Category Archives: Lunch

PB&J – peanut butter

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What is more American than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? What’s not to like about the complex carbs in peanuts and the fruit in that jelly?

Well…

Let’s break down this all-American, kid-friendly sandwich.

Peanut butter

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Ingredients:

  • Roasted peanuts
  • Sugar (sometimes listed as dextrose)
  • Molasses
  • Fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed, cottonseed and soybean)
  • Salt

Roasted peanuts are cooked using additional oil unless dry roasted. Boiling and dry roasting do not require the addition of extra oils.

Sugar on labels is code for (in nearly all cases) GMO sugar beet sugar. This is a crop that is engineered to tolerate spraying of glyphosate for weed control without damage to the sugar beet plant itself. Beets are a root crop. If the sugar had been derived from sugar cane, it would have been labeled “cane sugar.”

Molasses (less than 2% according to the label) in and of itself isn’t bad if it is made from cane sugar; however, non-organic processed food molasses may be made from GMO sugar beets and can contain additives such as sulfur dioxide (less common today than a few years ago). The source for the molasses in this peanut butter is not listed.

Rapeseed oil — they did not even use the less non-nutritious Canola oil term for this ingredient. Rapeseed is a brassica and is almost always GMO (again, lots of glyphosate). Canola is what is typically sold for human consumption and rapeseed (not using the Canola name) is more commonly used in animal feed.

Cottonseed oil is extracted from the seeds of the cotton plant which is not a food at all. We don’t eat cotton seeds in any recipes or foods. But oils extracted from cotton seeds seems to be okay according to the agricultural and food industry. Since the majority of cotton grown in the U.S. (and India) is GMO Bt Cotton, it contains a built-in pesticide. Cotton plants also require frequent spraying with a number of pesticides to fend off the many pests that attack crops. This may be the most toxic oil humans ingest.

Soybean oil is extracted from soybeans which is up to 96% GMO in the  United States and Canada. This crop is engineered to tolerate spraying glyphosate for weed control. I highly recommend researching soy to learn of its effects on the human body over time. I don’t recommend this oil.

Hydrogenated means the addition of hydrogen to the oil (a chemical process) until the oils become solid at room temperature. This creates trans-fats in partially-hydrogenated oils, the kind that increase bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lowers good (HDL) cholesterol levels in humans. This label says that they are “Fully hydrogenated” which means that they do not become trans-fats; however, Consumer Reports writes that these oils are not good for humans, either.

Here is a short article explaining which oils are healthy and which are not: Bon Appetit’s 3 Best and Worst Oils for Your Health.

Recommendations

Peanut butter is made by grinding peanuts until they become a paste of sorts. The oil separates from the solid if allowed to reach room temperature because peanut oil is not hydrogenated (it remains a liquid). This is as it should be. At this point, the addition of a little salt is all that is necessary to made a delicious and nutritious peanut butter.

Why all of the weird ingredients in cheap peanut butter?

Well, the peanut oil is removed from the peanut paste and sold for big $$$. This oil then must be replaced with something so that it can be spread on bread, hence the addition of the cheaper, and less nutritious, oils which are hydrogenated for shelf stability (the oil doesn’t separate from the peanuts at room temperature).

The addition of sugar is unnecessary but, I believe, creates a food that sugar-addicted consumers will crave more. And, of course, sugar added to nearly anything makes foods more palatable. Sugar is in everything.

There is nothing wrong with the salt. Salt is merely a flavor enhancer and is not inherently unhealthy. High sodium from other additives is unhealthy.

Healthy alternative

You have two choices: buy a natural peanut butter or buy organic; however, even many organic brands of peanut butter contain sugars and non-peanut oils — peanut oil is big $$$ product. This was a huge disappointment to me when I shopped for organic peanut butter.

You want to see this on the label:

  • Peanuts
  • Salt (optional)

That’s it. And, of course, you can always make your own (something I want to try) using a food processor. Some grocery stores will grind fresh peanut butter for you on site.

If you buy natural peanut butter, merely use a butter knife to stir the oil on top back into the peanut paste (yes, it is a little messy, but only takes a minute). I keep my jar in the fridge to keep the oils from separating again. Easy peasy.

I recommend avoiding cheap peanut butters. They are full of GMOs and unhealthy ingredients designed to allow the food to sit on the shelf for months and years. Peanut butter is a wonderful food which should contain only peanuts and salt (optional).

Next will be an evaluation of the jelly part of PB&J.

 

 

 

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Tuna Salad sans Mayonnaise

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When I decided to avoid genetically-modified foods as much as possible, one of the big challenges was what to do about mayonnaise? For the price of a gallon of mayo at the wholesale club, I could get a tiny pint of organic mayo. Ouch!

Why not eat regular mayo and salad dressings? They are all made with genetically-modified oils such as canola, soy, and corn (usually called vegetable oil). These oils come from some of the largest GMO crops in the United States, and are all sprayed with massive amounts of glyphosate, the active ingredient in RoundUp. It has been discovered that one of the inert ingredients in RoundUp is also dangerous to the health of human cells. So, I do not buy foods that are made with or contain GMO oils.

I admit that I have made my own mayonnaise in the past, but I never liked how they tasted. Something was missing. Since making my own vinegars from fruit (because white vinegar is made from GMO corn), I might try to make mayonnaise again in the future. My current solution is to keep a jar of organic mayonnaise in the fridge for sandwiches only, and make recipes that typically contain mayonnaise without that ingredient.

Sorry, but I must also discuss canned tuna as well. What do you think would be in a can of “Premium Chunk Light Tuna in water?” Tuna and water, right? Some brands contain MSG in disguise, and others contain this innocuous-sounding ingredient: vegetable broth.

Store-brand tuna with vegetable broth

Store-brand tuna with vegetable broth


What could be wrong with vegetable broth? It is made from soybeans. Yep. Soy. The majority of soy grown in the United States is genetically modified, up to 85%. Darn, darn, darn. If you read labels, you can find canned tuna that does not contain GMOs, but you will pay a high price. Just know that they are out there, and are never the inexpensive store brands or even the major tuna brands we all grew up with as children.

Tuna, jalapeno pepper, onion, pickles, agave, mustard, pear vinegar, salt and pepper

Tuna, jalapeno pepper, onion, pickles, agave, mustard, pear vinegar, salt and pepper

I discovered that you can make a tuna-salad-like sandwich spread with pretty much any meat, and probably with tofu (but I don’t eat tofu because I try not to eat soy). Just cut the meat up, shred it a little bit if possible, and combine all the ingredient like you would for tuna salad. I always keep back the chicken breasts for just this purpose when I roast a chicken. Yummy! So you can just not eat tuna if you like (though I get cravings for it once or twice a year and must indulge). Adjust your herbs and spices a little bit for different meats, and you are good to go.

That brings us to my dilemma: how do I make tuna salad without that zingy, yummy mayonnaise flavor and creamy mayonnaise texture? Let go of the tuna salad paradigm. Just let it go.

Here is what I came up with. Feel free to experiment with adding different herbs, spices, and ingredients to yours. I admit that I fermented my own pickles and fruit vinegars, and only buy organic mustard.

Ingredients:

1 – 5 oz. can of tuna, drained (if you bought one with vegetable broth, you might consider rinsing the tuna)
1/8 cup of chopped pepper (bell, Italian, jalapeno, sweet, spicy, whatever you have on hand)
1/8 cup of finely chopped onions
1-2 tsp. non-GMO vinegar (Braggs or homemade)
1/2 tsp. mustard
1 Tbsp. chopped pickles or pickle relish (organic or counter pickles)
1/8 tsp. cumin (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Mix thoroughly and use as you would any tuna salad. Delicious on a whole grain tortilla, on top of a green salad, toasted with provolone cheese or a good white cheddar. Sandwich hint: store tuna in a separate container from bread and make sandwich right before eating to avoid soggy bread or tortilla.

Sweet, spicy tuna salad without mayonnaise

Sweet, spicy tuna salad without mayonnaise

Garden transformation, warm weather

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As the cool temps transition into warmer days and nights, it is time to transition planting areas as well. My dwarf bok choy has bolted. Planted in the tiered garden bed near the driveway, it gets a lot of sunlight and lots of warmth compared to other garden beds.

Dwarf bok choy bolting, going to seed, and forming a flower head.  Looks a lot like broccoli, doesn't it?  Perfect for eating.

Dwarf bok choy bolting, going to seed, and forming a flower head. Looks a lot like broccoli, doesn’t it? Perfect for eating.

How do you cook dwarf bok choy? You can steam it, but yesterday I ate some for lunch and dinner. For lunch I made a pan of organic quinoa (with sauteed onions). During the last two minutes of cooking I placed the dwarf bok choy on top of the quinoa in the pan and put the lid back on. After a minute, I stirred the succulent greens into the quinoa and they immediately wilted and were ready to eat. What a lovely, delicate flavor, requiring nearly no cooking at all. I made fried rice for dinner and did the same with the dwarf bok choy; I laid the greens on top of the rice, allowed it to steam them for a minute, stirred, added the cubed pork chops and served. They were delicious.

The Aichi cabbage is beginning to head up. I am not sure it will have time to finish before it gets too hot and it also goes to seed. Even if I never get to eat them, they are lovely.

Aichi Chinese cabbage

Aichi Chinese cabbage

I will be planting cilantro and parsley in the spaces left by the harvested dwarf bok choy.

Spaces left by harvest dwarf bok choy will be filled with heat-loving herbs such as cilantro and parsley

Spaces left by harvest dwarf bok choy will be filled with heat-loving herbs such as cilantro and parsley

Now let’s see what is happening in the back yard garden. The bean teepee is seeing a lot of life. Looks like 6 of the Romano bean seeds germinated and are now growing. The really exciting part are all of the cucumber seedlings, and the dill coming up.

Pickling cucumbers and dill

Pickling cucumbers and dill

Potatoes growing like crazy. The center grow bag is almost ready to have shredded leaves added.

Potatoes in grow bag

Potatoes in grow bag

One of the new raised beds had the Early wonder beets transplanted (mole infestation in garlic bed turned me into a crazed Elmer Fudd and I dug up that whole corner to block the mole’s entrance to my raised bed — the beets had to be moved to safety). But if you look closely you can see sugar pumpkin seedlings. We love our sugar pumpkins during the holidays for fresh pies, muffins, pumpkin bread, and more. The pumpkin plants will escape from the bed and pour out into the yard.

Pumpkin bed new home for beets which will be harvested before pumpkin plants get too big

Pumpkin bed new home for beets which will be harvested before pumpkin plants get too big

Pumpkin seedling

Pumpkin seedling

Spinach. Lots and lots of spinach. Spinach omelettes are the new favorite breakfast around here, especially when combined with sauteed onions and cheese. I don’t pull out my spinach plants to harvest them. Spinach can be continuously harvested by cutting the outer leaves off allowing at least two inner leaves to remain. The plant is stimulated to grow more leaves, and you can continue to harvest until they bolt from hot weather. You can see in the photo below how many leaves have been cut off. I harvested two leaves from each of these plants yesterday morning. They grew that much in 24 hours. I do feed these with a fish emulsion once every week or two.

Continuous harvest spinach by cutting outer leaves

Continuous harvest spinach by cutting outer leaves

Look at how big the snow peas have grown! Hoping for flower buds any day now. And while seed packets tell you to thin seedlings to 6-8 inches apart, I use the intensive gardening method and will allow them all to remain. The soil was amended with manure and compost before planting and should support all of these plants. If necessary, I will give them a little fertilizer, though peas and beans fix nitrogen to the soil, so they do not need much fertilizer if grown in healthy soil.

Heirloom snow peas

Heirloom snow peas

Squash seedlings are coming up after the last few warm days. Oh, how I love squash. These are Cocozelle Di Napoli summer squash, an heirloom variety that grows a green striped squash. In the same bed are yellow summer squash that are just breaking through the soil.

Cocozelle Di Napoli summer squash seedlings

Cocozelle Di Napoli summer squash seedlings

I still have not planted my tomatoes and peppers, but hope to accomplish that this week. I am recovering from a pretty bad flare-up that has me struggling (persistent Lyme disease). But I will get through it and my garden will get planted, eventually. Yes, it is frustrating after waiting for warm weather, but life is like that, isn’t it? In the meantime, I enjoy pulling weeds for a few minutes each day and planting what I can.

Ruby Swiss chard and bunching onions growing near the spinach

Ruby Swiss chard and bunching onions growing near the spinach

Refrigerated bread dough: Quick flatbread

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Yesterday after I got home from school I remembered that we had no bread for the next day’s school lunches. So I put ingredients in my bread machine and set it on the dough setting. I then completely forgot about it. I was very tired after a day of back pain, two nights of poor sleep (from back pain), class, and even a quick stop at the grocery store; by the time I got home I had just enough energy to do homework and then I was done for the day (after getting that bread dough started). My 19yo usually makes dinner on days when I have afternoon classes so I didn’t need to worry about that. I managed to make it to 8:15 p.m. before I knew I couldn’t stay awake any longer. I went into the kitchen, got youngest off the computer (he spent the evening working on a texture pack for Minecraft) and on his way to bed, saw that bread machine and then remembered that I had started bread dough. I forgot to form and bake it. I was so tired that all I managed to do was dump it on my bread board, wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge. I figured I would bake it in the morning.

5 a.m. this morning I pulled out the dough and realized that there is no way it would come to room temperature and rise with enough time to actually bake so the boys would have bread for sandwiches and breakfast. Not to worry. There is always a way to make bread quickly in a pinch. I have done it before.
flatbread1
I sliced and rolled out one at a time, plopped it into my large cast iron skillet (ungreased) and let it cook on medium-low while I worked on lunches, breakfast and getting the boys up. Soft, yummy flatbread it was. I ended up with the temp on 3 (electric stove) for a softer bread, about 3-4 minutes per side.
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I brushed them with olive oil when done and allowed to cool on the large wire rack. By the time I was finished making 6 (I left the rest of the dough for later) the first few were cool.

Quick, soft flatbread made from refrigerated whole wheat yeast dough

Quick, soft flatbread made from refrigerated whole wheat yeast dough

Whole Wheat Dough

Combine in 2 cup measuring cup:

  • 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 Tbsp instant yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Stir until yeast and sugar are dissolved. Put aside.

In bread maker pan place the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups flour (3 cups whole wheat/1 cup bread or unbleached flour or all whole wheat flour)
  • 1-1/2 tsp sea salt

Start dough cycle to combine flours and salt. After a minute or two add warm water/yeast mixture and 1 Tbsp olive oil (or any other non-GMO oil).

After dough has risen remove from pan, punch down, bag up and refrigerate until ready to use.

The Organic, GMO-Free Prepper

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I really hate that word: Prepper. It denotes some crazed conspiracy theorist who believes the end of the world is imminent.

Lots and lots of canning jars

Lots and lots of canning jars


In the past two years, many of us have experienced extended power outages from storms. The future may mean more outages or even a disruption of what we take for granted every day: regular food deliveries to our grocery stores. I have heard that most stores have a 3-day supply of food. I will tell you that it is actually an 8-hour supply because as soon as word of a storm hits the news, the shelves are emptied. And after power is restored, here in Connecticut it took at least two-three weeks for delivery schedules to become normal again which means that a lot of food items were not available for weeks after power was restored to our area. This is a wake-up call to all of us.

I have had a lot of people ask me what they should purchase. I tell them to store food and buy a generator and gas cans. But what food should we store? For my family, since we have decided that the mainstream food supply is full of GMOs and toxins, we can’t just buy a bunch of store-brand peanut butter. In a stressful situation, such as an extended power outage, the body’s immune system will already be stressed. Wholesome, healthy food will be a huge priority. This will not be the time to skimp on quality and buy a bunch of junk.

I have decided to start a series of posts on this topic.

Here are directions for creating Soup in a Jar. Substitute organic ingredients and you have a full meal that merely requires adding water and cooking in a pot (and you are going to be sure to have a gas burner or camp stove for emergencies, though you could cook this over an open fire in a cast iron Dutch oven).

Homemade Gifts Series: Soup in a Jar

Here is a wonderful book filled with recipes for Meal in a Jar kits:

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Some basic supplies you will need to make Meals in a Jar:

  • Quart-sized canning jars and lids
  • Canning funnel — you really want this
  • Oxygen absorbers
  • Optional: FoodSaver with can vacuum attachment
  • Cool, dry space to store filled jars

If you have a dehydrator I recommend buying organic celery, onions, carrots, and other veggies and start dehydrating. Stock up on organic beans, pasta, and other ingredients, preferably when they are on sale. Choose a weekend when you will put your jarred meals together.

The final component will be to have safe access to drinking water. Either store bottled water or invest in a water filtration system (like Berkey or similar quality).

It is always a good idea to have emergency supplies in stock. None of us knows when some unforeseen event could cause a power outage and/or delays in food deliveries.

I have addressed this general set-up in a series on my other blog (I will move them eventually):

Surviving Extended Power Outages Part 3 contains the list of supplies that I keep on hand.

School Lunches: Snacks, Desserts, and more

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As a part of our avoidance of toxic foods and at the top of this list are genetically modified ingredients, typically called GMOs, the boys go to school with homemade lunches. Although Michelle Obama has the right idea and her goal to improve school lunches for all children by including whole grains and fresh fruits and veggies is valiant, they fall short with all of the chemicals, GMOs, low-fat and no-fat conventional milk that could have hormones and antibiotics and definitely has other additives due to its low fat content. The calorie count is also low for teenagers. While my overweight 12 year old does just fine with a healthy half sandwich, fruit and maybe some veggies for lunch my very, very skinny 17 year old (he went from 16 to 17 yesterday, so new age reference) needs a lot more calories in his school lunches, and calories that last until he can get home and eat a second lunch or early supper before the real supper. There is no one-size-fits-all school lunch.

Homemade, healthy muffins

Homemade, healthy muffins


I have talked about making bread for sandwiches and then what you can put on those sandwiches (and I left out sliced hard-boiled egg sandwiches or just hard-boiled eggs themselves — so sorry), today I want to talk about all of the other stuff you can put in school lunches and, for younger children especially, snack foods.

The absolutely best foods to put in school lunches are fresh fruits and vegetables. Really, it is so simple. Low in calories, high in vitamins and minerals, some trace minerals that they just won’t get anyplace else, organic fruits and vegetables are a great choice for school lunches.

Paw paw we got at farmer's market

Paw paw we got at farmer’s market


Again, we have preferences between my two school-aged children: one loves carrot cucumber sticks and the other doesn’t really care for those without a dip of some kind (and I don’t send a dip to school, though I could if I had it prepared and pre-packaged the night before — especially a yogurt cheese dip — getting ideas while I type). They both love oranges and apples, but oranges the best. One like fresh lemons and grapefruit a lot — pucker up! They both love bananas. One loves my homemade yogurt with wild blueberries and the other just wants a small container of fresh berries.
Homemade yogurt, wild blueberries and raw honey

Homemade yogurt, wild blueberries and raw honey


Again, involve your children in their school lunch preparations and they will not only eat those lunches at school but you are teaching them to make healthy lunches for the time when they are in college and eventually enter the workforce. You don’t want them eating fast food every day as adults, do you? They need to learn how to do this themselves for the future.

GMOs: avoid non-organic corn, soy, zucchini squash, papaya, vegetable oils such as canola, soy, cottonseed, and corn, non-organic dairy products, anything with corn syrup, maltodextrin, soy lecithin.

Snacks and Desserts

Chocolate cupcakes freeze well for school lunches

Chocolate cupcakes freeze well for school lunches


Please, please, please buy organic produce and dried fruit and nuts as much as you can to reduce the amount of pesticides and chemicals your children are exposed to each day. They are bombarded wherever they go so doing what we can at home just makes sense and gives their little bodies a better chance to survive and thrive.

  • Crudites: carrots, cucumbers, peppers, broccoli, celery, radishes, snow peas, sugar snap peas, tomatoes (grape, cherry, quarters)
  • Yogurt or yogurt cheese dip/spread
  • Fresh fruit: peeled and sectioned oranges, grapefruit, lemon, clementines, sliced apples, peaches, pears, half a banana, grapes, plums
  • Dried fruit: mango, raisins, dates, pineapple, bananas
  • Homemade fruit leather (use dehydrator)
  • Berries: blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, whatever is in season and local especially
  • Apple and pear sauce, unsweetened
  • Yogurt
  • Healthy Muffins: whole grain, fruit, chia, yogurt, goat cheese, oatmeal, nuts
  • Homemade cupcakes
  • Organic crackers
  • Cheese chunks (especially delicious paired with apples or grapes)
  • Trail mix with variety of dried fruits and nuts and seeds, even organic dark chocolate chips
  • Nuts, seeds: sunflower, pecan, peanuts*, almonds, pistachio, walnut, pepitas
  • Organic popcorn: pop in the morning, allow to cool and bag up
  • Homemade and store bought organic cookies (make sure they are truly organic to avoid GMOs)
  • Organic chips: tortilla, potato, veggie
  • Homemade pies, cakes, quick breads (though muffins and cupcakes are easier to eat)

These are just a few suggestions. There are so many healthy choices for school lunches and school snacks. Prepackage after baking or cooking (fully cooled first) and throw them in the freezer. Then you can just pull out what you need in the morning and those frozen snacks help keep the lunch cold. Occasionally I will buy the boys organic cookies. I open the packages as soon as I get home, package 4-5 cookies per snack bag and hide them away (otherwise they get eaten within hours by the hungry horde in my house). You can do this with chips, crackers, trail mix, etc.

*Peanuts: our middle school has a rule that no peanuts or any tree nuts of any kind are allowed in the classrooms. They can have these types of foods in the cafeteria. Know what your school’s policy is on foods that can cause deadly allergic reactions, and be very careful and respectful of this policy. Some of those kids can die in minutes if exposed to tree nuts. There are too many choices that do not include these allergens to get upset if your child’s school has a peanut-free classroom policy.

School Lunches: Yummy Sandwiches

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My first in this series introduced homemade sandwich bread ideas. This post will focus on what goes inside those sandwiches. We must move beyond the idea of deli meats which are really not necessary at all and very, very expensive, usually twice the cost per pound of using leftover meats which I will discuss here.

I admit that I do buy Applegate uncured meats on occasion but because of cost have needed to look beyond deli meats for school lunch sandwiches (which my boys prefer over any other lunch idea except maybe hot soup in a thermos). Here are some of the foods that I use to make school lunches:

Curried chicken sandwich with provolone cheese, onions, baby lettuce and homemade whole grain mustard

Curried chicken sandwich with provolone cheese, onions, baby lettuce and homemade whole grain mustard

Sandwich Meat

  • Cold pulled pork with fresh sliced onions
  • Sliced pork roast, roast beef, chicken breast, chicken cutlets, turkey breast
  • Chicken, turkey or tuna salad — either no mayo recipe or organic mayo
  • Uncured deli meats
  • Cheese and veggies
  • Any leftover meat sliced or chopped

Condiments

  • Butter (I use organic butter in place of mayonnaise a lot)
  • Organic, non-GMO mayonnaise
  • Organic mustard
  • Homemade organic whole grain mustard
  • Organic ketchup, barbeque sauce, wing sauce

Organic Cheese

  • Provolone
  • Sharp or mild cheddar
  • Monterrey Jack or Colby
  • Cream cheese
  • Goat cheese
  • Whatever cheese your kids love — just not American which isn’t really cheese

Additions

  • Organic Lettuce: baby, Romaine, butter
  • Sliced onions, red or yellow
  • Sliced bell peppers, orange, red, yellow or green
  • Sliced avocado
  • Sprouts
  • Sliced olives
  • Sliced cucumbers

The idea is to think outside the box. Ask your kids what they would like on their sandwiches. It took me a few months to figure out what my kids love on their sandwiches: sliced onions (both), sliced peppers (one — but I put them on the other child’s sandwiches and ask him to eat them because they are high in vitamin C), lettuce (one loves the lettuce, the other tolerates it but does eat it). I consider the veggies I put on my kids’ sandwiches a full serving. I then typically add sliced cucumbers, carrots, apples, or whatever we have on hand as a crunchy accompaniment. They have very little time to eat at school so we have narrowed it down to a sandwich and fruit. When we are out of fruit that I can put in their lunches (I always have frozen organic berries in the freezer that don’t travel well to school but are enjoyed at home) I include carrot or cucumber sticks.

Applegate smoked turkey on local organic artisan bread with lettuce, onions and cucumbers.

Applegate smoked turkey on local organic artisan bread with organic lettuce, onions and cucumbers.


Again, ask your kids what they like. You need them on board with the healthy lunch plan, and including them in the planning stage and asking how they liked a certain new creation involves them. I make a big deal about teaching my kids the nutritional value of the foods I feed them. They love that. We have had a lot of chronic illness in our family, and diet is one way that we are healing our bodies. Everyone wins and my kids are invested in the entire process.

Next post I will discuss school lunch additions: snacks, desserts, etc. Stay tuned . . .

School Lunches: Sandwich Bread

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Okay, it is time to discuss what healthy foods we can put in our kids’ school lunches: non-GMO, organic, tasty and filling. I have two to prepare each school day, and it can be a challenge. The school lunches that the kids can buy are low in calories, full of chemicals and GMOs, and just not satisfying to my boys at all, especially the high schooler. He will skip lunch instead of buying one of his school’s lunch offerings. This post will be about the bread for homemade, hearty and delicious sandwiches, the standard entree for school lunches.

Curried chicken sandwich with provolone cheese, onions, baby lettuce and homemade whole grain mustard

Curried chicken sandwich with provolone cheese, onions, baby lettuce and homemade whole grain mustard on a whole wheat sandwich roll

Bread

I occasionally buy organic bread but most of the time I make the bread used in school lunches. There are a lot of choices: bread machine, baguette, Italian, regular loaf, flat bread, tortillas, and rolls. I have actually started making sandwich rolls that are the new favorite around here. No slicing a loaf (which I am terrible at doing), no strangely shaped sandwiches due to bread machine bread (which makes oversized loaves that are impractical for sandwiches), and they are just the right size for kids’ hands.

For step-by-step instructions on making bread by hand I created a very long, photo-driven tutorial that I have not moved to this blog yet: The Baking of the Bread.

Typically, I make bread dough in the bread machine, let it work through to the end of the first rising and then remove it for shaping and second rising. This works perfectly and saves me time (which I have a lot less of since starting school). But if you have a few hours, handmade bread is amazingly rewarding to make. And everyone should know how to make good bread by hand without the use of machines.

When I made bread by hand I made two 1-pound loaves and typically baked them in a 9×13-inch glass baking dish. This resulted in a great size for making school lunch sandwiches, one for my 12-year-old and two for my 16-year-old.

2 1-lb loaves baked in 9x13-inch glass baking dish

2 1-lb loaves baked in 9×13-inch glass baking dish

1-lb loaf sliced

1-lb loaf sliced

I slice my bread, bag 4 small or 2 large slices in zipped sandwich bags, place in a larger bag and freeze.

When I make dough in my bread machine I make a 4-cup flour recipe that results in a slightly larger loaf. You can use my Chia Bread Recipe (chia seeds and coconut oil are optional — you can use olive oil if you prefer).

Beautiful loaf of chia bread

Beautiful loaf of chia bread

For sandwich rolls I divide the dough into 12 pieces, make into circles, flatten and allow to rise (I used a 9×13-inch glass baking dish for 8 and a round cake pan for the other 4) about 15 minutes or until doubled in size. For a lighter, softer crust I bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F and for a brown, slightly crispier crust I bake at 400 degrees F for about 18-20 minutes. Allow to cool completely before bagging.

Homemade whole wheat sandwich rolls

Homemade whole wheat sandwich rolls

Again, I bag two of the rolls in each zipped sandwich bag, place the smaller bags in a larger bag and freeze (always double bag anything you put in the freezer whether it be meat, bread or veggies). I can pull out bagged bread and rolls as needed either the night before or in the mornings. If in the morning, I defrost the rolls by placing in the toaster oven on the lowest setting and then leaving them in after the timer goes off. Within 10 minutes the rolls should be defrosted, or enough to slice.

A dozen sandwich rolls double bagged and ready to go in the freezer

A dozen sandwich rolls double bagged and ready to go in the freezer

Next I will discuss what we put on those sandwiches, and hope to also create a flat bread post soon. Stay tuned . . .

Potato and Cheddar Soup (with non-dairy alternative)

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potatoesonion
Occasionally we just need a really fast dinner, something that comes together in less than an hour. And sometimes we need to go meatless. This soup is so hearty and filling that it is a great entree with a small salad or steamed broccoli. I have made my potato soup dairy free for years, and still do not add milk, but I have started adding cheddar cheese with delicious results. And if you just happen to have a few slices of cooked bacon, chop those up and put them in the final seasoning stage. Oh my!

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs organic potatoes — red or golden are best, peeled and cubed
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 cups grated organic mild or medium* cheddar cheese (optional)
  • 1-2 Tbsp organic butter or oil (optional)
  • 1-3 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp dried mustard powder
  • 2 cloves fresh organic garlic, minced

Putting it Together

  • In a large sauce pan or stock pot place potatoes and onions with just enough water to cover them; add 1-2 tsp salt
  • Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, cover and cook until very tender (approximately 20 minutes) — potatoes fall apart when a fork is inserted
  • Remove from heat (do not drain) and puree potatoes, onions and water using a hand blender (stick blender) until creamy. You can use a regular blender but be very careful as the soup is very, very hot and you will need to puree in several batches.
  • Add grated cheese and butter, and stir until melted.
  • Dairy-free or vegan version: omit the cheese and butter.
  • Season with salt, pepper, cumin, dried mustard powder, and fresh minced garlic to taste. Amounts listed are suggestions; you season your soup the way you like it. The fresh garlic adds a delicious kick. If you prefer, you can use granulated garlic powder (1/2 – 1 tsp). I use a wire whisk to incorporate seasonings.
  • Ladle into bowls and allow to cool for a few minutes before serving. Caution: hot soup can burn mouth — blow on each spoonful for the first few minutes.

Serving Suggestions

  • Serve with organic blue corn tortilla chips
  • Add a few slices of cooked bacon to soup in seasoning stage for another level of flavor
  • Delicious with grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, or just grilled cheese
  • A chewy, crunchy bread and fresh organic butter is perfect with each bowl.
  • Gently stir in small steamed broccoli florets to soup when finished for a bright green splash, or serve steamed broccoli on the side
  • Great with a crunchy raw veggie marinated salad: colorful bell peppers, red onions, cucumbers, broccoli florets, sugar snap peas, and for a Greek touch, feta cheese, all marinated in a delicious vinaigrette.

*Sharp cheddar cheese lends a slightly bitter taste to this soup. Although I do use sharp if that is all that I have I much prefer mild or medium cheddar. Of course, you can always experiment with other cheeses, or just use what is on hand. You don’t even need any cheese at all which is the way we ate potato soup for over 20 years. This soup is delicious dairy free!

Pizza Night!

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pizza1Around here Friday just screams, “Pizza night!” And while a few years ago that might have meant a call to the local pizza place these days it means we make that baby ourselves to save a lot of money. And let me tell you that the pizza I had Friday night was amazing. My son has pizza making down to an art.

When we began making our pizza at home, seriously pursuing the art of pizza making, I would make my 4-cup crust recipe and split it into two medium-sized pizzas. The boys decided that they preferred a really thick large pizza instead. So I make the same recipe in my bread machine and my 19 year old son hand tosses that dough into one delicious, awesomely amazing pizza crust.

Pizza Crust

Prep Time: 30 min – 2 hours
Makes 2 medium crusts or one large thick crust

Ingredients

  • 2 cups organic whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups organic unbleached bread flour
  • 1-1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2-3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1-1/2 cups warm water
  • 2-1/2 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Bread machine time

  • In glass measuring cup, dissolve sugar and yeast in the warm water and allow to get bubbly
  • Measure into bread machine pan: flours and salt
  • Set bread machine for “Dough” setting and “Start” to combine flours and salt
  • Add liquid and oil
  • Let bread machine do its thing

Once the dough has finished kneading and started rising you can use it any time. If you have time allow it to go through its full cycle for the best texture, but it isn’t necessary if you are in a hurry. We have pulled the dough out at various stages and it is all good.

Making of the Pizza

Pizza Toppings

Let’s talk about toppings for a minute or two. You can put anything you like on top of your pizza — well, almost anything. On Friday night we had onions and orange bell peppers because that is what we had on hand. We didn’t even have any type of sauce. Saturday I went to the grocery store and had a list of requests from my 19 year old pizza-making genius son. I was only too happy to oblige him. Saturday’s pizza had bacon, Italian sausage, pepperoni, onions and red peppers with our quick sauce we make from organic canned tomato paste. Here are a few of the toppings that we have used at different times and in varying combinations. In the spirit of “making do” use what you have on hand or make your pizza ingredients a new part of your grocery list. It is up to you.

  • sliced onions: yellow or red
  • peppers: bell, Italian, sweet, hot
  • broccoli
  • spinach
  • fresh basil
  • fresh tomato slices
  • fresh, chopped oregano
  • sliced or chopped garlic
  • pepperoni
  • Italian sausage (cooked)
  • Hamburger (cooked)
  • Bacon (cooked)
  • Salami
  • Ham
Thick crust cheese and veggie pizza

Thick crust cheese and veggie pizza

Putting it All Together

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

Take your pizza dough from the bread machine and either roll it out or hand toss. We have a pizza stone but you can use a cookie sheet, cake pans, baking dish, anything you like for your pizza. Do not grease your pizza stone but any other dish or pan should be greased.

Brush the entire crust with olive oil (infused with fresh garlic if you have any). My son uses my oil spray pump. Then sprinkle with garlic granules, a little salt, oregano, parsley, whatever you like. My youngest son has even rolled some mozzarella into the crust. Have fun with this. Spoon and spread your sauce onto the crust avoiding the outer edges (sauce on the outer crust will burn). How much sauce should you use? I like just a little bit of sauce. My 19 year old likes more sauce. If you can’t have tomatoes because you are avoiding nightshades or salicylates just leave it off, or spread a little ricotta before continuing.

Cheese time! We love fresh mozzarella, a lot. We also buy mozzarella by the pound and have stopped buying packaged shredded cheese*. So grate 3/4 pound of mozzarella and sprinkle that over your sauce. Now it is time for some toppings.

Put as much or as little as you like. We often do 1/2 all veggies and the other half with meat. Here in Connecticut the pizza places sprinkle everything with pepper. We sprinkle with parsley and/or oregano.

Fresh mozzarella, sliced red peppers and onions

Fresh mozzarella, sliced red peppers and onions

Bake at 400 degrees F for 18-23 minutes, or longer until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden brown. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing. Mangia!

*I was not able to find much information on what packaged shredded cheese is coated with. I believe it is cellulose (does not disclose plant source so might be GMO corn — we have no way of knowing), potato starch, and often an anti-fungal to hinder mold growth. The safest choice is to buy block cheeses and spend three minutes grating it yourself.