Archive for March 26, 2015

Menu Plan 3/26/15-4/1/15

We followed the first half of our menu plan this week, but then we replaced the burritos with quesadillas (using up some leftover chicken in one of the quesadillas) and replaced the pork steaks and broccoli rice meal with a previously unplanned social event.

Part of the week I continued to feel bleah as I recovered from the stomach bug I’d had, and the second part I was still glad to have easy meals and leftovers as I ran around like a crazy person trying to catch up on all the cleaning and such that I needed to get done after having been sick for most of a week.

In this coming week we’re having a couple of less healthy, more fun meals, and then just some more simple, mostly out of the freezer meals. I’m looking forward to when our Farmer’s Market opens so we can start to enjoy some truly fresh vegetables!


Hot Dogs (with fermented ketchup and sauerkraut), Baby Carrots

Date Night/Dinner Out

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

French Onion Potatoes (for church fellowship meal)

Pork Steaks and Cheesy Broccoli Rice (from the freezer)

Meatloaf, Potato Salad, Peas

Burritos (using burrito filling from the freezer)


We should still have plenty of leftovers, and we’ll fall back on hamburger patties or grilled cheese if we run short on protein for lunches.


More of the same: eggs (for my husband), toast, homemade hot cocoa (unicorn fuel version). Once we start getting some more fresh fruit in season I’ll start up the breakfast smoothie habit again.

Baking and Extras:

I didn’t really get anything done with baking last week. This week I’d like to keep up with water kefir, make ketchup and start a new batch of homemade yogurt. Other than that, we’ll just see how the week goes.

Shopping List:

I actually did a quick shopping trip at the tail of the last sale cycle at Kroger. (I found organic spinach half price on manager’s special and threw it in the freezer for when I start up those smoothies again.)

There are a couple of good sales this coming week, though I don’t know if I’ll try to get out shopping again or not. For those who are interested, here are the noteworthy sales as I see them:

Shop N’ Save:

roma tomatoes, .88/lb

chicken leg quarters, .68/lb

pork spare ribs, $1.68/lb

organic applesauce (24 oz), $2



ham, .99/lb

avocadoes, .69 each

mandarin oranges, $2.29/3lb

cream cheese, $.89

butter, $1.89/lb



split chicken breast, .97/lb

eggs, $1.28

(3/26 & 3/27 only) turkey breast, .99/lb


Menu Plan 3/19/15-3/25/15

We ended up adding a couple of extra social events to our plan for this past week, but aside from that, and a brief bout with a stomach bug, we followed our menu plan pretty well.

The Pear and Feta Rice Pudding turned out well–I made it very heavy on the pears and feta and kept other spices low key, with just a few dashes of salt and a dash of cinnamon and fennel, and it managed to ride that precarious line between sweet and savory that I was aiming for.

I experimented with a whole wheat version of homemade ramen noodles, using half a cup of hard red wheat flour and a fourth of a cup of soft white wheat flour, and using my food processor to do the dough kneading. It turned out quite well, except for the fact that I over salted them when I added the seasoning. They did have a bit of that whole wheat flavor, but the texture wasn’t bad. I’m planning to use the leftovers in a soup to dilute the salt a bit.

The french onion potatoes using spices from the french onion dip turned out well, though even doubling the salt wasn’t quite enough salt for my taste. Potatoes absorb a lot of salt! I also need to remember in the future to make sure the potatoes are well stirred before serving, because a lot of the spices and butter dripped down to the bottom of the crock pot during cooking.

I did get corned beef, potatoes and cabbage in the crockpot on St Patricks Day, but then discovered I was coming down with a stomach bug, so I ditched my more elaborate plans for making Irish Soda Bread and homemade Irish Cream in favor of curling up on the couch, playing Hexcells Infinite and sipping coconut water. My husband ate a bit of supper, but stayed cautious about food in case he was also about to come down with the stomach bug, and I stuck with beef stock and a banana.

I’m feeling mostly better, but have heard of the possibility of relapse in a couple days with this particular bug. Adding that to the question of whether my husband is going to come down with the bug or not makes menu planning a bit difficult this week. I’m going to try to focus the menu on foods like chicken, broth and rice that can be easily digested, and then adjust for more or less simplicity as called for the events of the week.


Social Event

Leftovers + Hamburger Patties (We have plenty of leftover rice and potatoes in the fridge, but less in the way of protein leftovers.)

Beefy Noodle Soup

French Onion Potatoes (for church fellowship meal, using spices from homemade french onion dip)

Burritos (using burrito filling from the freezer)

Pork Steaks and Cheesy Broccoli Rice (I found another package of Cheesy Broccoli Rice in the freezer! Yay!)

Leftover Corned Beef, Cabbage & Potato + Irish Soda Bread (If we’re feeling well enough, I’ll use the leftovers from St Patricks Day to do a late celebration.)


We should have plenty of leftovers for lunches this week, but if we run a bit short on protein leftovers I may make grilled cheese or tuna salad.


The usual eggs (for my husband) and toast, plus maybe some unicorn fuel hot cocoa for me, and the possibility of banana smoothies.

Baking and Extras:

Last week I did finally make preserved lemons, though I lapsed a bit with keeping up with my water kefir and sourdough starter. I’m not going to make any elaborate plans for the week, so the only definite on my list is keeping up with water kefir. Other possibilities, if I get to them, include experimenting with sourdough banana bread, making sourdough bagels, making yogurt and making Irish soda bread.

Shopping List:

We should finally have a car again after tomorrow (yay!) but I didn’t see any super amazing deals in the Aldi ad, and in the interest of keeping our plans for the week low key, I probably won’t do any grocery shopping.



Homemade Spice Mix for Corned Beef Brisket

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, St Patrick’s Day is a holiday we really enjoy celebrating at our house, for both culinary and historical reasons.

Our typical main course for a St Patrick’s Day dinner is corned beef. This is one of those areas of compromise between health and budget: the best option would be to get a high quality beef brisket and brine it myself to avoid all chemical additions to the meat. Instead I buy inexpensive corned beef on sale, throw away the spice packet and use my own blend of spices, so that I at least avoid any msg or other mystery ingredients in the spices.

In case you’re wondering, the rest of our St Patricks Day menu typically looks something like this:

Cabbage (cooked with the corned beef)

Potato wedges (cooked with the corned beef) OR Mashed Potatoes OR Boxty (Irish Potato Pancakes)

Irish Soda Bread (my husband prefers a sweeter version, technically closer to Spotted Dog Bread than traditional plain Irish soda bread) with butter

Sometimes we may also add an Irish cheese such as Dubliner which is made by Kerrygold (I’ve seen this particular cheese both at Aldi and Costco) or homemade Irish Cream. (Because it’s already a hearty meal, if we do get an Irish cheese, we’re more likely to it as an appetizer or an evening snack than part of the meal. The Irish Cream is also more of an after dinner drink.)

Today I’m sharing my recipe for the spice mix I add to my corned beef brisket. This is my own interpretation of a pickling spice blend, which is basically what the mysterious spice packet included in the corned beef package is supposed to be.

I’ve found it to be a pretty forgiving recipe. In fact, until I was getting ready to write this post, I’d never measured the spices, I just used a heavy sprinkling of some spices and a lighter sprinkling of others. You should be able to pretty easily adjust this recipe to taste and based on what ingredients you have on hand.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

As with a lot of my recipes, your healthiness results will vary based on the quality of the ingredients you use, in this case most notably the quality of meat. However, this spice blend is on its own merits good for you, and allows you to replace a prepackaged spice packet with mystery ingredients that might include MSG. It seems to me that should merit a healthy rating.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

It’s been so long since I’ve had corned beef fixed with the included spice packet that I’m not going to try to make any claims this spice mix tastes the same. What I can say is that this spice mix makes the corned beef taste very good and very savory, and based on the results I have no reason to wish for a spice packet or any other spice options.

Spice Mix for Corned Beef Brisket

3-4 pound corned beef brisket

1 TBSP mustard powder

1 TBSP black pepper

1 tsp dill seed

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp ginger

1 tsp turmeric

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp clove

Sprinkle spices on corned beef and cook according to favorite method. This is how I like to do it:

Chop 1/2 a head of cabbage and 2-3 pounds of potatoes and put them in the bottom of a crock pot. (If you’d like, give the potatoes a light sprinkle of salt, but be careful because the corned beef is going to add a LOT of salt to the dish.)

Remove corned beef from packaging, discarding the spice packet and juices. (If you like you can rinse the corned beef as well.) Put the corned beef brisket on top of the potatoes and cabbage, sprinkle with the spices, and cook on high for 4-7 hours or on low for 7-10 hours. (Corned beef is best with a long, slow, moist cooking time in order to tenderize well.)


Water Kefir Flavors: Homemade Ginger Ale

Water Kefir Ginger Ale

I have already posted a general recipe for using water kefir grains to turn sugar and water into a carbonated probiotic beverage, and today I’m posting a more detailed recipe for my favorite flavor of water kefir: ginger ale.

This post has been delayed because my water kefir grains suffered some neglect recently while I was recovering from surgery and I wasn’t sure for a while that they were going to survive. They’re still not going quite as strong as they were before that, but they are fermenting and carbonating just fine, simply a little slower. Because of that, (and possibly also affected by the warmer spring weather) I still haven’t gotten my timetable down for maximum carbonation. Because of the health of the grains and the temperature and possibly other smaller factors can affect the exact speed of fermentation, it will probably take you a bit of experimentation to achieve maximum carbonation anyway.

Here are the carbonation tips I do have:

*Cap the jar tightly on the second fermentation to trap all the carbonation gases inside.

*Make sure you don’t ferment too long, as the carbonation with start to dissipate after it peaks. (I think this is my current problem, as my water kefir is getting fizzy in its original ferment, but is flat by the time we drink it.)

*On this last batch, instead of doing a true second fermentation, I put the jar of ginger and water kefir in the refrigerator to ‘steep’. The carbonation seemed to improve slightly, so I may incorporate this strategy into my further experiments on timing for peak carbonation.

In this recipe I assume that you have already followed the steps in my basic water kefir tutorial, and have a jar or pitcher of fermented water kefir that’s ready for flavoring and a second fermentation. Note that my original tutorial makes a half gallon of water kefir, while this recipe is for flavoring a quart. This allows you to split your water kefir for different flavorings if you’d like, but you can also simply double the flavoring recipe to make a half gallon of ginger ale.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

The water kefir already contains some excellent strains of probiotics, and adding fresh ginger supercharges its good effect on the digestion. I find this fermented ginger ale to be mildly energy boosting, easy on an upset stomach and overall a very good and gentle digestive tonic.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

My husband prefers this drink with a slightly shorter original fermentation time so it’s sweeter, while I prefer it with a moderate length fermentation so it has a bit stronger flavor, but we both enjoy it both ways. My husband thinks ‘ginger beer’ conveys the sense of the flavor better than ‘ginger ale’, but either way, this recipe is husband approved.

(A note on flavor: if the water kefir is over fermented it can develop an overly sharp, funky/musty flavor. My husband says it smells like vomit at this stage. If your water kefir isn’t going over well with your family, try experimenting with a slightly shorter fermentation time and see if that helps.)

Fermented Ginger Ale

1 quart unflavored water kefir

1/2-1 tsp freshly grated ginger

optional: 1 tsp cinnamon chips (pieces of cinnamon stick NOT baking chips)

Grate the fresh ginger into the water kefir. (I like to use a grater similar to this.) Half a teaspon will give you a mild and mellow ginger ale, while a full teaspoon will give you just a bit of sharpness to the ginger flavor, more link a typical ginger tea. If you like a very spicy, intense ginger ale flavor (along the lines of Blenheim), you could reasonably increase the ginger to 2 tsp or more. Experiment a bit and see what level of ginger flavor you prefer in your ginger ale.

The flavor with just fresh ginger is quite good, but sometimes I like to add about a teaspoon of cinnamon chips to add some depth and balance to the flavor, depending on whether I’m in the mood for the simple sharpness of plain ginger, or the more rounded complex flavor of ginger with cinnamon.

Cap the jar tightly and let sit on the counter for 1-2 days. Strain out the ginger (this mesh strainer is very handy for this sort of job) and drink immediately or refrigerate. (I often just refrigerate the whole jar with the ginger still in it and strain out the ginger as I pour it into my glass when I drink it.)

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All About Wheat: Gluten and How It Helps Bread Rise

Gluten is a controversial subject these days, so lets start with the basics and move on from there. Gluten is protein found in wheat. (Some other grains have very similar proteins which for convenience are also referred to as ‘gluten’.)

This protein creates the gluey texture of flour mixed with water. As the gluten is developed in bread dough (usually by kneading, though sometimes through allowing a wet dough to sit for long periods of time as in Jim Lahey’s 24 hour bread) it creates the elasticity of the dough.

It is these gluey, elastic fibers of gluten that hold the bread together and trap the small bubbles of ‘air’ (gases created in the dough, usually by yeast) that create the lightness and fluffiness of a good piece of bread. The developed gluten also contributes to the chewiness of the bread fibers around those air pockets.

I have never found a really good explanation of the difference between the actions of yeast and the actions of baking soda or powder, and why one requires the development of gluten more than the other, but here are the differences as best I understand. (If anyone has more complete information please comment and let me know!)

Yeast works slowly, releasing the ‘air’ bubbles over time. A developed gluten (kneaded or very long rising dough) holds those bubbles in as they develop and contributes to the more solid and chewy texture we expect from yeast breads. Insufficiently developed gluten will allow these bubbles to escape or merge, creating a denser bread with larger and less regular holes, instead of an even textured spongy network of holes.

Baking soda (and baking powder, which is baking soda mixed with an activating agent) works very quickly. The undeveloped gluten holds the batter together, but isn’t needed to trap bubbles, as the dough or batter is generally mixed and baked immediately as the bubbles are forming. The lack of developed gluten allows the texture to be softer and more tender than the chewier yeast breads. (This is why biscuit and muffin recipes warn against over mixing, to prevent accidental development of the gluten.)

In my next installment of this series I’ll tackle some of the more controversial aspects of gluten, allergies and digestion.

Menu Plan 3/12/15-3/18/15

I feel like I didn’t follow last week’s menu plan at all, though I honestly can’t remember what we ate on certain days over the past week. I was able to get Aldi, so I really ended up winging it for a lot of  meals based on what we now had in the house that sounded good. We ate hamburger patties (the pre-made just beef ones Aldi sells) several times, and also had tuna sandwiches (with tomato), macaroni and cheese, squash, burritos, more pears from the #10 can we opened last week and corned beef brisket with potatoes. We also got Chinese takeout when we had two of my nieces and my husband’s sister over to jointly celebrate their birthdays (after an afternoon out doing coffee and shopping with them), and had at least one meal’s worth of leftovers from that.

I have been slightly improving at getting fermented foods on the table to go with our meals on a regular basis. Getting the water kefir going again helps a lot with regular fermented food consumption too!

Another food prep side note: I’ve realized that I personally would eat a lot more raw onion if I kept pre chopped onion in the fridge all the time. My husband doesn’t love raw onion, so it rarely feels worth it to pull out the cutting board for the sprinkle of raw onion I would use, but if I pre-cut a whole onion or two at a time, those little sprinkles would probably add up another serving of vegetables in my diet over the course of a couple of days. (Not much I know, but I’m a big fan of little changes in the right direction. Plus, it would probably be even more than that as I’d also be more likely to throw onion into everything I cooked if it was already chopped.

I’ve had more energy the past couple of days and have been able to get caught up on some housework that really needed to get done, and I’m hoping the energy will continue so I can make progress on some other projects, including getting back to more regular posts and videos here.

As the weather has turned springlike I’ve been contemplated the proper way to continue my low key attempts to eat seasonally. In other words, spring makes me want fresh food, but nothing is really in season yet here. I’ve decided to start some with some lentil and alfalfa sprouts to enjoy this week and go from there.



Pork Steaks, Pear and Feta Rice Pudding (This is a completely experimental plan to use up leftover pears and rice, and feta that’s been in the fridge for a while.)

Hamburger Patties, Sauteed Onions, Homemade Ramen Noodles

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

French Onion Potatoes (using french onion dip spices) for church fellowship meal

Chicken Thighs, Bruschetta

Corned Beef Brisket, Potatoes, Irish Soda Bread, Sauerkraut



Leftovers, plus grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup as needed to supplement the leftovers.


I’ve been doing a unicorn fuel version of hot cocoa for breakfast often this week (raw milk, raw cacoa, honey, coconut oil, turmeric, cayenne, sea salt, cinnamon, maca and nutmeg, with variations on the spices as my mood changes). My husband has been mostly having scrambled eggs for breakfast, sometimes with toast or fruit

I see myself continuing to be very happy with the ‘unicorn cocoa’ breakfasts, perhaps supplemented by a banana or apple or piece of toast on hungrier mornings. Similarly, I think my husband is happily in another eggs for breakfast groove, though the store bought bread may be giving him digestive issues so he’ll be using whatever bread I make this week (which will hopefully include another batch of sourdough bagels).

Baking and Extras:

I’m really, really going to make preserved lemons this week. I did keep up with my water kefir well, and continued to not kill my sourdough starter, even starting a new batch of sourdough bread (yay!). I’d also really like to make more sour dough bagels and just get back to more baking and kitchen experimenting in general if I’m able to this week.

Shopping List:

I have no plans to go shopping this week, but there are a few sales at Aldi I’d love to take advantage of if the opportunity arises:

organic apple juice (64 oz), $2.49

mushrooms (8 oz), .69

baby carrots, .49/lb

Menu Plan and Shopping List 3/5/15-3/11/15

We followed the early part of last week’s menu plan well, despite the fact that I came down with a cold that wiped out my energy. (It didn’t seem like a bad cold at first, but combined with the fact that I still hadn’t really gotten my energy back since the surgeries in January, I wasn’t able to get much done at all.)

We had a couple of meals mostly from the freezer, ordered subs on Saturday for a fun food we didn’t have to fix, and changed the potatoes for church fellowship meal to very simple crock pot baked potatoes.

At that point, however, with my cold symptoms increasing and my husband starting to come down with the same cold, pulling a very milk based crab chowder out of the freezer didn’t seem like such a good idea, and I didn’t have a lot of cooking energy to work with. We also haven’t been to the store in a few weeks, between car troubles and health issues, so I was very thankful to discover we did still have some easy to fix meal ingredients around!

The last few days of meals have involved easy to fix foods like sweet potatoes. leftover green beans, cheesy fried potatoes, hamburgers, pork steaks, canned pears and a bit of ramen. (Sans MSGful spice packet of course–when ever we do eat ramen noodles I use my own blend of spices. In fact, I’ve used a lot of immune boosting spices such as garlic, turmeric and cayenne on most of the foods we’ve eaten this week.) (Also lots of tea and a bit of homemade fermented ginger ale and turmeric tonic.) We’ve eaten surprisingly well under the circumstances, but I’m also about ready to jump at my next chance to get a ride to the grocery store. (Or just to have more energy for cooking the ingredients I have… That would make me almost as happy…)

I’m still planning our meals for the next week to use mostly ingredients I have on hand, and to mostly be low prep time in case I’m still working on recovery, but I’m sure I’ll change it around a bit depending on which of these considerations ends up with higher priority.


Social Event

Burritos (using burrito filling from the freezer)

Leftovers/Fridge Scrounging

French Onion Potatoes (for church fellowship meal, using french onion dip spices–or just baked potatoes again, depending on how I feel)

Crab Chowder (from freezer–if I have energy I’ll make these Pumpkin Crescent Rolls to go with it)

Pork Steaks, Rice, Green Beans with Sauteed Onions

Chicken Thighs with Roasted Potatoes and Carrots


Leftovers, but for the lunches that we’ll be short on leftovers, probably more cheesy fried potatoes, quesadillas and, if I get to Aldi, maybe tuna salad.


I have continued to forget about using squash for breakfast, so I’m going to pull it out from the freezer right now… Okay, I’m back! I also found a pouch of guacamole while I was looking for the squash, but I won’t use that for breakfasts… probably…

We did make a batch of sourdough pancakes  (proof of how easy they are to make that we had those this week), and still have a few leftover, so we’re probably in the ‘leftovers for breakfast’ sort of groove this week, with the addition of some scrambled eggs for my husband.

Baking and Extras:

As you might guess, I haven’t been doing much in the way of extras this week. I have managed to keep my water kefir grains and sourdough starter alive, but that’s about it. This week I’m hoping to do a bit more, at least a batch of bread or rolls, and make those Preserved Lemons I keep talking about, as well as, of course, continuing with my water kefir.

Shopping List:

I’m planning to keep my shopping to a quick Aldi run this week. They don’t have a lot of super amazing sales, but Aldi is my top choice for a ‘one quick stop’ shopping trip, because I can get out spending the least amount of money for the least amount of effort.

mayonnaise, about $2

graham crackers, about $1.80

eggs, about 3doz/$4.50

tortillas, about 3pks/$4.50

lemon juice, about $1.89

corned beef roast, apx. 5lb/$10

cream cheese, about 2/$2.40

oranges, 4lb/$1.69

bananas, about 5lb/$2

fresh vegetables (of some kind, depending on selection and price)

sour cream, about 2/$2.60

bread, about $1.50

hamburger patties, about 6lb/$18

salmon fillets, about $8

ramen noodles, about $2

frozen pizza, 4/$8

tuna, about 5/$3.50

canned salmon, about 2/$4.40