Happy 3.14159 day!

Although I guess I should have really wished you a Happy 3.14159 26535 89793 23846 26433 83279 50288 41971 69399 37510 58209 74944 59230 78164 06286 20899 86280 34825 34211 70679∞ Day if I were to be accurate, right?

 

Picture courtesy of University of Iowa

Picture courtesy of University of Iowa

In honor of Pi Day, I thought I would share one of my favorite recipes for Pie Crust along with one of my favorite filling recipes courtesy of AllRecipes.  While I would love to take pictures of me baking it, that ain’t happenin today, so instead, hopefully you will bake it and deliver it to me.  Wait…that was too bossy.  Bake it and deliver it to me please?  🙂  Seriously-I hope you and your family enjoy some geeky math fun today!

Ideas for teaching kids about pi:

http://www.teachpi.org/

http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/exploring-pi

 

And my favorite “Pi” recipe:

Crust:

  • 1 1/4 Cups AP Flour
  • 1/2 Cup butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 tea salt (mix it into the flour in advance)
  • 1/4 tea to 1/2 tea freshly grated nutmeg (can also substitute cinnamon)
  • 1 Cup ice water

Measure everything out in bowls and then stick EVERYTHING (including your mixing implements-I use a stand mixer with dough attachment for this) in the fridge for an hour.  Get it all nice and cold after you have prepped it.

After it is all chilled, begin to mix the butter into the flour a piece at a time.  Basically, you are looking for your flour to begin to look like clumpy sand.  It doesn’t have to be uniform and the butter doesn’t have to be all broken up, but it should be at least semi evenly distributed.  Try not to work it with your hands-let the butter stay cool so if you can’t use a mixer, use a fork to cut in the butter.  If you see the butter is starting to melt while you are working it, stick the whole thing back in the fridge.

Once the butter is mixed in, start to work in your water 1 TEASPOON AT A TIME!  I can’t stress this enough.  I don’t pay any attention to recipes when it tells me how much water you need because there are so many variables when working with crust.  If you live in South Florida, chances are you are going to need a heck of a lot less water than someone who lives in Tucson.  Humidity, heat, environment, drafts-they all matter, so just get to know your dough.  You can always add more, but honey-I haven’t ever seen a pie crust that can be saved when you add too much, so start slow.  When you start to see your dough come together, slow down on your water.  It should be able to hold together in a ball when you smoosh it with your hand.  If it crumbles still, you need more water.

Once mixed, let it rest in your fridge covered for another hour.  After the hour, you should be able to roll it out (wax paper on both sides of it helps) into crust for 2-3 pies depending on whether they are covered pies and how big your pie plates are.  Again-try to handle with your hot little hands as little as possible.

One of our favorite all time fillings is for Buttermilk Pie.  Allrecipes has some great ones in their collection, including this one.  But, I would love to hear from y’all…what is your favorite pie?  Happy Pi Day!

 

 

Whole foods got me pregnant

I bet that title made you look!

Seriously…I want to share a little story with you from about 6 years ago.  After a couple of years of diet, exercise and eating less (but not always better), I had found myself in far better shape than I had been in years.  I was leaner, stronger and happier.  Enter in Sheldon with his wily smile and cooking prowess and fast forward a year or two,  I had gained a ton of weight back.  I was in that happy phase of love where it’s ok if everyone has a big butt…you have a big butt together.  At least that is what we tell ourselves, right?

Well, I decided to do something about it.  I think without realizing it, I had decided to take my first steps towards an ultimately more healthful life when I decided to give up processed food for a month.  You know how hard it is to give up processed food?  I am a child of the 70’s.  For years, my idea of food nirvana was a diet coke, a box of twinkies and a pile of magazines with nothing else to do but snack and read.

This picture of the world's ultimate non-whole food courtesy of wikipedia

This picture of the world’s ultimate non-whole food courtesy of wikipedia

But, I knew I needed to make a change and I was unwilling to try yet another program diet.  It just made sense to me that to eat more like our ancestors had to be the trick.

So, how did I do it?  Well, we had not yet started our city home backyard garden, so it was thrice weekly trips to Whole Foods and Healthy Approach Markets.  The farmers market in Dallas at that time had few organic vendors if you can believe it.  And I wanted to be as close to nature as possible.  I wanted to only eat whole foods and as much as possible, I avoided foods that had been processed.  Which meant no pink stuff (I lost the taste for it that month and never got it back thank goodness) for my coffee, only sugar and whole cream.  I gave up bread entirely which was not a bad deal.  Most cereals were out.  Prepackaged snack foods like crackers and chips, adios.  I ate lots of balanced meals without mystery ingredients.  What started off as no processed foods evolved a bit into focusing on limiting processed foods, but also no foods with mystery ingredients.  Was I ok with granola with several ingredients?  Sure.  Did I pick granola that had been made off shore with polydifardnesnelsud (ok, I made that word up, but you know what I mean)…nope.  That wasn’t happening.  For lunch, I ate out almost daily enjoying as many simple foods as location allowed.  Some cultures seem to lend themselves well to this type of cooking, and for me, Mexican (or more accurately Tex Mex) was a winner.  I eschewed my weight watchers crackers, diet soda and processed low fat/low cal foods.  I feasted on fruit, veggies, meats, certain cheeses, yogurts and simple desserts.  I remember enjoying what I ate so much, not watching my caloric intake at all and yet still dropping 20 lbs in a month.  And you still want to tell me how diet foods are for good for us????  Yeah, not so much, huh?

And at the end of that month, I failed to realize that another odd change had occured for me.  See, I had been told many many moons ago that children would not be an option for me.  And I had never felt the call to challenge that diagnosis.  However, as my body started to feel weird and different (as it only can when you have a wee alien living inside of you), I began to realize that perhaps all of the junk I was putting into my body was also stopping God’s natural process.  For me, not only did I lose weight and feel great, but I got a Blueberry to boot.

Now, this is not to say that healthy eating is the only thing you need to do to fix infertility problems.  Come on-it’s not that easy as any couple with baby fever can tell you.  However, all I’m sharing is my real story of how I went from highly processed to a mom within just a couple of months.  I still have miles to go before my family has eradicated all of our reliance on grocery store “junk”, not to mention the junk in our proverbial trunks, but that month opened…no, reopened the door to the wonder of God’s bounty to me and reminded me that it’s just not nice to fool with mother nature.  Happy eating!

Slow Foods Ark of Taste: Is real food becoming extinct?

For those of us who are actively making a conscious effort to eat food closer to how God originally created it, I think the slow food movement is less of a movement and just more of a way of life.  But what is the slow food movement you cheesie pouf eating readers may ask?  Well, in a very small nutshell, it’s a movement that was started to help consumers realize just how much genetically modified, engineered and just plain wrong food hits their plates every day.  What I really like about the ideas that they espouse is the concept that the best foods shouldn’t be reserved for the rich…that is, those people who can afford to go to Whole Foods and Sprouts every day picking up the best organic produce that the market has to offer.  No.  Slow food is about making this food available at all income levels in every store so that we all are getting the best of God’s bounty-not just what Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta want us to have.

badge courtesy of slow food usa

badge courtesy of slow food usa

To that end, enter in their US Ark of Taste.  The Ark of Taste is a listing of 200 foods who are in danger of becoming extinct.  Many of these are regional specialties, but I think it’s a national imperative that we stop and think about what we are putting on our plates.  When is the last time you stopped and thought about the variety of produce you were putting into your cart at your local mega mart?  For some of us, probably not too often.  But, there are plenty of little changes even the non-homesteader can do in the grocery store.  Instead of reaching for that same bag of brown potatoes, try the reds, golds or better yet, the purple potatoes!  See those long white radishes next to the round red ones?  Try those instead!  Armenian cucumbers instead of “regular” cucumbers?  Yes please!  Another great way to ensure biodiversity and the inherent values behind the Slow Food movement is to frequent roadside stands and/or farmers markets.  Yes, some of the produce available at these events is going to be GMO and loaded with chemicals, but in other cases you are going to find small scale farmers who are doing everything in their power to produce heirloom produce without the use of harmful chemicals even if they can’t jump through the hoops from the USDA to become “certified organic.”  And speaking of heirloom produce, for those of you who are backyard gardening, farming or homesteading, think about picking up some heirloom, non-GMO seeds to produce in your garden/henhouse/pasture.  I don’t know about you, but when I start looking at seeds that produce fruit and veg in abundant, wild colors with incredible taste descriptions, I ask myself why have I been buying the same mealy produce year after year at the mega mart?  The answer may not be easy to find, but the solution certainly is…biodiversity.  Let’s all embrace it and bring some interest back to our plates!  Happy eating!

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!  http://newlifeonahomestead.com

Check out some great new posts every Monday at the Homestead Barn Hop!
http://newlifeonahomestead.com

 

 

 

Vous dorloter vos oeufs? Or Alternate title: Eggs should not be hockey pucks

For many years, I labored under the assumption that all cooked eggs were rubbery, gross and sometimes a little slimey. I think it was a good solid decade in which I did not order eggs in restaurants at all because of a few bad experiences (normally had at a Village Inn/Dennys-like place at 2:00 am to be fair.)

But then I started watching the geeky goodness of America’s Test Kitchen and realized that eggs don’t have to have the hockey puck mouth feel to be done!

Classic American and French cooking techniques can differ wildly.  Many French cookbooks and blogs will lead you down the path to coddled eggs but yet the methods seem to vary from cooking them over a double boiler to cooking in boiled water (seems like poaching to me) to cooking in an oven.  I personally am itching to try the recipe that I found on I am a food blog.  It’s a Thomas Keller recipe and we totally crush on him in this house.  Sometimes we just read this for fun y’all….

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

nom nom nom, oh and pic courtesy of B&N

But enough fun stuff.  How do I cook my eggs?  Well, Sheldon prefers a high heat pan where he ultimately begins to brown the proteins.  By doing this, he often removes most of the moisture and produces firm but still very pleasing eggs.  Often these little beauties are cooked in bacon fat with mushrooms and onions, so it’s all good.

For me, I prefer a riff on the coddling method where I cook them low and slow in a fat pat of butter….oh yeah…and bacon:

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

Presentation is not my gift, but these tasted soooo good anyway!

It takes me longer to get there, but that end result is so pleasing to my picky palate.  I have also made breakfast pizza and found it to be an awesome use of eggs that doesn’t require quite so much fat to cook.

But…I’m curious on how you all prepare your eggs?  As our chicken population is currently on the upswing, I’m sure we’re going to have more eggs than we know what to do with!   If you get a chance, respond with your favorite egg recipe!

Cookie day and a lesson on captivity

We have a friend of Sheldon’s staying with us right now as his family makes the move from DFW to this part of the country.  He’s a very nice guy and we’re enjoying his company although The Blueberry is under the impression that we invited him here to be her exclusive entertainment provider.  How do I know?  Well, this was the convo in her bedroom the other night:

“Blueberry-it’s time to get ready for bed.”

“Where are the boys mama?  I want to go hang out with them.”

“Well, Daddy is outside putting up the animals for the night and Mr. C is downstairs.”

“What is Mr. C doing?”

“I don’t know-maybe talking to Mrs. C?  Why?”

“Because I want him up here.”

“Blueberry..he is our guest, not our captive.  We can’t make him do everything we want.  It’s not polite.”

“Captive?  What’s a captive?”

“Well, it’s someone who is held against his will and forced to do what the people holding him want him to do.”

“Mama…I think I’m a captive.”

So, begins day 3 of her captivity because of the ice storm.  It’s not terribly bad here but if I don’t have to take her out on the roads, I just figure why bother.  Sheldon went into work this morning and because we park our cars outside it took no joke-30 minutes of scraping to get all of the ice off his truck.  I think it was between 1-2 inches thick.  That is good times!

To pass the time, we have done some sledding down one of the hills (who needs snow when you have faster ice?!), we’ve played Kinect games and now we’re currently enjoying Mary Poppins…

WP_001884

Someone call Amnesty International…look at the deplorable conditions our captive is facing…

…but in a few minutes we are going to begin making reduced fat oatmeal raisin cookies.  These cookies are one of Sheldon’s very favorite and they always satisfy my need to bake when the weather gets cold like this:

1/4 cup butter, softened

1/4-1/2 cup applesauce (I give a broad range here because you just need to watch your mix.  Start with the smaller measurement and add more if you notice the mix is too dry)

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed

2 eggs

2 teaspoons cinnamon (we are cinnamon junkies in this house)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups uncooked oats

1 1/2 cups AP flour

1 cup raisins

Parts that I have riffed on:

I’ve made these many times omitting the butter completely.  In that case, just increase your applesauce to one cup.  The cookies will have more of a cakelike texture but they are still awesome.

I’ve also substituted 1 cup of dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried blueberries, etc for the raisins

I’ve successfully included chia and/or flax seeds without any complaints from The Blueberry…In fact, I think we’ll be adding 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flax seeds today.  Because I’m adding the flax seeds, I’ve decreased the oats by about 1/2 cup.   If you haven’t yet discovered either of these seeds, I STRONGLY recommend that you check them out.  The health benefits for these seeds are just phenomenal and they can be snuck into all kinds of baked goods.  The chia seeds have a bit of a slimey texture in some wet applications, so I probably wouldn’t add them to eggs, but hiding them in cookies, cakes and crackers-super genius!

Preheat your oven to 350.  Cream together butter and sugar until it looks fluffy.  Beat in eggs one at a time and then add vanilla-this becomes your wet mixture.

That's not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on.  Not. Genius.

That’s not dirt on my mixer, I forgot and added the cinnamon early while the mixer was on. Not. Genius.

In a separate bowl, mix together your flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon.  Then incorporate this into the wet mixture one cup at a time.  You don’t want to overmix it because flour will begin to form gluten which can make cookies a bit too tough.

Once your flour mixture is in, mix in your oats and dried fruit by hand until incorporated.  I then use the 2 spoon method to drop them on to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat.

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

I like big cookies and I cannot lie..

They don’t spread out, so pretty much how you plop them onto your sheet is how they come out.  Bake for 8-12 minutes depending on oven.  If you omit the butter, they won’t get terribly brown, so try a small first batch to see how long you really need to cook.  Let cool on a rack and then stuff them in your face.

nom nom nom nom

nom nom nom nom

According to Calorie Count, it’s about 41 calories per cookie with sugars and fats both under 9 grams respectively (fat under 2 grams)  Adding in the flax seeds adds some fat but it also adds a very nice amount of protein and fiber, so while it is not quite like eating a celery stick,  it’s still healthier than eating a full fat cookie.  At any rate, I can’t blog any more because I need both hands free to shove em in.  Happy baking!

Giving up store bought bread

You never realize how incredibly convenient it is to purchase store bought bread until you make the decision to give it up cold turkey. Especially if you are like me: a full-fledged breadaholic who could eat bagettes, boules, loaves, buns, etc starting now until the day I died…and I would die happy.

However, if you take a moment to look at the ingredients on your bread, you begin to realize just how far from nature you really are with store bought bread. We have tried to buy organic bread as much as possible, but I have to admit that once we made the move out of the city, we found that the many of the organic products we had come to rely on were no longer readily available. So, after yet another report on the evils of corn syrup, I decided enough was enough.  Enter breadmaking for idiots-my version of baking bread:

I’ve gotten pretty close to perfect on artisan bread.  You know-that crunchy yummy loaf of bread that will not really make a normal sandwich but it’s perfect for slicing up with good butter, cheese, whatever…it’s just great on it’s own.  But….with a 4 year old in the house and a husband who is not as much of a bread-junkie as me, I need to come up with a “normal” bread recipe.  Here is one that I’m working on:

  • 1.5 Tablespoons of active dry yeast.
  • 2 Cups of warm water (Now a lot of recipes will give you a temp here that the water should be-often between 85-120 depending on what you are making. However, I am far too lazy for that nonsense. It should be warm enough that you would want to take a bath in it but not hot enough that you wouldn’t bathe your 4 year old in it. Capisce?).
  • 1/4 Cup of Oil-I prefer Olive Oil
  •  2-3 Tablespoons of raw honey (Local if you have it, and it’s ok to add more or less depending on your palate. Don’t go crazy though).
  • 5-6 Cups of Bread Flour.  (Yes-there is a difference between All Purpose and Bread Flour, but we’ll talk more about that at a later time.)
  • 2 Teaspoons of salt.

Mix the water, salt and honey together.  I like to give it a minute for the honey to dissolve a bit.  Then take your water mixture and put that and the yeast together in a large bowl.  Honey-it’s going to get bigger, so your cereal bowl ain’t going to get it done.  Trust me!  Let it sit and get foamy for 10-20 minutes.  How do you know when it’s enough?  Try to be out of the room while it’s doing it’s voodoo and you’ll find that when you come back in, it’s grown like one of your kids and well, also your kitchen is going to reek (in a good way) of yeasty goodness.  Mine looked like this:

WP_001785

It’s alive!!!

Notice my slightly skanky bowl?  Well, I don’t mean that I took a dirty bowl and just threw some bread in it.  I mean that is my bread bowl.  I like to mix bread in the same bowl.  Often batch after batch because as any lover of sourdough knows, a little bit of extra flavor goes a long way and having a repeater bowl in breadmaking can be very helpful for imparting some complexity of flavor.  Just try not to use last night’s chili bowl…

Then pour in your olive oil.  I tried to make a smiley face with mine, but it didn’t exactly come out right.

WP_001788

Jackson Pollock smiley face

Now it’s time for what I like to call makingcleaningthekitchenagainanecessity: adding the flour.  While I have a perfectly awesome stand mixture that I use for making doughs, I like to do this process manually so I can feel it with my hand.  I add a cup and then incorporate that cup before I add more.  Don’t feel like the dough needs to look perfect.  Think pancake batter-you’ll have some lumps and not all of your flour will be mixed in, but that’s ok.  Also, you will find that depending on the humidity levels on the day you are cooking, you might need to adjust your flour a bit.  You can always add more flour, but you can’t take it away, so once you get to cup 5, start paying attention to how your dough is acting.

WP_001790

I could probably sift here, but I’m just too lazy…

Once your dough is all in, it’s time to give those biceps a work out.  Either prepare a flat, slightly floured surface to knead the dough or be like me and just knead it in the big bowl.  I can’t tell you exactly how long you should knead.  I try to get to the point where my dough is not ripping when I push it into little balls, but I’m sure others would tell you that there is a better process.  For me-that’s what making things homemade is all about…figuring out what works best for you.  I knead mine until I get bored (which doesn’t last long) and then I let it sit in the same bowl that has been oiled.  I cover the dough with oil as well.  How much oil?  Not deep fry oil, just enough to keep it from sticking.  Cover it with a damp cloth if your kitchen is not particularly humid and leave it alone for an hour or so.

No peeking!

No peeking!

Then it’s time to take out your frustrations and punch it down.  This is not a euphemism peeps.  Punch it down.  Then cut it into 2-3 portions and let it rise again in a greased bread pan.  I typically let it go 20-30 minutes.  About 15 minutes in, I start preheating to 375 degrees.

Cook for 28-35 minutes depending on your oven.  If you aren’t sure if your oven is consistent in temperature, spending a couple of dollars on an oven thermometer would not be a bad plan.  Once mine comes out, I take it out of the pan immediately and let it cool off on a baking rack.

Actually, that’s a lie.  Sometimes I let it cool off on a baking rack.  Sometimes I let it cool off in my mouth.  I am a junkie after all.

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

I wish this blog had smell-o-vision

Now, is this bread perfect?  Nope.  I think it still needs a little more complexity of flavor.  I also think that I got lazy in my kneading because of that Trump-style combover the top of the bread has.  However, this is a great, easy recipe that even the most busy of folks can accomplish and ultimately build on.  Not including cook or rest time, this recipe probably didn’t take me more than 10-15 minutes tops.  So, get out there and try some homemade bread.  I promise that once you do, you’ll never go back to that sad stuff in the grocery store again.  Happy baking!