Monday, April 26, 2010

cottage loaf

Over on my Facebook Fan Page I wrote about a recent experiment in bread making.  I took one of my favorite quick rise bread recipes and used the baking method from no-knead bread.  The bread rose really well.  At first I was sort of disappointed because it rose REALLY well, I was making it in 2 quart pyrex containers (I don't own a 5 quart cast iron dutch oven as called for in no-knead bread) and I wound up with 2 quart-casserole-dish-shaped bread.  However, as you can see from the picture, once turned out of it's container I realized it looked beautiful.    I got a fabulous rise and the crumb is very even and beautiful. 

Helayne asked for the recipe so here it is:

Cottage Loaf
[makes one loaf but doubles very well]

5-6 C. bread flour
2 T. yeast
2 T. evaporated cane juice crystals
1 T. sea salt
1 t. ground ginger
2 C. hot water

In a large bowl mix together 2 C. flour, the yeast, salt, sugar and ground ginger
Add hot water and stir well
Add flour 1 C. at a time until dough is no longer sticky
Knead for 8 minutes until dough is ready (I have a really big bowl and I just knead directly in the bowl)
Oil dough and return to the bowl
Cover with a dishtowel and let rise in a draft free place for one hour
Punch down, shape dough into a ball and place in a bowl lined with a well-floured towel
Recover dough
Take 2 quart covered casserole dish and place in the oven
Set oven to 475
When oven is done preheating open dish, slide dough into dish, place lid back on casserole
Bake 30 minutes then remove lid and bake another 20-25 minutes until bread is done
Remove bread from casserole and cool on wire rack completely before cutting 

The waiting part is very difficult to accomplish as the smell of freshly baked bread permeates the house like nothing else and draws hungry folk in a hurry.

I made this bread using King Arthur Bread Flour.  Although I bake a lot of bread using whole grain or fresh ground flours occasionally I will use unbleached all-purpose or bread flour.  Then I experiment from there to see how much I can modify it and change to less processed grains.  The next experiment with this loaf will be to see if I can substitute 1/2 of the flour for whole wheat and what happens from there.  

I'll keep you posted.

Friday, April 23, 2010

step by step, food changes

Meg wrote in with the following, "For me, to truly change my eating habits, I have to go in very small and tasty steps. Once I find a healthier food or drink that I really like, after a few weeks of eating that I don't miss the junk stuff and don't feel deprived.

It would be great to find recipes / meal plans that "step you down" from junk to healthy organic by offering variations from A to B. For example, I've switched my typical breakfast from decaf with halzelnut non-dairy creamer and a cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese by first switching to whole wheat toast with a scrape of butter and cinnamon-sugar, then to one slice with the sugar, and finally to one slice of whole wheat bread with a scrape of butter or Nutella and a few spoonfuls of organic yogurt with walnuts.

I'm ready to tackle the (processed) decaf coffee with (chemical) halzelnut-flavored non-dairy creamer. Trouble is I really, really like the flavor and I don't really like the taste of green tea (yet). Can you recommend a healthier breakfast beverage replacement that could be transformed in stages?

I find that lots of folks really like their coffee and have a hard time giving it up.  Part of it is the chemical addiction to caffeine.  What's actually more harmful than the caffeine is the flavored non-dairy creamer. With Mono and Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Dipotassium Phosphate, and Sodium Caseinate this is not food.  I would say there is nothing wrong with one cup of coffee in the morning to get you started, just use real cream instead.  If you want to give up caffeine and switch to decaf that's certainly a good thing to do, but that real cream is going to make it taste a whole lot better.  And it goes without saying that organic dairy is best, read this article for more information about that issue.  Green tea is certainly a great option, filled with anti-oxidants, but maybe starting with one cup of coffee and then switching to green tea for your other beverage choices (including water, water, water, and herbal teas) is the way to go.

The most important thing to remember about your breakfast menu is that you want to make sure you are getting some good protein, some fiber, and a healthy fat.  This will help you make it through the morning with stable blood sugar.  When choosing your bread make sure that you are getting WHOLE GRAIN instead of just whole wheat.  Unfortunately whole wheat doesn't have all of the parts of the grain, so it's not as healthy.  Marketers are aware of how much we look for those key words and so be aware that multi-grain is also not whole grain.  For butter, choose a good, organic, butter and you can have more than just a scrape.  For your yogurt and walnuts, that's a great choice.  Organic full fat yogurt is best.  Again, it helps you feel full, gives you the protein that you need and helps you start your morning with a stable blood sugar.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

curried carrot sprout salad

In the tastes-better-than-the-picture category we have today's lunch offering.  A conversation earlier in the day with my friend Blujay about ways to use sprouts brought up the idea of putting them into a curried carrot salad.  

Salads are so wonderful in the warmer months, keeping a couple on hand in the fridge means you always have something for lunch or dinner.  I love the idea of assembling a bunch of different salads for a composed plate as a refreshing way to make a meal.  If you don't happen to have fresh sprouts on hand you many grocery stores now carry them although they're certainly easy to make and I think it's better to get them fresh, it's certainly easy to do.

Curried Carrot Sprout Salad

6 large carrots, topped and shredded
1 C. fresh bean sprouts
1/4 C. dried currants
1/4 C. raw sunflower seeds
1/4 C. chopped walnuts
1/2 C. mayonnaise
1 t. curry powder
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together
Let sit in fridge for at least two hours to chill and for flavor to settle

Bean sprouts are very healthy.  The act of sprouting forces the bean to convert some of it's starches, this makes it more easily digestible.  Many of the nutrients are increased by sprouting as well, especially vitamin A, vitamin C and some of the B vitamins.  They can be made year round using very simple equipment, just a pot, a sieve and an insulated space.

I use mine in salads, green smoothies, blended into soups and sometimes just as a snack.  They are delicious

Homemade Bean Sprouts

1/2 C. assorted dried beans (I like adzuki, mung, lentil and black beans)
Sort through beans and rinse
Put in a metal pot, cover with water and set in the oven overnight (oven is off)
In the morning drain and rinse the beans well
Return to the oven
Repeat until beans have 1/2" long tails

Rinse and eat
May be stored in the fridge but make sure they are fully dry before you do that to avoid spoilage

Note:  when making your sprouts it is helpful to put a note stating "sprouts" on the oven door so that people don't preheat the oven without looking and accidentally cook your sprouts.  Just saying...

Saturday, April 17, 2010

food glorious food

Okay, that's a song title.  But lyrics are just poems set to music and it's National Poetry Month. This got me thinking about all the poems that mention food, and there are oh so many of them. My first exposure to food poetry was this little treasure my Grandfather taught me:

I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on my knife

As a young child I found this very entertaining and it was, I believe, my first memorized poem.  More food poems began to find their way into my life from Shel Silverstein's Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout to Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and The Carpenter or Turtle Soup.   These were followed by Robert Frost's Blueberries, Victor Buono's The Fat Man's Prayer, Ogden Nash's The Clean Platter, and Jack Prelutsky's Deep In Our Refrigerator.  There's also Pablo Neruda's offerings, Ode to an Onion and Ode to Salt.

And more and more and more, the list goes on.  Food is such an elemental part of our life that it is no wonder that so many poems have been written about it.

So take a moment to read or write a poem about food.  I'd love it if you'd share your favorites in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

tre colori

This could more accurately be called "Fridge Rummage" as that's how all of these ingredients came together but tre colori (three colors in Italian) sounds better.

I had a lonely little eggplant that needed to be cooked.  Looking into my fridge for inspiration I found a half a red pepper, half of a large Spanish onion, 2 medium portabella mushrooms and about six leaves of kale.

Adding two cloves of garlic, olive oil, basil, oregano (both from the herb garden), salt and pepper I turned it into the tastes-better-than-the-picture-looks image to the left.

All the vegetables are cut to a medium dice and the kale is done chiffonade style; the herbs are minced.

Dice the eggplant, salt and set aside to drain while cutting other veggies
Heat 2 T. of olive oil, add onions and stir until soft and golden
Add garlic and saute for one minute
Add red peppers and kale and saute until kale begins to wilt
Rinse and add eggplant, add 1-2 more T. of olive oil and saute until eggplant is starting to soften
Then add the mushrooms and herbs and cook until mushrooms and eggplant are done (5-7 minutes)
Salt and pepper to taste

Served over whole grain penne pasta it was delicious!

quinoa tabbouleh

This recipe was inspired by Chef Rachel over at where I got the idea to use quinoa instead of bulghur wheat.  It has been a change that wins rave reviews from everyone who tries it.

Tabbouleh is a Middle Eastern salad dish; it makes a great meal when paired with falafel (fried chickpea patties), dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), hummus and other Middle Eastern
or Mediterranean food items.

Most tabbouleh is made with parsley and mint.  In this recipe I exchanged the mint for cilantro which makes a delicious change and gives it a bit of a kick.  Rich in phytonutrients, fiber, iron and magnesium the cilantro adds even more to the nutrient profile of this recipe.

Quinoa is a gluten free grain with a lot of fiber, high in B vitamins, calcium and iron; it also has balanced amino acids which gives it a good protein profile. Before you use quinoa
you need to wash it (unless you buy pre-washed) because the outer coating has saponins on it. If they don't get washed off they will make the grain taste soapy. When cooking quinoa the ratio is pretty much the same as rice, two cups of water to one cup of grain, simmered for 14-18 minutes.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

2 C. cooked quinoa
1 C. finely minced cilantro
½ C. minced parsley
1 clove garlic minced
1 t. sea salt
1 C. cherry tomatoes – halved
1 red pepper, small dice
3 scallions, mostly white part, minced
3 T. fresh lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
¼ C. pine nuts
Fresh ground pepper on top

Mix it all together, stir it well.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

making ghee

I was making ghee and happened to post about it to my Facebook Fan Page.  I like ghee because it has a wonderful sweet flavor and it's easy to use.  It lasts for a very long time at room temperature (a good thing here in Texas where butter left on the counter would turn liquid and then rancid in very short order).  Ghee is especially good for those with lactose intolerance as all of the milk-fat solids have been separated out.  At prices ranging from $7.00 to $13.00 per pound for ghee it is worth it to make your own.

Reading the Fan Page, Claire wrote in wondering what the difference was between ghee and clarified butter and if you scrape off the foam while you make it.  So here's a quick how-to:

Ghee is clarified butter. I use organic, unsalted butter, the better the quality of your butter the better flavor your ghee will have. 16 ounces of butter will yield approximately 12 ounces of ghee.  The most important thing to remember is that you need to watch it the entire time because it goes from done to burned in a snap.  

1. Put your unsalted butter into a thick bottom pan and cook on medium heat until it starts to boil.  
2. It will start to foam and crackle as the milk solids condense and the water boils off. If you want you can turn it down just a smidge at this point.  
3. I scrape off the milk solids foam because I save it as a treat for my dogs but most folks just leave them because they will eventually settle to the bottom of the pot.  
4. After approximately 15-20 minutes you will see that the ghee is a clear golden color and the dark brown milk solids are on the bottom of the pot.  This is where you need to be careful. You want to make sure all the ghee is clarified and you can see all the way to the bottom of the pot.  
5. Remove the ghee from the heat and strain. I use a fine mesh strainer lined with two paper coffee filters into a measuring cup.  
6. Let the ghee sit for about 10 minutes and then pour it into a clean glass jar to finish cooling. 

There is another method to make ghee using your oven. Although you can make more ghee at one time using this method it does take about two hours.

photo courtesy of Rainer Z | Wikimedia Commons

Monday, April 12, 2010

chayote squash

I recently had a wonderful sandwich made with a soft cheese and raw chayote squash on a crusty french bread.  The crisp fresh flavor of the chayote complimented the soft cheese and gave the sandwich a wonderful consistency.

Chayote (pronounced chai-oh-tee) is a member of the curcurbitaceae family, which also includes melons, cucumbers, and squash.  Sometimes call a pear squash it can be eaten either raw or cooked.

Nutritionally it is an excellent addition to your diet, being very low in calories, only 25 per cup, with a high level of vitamin C, folate, and manganese (a mineral that is important for bone growth).  That one cup also provides a modest amount of protein and 2 grams of fiber.  It is believed to have diuretic properties and apparently there are Central American cultures that use it to treat kidney stones and other urinary disorders.

Currently at their peak they can be added to a wide range of raw salads or cooked dishes.  Consider trying this wonderful recipe from Epicurious.

When choosing a chayote in the grocery store or farmer's market make sure to choose a firm unblemished fruit.

photo courtesy of David Monniaux | Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, April 11, 2010


Recently a few people have asked me what magazines I read to stay on top of food news and holistic living.  With lots of different magazines out there it's difficult to subscribe to too many of them yet everyone wants good information.  Here are a few of my favorites, I think you'll like them too:

1.  Clean Eating - This is my favorite magazine.  Filled with lots of good information and delicious recipes, it even comes with a two week menu and shopping list available online for each issue.  The information is straightforward and easy to follow.

2.  Body & Soul - Another great resource, this magazine provides not only great articles about healthy living but also great tips and sidebars.  There's a lot of information about integrative health and stress relief, something we all need in today's high pressure lifestyle.

3.  Yoga - I love yoga, I think it's a great practice for health, balance, flexibility, core strength and relaxation.  The articles in this magazine are always interesting and the routines they provide are well photographed.  Apparently you can get this during the month of April, two years for the price of one.

4. Vegetarian Times - I really enjoy this magazine.  I'm always looking for great ways to incorporate more veggies into my diet.  Even if you are not a vegetarian there are so many fabulous recipes and great seasonal articles that this is a magazine that I think is well worth reading.

5.  EatingWell - Another great magazine loaded with articles about healthy eating and cooking with menus and nutrition information.

I hope you'll consider giving one or more of these magazines a try.  I'd also love to hear what your favorites are.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

praying mantis adventures

I'm so excited because there is a new crop of baby praying mantis in our neighborhood. The kids across the street were lucky enough to get a praying mantis egg casing. It just hatched revealing an enormous number of babies from the case. The kids let the mantises go in the garden and I'm hoping that a lot of them will survive to populate the area.

Praying mantises are great for the garden. They are carnivores, eating beetles, roaches, grasshoppers, even moths and moth larvae. All things that are very destructive to the garden. While they only live for one season if you're lucky enough a fully mature female will lay an egg casing in your garden and the cycle can start all over again.

As you can see from the picture (which I took, I'm so happy that one actually came out well), they are very small. They were less than 24 hours old when I took the picture and about the size of a grain of rice (if rice had long cricket-y legs that is).

Welcome to the neighborhood guys! Hope you find lots to eat.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

okra and remembering to read the labels

I have a confession to make. I don't much like okra. Maybe it's from growing up in the northeast where I was not really exposed to it much as a child. Whatever the reason I mostly find it unappealing. I have discovered that I can tolerate it steamed, I despise it cooked, boiled, or fried. However, it's not half bad when it's pickled. It's a pity that I don't like it more because it's low in calories, high in fiber, has a modest amount of protein, and provides vitamins A and C as well as iron and calcium.

Okra also has a mucilaginous quality that helps to escort cholesterol and bile acids out of the body. As an alkaline food it is also believed to help heal intestinal ulcers and be useful in the treatment of IBS.

When I was at the grocery store today I happened to spy a jar of pickled okra on the shelves. Since this is my least objectionable way to eat it I decided to try it again, scooped up a jar and finished my grocery shopping.

Unfortunately I ignored my own advice and I did not stop to read the label. After getting home I did read the label and it turns out these pickles contain polysorbate-80. I refuse to eat any ingredient that has a number (nature doesn't number food). According to my Consumer Dictionary of Food Additives polysorbate-80 is an emulsifier "associated with the contaminant 1,4 dioxane, known to cause cancer in animals." It is also "widely used in baby lotions, cold creams, cream deodorants, antiperspirants, suntan lotions and path oils."

I'm not sure why these pickles need to be emulsified but I certainly don't care to eat an ingredient also used in lotions and potions like cold cream. This serves as a personal reminder to ALWAYS read the label.

Needless to say I will be returning this to the store. I wonder what the counter clerk will say/think when I explain why I'm bringing it back.

photo courtesy of: Gerard Cohen | Wikimedia Commons