store, they have been heavily processed.  I never used canned dairy products, but make my own from fresh milk (i.e. homemade whipped cream).

6.  SPICES and SAUCES:  Be very careful with pre-made spices and sauces that are used in recipes.  These often contain MSG (in all canned soups), as do most spices mixed that are not organic.  Be sure to read the labels.  Using things like single organic spices and fresh herbs, homemade broths and fresh cream, you can recreate everything you need to make a favorite recipe healthy.  Use real flavorings, never imitation.  

Here are two more slides from the classes I previously taught.  These are example of two recipes that I modified, showing you the original recipe and the modified one.  Try converting an easy, favorite recipe of yours this week and remember that it takes some practice to become skilled at something.  Take notes on your recipe of how you modified it and how it turned out.  As you will soon see, it is not difficult.  Be sure you have all of the correct ingredients on hand before you start.

Using the foods and ingredients, as God has provided for us, will result in health and well-being for you.  Seek God's ways, not man's.

"He who gets wisdom loves his own soul; he who cherishes understanding prospers."  Proverbs 19:8 


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Sweet Potato Fries



We love sweet potato fries, and sweet potatoes grow extremely well in North Texas.  These fries are baked, thus a healthy delicious addition to a meal.

Ingredients:

1 large sweet potato
2 Tbl flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
2 Tbl olive oil
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 

Preheat oven to 425 °F.  Wash sweet potato and dry thoroughly.  Do not peel.  Cut into 1/4" to 3/8" square fries, any length you wish.  Place in a Ziploc bag with flour and shake to coat.  Then place olive oil in a bowl and toss potato fries with oil until evenly coated.  Next sprinkle on the spices, and mix again.  Experiment, try different spices, there are so many possibilities.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place fries on cookie sheet.  Separate so they are not touching one another.  Place in preheated oven (425 °F) and set timer for 15 minutes.  Flip fries and bake another 10 - 15 minutes or until crisp.

Enjoy immediately. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Weekly Challenge - Week 50 (December 10, 2013)

Evaluate your cookware and replace that which is unhealthy.



With Christmas right around the corner, if you have not already done so, get at least one good pot or skillet.  Thinking about what you introduce into your food from your cookware is very important.  It is not important that you have a pretty matching set (though there is nothing wrong with that).  The important thing is that you are not creating health problems for yourself or your family by using unhealthy cookware. 

Let me give you some guidelines and then share with you what I use.

NEVER USE:  Pots, pans or skillets with non-stick coatings.  These items are really that bad and should never be used.  If you are currently cooking with any of these type pots and pans, I would suggest seriously thinking about replacements right away.
 
You may not think this is that serious, but did you know that the FDA has called for a reduction of a chemical used in making these coatings due to adverse health effects such as cancer and a suppressed immune system?  Since the US government and regulatory groups are heavily influenced by companies and their profits, and thus allow many questionable chemicals and practices, it is definitely a big concern when they decide something is not healthy.  Replace your Teflon coated pots and pans, even if they are not scratched up.

Glass cookware, stainless steel, aluminum and cast iron can all be coated with a non-stick coating.  No matter what the coating is on, it is unhealthy.

NOT RECOMMENDED (especially if trying to go 100%):

Aluminum pots and pans.  Aluminum pots and pans are typically cheap (they are very lightweight too) and aluminum will leech into your food.  This is controversial though, because if you take an antacid (which I do not recommend - there are many other side effects to be concerned about) or eat foods with additives, you may be getting a lot more aluminum than what you get from your cookware.  According to the ATSDR governmental agency, the average American adult gets 7 to 9 mg of aluminum a day in their food from flour, anti-caking agents (which is why I recommend not using pre-grated cheese), baking powder (which is why I recommend buying an aluminum-free brand), and food colorants (all artificial ingredients are on the foods/ingredients to avoid list).

Anodized aluminum pots and pans.  These are much better than non-anodized but aluminum will still leech out of them, especially if you are cooking something acidic in them (such as a tomato-based dish). 
 
Health issues with aluminum include nervous system, reproductive system and immune system problems.  However, the ATSDR report from 2008 states that the level of aluminum a person receives from food and cookware would not be harmful for a healthy person. 

"Eating large amounts of processed food containing aluminum additives or frequently cooking acidic foods in aluminum pots may expose a person to higher levels of aluminum than a person who generally consumes unprocessed foods and uses pots made of other materials (e.g., stainless steel or glass). However, aluminum levels found in processed foods and foods cooked in aluminum pots are generally considered to be safe."

Hmmm... generally considered to be safe.  If you are eating the typically American diet, then you will not need to worry about cooking in aluminum pots and pans.  However, if you are trying to gain or maintain your health and vitality by eating 100% FoodsbyGod, you might think about getting better cookware options. 
 
 
SOME LEECHING WILL OCCUR:  Stainless steel pots and pans, even the expensive heavy duty ones will still leech some elements into your food, for example nickel and chromium.  Saladmaster makes waterless stainless steel cookware (which is extremely expensive!), and they changed their stainless steel composition first to 304 stainless steel in the 1980's and then to 316 stainless steel (surgical steel and that used in deionized water systems in the semiconductor field) in the 1990's and then a final upgrade to 316 stainless with titanium in 2008.  If you have ever been to a Saladmaster party, you know that food cooked in these pots and pans tastes great.  That is because with their newest cookware, leeching is not occurring from the pots into your food.  Obviously, some leeching does occur from standard stainless steel pots and pans or Saladmaster would not use such expensive compositions of stainless steel.  I am not recommending Saladmaster, or stainless steel pots and pans.  I am just using Saladmaster and their stainless steel compositional changes over the years to show you that some leeching does occur with stainless steel cookware.

WHAT I USE: 

 

NO LEECHING WILL OCCUR:  Glass pots.  I love my glass pots and use them exclusively for acidic dishes (all tomato dishes and to make my bone broths).  Nothing will leech from glass pots and pans, if they are made correctly (all would be that are made in the USA such as Corning products).
 

The problems with glass pots and pans is that they are no longer manufactured.  I have gotten mine at garage sales and on Ebay.  Glass pots and pans are great for soups and stews, but they quickly lost favor when sold in the 1980's because they do not heat evenly and must be used on low heat (or things burn on the bottom).  This is unfortunate because they are the best cookware option for many things.

 

SEASONED CAST IRON:  The amount of leeching that will occur with cast iron depends upon how you care for your cast iron and how well it is seasoned.  Minimal leeching will occur if they are used and cleaned correctly and these are the 'original' non-stick pans.

I NEVER use my cast iron for acidic (tomato) dishes.  Acidic foods will eat through your seasoning.  Well seasoned cast iron skillets were the first non-stick skillets and work wonderfully.  The best skillets were made by Griswold (front left skillet in photo above).  I have two antique Griswold skillets that I use exclusively to cook eggs.  The Griswold skillets have a smoother surface and are exceptional.  With a well seasoned skillet, you should not be leeching chemicals through the seasoning into your food.  Butter works great to coat the skillet prior to cooking eggs in it and clean-up is a breeze.  It is KEY that the skillet is hot before you butter it and pour your eggs into it. 


I bought a new very large cast iron skillet in the 1990's that I use to cook meats and sauté vegetables.  The best thing to use for seasoning a new skillet is pork lard (cook some good quality pork bacon in your skillet).  NEVER use soap to clean your skillet.  I use the scouring side of a sponge and warm water only.  Then I always dry the skillet well after cleaning it (I place in on the stove top to dry it).  When seasoning, cook some bacon, pour off the grease (and save it), then wipe out the skillet and regrease it with the pork grease.  Place it in the oven at a low temperature (200 °F) for several hours.  This will allow the grease to penetrate into the pores and create a good seasoning or non-stick coating.  This process will need to be done a few times for a brand new skillet. 

Besides having cast iron skillets, I love my cast iron griddle.  To clean, I wipe it off with a paper towel.  It is wonderfully seasoned, and nothing sticks to it.

"As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Proverbs 27:17

Friday, December 6, 2013

Refried Beans

 
Making your own refried beans takes a little planning but not a lot of time, and the result is delicious.  I usually cook the beans the day before since I never know exactly how long it will take the beans to cook.  Refried beans are a great things for your kids to learn to make.  I would cook the beans, and then Tom would make the refried beans (an essential ingredient for his quesadillas).  Always having homemade refried beans and yellow rice in the refrigerator is a good way to have a nutritious snack option available at anytime for hungry teenagers.  Even better, it is an easy one that they can fix for themselves in no time at all.  Of course, having tortillas (I keep extra packs the freezer),  cheese, salsa and any veggies they like such as green onion or fresh avocado on-hand is needed too.

Adjust the quantity of the ingredients below to your taste.  Add more jalapeno's or some green chili's if you like your beans hot, add more garlic if you love the taste of garlic, etc.  Adjust the amount of olive oil added and the length of time pureed, depending upon whether you like very smooth or chunkier refried beans.  If you do not have a food processor, you can smash everything together with a fork.

Ingredients:

2 - 4 cups of cooked pinto beans plus a little juice(or combination of pinto and Anasazi beans)
2 - 3 Tbl finely diced yellow onion
1 - 2 Tbl finely diced jalapeno
1 - 3 cloves garlic minced
Olive oil
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp sea salt



 Sauté the onion, pepper and garlic in a heavy skillet (don't use one with a non-stick coating).  Place beans with a little juice into food processor.  Add sautéed vegetables and spices, puree. 



Add additional bean liquid or olive oil until desired consistency.


Use immediately or store in refrigerator.  Last several days in the refrigerator.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Weekly Challenge - Week 49 (December 3, 2013)

Learn to use spices - they are a key to creating excellent meals!



I have lots and lots of spices.  I use them so much that I typically buy them in 1 pound bags (from Frontier Wholesale).  Spices can be expensive, so the upfront cost is high, but they last a long time and they are definitely a key to creating outstanding, delicious meals.

Years ago when we lived in Austin, I tried several times to make homemade chicken soup.  Every time I tried, it turned out bland and tasted like water.  I thought it was my lack of cooking ability - that I was unable to make delicious foods.  But it was just a lack of important cooking knowledge.  I did not realize then the importance of owning and using spices.  Of course, I was not making my own homemade broth back then either (another key ingredient), but the spices and fresh herbs are essential ingredients.

I have posted many recipes and I hope that when you buy the ingredients to try one that you also make sure you buy the spices.  For instance, yellow rice is delicious because of the turmeric (Jon does not like brown rice even when cooked in chicken broth, but he LOVES yellow rice). 

Buy and use the spices that your family enjoys.  We love nutmeg and thus I sprinkle it into almost all my breakfast 'bready' creations.  Reading about the health benefits of cloves, I started experimenting with that.  The secret ingredient for the wheat-free waffles is the cloves.


 
Start off with small bottles until you learn which ones you use often.  We use a lot of cumin, oregano, turmeric, poultry seasoning, nutmeg, and cinnamon - to name a few.  If you keep the spices sealed and in a dark, cool location, they will last for several years.  I like to store my extras in glass bottles in my utility room as shown in the top photo.  I never throw away my little spice jars that I have in the kitchen, instead I refill them (and do so often).  Besides buying directly from Frontier or a good on-line company such as Mountain Rose or from a coop such as Azure Standard, you can also buy good quality bulk herbs at Whole Foods to refill your small jars, which is less expensive than buying another little jar. 

Make this challenge a fun one and treat yourself to a new spice each week when you grocery shop until you have a good collection.  Then be sure to use them!  Buy good quality spices, and always read the labels.  Often spice mixes, such as poultry seasoning, will contain other additives, so be careful.  Spices, gold, and precious stones - three things listed as gifts for a king.  Appreciate and treasure the wonderful spices that are so readily available to even the common folk in our world today.

"When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions.  Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan - with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones - she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind."  1Kings 10: 1 - 2

Monday, December 2, 2013

Cooking beans


Cooking your own dried beans is extremely easy, tastes so much better than canned beans, and is much less expensive.  Unfortunately, it took me many, many years to realize this and learn this skill.  Hopefully I can help you master it overnight.  It is just that simple.

THE KEY:  Don't attempt to cook beans that are over a couple months old!!!

My problem was that I would get motivated to try cooking beans, buy a variety at the store, and then wait six to nine months (or longer) before actually trying.  The beans I cooked would turn out terrible, and I would wait another several years before trying again.  This went on for close to twenty years!  The beans would turn out terrible for two reasons.  One, they were old and thus as they cooked they would get crumbly while still hard, rather than soft and delicious.  The other problem, I created bland dishes with them (I had not learned the importance of using spices).  But I have a good friend, Lorena, who would have me over for lunch and always had incredible home-cooked beans.  She was my inspiration to continue trying.

 
The perception and innocent truth the comes from the mouth of a child can open our eyes wide at times.  That is what happened to me to finally convince me just how important cooking my own beans was.  Let me tell you one last story about cooking beans that will hopefully motivate you to try and experience the difference. 

On our homeschool trips, we got into the habit of opening a can of refried beans (good quality ones), and having eating them with chips, salsa and cheese for lunch.  A quick, easy meal on the road.  During one of our breaks at home, I finally was successful cooking pinto beans and making our own refried beans.  We loved them and made them several times during the two month period at home.  We then took off on another trip, and I bought more cans of refried beans for lunches.  When I was getting our second lunch of refried beans and chips ready, Jon said to me, "Mom, it isn't fair that we can't have canned beans anymore."  I was just getting ready to open the can, so I laughed and said, "Jon, I am opening a can right now for our lunch.  I just want to cook our own beans when we are at home.  We can have canned beans on our trips."  Jon, who was about 10, looked very seriously at me and said, "But we can no longer enjoy our lunch with canned beans because they don't taste good anymore after eating homemade beans."  He was so right. 

Instructions:

1.  Buy fresh beans.  It is good to start with something easy.  I would recommend buying pinto beans to make refried beans (recipe coming soon) or garbanzo beans to make hummus (recipe coming soon).  If you have old beans, give them to me or someone else who wants to make their own soy-free chicken feed, and let them feed those old beans to their chickens.



2.  Place dry beans in a glass bowl and cover with filtered water, at least two inches over the top of the beans.  They will soak up a lot of water, so use more than you think you will need, especially when first starting.  Let sit over night or for at least 6 hours (up to 12 hours). 

3.  Drain the beans and rinse well with cold water.


4.  Place beans in a heavy pot (I like to use my glass soup pot that I make broth in) and again cover with filtered water.  They will not soak up as much water, but the water will boil off a bit during cooking so make sure it is at least an inch over the top.  I like to add a dry chili pepper when making refried beans, but this is not necessary (I often forgot to add it).



5.  Turn to medium-low and bring to a simmer (I removed the lid of the pot for the photo to show you what your simmer should look like).  Always cook beans with the lid tightly on the pot as you do for broth.  I stir the beans ever 5 minutes or so at the beginning (it takes about 20 minutes to get to a good simmer).


6.  After bringing to a "heavy" simmer, turn heat down to the point that will sustain this simmer.  Continue cooking covered (stirring every 20 - 30 minutes) until the beans are soft.  For pinto beans and garbanzo beans, this takes about 3 to 4 hours, depending upon your cooking temperature.  If you cook at too high of a temperature, you will burn the beans on the bottom of the pot. 

7.  When soft, remove from heat and remove lid.  Allow to cool, drain off some of the extra liquid, and place in a clean bowl, and store in the refrigerator if not using immediately.

It is that easy.  The reason I recommend starting with pinto or garbanzo beans to make refried beans or hummus, is because both of these dishes are so forgiving.  The first several times I cooked beans, I forgot about them, and the were falling apart by the time I realized they were done.  Since the beans are pureed for both of those dished, it doesn't matter if you overcook them.