Tuesday, April 26
Regardless of your occasion, theme, party size, budget and diet restrictions you're almost certain to find some great menu ideas in Just a Bite.
Passing up complicated and fancy in favor of cute and bite-size, the author (a pastry chef) shares some of her favorite and most popular options. Most recipes don't require special pans, strange ingredients or anything else your average home baker can't do.
The small size of each piece means you get a lot more bang for your buck, and many of the small cakes and cookies can be made ahead and frozen to stash as back-up for last minute entertaining or to give you a head start during busy weeks. I highly recommend checking your library for this one!
Sunday, April 24
When I started working for Panera, I loved telling people what was in them. "Our bakers take our cinnamon raisin bread dough, chop it up, add apples and molasses, bake it off and put streusel and white icing on top." That never failed to make the sale!
Unfortunately, when Panera changed their raisin bread recipe I considered the new cobblestones inferior to the ones I'd loved and gave up eating them. (The 650 calories and 62 grams were strong motivators as well.) When I left Panera early last year, I pretty much forgot about cobblestones all together.
Then I picked up a copy of Sarabeth's Bakery from the library and saw a recipe for apple cinnamon bread. Reading through it, I realized that rather than a normal loaf, she was making a monkey-bread sort of concoction where you chop your bread dough together with your apple filling and lump it all in the loaf pan together so that it pulls apart in gooey chunks after baking.
Of course that made me think of cobblestones, and I had to give it a whirl. The good news is, the method is easy. The bad news is that the bread recipe I tried from the book did not have the consistency I was expecting and the finished product was not what I was hoping for.
As you can see, they're not nearly as puffy and soft as they should be. But, I consider this a learning experience and plan to try again. If you want to try making your own (with dramatically fewer calories and less sugar than Panera's), here's the basic recipe:
Dough - use your favorite recipe for a light yeast bread or, even better, your favorite cinnamon roll dough.
Apple filling - any apple pie or crisp filling will work fine here, the syrupy-er the better. Throw in some raisins or chopped nuts if you like.
Icing - combine powdered sugar, a splash of vanilla and enough milk or cream to reach the consistency you like best.
Make your dough and let it have it's first rise. Roll it out, spread it with some melted butter and a generous layer of your apple filling. Starting on a short side, roll it up. Using a knife or bend scraper, chop it into messy chunks. Scoop up handfuls and drop them into greased or lined muffin tins. It's a good idea not to make these too big, as they're plenty rich and filling! Don't over-fill them; about 3/4 full is good. (Alternatively, you can bake this as a loaf in a standard or mini-sized loaf pans.)
Let them rise until light and puffy, then bake at 350* for half an hour. Depending on the dough you used, you may need to bake as much as another 25 minutes to hit done-ness, but that will vary widely by your dough and the size of the muffins you made. They should be golden brown and firm to the touch. Let cool enough that you won't burn your fingers on the filling, drizzle generously with icing, and enjoy!
But it went smashingly well. We LOVE grinding our own flour, for the cost savings, nutritional benefits and preparedness aspect.
Unfortunately, my poor little grinder was not really intended for the high volume of wheat we've put through it. It still works, but we've been debating for some time now the need to replace it. I did lots of research and knew exactly what I wanted, but couldn't really justify the expense. Finally, Eric decided it was time and ordered a Country Living Grain Mill. I was madly excited and couldn't wait for it to get here.
Check this out!
This thing does not take prisoners! The flywheel is very heavy and designed with that channel in the middle so you can run a belt through it and run it off a motor or attach it to a bike for powered grinding. The grinder is heavy duty enough that it has to be bolted to a counter to be properly operated.
Obviously, since we're renting and not allowed to bore holes into the counter top, we had to improvise. Eric made a base to bolt the grinder into and we clamped that to the counter. Grinding has become a whole-body exercise, but light years faster! I also have no doubt that this will last us the rest of our lives. Short of a nuclear explosion, I don't see this breaking down or wearing out.
If you're thinking about a grinder, I highly recommend this one!
Here's our new (to us) skillet, in need of a little love.
After a good scrub-down with steel wool, I filled it with salt and threw it on the stove. It was fascinating to watch the salt leach the rust out, turning a brownish grey color, and to find the skillet much improved when I finally dumped the salt out and scrubbed it down again.
After that, I put it back on the stove, over low heat and periodically oiled it, allowing the oil to bake into the pores of the iron to give it a nice, naturally non-stick finish. (Sorry, failed to take a "done" picture yet...)
I haven't had a chance to use it yet, and it may need a little more oil, but I'm very pleased with how well it has turned out so far and the knowledge that we have one more thing off our "be prepared" list!
First, start cracking eggs. As a standard practice when using eggs for anything, I recommend cracking them separately into a small dish before combining them or adding them to a recipe. It has to potential to save you a lot of grief and wasted ingredients if you get shell fragments in it or find any unexpected quality issues.
Next, beat the eggs well.
If at all possible, keep a furry supervisor on hand to ensure quality and assist with cleanup. Border collies are a good choice, and usually volunteer as soon as they see eggs coming out of the fridge.
Pour the beaten eggs into the flat trays that come with your dehydrator (the ones you'd normally use for jerky). Somewhere in the neighborhood of six eggs will fit in each tray. I only did four my first run and definitely had room to spare.
Set the temperature on your dehydrator to 160* (or whatever the equivalent is on your machine). How long drying takes will depend, of course, on several factors but I let mine run all afternoon and overnight and that was more than enough.
Depending on how thickly you poured them in, the eggs will pop out as either a hard, flat sheet or as crumbles. (Mine were poured thinly and came out at dark orange crackly crumbles.) They will be a smidge oily to the touch, but that's okay.
Powder the crumbles in your blender or food processor and store them in an airtight container. To use, combine 1 tbsp powder with 2 tbsp warm/hot water and let sit briefly. I have not yet baked with mine, so I'll post notes in the future if I find any helpful tips, but I encourage you to give this a try! It was quick, easy and brings a great deal of peace of mind.
Thursday, April 21
This should be a must - have for everyone who cannot (or will not) include "moving to a farm" on their emergency preparedness to-do list! For many legitimate reasons - jobs and health needs being two of the biggest - not everyone can abandon suburban living, but that's no excuse for not being wise and prepared to handle the waves of social and economic instability that have become standard fare these days.
Brodrick covers everything from investing wisely and easy ways to reduce your dependence on gas, electricity, etc. to building networks with your neighbors and how to prepare for any disaster - large or small - without breaking the bank.
The author's positive tone and fundamental practicality set this book apart and I highly recommend it!
Monday, April 18
First, some recipes:
Fish and chips - We don't eat a lot of fried food, but this was really good. The beer batter made the fish just the slightest bit sweet, and the fries were perfect.
Tatzaki - This is apparently the one dish where my tendency to throw extra garlic into everything was NOT okay. Wow did it have a bite! At some point I will try it again with the correct amount of garlic...
Turkey Meatballs with Cranberry BBQ Sauce - This wasn't bad, but it was very sweet (possibly due to my choice of bbq sauce). It would be great using smaller meatballs as an easy appetizer at a holiday party, though.
Kitchiri - This was madly easy, nutrient packed, insanely filling and yummy besides. Can't seem to find the book marked recipe, but I'll get it posted up here soon so you can share in the delight!
Cornmeal Pancakes with Ham - No eggs, no flour, milk optional. These are food storage friendly, super easy, filling and delicious. I was actually surprised by how much we liked these and will definitely make them in the future.
Next up - sneak peeks of projects to come:
Dehydrating Eggs - my dehydrator is humming quietly as we speak, and I actually remembered to take pictures! Tutorial on this coming soon.
Dehydrating and/or canning cheese - as long as you have cheese, you can make a meal with almost anything. Unfortunately, cheese needs to be waxed or refrigerated... unless you can it or dehydrate it! Having tracked down solid tutorials for both, I'll be giving them a try and I'll track my progress here.
Canning Resource Review - starting last summer, I've been reading all the canning books I can get my hands on and making notes on their strengths, weaknesses and value in a home cookbook library. As canning season gets closer, I'll be posting that info here in hopes of helping everyone save time and money in selecting your own canning resources.
That pretty much sums up today, so until I get caught up enough to write a proper post I thought I'd share a helpful quote as spring starts to gear up into what are sure to be some busy months for everyone if they aren't already!
Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don't keep it a secret.
Friday, April 15
Despite agreeing that a person's faith should impact the way they work and that such impact is almost always strongly positive, I cannot recommend this book. The writing itself was questionable, tending towards ungainly sentences chopped up by a distractingly abused commas. The anecdotes used to juxtapose faith-based companies and their profit-motivated counterparts were, in most cases, too short and isolated to be of real impact and occasionally even laughable or counterproductive.
I feel that the author's attempt to equally include and respect all religions and the vague “spirituality” of those who do not subscribe to a definable religion crippled this book's potential. The jumble of business theory, apologetics, politically correct inclusiveness and nods to New Age warm fuzzies left the primary message lost and weak.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com
Wednesday, April 13
Ms. Perrett has done an outstanding job of distilling extensive research and multi-faceted issues into a common sense manual for those who are trying to reduce their risk of foodborne illness.
The book contains no fear-mongering, gross-out factors or other manipulative marketing tactics. The author remains true to her stated mission of bringing people the facts they need to make good choices for themselves and their lifestyles; in cases where current research and medical opinion is conflicted or indecisive she summarizes both sides fairly and allows readers to decide for themselves.
I have tremendous respect for Ms. Perrett's honesty in opening her book with the admission that it is not about nutrition, only safety. Readers can research elsewhere the nutritional merits of raw milk, unpasteurized juice, etc. and decide for themselves if those factors make the potential risk worthwhile for them; the author does not bash or forbid such foods, but does explain the safety factors involved in a fair and even handed manner.
There is no one who wouldn't benefit from reading this book, and I highly encourage anyone with a compromised immune system or who is responsible for the care of children or the elderly to make time to read it. What you learn may literally save lives.
Tuesday, April 12
Spiced Chicken & Barley Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Spinach - sounds complicated, but is really easy and super yummy
Warm White Bean Salad with Garlic & Rosemary - this was pretty good, but next time I'd skip the bread crumbs because they made the dish too dry. An easy, go-to side.
Butter Chicken - this smells amazing while cooking, was madly easy and tasted great! I served it with rice, but I think next time I'll make naan.
Dehydrating Eggs - this is on my list of things to try today! It's a tutorial on how to dehydrate your own eggs at home. This can be a huge money saver, and is a good way to store up a surplus of eggs if you have any for use later.
Autumn Sausage Casserole - this is ridiculously easy, very filling and delicious.
Falafal - I'd never tried this before, but it was super easy, dirt cheap and very yummy. I put in on homemade rolls and served with ketchup... since I accidentally OD'd on the garlic in the tatzaki and it was way too hot to eat! Lol.
Sin on a plate - okay, that's not actually what it's called. Homemade Butterscotch Pudding is the official title, but wow was it decadent! Serve layered with real whipped cream and you only need a little. So much easier than I thought, too! I may not be able to afford much shopping at William Sonoma, but I am a huge fan of their recipes!
If you've ever wondered how to make your own vinegar, there's a great tutorial here. I was quite disappointed to find out that its drastically cheaper to just buy it, but at least by tucking the instructions into my cookbook I feel like I could make my own if I needed to. :0)
If you happen to be on a first-name basis with the nice ladies at your local library (or would like to be), consider checking out the following great cookbooks too:
Southern Plate - comfort food at its best
WS New Flavors for Vegetables - a must have for anyone who likes farmer's markets!
The Bread Book - one of the best, certified by someone who could live on bread...
Bite Size - awesome party food!
Okay... time to go start prepping for dinner now... :0)
Monday, April 11
"BAM" is the acronym for Business as Missions, something most of us are probably familiar with but didn't realize there was an official name for. BAM is the idea that "business could be a very effective and valuable way to do missions and ministry". Jesse Lane (of Dayspring - one of my favorite missions-as-business examples) is doing a great job of exploring the issues and methodologies behind this idea at his Kingdom Commerce blog.
As a former business major, I am excited to see the church starting to open up to the idea of self-sustaining missions on a much larger scale than it has in the past for several reasons:
1. Being directly tied into (and contributing to) the local economy fundamentally integrates people into their community. It opens doors, breaks down barriers and gives people social standing from which to speak.
2. Being self-sustaining prevents people from spending lots of time and energy on the "please donate" circuit that they can (and usually would rather) devote to their mission.
3. Businesses have a lot to offer that traditional missions can't - job skills, solid work references, money management experience and earn-able funding for one's goals.
4. Administration (or business smarts) is a spiritual gift - I don't personally believe God hands it out to be used only in churches :0)
5. Faith-based businesses give people the opportunity to vote with their wallets. Where and how we spend our money says more about our priorities and has more impact on the secular business world than anything else we could do.
I've barely scratched the surface of the Business as Mission Network website, but it looks like they've got plenty of great thoughts on there to chew on. If you know a business major (or a Bible major for that matter!) think about sending this their way.
Wednesday, April 6
Among its anecdotes, the book recounts an experiment done on movie-goers where they were given two week old, very stale, popcorn. It was free, everyone got one, and at the end the researchers explored how much everyone had eaten and why. Although participants uniformly agreed that it was stale and nasty, they still ate almost all of it! Distracted by the movie and conditioned by culture to munch while watching, they kept dipping back in and eating more, pausing only briefly in the cycle when reminded by taste that it wasn't yummy.
When you consider that (according to the article above) a large popcorn has nearly 1,500 calories - almost an entire recommended daily intake - and the research into cultural conditioning exposed by Mindless Eating, it gets very hard to feel compassion for the movie theater operators. Especially when you consider that it's not really butter they're piling onto those mounds of popcorn - suddenly an old fashioned treat has become an calorie and potentially allergy-laden time bomb (many butter alternatives are soy based)!
I know... I should quit talking about food because it depresses people. But it bothers me that these kinds of stories keep showing up in the press and no one seems to care to offer balanced perspectives. I was a business major - I fully appreciate the pain the neck that it is to comply with random and changing FDA requirements while still meeting the desires of your customers who usually don't really want to know the truth. But we're reaching the point as a society where we don't have the luxury of not caring any more. Ethics no longer haunt corporate halls and business men's consciences have ceased to keep us safe.
Any time you read about food, take it with a grain of salt and look for the big picture. Journalists may write it as a human interest piece or small side story, but the stakes are high and the implications far wider than we imagine.
Tuesday, April 5
If someone purposely served children with a peanut allergy something with peanut oil in it for any reason they'd be flayed alive on national tv for days! Heck, if someone furtively and intentionally served a Muslim pork or a vegetarian meat they'd be hauled into court an keel-hauled!
I'm not sure which concerns me more about this mess: (1) that gluten-free diets are being considered a fad when for so many people its actually a matter of life and death, or (2) that Americans still fail to recognize one of the fundamental paradoxes of our food supply - some of the lowest paid, least educated and least interested people in the national work force are daily entrusted with control over a hazardous, potentially lethal substance that impacts everyone, every day!
(That's not a slam on food service workers - I did food service for 10 years and fully appreciate the many amazing people who dedicate their lives to safe, high- quality food artisan-ship. It is, however, an acknowledgement that 90% of food service workers are making minimum wage, lacking appropriate training and in positions where mishandling of product can severely injure others.)
I'm not going to get off on a rant about our broken system and its alternatives. But I would like to offer a thought to stick in the back of your head. These little events are constant warning bells, ringing in the background of our lives, telling us clearly that something is very, very wrong with the way we live and with the assumptions we take for granted about how the world works in relation to food.
It is unwise to ignore these incidents, to brush them off because they don't happen to impact us personally. It is only by acknowledging them and making the choice to respond to the fundamental truths they represent that we can prevent a wholesale collapse of our sick and fractured system.
I'm no fan of our nation's overly-litigious mindset, but in this case I think criminal charges of this lunatic "chef" are more than justified. Poisoning someone on purpose is a crime, regardless of where and why you do it. And just maybe, if we drag this scumbag through court, we can force the nation and the media to pay attention. Force them to start asking the honest questions about how we handle our food that will need to be dealt with before we can ever hope to muddle our way out of this culinary nightmare we've gotten ourselves into.
Monday, April 4
There's a new bakery cafe at the Fulton County Airport (Fulco) called Grandma Millie's Bakery and we stopped by for brunch. All I can say is that its a good thing they're not any closer to home than they are, or they would be very bad for my good eating habits!!
As far as they know, the crew at Grandma Millie's is the only bakery located at an airport - is that a great new twist on the $100 hamburger or what?! Hundred dollar cupcakes anyone? :0)
The food was great (and very affordable), the people were wonderful and the cafe is adorable. It was the perfect intersection of addictions for Eric and me - airplanes on the tarmac outside and a shelf full of drool-worthy cookbooks in the cafe corner to peruse while you wait!
If you're in the area (or will be flying past) check them out! Their info is here and they have a Facebook page here.