Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Peeling Ginger

Did you know you could peel ginger with a spoon?  I didn't either!  I've wasted so much ginger by trying to peel it with either a knife or vegetable peeler.  By using a spoon, you scrape the paper covering away, without wasting any of that delicious ginger. You can even get around those bumpy knobs that you may have cut off before.

Ginger is wonderfully delicious and a very healthy part of your diet. You can use it in tea, in breads, cookies, as well as in the traditional stir-fry.  Raw ginger is an excellent tonic for upset stomachs, ginger tea helps with migraines, lowers cholesterol, and inhibits the formation of blood clots.  I try to have ginger on hand most of the time.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crispy Sweet Potato Oven Fries

Crispy Sweet Potato Oven Fries

Growing up, my parents made sure that my taste buds had access to a wide variety of flavors. I never had to clean my plate, but I always had to taste everything that was served. If I didn't like something, I didn't have to eat it, but I had to try it again next time. Because of this, I am not a picky eater and I love to try new food (thanks Mom and Dad!) Over the eighteen years that I lived at home with my parents, there was only one thing that I never learned to like: sweet potatoes. Each time I took that "trial" bite of baked sweet potato, I literally gagged. When I came home from college, my dad finally relented and gave in to the fact that I would never learn to like sweet potatoes. Fast forward to a few years ago when I tried sweet potato fries at a restaurant. Yum! I couldn't believe it, but I actually liked them! I started making them at home and discovered that roasted sweet potatoes are delicious. They are wonderful by themselves or in burritos (like the yummy Black Bean & Sweet Potato Enchiladas), but my favorite thing is to make my own oven fries. I have made oven fries for years with all kinds of potatoes, but sweet potatoes proved to be a bit more challenging. Because they are so dense, it is difficult to get them browned and crispy. Many times they turn out limp and soggy. After many batches, here is what I have come up with for no-fail crispy fries.

-2-3 sweet potatoes
-Cooking spray
-Hungarian Paprika (yes this is different than regular paprika--see the photo below for what it looks like--you can find it in any grocery store)
-sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 500°F.

2. Wash and peel your sweet potatoes. I like to use a "garbage bowl" a la Rachel Ray when I am peeling and dicing things.
3. Cut each sweet potato in half, then in quarters. Slice these pieces about an eighth to a quarter inch wide. This is important! The thinner the slices, the better chance you have of them turning out crispy.
4. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange your sweet potato slices onto your baking sheet, then lightly spray them with the cooking spray. This is also important. Too much oil will make your fries soggy. Sprinkle hungarian paprika and sea salt over the sweet potatoes.

5. Roast at 500°F for 15-20 minutes flipping halfway through. Be sure to keep your fries arranged in a single layer on the baking sheet. If the fries feel or look too dry while they roast, you can spray them with a little more oil. When they look nice and crispy, pull them out and enjoy! We like to eat them plain or with a little organic ketchup.

Look at that beautiful browning! As a bonus, these sweet potato fries are healthy and kids love them. If you have never learned to like sweet potatoes, give these a try and tell me what you think!

This post is from Alysa Bajenaru, RD.

Thank you, Alysa, for such a wonderful recipe.  I know many people who have converted to eating sweet potatoes when they were introduced to sweet potato fries.  Even my mom, who has hated sweet potatoes all her life, loves sweet potato fries.  Your blog is delightful and I'm happy to share you with my readers. 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Letting Go: Stress Reduction Made Simple

Worrying is a waste of energy.


Because you can't do anything about what you're worrying about.  If you could, you would have done it (or you should have done it). As a mother, I worry about my kids when they're driving to and from school, visiting their friends, going on trips.  Can I keep them any safer by worrying?  The sad truth is that I cannot.

I'm learning that when I experience the familiar symptoms of worrying I need to do the following:
  1. Evaluate the situation.
  2. Determine if I can do something about it.
  3. If I can, then I do it.
  4. If I cannot...and this is the hard part...I have to let it go.
Yesterday I was talking with my niece who just interviewed for an internship program.  She had prepared as well as she could for the interview, and she felt it didn't go the way she had planned.  Her interviewer was needed elsewhere, so he chose a substitute who wasn't as skilled as he.  My niece was fretting over the interview and how she felt it didn't go the way she wanted it to.

My advice to her was to let it go. 

We evaluated the situation, and determined that what could have been done had already been done in her preparation for the interview.  The result, now, is totally out of her hands.  She will accomplish absolutely nothing by continuing to worry about it.  She will, quite literally, waste time that could be spent on something else.

I remember the moment I learned that I could not change the world. My own daughter had auditioned for the Youth Symphony.  She had played with them the previous year, but each year everyone must re-audition.  She came out of her audition weeping. She felt she had not performed well at all. I was totally helpless. I considered marching in and asking them to allow her to re-do her performance. But, after evaluating the situation, I realized that this is part of life, part of the growing up process, and that Mom can't make everything right.

We talked about the audition, what she might have done to have prepared herself better, but then we moved on to the "letting go" part.  This was hard, but if we could all "let go" more often, we'll be happier people.

Instead of going home and worrying about whether she got the position, we spent the day together, just Mom and daughter time.  We had a great day.  She made it into the symphony and learned a good lesson about letting things go.

I don't know if my niece got the internship yet or not, but I do know that she is one of the top two candidates.  One of them will get the position, one of them will not.  Neither she nor I can do anything at this point to change the result.  It's time to enjoy this moment and let go of what we cannot control.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Why I Need to Lose Weight

As if I didn't have enough reasons, I just read this morning that losing weight can lower my risk of chronic disease, and that even losing 10 pounds can make the difference between having the disease or being able to bypass it.

1.       Cardiovascular disease. Obviously, the most important one is cardiovascular disease.  Obesity makes you more prone to developing plaque buildup in your arteries, putting you at greater risk of having some type of cardiovascular event…i.e. heart attack. But even before a heart attack, your heart has to work harder to pump blood. My husband had a heart attack at a very young age.  Fortunately, he survived it, and we have changed our lifestyle, but more changes need to be made.

2.       High Blood Pressure. This is tied very closely to cardiovascular disease, because as your heart has to pump harder, your blood vessels are also working harder and this increased pressure is causing strain to them and to your vital organs.  High blood pressure can lead to eye problems, kidney problems, as well as heart problems. Losing even 10 pounds can reduce the strain on your body and put you at a healthier blood pressure level. I have borderline high blood pressure and it needs to be addressed.

3.       Diabetes. This is turning into an epidemic in the U.S. Type II diabetes is considered to be one of the fastest growing chronic conditions in this country in adults, and it is tied directly to carrying excess pounds that leads to insulin resistance.  This means that while your body still produces insulin, the response you used to have to the insulin is now impaired. Just changing when you eat your biggest meals can make a huge difference.  Stop eating after 5 or 6pm.  Do not eat your biggest meal for dinner, but rather for lunch.  Studies have proven that eating a larger meal earlier in the day leads to lower overall glucose levels than when it is eaten later in the day. Simple change, but it can yield HUGE results. My mother has a pre-diabetic condition.  She and I share a very similar body habitus, so that is my future unless I choose to make changes.

4.       Depression. I hadn't really thought about this one, but recent studies have linked obesity to sadness and depression. It is harder for obese people to enjoy the fun things they used to do.  Food becomes a source of comfort rather than a source of nutrition. I have found pleasure in food that probably could be found elsewhere.  I'm working to develop a wonderful, healthy relationship with food, but I don't want it to be my "companion". I want to see food as nutrition and fuel for my body.  Finding pleasure in life needs to come from other things like spending time with people I love, and doing activities that I love.

I'm shooting for a loss of 10 pounds.  I have learned to set my goals small so that I don't become intimidated by them.  I have many more pounds to lose, but even 10 will make a huge difference in these four potential danger zones in my life.

What I won't do is diet to the point of deprivation.  What I will do is to change my eating and exercise habits to more fully embrace a healthy life. I think I'll go and walk my dog.

Who's going to join me?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Salmonella in Eggs

I am told that I am a bit of a "prude" when it comes to eating raw eggs, and yet here it is in the news again.  Egg recall due to Salmonella. If you have ever had salmonella poisoning or seen someone who was afflicted with it, you would be less inclined to eat something with raw eggs in it.

What I do is partially cook any eggs I use in a "raw egg" recipe.  I put eggs in a double boiler and hang an instant read thermometer so that it is in the egg mixture.  I use gentle heat to heat the water in the lower pot and a constant whisking motion to bring the eggs to 160F.  If you bring the eggs to 160F quickly, you run the risk of scrambling them.

Another tip is to keep a bowl of ice water right next to the stove so that you can immediately cool your eggs to keep them from scrambling.

I have managed to make mayo, egg curd, and meringue with this method.  I don't like Salmonella, and I don't want to suffer from it.  My daughter recently learned that she can eat raw cookie dough if she makes it with Egg Beaters.  She and I are both happy with this information.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cooking the Perfect Turkey

I don't know if my experience is the best or not, but I have had an excellent experience with cooking my turkey in two ways.  My most favorite way is in the November 2010 issue of Acreage Life Magazine. In this method, I cover the breast with cheesecloth and then basted with a delicious concoction of herbs, butter, wine, and broth. My turkey turns out so moist and the gravy is so tasty that I almost never have any leftover.  Anyone who comes to my house for Thanksgiving is a true-blue gravy hound, and they know that everything will be homemade.

Another method of making a truly delicious and moist turkey is to bake the turkey breast side down. This keeps the breast meat very moist and does not allow it to dry out. The only drawback to this method is that the turkey doesn't present as well, the breast will usually have rack marks on it.  You might need to decide if you want moist turkey or a beautiful turkey!

I've recently heard about dry-brining a turkey. I am going to try that and I'll let you know my experience.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Spinach Ricotta Frittata

Spinach Ricotta Frittata
 Posted on Nov 10, 2010
 Archived under Breakfast and Brunch, Quick and Easy, Vegetarian
This is a very simple way to enjoy the combination 
of ricotta and spinach. 

It's a delicious recipe for breakfast and brunch 
or even lunch.

  •   6 eggs
  •   320 gr spinach, chopped
  •   250 gr white mushrooms, thinly sliced
  •   4 garlic cloves, diced
  •   1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  •   2/3 traditional ricotta cheese (soft unripened), drained
  •   1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves or dried thyme leave
  •   1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
  •   4 tablespoons cooking oil
  •   salt & black pepper to taste
Heat oil in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat. 
Add diced garlic and fry for 2-3 minutes.

Add turmeric powder, chopped spinach and 
mushrooms; mix well and cook uncovered 
over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, stir gently with a fork 
until well-beaten. 

Add salt, black pepper, dried thyme, 1/2 cup 
shredded mozzarella cheese and ricotta cheese; 
mix well.
Add spinach mixture and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 370°F.
Coat the bottom and sides of a 8x8-inch baking 

dish with the oil. 

Pour mixture into the baking dish. Place in the 
middle rack of the oven and bake until frittata 
is puffy and golden.

Remove from the oven and sprinkle the 
remaining mozzarella cheese all over the 

Return the frittata to the oven and bake 
until cheese is melted. 

Serve warm or cold with toasted bread.
Makes 5 servings.
This post and recipe were created by Shabnam Asmai.  
Cooking and Cooking is her personal website. 

What a great way to use that freshly made ricotta you 
learned to make last week! 

This is also quite delicious if you replace the spinach 
with arugula.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

What is a CSA?

Community Supported Agriculture

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.

Usually the community is a group of individuals who, as a group, subscribe to get weekly bags or boxes of locally grown produce delivered to their homes or work place.

CSA is a direct connection between you and your local farmer.  You know who grew the food you are putting on the table for your family. Even more importantly, you are eating produce that is nutritionally superior to that you might buy in your grocery store because you are eating it virtually within hours of it being picked.

CSA is a responsible way to manage our valuable land resources, and provides an alternative to industrialized agriculture.  It is a return to a more agrarian connection in terms of where we buy our food, and supporting members of our community who are producing that food.

The next time you bite into a tasteless tomato, ask yourself why you bought that beautiful red tomato.  Did you buy it because it looked beautiful?  Did you buy it because it might actually be delicious and contain all the vitamins that you know you should be eating?

When we cannot trace the path of a piece of fruit or a vegetable from where it was grown to our table, we have lost our connection to the land. CSA allows us to rebridge this gap.

CSA also provides a way for these small farmers and their families to stay on their family lands, to promote fair wages, and a chance to provide economic stability to our community.

Look into joining a CSA by purchasing a subscription.  Many places allow you to purchase a three month subscription to simply try it and see how it works for you.  What I've discovered is that I eat a greater variety of food products than I did before.  We get into a rut with our food.  Having food provided by your CSA, you'll be challenged to expand your horizons and eat things you might never have purchased before.
The other beauty of a CSA share is that it will provide most of your salad and vegetable needs for a small family for about a week. Many CSAs will give you recipes for foods that you may be unfamiliar with. Each one is run a bit differently, but they all adhere to certain basic principles.

Obviously, produce varies from season to season, and depending on what part of the country you live in, your CSA may use greenhouses to continue to provide produce during the cold winter months when your own garden is frozen and barren.

CSAs can trace their roots back to Japan in the 1970s when a group of people wanted to address concerns about increasing food imports and a resulting decrease in the number of family farms and quality produce.  They started a grass roots movement to bring back a relationship between consumers and the producers of fruits and vegetables in a local area.

There are well over 1000 CSAs throughout the United States and Canada.

Seek one out in your area.  You'll be doing yourself and your family a favor by providing better produce at the table.  Your local farmer will thank you for allowing them to develop a sustainable business.  Your community will thank you because a greater percentage of your food dollar will remain in your community.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Goat Disease that Harms Humans

Keeping goats, drinking goat milk, and making a number of products from goat milk is tremendously appealing, and I'm all for it.  However, you do need to be aware that there are some diseases that can harm humans, and while a goat may be infected, the signs and symptoms are so slightly, you may never know that the goat is sick.

Unless you routinely have your goats tested by your vet, and can guarantee that your goats are healthy, you'll want to pasteurize your milk if you plan on making soft cheese, yogurt, or ice cream.  This means heating milk to 185F, or heated for 40 seconds between the temperatures of 160 to 165F.

The long ripening time required by hard cheese kills the bacterial agents, so they can absolutely be made with raw milk.

Here is a short list of the most common infections your goats can contract:
  • Rabies - Yes, your sweet goats can be bitten by a rabid animal and contract rabies. Because this is so dangerous to humans, if you suspect your animal is infected, contact your vet immediately.
  • Toxoplasmosis - While this is typically considered to be a disease carried by cats, goats can also carry it. Adults are impervious to any problems unless one is a pregnant woman.  Babies and young children are also susceptible, and should probably not drink raw milk from an untested animal.
  • Brucellosis - This disease is most commonly found in underdeveloped countries, especially in the tropics and subtropics.  It is not as likely to be found in developed countries like the U.S., but it is still a concern.  The goat may not ever show signs of illness, but it can be  contained in the milk.
  • Tuberculosis - Fortunately, this has been all but eradicated in most countries, but it is transmitted through the milk.
This information is provided exclusively for your information.  In my research about the "raw milk" issue, transmission of disease is the most common concern.  You can manage these with information and a sensible approach to how you use the milk from your own goats.

Information is empowering, not frightening.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Dairy Goats

If you want an easy way to have your very own dairy animals, you may want to consider dairy goats.  All you need to keep your family in milk are two female who have kidded (otherwise they won't have milk).

Your biggest consideration, however, is time.  Goats must be milked morning and evening.  You can't skip a milking.

If you think that keeping goats is a distinct possibility for you, then I want to encourage you to take that step. Goats are good natured, gentle, and relatively easy to care for. They don't take as much room or feed as a cow would. Best of all, they love spending time with humans.  They are as faithful and gregarious as a dog.

What can you do with goat milk? Obviously, you can drink it, and for those who are lactose intolerant, you'll be glad to hear that goat milk is often tolerated by people who are lactose intolerant. Goat milk does contain lactose, but many people are able to tolerate it.

This means you can have milk, yogurt, ice cream, cream, and cheese all made from goat milk. 

Making basic cheese is a pretty simple process, and is a long honored tradition of taking the nutritional value of the milk and putting it in a form that is more easily stored. We'll be looking into some of the cheesemaking techniques in upcoming posts for you to try at home.

What type of goat should you get?  If at all possible, visit people who keep goats and become acquainted with them, their size, personalities, and to see first-hand the kind of work that will be involved.  During your visit, talk to them about the variety of goat they keep, and ask them why.

What you'll find is that there are a couple of breeds that are best for dairy production, among them are the Nubians which are considered to be the very best dairy goat because their milk has an exceptional butterfat content.  Another really good dairy goat is the  La Mancha goat.

However, any goat that kids will provide milk, and if you fall in love with a completely different variety, you'll make it work, but you'll find that their milk production tapers off more dramatically than that of a good milk goat.

Need helping locating a goat breeder?  Go to Goat Finder for help.  For more information, please see my article in Acreage Life Magazine.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Raw Milk Question

I'm actively engaged in my cheesemaking education.  This is an endlessly fascinating subject, and will certainly be the focus of a number of posts in the future.  However, I'm running into questions about what kind of milk to use (and I don't mean sheep vs. goat vs. cow milk).

The most common question is, "Should I use raw milk to make my cheese?"

Ideally, raw milk is the very best raw material for cheesemaking.  However, unless you have your own dairy animals, getting raw milk isn't as easy as it sounds.  In fact, it has become something of an underground movement because the government has stepped in to regulate the dairy industry to keep our milk supplies safe for overall consumption.

Unfortunately, the government may not have taken everything into consideration.  They believe that pasteurization and homogenization will make our milk supply safer.  Proponents of raw milk consumption maintain that the very act of drinking raw milk makes each individual more able to withstand disease and illness.

David E. Gumpert wrote The Raw Milk Revolution, shown here, that looks deeply into the issue of total control over our food supplies.  Are we really ready to give up all our freedoms in this way?  I didn't realize how important and critical an issue this was until I started into my cheesemaking foray.

We'll handle questions about your best milk source for your cheesemaking endeavors.  Briefly, you can make cheese out of milk you buy in the grocery store.  However, if you have the opportunity, you may want to try raw milk cheese, following all safe food preparation techniques.

I don't want to overshadow our cheesemaking adventures with this debate, but I can't, in good conscience, completely ignore the issue.

I am wondering if I can convince my homeowner's association that two dairy goats really are "pets"...I'm not holding out much hope.  I might just have to move to a different neighborhood!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Old Foodie: Whey,What?

The Old Foodie: Whey,What?: "I came across a rather odd definition in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary recently, and I am hoping, once again, for your valuable in..."

Flu Shot Time

Part of my "organic living" philosophy includes avoiding disease and illness whenever possible.

Last year I watchd with great interest as the H1N1 "swine" flu began to make news headlines late spring of 2009. It had all the earmarks of a worldwide pandemic, and ultimately it was classified as a pandemic.  But then it slowed down, and for most of us, we were affected in a minor way.  Now that it seems to be gone, we don't have anything to worry about, right?

Not so fast.

We actually dodged a bullet with H1N1, and we may not be totally over it yet. H1N1 is a version of the flu that has the ability to alter itself; changing quickly from being contagious among just birds or pigs, to suddenly becoming transferred to humans, and being spread rapidly and with great morbidity.

Anyone who contracted H1N1 will tell you that it was a frightening flu.  Most of them were young, vigorous, and healthy.  All these characteristics should have made them impervious to contracting the flu. Instead it targeted these very healthy young people, and even more frightening, it targeted pregnant mothers.

So, should you get your flu shot?


This year's shot has three strains of the flu, including H1N1.

We may have dodged the horrific pandemic that CDC and the World Health Organization is predicting, but just because it didn't happen this past year, don't get complacent.  A pandemic is still possible, and the very best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to take advantage of the very best science has to offer.  The flu shot may not be perfect, but it saves hundreds of thousands of lives a year.  You or your loved one may be one of those saved.

Please get your flu shot.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Apple Scone Cake

I made this Apple Scone Cake from a recipe I got some years ago, and I can't track it down.  When I do, I'll let you know who originated the idea.

Anyway, I use this when I need to use up some apples, or when I want something hot, sweet, and gooey for breakfast, or something cold, sweet, and gooey with my tea in the afternoon.

First I make my basic scone recipe, divide it in two, place the apples inbetween the two layers and bake until it is warm and gooey.  Something about the word "gooey" is appealing to me today.

  • 2-3/4 c. flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup sugar, vanilla sugar from yesterday's post would do very nicely
  • 2 eggs, divided
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2-3 cups cubed apples
  • scant 1/4 teaspoon cloves
  1. Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt.
  2. Blend in the butter, I use a fork and mix until it is well incorporated.
  3. Add 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk into the center of the flour mixture and beat slightly.
  4. Add milk and make a very soft dough-like batter, but take care not to mix too much.
  5. Divide the batter in two and press one half into the bottom of a glass baking dish.
  6. Top with the cubed apples, sprinkle with just a little additional sugar and use your fingers to sprinkle the very tiny bit of cloves on top.  You just want a hint of clove.
  7. Cover with the remaining batter, and spread it over the top as well as you can.  
  8. Brush with the remaining egg white and sprinkle the top with coarse sugar that you can get at cake decorating shops.
  9. Bake at 350F for 35-40 minutes.  
  10. Serve warm with cream.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Vanilla Sugar

Vanilla sugar is something you should always have around. It makes the easiest topping for crepes or Swedish pancakes.

There's no excuse not to!  It's easy to make and keeps for a year.

Mix 2 - 4 cups regular white sugar with 1 - 2 vanilla beans.

Store in a jar.

That's it!

What I like to do is to go shopping for really pretty glass jars with lids.  As a gift to someone, I will put vanilla sugar in the jar, with instructions on how to use it, and how to replenish it.
 Here is what I put on my labels.  I then add a little stamp or pretty embellishment. Punch a hole in it and tie it around the jar with a red ribbon. It's always a welcome gift.

Vanilla Sugar

Use in coffee, tea, or hot chocolate,
For baking or as a 
finishing touch on cookies or cakes!

This sugar can be kept for a year
and topped off as it is used.

After a year, 
replace the vanilla pod.