Snippets and Pretzel Making

Things here have been humming along at a rather rapid pace. This past weekend was one of the first we have had for quite sometime without any doctor’s appointments or loads of time spent on food preservation. Our weekend was simple and sweet. Laundry was entirely caught up (for about four hours) and Ryan had a nice bit of time to work on a new project. Friends came over for chili on Sunday. The whole weekend was just a lovely time of rest.

Check out some of these sweet photos Myla and Joshua took and edited on Saturday.IMG_0922.JPGIMG_0923.JPG IMG_0924.JPG
After being exclusively breastfed for six months, our twins dove into the world of solids this past weekend. They were super excited about food. So far their favorite thing seems to be avocados. I am so thankful we made it to the six-month mark with breastfeeding. I wasn’t sure how it would go nursing twins. It was definitely challenging and it seemed most days, especially early on, were spent nursing round the clock. I am really proud we made it this far. Hopefully with the introduction of solids, both girls will feel fuller for longer and will start sleeping for longer stretches at night too. One can hope, right?IMG_0917
I’ve been experimenting the past few days with pretzel making. Years ago I tried unsuccessfully to make pretzels at home from scratch. They were okay. I thought maybe one of those pretzels in a box kits would better so I bought one and tried it. They were also just okay. Neither option was stellar and I abandoned pretzel making. I hadn’t really thought much about it until a few days ago. I was originally going to attempt, for the first time ever, to make a Jelly Roll, but despite having 21 chickens, we didn’t have enough eggs to make the roll. I was in a rather eccentric, high-energy baking mood so I didn’t want to abandon my urge to create something delicious so I flipped through one of my favorite cookbooks until my eye caught the pretzel recipe. It didn’t need hours to rise and we had all the ingredients so we began to bake.

Years and years ago when I was in Salzburg I had a pretzel. It was nothing like anything I had ever eaten in America. It was crispy, deep golden brown on the outside and divinely soft on the inside. I had no idea how to create that crunch on the outside, while still keeping the middle soft. After a few days of experimenting and trying out various flavors, I think I’ve got two recipes that we are all nuts over, so much so that none of my kids really left my kitchen for hours anytime I (plus five helpers) was making pretzels. They kids all liked making their own individual pretzel shapes. I was really impressed with Ellie’s peapod pretzel. IMG_1116.JPGThey were in pretzel making and taste-testing heaven and wanted me to take their picture while they were munching. So, here are those pictures to go along with our family favorite recipes.IMG_0967.JPGIMG_0979.jpgIMG_0980.JPGIMG_0982 copy.jpgIMG_0972.JPG

Garlic Onion Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Dried minced onion
Melted butter

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Top with a sprinkle of salt and a bit of minced, dried onion flakes to taste. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter once done. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_0963.JPG

Coconut Pecan Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Melted butter plus 1 tablespoons of brown sugar

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Towards the end of kneading add in pecans, coconut flakes and brown sugar. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter mixed with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar once done. Top with shredded coconut flakes. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter/brown sugar mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_1123.JPG

*Modified from Soft Pretzels recipe in The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book (2001) edited by Susan Westmoreland

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All the Rain and All the Tomatoes

It’s a terrible time to be a chicken around here. It’s been nothing but rain for a few weeks. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. We’ve had a few days of sun, but they’ve been sparse. The new chickens we raised this spring do not particularly like to go out in the rain. They huddle up in the coop and stare out into the yard as if to ask what they ever did to deserve such weather. Since they have been hanging out in the coop a lot, it is in need of a good clean out. It’s a muddy mess and will start to smell gross if we don’t get to it. We would of course, except the rain continues to pour.

The garden plants have been thrilled with the rain we’ve been getting. Baby veggies are making a grand appearance and the grape vine is running fast along our back fence, weighing heavy with loads of grapes.

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Hudson counting grapes

The grapes are my favorite crop. Yes, they have seeds and it’s a lot of work, but I love, love, love that I can make enough jam (if the crop is good enough) to last our family the entire year. Following close behind in favorites are the tomatoes for the same reason. I can stock up enough sauce from our plants to last us the entire year. It’s fantastic and oh, so, tasty. I usually do a batch of sauce a day when our tomato crop is at its peak. I like using a crock-pot recipe because I can just throw all the ingredients in and let it be. Here is my go to sauce recipe in case you’d like it. Even though there are some spices in it, once it is cooked, it is a basic sauce. I usually freeze it in two-cup increments so it’s easy to use in recipes. I prefer to make sauce this way so I can jazz it up however I’d like whenever I go to use it in a dish.

Tomato Sauce

  • 6 pounds of tomatoes (seeds out)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1, 8 ounce jar of tomato paste
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of Italian seasoning
  • ½ tablespoon of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of tarragon
  • ½ teaspoon of rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 2-3 tablespoons of raw sugar
  • ½ cup white wine
  • salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a crockpot. Cook on low 8-12 hours. Once cooked, use an immersion blender for a few seconds to make it a nice, smooth consistency.

Coconut Blondies!

Delicious coconut blondies, featuring both coconut oil and coconut flakes! Yum!

Delicious coconut blondies, featuring both coconut oil and coconut flakes! Yum!

Coconut blondies are one of our family’s ultimate quick and easy desserts! We hope you enjoy them!

Ingredients

  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2/3 c. coconut oil, melted
  • 2 c. Rapadura
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 tablespoons of vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or carob chips, divided
  • 1 cup of unsweetened coconut flakes (more or less to taste)

Directions

Grease a 9×13 inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate large bowl, mix together the coconut oil and Rapadura (it should have a sand-like consistency). Then, in another small bowl, mix together the eggs and vanilla extract. Add the egg mixture to the coconut oil and Rapadura mixture. Thoroughly mix. Slowly add the flour mixture to the coconut oil mixture just until blended. Pour into the 9×13 inch dish and smooth it out until it is an even layer. Sprinkle 3/4 c. of the chocolate chips on top of the batter. Then, sprinkle 1 c. of coconut flakes on top of the chocolate chips, creating an even layer of coconut flakes (add more or less as desired). Finally, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 c. of the chocolate chips on the top of the coconut flakes. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until done (knife inserted into the middle comes out clean). Enjoy!

Coconut Curried Shrimp Salad

In the summertime we do simple meals. Our upstate NY home does not have central air conditioning and the heat often seems to drain the life out of us. Cooking in our kitchen during blistering summer heat is definitely not an enjoyable experience.

Summers are also busy. Between vacations, time at the pool, exploring the outdoors, gardening, and outdoor home improvements (because those are definitely tough to do in the wintertime in NY), it’s a hectic season. Maybe God knew we’d all be so busy outdoors in the summertime and that is why most of fruit and vegetables are ready then. We don’t have to cook, we just go pick our food right off the plant and eat it. It doesn’t get much easier!

So, in the summer, we opt for simple whole foods. For lunch today, I munched on some pistachios, cherries, yogurt, kale chips and a banana. Simple. Easy. Delicious. For summertime dinners, our family adores salads. Even our two year old eats her salad with gusto. So, today we are sharing a recipe for coconut-curried shrimp salad. It is one of our favorites. We hope you enjoy it too!

Coconut Curried Shrimp Salad

Mix together: 1/2 teaspoon of curry, 1/2 teaspoon of paprika, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 1/2 teaspoon garam masala, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, a pinch of black pepper, and 1/4 cup of unsweetened shredded coconut. Once mixed, toss the spice mixture with 1 lb of large shrimp (peeled). Coat thoroughly.

Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter over medium heat until melted. Add shrimp (in a single layer). Cook shrimp for four minutes on one side and flip. Then, cook for another three minutes on the other side. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Prepare a salad with toppings of your choice and add the shrimp on top. Enjoy!

Quick and Easy Homemade Fruit Tarts

When I was little, I loved helping my grandmother in her kitchen. Before we began baking she would always put on one of her floral print aprons. One time she even gave me my very own apron. It was just my size and on the front of it was a recipe for elephant stew, complete with a picture of an elephant. I was so proud of that apron and still have it today.

My grandmother was famous for her pies. All her grandkids loved her peanut butter pie the best, but she enjoyed making fruit pies more than any other type. Thinking back on it, I had no idea, at the time, how much effort she put into making those fruit pies. She usually handpicked (or bought from a farmer) the berries for each pie. Then, she made the sauce from scratch. I vividly remember the color of her blueberry pie sauce. Jet black. To this day I have no idea what she did to make that sauce such a rich, deep blue, but it was divine and brimming with blueberries.

Often, she would let me help her make the pies. Back then, I had little appreciation for pie-making. It was not making the pies I was most excited about, it was seeing what we would do with the extra pie crust. My grandmother, who grew up during the last few years of the depression, never let anything go to waste. She never threw away any extra pie crust. Instead she would always make something out of it. I was always fascinated to see what she would do with it. My favorite was when she would use the left-over crust to make homemade mini-cinnamon rolls. They were a perfect combination of crunchy and melt-in-your mouth goodness, and I often ate them by the dozens.

I continue to follow my grandmother’s tradition of never throwing away extra pie crust. Indeed, pie crust has many uses and one of my absolute favorite ways of using it is to make homemade fruit tarts. These tarts are a healthier version of the modern day pop tart. The pie crust is made with soaked grains and the filling is simply homemade jam made from last year’s berry harvest. I hope you enjoy it. Our family savors these and these tarts are wonderful reminder that one day soon berries will be in season once again.

Let’s first start with the dough. Sally Fallon, author of Nourishing Traditions (2001), strongly recommends soaking most grains to improve their digestibility and nutritional value. Here is our favorite pie crust recipe using soaked grains. This usually makes at least two to three pie crusts.

Soaked Pie Crust*

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt (I make my own. See here for recipe).
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
1 tsp fine sea salt

Cream together butter and yogurt. Slowly add flour and salt until combined. Cover and leave on counter for 12-24 hours to soak. Then, either use the dough or divide into smaller increments and freeze.

When ready to use, roll out desired amount onto a floured surface. It usually takes 30 minutes or so to bake at 350 degrees.

Now, on to the fruit tarts!

Fruit Tarts

Pie crust dough, use leftovers or whatever amount of pie crust dough you’d like
Fruit jam, berries or whatever filling you would like

Roll out pie crust into a square or rectangular shape. Crust should be just as thin as if making a pie. Use a knife to cut crust into squares or rectangles. Then, fill one side with jam or desired filling.

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Fold one side over the next and seal edges closed. Cut a small line or tiny holes on the top crust.

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Then, place on a parchment-covered cookie sheet. Bake on 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

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*Recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions (2001) by Sally Fallon.

This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday and Tasty Traditions.

Root Vegetable Rendezvous

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Here in New York we are still in the throes and woes of winter. Just this morning, our grass which was just starting to peek out under the snow, was promptly buried yet again by several more inches of snow. Such is life just south of the Adirondacks. As I have mentioned before we try to eat seasonally, but what does that look like right now when the ground is buried by snow?

Two words: Root vegetables. Root vegetables are all those fall crops that typically keep relatively well through most of winter. Some examples are butternut squash, onions, sweet potatoes, carrots and beets. We are also blessed to be a part of a CSA able to grow some foods in greenhouses throughout the winter. This means our table is often graced with the presence of kale, salad greens, spinach and bok choy even in the dead of winter when it seems impossible for anything to grow.

Even though there may not be a wide variety of vegetables available in the winter (if eating local, seasonal produce), there is a wide variety of things to do with each of these vegetables. Here are a few of our favorite ways to enjoy root vegetables.

Beets

Incredibly high in vitamin B and iron among numerous other nutrients and minerals, beets are a delight to cook with and a refreshing addition to numerous dishes. We typically roast beets (unpeeled) for two to three hours on 250 degrees. Then we peel the beets and either eat them as a side, sliced and topped with a hint of melted butter and salt or we use the beets in other dishes. They are a delicious addition in a salad (and pair well in a salad with walnuts). Another exquisite way to enjoy roasted beets is to slice them and then alternate slices of beets with goat cheese. Then, top with a balsamic glaze (or balsamic dressing if you do not want to make your own glaze). Oh so good!

Butternut squash

Butternut Apple Walnut Soup*

Ingredients: One butternut squash, two apples, 1/2 cup walnuts, three and a half cups chicken stock, one onion, one to two cups of milk, thyme (to taste), salt/pepper (to taste), olive oil, and 2 tablespoons of butter

Peel and remove seeds from butternut squash. Chop into one to two-inch chunks. Lightly coat with olive oil, thyme, salt, pepper and roast in oven on 400 degrees for about 45 minutes. Saute onion in butter until nearly translucent. Add apple and walnuts to onion and continue till apple is heated through (5-10 min). In a large pot add butternut squash, apple/onion/walnut mixture and two cups of chicken stock. Cook for 10-15 minutes on medium heat. Remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to puree soup. Add one to two cups of milk to desired consistency and return to low heat. Heat through.

Helpful hint: If you have an abundance of squash, double or triple the recipe and just after pureeing the soup, but before adding in the milk, freeze the desired amount. Then, when you would like a quick and easy meal just pull it out of the freezer and heat up on stove, adding milk once warmed.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are an incredibly versatile and easy to prepare vegetable. Our favorite way is to simply poke a few holes in the top of them and bake in the oven for 250 degrees for two to three hours. We also enjoy sweet potato fries (cut into strips, toss into a bag with a bit of olive oil/butter, salt and cinnamon and cook on a cookie sheet for 45 min on 400 degrees).

Carrots

Now that our girls are a bit older and we do not need to worry about carrots posing a choking hazard, we thoroughly enjoy taking along bags of carrot sticks to snack on when we are out and about. We also throw carrots into just about any recipe from soups to smoothies to Quiche. Here is one recipe showcasing this antioxidant rich vegetable:

Coconut-Ginger Carrot Soup

Ingredients: 1 lb of carrots (coarsely chopped), 1 onion (chopped), 1-2 tablespoons of butter, 2 tablespoons of fresh, shredded ginger, 1 c. cream (or sour cream/creme fraiche), 4 c. chicken stock, 1 potato chopped, 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 2 c. unsweetened coconut flakes, salt/pepper to taste.

Saute onions in butter. Set aside. Bring chicken stock to a boil. Add onions, potato, carrots, ginger, lemon juice and coconut flakes. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes (or until carrots are tender). Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blended (or in batches in a blender/food processor). Once pureed turn to low and add either 1 cup of cream or 1 cup of sour cream/creme fraiche. Heat over low heat till warmed through.

Another option: Instead of pureeing the coconut flakes into the soup, hold the coconut flakes and add them to the soup at the very end (post-puree) for a more textured soup.

So, there you have a few of our favorite ways to rendezvous with root vegetables. How about you? Do you have any favorite ways you like to enjoy root vegetables?

*Recipe adapted from Butternut-Apple Soup (p. 60) in The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book (2001).

This post is shared on Real Food Wednesday, Tasty Traditions, Fight Back Friday, Old Fashioned Friday and Fresh Bites Friday.

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Hidden Ingredient Frustration Sparks Homemade Cheese Cracker Endeavor!

“I have a market stand over here,” I overheard my two-year old daughter telling her sister the other day.  “This is my family over here,” she proudly announced, still talking about her market stand. Our girls (ages one and two) love going to the farmer’s market each week. We always look forward to discovering what our CSA farm has available each week. This week our fun new food to try was Bok Choy (otherwise known as Chinese cabbage). I have found myself relying more and more on our CSA for items other than our evening vegetables. We have our CSA fruits, veggies and herbs for breakfast, snacks, and lunch too.

I recently discovered our favorite on-the-go snack, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies, has MSG in it. The MSG in the tasty bunnies is not labeled as MSG on the package, instead it is hidden under the “yeast extract” ingredient label. Yeast extract contains MSG (see here for more information regarding Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies ingredient labeling). I admit I am a huge supporter of buying organic fruits and veggies. However, there are lots of organic foods available that are terrible for you. Junk food is still junk food, even if it is labeled “organic”. Food prepared in certain ways (even with quality ingredients) is still not good for you.

All that being said, Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies were the one item that we thought was relatively safe. After all, the crackers are baked using only ten, non-GMO ingredients. On the surface, all the ingredients seemed wholesome. When I discovered MSG was hiding in our girls’ favorite out-and-about snack, I was overwhelmed. It was the only store-bought/processed snack that was on our “approved” list for our family. After I got over my initial shock and frustration, I realized we would have to do a better job figuring out wholesome snacks for our family.

We already make so much from scratch and the thought of making one more thing was a bit overwhelming. However, continuing to give our girls MSG was simply not an option. I started to think about quick and easy snacks for ourselves and started to look at our CSA stand with fresh eyes. Suddenly, the cucumbers I would typically turn into pickles or put in a salad became the perfect snack for our girls. The more I looked around the stand (and the rest of the market), the more I noticed an abundance of snack ideas. Our girls are still a bit young to munch on the stereotypical carrots and celery sticks snack (choking hazard), but they certainly love fresh raspberries and cherry tomatoes. After unloading our market goodies from the car the other Saturday, I walked into the kitchen and found both girls munching on raw cabbage leaves! How is that for an impromptu, easy snack?

For days when I know I am going to be out and about and need a snack for the girls, I have figured out how to pack some of the fresh fruits and veggies so they do not get squished, mashed or destroyed in by the girls and their antics in the car. I have also been making my own cheese crackers using a recipe our babysitter shared with us. I had always been intimidated to make crackers in the past, but the Annie’s MSG fiasco gave me just enough indignation to motivate me attempt to make crackers, which, it turns out, are not so hard to make after all. Plus, guess what key ingredient of homemade cheese crackers we can buy at our local farmer’s market? Cheddar cheese! Hooray!

I usually mix up a batch of the dough and then store it in smaller batches in the freezer. Typically, I take the recipe below and divide the dough into thirds. I realized one-third of the dough equals about one cookie sheet full of crackers. This is enough to last our family several days. So, I use one-third of the dough on the day I made it and then pop the other two, one-third increments of dough in the freezer and then pull out as needed. The frozen dough takes a bit of time to thaw so I usually pull it out of the freezer the night or morning before I want to use it. Then, it is ready to use by the afternoon. This recipe is cheaper than buying Annie’s crackers, tastier to eat and very easy to make! Plus, you can customize it with all sorts of spices and other ingredients to make your own delicious variety of crackers!

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz shredded cheddar cheese
  • 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 cup flour (we use whole wheat)
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tablespoons of cold water

Pulse everything except water in a food processor until dough resembles coarse sand. Add in water, one tablespoon at a time until mixed well. Remove dough from processor and divide into three flatten balls. Cover each ball with plastic wrap. Chill in fridge for twenty minutes (or put whatever you are not planning to use in the next few days in the freezer). Roll out dough as thinly as possible on parchment paper (crackers will puff up while baking if the dough is not rolled thin enough). If dough starts to stick to the rolling-pin before it is thin enough, simply put the rolled-out dough in the fridge on the parchment paper for a few minutes till it firms up a bit. Then, pull it out and continue to roll it out to desired level of thinness (1/8″ is the goal). Use a pizza cutter (or whatever else you would like to use) to cut dough into desired shapes. Place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for fifteen minutes or until crispy.

Enjoy!