Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Honey Candy Coated Almonds

I love sweets. With a passion. Like in a bad way. I must have a mouth full of sweet teeth I guess. These honey candy coated almonds are a new discovery for me, but I really couldn't not share them with you. That would be like denying you of one of the important things in life that is making me happy right now. I know this recipe calls for 1/2 Cup almonds, but I'm telling you right now that's not going to be near enough. Feel free to double or triple or quadruple the recipe to your heart's content. I love making this recipe with either slivered or whole almonds. When candy coated, the whole almonds make a yummy snack. And the candy coated slivered almonds are my favorite for salads, but to be honest I usually shove handfuls in my mouth so there's not much left for a salad when I'm done.

Honey Candy Coated Almonds
Printable Recipe

1 Tbsp. honey
1/2 Cup slivered or whole almonds
1/4 tsp. sea salt

In heavy duty (thick bottom) frying pan, melt 1 Tbsp. honey over medium-low heat. Add 1/2 Cup slivered or whole almonds. Stir until almonds are well coated with honey. Keep almonds in single layer in pan as much as possible. Stir often at first and then constantly towards the end of cooking time to prevent almonds from burning. Heat for 10-15 minutes over medium-low heat until almonds have darkened in color and honey has thickened (slivered almonds should turn golden brown, whole almonds will turn deep brown). Sprinkle 1/4 tsp. sea salt over almonds and stir well. Turn off heat and set aside pan to let almonds cool for 5 minutes in pan. Place almonds on wax or parchment paper separated from each other in a single layer until completely cool. Once completely cooled, stored in a sealed container. Use as a snack or salad topping.

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Honey Caramel Apple Dip

Last fall I was so excited to share with you my new discover of honey caramel apples. They are so yummy and made entirely without sugar (using honey as the sweetener). Then for Christmas I shared these honey caramel candies. What a great treat to have on hand when sugar candy is all around. In honor of another fall and another holiday season ushering in, I'm going to share this very easy and very delicious honey caramel apple dip. I made this for my kids for a snack the other day and they loved it. It's so good with all those freshly picked apples we have around. Honey caramel is definitely one of my newly found favorite no-processed-sugar treats.

Honey Caramel Apple Dip
Printable Recipe

*Serves 6

1-1/2 Cups + 2 Tbsp. heavy whipping cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Cup honey
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Apples, cored and cut into wedges

In a large, heavy bottom saucepan, heat 1-1/2 cups of the cream and salt over medium high heat just until small bubbles begin to form on the surface (barely before a simmer). Then stir in the honey and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to keep the mixture at a simmer and stir often with a wooden spoon. Simmer for 8-10 minutes (8 minutes for a runnier caramel, 10 minutes for thicker). If you have a candy thermometer, until it registers 225 to 230 degrees. Remove saucepan from heat.

In a separate pan or in the microwave, heat the remaining 2 Tbsp. cream. Stir warm cream and vanilla into hot caramel. Transfer caramel to a serving bowl and set aside to cool completely. Serve at room temperature with apple wedges.

Recipe Source: Adapted from a recipe published in The Boston Globe

Friday, October 10, 2014

Frugal Friday: How to Store Winter Squash for 6 months

I love fall. The temperatures are dropping and the nights are getting cooler. It won't be too long until the remainder of our harvest comes in. In the next week or so, we'll harvest our winter squash and they will keep in the basement until next spring. How do we store them to make them last that long? I get asked this question a lot so I decided to devote an entire post to it. We've had our successes and failures with storing winter squash and I think we've learned a lot, especially from the failures. Maybe by sharing some tips with you, it will help you have success without needing to have the failures.

Growing and storing your own squash is a great way to practice frugality. It's not hard to do and saves a lot of money. Growing a lot of squash and eating it all winter gives you those fresh vitamins and nutrients that your body needs during the months when the garden is not producing. We love to do this every year.

Our amazing squash harvest a few years ago...

What are "Winter Squash"?
Winter squash are characterized by their hard outer shell that is hard to penetrate, making them ideal candidates for winter storage. Some examples include: Butternut, Pumpkin, Hubbard, Spaghetti, Banana, Sunshine, and Acorn.

When do I harvest Winter Squash?
Don't harvest squash too soon. The protective, hard outer skin takes time to develop completely. Squash is best harvested when the vines are dry and rinds have toughened. We usually wait to harvest all of our squash crop at once, just before the first hard frost. If some of the squash are not ripe, you can cover those plants with a tarp during the very cold nights to lengthen the season a little. Just be sure you make sure to take the tarps off the vines when it warms up during the day or you could kill the plants.

Don't harvest squash too late. Harvest Winter Squash before the first hard frost in your area. A first hard frost will normally kill the squash vines and compromise the shelf life of the squash if left too long on the vines afterward. We've successfully harvested squash a day or two after the first frost and they usually store just fine in the basement, but make sure you don't wait too long.

What is the best way to harvest Winter Squash?
When ready to harvest, cut the squash from the vines, leaving 2-3 inches of stem. Don't use the stems as a handle for carrying or else they might break, exposing the fruit to rot. Avoid cuts and bruises when handling winter squash, as it will also compromise storage time. For best results, harvest squash when dry.

Why and How should I cure Winter Squash? 
Most squash need to be cured to extend their storage life (one exception is acorn squash which get a stringy texture if they are cured). The process of curing allows some of the excess water to exit the fruit. Getting rid of the excess water helps to concentrate the natural sugars, making the squash taste sweeter. Harvested squash continue to breathe or respire after being picked. During the curing process, the skin becomes harder, forming a protective layer over the flesh. That harder skin slows respiration, which ultimately improves fruit keeping quality. Harder skin also resists rot better.

Cure the squash in a warm spot for about 2-3 weeks. It works out really well that Halloween is in the fall, because we usually have several dozen squash laying around the house during the month of October. People might think we are being super festive (including our kids...), but really it's just our squash harvest curing.

What long-term storage conditions work the best for winter squash?
After squash has cured, transfer to a cool, dry place such as a basement or garage for long-term storage. Be careful to not allow them to freeze (around 50 degrees F is optimal). If you have to store them in a warmer temperature, be advised that it will mean a shorter storage time. Check squash occasionally, checking for soft spots, etc.

Got any questions? Ask away and I'll try to answer as best as I can. Got tips to share? Fire them away. Have a great weekend and enjoy this beautiful time of year.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Kefir Ranch Dressing or Veggie Dip

Have you jumped on the kefir bandwagon and discovered all of the amazing things you can use it in? We love these kefir smoothies, and consume them on an almost daily basis, but there's so much more to use kefir in! With our garden still producing like crazy, I sliced up some fresh vegetables and whipped up a batch of this yummy kefir veggie dip for my kid's after-school-snack. And yes all of the veggies shown in these pictures are from our garden (except the olives of course). What a great way to get your probiotics found in the kefir and all of the wonderful nutrients from the fresh vegetables.

Have you tried kefir yet? 
What have you made with it? 

Kefir Ranch Dressing or Veggie Dip

*Makes about 1 Cup

1/2 Cup mayonnaise
1/2 Cup kefir milk (or buttermilk if you don't have kefir)
1 Tbsp. freshly chopped parsley (or 1 tsp. dried)
1-1/2 tsp. freshly chopped onion (or 1/2 tsp. onion powder)
1 clove garlic, finely minced (or 1/2 tsp. granulated garlic)
1 tsp. freshly chopped dill weed (or 1/4 tsp. dried)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. salt

Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until smooth. Alternately you can pulse for a few times in a blender. Refrigerate for 2 hours or up to a week until ready to serve. Serve as a salad dressing or as a dip with fresh vegetables. 

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Fresh Pear Pie

I think if the recipe boxes of older ladies in the world (say ages 75 and up...) were scoured, there would be a wealth of fabulous recipes to be found. Some of the very best recipes that I have, are from these dear little women who have collected recipes for more years than I've been alive. This is one of those wonderful recipes that comes from an adorable little 90-year-old lady that lives around the corner from me. I like to go visit her on occasion and she almost always has something tasty to give me or my kids while we are there. I always beg the recipe from her and she is always so sweet to share. She carefully writes down the recipe on a card and gives it to me the next time I see her. The first time she gave me this recipe, I lost it a few months later and I happened to mention it to her how sad I was about that. To my surprise, the next time I saw her she had once again, carefully re-written it down by hand for me. I told you she was sweet.

Honestly. I cannot stop dreaming about this pie. I normally do not post recipes that use white sugar or white flour. I try to stay away from those kinds of refined ingredients for every day eating, but they still have their place in my kitchen for some recipes and of course special occasions. Pie crust is one of those things that's hard to convert to be whole grain. It was kind of like white rolls for me until I discovered these cornmeal crescent rolls that do use some whole-grain flour so I could feel an itsy bitsy bit more justified in my white-roll-love. I just kind of need a flaky pie crust and I'm sorry but whole grain crusts just don't speak to me. Please tell me you have the answer to this dilemma with the perfect whole grain crust...I'd love to fix my aversion and live happily ever after. Until then, I'm going to post (today) and enjoy (once and a while) my white crust pies. It may not be the healthiest recipe, but it's definitely some honest-to-goodness home-made-with-love healthy-for-the-soul real food.

I have been successful with adapting some pie fillings to use honey, and I actually haven't tried with this recipe.  The main reason is because it's so perfect as it is. Maybe I will in the future and if I do, I promise to update this recipe. But until then....here is the perfect white flour, white sugar beautiful fresh pear pie in all it's deliciousness and glory. I hope you will create a special occasion today to make and eat it. It needs you. And you need it. And the lovely smell coming out of your oven while its baking is almost as good as eating it. Well not really, but it really is dreamy. People coming to your house will be mad if you don't share. It smells like a home. And when you taste it, it tastes like all things wonderful. If the pears came from your own trees so much the better. If they didn't that's okay too, but make sure they are ripe. It really will make all the difference. If your pears are green, let them sit for a few days in a cool, dark place and they will ripen up just beautifully. You can also make this recipe with drained, canned pears. I've done it and it works great, but will not be quite as tasty. And I'm warning you, once you've had it with fresh pears, you will never be able to go back to canned.

Fresh Pear Pie
Printable Recipe

*Makes one 9" pie

1/2 Cup + 1/4 Cup butter, divided
1 Cup + 4 Tbsp. all-purpose white flour, divided
1 Tbsp.+1 Cup white sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3-4 large fresh ripe pears, peeled and sliced

Preheat oven to 325 F. Melt 1/2 Cup of the butter. In a medium bowl, mix melted butter with 1 Cup of the flour and 1 Tbsp. sugar to form a ball.  Press dough into a 9" pie pan.

Soften 1/4 Cup of butter. In a medium bowl, mix softened butter with 1 Cup of white sugar, 4 Tbsp. white flour, 2 eggs and 1 tsp. vanilla. Mix until well combined.

Place peeled and sliced pears on top of dough in pie pan and pour custard mixture over top. Bake in preheated 325 F oven for 80 to 90 minutes (1 hour 20-30 minutes) or until top is crusty and lightly brown and inside filling has set.

Recipe Source: Slightly adapted from recipe given to me by Julia R., a dear friend and neighbor

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Green Kefir Smoothie

Did you catch my post on Monday about Kefir? I hope so because today I'm going to share a recipe that uses the Kefir milk that I described making in that post. This is my favorite kefir smoothie that I drink almost EVERY SINGLE day for breakfast (I'm actually drinking some right now as I'm writing this...). I usually make the whole recipe and then put half in the freezer for the next day so I only actually have to do the work every other day. Lazy, huh? The next day I just pull the frozen kefir smoothie out of the freezer about an hour or two before I'm ready to eat it and it's ready to go. It makes a great on-the-run breakfast. I actually use this smoothie as a meal replacement (half the recipe is perfect) and it works well to add the chia and flax seed to give it a little more substance. I'll sometimes have a little bit of toast or an egg or something on the side if I need a little more carbs or protein that day.

This smoothie is packed full of healthy foods, but it tastes wonderful and refreshing. If you're worried about the greens you can of course leave them out, but they are such a great way to get your servings of green vegetables that your body needs. You really shouldn't taste anything "green" in this smoothie. If you are, you need to add more frozen fruit. Berries work the best for masking the "green-ness" but I also love peaches. I love to change, mix and combine the fruit and make the smoothie taste a little different each day. The raw honey also helps mask the "green" taste, but there is another great reason to eat a little every day. Local raw honey can help with allergies. We've been buying raw honey from a local beekeeper for a few years now and have seen a great difference with our allergies.

I should mention one more thing really quickly before leaving you to enjoy this great recipe. This is a great time of year to find fruit that's going to waste to freeze for your supply of smoothies this year. From my experience, even if fruit is a little past its prime, it will still work well blended up in a smoothie.

Well I hope I've got you convinced to try making this yummy smoothie. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment. I appreciate all your comments and read and try to respond to as many as I can. I hope you are enjoying fall. Have a wonderful day.

Green Kefir Smoothie
Printable Recipe

*Makes 3-4 Cups

2 Cups kefir milk (or you can use half milk/half plain yogurt)
1 Tbsp. chia seed, optional
1 Tbsp. flax seed, optional
1 scant Tbsp. raw honey
1 packed cup fresh spinach or other greens (chard, kale, turnip greens, etc.)
1 frozen banana
1-2 Cups your choice frozen fruit (strawberries, peaches, mangoes, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, pineapple, etc)

Add all ingredients in order to a large blender and blend until smooth. Taste and add more frozen fruit if needed. Blend for 2 minutes on high. Serve immediately.

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Monday, September 22, 2014

Monday Meet Whole Foods: Kefir

This post is waaay overdue! For those of you who have been waiting for it, I apologize! For those of you who didn't know you were waiting for it, I apologize as well. It's been a while since I've done an installment of Monday: Meet Whole Foods. For those of you who aren't familiar with this series, I like to introduce a healthy whole food and teach you a little bit about how to use it. I hope to do lots more of these in the future, but today's is especially important. Hold on to your hats, folks, today I am pleased to introduce you to:
A kefir grain
How do I say Kefir?
I pronounce this word "Kee-fur", but as I was doing research for this post, I found various sources saying why or why not this pronunciation is or is not correct. It's beyond the scope of this post to argue any pronunciation points, I'm simply here to share what's awesome to me about Kefir (and in case you're wondering I plan on pronouncing it "kee-fur" for the remainder of the post :).

What is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented milk drink made with milk "grains". Kefir tastes and looks like sour plain yogurt. It is a bit runnier than the plain yogurt that you buy in the store. Kefir is made by adding kefir "grains" to milk. I use cows milk, but goat's milk or sheep's milk will all work. Kefir grains look like little cauliflower florets, but are soft and squishy. They are a living, live organism and will grow and reproduce over time as they are "fed". They feed off of the sugar, lactose, found in milk. Like other living organisms, kefir grains will lose viability and may even die if they are not cared for properly.

How do I make it?
Believe it or not, kefir (the drink) is VERY EASY to make. You simply add the grains to a clean container that is three-fourths full of milk, place a lid on the container, and then let the mixture sit for several hours at room temperature to culture or ferment. The time that this takes will vary, but usually with a ratio of one Tablespoon kefir grains to one cup of milk it takes about 24 hours. When it is cultured to your liking, you remove the kefir grains (with a plastic spoon or strainer) and place them in a new jar of fresh milk to culture. If you're not ready to culture a fresh batch right away, the kefir grains can be kept in the cultured milk in the refrigerator for a few days or in a jar of fresh uncultured milk in the refrigerator. When you're ready to start making it again, simply remove the kefir grains from the refrigerator and start the process over again.

Just a note about this process, kefir grains that are kept in the refrigerator won't be as viable as those that are kept at room temperature, meaning they won't reproduce as often or culture the milk as fast. If your grains aren't reproducing as quickly as you would like, try minimizing the time they spend in the refrigerator to encourage them to be more viable.

It is important not to leave the kefir grains culturing in the milk for too long at room temperature. Your kefir will get very strong and will not be enjoyable to drink at that point. Don't worry if you've let it go a little too long and the whey starts to separate from the curds (like little miss muffet). My rule of thumb is, your grains are still fine and the kefir is still safe to use as long as there is no mold growing. If there is mold growing, I recommend you throw the whole thing out and begin over again (with new grains). If there is no mold, you should still be fine to begin again using the same kefir grains, discarding the sour kefir if you can't use it.

A few more tips for success making Kefir:
From what I've read and heard, Kefir is best made and stored in glass containers. It's also best to keep it out of direct sources of sunlight. Kefir can withstand some heat, but will lose it's viability if it gets too hot (cooking will kill it). Freezing your grains may also damage them, so it's best not to freeze them. It is best to use plastic spoons, lids, and strainers when working with kefir. You will want to keep your jars covered to avoid contamination. If you have a metal lid on the jar, just make sure the kefir does not "touch" the lid, and you should be fine to keep using it. If storing in the refrigerator for more than 2 weeks, feed the grains with new, fresh milk every few weeks to make sure they stay alive and active.

What kind of milk do I use?
We usually use whole milk when we make kefir. In fact, we have been drinking only whole milk lately. Raw whole milk would be wonderful if you have that available to you at a reasonable cost, but we usually just use the whole milk from the store. There is some debate about whether milk from sources other than animals will work for kefir. From what I've read, other forms of milk (like coconut, almond, etc.) may be able to culture kefir, but the grains will not thrive and grow in them. I'd love to hear your experience with this as well if you've tried other types of milk.

What do I do with the Kefir milk?
The easy answer is drink it. My husband drinks his straight. I on the other hand am a little more picky by nature so I love to use it in smoothies. My aunt loves to sweetened it and eat it with this yummy granola. You can strain it through cheesecloth and make something that resembles a sour cream cheese. You can make kefir ice cream. You can sweeten it and eat it like yogurt. Add berries or fresh fruit if you like. Use it in a salad dressing. However you choose, just consume it. It's good for you. To obtain all of the health benefits of kefir, it needs to be consumed raw. The live bacteria is what is so good for you. It can be cooked, but it loses it's main health benefits. If you are making too much kefir to use exclusively in raw recipes, using it in place of buttermilk or milk in a recipe is a good option. I've read that a 1:1 ratio will work for kefir in place of buttermilk. A 1 to 1:1.25 ratio works best for kefir in place of milk (use 1.25 times the kefir if the recipe calls for milk).

Where do I get the grains?
Unfortunately, kefir grains can't just be grown themselves. You have to have a source for them to start with and then you can produce more. The best way to obtain grains would be to find someone who makes kefir and see if they will grow and donate some to you. That's how I obtained my grain to start with. A dear woman in my neighborhood who is a walking encyclopedia of healthy habits gave it to me and showed me a lot of the things that I'm sharing with you today. It's been about 15 months now and we are still happily producing kefir from the descendants of that original grain she shared. We now have "his" and "hers" jars that we keep in operation. I'm not kidding and here's proof:

Having 2 jars going works well for us. One time I accidentally ground up my grains in my smoothie (which is perfectly fine by the way - they are edible) and had to beg some from the "his" jar. Of course he was happy to share since I was the one who gave him his (but only after teasing me that it would cost me something...hahaha). So it's good to have a backup just in case. We've given away several of our little baby kefir grains to aspiring kefir growers and it makes us happy when we do. Unfortunately I don't think it's a very good option for me to ship these babies halfway across the world and back right now to all my dear readers so if you don't know me in person, I'm really sorry, but you'll have to find another source. 

You will want to do the research yourself since I didn't actually obtain mine this way, but here are just a few sources of live kefir grains that I've seen in my research that you could look into:
Cultures for Health (Amazon) (affiliate link*)
Lifetime Kefir (Amazon) (affiliate link*)
Fusion Teas (Amazon) (affiliate link*)
Snowberry Organic Cultures (Amazon) (affiliate link*)
Kefir Lady (non-affiliate link)
Yemoos Market (non-affiliate link)
Dom's (non-affiliate link)
Donna's Store (non-affiliate link)
Benefits of Kefir (non-affiliate link)

What you are looking for are the living milk kefir grains (if you buy the dry grains you will have to spend some time re-hydrating them, which is okay, but living would be best). Once you buy the living grains you should be able to keep growing them time and time again without having to purchase anything else. There's also water grains and you can also convert the milk grains to water grains, but those topics are both way beyond the scope of this post.

How healthy is Kefir?
Kefir grains are packed with good micro-organisms, micro- and macro-nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals like proteins, vitamin B, vitamin K, folic acid, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, among others. Kefir, like yogurt, is a wonderful source of natural probiotics. Probiotics are the live organism (healthy bacteria) that are naturally found in our digestive tracts. These good bacteria help rid our systems of harmful bacteria and boost our immune system's response. Kefir is thought to contain nearly three times the probiotic count as yogurt. Kefir also helps improve lactose digestion. Many people who can't digest milk (due to lactose intolerance) can digest kefir. The beneficial bacteria contained in kefir can actually colonize the intestinal tract keeping our digestive tract clean. My family has seen a huge benefit to drinking kefir in helping to improve our immune system's response and help in digestion. Historically, kefir has been recommended and been successful in the treatment of conditions such as constipation, diarrhea, gastrointestinal problems, hypertension, allergies, respiratory disease, ischemic heart disease, and many others. There are so many wonderful benefits to drinking this wonderful natural source of probiotics. If you're interested in reading more, do some searches online for health benefits of kefir and then go get started making it!

Got a recipe?
I hope this post was helpful for you in learning all about kefir. This week I'll be sharing one of my favorite recipes using kefir and look for more to come in the near future. If you have a favorite recipe that uses kefir, please feel free to leave a comment or send me an e-mail!

Information for the post came from: My neighbor friend, the sources listed above, and wikipedia.org

*I do receive a small profit if you click and buy from this link, but please still do your research as it may not be your best price, value, or option. 

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