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Snack Attack

snack food!

If you’re anything like me, you try to cook from scratch and eat whole foods.  When you do end up buying packaged food from the store, you check out the ingredients list and try to find something that’s pretty simple and made from things you can pronounce.  Well, last week I just really wanted goldfish!  Or some other cheesy crunchy orange snack from the middle aisles of the grocery store.

goldfish ingredients

The ingredients in goldfish certainly aren’t the worst, but for someone who eats organic, savors grass-fed dairy, avoids highly processed vegetable oils, and soaks her grains and flours before baking, they’re pretty far from what I’d like to be eating on a daily basis.

What do do?  Make my own!

Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently to add some fun snacky homemade foods into our lives:

homemade cheez its

Homemade Cheeze-Its
-The recipe I followed: Serious Eats Cheez-Its
   -Thoughts: Addictive!  Totally met my craving for goldfish, but probably wouldn’t want to have around the house all the time.
-How I tweaked it: I used whole plain yogurt + 3 tablespoons of melted butter (1 cup total volume) instead of cream.  I then mixed the yogurt, melted butter, and flour 24 hours ahead of time, allowing it to soak covered at room temperature (read more about soaking grains here).  When I was ready to bake, I mixed the dry ingredients first, dumped them into the wet ingredients, and kneaded the (very wet!) dough on a floured surface.  I followed some advice from the recipe’s comments and rolled out the dough directly onto my silicone pad (which I use instead of parchment paper).  The wet dough on the pad was super easy to slide on to a tray, cut into squares, and put in the oven.  I baked at a lower temperature (325) for a longer amount of time (until they were golden brown) to get them crispy without burning.  I put the tray back in a warm oven later that night (after I had baked something else) to help them dry out all the way.

homemade kind bars1

Homemade “Kind” Bars
-The recipe I followed: Fruit and Nut Bars from The Nourishing Home
   -Thoughts: It totally worked!  Mine are slightly more fragile (crumbly), but they do stay together as bars and have a great balance of salty and sweet.  Perfect for keeping at work for days that I didn’t pack quite enough for lunch.
-How I tweaked it:  I used maple syrup instead of raw honey – my preference when baking (raw honey loses its benefits when heated).  Molasses would also be a sweetener that would add an interesting twist to the flavor.  I also splashed in some vanilla.  In need of more “glue,” I added a bit more nut butter+coconut flour.  It would definitely be possible to change the ratio of fruit to nuts (or add something else, like chocolate chips or granola), as long as the total amount comes to just under 2 cups total.

homemade gummies

Homemade Sour Watermelon Gummies
-The recipe I followed: Sour Watermelon Gummies from Meatified
   -Thoughts: Not as good a match to the real deal as the recipes above (adding more honey would likely get it closer), but a great way to enjoy a fruity snack and get some pastured gelatin into your diet (your skin, hair, nails, and joints will thank you).
-How I tweaked it: Didn’t!  I did end up adding a heaping tablespoon of honey.  This was the perfect use of the extra watermelon we threw in the freezer last summer.   If you don’t have silicone molds, it totally works to pour liquid into a flat-bottomed dish and then cut into squares when gelled.  A note: If you taste your liquid before cooling, it should be super tangy and sweet – it will become much more bland when cooled.

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Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.

nettles-growing

Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

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Homemade Sushi

homemade-sushi-platter

Making your own sushi is a surprisingly easy process and creates a beautiful array of appetizers or centerpiece for a special meal.  The most difficult part of the process in Vermont is obtaining really high quality raw fish.  If you do have a good source, that’s great!  If not, there are plenty of other delicious ingredients that can be used to make flavorful and colorful sushi rolls.

The only piece of equipment that is unique to the sushi-making process is a bamboo sushi rolling mat.  They’re widely available online for less than five dollars, however, and don’t take up much room in a drawer.

making-sushi-at-home

Prepare your rice:

True sushi rice should be white and short grain, prepared with rice vinegar.  Cook one cup of rice with just over one cup water.  Cover pot and bring to boil.  Simmer, covered, for about 10 additional minutes until water has been absorbed.  Taste rice to make sure it is cooked through.  If so, stir in two tablespoons rice vinegar and a dash of salt. Allow to rest, covered for a few more minutes so any grains stuck to your pot release.

Decide on your flavors:

“Sticked” or thin log shapes (imagine a carrot stick or baby carrot) work best for rolling into sushi.  Thick spreads like cream cheese can also work well.  Very hard things or ingredients in small pieces or bits work less well.  I like avocado slices, pieces of cooked sweet potato (extra credit for marinating them ahead of time), marinated tofu slices, smoked salmon (if you don’t have a reliable source for raw), red onions, egg strips (beat eggs with salt and sesame oil, fry in a flat “pancake” in a frying pan, cut into strips), and various pickled vegetables.  I often scan the fridge for leftovers that could be included.

Prepare your prep counter:

Gather everything you need on a counter with plenty of space.  I gather: my rice pot, a bowl of water for dipping fingers, a sharp knife, a cutting board, a bamboo rolling mat, nori (seaweed) sheets, ingredients for inside the sushi, and a platter for completed rolls.

ready-to-roll-sushi

Roll the sushi:

It will become much more clear how to make a nice sushi roll after trying it once!  Here’s my best effort to explain using words:  Lay out your bamboo mat and place a sheet of nori on top, closer to the left side of the mat.  Dip your fingers in water to moisten them.  This keeps the rice from sticking.  Take a handful of rice and push it into a thin layer covering the left half of your piece of nori.  Arrange your ingredients in a modest strip from the top to bottom along the left edge of the rice.  Moisten the bare right hand side of the nori with water.

Begin to roll the left edge over and around your ingredient strip.  When the left edge touches down, keep the bamboo mat up (so you don’t roll it into the sushi, and continue to roll the sushi until you’ve reached the end of the nori.  Give the whole roll (with the bamboo still around the outside) a gentle squeeze to bond everything together.  Your ultimate goal is to have enough rice to wrap around your inside ingredients, with extra nori to bind to itself, making a strong outer layer.  No matter how it comes out, it will taste good!

Open up the bamboo mat and lay the sushi roll on a cutting board.  Moisten the blade of a sharp knife with water.  Gently slice your roll into pieces of sushi and arrange on your platter.

Enjoy!

We serve our sushi with a dipping sauce (soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and hot pepper paste), pickled ginger, and wasabi.  Yum!

homemade-sushi

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Squoodles

It’s not new news that we tend to have and abundance of vegetables.  Even now – at the end of January – we have about 15 butternut squash and a bushel of onions stored in the basement.  The long growing season allowed many plants to yield far more produce than we are used to – it really was a year of abundance in the garden!

Therefore, I was really excited to get a spiralizer for my birthday.  This gives me one more tool in my arsenal for preparing and presenting veggies in a totally different form.  The spiralizer takes any round or cylindrical veggie and “spiralizes” it into spaghetti cut (1/8th inch), fettuccine cut (1/4th inch), or ribbon cut noodles.

squoodles

So far I’ve experimented on beets, onions and squash with great results.  Here’s our new favorite way of eating butternut squash:


Roasted “Squoodles” (squash noodles)

  1. Preheat your oven to 45o degrees F.
  2. Cut the bottom bulbous part off the butternut squash and refrigerate for later use.  Peel the cylindrical part and cut off the very top, making sure both ends are flat and parallel to each other.
  3. Assemble your spiralizer. I used the fettuccine cut blade.
  4. Press the top end of the squash into the Food Holder (covered in a bunch of pokey things that will hold the squash in place), and push the other end against the center of the blade.  Apply pressure against the blade by using the side handle while turning the handle.
  5. squash-noodlesOut come the squoodles!
  6. Toss squoodles with olive oil and salt (they want to have full coverage of olive oil but not be dripping in it).
  7. We’ve had great luck putting a cookie cooling rack in our roasting pan, and then putting the squoodles on top.  This allows air to circulate around them, making them more crispy and less limp.
  8. Roast for 20-30 minutes.  We like a few of ours to get slightly burnt, which allows the entire batch to  get crispier.  Turn on your oven light and keep an eye on things without opening the door.  They are very thin, so can go from crispy to burnt quickly!
  9. Enjoy!

roasted-squash-noodles

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Winter Recipes

I love cooking in the winter.   Darkness comes early, leaving plenty of time for food prep before I get hungry for dinner.  Warmth and good smells contrast with the brisk cold outdoor air.  And the final result is a hot delicious meal.

Though I’ve cooked a bunch of new recipes recently, I failed to take any photos or document the ingredient tweaks made as I adjusted each dish to taste.  Oh well.  It turns out I’ve already documented many of our go-to recipes that incorporate stored, frozen, and canned garden harvests.  Here are some favorite recipes for the depths of winter:

Chicken Soup and Elderberry Syrup: Two of our favorite get-well-soon foods.

elderberry-syrup

Squash:  A variety of simple flavor combinations that allow you to enjoy last year’s bountiful harvest day after day.

Butternut squash

Winter Sweetened Kale & Brussels sprouts: Sweetened and tender from frost, these brassicas are nothing like the peppery and sometimes tough summer versions.  You can’t go wrong with these simple go-to recipes.

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

Chili and cornbread: Nourishing and delicious.  Perfect for enjoying in front of the fireplace after a day filled with snowy adventures.

chili-up-close

Tomato soup: A standard in our household.  This is our favorite way to use tomatoes canned in the height of sunny summer.

Tomato-soup-with-toast

Ginger and Turmeric recipes: Miso squash bisque, curried broth, and Golden milk tea: Warming, comforting, delicious, and SO good for you!

Ginger-and-Turmeric1

Cream of cauliflower soup: So creamy you’ll forget it’s packed with veggies.

cream-of-cauliflower2

Enjoy

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Better Bitters

homemade-bitters

Our pantry, freezer, and fridge are stocked with organic whole foods.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality ingredients, many originating here in Vermont and some from around the globe.  Cooking everything from scratch (and barely ever eating out) allows us to spend more on the raw materials, making incredibly high quality meals quite affordable.

Then one day out of curiosity I took a peek at the Angostora Bitters ingredients panel from our cabinet… Alcohol, water, sugar, gentian, natural flavorings, carmel color and added colors.  Not the worst things in the world, but I realized that I could do way better!  Why hadn’t I thought of making my own bitters before now?

It turns out, making bitters is incredibly easy.  Simply steep ingredients like citrus peels, herbs, or spices in vodka, strain, and enjoy!  But what to steep?

Inspired by great new companies, like Urban Moonshine and Salud Bitters, I wanted my bitters to be functional and delicious.  I had also been meaning to take advantage of the collection of herbalism resources I’d been accumulating.

medicinal-herb-books

Browsing through my books, I started to list combinations of herbs, spices, and citrus peels that would promote health or ease ailments.  I’m no herbalist, so I don’t guarantee results.  I know that herbal remedies need to be used regularly over time to be effective and I’m not planning on having bitters every day.  The herbalism lens, however, was useful to me in concocting some intentional blends from millions of possibilities.

A simpler option, of course, would be to start with single or two-ingredient bitters.  Orange, cardamom, or ginger bitters would all be great all on their own.  I was ready to make a project out of it, however, so I pulled tons of ingredients out of the cupboards and got to work.

bitters-ingredients

I filled each jar about 1/3 of the way up with herbs, spices, and peels (dried ingredients will expand and you want everything to stay below the level of the vodka).  I then filled each jar with vodka, labeled each with its ingredients list, and let them sit in a dark corner of my kitchen.  I shook them daily (sort of… on the days I remembered).  After two weeks, I strained and rebottled into old hot sauce jars.  Perfect for pouring small amounts!

bitters-steeping

Though my concoctions were blended without really knowing how they would taste, I love the unique flavor of each one.  I now have a diverse selection on hand for adding to seltzer, water, or cocktails.  What an easy way to upgrade this versatile cupboard ingredient!

homemade-bitters

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End-of-the-Season Recipes

oct-harvest

It’s the end of the growing season, but it isn’t quite time to rest.  With the bulk of our harvest frozen, canned, dried, and fermented, it’s time to deal with the left overs: the harvest that didn’t get processed during the peak of the season.  Though these “ugly” fruits and veggies are now gaining recognition in the mainstream (not everything comes out looking perfect!), they’ve always been part of harvesting and cooking for home gardeners.  I have fun examining the motley selection of veggies occupying my kitchen counters and refrigerator space, determining how they could be combined in delicious ways.  It takes some creativity at this time of year!

Sometimes end-of-season produce is a bit worse for the wear.  This weekend I prepared several gallons of sauerkraut from some cabbages that were admittedly acting as slug hotels in the garden.  After removing the holey outer leaves, however, wonderful fall sweetened crisp cabbage was revealed.  Yum!

cutting-cabbage1

It is also an important time of year to monitor harvest stores in the basement and attic.  Any veggies that show sign of rot or discoloration should be used first.  As last night’s dinner highlighted, blemished squash, onions, and other veggies are often perfectly delicious.   They don’t stay good for long, however, so it’s good to enjoy them right away while they’re still tasty.

Butternut squash

Thankfully, some plants are happy to be outside in the frost and colder weather.  Most of the brassicas: kale, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli, get sweeter and more tender after it has frosted.  For now I’ll happily leave them outside and will be ready to enjoy them when I see counters and fridge shelves empty and need to go get vegetables in order to prepare for our next meal.

Find great recipes for fall harvest from some of my previous blog posts:  Sauerkraut, pumpkin, chard, winter squash, frost sweetened kale, and Brussels sprouts.  Enjoy!

Winter-Kale-brussels-harvest

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October in the Garden

autumn-breakfast
Autumn breakfast treat: chai, cider donut, and cinnamon apples

Fall is certainly in the air.  Colors have changed dramatically in the last week, and we are now in peak foliage in the Champlain Valley.  According to our climate zone, we were supposed to get a frost by October 1st.  However, the end of the growing season has been unusually long and the garden is still going strong.

We are learning more about our property’s micro climate and have been surprised to have escaped several frosts that nipped our nearby neighbors.  Last Friday temperatures were projected to dip below freezing, so we did a big harvest and covered up the plants we wanted to save.  The next morning revealed a frost so light that even the basil was spared.  Our airy southern sloping garden seems to keep frost from forming on the plants when temperatures hover around freezing!  Though I am excited for the ongoing bounty, I’m also starting to feel tired and ready for the growing season to come to an end.

frost-harvest
Big pre-frost harvest – so many watermelons, peppers, and butternut squashes this year!
survived-the-frost
We escaped another frost! Blankets drying and garden still going strong.

Foliage isn’t waiting around for freezing temperatures.  In the past week, trees in our area have turned dramatically.  The hills are tinged with reds, oranges and yellows.  Forest walks are stunning and smell richly of fallen leaves.  Vibrant colors surround us.

changing-colors
Sugar maple beauty: from green to red in a week.
autumn-house
Our house peeks through the foliage – the view as I make the final decent down Mt. Philo.
autumn-colors
A few fall forest scenes.
mid-oct-meal-prep
Mid-October pesto and veggies!

In the kitchen, it seems like it is still August.  We continue to have bountiful peppers, broccoli, beans, leafy greens, tomatoes, and fruit to play with.  We certainly got our fill this season.  Soon we will transition to winter jackets, squash, parsnips, and frost-sweetened kale and Brussels sprouts.  I’m ready!

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Fun Fancy Finger Food

Making fancy appetizers can be a fun and beautiful way of highlighting delicious local harvest.  The best part is that beauty often comes with simplicity when highlighting fresh vegetables and fruits.  Here are a few recipes I’ve tried recently:

caprise-skewers

Caprese Skewers: Halve cherry tomatoes and small mozzarella balls.  Skewer a basil leaf between piece of tomato and a piece of mozzarella.  Ta da!

cantelope-ap

Cantaloupe and Parmesan: The easiest of the bunch – this is more of a pairing than a recipe.  Lay out bite size pieces of cantaloupe and place thin slices of a hard cheese like parmesan on top. Skewer with a toothpick if desired.

cucumber-bites

home-made-icing-piping-bagCucumber Bites: Mix equal parts chèvre and sour cream, and mix in a dash of garlic powder, salt, and enough dried dill weed to speckle the mixture with green throughout.  Let sit in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before mixing again and tasting.  Adjust garlic, salt, and dill to taste.  Splash in a bit of lemon juice and/or add lemon zest if desired.  Spoon entire mixture into a icing piping bag (or one corner of a ziplock, twist tie shut, then cut off tip).  Slice cucumber into rounds.  Pipe dip on top of each cucumber slice.  Garnish with fresh parsley or dill.

 

melon-aps

Mint, Feta, Watermelon Cubes: Cube watermelon, slice solid feta into thin square pieces, and separate fresh mint leaves from stalk.  Arrange watermelon cubes on your serving platter, place a piece of feta and mint leaf on top of both, and skewer each tower with a tooth pick.  A beautiful flavor-packed end-of-summer treat!

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September in the Garden

garden-trellis

fruits-of-septemberSeptember is, quite literally, a fruitful month in Vermont gardens.  Melons finish their journey to ripeness, apples and pears are ready in orchards, fall raspberry canes bow with the weight of fruit, and tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants continue to mature in gardens.  In our sunny southern sloping garden, we’re excited to be growing these heat-loving treats so successfully.  It is also a time for preservation as we prepare for impending frost.  Vegetables like kale, chard, broccoli, cauliflower, and green beans can be blanched and frozen.  Ingredients for salsa, tomatoes, pesto, hot sauce, and apple sauce are all ready to be harvested and canned.  Almost any vegetable or fruit from the garden can be pickled.

Here are a selection of some of my favorite recipes that may help inspire you to enjoy the bounty September has to offer:

Tomatillos-and-tomatoes

Salsa – Our basic recipe and ideas for inventive iterations.

sungold-harvest

This most delicious way to highlight cherry tomatoes.

IMG_8967

Pan Seared Eggplant, which would be great with Dukkah sprinkled liberally on top.

raspberries

Flourless chocolate cake, featured annually in our household smothered in fall raspberries.

pesto-recipe

Pesto – consider swapping another nut or seed for pine nuts, another cheese for parmesan, or another herb for basil.  So many opportunities for great flavored sauces!

pickles

Pickles and fermented veggies – The idea I always fall back on at the end of the day.  Almost any favorite vegetable or fruit can be pickled.  However (even more beneficially) wilty, less favorite, or overly abundant things can be pickled with equal success.

Wishing you a happy harvest season!