Sunday, June 30, 2013

Simply Awesome Spaghetti Squash Spaghetti

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I am coming to realize that the key to my happily eating grain-free is to avoid not only grain-ful foodstuffs, like pasta and bread - but to avoid their grain-less substitutes for a good while, too - too get used to eating in a way that doesn't need starchy foods (or their substitutes) as an inevitable and necessary component of every meal.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Homemade Ice Cream

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A while back, I made a little commitment to myself to increase the amount of cooking I did from our combined large collection of cookbooks - no specified schedule, though I've tried to make sure it's once a week or so.

This week, I'm working with The Ultimate Ice Cream Book, by Bruce Weinstein.  I use the Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and love it - very easy to use, easy to clean and makes homemade ice cream a breeze.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pork Carnitas with Coconut Flour Tortillas

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We love Mexican food, but it can be a challenge when you're grain-free.  This meal was a five-star winner, and we'll be doing it again.  While it takes some time to marinate and then slow cook the pork, actual hands-on preparation is easy and doesn't take long at all.  The coconut flour tortillas, while not being flour tortilla clones, have the right qualities for a tortilla - soft, pliable, don't split, neutral taste, and lets you pick up and hold the goodies inside.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Tomato-Cucumber Gazpacho

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Late last night found Michael and me chopping veggies that were still growing yesterday, and running them through the food processor to make a refreshing chilled Tomato-Cucumber Gazpacho.

Our Unitarian Universalist church designates the third Sunday in each month "Soup Sunday" and when I sign up for it, I like to make my offering seasonal.

So what could be better during July then a cold soup made up of (mostly) locally sourced foods?  I was a little worried last night - that initial taste seemed a bit bland (this version doesn't include bell peppers, and I held the sliced jalapenos out for people to add if they like - not everyone there cares for spicy).  But after an overnight chill, the flavors have melded and the taste is refreshing and awesome.

Mind you - this is for folks that like cilantro.  I don't even know how it would work without it, or what could possibly replace it.

Farmer's Market Tomato-Cucumber Gazpacho

8 large fresh tomatoes, cored and quarters
(home grown or farmer's market - the grocery store tomatoes don't have enough flavor for this)
3-4 large fresh cucumbers, peeled, seeded, cut into chunks
4 ears of fresh corn
1 large onion, diced
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
2 cups ice cubes
Juice of 3 limes
adobo sauce from 1 small can of chipotles
(the chipotles can be put in a freezer safe container and frozen for future use)
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
3 fresh jalepenos, cored and sliced

Run tomatoes, cucumbers through food processor until coursely chopped - this will be very liquidy, but shouldn't be pureed.  I did this in batches, turning it all into a large aluminum bowl. Add corn and diced onion to bowl.  Run cilantro leaves through food processor to finely chop and add to bowl.  Run ice through food processor to 'slushy' consistency - side effect of this is that it will pick up all the bits of cilantro still in the container, creating a tasty cilantro 'gratina'.  Add ice to bowl.  Mix in adobo sauce and salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, I put the jalapenos in a small container (if you like, you can just add them to the gazpacho, making it more spicy than my version) and transferred the gazpacho into a seal-able container for transport.  Either way, let this chill overnight or at least a few hours - the flavors meld beautifully.

If this were for at home, I'd want to chop some avocado to top the soup with, along with the jalapeno slices.

Update:  It was finished off quickly - the adobo sauce gives it just a bit of spicy zest, while the sliced jalepenos ramped the heat up to something wonderful. Without either, this would be cooling and vibrant - this tastes like summer.

Friday, June 7, 2013

How To Make Bone Broth

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My afternoon project was to haul all the various bones I'd been storing in the freezer out to make up a big batch of bone broth.  Every time we visit the farmer where we get our meat, or find another locally sourced provider for quality meat, we pick up a bone or two - they are very inexpensive, so making bone broth is an amazing way to get some high nutrients for a low cost.

I hadn't made broth in a long time, so we had a big assortment of bones - some marrow bones, some meaty beef  bones, along with a leg of lamb bone and a small free range chicken carcass.  It was too much for my crock pot, so this was done in a big stock pot on the stove.

After putting the bones into the pot, splash them with some apple cider vinegar - I used about 3/4 cup - and let that sit awhile, then cover with water and add veggies if desired. (That is optional, and avoid getting too creative there, unless you know what's likely to make things bitter.  I used some carrot and onion - no celery because we were out, and no garlic because I forgot!  But I've done it with no veggies at all, leaving a very neutral broth that can be seasoned as it is used, and that's fine too.)

Why apple cider vinegar?  Because it will react to the bones, and begin the process of leeching the good nutritious minerals from  them so that your finished broth is as nutrient-rich as possible.

I brought all this to a low boil, then turned down to a low simmer for the next 24 hours.

Here's where things went a little bad - my intentions for Monday were to strain the broth, and then we were going out for the evening to have dinner with a group of friends.  All well and good, but as evening approached, I started to feel very ill - too ill to go near the broth, and way too ill to go out to eat.  I sent Michael off without me, and slept for 3 hours.  Then woke up after he got home, moved to the bed and slept another 12 hours.

This morning, I still felt very shaky and headachy - a good 24 hour bug (the downside of my meds is that I am very susceptible to anything that's 'going around'), but decided to try sipping a bit of the broth that was still simmering.

It ain't pretty, but it sure is tasty!

I've had 3 mugsful today, and am feeling human again - just a little sprinkle of sea salt and this is not only a healthy restorative, but also quite rich and delicious!  On a day when I am feeling better, I think I'd have some of this with a dash of hot sauce or a bit of lemon just because it's awesomely delicious that way.

Other than drinking it all up, this batch is destined to be strained and put into jars for the freezer in small batches, to be used in all sorts of recipes.  And  the bones are headed back into the pot to make another batch, repeating the vinegar to help the bones break down and release their minerals into the broth - I'm not sure how many batches I'll get out of my hoard of bones, but in the end I'll have gotten so much broth from them, for so little cost, that it's like having a free food supply that just happens to be insanely good for us, too.

Now, THAT is magical.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Homemade Laundry Soap


Note: I originally wrote this over two years ago on a previous blog, and I haven't purchased storebought laundry detergent since.  It makes me very happy to think about how much money I've saved, and to know I am not tossing tons of chemicals into our local water supply.  So, I'm sharing it again, here.

I have found that I enjoy a bit of scent in my laundered clothes, and I solve that by using woolen dryer balls (rather than disposable dryer sheets), and putting a drop or two of lavender or rosemary essential oil on them before tossing them into the dryer.

~ ~ ~

It's a goal of mine to make an exercise of trying as many methods as I can of reducing costs, reducing my environmental impact, cutting out unnecessary chemicals from my life - and household products are the most direct way I can think of to do this.

So today, I made laundry soap - I won't know until tomorrow when I run a load with it whether or not it works satisfactorily, but here's what I know at this point - the total cost of supplies for this would have run me approximately $3.00 (while overall, it cost more than that, you'll see that a large quantity of detergent takes only a fraction of the supplies... if this works, I've got enough to keep me supplied for months).

So the savings is undeniable - if this gets my clothing clean, I'm way ahead of the game.

So what about the other reasons?

First, environmental impact - I am told this formula is low suds... there is some sudsing, but not too much, and of course it is missing all the stabilizers and scents and binding agents intended mainly to make the degergent look smooth and rich coming out of the bottle.  All of that ends up in our water supply.  And I know from some work done on the pipes here a couple years ago that commercial products have suds so strong that they stay in the pipes for days after they've been flushed through the system - at the plumber's recommendation then, I switched to Arm & Hammer detergent, and it's done me fine.  Now I'm taking that one step further.

Secondly, chemicals - that is one thing I'm looking to see - we've got Borax, A&H Washing Soda, and the Fels-Naptha soap (which, to be frank, did smell and feel mildly caustic - I am wondering if Ivory might be a better answer, and if it would work as well?).  So this part is an open question for me, but without a doubt, there is less going on here than there is with any commercial product.

The time start to finish to prepare this was about 25 minutes - no major issue to spend that much time once a month or so. Here's how I did it:

Homemade Laundry Detergent

1/3 bar Fels-Naptha soap
1/2 cup Borax
1/2 cup washing soda

1.  Begin heating 4 cups of water to a boil.  While the water heats, grate the 1/3 bar of Fels-Naptha soap using a box grater into small flakes.  Be sure to wash hands well after grating... this is a mildly irritating soap.

2.  Once the water boils, begin sprinkling in the grated soap, a couple tablespoonfuls at a time.  Stir constantly - it will begin to suds up and will overboil if not stirred.  Work slowly so that soap dissolves completely.  

3.  Once all the soap flakes have dissolved, lower heat and add 1/2 cup each Borax and washing soda, continuing to stir until completely dissolved.  Remove from heat.

4.  In a very large container (like a clean bucket), pour in 4 cups of very hot water, then add the soap mixture.  Stir, and add an addition gallon plus 6 cups of water and mix well.

Now... this is where I messed up - I had a container I thought would be big enough to use and it quickly became clear it wasn't, by half.  The only container I did have available to me (my bucket not being clean enough to use) was my large stainless sauce pot.  So here's hoping my metal pot isn't ruining the soap  - or that the soap isn't ruining my pot. Oi.  I'll turn the soap out into a couple smaller containers tomorrow and find out.

5.  Last step - set the container aside and let it rest for 24 hours - I'm told that it will gel up to some degree or another - anywhere from a full gel to watery with gel floaters, but either way, it will be ready to use.

The proportions for using this are 1/2 cup of detergent for a load of laundry.  I'll take a final picture tomorrow afternoon to show what it looks like after setting up, and then do a test load of laundry.

Oh - as a nice final bit of frugality - the supplies (other than the Borax, which I already had) didn't cost me a penny, because I was able to purchase  them with giftcards I'd acquired from using Swagbucks.  Considering that laundry detergent has been a budget buster for me in the past, I'm pretty tickled that it may be something entirely free for me for the next few months.

UPDATE:  The first thing I did after waking up this morning was to head into the laundry room and take a peek.  Happy dance - I've got gel! It's about the thickness of jelly, rather than gelatin, and was firmer at the top of my pot than down toward the bottom - but it thickened all the way through, and it was an easy few minutes work to turn it into a pair of plastic containers.  The total amount looks to be a little more than double that of my commercial jug of detergent and the amount to be used is pretty close to the same.

I've run a couple loads of laundry and can't tell any difference at all, other than a lack of scent... which really isn't a bad thing, although I may toss in a little essential oil in a cheery scent whenever it's time to make my next batch, just because I can.

And yes - barring finding out something that isn't apparent yet - I'll be continuing this project and happily saving the $20.00 dollars a month I spend on laundry detergent.