This post is inspired by Queen Composter’s post on “DIY vs. Chemistry” on the Green Phone Booth on Friday. It addresses the whole “these greenies are dissing ‘chemicals’ but really it’s all chemistry” dilemma…and I’m really glad it does. Because she’s absolutely right.
A few years ago my mom sent me a chemistry lesson email on why baking soda does indeed work as a superb and cheap deodorant. She was a chemistry prof for years, and if I’d had her in high school instead of who I did, I might have stuck with it longer.
I think this is brilliant, and I offer it to anyone who thinks they might like to give up the aluminum chlorohydrate stuff and try doing the non-stinky thing without rubbing a metal solution onto freshly shaven skin really close to, you know, your breasts, those lovely things that so often seem to be a place where icky malignant cells seem to gather and party…
“A short lesson in buffering, sodium bicarbonate, and bad smells:
Lots (most?) of bad body odors are the result of the production of stuff that is either acidic (butyric acid – essence of rancid butter, caproic acid – eau de male goat, eg) or alkaline (many many amines, the products of protein degradation – dog anal gland exudate being an example here). Baking soda is able to “neutralize” those amines by transferring its hydrogen ion to the amine, changing it into an odorless amine salt. In the case of the smelly acidic stuff, it steals the hydrogen ion from the acid, forming carbon dioxide and the odorless acid salt–almost magic, huh? Thats what buffers do – they can neutralize both acidic compounds as well as alkaline compounds by taking or donating a hydrogen ion. And since sodium bicarb is pretty much neutral itself, it does all this at the body’s normal pH and isnt too acidic or alkaline itself to cause any irritation, at least for THAT reason. AND ITS CHEAP!!!”
Whenever we go to Polish delis or restaurants, we always try to get some of that lovely mushroom soup they always have. It’s usually heartier than most shroom soups I’ve found, very thick and creamy, with big pieces of shroom and usually some kind of pasta in there. And I’m sure it leaves my arteries screaming…
But last night I made a pretty good approximation of it without any evil ingredients, and it was still lovely and creamy and delicious. Give it a try!
My base recipe was Mark Bittman’s “Cream of Any Vegetable Soup” from the “How to Cook Everything” app/cookbook. The overall gist is that you cook the shrooms and a potato in broth till everything’s soft and cooked, and then you puree it. This is different but uses the same basic method…
Love-your-arteries Polish Mushroom Soup
In a stockpot or crockpot put the following (I used a 2 quart crockpot; double if you have the larger sized kind, which most people do):
- 1 lb mushrooms, sliced or cut up as you wish
- 1 good-sized russet potato, cut into chunks (Peel if you want, but I don’t bother)
- 3 cups good stock (beef, chicken, or vegetable, whatever you like)
- (If I’d thought of it, I’d’ve added an onion too…)
Cook on low heat till the potatoes are very soft (maybe 30 minutes over the stove, 4-5 hours on high in the crockpot).
With a slotted spoon, remove about half the mushrooms, leaving the potatoes and broth behind. Set aside.
To the soup-and-potato mixture, add:
- 1-2 tbs Greek yogurt
- 1-3 cloves crushed garlic
Using an immersion blender, or transferring soup mixture to a blender or food processor, puree soup mixture until very smooth. Return to pot if necessary. Taste and check for seasonings and add salt if you need to. (It depends on how salty your stock was–I made my own, so it needed a good bit. If you use pre-made stock, or stock from a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you may not need much.)
- reserved mushrooms
- 1 tsp or so fresh dill weed (dill freezes really well, by the way!)
- 1 cup al-dente cooked macaroni pasta (optional)
- crushed black pepper to taste
- a good slug pale dry sherry or white wine (optional, but a good option!)
Let sit on lowest possible heat another 20 minutes or so, to let flavors blend, but not long enough for the pasta to get soggy. Serve.
This is really good–it’s the dill, I think, that makes it really have that Polish flavor, but it’s a lovely and filling soup!
I’m so excited–my dried elderberries from Mountain Rose Herbs just finally came, and I can make my own syrup! Up to now we’ve been buying bottles from Whole Paycheck, and they are wonderful, but the price is a little…well, high. For less than the cost of a 4 oz. bottle of that stuff, I was able to buy a whole pound of elderberries, a few of which are now simmering on the stove…
I checked a bunch of different recipes, and in the end WellnessMama’s is the one my version is going to come closest to. The kids love this stuff, whether it actually fights coughs and flu or not, and IMO it kinda does, so…?
Homemade Elderberry Syrup
In a saucepan, put:
- 2/3 cup dried elderberries
- 3 cups water
- 1 tsp ginger powder or 3 tsp dried or fresh ginger root (I use dried, because I bought it from Mountain Rose along with cinnamon chips, clove granules, and other goodies for making mulling spice as Christmas gifts. One of those purchases from a few years ago that is lasting forever; not a bad investment.)
- 1 tsp cinnamon chips or 2/3 tsp cinnamon powder
- 3 cloves
Bring to a boil, then reduce to slow simmer and let boil for 35-45, uncovered, till reduced by about half. You might want to put the exhaust fan on; the smell is lovely, but it becomes a little overpowering after a while…
Remove from heat, let cool half an hour or so. Strain out solids into pyrex measuring cup, mashing berries to get as much liquid out as you can. Continue to cool till lukewarm or so.
Mix in raw honey at about a 1:1 ratio. (Or less, if you want–it’s a kind of “to taste” kind of thing.)
The official way to dispense this stuff is usually 1/2 tsp for kids or 1 tsp for adults, morning and night, to strengthen the immune system. I bet a little bit in seltzer water would be delicious, or drizzled over ice cream…be careful, though, because I’m told too much of it can have an…interesting (and shall we say cleansing)…effect on the digestive system.
Love this stuff!
This came out of one of those random Facebook recipes someone posted, which looked really good…except that it needed tweaking. Kind of a lot. But once tweaked, man was this an awesome breakfast! I upped the apple quantity so that the fruit was the real star, and it didn’t need much or any added sugar (depending, I guess, on how sweet the apples were you started with…)
Overnight Crockpot Steel Cut Apple Pie Oatmeal
- Into the crockpot, put 4 medium apples, cut into wedges or chunks. (Peeling is optional; I didn’t bother.)
- Sprinkle about 1-2 tsp. of your favorite sweet spices–go heavy on the cinnamon, but then you can add bits of nutmeg, allspice, a teeny bit of clove, ginger…
- Over that, pour 2/3 cup steel cut oats.
- Then over the whole mess, pour 2 cups water.
What you do next depends on what kind of crockpot you have, and how it behaves:
If you have an older model, and you know from experience that you can cook it on “low” all day without it ever hitting an actual boil: Cook on low heat 7 hours or so. If it’s too dry in the morning, add up to 1/2 cup water, milk, or orange juice and stir to make it creamier. Add a tsp. vanilla extract if you’d like.
If you have a newer model, one which does hit an actual bubbling simmer when it’s on low (I hate that!), do the following:
- Instead of 2 cups room temperature water, pour boiling water over in the end. Give it a quick stir and turn the crockpot on to high heat. Cook for an hour.
- After an hour, without lifting the lid, switch to warm. Let cook overnight.
- Add water/milk/oj and/or vanilla if you’d like, as in the above.
My kids wanted a little more brown sugar sprinkled on in the morning, but I thought it was sweet enough, and everyone loved it!
If your crockpot is somewhere in between these two, I don’t really know what to tell you. You could try using actual ice water at the beginning, which would buy you a little more time…
Let me know if you try it!
The other day I realized I had a couple of potatoes getting ready to sprout, half an onion, and 2 eggs left in the carton. So…why not try my hand at potato pancakes? These were unbelievably easy and tasty, and I could control the amount of oil and butter that went into them, which I can’t if I buy them at the admittedly delicious Polish market down the road…
So: so I don’t lose track of what I did, this is what I did.
Easy Potato Pancakes
In a Vitamix or food processor, put:
- 2 cups or so cubed potatoes. Mine were russets, but I guess anything would work. It took 2 potatoes for 2 cups. And I don’t imagine the exact quantity makes that much difference…
- 1/2 a medium onion, cut up to about the same size pieces as the potato. (Or more. Or less. Or a shallot or two.)
Process in the Vita-Mix on low speed (1 or 2) or in the processor with the chopping blade until it’s sort of a chunky grated-looking mess. Add:
- 2 eggs
- 3 or so tbs flour (I’m guessing for gluten free you could do some alternate flour like spelt or rice? Let me know if you try it…)
- a couple good shakes each salt and pepper
Process again, for a little longer, till you’re somewhere between “grated” and “smoothie.” This part will ultimately be a matter of preference; some say to blend it completely, some say to leave the potatoes in a more grated state (but others decry this as “not potato pancakes but hash browns”–gotta love the passion of the internet), so do what you like. If you are using a Vita-Mix–important!–immediately remove your potato mixture to another bowl or pyrex glass cup or something and wash the blender container.
Place butter or oil into a large skillet and heat to about medium.
(This, again, is where you can choose your path: a proper Polish potato pancake would be cooked in about 1/2 inch sizzling oil and have lovely crispy edges. It would also have a gajillion calories. A non-stick skillet would also work, with only a teeny bit of oil, but the pancakes would lack the nice crispness. I used about 1 tbs. butter in the pan and got a kind of happy medium.)
Put spoonfuls of potato batter into the pan and spread fairly flat; let them cook on each side, without disturbing, maybe 4 minutes, till brown.
Serve with warm homemade applesauce.
My picky kids actually ATE these, though they would have turned up their noses without the applesauce. If you go without too much oil, these are a really good and unprocessed-food-y meal option, and they were incredibly quick and easy. I served them with leftover mushroom soup for the grownups. This one’s a winner! And it gave me another opportunity to befriend my husband’s over-achieving blender…
I don’t know if it’s all this BBC I’ve been watching or what, but suddenly this Christmas I had this urge to make proper British mince pies. And then I realized proper mince pies require suet and venison and all kinds of things I can’t really bring myself to put into my Christmas baking.
And then I found a bunch of recipes for mince pies without meat…and I was off and running. Today I made my first batch of mince pies. And they are absolutely amazing. This recipe is a keeper.
I don’t remember exactly where I found the basic pre-tweaked version of this (though I think it was from an Australian woman), but this is my version of it, and it works beautifully:
FRUIT MINCE TARTS
Pulse in food processor till chunky but not pasty, just however you like it
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 1 dried cranberries
- ¼ cup candied fruit (citron, peel, fruitcake mix, etc)
- 1 cup almonds
- 2 tart green apples, peeled and chopped
- splash orange juice
Add and pulse till just blended
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup brandy
- 2 tsp. sweet spices (pumpkin pie spice, apple pie spice, or mixture of cinnamon/nutmeg/allspice/clove/ginger kinds of things)
Spoon into a large bowl
Stir in :
- ½ cup zante currants
- 3 tbs. melted butter
Store in fridge for at least a few days and up to 3 months; make pies or tarts by putting circles of pastry crust into muffin tins and filling half full with mince filling. Cover with smaller circles, stars, lattice, or other shapes, or leave uncovered. Alternatively, make a “rustic pie” by rolling out a round pie crust, spreading mince filling in crust leaving 3 or so inches around the edges; fold the crust into the center.
Bake at 400 20 minutes or so for mini-tarts, 30 minutes for full-sized muffin tarts, and maybe 35-40 minutes for rustic pie, or till crusts brown.
Just last weekend, we watched Shrek the Musical on our cable’s On-Demand system. It was cute. The line about the parfait made it in. Most of the best lines from the movie made it in. But…honestly…with the exception of a few particularly cute moments, I didn’t find it to be a great or memorable musical. (Except for this. But that’s about it. And it’s way too early in the show to save it. IMO.)
Today, my husband shows me a picture from his phone:
Since we’re a little demoralized today because we were going to go apple-picking and can’t because one of our short roommates has had a fever all weekend, I thought we should do something sort of cool and fall-ish to salvage the day. And the recipe looked really easy, basically just two different flavors of cornstarch-thickened pudding, and we had all the ingredients. (Except the toffee. But we bought some.)
So here’s the recipe. The thing about parfaits is that you can really make them out of anything you want, just layer stuff. If I were to make this in “real life,” as in not on a day when my husband and kids had already seen how much evil stuff was in the recipe and were craving it, I would have maybe made just the pumpkin pudding, and substituted yogurt for the vanilla pudding layer. I would have used just granola in the crunchy layer, or crushed up some gingersnaps. Or some toasted pecans. In fact, without the toffee…but here’s what we did tonight:
Pumpkin Vanilla Toffee Parfaits
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- scant 1/8 teaspoon cloves
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup fresh pumpkin puree
- 3 cups milk
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For each individual pudding:
- Mix sugar, cornstarch, salt, and whatever spices you are using in saucepan.
- Mix in a little milk to form a paste and avoid lumps.
- For pumpkin pudding, add pumpkin at this point
- Add milk and heat to near boil stirring constantly 4-6 minutes, till pudding thickens
- Add flavoring, remove from heat, and chill 3+ hours. Put plastic wrap directly on top of pudding to avoid forming a skin, or be prepared to peel the skin away when it’s chilled.
- 1/2 cups toffee bits
- 1/2 cups granola
(NOTE: This is where I would definitely make substitutions, with all granola or crushed gingersnaps or something.)
In trifle bowl or individual parfait glasses, layer pumpkin and vanilla puddings with a layer of crumble in between. Chill again and serve.
VERDICT: A little Too Much, if you know what I mean. Too sweet, too gooey, just too much. Definitely a yogurt substitution for the vanilla pudding would have been good, or a not as sweet crunchy layer, or something of that nature. It was sweetness overkill. The pumpkin pudding would have been good in a trifle, too–layered with not-too-sweet cake or something. (And by the way, we all sort of agreed about the “too muchness” of it–it wasn’t just buzzkill mom.)
A Word about Pudding:
Cornstarch-based puddings are incredibly easy, I’ve learned. These recipes called for 1/4 cup cornstarch and 1/2 cup sugar to 3 cups liquid. (Next time I’ll use much less sugar; Neither pudding needed this much at all.) I’m assuming you could make them out of almost anything–this recipe substituted a cup of pumpkin puree for 1 cup of the milk, but I can’t imagine why you couldn’t puree bananas or use applesauce or some combination thereof instead. For chocolate pudding, you’d add up to 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa to the pan with the dry ingredients. You could use brown sugar in place of white, and add whatever spices or flavors you want. From this really easy base recipe, you can make pies, trifles, parfaits, fruit dips, or just plain old pudding. You could use your favorite dairy-free substitute for the liquid; there’s nothing magical about milk itself as the main ingredient. And it’s ridiculously easy, and hard to screw up (honestly! I used to be totally intimidated by them, but they are easy to make), and if you are judicious about your ingredients there’s not that much that’s bad in them. And certainly better than those boxed chemical-tasting things…
Okay, a couple of days later I tried something I should have earlier: I made one of these in a skinny little shot glass, like the photo up top (though it took us a while to realize that’s what we were looking at in the photo):
You know, it’s nuts, but serving this “too much” dessert in a deliberately tiny vessel, with a slightly higher crunch-to-pudding ratio, suddenly made the whole thing not too much after all but just right. Really quite marvelous, actually. Which, if you did do a slightly less candy-ish version (i.e. gingersnaps or just granola or crushed candied nuts) would render this dessert actually almost virtuous–there’s not much in there but milk and sugar and pumpkin, really, and though of course refined sugar is one of the world’s dietary evils, this would be kind of not very much at a go!
Even here you can see I used much less of the candy filling than the original, but even that was plenty. Yummers! Definitely give this one a try! (But maybe halve the recipe entirely, because this version makes a LOT of little shot glasses of pudding!
This afternoon I suddenly realized I didn’t know what we would eat for dinner, because all I had was these odds and ends of things…and somehow I was able to throw stuff into my 2 quart slow cooker at 2:30 and have an awesome dinner at about 7.
This is one of those posts i feel like I should apologize for, because it’s not a post as much as it’s a place to deposit a new recipe I don’t want to lose. But if anyone else tries and enjoys it…why not?
Crockpot Chicken Curry (or you could leave out the chicken entirely, really)
In the crockpot, unceremoniously dump the following:
- 1 cut up baby summer squash you forgot to do something with the other day
- that half onion that’s going to go bad if you don’t do something with it
- those 6 desiccated baby carrots (or 1-2 ordinary ones) in the crisper
- 1 small jalapeno or other hot (or not hot) pepper that’s starting to shrivel
- 2-3 frozen chicken thighs from the corner of the freezer
- 1 tbs curry powder (I use Penzey’s)
- 1 tsp+ fresh minced ginger
- 2-3 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
- 1 14oz. can diced tomatoes, not drained
- 1 tsp salt
Cook on high about 4 hours; remove and cut up or shred chicken if using, then put back in pot. Like I said, you can totally skip the chicken, and this would make a great vegetarian curry.
Shortly before serving, add:
- about half of that can of light coconut milk that’s been sitting in the pantry for God knows how long–or a little more, or a little less, depends how much you like coconut milk.
Stir, taste, correct seasonings and add salt if needed. Serve over rice or with naan bread.
Obviously, the veggies are completely inexact–potatoes, butternut squash, green beans, all kinds of things could go in this. It was seriously good, it tasted, well…right. I think it was the coconut milk, which is something I rarely cook with, that gave it that real curry-like flavor. I need to revisit that ingredient (especially since I now still have half a can in the fridge…)
Buon appetito! (Pretty low cal, too!)
Okay, thanks to a really good sale on black plums last week and a box of Pomona’s Pectin (which I reviewed last summer), I now have 7 half-pints of lovely delicious plum-ginger jam in the canner…
The thing I love about Pomona’s Pectin (I get it at my local Whole Foods, but I think it’s also available from Amazon and the like) is that you aren’t boxed into (no pun intended) set batch sizes and recipes. It’s incredibly flexible, and you can just kind of make up your own recipes and be fairly assured that they are safe and actually going to work. Last year I made Apricot-Ginger jam, and that was probably my all time favorite jam like ever (or at least since my mom used to make us help pick wild beach plums at the dunes in Ocean City, MD and make jelly out of them, but those plums and the dunes they used to grow on are long gone). Since I tend to think a shot of fresh ginger makes everything just a little lovelier, I thought I’d try it with plums this year.
Try this. It took under an hour start to finish, and is delicious.
Plum Ginger Jam with Red Wine
(Note: Pomona’s also has low-sugar and no-sugar instructions in the box; I made this jam with about half the sugar a normal pectin or no-pectin recipe would call for, and got a good bit more jam out of it…next time I’ll try even less.)
- 3-4 lbs sweet plums, pitted and cut into small pieces. (Or mashed/chopped, but I like the pieces)
- 2-ish cups sugar
- 1 tbs. fresh minced or crushed ginger
- 1/3 cup red table wine
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 box (you won’t use it all) Pomona’s Pectin, which includes pectin and powdered calcium; follow instructions for mixing the calcium water, and save the rest. This is the only extra step in this product, and it’s painfully easy.
- Place cut up plums, ginger, wine, and lemon juice in a bowl with 1 cup of sugar. Let sit a few hours or overnight. (Optional–this is a step not included in any jam recipe I’ve ever seen, but in recipes with several flavors it gives them time to blend really nicely and creates a lot of nice juice. If you want something more preserves-y, skip this.)
- At “jamming time,” put your canner water on to boil. Sterilize your jar lids and rings in it while it’s boiling, if you like. (Follow your own safe canning procedure; pickyourown.org has great instructions.)
- Here’s where the imprecision begins: Measure out how much fruit you have before putting it into your large saucepan to boil. This is what tells you how much pectin to use–if you have 4 cups of fruit, you’ll probably go with 2 tsp. pectin and 2 tsp calcium water. Read the package instructions; it’s easy.
- Mix the appropriate amount of calcium water into your fruit, and bring to a boil on the stove at medium or so heat
- Decide how much sugar you want: I generally do 2 cups sugar per 4 cups fruit, which is half what other recipes let you do, although I’ll probably cut that back next time. You’ve already put 1 cup sugar into your fruit, so you need one more. Add appropriate amount of pectin powder to your sugar and mix well.
- When fruit comes to a boil, add sugar/pectin mixture and stir in well. If you like, add 1 tbs. oil to prevent foaming. Let fruit boil for a few minutes (pectin package says 1-2 minutes; I usually give it 4-5 since I use bigger fruit bits). Remove from heat.
- If you like, this is where you could test the gelling–put a plate into the freezer earlier in the process (or forget the plate and use the tupperware lid of something already in there, which is what I usually do). Drizzle a little jam on top of the cold surface and put it back for a few minutes; if it’s all wrinkly on top when you touch it, your jam is fine and happy. I forgot to check this time, but…it’s fine and happy.
- Distribute jam among clean jelly jars, put lids and rings on, and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes. Take out, let cool, enjoy the happy little “pop!” sound you’ll hear from the jars as they come out telling you the jam is sealed good in there. Enjoy making just enough more jam than you meant to that there’s some leftover stuff that didn’t get canned, which means you can refrigerate it and eat it right away.
OMG guys, this is LOVELY jam. The ginger blends in with the plum, and the wine cuts the plums sweetness just enough that it doesn’t overpower. Next time I might put a cinnamon stick in during the overnight sit…
Okay, one of the big mysteries of fast-food purchasing for me has always been those delicious giant hot pretzels. I always wondered how to do it, and all my attempts at shaping bread dough into pretzel shapes have been, while delicious (I mean, fresh homemade bread products of any kind are usually going to be lovely), hardly what I was looking for.
So today, my kids and I found a few online recipes and realized we could make these without any rising time, in maybe 45 minutes total, with only about 5 ingredients. And the result tasted exactly like I remember hot pretzels tasting when I used to buy them, only these have whole wheat flour and nothing weird in them.
So–on the next rainy day, try these with your short people, or just for the heck of it!
Giant Soft Pretzels
- 1 cup (plus a few tbs) lukewarm water
- 1.5 tsp active dry yeast
- 3 cups flour (mixture of unbleached all purpose and whole wheat, if you wish)
- 2 tbs brown sugar
- 1/2-1 tsp salt
- Coarse sea salt crystals to sprinkle on pretzels at baking time; alternatively, dipping them into a cinnamon/sugar mixture would be equally delicious.
- large saucepan with 2 quarts boiling water
- 1/3 cup baking soda
- Put pan of water with baking soda on to boil
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees
- Prepared greased baking sheet (not absolutely necessary, but this will make it much easier to get the pretzels off the sheet.)
- In large bowl, mix 1 cup water and yeast; let soften a few minutes
- Add flour, brown sugar, and salt; mix till soft dough forms. (Add a little more water as needed)
- Knead 5-10 minutes till dough is soft and elastic
- Cut into 8 equal sized pieces; roll into skinny 20 inch ropes and form into pretzel shapes
- 1 or 2 at a time only, drop pretzels into boiling water/soda for 15-30 seconds; remove with slotted spoon or spatula and place on baking sheet. (If you wish, this would be when you’d dip them into cinnamon/sugar or other spice mixture; otherwise, wait and sprinkle them all with salt before going into the oven
- Bake at 425 about 10 minutes or until lightly browned.
VERDICT: Seriously, seriously good! Apparently it’s the baking soda in the boiling pot that gives you that “pretzelly” texture and flavor; now that I know this, I may use this method with other rolls and breads to make pretzel baguettes and things like that I know my kids love. And much much easier and less messy than I would have thought.
Please, before you go buying any of the weird commercial ones (check out an ingredients list on the frozen ones in the grocery store, for example!), try this!