4:52 PM

Indian Food is the Best!

Posted by Heather |

Hi to all of our great readers! I'm Heather - the other half of this little corner of the blogging world. You haven't heard from me in a while - but a big thanks to Nicole for doing so many great posts in the recent weeks! I haven't been up for blogging lately - since my husband and I found out that we are expecting our first baby in January of next year... to tell you the truth, not a lot of food has sounded terribly good to me lately. I think things are starting to change though - our baby is half Indian (my husband is from India) and I think he or she is ready for some yummy Indian food made the traditional way!

I thought that I'd start with a basic of Indian cooking. You've probably heard of ghee (clarified butter) - but do you know the traditions and health benefits behind it? Have you ever tried making it from scratch? If you want to find out... keep reading!

Ghee is made by simmering unsalted butter until all the water has boiled away and the milk solids have settled to the bottom. The clarified butter is skimmed off the top and stored in an airtight jar (no need for refrigeration). The milk solids are discarded. Ghee has a higher smoke point than butter, so is widely used for frying/sautéing - when butter would otherwise burn. Ghee lacks hydrogenated oils and is a popular choice for health-conscious cooks as well. Also, since all the milk proteins have been removed during the clarifying process, it is lactose free, making it a safer alternative for those who are lactose intolerant.

Ghee in Indian cooking: in many parts of India rice is served with ghee. Indian flat breads, naan and chapatti are brushed with ghee. Many recipes call for cooking curries with ghee as well. Lots of Indian sweets are made with ghee as well - my husband's favorites!

Health benefits: Ghee is said to help balance excess stomach acid, and helps aid digestion and maintain/repair the mucus lining of the stomach. Ghee has been shown to actually reduce serum cholesterol in several studies. Ghee contains butyric acid, a fatty acid with antiviral and anti-cancer properties. Daily intake of ghee sharpens the intellect, and promotes a clear complexion and voice. It is also said to have anti-aging properties and most of all it doesn't have the free radicals like other hydrogenated oils, which cause heart diseases. People allergic to milk protein can safely cook with pure ghee as the offending proteins are removed during the clarifying process.

In India, ghee is used for many other purposes other than just cooking, such as: traditional medicine, religious ceremonies and even baby massage!

If you are buying store-bought ghee look for a package which says "pure desi ghee" or "cow's ghee" - to avoid buying imitation ghee which has been made from hydrogenated vegetable oils. Or if you are feeling adventurous and want an even more authentic flavor, try making your own ghee!

Here is a fun video demonstrating how to make ghee (and use the bi-products!):

10:14 AM

No more mellow yellow!

Posted by Nicole |

Do you ever marvel at the bright colors that are naturally occurring in plants and vegetables? I love the vivid hues of beets, the stems and leaves of chard, all the green vegetables, bright yellow corn, dahlias, I could go on and on! The foods that are best for us are so attractively packaged in the most beautiful colors. And because we eat with all of our senses, it makes perfect sense that the first impression we have of a possible food choice be bright, colorful and appetizing. When foods are at peak season they are bright and alive with color. Some of my favorites lately are fresh strawberries and eggs.

Strawberries are a given - when ripe and fresh they are a gorgeous red throughout (not white in the middle as are often seen in grocery stores when picked too early and shipped from California). They are sweet and juicy. We can't get enough of them right now. Speaking of strawberries, has anyone tried making jam with a natural sweetener? I am hoping to can some jam next week and have only ever used refined white sugar...

Another food item, when in peak season and fresh that are bright and appealing are eggs! I know maybe I'm weird but there are many bloggers out there touting the benefits free-range eggs and I am one of them!

After my rant last week about budgets and cost of good food I felt a little guilty. I really want to feed my family good quality food, I don't want to have to make sacrifices. But I have to be realistic and rely on Grace. I may not be able to afford the best of everything but I do what I can and pray that the food we eat would be blessed to those I serve it to.

So after looking at my food budget I decided I had enough to buy some local eggs at one of my favorite farms. The goat farm as my kids know it as. They also have chicken and turkeys and there are fresh pastured eggs. We go and look at the animals, including the chickens (we stay a little away from the turkeys, they are big and loud!). I bought a dozen eggs (at $4 a dozen, that seems high compared to the grocery store!) and was excited to see what they looked like. I have been buying the organic eggs from Costco and found them to be nice and wanted to compare...

There is no comparison! The eggs from the farm are colorful (blue, brown, multi-colored, such that my kids call them Easter eggs). They have a nice firm shell and when cracked are a bright yellow-orange yolk with a thick white. I mean they are vivid, eye catching, beautiful yolks. I just want to eat them when I think of the color alone.

I did a little research to see what makes the color such that it is. The color of the yolk is determined by the hen's diet. Carotenoids in the feed of the hens are stored by healthy hens and them more of these colorful foods with yellow/red pigments in them the brighter the shade of yolk. Here are two sources of good information on eggs and pastured eggs (and meats). http://www.yellow-egg.com/wEnglish/das_gelbe_im_ei/Der_Eidotter.shtml?navid=18

So this time of year when pastured chickens are free to be in the sun, eating grass and bugs they produce the most bright, healthy eggs.

I also learned that although they don't have to label a sell-by date, on eggs that are processed in a USDA inspected plant the sell by date can't exceed 30 days past the pack date. Interesting. One site said eggs can be fine in the refrigerator for about three weeks after they are brought home! I couldn't find any information on how long eggs maintain their nutritional value in the fridge but most sites claim they stay fresh for weeks.

I may not be able to buy all my eggs at this farm but I will certainly supplement with these and enjoy every bite!

6:50 AM

The 'B' word

Posted by Nicole |

Yes, I'll go there - the BUDGET! I know there seem to be a lot of bloggers who post on this - especially tips on more inexpensive meals and how to cut costs here and there. I devour those articles hoping to find the magic answer to all my problems. Actually one problem.

Good food costs money!

When we started our traditional food challenge I was super excited about the new diet, the whole milk, sourdough bread, trying my hand at new recipes and seeing my health improve. I was already cooking from scratch so that wasn't much of a stretch, I just began cooking with better quality ingredients. Which translates for us to a bigger amount of money going towards food. I definitely buy into the value of investing in our bodies and good food does that. However, when there really isn't room to budge in other areas of the budget, what is a family to do?

We have a family of 5 living on one income with increasingly hungry, growing boys to feed. We live in a part of the country with a fairly high cost of living. My desire is to feed my family wholesome, homemade food that will nourish their bodies and knit our family together. There really is something about sitting around the dinner table as a family that is so precious. This time of year we love to eat outside on our deck where we can just hang out and talk together after dinner.

So while my style of cooking (from scratch) hasn't changed, the price of ingredients has increased. Eggs, milk, organic fruit and veggies, and meat are the more expensive items on the list and I have been taking measures to ration/get the most bang for my buck with these items. I have increased the legumes in our diet. I have cut back on the baking of sweets. I buy local as often as I can. There are still times however as I pass by the non-organic veggies on sale as I head towards the small, overpriced organic section that I wonder... I know why I choose some things over others but to what extent is this the best use of the money we make? How can I truly feel good about spending more on food when there isn't a lot of money overall to spend?

The farmers' market is a good place to spend my food money, however how do I know if I am still getting a good value for the product? The rainbow chard I bought this weekend was so beautiful and fresh it was easy to shell out $2 for a bunch - but really? Is that a decent value for a small side dish that my kids will hardly touch?

We are growing a small garden this year and that helps. Someday I would love to have chickens but that isn't feasible where we are now.

I guess my struggle comes from aligning my culinary values and tastes with our limited budget. I hope to eat well but not stretch our budget further than it can go.

So my question is this, what does this ideal actually look like? Do some of you make nutritious sacrifices for the budget or the opposite? Or am I missing the point? What are some great ways to feed a growing family without costing a fortune?

2:49 PM

In Season: Rhubarb

Posted by Nicole |

I have come to love rhubarb more and more every year. I love the zing that it has and the sweetness of it when cooked and a sweetener added. This year I have been lucky enough to get my hands on a lot of rhubarb - my sister in law has a very happy rhubarb patch! So far I have made a rhubarb tart (more like rhubarb meringue pie) that is awesome! Here is the link to the recipe(I adapted it a little using honey in the filling and sucanat in the meringue). A couple of batches of rhubarb muffins - one that was sourdough, one just a basic muffin base with rhubarb and strawberry added, stewed rhubarb sweetened with honey, rhubarb chutney (don't really love it and I have a lot of it...), strawberry rhubarb crisp, and a rhubarb syrup.
The syrup was made with rhubarb, sucanat (natural sugar similar to rapadura), and water. When the rhubarb is soft, the liquid is strained and chilled. We made a rhubarb soda by mixing the syrup with club soda and lime! Pretty tasty, but not as clean tasting as it would be if it were made with white sugar, or even brown.
I am really enjoying stewed rhubarb which is really simple to make and quite versatile. Simply chop rhubarb, add a touch of water and let it simmer until soft and juicy. When it has cooled stir in enough honey to suite your tastes and keep in the fridge. It is wonderful with yogurt, awesome on ice cream and tasty simply as is; like applesauce.
I still have some in the fridge - some is destined for a pie as was requested by my husband for Father's Day. The rest is still unaccounted for.
What else do you all do with rhubarb?

8:51 AM

Late spring meal

Posted by Nicole |

I was feeling a little adventurous yesterday with my cooking... I tend to be a by the recipe type cook but I wasn't in the mood for a recipe, I just wanted good food that was simple and no fuss.

This is a simple meal made from delicious local food that I sourced from our area. The egg dish is made with young local leeks that were simmered until soft in salted water then drained and laid on a plate for form a bed for fried eggs. The eggs were topped with shaved parmigiano reggiano (not from out area, unfortunately Italy is not local!) and snipped chives and parsley. It could easily be roasted or grilled asparagus (or boiled but I don't love it as much as the other methods).

The salad was baby lettuce topped with sliced organic strawberries, sliced almonds and finely chopped sweet onion. The salad was dressed with a homemade balsamic dressing and was enjoyed by all! Adding a little sweetness to a salad is a great way to get kids to it lettuce! Dinner was served with whole wheat sourdough bread - a no knead recipe I am working on.
For dessert I knew I wanted to make a strawberry rhubarb crisp but didn't feel like searching for or trying a new recipe. So I combined a large bowl of chopped rhubarb that was given to me by my sister-in-law, with some organic strawberries that are just beginning to appear near us. I mixed in about 2 Tbsp of arrowroot powder (cornstarch could be substituted) and about a third to a half cup of honey. This was dumped into a square baking dish.
Next came the topping. I decided to use nuts instead of oats hoping for a crunchy topping, so dumped in some pecans (maybe 1/2 cup) to a food processor and pulsed to chop. I think I chopped them too finely and next time I will leave some in bigger chunks to add more texture to the topping. Then I added about a cup of whole wheat flour, some cinnamon and allspice* and a pinch of salt. After that mixture was pulsed I added a half cup of butter cut into chunks and pulsed to get a slightly lumped together topping. I spread it over the fruit and baked in a 375degree oven for about 50 minutes. It turned out really well- the rhubarb was yummy and soft yet tart which was really nice with the crunchy topping and creamy ice cream I served it with.
*I always add a little of another spice when using cinnamon. While I like cinnamon, I really like it when paired with something like nutmeg, allspice or cloves.

All in all it was a successful meal that was born from a desire to use good, flavorful foods prepared simply. I like that kind of cooking and it encouraged me to try cooking as a set of "methods" not only "recipes".

What kind of cook are you? A recipe by the pinch or an guess here or there kind?

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