Category Archives: Recipes

Roasted Pumpkin Pie

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pumpkinpies

Last year’s pies made from home grown organic pumpkin made into pumpkin pies

Every year my sons (and daughter when she is here) declare that my pumpkin pie is the best in the world. I must confess: it is delicious.

Yesterday, after forgetting to get celery and pumpkin pie fixins’ I was planning out my Monday shopping trip to pick up the items I forgot yesterday.

My 20-year-old son buys organic pumpkin puree and keeps it in the pantry as a reminder that he wants me to make pumpkin pies whenever I can.

But I don’t use canned pumpkin puree in my pies.

I use something better: roasted sugar pumpkin.

pumpkin

Sugar pumpkin ripening

And then it hit me; it is the roasting of the pumpkin that gives it that rich, most amazing flavor.

The years that I grew my own organic sugar pumpkins (above), of course, resulted in the best-tasting pies of all.

But this year I must locate a farm-grown sugar pumpkin for my Thanksgiving pies.

For those who don’t know, sugar pumpkins are a specific variety of pumpkin that has just what it says it has: more sugar in the flesh.

A few years ago I paid $.79 a pound for a sugar pumpkin. I have no idea what it will cost me this week.

Roasting a pumpkin

Prepare the pumpkin

Wash the entire outside of the pumpkin with room-temperature water and a vegetable brush. Dry with paper towels (or a clean cloth towel).

Cut the top of the pumpkin around the stem out, but not large as you would for carving a Jack-o-lantern. You want as much of the flesh to remain on the pumpkin as possible (it is precious, delicious, wondrous).

Cut the pumpkin in half down the center from top to bottom (not side to side). I use a large carving knife for this job.

Scrape out the seeds and strings, leaving as much flesh as you can. Do not be afraid of a few strings remaining.

Roasting time

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

 

  • Large baking dish (13×9 inch)
  • cup of water (or more so there is about 1/4 inch of water in baking dish)
  • 2 pumpkin halves

 

Pour water in baking dish and place pumpkin skin-side up, flesh facing down in the dish. (No need to oil the dish.)

Roast the pumpkin for an hour or more until the flesh is tender. It will change to a darker orange color throughout when it is completely cooked.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes (or until it is cool enough to handle).

Scoop out the flesh. It is easier than cutting off the skin which can result in wasted pumpkin (again, it is precious, delicious and wondrous).

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Pumpkin pies made with this roasted sugar pumpkin will knock your socks off. The recipe I use is below (comes from Joy of Cooking 1975 edition – a gift to me from my mom when I was 15 years old).

Pumpkin Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie (so I double the ingredients and make two pies, always).

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Pie shell (unbaked) in pie plate.
  • 2 cups cooked pumpkin
  • 1-1/2 cups cream, condensed milk or whole milk (I always use whole milk)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg or allspice (I use nutmeg)
  • 1/8 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 slightly beaten eggs

Directions using a mixer: Beat the cooked pumpkin first to break it down a little (I don’t puree it ). Combine all ingredients with a mixer. Pour mixture into pie shell(s) and follow the next part of the directions CAREFULLY:

Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 45 minutes more or until knife comes out clean.

Serve with fresh whipped cream (whip heavy cream adding in teensy bit of sugar and vanilla after the initial whipping).

Give roasted pumpkin pie a try and let me know what you think.

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate, and Happy holidays to all!

[Use any leftover pumpkin to make pumpkin pancakes. Yummy!]

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GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Dips and Spreads

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GMO-free Super Bowl 50: Dips and Spreads
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Homemade Salsa

Tortilla, potato and pita chips cannot show up on Super Bowl Sunday alone, can they? And if you want people to eat what’s on that veggie platter, you better have something good to dip those veggies in.

Here are some of my favorite dips.

Salsa

I usually spend a little extra and purchase organic salsa or make my own. Here is my recipe for a Fast and Easy Salsa.

What’s wrong with conventional salsas? There are usually one or two potential GMOs in salsas: corn and vinegar.

Southwestern style salsa contains corn kernels, and they might be the recently-approved GMO sweet corn.

Vinegar in an ingredient list means white vinegar made from GMO corn.

Guacamole

This is such an easy dip to make that buying it seems silly (I did not check ingredient lists on premade guacamole so I don’t know if it contains GMOs).

  • Cut two ripe avocados in half, remove pit. Scoop fruit into mixing bowl.
  • Mash well with a fork
  • Add
    • salt
    • pepper
    • garlic powder or fresh crushed garlic
    • lemon or lime juice (fresh, please)
    • cumin (sorry, I don’t measure)
  • Special ingredient: 1-2 tablespoons of hot salsa
  • Serve immediately

Other Dips

French Onion Dip with potato chips is a tradition in my house for Super Bowl Sunday.

Non-organic sour cream-based dips contain MSG, corn syrup, vinegar, and other GMO ingredients. Glutamate is the worst offender in these dips (I cannot eat glutamates). Buy organic or make your own.

Onion Dip Recipe

  • 1 16-ounce container organic sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder or finely minced fresh onions (yellow onions can be hot)
  • Dash of dried dill or parsley; rub between hands to release flavors
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Combine ingredients and refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight. This really does taste better the next day. Adjust salt and onion powder to taste.

You can add roasted peppers, roasted garlic, red onions, or anything you like to make your own custom dip for chips or crudités.

Faux Goat Cheese Spread

I love goat cheese, but it is crazy expensive here in Connecticut. Hey, if you can afford it, buy it. It is delicious and healthy.

I discovered that if I drain organic yogurt (flour sack cloth overnight hanging over a bowl to catch whey), I end up with this delicious yogurt cream cheese that begs for the addition of dill, garlic, onion, or roasted red peppers.

Combine yogurt cheese and flavor addition, wrap in plastic wrap or place in a glass canning jar and refrigerate overnight.

This is delicious spread on Mary’s Gone Crackers gluten-free, GMO-free organic crackers, cucumber slices and crudités.

Did I mention that this spread contains beneficial bacteria (probiotics)? Bonus!

(Use the whey in smoothies, baking or fermenting.)

Hot Dips

screenshot paula deen dip recipeI love the Food Network spicy spinach and artichoke dip. I substitute ground red pepper and a teensy bit of apple cider vinegar or my homemade pear vinegar for the hot sauce in recipes. Other substitutions include caramelized onions for the artichoke hearts (which can be expensive) or roasted garlic. Be creative.

The main problem with this recipe is the mayonnaise. I buy non-GMO or organic mayonnaise. Target was the first store to carry my favorite mayo, but now my local grocery store carries it as well.

Just Mayo from Hampton Creek is Non-GMO Project Verified, egg-free and absolutely delicious.

Or make your own mayonnaise. I make one mayo from the egg yolks and then a white mayo from the egg whites. I use a hand blender with a whisk attachment and drizzle the oil in to create the emulsion. The key is to add mustard, vinegar, etc. to get the flavor YOU want.

Don’t fall for this Big Food deceiver which is not GMO-free:

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Smart Balance Mayo is NOT Non-GMO. The label is deceptive.

The label on Smart Balance mayo states that it contains “Non-GMO Oil.” Lovely. But what about the GMO sugar and GMO vinegar? Other concerning ingredients include modified food starch (could be made from GMO corn) and TBHQ (a questionable preservative).

Bean Dip

Combine:

  • 1 can of black refried beans
  • 1/4 cup hot salsa
  • 1/4-1/2 cup grated cheese of your choice
  • More grated cheese to sprinkle on top

Stir and either bake in oven for 20-30 minutes until hot or microwave for a few minutes.

Serve with organic tortilla chips.

And for those veggie platters, you need a tasty, non-GMO dip that doesn’t contain glutamates.

Veggie Dip

Simply add what you would like to organic or Non-GMO mayonnaise:

  • Onion powder gives it a ranch dressing kind of flavor
  • Garlic powder, fresh garlic, or roasted garlic
  • Dried  and fresh herbs such as dill, chives and parsley
  • Finely chopped red bell pepper
  • Ground red pepper for a spicy zing or a little hot sauce
  • 1/8 – 1/2 tsp of apple cider vinegar or other non-GMO vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp lemon or lime juice
  • Ground mustard powder or organic mustard (non-organic prepared mustard often contains GMO vinegar — read labels). I favor Dijon Mustard.
  • Salt and pepper (optional) to taste
  • Add milk and/or sour cream until it is the consistency you desire

Refrigerate for an hour or overnight to meld flavors. Taste before serving and add salt to taste.

 

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

Chicken Quinoa Sautee

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I just had to share this delicious recipe with you, my friends. My kids absolutely love this and I found them snacking on it all night leaving me with no leftovers the next day for my lunch.

Note: You want to rinse the quinoa before cooking to remove the saponins. Just place in a mesh strainer and run fresh water over the grains before cooking. Easy peasy.

I pan cook the quinoa with the onions, shallots, peppers and garlic for extra flavor. If you want to cook the quinoa separately, that is fine, too. Just combine all ingredients for the final simmer before serving which heats up the chicken.

2 large or 4 small chicken breasts, cooked and cut into cubes or gently pulled apart
1 cup organic quinoa
4+ cups organic chicken broth or water
1/2 large or 1 medium onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, red or green, chopped (reserve 1/2 cup to top dish)
1 large shallot sliced thinly
2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. oil or lard
Organic Tamari or Soy Sauce
Salt and pepper to taste

Sautee onion and pepper in oil (or lard) until soft. Add shallot, garlic and quinoa; brown for about 5 minutes. Stir in 4 cups chicken broth and simmer quinoa and veggies for 15 minutes, covered, stirring a couple of times. Turn off heat and allow to sit, covered for 15 minutes. Quinoa is cooked when tender. Place chicken on top of quinoa and vegetables, sprinkle soy sauce over all, and add a little more chicken broth if needed. Turn heat on medium low or low and simmer 5 minutes, covered. Serve with fresh diced pepper for a cool, crunchy texture.

Optional: If you have garden fresh squash, snow peas, broccoli or any other vegetable, add in the final few minutes before adding the chicken.

Optional: Add grated cheese such a mozzarella, Romano, Parmesan, or Monterrey Jack a couple of minutes before cooking is complete, or sprinkle freshly grated cheese on top of dish when serving.

Optional: Serve with fresh salad and/or salsa.

Sorry I don’t have any photos. We ate it too fast.

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Non-GMO Thanksgiving plus Cane Syrup Recipe

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Home grown organic pumpkin made into pumpkin pies

Home grown organic pumpkin made into pumpkin pies

This is the time of year when grocery shopping for holiday meals and treats becomes quite a challenge. We all have family recipes that everyone wants at Thanksgiving and Christmas, if you celebrate those holidays. And I discovered the kosher foods are not GMO free at all. I will be evaluating common holiday recipes, providing GMO-free alternatives. We must be creative at times, and definitely will need to do a little cooking from scratch. Sorry, folks. (This spoken by a person who cannot make a pie crust from scratch and actually has two packages of store-bought crusts in her fridge. Yes, I confess.)

I will deal with a typical Thanksgiving meal first. Let’s look at a possible menu:

  • Turkey — easy — buy fresh, not frozen, with no injected additives. Local, small markets carry these birds, and you will never buy a frozen turkey ever again after eating one of these birds.
  • Stuffing — Pepperidge Farm Herb Stuffing and other packaged stuffing mixes contain many GMO ingredients such as soy, canola, and corn. Make your own from organic or homemade bread. Cut into cubes, allow to dry (or toast in low oven). Add your own herbs, and you have herbed stuffing mix.
  • Vegetables — no green bean casserole if you want to avoid GMOs. Steam your vegetables and just butter, or serve plain so people can butter, salt and pepper their own: broccoli, squash, brussel sprouts, carrots, green beans, corn. Or bake sweet potatoes as a nice alternative for each person to butter and top. I make a yellow squash casserole every Thanksgiving using fresh yellow squash, sliced organic onions, organic eggs, organic milk, organic crackers, cheese, salt and pepper. So easy. Candied yams, simple if you use fresh yams (avoid canned), boil, then use real sugar and spices.
  • Salad — I make a marinated salad from hothouse cucumbers, colorful bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onions and feta cheese making my own vinaigrette marinade. This can be made the day before and is really popular with my kids.
  • Mashed potatoes and gravy. Cook organic potatoes, mash, rice or cream with butter, organic milk or sour cream, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Gravy is so easy made from scratch and takes less than 10 minutes. Pour drippings from turkey into a saucepan, adding flour mixed with a little cold water (I whisk these together in a measuring cup and pour into the hot drippings) — 1 Tbsp organic flour per cup of gravy — boil gently for a few minutes. Season to taste.
  • Pies — I grow my own sugar pumpkins, cooking and pureeing days ahead, then refrigerating. I will attempt to make my own pie crusts this year — I admit to being inept at pie crusts. Use organic ingredients and you will be fine. Avoid canned pumpkin, corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk. I use organic whole milk when recipes call for evaporated milk — you can use half and half or cream as well. Corn syrup substitute recipes are below. Organic apples make for a delicious apple pie. Pecan pie will require a homemade simple syrup (corn syrup substitute — see below).
  • Homemade rolls — avoid canned and bakery rolls. My bread recipe can be made into rolls. Timesaver: bake rolls a few days before Thanksgiving, double bag and freeze. Take out of freezer early in the morning on Thanksgiving day and pop into the oven to warm up right before dinner is served.

Corn syrup substitutes

For baked goods, such as cookies you can simply substitute 1 cup sugar plus 1/4 cup water for 1 cup of corn syrup.

For other purposes, where you need that syrup, just make your own cane syrup. Learning to make syrup from sugar will be priceless when you are out of pancake syrup or maple syrup and your family wants pancakes or waffles. We make all of our own pancake syrup (even my kids know how to make this and do so regularly).

Cane Syrup – Small batch (makes 1 quart)

2 cups cane sugar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp cream of tartar* (optional)

Cane Syrup – Large batch (makes 2 quarts)

4 cups organic cane sugar
2 cups water
1 tsp cream of tartar* (optional)

Combine all ingredients in saucepan on medium-high heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved; bring to a gentle boil. Cover and allow to boil for 2 minutes (this sweats any sugar crystals off side of pan). Remove lid, and insert candy thermometer; monitor temperature until just before it reaches 240° F. Remove entire pan from heat and place on cool surface. Allow syrup to cool to barely warm before pouring into clean glass 1-pint canning jars. Store at room temperature for up to 2 months.

*Most recipes call for cream of tartar to hinder the formation of crystals during storage. I read that the cream of tartar changes the sugars, though, so I leave this out myself.

Sugar pumpkin

Sugar pumpkin

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: 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 . . .

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.

Fast and Easy Salsa

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Homemade Salsa

Homemade Salsa

We used to eat a lot of salsa. We love our salsa. Organic salsa is outrageously expensive so we just do without except for rare occasions, a great hardship for this Tex-Mex loving family. Just put salsa on it and wrap it in a tortilla and it is Tex-Mex, right? So after doing without for months and months, and it being the middle of winter and no locally grown fresh tomatoes available it occurred to me that I could make this stuff from canned tomatoes. Yes, I use canned organic tomato products. I buy organic and make healthy food with them. I cannot afford those sold in glass jars and I cannot grow tomatoes in the winter so we use canned organic tomato products mainly tomato paste for soups, sauces, and whenever a little tomato flavor is called for.

The first time I attempted my homemade salsa I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had canned whole tomatoes with basil in my pantry. Not exactly what I wanted to start with but it was what I had. And my motto for life right now is to “Make Do”. I poured the entire can into a glass mixing bowl and then began the process of cutting each tomato into small chunks. There were seeds, there was a lot of liquid, and there were tomatoes. They would do.

Homemade Salsa with Black Beans and Corn

Homemade Salsa with Black Beans and Corn

Next, I added an entire yellow onion. I admit that it was actually too much onion but I continued. Chopped orange bell pepper, a few remaining chopped pieces of jalapeno, pinch of dried cilantro, fermented garlic, salt, red pepper flakes, and then finally chopped dried ancho chiles. A little taste and it wasn’t terribly exciting. My 12 year old son is the salsa master around here: this means that he can eat an entire jar of salsa in two days. I had him taste. He announced, “I guess you don’t know how to make salsa.” I was hurt, I must admit. But I knew that he was probably right.

I then researched several salsa recipes, read the ingredients and decided to add some cayenne pepper. Well, that did the job. If the salsa isn’t really hot my son doesn’t consider it good salsa. This salsa was now hot. And not too bad. It was very watery, though. We ate every drop of that salsa over a period of 3-4 days. I ate most of it myself because it tasted like summer. It tasted like fresh salsa made from fresh tomatoes (or what I imagined it would taste like since I’ve never made salsa in my life before this).

salsa3

Last night I wanted a chicken and black bean tostada for dinner. It screamed for salsa. It needed salsa. We had no salsa. On my last trip to the grocery store I deliberately shopped for canned organic tomatoes for the purpose of making another batch of salsa. I chose diced tomatoes with no herbs or flavorings added. I poured the tomatoes into my glass mixing bowl and before continuing on took my hand blender to the tomatoes, randomly in different spots so that just a little bit of the tomatoes were pureed. I left 60% chunks because I like chunky salsa. My 19 year old son actually hand blends his salsa in a canning jar before eating it because he doesn’t like any chunks. I was hoping this would help with the watery issue we had with the last batch. Here is how I made my second batch of salsa:

Ingredients

  • 1 28oz can Organic Diced Tomatoes
  • 1/2 chopped onion
  • 1 chopped green, red, yellow or orange bell pepper
  • chopped jalapeno (optional – use plastic gloves and do not touch your skin with juices)
  • 2-3 cloves chopped garlic
  • Freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice (optional)
  • 1/4 cup frozen organic corn (optional)
  • 3/4 cup cooked organic black beans, drained and rinsed (optional)
  • dried Ancho chile, chopped – add as much or as little as you like OR
  • red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 tsp fresh or dried parsley OR
  • 1/4 tsp fresh or dried cilantro — add more or less according to your own taste
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (crushed red pepper)
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Putting It All Together

Pour canned tomatoes in large glass mixing bowl and hand blend lightly (pulse) to puree some of the tomatoes (makes a slightly thicker salsa). Add onion, garlic, bell pepper, corn, black beans, jalapeno, herbs and sea salt. Chop ancho chiles (I placed mine in a plastic bag and crushed them because they were so brittle) and add to salsa. Stir and taste. Add cayenne pepper to taste but take into consideration that those ancho chiles will rehydrate and add some heat to the salsa overnight.

You can substitute anything you like in this recipe. I don’t typically like corn but this was delicious. And the black beans were heavenly. I have definitely found my favorite salsa recipe.

Serving Suggestions

  • Chips and salsa — buy only organic tortilla chips to avoid GMO corn
  • Spoon salsa on scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese or an omelette
  • Add to egg and sausage breakfast casserole
  • Salads
  • Tacos, burritos, burgers, sandwich wraps
  • Small container of salsa and tortilla chips in school lunches
  • Add to just about anything for some flavor and zing, and even more nutrition

Black Beans — Oh So Good!

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Home cooked black beans

Home cooked black beans

I absolutely love black beans. I grew up in Miami and confess that I never ate Cuban food, not even once (hanging head in shame). I never had a Cuban sandwich or black beans in any form until about 5 years ago when I read about how nutritious they are. I always knew beans along with a whole grain bread of some sort created a complete protein with all of the essential amino acids. I put lots of red beans in my homemade chili or made amazing vegetarian pinto beans as meat-free meals. But when I tasted black beans I felt as though I had found bean Nirvana. Black beans are like the luxury model of beans. Not only that, but they are so nutritious that to not have them in your diet means you are probably missing some vital health benefits.

Nutritional Value of Black Beans

One cup of boiled black beans contains*:

  • 1g Fat
  • 0g Cholesterol
  • 15.2g Protein – 30% DRI
  • 46.4mg Calcium – 5% DRI
  • 3.6mg Iron – 20% DRI
  • 120mg Magnesium – 30% DRI
  • 241mg Phosphorus – 24%
  • 0.8mg Manganese – 38%
  • 0.4mg Thiamine – 28% DRI
  • 256mcg Folate – 64% DRI
  • 181mg Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  • 217mg Omega-6 Fatty Acids
  • 15g Dietary Fiber – 60%

This doesn’t account for the onions and garlic that I put in my black beans. That will provide even more essential minerals especially potassium.

Health Benefits of Black Beans

I recently became aware of some of the amazing health benefits of black beans. Below are just a few:

  • Repair damaged nerves
  • Repair connective tissue
  • Boost immune system
  • Prevent progression of kidney disease in patients with type 2 diabetes
  • Prevent constipation
  • Reduce blood cholesterol levels

And let us not forget those EFAs or essential fatty acids. You are getting a huge dose of iron with that healthy fiber. Have any of you taken iron supplements? What happens? You get constipated. Eat black beans instead.

Buying Dried Black Beans

I would be very picky about what black beans you buy and cook. I would not buy black beans grown in China. In my food co-op’s buying club catalog there are several choices for buying black turtle beans in bulk: grown in the USA and not grown in the USA. My food co-op will not buy black turtle beans grown outside of the USA. And I only buy organic black beans. I have purchased and used the bulk beans in the past, and recently made a batch of Eden Food’s Black Beans. I found no difference in the taste and quality. I will say that the Eden Food’s boxed Black Beans were extremely clean when I washed them. No pebbles, skins or half beans that float up and out when washed. So if you are not buying bulk black beans I highly recommend Eden Food’s Black Beans (not affiliated with or sponsored by Eden Foods, by the way). They cost three times as much as non-organic bagged black beans. Are they worth it? Yes. One box, which is one pound, of organic black beans cooks up to nearly 2 quarts of cooked beans. Think about how much 2 quarts of canned organic black beans would cost (in my food co-op organic canned black beans are over $2 per can).

How to Cook Dried Black Beans

Most people are put off by the preparation time of cooking dried beans. I cook mine over a period of a day and a half. But they can be cooked in 2 hours easily, sometimes less. And you can always put them in your slow cooker. Really, what is easier than that?

Soaking: there are two methods to soaking dried beans. Quick soak and slow soak. Yep. Quick soak simply requires placing washed black beans in a pan 4 times the volume of your dried beans, pouring twice the amount of water (1 quart beans, 2 quarts water). Bring to a boil. Immediately turn off heat, cover and allow to sit for 1 hour. That’s it. Slow soak is exactly the same as quick soak except I pour warm water on my washed beans and allow to sit at room temperature overnight (approximately 12 hours). It is perfectly safe.

Rinse those beans!!! Maybe, maybe not. After soaking, I drain and rinse the beans at least two times and begin with fresh water when cooking. This supposedly eliminates gassy reactions (we all know what this is like — and why most people don’t eat beans) by eliminating undigestable sugars. Some people believe that rinsing soaked beans pours out important nutrients, and that long, slow cooking deals with the gas-causing elements. I rinse and slow-cook my beans, so I don’t know which is true.

Time to cook those beans. I add 1 small onion or half of a large chopped organic onion and several whole cloves of organic garlic. No salt yet. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to medium-low and allow to cook for at least 1 hour. This results in firm beans, or beans that need more cooking. I prefer slow-cooking my beans for several hours. Optional: add ham, bacon, or salt pork for additional flavor.

I then add sea salt, ground cumin and sometimes 1/4 cup of hot salsa (optional). Uncover and simmer for 15-30 minutes or longer until liquid thickens. Enjoy.

At this point you have delicious cooked black beans. Use them in any recipe, strain some for salads, homemade salsa, black bean patties (burger substitutes). I use only black beans in my homemade chili (my children do not like red beans) along with ground beef. They bring a flavor to chili I have not found with any other beans.

Meal Ideas

Homemade chili: equal amounts of black beans and browned ground chuck, a large can of organic diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes (or any peppers you like), sauteed onion, green pepper and lots of garlic. Simmer on the stove for a few hours or put in slow cooker. Yum, yum.

Bowl of black beans over organic brown rice (cooked in extra water and rinsed to limit arsenic) with salsa and organic sharp cheddar cheese melted on top. Chopped fresh onion and fermented garlic are delicious toppings, too.

Black beans and corn bread. Need I say more? Use whole wheat flour in your corn bread recipe, please, and organic corn meal (non-organic will be GMO corn).

Southwestern Spring Rolls. Oh my, these are delicious. Drained black beans, organic cooked corn kernels, diced tomatoes (drained), onions, and garlic, hot or mild peppers. Wrap and deep or pan fry, or brush with oil and bake.

Black bean burritos: Drained black beans, fresh onions, tomatoes, fermented garlic, salsa, lettuce, sour cream, cheddar cheese wrapped up in an organic whole wheat tortilla.

There are limitless ways to use black beans. When I have black beans in my fridge I eat a small bowl for my first breakfast (a very small breakfast in the early morning hours). Talk about a metabolism booster. Adding black beans to your family’s menu is easy and delicious. Enjoy!

*Nutrition Facts: Black Beans
NIH: Thiamine