Jam Thumbprint Cookies - Recipe

How delicious do these jam thumbprint cookies look?  We have been needing spice jars for a while.  It's so much cheaper to buy in bulk so our cupboard is crammed full of little baggies of spice.  While Jeff was waiting for our car to be fixed, (The car is having a bad month.) Jeff wandered into Marshall's and saw a set of six little jellies for six dollars.  That's a dollar a jar.  We have previously priced spice jars at $1.50-$3.00 and thought, "No way!  We're not paying more for a jar than for the spice." 

These little jelly jars will be perfect for spices and we'll get some bonus jam.  Now what do we do with this jam.  Short of eating peanut butter and jelly for dinner every night, we decided on thumbprint cookies.  It was a fun way to sample the jelly too.  We had lemon curd, Scottish strawberry, pineapple ginger and Scotish black currant.  The lemon curd and black currant were my favorite. 

I've still got some homemade pint jars of wild grape jelly, quince and blueberry in the cabinets and I could see making more of these.  Jeff's on his second batch.  This time he's going to use peanut butter instead of butter.  Peanut butter and jam thumbprint cookies sound good to me!  I'm enjoying finding ways to use up extra jam.  To use up the two egg white left over from making the thumb print cookies, I plan on making these breakfast cookies that call for both jam and two egg whites.  It's like these two recipes were made to help us use up the jelly.

Jam Thumbprint Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup white sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup fruit preserves, any flavor
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, vanilla white sugar and egg yolks. Mix in flour a little bit at a time until a soft dough forms. Roll dough into 1 inch balls. If dough is too soft, refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. Place balls 2 inches apart onto ungreased cookie sheets. Use your finger or an instrument of similar size to make a well in the center of each cookie. Fill the hole with 1/2 teaspoon of jam.

Step 3:  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown on the bottom. Remove from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

Yields 24 cookies


Sour Orange Infused Vodka - Recipe

Here's a quick fun little thing to try: infusing vodka. All you need is an air tight jar, vodka and a fruit. Citrus works really well because it has strong flavor and aromatic properties. I've got some little sour oranges from a tree in the Taltree greenhouse. So after making some sour orange poppy seed muffins, sweet and sour orange stir-fry I decided to use the last of the oranges for a vodka infusion.

I've never infused vodka before so I did a little research: How to infuse vodka?

Pick Your Flavor
Start with a well distilled vodka. Triple distilled has less flavor of it's own so the infusion can shine through. You can also filter your own cheap vodka (or so I hear, I haven't tried it) by running it through food grade activated charcoal. Check your local home brew store or look online. Basically choose an organic fruit or spice. Organic is important because you will be using the whole fruit including the peal. Any pesticides on the fruit will be brought out by the vodka and not only make your beverage unhealthy, but taste bad. Suggested flavors include:

Hot pepper
Tomato (think bloody marry)
Prepare Your Fruit and the Jar
You want a lot of surface area on your fruit so slice it thinly or if it is a soft fruit like berries or kiwi mash it first; this decrease the necessary time for infusing. Put the fruit (and any juice from macerating) into your clean and dry air tight container. Then pour the vodka on top. Seal and store in a cool dark place. I put mine in the cupboard next to the coffee mugs so I would remember to shake the jar every morning when I get out my coffee cup.

Wait for It
The more subtle the flavor the longer it will take. Citrus can take as few as a couple days while cucumber can take up to several weeks. To speed up infusing you can shake your jar once a day.

Take Out The Chunks
Give a little taste to see where you are at. If you are satisfied with your flavor, you're ready to filter. If it is still a little weak add more of your flavorant and give it some more time. Use cheese cloth or a coffee filter to line a strainer. Then slowly pour your infused vodka through a strainer. Catch your newly infused vodka into a pretty container and your done.

Cocktail Drink Recipes for Orange Infused Vodka
So now that I have this orange infused vodka what do I do with it? I'm honestly not a big vodka drinker. I just tried this because I happened to have both vodka and random fruit on hand. So far this is the best recipe I've seen. It is simple and yet will let the infused vodka shine. It's basically a screwdriver:

Yo Mama Cocktail Recipe
1 1/2 oz Orange Infused Vodka
soda water
1 splash orange juice
Pour vodka over ice in a highball glass. Add soda, top with a splash of orange juice, and serve.
I'm also thinking of using it for a 4th of July picnic.  Hop Skip and Go Naked anyone?  The citrus will be appreciated I think:
Hop Skip and Go Naked

24.0 oz Beer
12.0 oz frozen Lemonade
12.0 oz Orange infused Vodka

Thaw the lemonade concentrate and dump it into a pitcher. Fill the empty lemonade can with vodka and pour into pitcher. Pour in three beers. Add ice and mix.


Healthy Happy Banana Muffins - High Fiber, Low Fat Recipe

After my last couple of muffin attempts were a little richer than I want to eat for an any day breakfast. Miranda came to the rescue and offered up her Banana Muffins Recipe. I had to try it. I bought organic bananas and diligently let them get all brown and spotty on the counter. Today I mixed up her muffins. They were quick to put together and they did indeed puff up and look very muffin-y. There is no oil and no sugar added to this recipe. I think next time I make them I'll add a couple tablespoons of honey.

The best part is they meet my nutritional requirements: low fat and high fiber. One muffin is 130 calories, 3 grams of fat and 3 grams of fiber for a Weight Watchers Point value of 2! Excellent, this is what I was looking for in a muffin! If you are looking for a healthy snack or breakfast this is it. Enjoy!

Healthy Happy Banana Muffins by Miranda

3 large bananas, well ripe. (last time I used four bananas and just increased all other amounts by 'a little bit' and had to cook another 5-10 minutes.)
3-4 medjool dates pitted and chopped (not part of the original recipe, but I think they are what make these so freakin' delicious)
1 bigish egg
1 teaspoon cinnamon (I combine straight cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cup wheat flour (I've used both just regular whole wheat flour, and flour I've freshly ground from dehydrated, sprouted whole wheat.)
1/3 cup applesauce (you could sub butter per the original recipe, but why!?)

Step 1:  Mash naners, add cinnamon and egg - beat it a little. Add apple sauce and mix. Top with the dry, mix together, mix into the wet. Fold in dates. 

Step 2:  Plop into muffin tins - you can make them small or big. They will puff up. The last two times I've filled the tins all the way and got very nice, muffiny looking muffins. Bake at 375 for 20 minutes.

Last time I added some chopped pecans and shredded coconut for variety. SO GOOD. but had to cook a little longer.


What did you do for Earth Day?

I have to admit I didn't do anything special. I had back to back meetings at work so I was off site most of the day driving alone in my car; not very environmentally friendly. There isn't any public transportation for outside of Valparaiso and the country roads aren't suited to bikes with people whipping around at 55 miles an hour. I wish there was someone to carpool with, but I think I'm the only employee in this part of town and I work pretty unique hours; 7-4 Sunday through Thursday.

I may not be able to cut down on my mileage to work and back but I can cut down on my mileage in the garden. Taltree has a number of golf carts and such to move its employees around inside the arboretum. They are all gas or diesel powered and they are much faster than walking. This week I decided to only use the carts if I had to move more stuff than I could carry, such as, when I needed to transport plants or take large tarps full of weeds out to the compost pile. I had my seasonal gal do the same.

It was an improvement in so many ways. Walking allowed me to see the gardens from the visitor's perspective. It helped me see areas that need work. Walking made me more efficient, not in how fast I got places, but I came more prepared because I knew I couldn't just zip back if I forgot a rake or my pruners. I also worked for longer in one area. I made fewer trips to the compost pile. Instead I made bigger piles and each cart load I took was full. I also saw that carts are disruptive. Visitors come to the arboretum and gardens to enjoy nature and relax. Look at the Taltree website, "Come on in," it says, "Unwind." It's hard to enjoy nature when golf carts are buzzing back and forth on the pathways you are wandering down. It's much nicer to see a gardener walk by. The last and most obvious benefit is we used less gas.

I am going to make this a permanent change for me. I will walk unless I need to haul more than I can carry myself. I will encourage my seasonal helper to do the same.

What improvements are you making in your life to be more Earth friendly?


COCHON 555 - Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This afternoon I got an email saying the first five responders would receive tickets to the COCHON 555 event in Des Moines. I looked at the time stamp, more than two hours ago. Probably not going to win, but I responded and low and behold they happened to have a pair of tickets left for me and a guest. I win!

Then I read the details closely. The 555 stands for 5 Chefs, 5 Wineries and 5 Pigs. Five heritage breed pigs will be butchered and made into one big porky night of eating. Pork everything pared with delicious local wines and brews. Basically an event where you get to wander to different stations of food and wine for a whole night. The point is to raise heritage pig awareness and get people to request and buy heritage pork more often. That's a cause I strongly believe in. Plus who doesn't want five great chefs (including Lincoln Cafe's Matt Steigerwald) to make five great meals to sample? At the end the meals will be judged and the winner will get to compete in the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen, Colorado this June.

Then I looked at the date I originally thought it was in June, but that is the Aspen finales. It's this weekend. Here's the question. Do I try and get time off drive 12 hours round trip to go to this one event? Or I could try and do it without time off and be at work at 7:30 am on Sunday. It seems a little ridiculous, but what a cool event.

What do you think, should I stay or should I go? Opinions please! ASAP I have to respond by Thursday afternoon. Help!


Sour Orange Poppy Seed Muffins - Healthy Wholesome Recipe

So after a long day of work I come home and want to eat the moment I walk in the door. Most of the time I am actually hungry, but partially it is the ritual of coming home from work. I come home from work I sit down, put my feet up and have a salty snack and beer, then I wonder what's for dinner.

I am working to break myself of the after-work beer. It's an expensive unnecessary habit (but there are so many new local brews to try!) . Now beers are only for unusually crappy work days and the weekend. Although I did have one cold one last night, but it was a stressful night.  We just paid more money to have the car fixed. Yuck.

So what shall I eat if not pretzels and a beer? I need something yummy and quick and light. You know what fits this bill? Muffins. Well not those carrot muffins I made this week, but this rift on lemon poppy seed muffins is excellent. I used sour oranges off a tree in the green house at Taltree. Aren't they cute?  But you could use lemon or lime juice.  The original recipe calls for lemon juice. 

These muffins are about 200 calories, 8 grams of fat and 1 gram of fiber.  That's 4 Weight Watchers Points.  Not bad.  Good for breakfast and snacks. 

I bought a bunch of marked down organic bananas that were very dark yellow with lots of brown spots.  The plan is to try out some of the banana muffin recipes that Miranda and Sarah have been sending me.  Anyone else have some very healthy muffin recipes I should look at?

Sour Orange Poppy Seed Muffins
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups brown sugar
1/2 cups oat bran or seven grain cereal
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup skim or almond milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed sour orange juice (or lemon)
2 tsp sour orange zest (or lemon)

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.

Step 2:  In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, oat bran, poppy seeds, baking powder, and salt.

Step 3:  In a medium bowl, whisk together milk, butter, egg, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until dry ingredients are just moistened.

Step 4:  Spread batter in prepared pan. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until loaf is light golden brown and a toothpick in the centre comes out clean. Cool loaf pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Step 5:  Remove loaf from pan and cool completely on rack. Cover with plastic wrap and store at room temperature OR the fridge (sometimes people enjoy chilled lemon bread).


The Simple, Healthy, Packable Lunch – Chalk Full Greek Salad with Bread and an Apple – Recipe

I need to eat lunch. I’m not one of those people who can just skip meals. If I skip a meal I get mean and surly. And if tired happens to be thrown in the mix then you might want to avoid me. This means I need to pack a lunch to take to work at Taltree. Recently I've been taking leftovers or making large vats of soup. However, the weather is warming up and soup isn’t as delightful. It’s time for a new plan. I need a filling yet healthy lunch. This is what I’m thinking:
  1. Big salad
  2. Fresh fruit
  3. Serving of bread/rice/noodles

I don’t mind eating the same thing all week so I’m going to put together five days worth of lunches at once. This week I’m making myself big organic lettuce salads with carrots, mushrooms, cucumber and peas. To add some heft to these salads I’m adding a slice of feta, a couple olives, a couple teaspoons of balsamic vinegar and one teaspoon of olive oil. Add an Arnold’s Multigrain Sandwich Thin and an apple and I think I should be set. This gives me a lunch I don’t have to refrigerate or reheat and it has lots of veggies, fiber and flavor. I am hoping it’s enough to keep me from turning into a ravenous fiend at the end of the day.

I calculated the nutrition of this lunch and it comes out to the list at left, which is about 7 Weight Watchers points.  (I'm aiming for something around 22 points a day which is what I would need, as a female under 150 pounds, to be eating to maintain my ideal weight.  That means I should very slowly be losing weight.)  This lunch pared with a decent breakfast should be enough to keep me going until dinner. 

I still plan on having a small snack after work, I just need to figure out what that will be. Stay tuned for the next post where I find delicious after work snacks that won’t ruin my healthy eating and hold me over until dinner.


Quick, Healthy, Homemade Breakfast – Carrot Muffins - Recipe

I have been eating Quaker Cinnamon Oatmeal Squares but I would rather eat something homemade. Muffins are the perfect breakfast food; they are cheap, easy to make, they can be made very healthy and they are portable. The trick is to find a delicious healthy muffin. My good friend writes the blog Application of Heat and I chose her recipe Carrot Muffins. She says, “What's nice about this recipe is that they look craggy on the outside but they are tender with a fine crumb on the inside. They are the best version of this kind of muffin I have made.”

Okay so now that I have made the recipe and THEN run it through a recipe analyzer (http://recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-calculator.asp), I'm feeling less good. The muffins come in at 300 calories, 3 grams of fiber and 17 grams of fat each (if the recipe yields 12 muffins, which mine did). That's a 7 point Weight Watcher value, which is mighty expensive. They are really delicious.  I guess I'll let Jeff eat most of them.  I'll have to find another breakfast muffin for me. 

Carrot Muffins

1 cup shredded carrots (about 2)
1/2 cup shredded apple (about one peeled apple)
1 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup raisins, plumped (in about 1/4 cup water covered for 1 minute in the microwave)
1 1/2 cups flour (spoon and level)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/3 cup butter, softened, but still a little firm
1/3 cup canola oil
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

Step 1: Heat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare 12-muffin pan by greasing with butter.

Step 2: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices.

Step 3: Cut the butter into 1 inch pieces and put in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix on medium for 1 minute until smooth. Then, drizzle in the oil taking 1-2 minutes and scraping down the sides as needed. The mixture should come together as one and look like runny unmelted butter. Add the brown sugar slowly, then add the granulated sugar. Mix until well blended, about 1 minute. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing after each addition. Scrape down sides, add vanilla and blend thoroughly.

Step 4: Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the carrots and apple. Add the dry ingredients in two additions mixing until just combined. Fold in raisins and nuts.

Step 5: Fill the muffin cups almost to the top. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Bake until muffins spring back when touched.

If you are wondering what I’m eating for lunch, stay tuned for tomorrow’s post: The Simple, Healthy, Packable Lunch.


Healthy Yet Delicious Meals

In my mission to eat healthy, homemade food Jeff and I came up with six meals that have whole grains, protein and lots of fruits and veggies.

Here’s what we decided on for this week’s dinners:

• Spinach spaghetti with eggplant marinara sauce and a Greek lettuce salad and strawberries
Apple Feta Pizza on a whole grain crust with a side of steamed broccoli and grapes
Vegetable curry over brown rice and a strawberries
• Tofu veggie stirfry over brown rice and oranges
Vegetarian enchiladas with cilantro, lettuce, green pepper, tomato and avocado plus grapes
• Grilled basa fish with a baked sweet potato, asparagus and strawberries
Sounds pretty good huh? These are all healthy, filling meals so hopefully I won’t go to bed hungry. Although I realize going to bed hungry is sometimes part of the deal when working towards losing weight. I’ve got a plan and I’m feeling motivated.

We headed out and bought the groceries we will need for the coming week.

Here’s the whole grains we got:

The fresh fruits and veggies:

The proteins and dairy:

What about lunch and breakfast? I start work at 7:00am, so I generally bring a travel mug of coffee and a breakfast to eat while I go through my email and desk work in the morning. Lunch is generally something quick that doesn’t need to be heated or refrigerated. I have a plan to put together some healthy and simple breakfasts and lunches. I will make a couple days worth in one go to save on time. I’ll show you what I’m up to in tomorrow’s post: Quick, Healthy, Homemade Breakfast.

How I Decide What to Eat - My Wonky Version of Weight Watchers

I have done Weight Watchers in the past and lost 19 pounds. I looked damn good.  I'm leaning over in that picture and I still look good!  (Note that I am eating fresh strawberries and pineapple.)  And this was a half way picture.  I finished losing weight in September and this was taken on the 4th of July.  For some reason I don't have many pictures of me looking my most awesome.  That's the way it goes isn't it?

I found Weight Watchers a useful way to simplify calorie counting and it made me evaluate how I eat and what I cook. When I find myself slipping into eating too much and too unhealthy I start counting Weight Watcher Points again.

I did Weight Watchers years ago and I'm sure the system has changed but this is what I go by.  Based on my current weight I get a number of points I'm allowed per day.  This number of points should allow one to lose weight at the rate of 0.5 to 2.0 lbs a week.  If you are wondering how many points you would be allowed check this table below.  These numbers are for non-nursing women (nursing women get ten extra points per day - nursing is hard work, baby!):
Less than 150 pounds = 18-25 Points
150 to 174 pounds = 20-27 Points
175 to 199 pounds = 22-29 Points
200 to 224 pounds = 24-31 Points
225 to 250 pounds = 26-33 Points
Over 250 pounds = 28-35 Points 
Each day you're supposed to eat within your given range.  My range is 18-25 points.  So I never eat less than 18 points.  If I eat less than 25 points I get to bank the points.  Banked points can be used for up to a week.  So if I eat 23 points today I bank 2 points which I can then be added to a future day this week.  My banked points generally get used when we go out to dinner.  If I saved 2 points for six days in a row on the seventh day I get to have twelve extra points for fries or dessert or a really rich creamy sauce! It's a nice way to earn a splurge.   

Are you still with me?  It a little complicated to explain the Weight Watchers system.  How do you know how many points what you are eating is worth?  Well that is a formula that uses the calories, fiber and fat in the food. 
P = (C/50) + (F/12) - (min{R,4}/5)
P is points
C is calories
F is fat
R is dietary fiber
This is complicated so instead just use any of the numerous free online calculators
What you need to understand about this formula is that the more fiber a food has the lower in points it is. You're allowed to calculate up to 4 grams of fiber into the equation, any more than four and it's still just four.  This prevents the dumping Fiber Plus cereal on everything to get a lower point value.    Also understand that the more fat a food has the higher the points value.  A 150 calorie bowl of icecream could be worth between 3 and 5 points depending on how many grams of fat it has.  In review, to maximize points you want high fiber, low fat foods. 
When I first started Weight Watchers I went through the whole kitchen with a Sharpie and wrote the number of points for each food on its box. It's a good way to level the playing field and compare apples to oranges. It also forced me to learn exactly what a serving looks like. Turns out my regular bowl of cereal was two and half servings.  Now I just know that whole wheat bread is 2-3 points a slice and that fresh fruit and veggies about 1-2 points a cup and that cereal is 2-4 points a cup. I also know a small fast food burger is 6 points and that a small Dairy Queen Blizzard is 15 points. 

I still run the numbers on new foods and when I try new recipes I use a Recipe Calculator to find its nutritional information then run that through a points calculator.  On the bottom of most of my recipes I have their nutritional information and their points value per serving.  Okay, so this is quite a bit of work, but really how many different foods do you eat?  Once you get past the first week you'll have looked up 95% of what you'll eat next week. 

Now all you have to do is record your points every day and you are set.  I use an app on my igoogle homepage called WW Points Tracker to record what I eat daily.  You can also just record this information in a notebook or on a spread sheet. 

Simple! All I have to do is use Weight Watchers to moniter my portions by keeping my points intake between 18-25 daily and I should lose weight.  Combine this with my other healthy living statutes which are eat unprocessed, fresh and homemade food and I feel really good about what I am eating.


Game On – Healthy Eating 101

Back in January I was doing really well participating in 10 in 2010. 10 in 2010 was an online challenge to get healthy in the first 10 weeks in 2010. I was doing good for the first four weeks or so. Then I accepted a job and we moved from Iowa to Indiana. Actively working towards having a healthier body and lifestyle just fell by the wayside.

Game on! I’ve been in my new job for five weeks now and I feel my routines are settling in. It’s time to get back in the saddle.

How are we doing?

Jeff and I managed to continue making almost all of our food from scratch and greatly reduced our intake of meat, fish and dairy. We aren’t vegetarians, but we are close. I found a place on my way to work that sells eggs from happy backyard chickens and ducks. We haven’t found a place to buy local small farm meat, but we have a lead. I also heard there are a local corn mill and a place to buy raw milk. We’ll have to check those out. And I am getting much more physical activity into my days. We are walking distance to the library (and I go every other day because that’s how long DVDs can be checked out) plus having an outdoor job means I am active every day.

Now for the bad news, I have gained four of the six pounds I lost back. Yikes! I also gained some bad habits from my new schedule. I am eating when I come home from work at 4:30 and then also eating dinner and dessert. Plus I’ve been drinking a beer after work every day. I need to break these habits or at least replace them with healthier ones.

What am I changing?

My husband’s weight has never been an issue for him – Lucky. I on the other hand always seem to be between 10-20 lbs above what I consider my ideal weight. Really I would just like to fit back in this pair of pants. I’ve had this pair of pants for years and when I was feeling uber healthy these were loose. Underneath them is my favorite current pair of jeans. They must have a higher waist because they look similar in size, but I can’t button the khaki green pair. So in order to fit back into these pants I am going to start recording what I eat everyday again.

For breakfast I have been eating cereal, which unfortunately is a very processed food. I’m going to make some healthier muffins instead. I’m also going to try eating a bigger lunch at work so I don’t come home ravenous. I will be replacing my beer a night habit with an iced tea a night or possibly joining the green monster fan club. Many of the healthy food bloggers espouse the benefits of green monster smoothies made with spinach, banana and yogurt. I figure it is worth a try. I’m a little doubtful. I don’t think spinach belongs in a smoothie and I don’t really care for banana so we shall see.

Jeff does all the cooking during the week so we sat down and decided on some healthy recipes. All the meals must meet these three goals:
1. Low fat content (go easy on the cheese, butter and oils)
2. High fiber (whole grains, veggies, beans)
3. Protein (tofu, beans, egg)
Find out what we decided on for meals tomorrow in my next post: Filling, Yet Healthy and Delicious Meals.


Wild Onion and Rosemary Bread - Recipe


I have a lot of wild onions I harvested this weekend, never having had wild onions before I don't really know what to do with them.  I decided make wild onion and mushroom pollenta and use them in place of onions in my onion rosemary bread.  It took a couple batches, but I got a good combination of enough wild onion to taste it, but not overwhelming. 

Now onion rosemary bread isn't good unless you have fresh rosemary.  The dried stuff tastes astringent and loses comoplexity.  I am lucky enough to have access to a nice bush of rosemary in the green house at Taltree.  You can also pick it up at your local grocery, it is usually near the salad lettuce.  Or go to your local greenhouse and buy yourself a plant!  You went to all the trouble for wild onions you might as well go to the trouble to get fresh rosemary, right? 

Try it out, trust me this is one of the best savory breads you can make.  It goes well with roasted chicken and side of asparagus or as a sandwich bread for eggsalad, or just as a snack with a smear of butter.  Enjoy!  It's hard to beat bread fresh out of the oven.

Wild Onion and Rosemary Bread

3 1/2- 3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup seven grain cereal or wheat flour (if you don't have either you can use all white)
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 cup milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely minced wild onion
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary

Step 1: In a large bowl stir together 1 cup flour and 1 cup seven grain cereal (or wheat flour), yeast, brown sugar and salt. In a medium bowl stir together milk, butter, rosemary, and onion. Heat the liquid in the microwave until the butter is melted and the mixture is warm to the touch. Add the eggs to the liquid mixture, whisk to blend. Add the liquid mixture all at once to the dry mixture, stir it together. Continue adding the additional flour(s) until it's really doughy.

Step 2: Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in remaining flour until nice and elastic, about five minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover and let rise for an hour in a warm place. I like to put it in a sunny window or a still oven.

Step 3: Punch dough down and then divide in half. Let rest for ten minutes. Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375.

Step 4: Cut dough into 24 pieces and then shape into balls. Place them in two 9x9 or one 9x13 greased pan. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. If you really shaped that dough it may need to rise longer. Make sure it doubles in size.

Step 5: Bake in a 375 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. (For added goodness brush the tops with melted butter before you pop them in the oven.)

Alternatively if you want loaves, divide the dough in two and raise in bread pans before baking at 375 for 30-40 minutes.

This recipe was submited to Yeast Spotting.


Wild Onion and Mushroom Polenta - Recipe

I spent an evening watching hulu and cleaning the wild onions I gathered. It takes time to wash off the clay soil and chop off the roots. There is something very satisfying about harvesting and cleaning my own food. If you want to know more about collecting wild onions check this post: Wild Onion Collecting and Harvesting.

The house smells like an Italian kitchen, so I figured why not make an Italian dish? Polenta is Italian for grits. Basically polenta is a rough ground corn rehydrated in boiling water. In fact the process for making polenta is very similar to making oatmeal which ironically is a food I really don't like. Perhaps if I made a savory oatmeal porage? I'll file that idea away, it just might work.

Back to the Polenta. I started out by caramelizing the onions and mushrooms in butter and then making the polenta and then mixing the caramelized wild onions and mushrooms together for the last five minutes. Wow, this is a delicious meal, very filling. It’s comes together very quickly (once you have cleaned the wild onions) and I would say, impressive enough for company.

The wild onions lose some of their gamey edge when caramelized and the mushrooms pick up some of their flavor. The little bit of parmesan adds a nice stringy texture and a little saltiness. If you are into meat, consider adding some chopped sausage too.

It made four nice size servings so I had two serving for dinner (hey, gardening is tough work) and took one to work for lunch.

Today while cleaning out some of the flower beds around the pavilion, I came across more wild onion. So now I have even more for experimenting. Next up wild onion and rosemary bread.

Wild Onion and Mushroom Polenta

2-3 cups of wild onions greens and white parts, cleaned and chopped
1 basket of mushrooms, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup dry polenta
3 cups broth (I used chicken, but vegetable or beef would also work)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 cup sausage, chopped (if you wish)

Step 1: Add the wild onions, butter and mushrooms to a sauce pan over medium heat. If you want to have sausage add that now as well. Allow the onions and mushrooms to cook uncovered. It will take a while for the onions to lose their water, but eventually things will start to brown. Depending on your heat, about 20 minutes of cooking should do it. Once the mushrooms start to brown mix more frequently to keep from burning until all the mushrooms are evenly brown. The onions will wilt quite a bit and brown a little, watch the onions they are the best indicator of cartelization. When the mushrooms have been evenly browned, move the mixture to a bowl off the heat.

Step 2: In the same pan you just caramelized the onions and mushrooms in, pour the three cups of broth, cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the water is boiling slowly pour in the polenta, whisking as you pour. When all the polenta is into the pan, continue whisking until it starts to thicken (about one minute). Then add back in the mushrooms and onions as well as the grated parmesan. Mix it all together. Then take it off the heat and let it stand covered for 5 minutes.

Serve with a nice green salad or a side of broccoli with some fresh fruit for dessert. Perhaps strawberries?


Strawberries for 88 Cents a Pound!

Holy guacamole, strawberries are 88 cents a pound at my local Town and Country grocery store! Apparently there is a bumper crop going on in Florida. There are so many strawberries that farmers are actually plowing under their fields of ripe berries because they can't sell them for enough to cover the cost of picking them. Now they can get their next crop of melons in the ground and hopefully get some early ones that will bring a higher price.

A flat of strawberries can be up to $20 in Florida during early spring before the northern states have started producing. Right now, a flat is worth only about $5.90 to $6.90, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics released Wednesday. Most farmers can't afford to pick for less than $7 a flat. Some farms are opening their fields up to locals offering U-pick and others have agreements to sell to a processing company that slices and freezes the strawberries.

What caused this over load of strawberries?  Florida had an unusually cold winter with several freezing nights. When the strawberry plants revived and spring came along they snapped out of it and all produced a lot of fruit at once.

It's still a little too early for strawberries around me in Northwest Indiana. Probably the end of this month into May and June I'll be able to get fresh local strawberries.

In the mean time, I hope you support the farmers and enjoy cheap Florida strawberries. I'm thinking I might even cut and freeze some to enjoy this fall and winter on pancakes and what not or perhaps strawberry jam?  When life gives your strawberries, what do you make?


Wild Onions - Collecting, Gathering and Recipe Inspiration

March 30, 2012 - I came back and added some pictures and back links to wild onion recipes I have tried.  Enjoy!

Wild onions are out right now in the Midwest.  These are the dainty little onions with some powerful flavor - super oniony.  I collected a bag full out on the back side of the arboretum.  In the arboretum proper these have been weeded out.  They are considered an invasive species; a delicious, edible invasive species. 

Here's what they look like growing in the woods:

Now these aren't ramps. 
These are ramps:

Most of these recipes and ideas will also work for ramps.  Ramps have a milder flavor and are more prized in the foraging community.  However, there aren't any near me, so I settled for wild onions.  Here's more information on ramps if you are interested.

Right now is a great time to harvest both ramps and wild onions.  As things get hotter so will the wild onions and wild onions are already pretty potent. When they flower they will use up all of their stored energy and they won't have much of a bulb left.  Then they go dormant for the hot part of the summer.  In the cool of the fall they will sprout again and put on growth for the spring, so you see the best time to pick them is spring.
Now what shall I do with my onions.  Here's the recipes I have tried and made into blog posts:

I also came across these recipes:
 The Cherokee Gathering Place website tells the story of wild onions in their history:
Gathering wild onions in spring is a ritual among the Oklahoma Cherokees, as well as the other tribes who live where these wonderful plants grow. Wild onions are often frozen and kept for months so they can be eaten the rest of the year.
Wild Onions have an important social aspect among many Indian people in eastern Oklahoma, including Cherokees. In the early spring, many Indian churches, stompgrounds, clubs and other groups hold wild onion dinners. Families and friends also often make an outing of gathering wild onions and/or eating them together. The wild onions are prepared by frying them with eggs and are usually served with other Indian dishes such as fry bread and grape dumplings. Wild onions grow in a variety of conditions but are best gathered where a loose moist soil promotes thick growth and easy digging. Timbered bottomlands are favored. Cattle grazing effectively eliminates the digging of wild onions. Wild onions are among the earliest greenery to emerge in the spring and cattle like to crop off young blaldes, making it impossible for humans to find them even if they survive the grazing. The milk of dairy cows grazing on wild onions takes on a strong flavor that most people find objectionable.
What are you doing with your wild onions?


Sun Shine Award - Win!

I won my first ever blogger award.  Miss Dawn of Florida Coastal Cooking bequeathed me with the Sun Shine Award!
Foy Update is written by a horticulturalist and foodie with some gorgeous photography of both food and flora as well as some great How-To's. Check out her interesting post on Skunk Cabbage! So cool.
I'd like to thank the academy and ... I wish I could think up a clever acceptance speech. I'll let this Farce on Academy Award Winning Movie Trailer be funny and witty for me.

But seriously, thanks. I'm glad I have made such excellent blogger connections! It feels really good to be recognized..


How to Make Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes - Recipe

How to Make Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes - Recipe

Almost four years ago Jeff and I walked down the grassy isle and got married. It was a simple small wedding at a state park followed by a pancake and mimosa lunch. The pancakes were perfect. We even had a panCake cutting instead of a traditional cake cutting.  (If you want to know more about our wedding check out our wedding blog: http://www.lowimpactwedding.blogspot.com/)

How to Make Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes - Recipe
We sampled many different recipes. The winning recipe that was served at our wedding brunch was from The New Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It's a simple recipe, that yields a very thick batter making light and fluffy pancakes. Jeff was looking for the recipe on my blog and couldn’t find it anywhere. I guess it’s about time I put up the recipe for our wedding pancakes.

However it is more than just a recipe; the technique for making pancakes is cruitial. You can have all the right proportions, but if the skillet isn't hot enough or the batter is over mixed, well, you'll have flat pancakes with doughy centers and be disapointed.

Below I'll go through, not only the best pancake recipe, but also how to mix the batter, how to make sure you have the right heat and amount of oil in your skillet, and how to keep the pancakes warm and crisp until you are ready to serve them. Plus tips on serving eggs with pancakes. First the recipe:

The Best Ever Buttermilk Pancakes
2 cups (10 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk (or 2 cups milk plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice)
1 large egg
3 tablepoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
oil for the skillet

Yields 4 Servings
Step 1: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Wisk them together and then form a well in the middle. Set aside. Combine the wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Wisk them together.

Step 2: Pour the wet ingredients into the well you formed in the middle of the dry ingredients. Using a wisk or a fork mix scraping the bottom of the bowl, mixing just until everything is moist, but still lumpy. The batter will be very thick, this is the way it should be. Do not over mix.

Step 3: Choose a skillet that is heavy and with a large flat bottom. Add 2-3 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat over medium-low for at least 3 minutes before adding batter. Pour about 1/4-1/2 cup of batter into the skillet. Depending on the skillet you might be able to cook more than one at a time. This batter is thick so you may need to help it spread out. As the pancakes cook tilt the skillet to move the oil around. The oil will make the edges of the pancakes nice and crispy. Cook the pancakes for two minutes or until golden brown than flip them over and brown the other side. The second side should take slightly less time than the first. Serve warm.

Trouble Shooting and Pancake Making Tips

The pancakes are still doughy in the middle: If the center is still doughy when the sides are browned your skillet is too hot. Reduce the heat and continue cooking until the center is set. Do not flatten the pancakes with your spatula this will ruin the texture. Also it may help to spread the batter out when you pour into the skillet if the batter is extra thick.

How much oil to use in the skillet: If you want super healthy pancakes use as little oil as you can. You will need a little to keep the pancakes from sticking. If you want crispy delicious pancakes, add 2-4 tablespoons. Tilt the skillet as you cook to move the oil around so the the pancakes gets lightly fried on all sides. This results in the best pancakes ever.

How to keep pancakes warm: When your cooking for a crowd you want to serve everyone at once. It's also best to keep the pancakes warm rather than reheating them. Reheating can make them rubbery. Put your oven on warm (about 150-175 degrees F). Prepare a cookie sheet with a cooling wrack on top. Put that in the warm oven. As you finish the pancakes pop them onto the cooling rack in the warm oven. They'll stay warm and crisp until you are ready to serve.

When do I make the eggs? If you are serving pancakes with eggs you will want to make the eggs last. Eggs don't like being held over. Put all the pancakes in the warm oven, then reduce the burner heat to low. You can even use the same skillet to cook the eggs. Once the eggs are cooked serve immediately.

The pancakes are tough and flat, what went wrong? This is a case of over mixing the batter. When the batter gets over mixed all the baking soda and powder reacts and there is none left to make the air bubbles that makes the pancakes fluffy. Also mixing causes glueten in the flour to develop. Glueten forms long chains of protiens the more it is worked. This makes the batter more elastic, but also less tender. So less mixing is less work and it makes for better pancakes. Sounds good to me.

How to Freeze the Leftovers:  It's really hard to half this recipe because it calls for one egg.  Instead of trying to use half an egg, simply make a full batch and freeze your leftovers. Arrange all the leftover pancakes on a cookie sheet uncovered and pop it into the freezer for a couple hours.    Pull them out and pry them off the cookie sheet and package them into airtight containers.  You can store them in the freezer for several months.  To reheat I usually put them in the microwave for a half minute then toast them in the toaster or toaster oven.  They are 90% as good as the day you made them fresh. 
So there you go. You are now a pancake making wizard. Now all you have to decide is what toppings you want to go with your deliciously crisp and tender pancakes. I suggest honey and raspberries.

How to Make Perfect Buttermilk Pancakes - Recipe


Easter Ménage à Trois S'more - Recipe

Easter S'mores Recipe from FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Easter is coming.  We got an Easter Box in the mail from Jeff's mom.  What's this? The marshmallow peeps have made friends with a chocolate rabbit? 

Easter S'mores Recipe from FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Oh more than just friends...

Easter S'mores Recipe from FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
 Uh oh, Peep Show.  I always did think Peeps were kind of cheap and trashy, but chocolate rabbits?

Easter S'mores Recipe from FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
Things got a little too hot, but thankfully no one was burned.

Easter S'mores Recipe from FoyUpdate.blogspot.com
There are way too many good jokes, I have to stop now and eat my Easter S'more.

Any fun Easter Baskets or Boxes for you this year?