Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Fun Tool and A Great Store

Earlier this year I found Down On The Farm where Marci blogs about her interesting adventures on Amazing Graze Farm. Marci also has a great little store, which I believe is a new adventure this year.
She has quite a collection of items, tools and goods that are useful for healthy cooking and living. Recently I purchased some Sue Gregg cookbooks as well as Wrapping It Up, by Vickilynn Haycraft who is on a couple yahoogroups with me. I do not know her personally but she seems nice and always has such helpful suggestions. I'll be writing more about my positive experiences using her tortilla method soon!
The fun too I purchased at Amazing Graze General Store is the Natural Peanut Butter Mixer. This is one of those feats of engineering where you scratch your head and say "Why didn't I think of that?!" I love natural peanut butter, having grown up on homemade or Adam's Peanut Butter. I can't stand the regular kind - it actually gags me! I wasn't sure if this little device would work but wanted to give it a try since we always end up with a dry brick of peanut butter on the bottom that has to be chiseled out.
It WORKS! It's so awesome. We can use the jar all the way to the bottom. The tool does not actually fit on the lids of the jars we have from Whole Foods Market (Their 365 brand of crunch peanut butter is so awesome, the best and freshest tasting I've ever had - but the organic has sweetening - ICK! So, we don't buy that.) It would fit on Maranatha, Laura Scudder or Adams pint jars. Hubby puts it in and holds it over the jar (so theoretically this might also work on a bigger jar?) and turns the handle. The screw like device turns and churns inside the jar, mixing the peanut butter and the oil back together. We have used it on two jars and it stays mixed in the fridge, so we are quite pleased. This makes peanut butter eating much more pleasant.
I like to support good people starting out with their own businesses. If you are on the lookout for any of the things that Marci carries, I definitely recommend Amazing Graze store. Not only are the products of high quality, but the prices are competent and the customer service is awesome!

Pressure Cooking

Sorry for the funny photo... I'm not very glamorous at staging foods. This is some chicken broth and it is HOT, that I made in my pressure cooker. I am still amazed at how good chicken broth tastes this way and also what a great way to save money it is!
I put 3 chicken breasts and 6-7 thighs in my 8 qt pressure cooker. Next I added one gallon of water and because I'm not supposed to be up standing a lot on my knee still, I didn't put fresh onion and garlic, but usually I do. This time I used dehydrated onions and granulated garlic. (The sediment you see on the bottom of the jar is the onions, garlic etc.) After that I tossed in Cumin, Salt, dried Cilantro, red pepper flakes and Cayenne Pepper. Well, in my brain I was thinking of paprika, not Cayenne and I ended up with chicken broth so HOOOOOT that it's almost unbearable! LOL It's going to have to be thinned down with some store bought broth.
I cooked this at pressure for 5 minutes and then let the pressure go naturally, which was supposed to take 5 minutes but I think it took ten. Chicken cooked this way is moist and tastes great. It is an excellent way to make shredded chicken for Mexican cooking and salads.
Generally I use the broth the next day to cook rice in the pressure cooker, but since it was so hot, I'm holding off on that for awhile! :o) I will freeze some of it though for later use. In the future I will start canning that. Making broth this ways uses NO BOUILLON! This means NO MSG. Yeah!
In the spring I purchased this Fagor set and really love it. First I did research and after reading an article reviewing their performance at America's Test Kitchen, I chose Fagor over some of the more expensive Swiss sets because they said it performed just as well as a set 3-5 times the price and had gread safety measures built in - which as a Mom, is important. I love it so much that I will be getting another one next spring when we get our tax return - a larger one to do more stuff! This will also give me two lids so that hopefully I can use two pots at the same time. Currently I have two pots but only one pressure cooker lid. They are made really well of high quality stainless steel, which was a priority for me as well.
On one of my blog hopping adventures I found The Veggie Queen and ordered her DVD, hoping to learn more. Imagine my surprise when she was using my very same pressure cooker! I did learn a lot of tips watching her but for less money could have bought her cookbook that has a couple chapters on pressure cooking. She is vegetarian and gave a lot of great ideas.
You don't need to be vegetarian to enjoy it. In fact one of our favorite things is to make a fork tender pot roast in 45 minutes! I have found that I can use cheaper roast cuts and they will be more tender cooked in the pressure cooker.
Our favorite thing to cook in it though is rice. It is so much easier and makes brown rice so much more enjoyable than the steamer (which leaves it chewy/crunchy).
The best pressure cooker specific cookbook I have found is Pressure Perfect by Lorna Sass. I also have her book Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way, which I haven't used yet, but plan to in the near future. I would love to explore more nutritious side dishes than just having potatoes or pasta all the time. And I am hoping to experiment with Legumes, which aren't a favorite in our family but we are trying to do some more healthy foods and so we (the big people) are willing to try! :o)
Do any of you use a pressure cooker? If so, do you have any favorites or tips to share? I'd love to hear.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Spicy Pear Cake Goodness

This afternoon I was wandering around craft and sewing blogs and wandered onto this post at All Buttoned Up. I don't know this blogger but have followed links and ended up at her blog several times, enjoying her sewing projects and adoption posts. (Her kids are ADORABLE!)
So, when I saw the pear cake post, I had to try it with a couple languishing Bartlett pears I had in the fridge.

I wish we had "smellovision" or some such thing because this is just heavenly! I adapted All Buttoned Up's recipe to fit our family's eating habits. I used fresh ground flour, healthier sweetener and Allspice (I LOVE Allspice!!!) because we have family who are allergic to nutmeg, so I just have never had it in the house. Shhh! Don't tell anyone it's whole wheat, they'll truly never know! Thank you All Buttoned Up, this is going into the family cookbook as a regular! :o)

Spicy Pear Cake a la All Buttoned Up

In medium mixing bowl, combine:

2 c (280 grams) fresh ground soft white wheat (whole wheat pastry flour)

3/4 t Baking Powder

3/4 t Baking Soda

1/2 t Salt

2/3 c Turbinado (I may try Sucanat next time as it's less processed)

1/2 t Allspice

1/2 t Cinnamon

In a second bowl, mix:

1/2 c oil (I used EVOO)

1 egg

1/2 c yogurt

1/3 c raw honey

2 small pears, diced.

Once the wet ingredients are mixed, add to dry ingredients and mix gently. Spray 8x8 pan, pouring mix in. Bake at 350* for 30-40 minutes. (I used a glass pan and next time I will probably use either a metal pan or turn the oven down and cook a little longer. It developed a little bit more of a crust than I would want if I was serving it to company - but, I didn't want it to be raw in the center). This could be done with apples, easily or All Buttoned Up suggested using peaches and using ginger instead of the nutmeg! NUMMY! I may have to try that one next!

If you try this, I'd love to know how it went.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Baking Day

Traditionally Monday is washing day, but this week it was baking day. This stemmed partially from the need to bring treats Tuesday for Bible study and partially from being stir crazy having to sit so much for healing of my knee! So Monday morning before we did school, I ground up soft white wheat berries into flour and started baking.

First I made cornbread. Oh was that good made with fresh ground corn!

Next I made 5 loaves of banana bread from the extremely ripe bananas that were scenting our kitchen.

Healthier Banana Bread - Large Batch

-1200 grams (about 8 c, I may reduce this slightly next time) soft white wheat, freshly ground flour

-1 t salt

-2 t Baking Powder

-4 t Baking Soda

-2 c chopped walnuts

In a separate bowl, combine and mix smoothly:

-4 eggs

-2 c Sucanat

-1 c Honey

-4 c sour milk, buttermilk, Kefir or yogurt or a combination (I used 3 c Kefir and 1 c yogurt)

-8 mashed overripe bananas

Combine wet and dry ingredients thoroughly. This went into 4 4x8 loaf pans plus 1 slightly smaller loaf pan. The amount will vary on the size of your loaf pan. I fill the pans about 3/4 full. Bake about 50 minutes at 350*. Remove from loaf pan and cool. The loaves that are not immediately eaten can be wrapped and frozen.

Last but not least, I made chocolate chip cookies which I blogged about before, but have tweaked the recipe some more and wanted to write down the changes before I forget!

Healthier Chocolate Chip Cookies

Cream together:
-2 c butter at room temperature
-2 c Turbinado Sugar
-1 c Sucanat
-1/2 c Honey

Add and blend until smooth:
-4 eggs
-2 t Vanilla

Mix in:
-600 grams (about 4 c regular flour) fresh ground soft white wheat flour
-1 t salt
-2 t Baking Powder
-2 t Baking Soda

When smooth, add:
-4 c Old Fashioned Oatmeal
-2 packages (24 oz) chocolate chips (we love Trader Joe's chocolate chips)
-2-3 c chopped walnuts

Bake about 10 minutes at 375*F. This dough freezes well.