Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Granola: A yummy food... and also a lifestyle discriptor.

I have been known to wax philosophical on granola... the food, the lifestyle... the fact that on more than one occasion I have heard this word called out in a crowd and known, instinctively, that it was a moniker for myself and not anybody else. And I was right!  I have heard tell that granola is indigestible. This may be true and I have yet to test this information any double blind control groups... in the mean time I will continue to make and eat this stuff... cause it's delicious. And it makes me feel like a million bucks. And yes, this could very well be because it's an awesome way to eat lots of indigestible fiber that cleans out my insides... so what? It's been a much more enjoyable experience eating this on the regular than it ever has been to take phsylum husks powder. Bleckity-bleck-bleck-blecks! All that being said.... I make granola frequently and unapologetically and I savor the results with a relish bordering on food worship. Here is my recipe.

Homemade Granola
makes about 10 cups

6-7 cups oats
1-2 cups "fillers" (this could be nuts, seeds etc)
1 Tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 cup honey
1 cup oil ( olive oil is great, coconut oil is divine.)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
3 Tbsp flax seed meal
Butter a large casserole and fill with the dry ingredients. Give this a little stir while your honey and oil heat up until just warm and mixable. I prefer to to this little warm up act in a sauce pan on the stove. Add the vanilla to the honey and oil and then pour the wet over the dry and stir until it's allwell coated and glistening. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove and stir. Bake another 15 minutes and stir again. Might need a little bit more to just perfectly toast your cereal... this is a case by case basis. Use your best judgement. Once it appears to be perfectlygolden brown take it out of the oven sprinkle with the flax seed meal and give that a stir. Then let it sit until room temp. Somehow, magically, when you leave it alone to cool like this it clumps into delicate little crunchy clusters. Fresh, homemade granola is fantastic as a breakfast or snack we usually enjoy our granola topped with some fresh fruit and our homemade yogurt.

Bone Broth: An easy way to stretch your money while adding nutrition and flavor.

Potions Class....
There is something about stirring a large pot full of ambiguous looking bones and scraps that makes me feel ... witchy. In a good way! I stir that junks counterclockwise and reminisce about cloaks, wands, bezoars and widdershins. Fantasy fiction aside though, bone broth can be a great way to stretch your dollars and put more nutrition per bite into your meals. I have heard tell that the apple cider vinegar does an awesome "leaching of the bones" which pulls the nutrients out of them and into the broth. And how this is so good for your immune system it used to be the only thing prescribed by doctors for a cold.... Chicken soup. Because it was assumed that this dish would be prepared with proper bone broth and not from a can that looks strangely similar to some of my favorite pop art. 

Bone Broth
makes 3-4 quarts

1-2 lbs bones (fresh or leftover)
3-4 cups saved veggie peelings. (onion, carrot & potato skins etc)
12 pepper corns
a bay leaf (if you have it)
3 Tbsp apple cider vingar

Throw all the above ingredients in a large soup pot. Cover them/fill the pot with water. Let this sit for an hour or so to thaw if your ingredients were starting frozen. Bring just to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer and let this sit partially covered for a few hours. Then use a colander to strain out the bones and veggies and save your broth in a jar or pitcher. You can skim the top if you want to take your fats out. If you aren't going to use this broth within a week I would suggest saving it in the freezer. It's probably best to use from frozen within 3 months of preparation. There are a couple great methods for freezing broth. Individual freezer bags work well if you use a few cups at once... ice cube trays work well also. Though I would suggest a few hours freezing and then moving your broth cubes into a freezer bag to keep them fresh.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lentil Stew

This approach to lentil stew was first introduced to me from a great book I picked up on clearance at Boarders years ago called 'Soups and Breads' distributed by Bay Books. I have a few steady variations from their take so I feel confident in sharing this recipe as my own. There are so many ways to make this soup... all you absolutely need are the onions, garlic, lentils and water. All the other ingredients can be either left out or substituted. I have made about fourty pots of this stew since I discovered it was a family favorite a few years ago.    

Lentil Stew served with grated parmesan and parsley flakes
 Lentil Stew
serves 8-10

1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
8 oz bacon, sliced thin
6 garlic cloves, sliced thin/rough chop
3 carrots, peeled and chopped 
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
6-8oz (half a bag) lentils (brown, red or green) RINSED
4 cups broth (can be substituted for water)
4 cups water
10 oz small pasta, such as risotto or alphabets
2 more cups water
2 Tbsp lemon zest

grated parmesan and fresh or dry parsley as a garnish when served. 

In a large soup pot saute the onions, bacon and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are tender. Add the carrots, celery and parsnips and saute these until tender. Stir in the rinsed lentils. Gradually add the water and stir frequently. Bring this to the boil and lower the heat to keep on a simmer for 25 minutes or until the lentils are tender and falling apart. Then add the pasta and extra 2 cups water. The pasta should cook in about ten minutes. Then stir in the lemon zest and take it off the heat... it's done! My favorite way to serve this up is in a low bowl with a bit of fresh grated parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of parsley. A slice of homemade whole wheat bread and butter is the perfect side.
Lentil Stew

Monday, February 24, 2014

Belgium: Vlaams Rundvlees en Bier Casserole "Beef and Beer Casserole"

image yanked from a google search page. without permission.
This weekend I went to Belgium! I was busy with a few other trips and projects... so for my culinary adventuring things were kept to a sweet slow and low style of cooking.  I love this style because one gets the opportunity to appreciate the meal on so many levels. First is the fresh ingredients phase... when you can notice and appreciate the high quality, colors, freshness and raw tang of the foods. Then as you begin chopping and throwing things into the crock pot or casserole dish a few more smells and tiny tastes get thrown into the air. By the time my casserole had been in the oven for a few hours you could smell it all the way down the block. As the boys were sure to tell me when they came back from their tennis show-down at the park. My favorite was our young friend Simon enthusiastically exclaiming, 'Smell that!!!" When he and Silas first walked into the house from outside. Best compliment of the evening. And there were many!

Belgian Beef and Beer Casserole with Belgian style beer!
Here are the basics of what I did so that you could try this for yourself sometime... I'm doing my best not to break copyrights with this book I am posting about so bear with me.

You will need:
A few pounds of quality beef. I used top shoulder think steaks.
A garnish of smoked ham. (I know, meat on meat! Don't you love it!?!)
A pound of thinly sliced onions
A heavy touch of your favorite saute oil... I went for lard. Goes well with the meat theme.
Few tablespoons of flour
Touch of herb... I used thyme.
Dash of Mollasses. (I swapped this for the sugar the origonal recipe called for)
A 12 oz beer.
few tablespoons of red wine vinegar

So basically saute your meat until it's just brown. Don't worry about cooking it through cause you're going to slow roast this lovely meat on meat mixture in your beer sauce. Set this aside and leave the juices in the pan. Saute your pound of thinly sliced onions until they are brown. Set this aside and get ready to ROUX. This was my first experience with a brown beer roux and I loved it so much I can't wait to try some more variations!! If you have a few tablespoons of oil and juices left... fantastic start with this... if not throw a little more oil or fat in the pan.. only a few tablespoons and try to deglaze  the meat and onion into the fat to help get that yummy brown flavor (and so that your pan doesn't start smoking!) add your flour and mix well. slowly add the beer. then the spices. a little bit of minced garlic is lovely as well. hold back the vinegar, that's for last. once the roux has boiled a bit and thickened then you're set to layer your meat and onions in a casserole (chose one with a lid to help keep the moisture in. a dutch oven would be perfect for this!) Once everything is in pour the beer roux over all and cover it with a lid and let it do it's thing in the oven at around 300 degrees for a few hours. When you just can't take it anymore... peel and boil some potatoes. I used golds with their wonderful buttery flavor. However, think that russets would go well with the meat theme as well. These are supposed to be peasant style, boiled and plain, a delicious preparation that I underestimated in the past. I like to have a green veggie represented on the plate of every dinner... this time we went with pan steamed kale and spinach. Once everything is set pull your casserole out of the oven and drizzle the vinegar over all and you are set to eat!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Austria: Tyrolese Soup, Gefullter Kalbsbraten and Linzer Torte

 We went to Austria! It was an exciting trip. We listened to many world renowned musicians as I slaved away in the kitchen over some pretty choice dishes! Mid-meal I flipped through some info about the country and showed the kiddos. I decided that if we did some actual, physical plain traveling that I would want to see the city of Hallstatt first in my visit to Austria. So cool! Oldest salt mines ever... and I love some salt!

Hallstatt, Austria. I ganked this image without permission from
More Hallstatt, this image was also taken without permission from
And now to show off the fruits of my labor. We enjoyed a three course meal. It began with Tyrolese soup. This soup is like if potato soup and split pea soup had a love child. Totally yummy.

Tyrolese Soup
Next on the agenda was the main course. A lovely veal steak smeared with freshly minced veal, veg and spices and rolled around a hard boiled egg. Pan fried in butter to a golden perfection. Mmmmm.
Gefullter Kalbsbraten

After all that meat we needed something extra special to entice us when the dessert cart rolled around. Of course none of us could resist the Linzer Torte!

Linzer Torte

Linzer Torte, as served with an enormous tower of fresh, organic, grass fed, creamy whipped topping.

I dunno guys... you think Juda might be a little excited about dessert? Ah, my sweet little blur that refuses to be accurately photographed. Gotta love that kid!

Australia: Veal and Ham Pie


I snipped this image right off google's search page. bam!
We went to Australia! It was very cozy and entertaining. I feel that since we had some company joining us for the evening the hubby and I were a little distracted from the educational side of Around The World Night. However, there is a gentle effort made towards finding some didgeridoo music and we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

The main recipe of the evening was Veal and Ham pie. This was a casserole style dish of the comfort food variety. Our family loved it so much that I think I should put it on the regular rotation.
The first layer: veal, ham, potato, salt, pepper, parsley

Just before my final layer of potato... this is how I spaced out my veal and ham.
Enough fixin's for two more layers. I divided my ingredients to get three layers total.

 After arranging all my layers I poured on a cup of broth (chicken stock is what I had on hand) and then dotted the top with 2 Tbsp butter and laid my freshly prepared and rolled out pastry dough over all. Baked all that nice and low and slow at 325 or so for 1 1/2 hours. Since I had the oven on already I threw in a apple crisp. It remains etched in  amy memory forever as completely lovely. However, we were too busy eating it to take a picture!

Penfolds red wine. Koonunga Hill. Shiraz Cabernet. From Australia.. of course!

Lovely little salad of fresh greens with a sprinkle of feta.

Veal and Ham Pie

Monday, February 17, 2014

Spaghetti Squash: An often overlooked and underrated veggie.

There just isn't much better than a hot spaghetti dinner, with fresh crusty bread and a crisp green salad... unless of course you up your anti (and significant nutritional value) and swap your pasta for squash. Yes ladies, you read me right. Squash! But not just any squash will do, only spaghetti squash will swap for spaghetti... and you have to bake it correctly or you'll get slimy mush. But do try it sometime because it is lusciously and uniquely tasty and satisfying. 

When I am hankering for some comfort food I am always so glad to see the these fresh ingredients on hand. (picture to the right of spaghetti squash, red and green bell peppers and yellow onions...) Add a can of crushed tomatoes, a little bit of ground meat (beef or turkey) or even some spicy pork sausage, several cloves of garlic, some fresh, chopped spinach if I have it and I find myself with a lovely, fragrant and zippy sauce to go over my squash. Making homemade spaghetti sauce is worth the extra effort to me because it holds so much flavor and the nutritional value is much higher because all the veggies (minus the tomato) haven't been sitting around in a can gettin' old. Plus I can add as much garlic and basil as I want... and not have any white sugar or HFCS. (High-fructose corn syrup) Onto the recipes!

Spaghetti Squash
serves 6

1 large or 2 medium spaghetti squash
4-5 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste

 method: Wash your squash thoroughly. With a large, heavy knife on a sturdy cutting board, remove the stem. Then stand the squash on the cut end and slice down through the center. This does tend to take a little elbow grease. It's not a melon! Scrape out the seeds and membranes with a spoon and more of the elbow grease. Rinse off the halved, emptied squash. Drizzle with olive oil and lay sliced side down in a baking dish.



Slide your baking dish into a preheated 350-375 degree oven. It's loose because you are roasting and it's fine to take a little shorter or longer. I had success this time baking my squash for about the length of time it took to make a fresh loaf of crusty herb bread. About 25-30 minutes. Check on the close side of that by taking your dish fully out of the oven and with mitts on lift the squash with one hand and gently drag a fork tip across the edge. If it pulls apart easily than your squash is done. Replace it on the pan and let it rest 10 minutes. If it had some resistance and seems too firm give it a few more minutes in the oven and check it again. When it's ready make sure to leave it to rest for 10 minutes. Once your squash is ready to be awoken from it's siesta ... grab your fork and bowl and flake/scrape out the stringy squash into the bowl.

Forking out the squash.

I like to serve my spaghetti squash and sauce with some crusty herb bread and fresh rainbow garden salad. Recipes to follow in their own posts... eventually.

Fresh Rainbow Garden Salad

Crusty Herb Bread

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yogurt-y Goodness

There are a few foods that I put up on a pedestal and sacrifice hours of my life to preparing on a mostly weekly basis in enough quantity for my entire family to eat a serving (or two) on a daily basis. Yogurt is one of those foods.

makes 4-5 quarts
High quality milk means high quality yogurt.

1 gallon of milk
1/2 or 1 cup fresh yogurt

 Also necessary:
Crock pot
Food thermometer
Five quart size containers with lids.
A few cozy blankets

method: Pour the milk into your crock pot. Place the lid on fully and crank the heat up to HIGH.
Wait a little while. Maybe a few hours. (Every crock pot is different. I

180 degrees
suggest getting to know your machine. For instance, my crock pot and I are intimate enough to know this takes approximately 90-120 minutes... depending on the weather.) What you are waiting for is for the heat to get up to 180 degrees.

...all tucked in for the night!
Then turn down the heat, leave the lid off and unplug the crock pot. Wait a little while. Maybe a few hours... (again, timing varies with different crock pots and different weather) What you are waiting for is for the heat to get down to between 100 and 110 degrees. When the temperature is right, add your yogurt culture and whisk it well to disperse
into the containers...
it evenly. cover with the lid. Then comes the really cute part... tuck your yogurt in for a nap under those cozy blankets for 8-12 hours or so... I like mine a little strong so I let it rest for 13-14 hours. Then you are ready to observe the magic. Remove your blankets and uncover your crock pot to find your own homemade yogurt! Dish this out into your containers and keep refrigerated. I'm not sure how long it's good for... ours doesn't stick around for more than two weeks ever. Cause we eat it up!

homemade yogurt!

Friday, February 7, 2014

It's Friday Night!!!

aaaand.... this is how we do it! I have created the perfect Friday night formula for our family. 

Pizza + popcorn + movie = happy family in a snuggle pile on the couch.

It just doesn't get much better than that on a regular school & work kind of week. In the summer we might go camping or traveling and abandon our routine for more adventurous pursuits. But for the rest of the year when we are caught in the grind of school and work this is our small haven of family time.

And it all starts with the pizza. 

Foster family classic: ham and bacon zalala
This is a 'mom special' with gluten free crust and 'weird veggies'
Another veggie lovers!

Perfect Pizza Dough
Water, honey, yeast
makes one pie
1 cup hot water
2 tsp honey
2 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp flax seed meal
2 1/2 cups freshly milled whole wheat flour

method: (note on oven temp: 
allow the yeast to activate

Cover and wait ten mintues
this will bake in a 425 degree oven. that's hot! but only for 15 minutes... so time your preheat just right so as not to heat up your kitchen and waste your resources. ) Add the first three ingredients (water, honey, yeast) in a large bowl and whisk together. Cover and let this rise for 10 minutes. The perfect amount of time to prep your toppings. Once your yeast is properly activated add the olive oil, salt, garlic powder, flax seed meal and whisk. Add the flour a cup or so at a time in three additions. Whip the first cup of flour well to activate the gluten in the flour. This makes for a spongier crust with more tear than crumble. Form into a ball that has enough body to it that it doesn't fill in a light finger depression.This means you're good.
"... a light finger depression"
Drizzle a little olive oil over the ball and twist and flip it so that the entire ball is coated and set this aside to rest while you prep your pans. (a note on pans: I have used many different kinds. Invariably the best results are with a Lodge cast iron pan. Fabulous crusty, crisp bottom and an evenly chewy top... no complaints here. Go get some love.) I  have had the yummiest crusts with a generous layer of olive oil sprinkled with some corn meal.
Lodge Cast Iron Pans
Once your pan is set to receive the dough dampen your hands with water (This is a fabulous secret. Use it well.) and then form a flattened circle in your hands and lay this in the center of the pan. gradually, pressing from the inside to the outside, smoosh your dough into the pan. Try to keep it as even and flat as possible. Then simply add your favorite toppings and cook for 15 minutes in a 425 degree oven.

Stove Top Popcorn
there is never enough. ever.
2 Tbsp high heat oil
2/3 cup pop corn kernels

method: In your stove top popper (or even just a dutch oven or stew pot with a lid) pour in your oil and add only three of your kernels. Put the burner onto low-med heat and wait for the three first to pop. This is your signal that the pan is at the proper heat. Immediately pour in the rest of the 2/3 cup of kernels. Stir constantly and wait for the cacophony of many splendid pops. As soon as they slow to about 3 seconds between pops remove the pan from the heat. turn off the burner. Keep stirring until no more pops. Dump it into a huge bowl. Sprinkle with salt, drizzle with butter, grate some Parmesan cheese over it... or my personal favorite a few swift grinds of black pepper! Leave everything out... cause you will want more.