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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Questions Answered

I was going to post a little reply in the comments, then realized it would have to be kind of long, so I thought I'd e-mail, then I figured I'd just post something here, in case other people were interested, too. My friend Alina posted a comment in reply to my post about eating healthy.

We too have reduced our intake of pre-packaged food. I do by organic bread as I love the oats, flaxseed, etc. that gets put into it. But we have for the most part elimanted all pre-packaged cookies, cakes, etc. I too make all the pancakes, biscuits, etc. from scratch and I do make some of our bread from scratch as well as D thinks I am nutty for loving nutty bread! The only real pre-packaged food the kids get is organic cookies. I find they are a great snack in a pinch, however, we get one small bag for the whole week and when it is gone that is it. The rest of the week I make it all from scratch if we want something like that. As for the grown ups in the house, we are not as good. We tend to buy more treats for us then the kids, but I would say compared to the average person it is much less. We maybe get one or two processed treats every couple of weeks with exceptions of course, but we do get Coca Cola for Shabbat, however, it is made With Out cory syrup here. There are some things we have not changed, we can't do as much organic meat as I would like and still do regular meat do to the huge amount of price difference, it is at least double, I don't do organic pasta, and I think D would freak if I switched to whole wheat and I have not switched to Organic Oatmeal as it is about triple the cost, but we do use bulk whole oats as much as possible. Also our frozen veggies are not organic, but that is usually only corn and occasionally peas, and meat we only use once a week outside shabbos. I would love your cereal recipes. Why did we switched, I love that I can give my kids veggies and fruit with out a hassle on washing, just takes a fast rinse, I love that my kids aren't eating all the sugar and hidden sugar and preservatives. We find the behavior is better and it is nice to know that my kids are not hooked on junk the way their parents are. Although fortunately we are at our worst when it comes from the States and that only happens occasionally.....We also don't freak when on occasion the kids eat pre-packaged food depending on what it is and how much sugar is stuffed in there. I am envious that you can have your own chickens and grown your own veggies. If we ever get permanently settled in a place where have either a patio or a ground floor apt. We want to start doing potted gardening. Spices,tomatoes, peas, etc. I think it is great that you can do so much where you are. I also need to figure out dried beans better. I have yet to successful re-hydrate kidney beans and use them in something that does not require a full day of cooking. I also need more creative yet simple recipes, I guess more stir fry type things. D is not a big bean eater. Would love to hear your ideas.

First off, can I say that I am jealous that you get the real sugar Coke. I called the bottling plant nearby one year to ask if they would stock them around Passover, because I had heard that sometimes they do, only to be told we did not have a large enough Jewish population for them to do so.

I like nutty bread, too, and seedy bread. We make it only occasionally, because I also like it better than the other people here, but they are starting to change. Rich adds sesame seeds to the bread sometimes. As for the whole wheat pasta, I actually agree that it's gross. We get the blend, because it still tastes good, but has a little extra oomph to it.

When it comes to cooking beans, canned works if you can get them inexpensively, though of course it is cheaper and you can control the salt and sugar better if you cook them from dry. We keep both around, and use the canned in a pinch and for certain specific things. If I ever get over my fear of pressure canning, I will put up beans for us. If you are using dry beans, things like split peas and lentils cook the fastest, 30 minutes to an hour, though of course you can cook them longer. Pinto beans cook the shortest of most dry actual beans in my experience. On the stove, it would take about an hour and a half and I think it takes me about four or five hours in the crockpot. I love the crockpot for beans. I don't presoak, just pick out debris and rinse them, and cover with enough liquid and let it go. I do tend to start beans on high for an hour or two and cook them on low until they are finished. I add seasonings and vegetables and/or meat in the last hour.

I make vegetarian pinto beans by starting them with about two inches of water over them in the crockpot and cooking on high for an hour, then reducing the heat to low. I cook for another three hours, then cook some onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil and toss those in with the beans along with a can of tomato sauce and a little salt. I let it cook for another half hour to hour. We eat that with rice or cornbread and a salad. A friend of mine makes a really nice cashew and bean stew which uses canned beans and is quick to make. We really enjoyed that and make it here fairly regularly. We also make a good nacho casserole with tortilla chips as the base. I cook up black beans, enough to make about two cups of it, and saute a diced onion, some garlic and canned tomatoes (if you have fresh, so much the better), you can add peppers if you like, or not, add the beans to this. I season it with chipotle powder, oregano, cumin and salt. I pour this whole thing over the chips in a glass baking pan, spread sour cream over the top, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, bake it for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts, and serve it with a salad. You can always cook any of this with meat, if you like. I also make chili fairly regularly.

I make double the granola recipe in my largest crockpot (we own two large ones, one medium and a tiny one we got free with one of them that's supposed to be for dips and such). You could do it in the oven at a low temperature, but I have no idea about the timing, you'd just have to watch it.

Cherry Almond Granola

1/2 cup honey
1 cup oil (something light - I use coconut oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
6 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened, dried coconut
1 cup sesame seeds (optional, or increase coconut to 2 cups, which is what I usually do)
2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat the honey, oil, vanilla and almond extracts in a large round or oval crockpot on high, stirring to melt honey. Cook about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix all the rest of the ingredients well. Stir about a third of this mixture into the liquid, mixing to coat well. Slowly add the rest, mixing well to make sure all of the dry ingredients are coated. Cook on high, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn for 45 minutes to an hour. I forgot to mention that my crockpot runs hot, so I actually cook the granola on low and then warm. If yours runs hot, you may have better success doing the same. Otherwise, stir more frequently to make sure no burnt spots happen. Allow to cool while stirring to cool evenly. Store in an airtight container and use as you would any other granola. We eat it as a cold cereal, or added to yogurt.

As you can see, we use our crockpot for quite a lot. That and our bread machine are two of our best tools in the kitchen. We use the bread machine to make dough quickly for rolls or more rustic breads (you can mix challah dough in there quite nicely, and I have a recipe for croissant dough that makes lovely ones), or to make sandwich bread. The things I look for in a crockpot are size, we cook for a large family, and if we are feeding other people we cook even more, a keep warm feature, and a plus is a timer/delay button. In a bread machine, I look for, again, capacity (at least 2 1/2 lb loaf capability, 3 lbs is better), a dough cycle, basic bread cycle, bake only cycle, a wheat bread and/or sweet bread cycle is nice, but not absolutely necessary. Something that is important, we found, was that the machine would start up again quickly after finishing a cycle. We had one that had a long cool down cycle, even after the dough setting, and it made things more difficult.

By the way, I forgot to mention that we buy our bread machines used. You can usually find them for about $10 at the thrift stores, and we run them into the ground.

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