Monday, April 29, 2013

Chi-oo poots!

That's "Chicken coops" in toddler. Actually, in Gavyn, since each toddler seems to have their own language. Our chickens have arrived! John worked hard last week getting the coops fixed up and ready for our new family members. We inherited them from some friend that are moving out East and won't be able to keep them anymore. Such a great deal for two reasons. 1) They were delivered right to our house, free of charge. 2) They are already laying eggs!

We have 10 chickens. That equals about 10 eggs a day! I am already thinking of new ways to use these nutritional powerhouses. I want to start my day with a baked egg on top of spinach and mushrooms. I want to make eggs in purgatory over polenta for dinner. I want to make lemon meringue pies for dessert. We are also going to be sharing some of our farm fresh eggs with friends and family. Everybody deserves to experience the difference between these eggs and the kind you buy at the store. They are just incredibly better. Not just tastier, but they have so much more nutrition. 

Gavyn thinks the chickens are amazing. He just wants to hang out with them. 

Grass is super fun


Watch those fingers!


Our first two eggs to have for dinner

Just can't beat it!
We have also been taking advantage of this amazing weather to work in the garden and spend lots and lots of time outside. The tulips are blooming, the garden is sprouting, and new life has come to the cow pasture! We got to see a brand new baby calf today - such a treat!


Mom, the camera again?

Walkin' with Daddy

Daddy's face is fun to touch!




Broccoli

lettuce

onions

Baby calf!

Gavyn likes to do whatever Belle does

Yes, I know this is the wrong way to put the baby in the carrier. For 15 minutes though, she absolutely loves it.  I figure it is better than the way I hold her without the carrier. 

Mama Moo giving her baby kisses



Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cloth towels

With all of this baking, cooking, and experimenting going on, I think I've mentioned the mess it makes. Combine that with a 2-year-old and a spitty baby and there is just always mess, everywhere. Lately, we had been going through a lot of paper towels.

It is just easy to get a nice, clean paper towel, wet it if needed, and throw it away. You don't have to worry about there being something on it from a previous clean up as with a dish towel or washcloth. When cleaning little ones hands' you want something sterile. The amount of paper towels started to bother me though. Really bother me.

So I figured the reason I don't use more washable cloths is just because they are not easily accessible in our kitchen, and when I need a paper towel I need one ASAP. I also didn't want to have dirty cloths laying around after I was done using them. So I had my problem, and just had to solve it with a few quick changes.

First, cut up a few flannel receiving blankets into 8 pieces - perfect towel shape. We have a ton of them, and they are really absorbent. I still use them as burp cloths with baby girl, but I don't go through all of them like I did with baby boy! So I had a few to spare. Then I just set them out in the kitchen where the paper towels usually go. I also placed a small basket on the floor by the door for tossing used towels. I wanted it to be really easy. So now we just take a cloth towel, use it, and toss it in the basket. They get thrown in with whatever wash I am doing that day.

We haven't used a paper towel in over a week! My next project is cloth wipes - whoa!


This is how I divided up my receiving blankets for cutting. You can also just get flannel fabric from the store - or any other absorbent material. I like the flannel because it is nice and soft on the kids' faces. I did notice some fraying so I may sew up the raw edges a bit - but I'm not doing anything fancy. I feel so accomplished!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Cookie Project

I have a seriously mean sweet tooth. There have been times in my life that I have given up sweets completely,  and I was fine, but especially after having baby girl, I just seem to need something sweet not just for my taste buds but for my sanity. It is a little treat I give myself for going non-stop all day and my brain needs the simple sugars. Without it I get headaches and shaky and its not worth it. I realize that after giving it up for a while these symptoms go away...but I'm not passionate enough about giving up sugar to deal with these side effects.

Plus I'm busy. I'm active. I'm not worried about a little sweet here and there. Lately it has been important to me, however, to use the right kind of sweet. Something natural that offers at least some nutrition. That is where honey, maple syrup, and agave come in. I can't remember the last time I used white sugar. Maybe that is why my body seems to be just fine while still eating sweets.

So I wanted to make a cookie that I could have after a meal or for an afternoon snack that tasted good, but was nutritious. I didn't want a real oat-y, grainy full-of-fruit-and-nuts cookie. I wanted a real cookie - one that tastes almost bad for you. So I came up with these guys. I love really soft cookies, almost batter-like, and these are nice and dense and really do it for me. They are my own creation, so I kind of developed them to suit my tastes. The first time I made them I just used butter, honey, whole wheat flour, egg, and salt. I wanted to keep it simple. They were really good! This time, though, I wanted to up the nutritional profile even more.

So I used some coconut oil and some agave, and then played around with adding chia seeds for omega 3 fatty acids and then even some fruit - just because I had old apples laying around. That was just for fun though - I'd rather leave the cookie fruitless because it is supposed to be bad :). I also threw in some oats at one point and I really liked that addition because I really couldn't tell, and oats are supposed to be good for lactating women. Oh and I also added lemon extract the second time. I can't really taste it in the cookies so if I want a real lemon flavor next time I think I'll add some zest.

It is a thick dough. I didn't want them to rise in the oven so they would be nice and chewy

You press them before baking them

And baked - see they barely rise or spread

These are the experiments 

A light dusting of real powdered sugar give these healthy cookies a sinful look

100% whole grain
Yes, you can tell that they are whole grain. You can kind of tell they are healthy. The bottom line is though, after eating one of these, I don't want a cupcake, or ginormous chocolate chip cookie, or 1 lb chocolate bar. That is the key here.

The recipe - still to be changed with further experimentation

1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/3 cup honey or agave, or a combination (I like 1/2 and 1/2)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla or lemon extract
1 egg
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup oats, optional
1 tbsp chia seeds, optional
powdered sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and coconut oil until combined, then add sweetener. Add salt, extract, and egg and beat until combined. It looks funny at first but it does come together. Add in flour and then any thing else you want in there. Roll into tablespoon sized balls and flatten on the cookie sheet (I used a silicone mat on my cookie sheet). Bake for about 12-15 minutes. They should not get too much color on them. While still warm, roll in powedered sugar just to cover them. Let cool and enjoy!

Homemade Mac and Cheese

It isn't just toddlers that love mac and cheese. I kind of wonder who eats more Easy Macs - children or adults. That is because it is delicious. They are so easy too. You kind of shut down the part of your brain that is saying "That's definitely too orange to be natural" or "powdered cheese - hey they FDA approves it!". Well, I did that for a while too. Homemade macaroni and cheese is a project. It involves ingredients and boiling and all that. Well, I am here to tell you that while it may seem daunting, it is not that hard at all! It takes 15 minutes and you can actually feel good about giving your toddler a nutritious meal. Make it with whole grain pasta and you are even better off. 

I always start by boiling the water for the pasta and cooking it. The sauce doesn't take nearly as long as as pasta!

Then I make a roux. Unfortunately, you can't just add cheese to pasta and have it come out a nice creamy mac and cheese. You have to have a sauce base. Its easy though! Just melt a tablespoon of butter in a saucepan, and then add a tablespoon of flour. Whisk it together for just a minute. If I had more time, or was making this for dinner or guests, I'd saute some diced onion in that butter. Then add in about a cup of milk. It will start to thicken as it heats. If the sauce looks too thick, add more milk. Some salt too for flavor. 



 Then you add in whatever cheese you want. I traditionally use cheddar. About a cup.



 Then you add your cooked pasta - you can strain it with a slotted spoon and put it right into the cheese sauce .That's it! You can add peas or other veggies, but I know my boy wouldn't touch it then. Peas on the side in this house.

Lunch time!

2-serving Mac and Cheese

4 oz or about 1/2 cup small pasta
1 T butter
1 T flour
1 cup milk* plus extra for thinning sauce
1 cup shredded cheese
salt to taste

Cook pasta to al dente. Meanwhile, melt butter in small saucepan and then add in the flour and whisk together for just a minute. Add in the milk and whisk until thickened. Then add in the cheese and stir until melted in. Add in your pasta and seasonings and serve. 

I use whole milk because that is what we use in our house. We use raw if we can get it - the less processed the better. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Homemade Mayonnaise

Making mayonnaise is something that I've wanted to do for a long time, but haven't for two reasons. First, Hellman's mayonnaise is really good. I really never had a reason to make my own. Until now of course, since I know that "natural flavors" could mean anything, and that real mayo should never be able to last as long as Hellman's lasts. The second reason I have never done it is because I've heard it can be tricky - that it may not come out right and it would just be a waste. I was also afraid I wouldn't like the taste as much as I like the store-bought stuff.

Well, I conquered my fears and went for it. My Mom got me a immersion blender for Easter (you have to love a Mom that still gets her 27-year-old daughter Easter presents) and after reading how much better that works than trying to use a blender, I figured I had a better chance of being successful. Boy was I right, and I am never going back!

I feel like I should also take a moment to discuss my hatred with Hellman's foe, Miracle Whip. I know that everyone has their own opinion on the matter, and mine is that Miracle Whip is just awful. It does not taste like mayonnaise to me. It is too sweet, and has too many ingredients that I am not OK with. When you make mayo from scratch, you can see how different it is. I'm not saying there is a right or wrong, I'm just saying that for me, real mayo is the only way to go!

I could not believe how simple this was. I used the batch to make egg salad and it was delish. I was also able to use healthy oils - score! This recipe makes a pretty small batch, but since we don't exactly use mayo often around here, I didn't want any sitting in the fridge going bad. You can easily double or triple it if you are making a big batch of potato salad or something.

All you need is a glass measuring cup, or another container which an immersion blender will fit nicely into, an egg yolk, 3/4 cup oil (I used olive oil but next time will use grapeseed oil - I think the olive oil was a little overpowering, but still good!), a tablespoon of cider vinegar, a tablespoon of lemon juice, a teaspoon of mustard, and salt. Salt is a preference thing. I added a good few hefty pinches, but you might want less. You dump it all in the measuring cup and then let your immersion blender do the work. It took my blender all of 5 seconds. I was shocked. It seemed like as soon as I turned it on, I had mayo. There was a little oil left on top, but I read that you don't want to over-blend or it'll fall apart, so I stopped and just stirred in the extra oil. If you are doing a double batch, you start at the bottom of the container with the blender and then move it up as the mayonnaise is made.

It is definitely worth the effort!

Before

After

Creamy goodness!
Recipe in 5th paragraph.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Basic Sandwich Bread

Bread is my favorite. There is absolutely no way I would want to live without it. If the paleo trend of eating is the the right way to go, then I want to be wrong. I love food and I love bread too much to give it up. It makes me happy - especially when spread with just a little butter. Or peanut butter. Orrr honey. Or anything!! I can live without pasta, rice, cereal, and potatoes, but do NOT mess with my bread.

Like most children, I loved fluffy white sandwich bread growing up. I also loved my Mom's homemade bread, but there was a time for each. Now I can't stand the stuff that you buy in the bread isle at the grocery store. That is not bread. That is a conglomeration of chemicals and factory processing that just doesn't do it for me. What I really love are artisan breads - breads made with 3 or 4 ingredients, with a nice crusty exterior and a nice chewy interior that just needs a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of sea salt.

That kind of bread is a real treat, but it doesn't serve much purpose when it comes to making sandwiches and toast, especially for the kiddos. My toddler likes PB&J for breakfast. So when I make most of my bread, I like to get a lighter texture and a soft crust. I also want it to be nutritious - so it is mostly whole grain. Trying to make bread completely whole grain is absolutely possible, but I can't get that sandwich bread texture just right. One of my favorite snacks is just a slice of this bread with butter. It has good flavor but isn't too heavy, and it can still hold up a sandwich - without overpowering the sandwich by being thick and heavy.

I think the key to this bread is that the recipe, which uses a whole packet of yeast, only makes one loaf. Generally I would say most recipes use a packet of yeast for 2 loaves, but because this bread has a lot of whole wheat in it, I like that it gets that extra rise from the yeast. This wasn't perfect by any means, but it is one of my best loaves of bread so far.

When I make bread, I always proof my yeast in the warm water. If the water feels warm to my wrist, it is about right. I don't want it to be hot.

This is what my dough looks like. It is coming away from the bowl, but it is still pretty moist. I think a moister bread rises better than a drier dough

Doubled in size!

Second Rise in the loaf pan
The finished loaf. It slices pretty well, but is a little crumbly. I'm not sure how to remedy that yet. 
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

3 -3 1/2 cups flour - I used 2 cups whole wheat and 1 cup white. You may end up using a little more - the 3 cups wasn't nearly enough so I think I used more like 3 1/2 to get the dough to form a ball.
2/3 cup warm water (115-120 degrees)
1 packet active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 stick melted butter
2 T honey
1 1/4 tsp. salt

Measure out warm water in a glass measuring cup. Sprinkle yeast on top and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Combine 3 cups of flour with the salt in your mixer fitted with the dough hook. Once yeast if proofed (it should look a little fizzy) add in the warm milk, butter, and honey and let it sit a couple more minutes. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and set the machine on low. Add flour as necessary to get a pretty wet ball and then let it knead for about 5 minutes. Oil the bowl and dough and cover with a tea towel and let rise for an hour. Punch down, and put into a greased loaf pan. Set oven to 350 and let the dough rise for another half hour or so. Then back for 35-40 minutes or until it is nice and brown and sounds hollow when you tap it. Let cool before slicing.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fresh Pasta Suace

I don't think I'm alone when I figure that when you say you are making marinara or meat sauce from scratch, using canned tomato sauce and canned tomatoes totally counts. You are still making the sauce. I still think that this holds true and will take all the credit for my canned-tomato sauce marinara. However, I am trying to get away from canned tomatoes because I've read that there are PCBs in the cans that can leach into the sauce itself from the high acidity level. Darn it! Back to the drawing board.

While I think it is fairly painless to make your own tomato sauce - I don't always have the time to boil the tomatoes, peel them, cook them, and grind them up. If I want a spur of the moment tomato sauce, this is what I am going to do from now on. I've done this twice in the past couple weeks because it is so good, and so easy. I haven't even used it on pasta yet, so I'll probably be making it again.

It is a fresh, simple tomato sauce. It is chunky and full of flavor. I start with about 6 or 7 roma tomatoes and an onion, dice them up, and add them to a saucepan with some extra virgin olive oil and let it start cooking over medium high heat. I also add dried basil, oregano, parsley, salt, and pepper. Then I just let it cook over medium heat for however long I want. The longer you cook it, the more "saucy" it is going to get as everything breaks down. At the end I add a couple splashes of red wine as well as balsamic vinegar.






The first time I made this sauce I was making Eggs in Purgatory. One of my favorite egg dishes. I made the sauce in a skillet, then made 4 little holes in the sauce and cracked in 4 eggs. I covered it with foil for a few minutes and viola! Served over cous cous and it was fabulous.



The second time I made the sauce was last night, while making Cauliflower Crust Pizza. I'm not going to put a separate post about this pizza because I didn't really take something processed and make it unprocessed, but it is totally worth mentioning. I am a true believer now! Even my two year old thought he was eating regular pizza - and he got so many veggies! I gave him bread on the side to make sure he got some carbs for his growing body.


I used the tomato sauce as the sauce for the pizza. Super yummy. I would add garlic too, once Alli is done breastfeeding. She isn't a fan of it quite yet!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Goat Cheese Gougeres

In Urbana, there is a local farm that raises goats for making gourmet, artisan goat cheeses. I started going to the farm when it was more of a hobby farm and they were only making fresh cheve - like any standard "goat cheese" you would find at the grocery store. Only this stuff was, and is, the BEST. Hands down, I never want to eat any other goat cheese in my life. They sell their cheese at the farmer's market, which I have also frequented since 2004 when I came to college here. The farm was established in 2003, and in 2004 when I went to visit the property, they had a few baby goats (kids) outside in a small fenced area.

Fast forward to 2013, and they have over 150 baby goats this season, are making several different varieties of cheeses, including a brie-type cheese (little bloom), a blue cheese (Huckleberry Blue), and a hard grating cheese (Moonglo), amongst many others. The have also been making goat milk gelato for the past few years that is worth every penny you pay for the little pints. They also grow vegetables and fruits, and have bees for honey. These people are doing it right.

While the farmer's market doesn't start until May, Prairie Fruits starts on-farm sales in late March, to take advantage of all the milk the goats are making during kidding season. To get people out to the farm and for revenue, they have breakfasts available. These aren't ordinary breakfasts. This isn't scrambled eggs and bacon (not that there is anything wrong with eggs 'n bacon...). This is GOURMET food, made with almost all local ingredients. They are making things like freshly stone ground grits, with poached egg, tomato pesto, and blue moon farm greens. That is what I had for breakfast there last week. It is worth the trip, the wait in line, and the money, for not only the food (which I accompany with either a good cup of coffee or some goat milk hot chocolate), but for the atmosphere. You can visit the goats, the kids, and the rest of the farm animals - and take a moment to teach your children about living simply, and supporting others who chose to do the same. I went last week by myself with the two kids - baby girl cried almost the whole time. Still worth it. 

I could go on - but I'll get to my point. The first week we had breakfast on the farm this year they had, in addition to several other menu items, these little gougeres. They made them with their moonglo cheese. Oh MY were they good. So on my way out, I bought the last hunk of moonglo and was determined to make them myself. 

Gougeres are puffy, light, and full of flavor. Some people fill their open centers with filling, but I like to eat them just as is. They take some attention, but are fairly easy to make. 

You start by combining water, butter, salt, and a pinch of chili powder in a pot until boiling. Then you add 1/2 cup flour all at once and whisk vigorously until the dough comes away from the sides of the pot and makes a little ball. 


Just after adding flour

when it starts to pull away

 While still whisking vigorously, you take the dough off the heat and add in 2 eggs. You whisk it fast to make sure the eggs don't curdle. Eventually, it smooths out. 



Then you add in your cheese. Hard cheeses are best. If you can't get ahold of any moonglo, parmesan would be my next best choice. 


After the batter is made, you have to pipe it into little piles on your silpat/baking sheet. To fill my pastry bag, I put it in a cup with the top folded over, like such:

 Then I can just fill the bag...


 And it lifts right out! Just snip the tip and you can pipe out your little golf-ball sized gougeres. 




I put a little extra grated cheese on top for decoration and flavor


Then you bake them! They puff up, and the middle becomes hollow, mostly. They are crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. If you want them completely crispy, you just bake them longer. 


 So good!

Gougeres

1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. salt
pinch chile powder
1/2 cup flour
2 large eggs
3/4 cup grated cheese

Preheat oven to 425. line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Combine water, butter, salt, and chile powder in saucepan and heat over medium until butter melts. Dump in the flour and whisk until the batter forms a ball away from the sides of the pot. Remove from the heat and let sit 2 minutes. Then add the eggs, one and a time, and stir quickly to incorporate them. Add 3/4s of the grated cheese (and some chives or other fresh herbs would be good here) and stir until well combined. Fill a pastry bag with the batter and either use a tip or just cut off the end and pipe out cherry-tomato sized circles. Top each with a little bit of grated cheese. Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 375 and cook an additional 20-25 minutes, until they are completely brown. Yummy and impressive!

If you would like more information on Prairie Fruits Farm you can find them on facebook or here is the link to their website: Prairie Fruits Farm