Friday, April 25, 2014

Apple Pie S'Mores (Honey Marshmallow Recipe)

I think I started something tonight. I think I may be on to something. Tonight, I decided to take the classic camp fire treat - the s'more - and change it up a little bit. We have so many fires, and while not every time, but very often we end up getting our bag of graham crackers, hershey bars, and marshmallows and sinking our teeth into the gooey, trifecta of flavor that is the s'more. However, after so many nights, they get kind of old. Still delicious, but just boring.






The other day my husband invited a friend of his and his family over for a venison hot dog roast and I knew that with a fire, we just had to have s'mores. However, I also wanted to MAKE something. I thought of making apple pie, my favorite dessert, but then we wouldn't be able to roast marshmallows over the fire...and marshmallow's are one of my son's favorite things about a fire! So then I figured - why don't I make a gourmet s'more and combine the two things!!! Ah, what an exciting idea!

Apple pie needs apples and a crust. While s'mores are traditionally made with graham crackers and chocolate, the most important part is the marshmallow. (I've made s'mores with peanut butter cookies in the past and that is also an incredibly good idea). Well I've been wanting to make my own marshmallows for months, and this was the perfect chance, I thought!



I made my marshmallows in the morning because they had to sit all day to set up. I used this recipe from The Nourishing Gourmet. I got my gelatin from Amazon and made sure it was up to my standard of animal-derived things :) - Great Lakes Gelatin. I added the caviar from a real vanilla bean instead of extract, but otherwise followed the directions exactly. Oh and the only sweetener is honey - you know I looove that!

I also made thin, crispy oatmeal cookies found at Mel's Kitchen Cafe. I was originally going to make homemade graham crackers, but then thought this was a much better idea. Not only easier, but it would give them that "apple crisp" taste and texture. Yum. I used all whole wheat flour and I think next time will add some nuts too. 



I also bought some locally made caramels to go in them...most of us kind of forgot about them while making the s/mores, but they can really only make something like this better, right?

Anyhow, on to the recipe! These were superb, by the way. Maybe next time I'll make caramel marshmallows!

Honey Vanilla Bean Marshmallows

Butter a 8 x 8 pan and coat with powdered sugar or cornstarch or arrowroot powder or your "starch" of choice). 

1 1/2 Tbsp. gelatin
1/4 cup water

Place water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Let bloom while doing the rest. 

1/4 cup water
1/2 cup honey
caviar from one vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp vanilla extract)
1/8 tsp. salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. If you have a candy thermometer, it should get up to 240 degrees. If you are like me and don't have one, I waited for it to start boiling and then waited about another 30 seconds. Not technical, I know, but it worked. 




Turn the mixer on low and slowly pour the honey mixture into the gelatin mixture. Then turn it on high and beat the heck out of it! I think I beat it for 10 minutes. It'll look like marshmallow fluff. Pour into prepared pan and let sit 4 - 12 hours. The longer the better. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into desired pieces. Coat pieces with starch to prevent sticking (I used cornstarch). Eat as is or toast to perfection! 


Be sure to have a taste tester. Crucial.





You can really taste the honey in these and it is a great way to use really good honey and really taste the flavor!




Apple Pie S'Mores

To assemble to s'mores: use whatever "crust" you want - the oatmeal cookies that I have the link to above, graham crackers, snickerdoodles....whatever you think would be best. 

A little ahead of time, take a couple apples and core them, and wrap them in foil with a little butter. Put into a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes, or bake in the fire you are having. Let cool slightly then slice into pieces. 



My components


Toast your marshmallow, place a slice of apple on one cookie, and sandwich your beautifully toasted mallow in the middle. Add a caramel piece, if desired. Enjoy the messy goodness!






Let the kids play, and grab a marshmallow and cookie here and there. They are too busy to bother with putting things together. 









Friday, April 18, 2014

Crock Pot Refried-Beans

I've mentioned my love of Mexican food before. I've always liked it, but it intensified when I became pregnant with my son, and it has stuck. We eat the flavors of Mexican food at least a few times a month. That smokey, flavorful combination of chili powder, cumin, salty and sweet is just delightful. Plus there is usually a lot of cheese involved, and you can't beat that. Oh and beans!!! I LOVE beans!!

I have never made my own re-fried beans before, and yet they are one of my favorite parts of taco night. Of course, in the past I have just bought a can of delicious refried beans, the vegetarian kind, and heated it up on the stove. Making real refried beans didn't really seem worth it...but it is. Not only are these beans delicious, wholesome, and homemade, they are dirt cheap! This recipe makes a ton of beans, and they can be frozen in bags or containers for later consumption. You can play with the spices as you wish. Oh, and its so easy! Just put everything in the crock pot, let it sit, and smash them up. You can make the beans and actually fry them in some butter or oil on the stove before serving to make them a little more authentic, but I honestly don't think they need it.

I served these with oven baked chicken fajitas and sour cream. Other good additions would be salsa, queso fresco, and avocado!!



I know this isn't the best picture - but it is so good!

Crock Pot Baked Beans

2 lbs dried pinto beans
1 large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
2tsp. cumin
2 Tbsp salt
1 tsp. pepper
10 cups water

Rinse beans in clean water and remove any rocks/impurities. Put all ingredients into the crock pot and set on high for 4 hours, then low for 2 hours. Puree with hand blender, or mash with potato masher. Serve!

Monday, April 7, 2014

All Natural Egg Coloring

When we decided to start our unprocessed life, I had, and still have, a pretty laid back attitude about it when we go someplace besides our home. I'm not going to freak out about store-bought cupcakes at a birthday party or a girl scout cookie from the neighbor. That is too stressful, and stress is probably the most unhealthy thing to have! We don't eat out, and eat almost all of our meals at home, so the occasional party or holiday doesn't concern me. My kids have to be kids, and heck - I grew up on those treats - it's nice to enjoy them every once in a while!

However. There is a new exception to this rule. Food colorings. You know the ones - Red 40, Yellow 5 & 6, and any other artificial color. I've done quite a bit of reading on the matter, especially when it comes to the connection between these additives and hyperactivity. I wasn't entirely convinced, though, until I experienced it myself.

We have for quite a while now bought UNREAL candy when we want m&ms, because they use all natural ingredients and colorings. They taste great, and are pretty! My son likes the peanut version. We avoid anything with added colors. My kids, especially my son, are really chill. He doesn't run around in public, he listens well, and is honestly the best behaved 3 year old I know.

One day a couple months ago, I took my daughter to the store and left hubby in charge of snack. I came back and it was like some other entity had taken possession of my son. He was supposed to be getting ready for bath, but instead was being goofy, not listening, and being hard to manage. It wasn't like him at all. I asked my husband what he had for snack, and found out that he had seen some cookies that were left here by some friends. Pumpkin cookies. He had wanted one of those. Well, I looked at the ingredients, and to enhance the "pumpkin" color, they had added yellow food colorings...the same ones associated with ADHD and hyperactivity.  Aha. I had no doubt. By next morning, my son was back to normal, and I made a new vow to avoid food colorings as best I could, wherever and whenever and whatever the occasion.

So when it came to coloring Easter eggs this year, a tradition I love and is close to my heart, I couldn't bare to think of buying the HAAS coloring set. I decided that I would do natural colors, using food, as I had seen many blogs and DIY sites that had done the same thing and I had their guidance.

So my reason for natural egg dyes was clear. What I did not expect, was to LOVE it. Yes, the dyes took some extra effort and planning, but it was exciting! It added a whole other level to egg coloring. I was once again surprised and delighted at the site of my eggs being lifted out of their bowls of color. The colors weren't dull and diluted. They were bold and bright. I was so extremely satisfied. Furthermore, I was able to teach the kids how they were made. It was a learning experience.



The process is quite easy. I'll give you each color and how I did it.

Purple - Grape juice. I boiled it down on the stove for about half an hour to reduce it a bit. Let cool.

Yellow - Tumeric. 3 tablespoons to 2 cups of water. I boiled it and let it sit. The mixture got thick and gelatinous almost as it cooled, but the eggs turned out great. *



Blue - Red Cabbage. By far my favorite natural food dye. I boile dhalf a head of lettuce in 2-3 cups of water until the cabbage was limp. I strained it and let it cool.



Rust - This was a hodgepodge of ideas. I brewed some tea, and then added cayenne and chili powder to the mix. The result was a rust-colored egg, with some bright orange specks and bursts. Pretty neat.

I really wanted to try beets for pink, but our little County Market didn't have any. Next time!

You can let the eggs sit for as long as you want depending on how dark you want them. I wanted pretty bold colors, so I had the kids put the eggs in the night before and let them sit. Then the next day we took them out, let them dry, and decorated them with stickers, markers, and ribbon.










I would highly recommend giving this a try - if not for any of my reasons, then just because it is fun and new.

Also, I like to hard boil my eggs by placing cold eggs in cold water, bringing it slowly to a boil over medium-high heat, and once it comes to a rolling boil, let them boil for 8 minutes. Then remove from the heat and rinse.

I didn't notice any weird tastes in the eggs from the dyes. I've heard that sometimes it can flavor the egg. I didn't have that problem!

We had a surprise Easter egg hunt the next morning - so much fun!




*Tumeric will not only stain your eggs, but anything plastic it comes in touch with, or fabric, or cheap countertops like mine. Beware.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot, Chicken Pot Piiieeee!!!!

In my precious post, I mentioned how I have started making meals for other families in our community. There are some working Moms, friends, and Mom's that just don't like to cook, that don't have the time or motivation to get whole, made-from-scratch meals on the table. So I thought, with my obsession with cooking, it would be a perfect solution to start making multiples of the meals I was making for my family a couple of times a week, and sell them to these families. Well, it is working out really well, and everybody seems to like the situation. 

This is what I love about a community. We all have talents and resources that allow us to do different things. I happen to love meal planning, cooking, and feeding people. It is also a way to make a little extra money, and it allows some families to enjoy a home-cooked, whole food meal for a decent price. Its win win win!!!

So I've been making some favorites and some new dishes....a lot that are easily portable like casseroles, soups, salads, etc. I'll try to post some of these recipes on the site because they are all-in-one meals which I think are great, can be easily doubled or tripled, and are delicious and nutritious!! 

Here is my chicken pot pie. This is the way my Mom makes it, with maybe a few changes here and there. You can put whatever you want into a pie...but this is a great base chicken pot pie. 

I start with veggies - onion, celery, and carrot. The perfect base for any dish, really. I get them cooking in some butter. Then I add some red potatoes. 



I made the crust ahead of time. I'll include the recipe at the bottom. This is my FAVORITE pie crust recipe, and I use it for both savory and sweet pies. Next time I make it I'll take more pictures of the process for you. It is pretty simple, though!


The night before, I roasted 2 chicken breasts and 4 chicken thighs. This was for two pies. You can also use boiled chicken, roasted whole chicken....just any cooked chicken you have. I wouldn't recommend dicing chicken and cooking it though. I find chicken cooked that way to be tough and dry. I love roasting it!


To that, I add my spices: salt, pepper, thyme, and sage. These go great with chicken. Then I add some flour because that'll thicken the filling so it isn't just a soup in a crust. After the flour is mixed in, I add in chicken broth, and the peas! You have to have peas in chicken pot pie. I also add a dash of milk, just for a little creaminess.


I am a crust on the bottom-and-top kind of gal. Some people like it just on the top, but I love that juice-soaked crust on the bottom :).


There is the filling! So yummy.


Poke some holes in the top for ventilation...


Cooking in the oven!

I didn't get a great picture of the final product because I gave it to my friends hot out of the oven. And then I completely forgot when we were eating ours. I think you can get the picture from the filling pictures above though. I just love chicken pot pie...I'd eat it every week!

Chicken Pot Pie

This recipe is for one chicken pot pie, but can be easily doubled.

1/2 recipe pie crust, recipe below (2 disks)
1 1/2-2 cups cooked chicken, cut up
3 Tbs butter
1 sweet onion, diced
2 stalks celery (about a cup), chopped
3 large carrots, chopped into bite-sized rounds
2 large red potatoes - diced into small chunks
1 1/2 tsp salt (eyeball it) - taste at the end to adjust
1/2 tsp pepper
3/4 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp. sage
1/4 cup flour
1- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock - add enough so it is stew-like after thickening
1/2 cup whole milk or half-and-half

Saute the onion, celery, and carrot in the butter for about 10 minutes until starting to soften. Add potatoes and cook another 5-10 minutes. add the salt, pepper, thyme, and sage, combine and then add in the flour. Stir in the flour until you can't see it anymore, and then add the chicken stock. Stir until starting to thicken. Add in the chicken and peas, and heat through and let thicken some more. Add in milk and cook another 5 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll one disk of crust to just larger than your pie plate and lay it in the plate. Fill the crust with your filling. I use a deep dish pie plate. A smaller one wouldn't hold all the filling - you don't want your filling to "mound" because then it'll be more likely to make a mess all over your oven :). Roll out the second crust and top the pie. Cut of any excess crust and fold the edges together. You can decorate the crust however you like, just be sure to poke some holes in the top for ventilation.

Bake for 45 minutes or until crust is golden. Let cool at least 15 minutes before breaking into it and enjoy!

Fool-proof pie crust, my version

4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbs. salt
1 Tbs. pure cane sugar
3 sticks cold butter
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg
1 Tbs. white vinegar

Combine flour, salt, and sugar. Use a pastry cutter or your fingers to incorporate butter into the flour until you get little pea-sized pieces of butter. Mix water, egg, and vinegar together and add to the flour mixture, and this will make the dough. You may need to take it out of the bowl and knead it a little to get it well combined. Divide into 4 equal sections and wrap. Place in the fridge for at least an hour. Take out 1/2 hour before you want to roll it out.





Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kombucha!

For those out there that follow my blog and look forward to these posts - I'm so sorry I've been out of it lately! I haven't stopped making everything from scratch at home, but I have gotten SO SO busy. Days of in-home daycare, preschool, vacations, gymnastics, and I also now cook meals for some other families in the neighborhood. Combine that with having restless children that make every minute of sleep I can get priceless, I really don't have much time for blogging. I'll do it when I can, though. 

Something I've been playing around with the past couple months is making my own Kombucha. This is fermented tea. I've read over and over the benefits of consuming fermented food, and I've noticed some of these benefits myself. Not only do they give me a burst of energy, I'm also "regular" - something that is very hard for me to normally accomplish. Some claim it heals everything that ails you, but I won't go that far. I like the taste, and I am seeing some positive benefits. Saving my life, probably not, but still worth it. 

I followed the directions for making kombucha from this site: Weed em & Reap

In Janurary, I tried growing my own SCOBY from a store-bought bottle of kambucha, and was not successful. So, on to Amazon I went :). Here is the link to where I got mine: Amazon

For my first batch, I used a black tea with orange and spice. This is my favorite kind of tea, and they say black tea is really good for the SCOBY. I did about 3/4 gallon, because this is what fit in my jar. I added 3/4 cup sugar while it was hot and let it cool completely before adding my SCOBY. Weird little fungus, that SCOBY. It's just a slimy piece of mushroom that does magical things and is apparently very sensitive to its environment. I'm always worried I'm going to kill it! Also, I have no idea how to tell if I have killed it. I used filtered water and everything to make sure it was safe. 

Then, I just let it sit covered with a towel for 10 days. After this amount of time I could taste that it was done because it tasted like the kombucha I buy at the store. The great thing about doing this at home is the cost savings. A bottle of kombucha at the store can cost 3.50-4 dollars! This is much more economical. 



.

Then, I double fermented mine. I got these great glass bottles at Meijer for $2-4 each. I filled them each up 1/4 of the way with organic, not from concentrate black cherry juice. I want to find organic grape juice because I think that would be mighty tasty too!



After I let it sit, capped, for a few more days, I fished out any new "growth" at the top and put it in the fridge ready for consuming. I was delighted with the little "POP!" I got when I opened my first bottle - a good sign of fermentation!


There really is no recipe for this. I would follow the link about to Weed em and Reap and follow those instructions. What I will tell you is that this stuff if delicious and nutritious :).