Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Where am I?

I really apologize for not having kept up better on this already. I have gone through so many projects, and have saved so many future blog posts just in the past two weeks. Getting them done right now is my problem.

I'm currently working on overhauling my website. This go-round I'm doing all the graphics and design myself. I do have a great friend who is helping me with all the code...so God bless Hunter! Probably after Halloween week is over I'll be back, in full swing, home-making my way into bliss! Be back soon!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pineapple is neither a pine or an apple.

There is no other fruit more sweet or refreshing than a pineapple. I'm not talking about pineapple from a can, I'm talking about a fresh, spiky, fragrant, tangible, uncut pineapple. Recently, my local grocery store had them on sale for $.99 in the produce department, which is unheard of since they usually run $4-5 each! I was stoked, so I grabbed two. Our family loves fresh pineapple, so I figured if we didn't eat them immediately, I knew they would freeze well. Pineapples are also great for the digestive system, and a few bites help relieve that awful full feeling after a big meal, and even help calm fiery heartburn.

In the past year, I learned the correct way to choose a fresh pineapple. I'm the person in the produce department who sniffs all my food before I buy it. Yes, I put it to my nose, and if it doesn't pass the sniff test, back it goes. This has been my method for choosing pineapples as well. As we all know, grocery stores usually have fruits and veggies on the shelves that appear, and sometimes even smell ripe, but aren't. They are hard, flavorless, and usually rot pretty quickly. Same goes for pineapples. But I digress...the correct way to choose a pineapple isn't through sniffing. It's all in the plume of leaves on top. To choose the best one, gently tug on one of the inner and topmost leaves. If it releases easily, pick it up and put it in your basket! That is a sign that it will be ripe, juicy, and delicious.

So once you get the thing home, then what? I went through several pineapples, cutting, sawing, and mangling them trying to get the maximum amount of fruit, with the least amount of skin remaining. There is a method to the madness, and there is a correct (and easy) way to chop one up. Let's walk through it, shall we?!

How to cut a pineapple
The first thing I do is wash my pineapples in warm water. Obviously, right? Then I cut off the top plume, and also about 3/4" on the bottom, allowing the pineapple to set on a flat bottom. Then you cut downward around the sides, virtually "peeling" it.
At this point, you can look down on the top flat edge and see that there is an obvious core. Cut the pineapple in sections, leaving the core as one piece. I usually give this to one of the kids to chew on. If your infant is old enough, freeze it, and it makes a chilly, tasty teether! Just keep an eye on them in case it starts to thaw and they get a hunk off, as it could be a potential choking hazard--like anything with kids!
Once you get the core removed, you can cut the fruit into any type of shapes you want. I'm a rough cut chopper, so they are just the right size for nibbling.
There is nothing more beautiful than a big glass bowl full of pineapple setting in the center of the dinner table. It beckons you to eat it! In this case, from two pineapples, I got a gallon sized freezer bag full of fruit. Pineapple can be eaten fresh, sauteed with a little butter and vanilla, grilled, put in salads, and pretty
much anything you can imagine; just don't put fresh pineapple in jello or it'll never set! Don't know why. So, in conclusion, the pineapple is an enigma of a fruit, with a name that gives it no explanation whatsoever! Happy snacking!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Today's quick and easy--taco style!

I fell behind on reporting over the weekend, because it was a VERY busy one! We had a festival in our town, which always ends up in visiting with friends we haven't seen in a while. Which leads to feeding people. Which usually leads to finding quick ingredients last minute.

This weekend when we had a friend over for dinner, and I had to come up with something quick for dinner, so tacos won since I had most all the ingredients I needed. As I prepared them, I realized I needed to share one of the most important ingredients that I always include--taco seasoning. I can't tell you how long it's been since I bought a MSG-laced package of taco seasoning. It's high in salt and high in preservatives. I have a recipe that is a clone to the prepackaged version, and you will have all the ingredients in your cabinet. This recipe is equal to one package of taco seasoning.

Taco Seasoning

1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder, or 1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp dried oregano, or 3/4 tsp fresh oregano
1/2 tsp paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

Mix all spices together. When meat is done browning, add this mix, plus 3/4 cup of water to the meat, and simmer and stir until the meat is the desired consistency.

Sorry there are no awesome photos of delicious, steamy taco meat. I could pull some out of the fridge and nuke it, but I don't think it would have the same effect. I have a few more posts that I'm working on, including a pineapple carving tutorial, with the yummiest pics you've ever seen, so check back! Chow, or is it ciao, for now!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oh, honey, honey!

*Disclaimer: Honey should never be given to children under the age of 1 due to the risk of becoming sick with botulism! *

My post on challah was inspiration to do an entirely separate post on honey. Growing up, we always had honey in the house. It was usually a big jar of honey with the honeycomb, given to us from someone who raised bees. For a while it was my Poppy (my dad's dad), when he had bees, but then just others we knew. I don't know if my mom ever bought honey. I have never been a fan of honey with the comb intact, or really honey in general--I've never liked the flavor. The texture of the comb never did anything for me, although it looks very comforting for some reason. Honey's color ranges from white, to a beautiful deep amber, is shiny, smooth, and just plain beautiful.

During college, during my junior year, I attempted to make a strawberry honey mead. I bought strawberries from my hometown, and a bunch of local wildflower honey from the Radford, VA area. My mead never worked out, but that was my first experiment with honey outside of putting it on toast! When I got pregnant with my first child, my midwife recommended an herbal tea blend to drink throughout my pregnancy, and suggested using honey as a sweetener. So, in keeping true to the idea of wanting to buy local honey for additional health benefits, we found a local apiary and he loaded us up on his amazing sourwood honey. Sour wood is what converted me to loving honey! In the last couple of years we found another supplier for our local honey--the honey is actually collected from hives less than a mile from our house, and is generally clover honey! Mr. Jones and his wife are absolutely some of the nicest people, and offer a never ending supply for our honey needs and desires--for free! They are truly a Godsend! These are the five beautiful jars they gave us last week.

The amount of honey I used pregnancy tea made honey a basic staple in our house. Now we go through a pint a month at least! I use it in everything from herbal teas, cooking, sandwiches, as a sweetener for my tinctures, and making cough syrups when the kids are sick. I will get to all these in the future, but if you are really that interested, just add a comment and we'll talk! It's said that honey even has skin soothing properties for bug bites, dry skin, eczema, and so on. Honey is truly nature's homemade, and has healing properties all it's own. Honey also stores extremely well, as it has anti-microbial properties, and is slightly acidic, deterring bacteria growth. If you have honey stored that has crystallized, just pop it in the microwave for a short blast to help those crystals liquify again.

For use in herbal tea: Add 1-2 tbsp of honey per cup of tea to acheive a sweet and mellow flavor enhancer for your tea.

For use in cooking: Honey can be substituted for sugar in most recipes. You may need to cut back on the amount of liquid you add to your recipe.

Sandwiches: Add honey as a spread to peanut butter, banana, jelly, or any other favorite sandwich for added sweetness.

For sweetening tinctures: Heat 1/4 cup apple juice or water to boiling, remove from heat, and add in your desired amount of tincture. Let set for 2 minutes to let the alcohol evaporate. Stir in 1 tbsp of honey. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down! This is especially good with a chamomile tincture before bed.

For making cough syrup: I like to use dried elderberries to make an effective cough/cold/flu fighting syrup for my kids (this will be another post entirely); this is also equally effective for adults. Boil 1 cup of water, remove from heat, and add 2 oz. of dried elderberries. Let this decoction set until cool. Strain out elderberries, then reheat until warm. Stir in 1/4 cup of honey. Cool again, bottle in a glass jar that seals well, label, and store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Begin taking this syrup as soon as any symptoms begin! For children under 2, give 1/2 tsp 3 times daily until symptoms are gone, children 5-12 can have 3/4 tsp, adults can have 1 tsp, making one dose before bed for cough soothing effect. This may have a very slight laxative effect in some children. This has helped our family overcome colds in less than 2 days--I kid you not!

As I post, you will see the specific uses and benefits of honey in our home, and I hope you will be inspired to let honey play a role in your own household.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mmmm, challah

Mmmm, Challah. I’m not Jewish, but this recipe makes me wish I was! The history of challah is one rich in religious symbolism and tradition. My history only involves seeing the recipe once and wanting to make it solely based on the beauty of the loaf itself. By the way, it's pronounced halla, not with the soft ch- like I've been pronouncing it. See, I learned something new just in researching for this post!

So, how do you make this awesome loaf? Thankfully, it’s very simple, and only requires and handful of ingredients; stuff you’ll more than likely have on hand. I'll go ahead and post the recipe, and then you can follow along in the instructions. I created this recipe out of an existing one, then adding and changing ingredients to suit my taste. The original recipe called for less eggs and honey, but I knew I liked both in my bread, so I added more.

The traditional way to make challah is two loaves at a time. You can use my recipe to make two loaves, as it was originally intended, but I make one HUGE one, because that's the way I like it. That's what I appreciate about making things at home, you can really "own" them by customizing them to suit your preferences, whether it be a new pair of curtains or a loaf of bread. That's one of the things I love about doing things myself.

1 1/4 cups warm water
1 pkg instant rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup honey, plus 1 tbsp
2 tbsp oil (I use canola)
1 egg, plus 3 egg yolks, saving whites
1/2 tablespoon salt
4-5 cups flour (I use bread flour)
any embellishing toppings you may want including sesame or poppy seeds

In a large bowl (I'm using my stand mixer & bowl here), sprinkle yeast over the warm water. Hand mix in 1/2 cup honey, 1 egg plus 3 yolks, and salt. Add 3 cups of flour and begin mixing with the bread hook, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. When the flour is incorporated well, continue to add in the 1-2 cups more of flour until you get a nice, sticky dough that pulls away from the side of the bowl. Sprinkle the dough with a little extra flour, cover with a damp towel, and place in the oven to rise for 1 1/2 hours. Before putting my dough in the oven, I preheat it on 200F for about a minute, just to get it slightly warm, which helps the yeast multiply and the dough rise well.

Punch down the dough and turn it onto a floured surface (you'll probably go through at least a cup here). Divide the dough in half and knead each piece for 3-5 minutes. Divide each half into thirds, and roll these thirds into long snakes (about 8-10 inches long, or about 1 1/2 inches in diameter). Pinch the ends of all 6 "snake" pieces and braid the 6 strands together any way you like. I try to make it similar to a three piece braid. Pinch the ends together to make a fully braided loaf. Grease a baking tray and place the braided loaf on the pan to rise again (in the slightly heated oven) for about another 45 mins to 1 hour.

Take the loaf out of the oven carefully, and preheat the oven to 375F. With your remaining egg whites, mix in the leftover tablespoon of honey until well incorporated. You will brush the unbaked loaf with this mixture, and it will acheive a slightly sweet, deeply browned crust. This is also the time to sprinkle the loaf with any embellishments.

Bake for 34 minutes, covering with foil after the first 20 minutes. After bread has cooled for about 10 minutes, wrap it in a clean bath towel, and allow it to finish cooling for 30 minutes. This partially steams the bread, resulting in a soft crust. If you want a crisper crust, let it cool on a wire rack.

Voila! You have challah!

I really intended to take a photo of the full loaf, but a hungry family demanded bread!

Tomorrow: We're going to talk about honey, nature's homemade!

Today's project--mini caramel apples. A bust!

*I'll go ahead and preface this, and any other entry with photos, that by saying while I dream of being a great photographer, I'm not--my talents are in the kitchen. So excuse the photos!*

Thanks to a friend of mine from a message board I'm on, I was directed to a great project involving caramel apples, but a mini version!! This looked SO good, so I went and bought the supplies I needed and set to work this morning. I was excited to try a new fall snack, one that was moderately nutritious and seemingly very simple. Very "seemingly" (haha).

First I started with a few apple balls tossed in lemon juice, a small bowl of caramels tossed with a splash of milk, mini muffin cups, and skewers cut into thirds. I used honeycrip apples, just because the name "honeycrisp" sounds so quaint; I probably would have been better off with granny smiths. I made apple balls using a melon baller and tossed them in lemon juice. I melted my caramel and milk in the microwave until creamy. I skewered my apple balls through the rounded side (leaving the flat side of the ball to be the
resting point) with a skewer and dried it well. I dipped the skewered apple in the caramel and placed in a muffin cup. Once I got them all done, I placed them in the fridge.
I came back to check them after an hour or so and the caramel had slid down the sides of the apple balls, and the balls didn't stick in the caramel. This was from the amount of moisture that came out of the apple apparently. I think next time I'd try a sticky homemade caramel or maybe even a candied coating, instead of trying to skip a step--that's what I get for not sticking to my guns here! So....so much for that project. Guess I'll know not to make it for any type of party or function! How sad, my second posted project was a bust! Ah well, that's why I'm here I guess, to be the guinea pig for such things. :) I'm still dreaming of making another loaf of challah, so as in keeping with my bread theme I had going yesterday. I guess you'll have to come back and see. ;)

Well, the results are in. The panel liked this one, even though the caramel was not technically on the apple! They still enjoyed their "caramel paper".

Monday, October 6, 2008

The first thing I want to talk about is bread.

I've always loved to cook. As time has gone on, I've really wanted to improve the range of what I can create. One thing that has always brought feelings of nostalgia is homemade bread. Bread is like an art form to me. I come from a heritage of great biscuit makers. My mom, my grandma, my great-grandma, etc. always had fresh, hot pans of homemade biscuits alongside the meals they served. Strangely enough, biscuits weren't a priority for me. Rather, I've always loved the idea of a soft, chewey white bread. Last week for Gideon's birthday I made a HUGE loaf of braided Challah bread. It was sweet, delicious, and gorgeous. I'm going to make that again soon and do an entirely separate post on that, so be on the lookout. I'm kicking myself for not taking a photo!

I have tried and true recipes for yeast rolls, beer bread, biscuits, Karavay, pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, Challah, banana bread, pumpkin bread, cinnamon raisin bread, and wheat bread. All my recipes are available if you want them, and I hope to feature all of them sometime in the future. I've mastered most all of them except for the wheat bread. Quite by accident, I discovered that most breads can benefit from adding vital wheat gluten to the recipe. You can usually find it in health food stores and in the health food aisle in your grocery store (I got mine in the organic section at Kroger.) I found out what gluten was when my infant son was diagnosed with a gluten/wheat allergy--it's now gone thankfully! It provides the spongy, chewey texture to breads that make them so palatable. Two other things that I feel are crucial to perfect bread making are a kitchen-aid stand mixer, and bread flour.

The idea of eating a whole wheat rich diet is something that is necessary, but hard to do when most homemade wheat bread fall short in the texture department. Most get stiff and crumbly the day after baking. So, while I'm still at this roadblock of wheat bread, I'll continue to use a combination of bread flour and wheat flour, boosted with wheat gluten. Here is a perfect example of how I up the protein and fiber content of my favorite yeast roll recipe:

Wheat Yeast Rolls
2 cups lukewarm water
2 pkgs rapid rise yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp salt
1/2 cup oil, any type
3-4 tbsp vital wheat gluten
3 cups wheat flour
3-4 cups bread flour

Combine the water, yeast, and sugar and mix well. Let it set for about 15 minutes or until it gets bubbly. Add the remaining ingredients and mix (I use my stand mixer) until a dough forms, and pulls away from the side of the bowl, adding extra flour until the dough is soft and slightly sticky. Cover the bowl and let it set for 1 hour. Grease an 11"x13" pan (you may need an additional pan since this is a big recipe). To make the rolls, pull off dough and form into 2" balls and line them in a greased pan, leaving about 2" between each roll to allow for rising. Gently press down on the rolls to flatten them slightly. Cover, and let them set for another 45 minutes. Bake them at 350F for 20-30 minutes. Once they come out of the oven, brush them lightly with butter; a light sprinkle of salt also makes them super delicious!

To make this a white bread recipe, simply substitue extra bread flour in place of the wheat flour, and leave out the gluten.

Enjoy and eat well!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Here we go!

Okay people, here we go! This is my attempt to bring my version of homemade to the web. It's my goal to list, post, share, and lament all things homemade. I want to travel through food, sewing, gardening, household stuff, medicine, or whatever else I find alluring in the world of homemade. I promise to share with you what I have found to be an awesome investment of time, and what you should just skip altogether.

So, who am I? I'm Dana, a stay at home mom to two highly energetic kids. My daughter is 3, my son is 18 months. They keep me busy, and we spend a lot of time out in the woods. My wonderful husband and I live in the country and have high hopes and dreams of having the capability to be self-sufficient one day, one experiment at at time. We love natural alternatives to things in the mainstream realm of life. We are a homebirthing, cloth diapering, baby wearing, breastfeeding, baby food making, selective vaxing, non-circ'ing-friendly family. We also hope to homeschool one day. So, now that introductions are over, let's get started, shall we?

I want to go ahead and encourage your comments, tips, advice, things you have had success with, particularly helpful links, or whatever else you want me to try. Let's make this an adventure of sorts...you tell me what you want to see and I'll try it and give feedback.

Now, I'm going to start my mental list of things I plan on posting. I'll return and report once I get my mental notes a little more organized.