Homemade Chicken Strips (with whole wheat breading)

Healthy Chicken Strips

 I’ve never seen an episode of The Pioneer Woman’s cooking show. I’ve been a fan of her recipes and her blogging style for years, but it didn’t even dawn on me until recently that most of her fans probably, you know, watch her show.

I’ve also probably never cooked one of her recipes exactly as it’s written. Granted, there are few recipes I have cooked exactly as written. Because really, who has exactly the same ingredients and food preferences as another cook somewhere? Still, I can see this affecting my qualifications as a true fan.

Despite these fan failings I just want to say that I pretty much stole this recipe from The Pioneer Woman (and then proceeded to tweak it for the way I cook) because she has amazing recipes. Her original version of this recipe is here: http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2009/05/quickie-homemade-chicken-strips/

Now for my changes:

I don’t buy the precut chicken strips. I buy ‘split chicken breasts’ with the bone still in, hack out the bones the best I can for the stock pot (the skin goes in with them), and cut the remaining slab of chicken into strips an inch or two wide. Any odd shaped bits are considered bonus nuggets and thrown in with the chicken strips to be fried up at the same time. (Unfortunately I don’t have video of this part of the process, but if there’s interest I can make a video next time I’m cutting up chicken breast.) I buy ahead when split chicken breasts are sale for .99 a pound, and divide the chicken strips into quart freezer bags. Each bag holds around two pounds of meat.

I almost never have buttermilk on hand. At different times I’ve used raw milk, soured raw milk, yogurt and whey to soak the chicken strips in, and they all seem to work equally well. The important part is soaking the chicken so the flour has plenty of moisture to stick to when you go to bread them. I usually just pour my chosen liquid into the freezer bag the night before when I pull the chicken strips out of the freezer, so they have a good long soaking time, but according the the original recipe, soaking them for 15 to 20 minutes before you cook them is good enough.

I use whole wheat flour instead of white. Also, because the whole wheat flour has more texture to start with, I find the touch of buttermilk in the flour to be completely unnecessary. I use soft white wheat, so the breading has little to no whole wheat flour taste. Red wheat should work just as well in the process but would have much more of a whole wheat flavor. (For those who are concerned that the whole wheat flour in this recipe doesn’t get soaked, see my comments on phytic acid here. This would be one of those cases where I think it’s better to enjoy a moderately healthy food than to obsess over making it ‘perfectly healthy’ and ruin your enjoyment of the food in the process.)

I use my own spice instead of the spice blend recommended in the original recipe, including, of course, garlic powder.

I avoid vegetable oil, soybean oil, corn oil and canola oil (not obsessively, but I’ll make some extra effort to keep other oils in my kitchen instead). I lean toward animal fats and coconut oils as being the healthiest oils, especially for frying, but right now my compromise oil for frying is rice bran oil. It is, at least, non-gmo, and not a food that’s over produced and hidden in most food already, so I’m not afraid of over exposing myself to rice. Sunflower seed oil, grapeseed oil and safflower oil would also fit in the compromise category.

While we’re on the subject of frying, are you poised to object when I get down the healthiness rating and declare a fried food as healthy? Once again, it’s  case of moderation and variety. Nearly everything, including water and raw spinach, is bad for you if you over consume it. Yes, I’m in favor of water and raw spinach as part of a healthy diet, possibly even in large amounts, but I think a simple variety of real, non-processed foods takes the stress out of concepts like oxalic acid, phytic acid and other real food scares.

Similarly, a diet consisting only fried food would undoubtedly be problematic, whether that’s because of lack of raw vegetable enzymes or an over consumption of fats. But that’s no reason to declare fried food unhealthy and inedible. Use healthy ingredients, use frying as one of many methods of preparing those healthy ingredients, and enjoy your food before you kill yourself by stressing about your food too much.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Chicken, milk or whey, whole wheat flour and healthy (or healthyish) fats. I’m not saying this one’s a superfood, but as noted above, I think it’s perfectly reasonable inclusion in a healthy diet.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

This one’s a winner, and possibly even a good transition recipe if you’re trying to wean your family off of processed foods. In my opinion, a lot of the real yumminess factor comes in your choice of sauces served with the chicken strips, but they make a solid base for such yumminess.

Breading Chicken Strips

Chicken Strips

about 2 lbs of strips of chicken breast

about 1 cup of sour milk, yogurt or whey (enough to cover the chicken)

about 1 1/2 cups of soft white wheat flour

1 tsp sea salt, or to taste

1/2 tsp garlic powder, or to taste

optional: heavy dash of black pepper, sprinkle of cayenne

Lard, coconut oil or neutral flavored oil for frying (about 2 cups or so)

Soak chicken strips in chosen liquid overnight, or for a few hours.

Begin heating lard or oil of choice over medium heat in a frying pan. I normally make the oil about half an inch deep in the pan.

Mix flour and spices. (As long as it’s still BEFORE you dip raw meat in it, you can actually taste a pinch of the flour mixture to make sure the salt and spice ratios are to your liking. You want the spices to be a light background flavor, and the flour should tasted salted, but not too salty.)

Unfortunately, I don’t have  a really good system for knowing when the oil is hot–I normally just wait two or three minutes, make sure I feel plenty of heat coming off the oil, and start frying. If you’re new to frying and don’t have an oil thermometer, I would mix a spoonful of flour with a spoonful of water, and drop it in the oil when it starts to get warm. When this impromptu batter has bubbling oil around it and is turning golden brown. (If you do have an oil thermometer aim for 350 to 375 degrees.) Adjust the oil temperature as you go, if needed. If the breading is only very lightly browned after cooking for 2 minutes on one side, turn the burner up a notch. If it’s getting dark brown or overly crispy by a minute and a half on one side, turn the burner down a notch (or two).

When the oil is ready, dip a chicken strip in the flour mixture. (Tongs make this part less messy.) Thoroughly coat the strip with flour on both sides. Place the strip (carefully!) into the hot oil (the tongs come in handy again here), and repeat until your pan is full without being crowded.

After about a minute and a half, and when the first side is getting golden brown and crispy, turn over the chicken strips. (It helps to have a second pair of tongs for this part–one for raw chicken, one for cooking chicken. Also, one for raw messy breading, one for hot oil.)

Cook on the other side for about a minute and half, then remove the strips to a warm oven. (I like to put a couple of paper towels on a cookie sheet or plate for receiving the newly fried, and dripping with oil chicken strips.)

If you’re concerned about whether the chicken is done or not, here a few tips: The chicken will be floppy and squashy when raw, cooked chicken will be firm and hold it’s shape when pressed or picked up from one end. If you make a slit into the chicken and clear liquid comes out, it’s done–pink or bloody liquid means it’s not done yet. If you’re still in doubt, cut a couple chicken strips in half to make sure they’re done, until you get a feel for how long they take to cook on your stove. (You could also try the whole meat thermometer thing, but it never works for me.)

Serve with dipping sauces. Ketchup, barbecue sauce, sweet and sour sauce, honey mustard and ranch are all excellent choices.

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Garlic Green Beans

Good Bad Food: Garlic Green Beans

This is one of my husband’s favorite vegetables. If your family doesn’t like garlic this recipe won’t help you out much in getting them to eat vegetables, but then if your family doesn’t like garlic, you probably won’t use most of the recipes I post. I like garlic. A lot. I make a conscious effort to use other seasoning strategies at times to switch it up, but if I’m in a hurry and need to season something it will probably get garlic, basil and salt and be declared done and yummy.

Also, anything short of biting into a raw clove of garlic could  not possibly qualify as too much garlic around here, so if you’re a nominal fan of garlic, but less hardy in your garlic consumption, you may want to cut back on the number of cloves of garlic used in the recipe.

A note on the amount of green beans: I generally use 16 oz packages of frozen green beans when I can find them, but as stores continue to sneak price increases by shrinking package sizes, I often have 12 oz packages of green beans on hand. Because I cook so much by feel and taste I don’t specifically adjust my recipe to different size bags of green beans, but if it matters to you, the recipe as written is more specifically formulated to the 12 oz size.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Not only are none of the ingredients unhealthy, but as a yummy way to eat vegetables, this recipe encourages more vegetable eating than commonly suggest ‘recipes’ such as plain celery sticks or iceberg lettuce with fat free dressing.

 Yumminess Rating: Yummy

To quote my husband, “Even people who don’t like green beans like these, because they taste like real food instead of slime”. (He went on to clarify that he, personally, does actually like green beans anyway. They’re just better with garlic and butter on them.)

Garlic Green Beans

1 package frozen green beans (12-16 oz)

5 TBSP butter

2-3 cloves of garlic

1/4 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

Mince or smash the garlic cloves according to your preferred method. (See the video for my preferred ‘smash it with a cleaver’ method. It gets it done fast!)

Melt the butter in a skillet (cast iron is preferable) over medium heat. Add the green beans, garlic and salt. Stir so the butter coats the green beans. Continue to stir as needed until the green beans are all thawed and beginning to warm, then stop stirring for a few minutes.

The green beans will release liquid, which will then boil off until you’re left with just bubbly butter again. At this point, let them cook for one to two more minutes without stirring. (If you’re in a hurry, or able to stand over the pan while they’re cooking, turn up the heat to medium high at this point. If you want them to cook slower, or without direct supervision you can leave the heat on medium and go longer between stirring.) The green beans should begin to develop a slightly caramelized golden brown color by the time you stir them. Be careful not to let them burn, but leave them on the stove until many of the green beans throughout the pan have developed this coloring.

(If you’re in a hurry you can skip the browning step, and just have buttered garlic green beans, but the caramelizing adds a lot to the flavor.)

The above recipe serves 2. If you need to serve a crowd, I recommend using 6 lb green beans, 1 pound of butter, 1 head of garlic and 1 1/2 tsp sea salt (or to taste). You may need to caramelize the green beans in batches when making a larger amount.

(Remember the point in the chocolate syrup video where I almost dripped chocolate syrup on my laptop? At about 6′ 18″ in this video, half a spoonful of green beans goes splat right on my laptop, and I totally try to pretend it didn’t happen.)

Tepache: A Fermented Pineapple Drink

Tepache: Fermented Pineapple Drink

Aldi often has fresh pineapples on sale for $1 or $1.29 each. Being the nerd and foodie that I am, I once weighed a pineapple after I’d cut off the top and rind and all the inedible bits to find out how much edible fruit was in a typical pineapple. It weighed right around two pounds, which makes the cost of the fruit on a sale pineapple 50 to 65 cents a pound.

Since my rule of thumb is that any food $1 a pound or less qualifies as cheap food, and I’m especially happy when I find basic, healthy food like fruit, veggies and meat in that price range, I began to make a habit of buying a pineapple or two whenever they went on sale.

However, despite that fact that I knew it was a screaming deal anyway, I started to wonder about all the parts of the pineapple I was throwing away. It seemed like rather a lot of waste. Wasn’t there any use for pineapple rinds?

Turns out , there is a use for them. Google turned up this recipe for tepache, a fermented mexican drink made from pineapple rinds, sugar, and a bit of cinnamon.

Traditionally, tepache is mixed with beer, but on it’s own it seems to have a very low to non-existent alcohol content (depending somewhat, of course, on just how long  you ferment it). We’ve used in rum based cocktails a couple of times, but we also just drink it straight as a kind of pineapple soda or use it as a smoothie base.

 Healthiness Rating: Healthy

It’s fruit based, probiotic, contains cinnamon which is good for your immune system and blood sugar response, and you can adjust the sugar content down for a more tart, less sweet drink if the turbinado sugar disturbs your healthy food sensibilities.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

As I’ve said in other recipes occasionally, this isn’t one of those foods that we discovered and decided we had to keep it on hand all the time. It’s a nice change of pace, and it tastes good (and yes, it’s husband approved), but it’s not something I often find myself craving.

Tepache

1-2 cups turbinado sugar (1 cup for a tart drink, 2 cups for a sweet drink)

12 cups water

1 pineapple

cinnamon and ginger to taste (1/2-1 tsp cinnamon, 1/4-1/2 tsp ginger)

optional: clove and/or nutmeg to taste

Put the turbinado sugar and two cups water in a saucepan over a medium heat to dissolve the sugar. Cool.

Rinse the pineapple lightly, but don’t scrub too hard, or use cleaners–you don’t want to remove the natural yeasts that start the fermentation process. Cut the top and bottom off the pineapple, then cut off the peels (see video for more detailed instructions in cutting up your pineapple). Save the pineapple fruit for another use. (If desired, when  you cut up the fruit you can add the core to the tepache.

Put the peels in a large bowl or crock suitable for fermenting. Sprinkle with spices. Pour in sugar/water mixture and ten more cups of water. Cover peels with a small plate to keep them submerged.

Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and set aside to ferment for 3-5 days. It should be bubbly and a bit foamy like this when it’s ready to referigerate:

tepache foamRemove the peels and pour the tepache into a jug or jar. Cap tightly and refrigerate for two to three days until fizzy. (You can also drink it right away if you don’t care about carbonating it.)

Chocolate Butter Mints

chocolate butter mints

The front mint is coated in cocoa powder, which is totally a valid serving option, and also a valid photographic

option for those with minimal photography skills trying to make chocolate look edible in a picture.

 So, as I may have mentioned before, I have the kind of metabolism that runs well on proteins and fats. Unlike my carb metabolizing husband, I’m not that thrilled with being given random pieces of bread, but I could eat sour cream by the spoonful and have been known to lick off butter wrappers before I throw them away.

Enter this recipe for a socially acceptable way to eat butter. It looks like candy and tastes like chocolate, but has all the satisfying healthy fats of eating pats of butter. If you were so inclined, you could use half coconut oil to increase the types of healthy fats in this candy. Because my husband’s digestion strenuously objects to coconut oil I haven’t tried this yet, but I might in the future, as my metabolism and energy levels highly approve of coconut oil.

Now, even with straight butter, when my husband first tasted these he said they were good, but a little too much like eating butter for him to really love them. However, he found himself regularly snitching them as they sat in the fridge, so either he as over thinking it as first, or they grew on him rapidly.

The first batch I made was lighter on both the honey and the cocoa powder (probably 2 TBSP of honey and 1 heaping TBSP of cocoa, but of course, I didn’t actually measure). I preferred the lighter sweetness of the first batch for snacking, but for the full blown dessert experience the second batch (with 4 TBSP of honey and 2 heaping TBSP of cocoa) was amazing.

I mentioned in the video that I use Young Living brand peppermint oil, and while I’m not going to fangirl over it, there is an important point to be made about the quality of essential oils. There are some substances labeled as essential oils which are extracted by chemicals, diluted with other substances or otherwise carelessly and fraudulently handled, and those are completely UNSAFE to use, especially internally. I can’t say that I’ve researched every single oil company out there, but I can say that I believe Young Living to make a completely safe, high quality oil. Please make sure you do your research before choosing a brand of essential oil, to make sure you’re confident in the safety of what you’re using.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Butter, raw cocoa, raw honey, and sea salt. Can you say superfoods?

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

With the small proviso that if you’re a carb person these are just ‘good’, as a non-carb person I proclaim these butter mints to be completely amazing.

Chocolate Butter Mints

1 cup butter, softened

6-8 drops peppermint essential oil (Young Living oils are intense–you may need more if you’re using another brand)

2-4 TBSP honey

1-2 TBSP cocoa (feel free to make them heaping TBSP)

pinch of sea salt

Put all ingredients in mixer and blend, or blend by hand with a fork. Make bite sized mints by squeezing through a pastry bag, ziploc bag with the corner cut off, or by dropping small spoonfuls on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate until firm.

(I bet these would easier to handle if you rolled the mixture into a small log, refrigerated it for an hour or so, and then sliced off bite sized chunks. I haven’t tried this  method yet, but it would probably be tidier than anything I’ve tried so far.)

Chocolate Syrup

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Homemade chocolate syrup on top of whipped cream on top of hot chocolate,in my favorite mug, which was a Christmas present from one of my nieces.

Everyone should have a chocolate syrup recipe in their arsenal. If you make homemade vanilla ice cream, you don’t want to have put store bought syrup full of nasty chemicals and corn syrup all over it, do you? And certainly you’d rather make chocolate milk out of your organic raw milk by adding homemade honey sweetened chocolate syrup, wouldn’t you? Especially if if doesn’t taste like honey? And that’s not even mentioning the decadence of adding squirt of homemade chocolate syrup to a cup of coffee with cream and a bit of coconut oil melted in, or the fact that it’s worth eating by the spoonful.

What I really love about this chocolate syrup recipe is that every ingredient is actively good for you.

The butter gives you healthy fats.

The cocoa gives you antioxidants, and if it’s raw it also provides magnesium and other minerals (hello, superfood!).

The raw honey is anti bacterial and contains a range of enzymes, vitamins and minerals, and as a bonus, if it’s local honey it helps prevent allergies by essentially ‘vaccinating’ you to the local pollens.

The raw milk also contains good enzymes and, of course, the commonly know range of nutrients such as calcium.

The sea salt contains many minerals.

Even the vanilla has compounds that reduce stress and inflammation and may even increase mental performance.

I have to admit, you’re not going to eat this chocolate syrup in large enough quantities to get your daily calcium out of it, (at least, I don’t think you are… but it is pretty good stuff, so maybe I shouldn’t make such a sweeping statement) but the point is, there’s good stuff instead of bad stuff.

This recipe was based on Sally Fallon’s carob sauce recipe in Nourishing Traditions. I made a few changes, first because carob should never be used as a chocolate substitute, and second because I rarely have cream on hand. (No worries, I increased the amount of butter to compensate for the lack of cream.)

I’m sure God had a good reason for making carob, and it must have good uses all it’s own, but it’s really hard to discover those uses when everyone wants to pretend it tastes like chocolate. This is exactly the sort of ‘healthy’ philosophy I’m opposed to here on this blog. A lot of people seem to think that if tastes good, if must be bad for you.

I once heard a lecture with the great premise that foods ‘by God’ are good and foods ‘by man’ are bad for you. So, fruits and vegetables are good for you, but chemical food additives are bad for you. Except that coffee was on the ‘foods by man’ list with no explanation as to what made it unnatural other than an assumption that it must be bad for you, so it had to go on that list. Now, I do happen to believe that coffee was designed as a boost for when you need extra or unusual amounts of energy, and constantly seeking that boost (daily or several times a day) will eventually wear out your adrenal glands. However, that is no excuse for claiming it’s evil and bad for you across the board. My point in all that being, of course chocolate is good for you! There are now studies come out that verify this, but we really could have guessed this to start with.

People stress too much. People just need to chill and eat more chocolate. (And have no guilt in occasionally eating that chocolate in the form of a mocha latte.)

For some reason, this recipe tastes good and chocolaty despite being honey sweetened. I’ve tried making homemade chocolate  with honey it tastes weird. (Agave works better.) But in this syrup the honey taste is hidden enough that even my husband likes it. We really need to do a side by side taste test with this syrup and store bought chocolate syrup, because I bet this also deserves the title of better than store bought, but I can’t officially vouch for it.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy As covered above, every ingredient in this chocolate syrup is good for you.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy Complete, 100% yumminess.

Chocolate Syrup

1/2+1/3 cup butter (13 1/2 TBSP)

2/3 cup cocoa powder, preferably raw

1/3 cup honey

3/4 cup milk

pinch of sea salt

1 TBSP vanilla

Melt butter over medium heat. Turn off heat and add all other ingredients.

Whisk 1-2 minutes until it begins to thicken and look shiny. Refrigerate until use. (The syrup actually turned out super thick after refrigeration, so it may need less whisking than I thought. I’ll update this post when I figure out how long to whisk for consistent results.

Variation: Increase butter to 1 cup and decrease milk to 1/2 a cup. When whisked until thick, pour into chocolate molds or a small baking pan and refrigerate. Eat as chocolates as they are, or use as the centers for truffles.

(Also, it’s just occurred to me that you could probably make an amazing peppermint chocolate syrup by adding a couple drops of peppermint essential oil.)

Be sure to watch for the moment at about 6′ 16″ in the video when I almost drip chocolate syrup on my laptop keyboard…

100% Whole Wheat Bread (soaked flour, soft and fluffy!)

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I didn’t believe 100% whole wheat bread could be this soft and fluffy until I tried this recipe over at Passionate Homemaking. It was amazing. Even my husband, who is a devoted fan of white flour, truly enjoys this bread, without asking me if we can have white bread sometimes too. He does enjoy a variety of bread, so I need to get a couple of my other good bread recipes back in the rotation, but this makes a really good every day bread. It’s good for sandwiches and toast and eating plain with butter. What more could you ask for from a loaf of bread?

But, of course, in true Good Bad Food style, I couldn’t just leave the recipe alone. I substituted chia seeds, which I’ve been trying to get into my diet more, for the flax, which I don’t always have around. (I know, cooked chia doesn’t have the full benefit of omega 3s, but it still has fiber and protein and is generally good for you.) I didn’t want to have to deal with sprouted flour (to many steps and too much work to make, and too expensive to buy when you could just mill your own non-sprouted flour for pennies) or with the phytic acid from the unsoaked flour (see this post for a full discussion of my thoughts on phytic acid and soaking grains), so I found the perfect ratio of flour/chia/grains to water to make a dough soft enough to be kneaded but still stiff enough to use only the soaked dough without the addition of extra flour. And of course, I had to employ the technique I learned from Ada Lou Roberts in Favorite Breads from Rose Lane Farms and add ginger to the yeast proofing mixture.

Also, I cut the recipe in half so my Kitchen Aid wouldn’t die while kneading it. (Seriously, this recipe almost killed my Kitchen Aid at first. I have a Professional 600 model, the same one used by my sister who has 9 children and hasn’t killed her mixer yet, to the best of my knowledge. I didn’t know you could overheat this mixer with bread dough until the first time I tried making the full batch version of this recipe.)

The result is a reliable healthy recipe for bread, using only ingredients I usually have on hand (no added vital wheat gluten or dough conditioner), and that’s really enjoyable. It’s also versatile as I often make hamburger buns and sometimes hot dog buns out of the same dough I use for my every day bread. (The buns are a little less flexible than store bought white buns, which is especially noticeable with the hot dog buns, but the hamburger buns at least have always worked just fine for us.)

In the bread I made for the video, real life intervened, and my bread dough soaked for an extra day before I got around to making the bread. The bread was still good, though with just a hint of sourness in the flavor from the extra soaking time. Also, you’ll notice in the video that it didn’t rise nearly as high as it should have. While the texture was still soft, this particular batch of bread was just a bit less fluffy than normal, and doesn’t demonstrate quite what ideally ‘doubled’ dough should look like.

Also in the video I make the comment that you can substitute coconut oil for the butter if you want to make it dairy free. I neglected to mention that if making the bread dairy free, you can substitute 1 TBSP vinegar or lemon juice in 1/2 cup warm water for the yogurt.

You can use honey instead of agave in this recipe, but I prefer to save my raw honey for eating, well, raw.

You’ll really want to check out my videos for this post, as in the course of making this recipe, I demonstrate all the basic techniques of bread making, which can applied to any recipe. For instance, if you’re not sure how to tell when your dough is done being kneaded, take a look Part Two of my video, around the 5′ 53″ time mark, where I show you how properly kneaded bread dough stretches thin without tearing.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

No bad ingredients, all whole grain. This bread is about as healthy as bread gets.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

Even people who don’t like whole wheat bread like this bread. It’s soft and fluffy, hold together well for sandwiches and toast, and is hearty without being dense.

Whole Wheat Bread

6 TBSP butter, melted

5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (or a scant 4 cups of hard red wheat, ground)

1 cup oats (I use quick oats)

2 TBSP millet, (optional, though I haven’t tried the bread without it)

2 TBSP chia seeds

1/2 cup yogurt

2 cups warm water

1/2 cup agave

 

1/4 cup water

1 tsp honey

1 TBSP + 3/4 tsp yeast

1/4 tsp ginger

2 1/4 tsp sea salt

 

Melt and cool the butter.

Rather than measure an exact amount of flour, I usually calculate how much wheat I need to make the right amount of flour for the recipe. So in this recipe, aiming for 5 1/2 cups of flour, I grind a scant 4 cups of hard red wheat and don’t bother to measure the resulting flour. Mix the flour with the oats, millet and chia. Add the butter, yogurt, 2 cups warm water and agave.

Let the mixture soak for 12 to 24 hours.

Mix together yeast, ginger and 1/4 cup warm water. (Very warm water but not hot enough to burn you is about the right temperature.) Wait for the yeast mixture to become very foamy then mix into the soaked flour mixture, along with the salt.

Knead for 20 minutes, or into a small piece of the dough will stretch very thin, almost translucent. Remove the dough from the bowl, put a small amount of oil in the bottom of the bowl, put the dough back in the bowl and flip it over so all sides of the dough are coated in oil. Put in a warm place to rise until doubled, probably for 1-2 hours. (Note: In the video I put the dough on top of my oven to rise. This works very well if the oven if set on warm or 200, but when I’ve tried to do this while cooking other food at 350 or higher, the bowl has gotten hot enough to start to cook the dough. This is not helpful. So, be careful that you find a warm place, but not too hot, for letting your dough rise.)

Punch the dough down and, if you have time, put the dough back in a warm place to rise until doubled again, for 30-60 minutes. (This makes a better finished product, but isn’t strictly necessary if you’re running short on time.)

Punch the dough down and shape as desired. This dough makes 2 loaves of bread or 12 large hamburger rolls or 16 hot dog buns. I often make one loaf and 8 large hamburger rolls.

Put the shaped dough in a slightly warm oven to rise. (If you’ve had your oven on warm or 200 degrees and then turn it off when you put the dough in the oven, this is perfect.) In 20 to 30 minutes, when the dough is doubled, turn on your oven to 350 degrees. Rolls with take about 20 minutes to cook. Loaves will normally take about 30 minutes.

If you’re not sure whether your bread is done, carefully remove it from the loaf pan and tap on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Technically, you’re supposed to let your bread cool before slicing into it, or it smooshes somewhat. But if you happen to want to slice into it immediately and enjoy hot bread, straight from the oven, slathered in butter, I shan’t disapprove this choice. I might even join you.

How To Soak Brown Rice

I suppose the first question I should answer before “How should I soak my rice?” is “Why should I soak my rice?”

Rice, as many grains do, contains phytic acid, which blocks mineral absorption. Soaking allows the phytase present in the grains to break down the phytic acid and make the grain overall more digestible and the nutrients more accessible to the body. Because rice doesn’t contain as much phytase as other common grains, the best effect is from reusing the soaking water repeatedly to allow the phytase to build up to useful levels in the soaking water. (I’ll explain this whole technique later in the post.)

There’s a lot of debate over how important it is to soak your grains. Some are even opposed to soaking grains because (apparently) higher phytic acid levels may be associated with a reduced risk of cancer. In my opinion this just comes back to a variety of food in  your diet being important. If you eat some grains soaked you’ll get the maximum nutrient absorption, and if you skip soaking some of the time for convenience, well, I guess  you may be fighting cancer at the same time.

I think there are two groups of people for who soaking grains is more important on the nutritional priority list.

First, those who eat a lot grains in their diets. If you’re eating a vegetarian diet, for example, or are stretching out all your meals with a lot of grains because of a low food budget, you really want to make sure you’re getting maximum nutrition from those grains. You also don’t want to to risk all that phytic acid blocking the nutrients from all the other foods you eat as well. In fact, with a large grain consumption,  you may even want to move beyond soaking, and try sprouting or fermenting to get even more nutrition from your grains.

Second, those with food allergies (even not grain related), other digestive problems, and general chronic health problems. If you have food allergies, it’s very likely that you have leaky gut, and your gut will have more chances to heal the easier it is for it to digest the food you give it. Similarly, if you have any kind of chronic health problems, you want to be providing as much nutrition to your body as you can, without making it work any harder to get that nutrition than is absolutely necessary. It may even be helpful to give your body a break from grains entirely for a while as it heals, but if that’s not practical for some reason, make sure you’re soaking (and again, maybe even sprouting or fermenting) the grains you do eat.

On the other hand, if you have a diet full of lots of veggies, animal fats and proteins and some grains, and you’re relatively healthy, you may not see as much problem with eating some of your grains unsoaked. (Eating vitamin C with your grains does seems to significantly mitigate the ill effects of the phytic acid, so all those fruits and veggies in your diet will help a lot.) Life is busy. Set your priorities where they really matter, and don’t get bullied into making that include soaking  your grains unless you really want it to.

Now that that’s out of the way, for those of you who are interested in taking a little extra time to extract the maximum nutrition from your food, may I present my method of soaking rice. ( I use double this recipe in the video. The amounts listed below provide two meals worth of cooked rice for my husband and I, plus one meals worth for the freezer.)

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

I know the Paleo types will disagree, but in my book soaked grains are healthy, provided you’re getting a proper range of nutrition in your diet overall.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

This post is a little different from my normal recipes, in that it’s more a  base technique than a full blown recipe. However, I think it still deserves a Yummy rating, because my husband normally prefers white rice to brown rice, but he doesn’t mind the brown rice when I soak it like this. That means getting more nutrients into a meal without having to use ‘I’m eating this because it’s healthy, but I don’t like it’ points.

Soaked Rice

2 cups of brown rice

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, lemon juice or yogurt whey

4 cups of filtered water

Put all ingredients in a bowl and soak overnight or for at least 7 hours. Strain soaking water out of rice and save in a jar for next time. Rinse the rice and cook as desired, or following the recipe below.

Next time you want to soak rice, take your soaking water out of the fridge. Add water if needed until you have liquid equal to twice as much rice as you want to soak. Pour the soaking liquid over rice and, as before, soak overnight or for at least 7 hours.

The more times you reuse the soaking water the fluffier and more digestible your rice will be.

Brown Rice

2 cups of rice, soaked

4 cups of water

1 tsp salt

1 TBSP butter

Put all ingredients in medium saucepan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 30-45 minutes. (Officially brown rice takes 45 minutes to cook, but I find that soaked brown rice usually cooks faster than I expect it to, sometimes in closer to 30 minutes.)

Vinegar Cheese aka The World’s Easiest Cheese

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Do not be put off by the title of ‘vinegar cheese’. This cheese is creamy and mild and does not taste of the vinegar used to make it. (Unless you try to make it using red wine vinegar–I’m telling you right now that’s just a bad idea. Don’t even bother trying it.)

Some people call this homemade mozzarella cheese, and while you can get mild, stretchy cheese out of it, that is where the similarity ends. True, fresh mozzarella is a more involved process resulting in an out of this world taste experience. I would be doing you a disservice if I claimed this cheese was the same as fresh mozzarella. I will say though, that this homemade vinegar cheese can be used in place of mozzarella in recipes, and works quite well as a mozzarella substitute. It’s particularly good on homemade pizza.

I often use this recipe to use up raw milk that’s about to go sour. You know, when it’s not actually sour yet, but it’s just not the same as when it was fresh, and you know it’s going to finish turning any time now. That milk. You can even use sour milk, but if it’s gone completely sour that does affect the taste (and sometimes texture) of the finished cheese, so it’s best to catch it on the cusp of change.

A variety of temperatures are recommended for making this cheese. If you want to make a raw cheese, heat the milk no hotter than 104 degrees (the body temperature of a cow). (It may require extra vinegar to get a full yield of cheese at this temperature.) If you forget about the milk and it gets very hot it’s still perfectly good for making cheese, as long as it’s not burnt. My preferred temperature is somewhere around 110 degrees, or just under–I can stick my finger in it and it feels very hot, but doesn’t burn me at all. (For the record, I in no way recommend sticking  your finger in hot milk to see if it would burn you. It’s really a very bad idea.) On my stove, on medium heat, it takes about 5 minutes for a quart of milk to reach this temperature, or 20 minutes for a gallon of milk.

You can substitute other acids (such as white vinegar or lemon juice) but I find the best flavor comes from using apple cider vinegar.

If, after adding the vinegar and letting cheese sit for a minutes, the whey is still cloudy, I add a little more vinegar until the whey is translucent and yellowish. Here’s a picture of what the whey should look like when all the cheese particles  have been extracted from it:

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The white part is cheese and foam, the yellowy clear part in the back is whey.

Healthiness Rating: Healthy

Once again, it’s  a simple recipe. Milk, vinegar, salt and spices all qualify as healthy foods in my book.

Yumminess Rating: Yummy

My husband will go get this cheese out of the fridge to eat with crackers as a snack, which places it solidly in the taste-approved category. (Now I just need to work on a healthier cracker option to go with the cheese.)

 Vinegar Cheese

1 quart of milk

2 TBSP apple cider vinegar

salt to taste (perhaps 1/2 a tsp)

optional seasonings: basil, onion powder or flakes, garlic powder, etc

In medium saucepan, heat milk to desired temperature. Stir in vinegar. Let sit for a few minutes to curdle. (If at this point I see that the whey is still opaque rather than yellowish and translucent I add a bit more vinegar to make sure I get the maximum yield of cheese.)

Strain cheese through a cheesecloth or cotton dishtowel lined colander or mesh strainer. (I generally use a mesh strainer, but I try very hard to clean it immediately so the tiny bits of cheese don’t get stuck in all the tiny holes.)

If harder, more mozzarella like cheese is desired, strain out as much whey as possible.

If softer, spreadable cheese is desired, transfer back to the pot while some whey (perhaps 1/4 of a cup) is remaining in the strainer with the cheese.

Mix salt and (if desired) seasonings into the cheese. Refrigerate. (Even if the cheese seems harder than you want, refrigerating it in just enough whey to cover it will usually result in a softer cheese within 24 hours as the cheese absorbs the whey back in. If it’s already the desired consistency there’s no need to add extra whey.)

I usually make a softer cheese add about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp of basil, and 1/4 tsp of onion powder and my husband eats it with crackers.

Oven Roasted Carrots

Oven Roasted Carrots

 

This is more of a technique for cooking vegetables than it is a recipe, but it is an important part of the ‘making healthy food that my husband enjoys eating’ aspect of this blog. If vegetables are going to be a regular part of your diet, you have to fix them in ways that you enjoy eating them, or pretty soon you’ll just decide it’s not worth the trouble and everyone can fill up on bread and butter instead.

We eat some salads, and at some point I may share some of our favorite salad toppers that make it a non-chore to eat salad, but the truth is that if I tried to eat raw veggies with every meal I wouldn’t make it very long. I don’t know if this purely a matter of taste or has something to do with a metabolism that tends toward low and slow causing me to prefer food warm and easier to digest. (There are some fascinating theories about the connection between ‘warming’ foods and raising a slow metabolism.) Either way, we intersperse our salads into a selection of roasted and sauteed vegetables. Cooked vegetables lose out on the enzymes of raw veggies, but since cooking starts the process of breaking down the cells, some nutrients are actually easier to digest and more accessible to our bodies after cooking.

So, especially if you’re just trying to get in the habit of eating more vegetables, I have two words to facilitate this process for you: Butter. Garlic.

Have no guilt in  roasting, sauteeing or lightly boiling your vegetables before you eat them. Have no compunction in throwing a few extra tablespoons of butter into the pot of vegetables so they slide down more easily. Have no hesitation in seasoning them creatively, and allow me highly recommend garlic as my own personal seasoning of choice when trying to move vegetables from the realm of merely edible to  “Yay, we’re having carrots for dinner!”

This oven roasting technique works on many vegetables. It’s particularly effective on root vegetables such as sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and of course, carrots. As a bonus, most of these vegetables are cheap in the winter and some can probably be picked up for less than a dollar a pound at your local grocery store.

Healthiness rating: Healthy

Vegetables, butter and sea salt: sounds healthy to me.

Yumminess rating: Yummy

This is one of those recipes that may not change the mind of the veggie hater, but will likely sway a veggie tolerator into actively enjoying a serving of carrots. My husband’s reaction when he walks into the kitchen and sees roasted carrots is “Yum! Carrots for dinner!”. This automatically puts roasted carrots in the top tier for best vegetable recipes ever.

Roasted Carrots

2 pounds of carrots, peeled (or washed) and scrubbed

6 TBSP butter

1/2-1 tsp sea salt, according to taste

optional: garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt butter in an oven proof container, preferable a cast iron skillet. Anything, including a cookie sheet, will work for roasting the carrots, but cast iron helps with the browning process.

Add carrots and salt. Stir until the carrots are well coated with melted butter.

If desired, add 1/4-1/2 tsp garlic powder. I do this occasionally to change up the flavor, but despite being a devoted fan of garlic, I don’t think the carrots have to have any flavor boost besides the roasting process.

Roast the carrots for 30-6o minutes depending on your oven, time constraints and desired degree of browning. The carrots should have a slightly shriveled look and be lightly browned when they’re done.

Kiflis (Hungarian Christmas Cookies)

Kiflis (Hungarian Christmas Cookies)

There are a few kifli recipes on the internet (and in some cases, kiefli recipes) but none I’ve found that are really like my great-grandmother’s kifli recipe. Wikipedia will tell you that a kifli is a essentially a dinner roll, with a possible sweet variation having a walnut filling. Wikipedia is confused.

A kifli is a crescent shaped pastry cookie with walnut and raisin filling, rolled in sugar and baked to tender perfection.

As with any good family recipe, handed down with incomplete written information, this recipe comes with a bit of a squabble attached as to the proper way to make it. Naturally, I will share with you in this post the true proper way to make kiflis, as passed down my my grandmother and whose accuracy in flavor is attested to by my father.

In my father’s childhood there would always be a crock full of these cookies at my great-grandmother’s house. (Edit: I was misremembering the stories: actually my great-grandmother also only made kiflis at Christmas time.) As they’re a bit labor intensive, we only make them at Christmas time, but they are probably the single most important Christmas food tradition in my family.

If you’re going to go to the trouble of making kiflis, please, make them according to the original recipe and do not try to healthify them. Healthy is not the point of these cookies. Flaky, tender pastry with filling is the point of these cookies. I made the mistake of using a healthier white flour when I made these in the video (flour with no wheat bran, but the wheat germ left in). They’re still good, but they taste a bit like a cross between a kifli and graham cracker, which is not ideal. (I actually meant to use plain white flour and forgot. Bad me.)

You may, however, use organic raisins in the filling if it makes you feel better.

Oh, and also the amounts I give you here are for half an original batch. It will still make many dozen kiflis and you try to make a full original batch you’ll end up with half the dough and filling sitting around in your fridge for weeks waiting for you to have time to finish using them up. If you do have leftover filling it’s quite good in muffins. If you have leftover scraps of dough you can sprinkle them with sugar and bake them (along the lines of pie crust cookies).

Healthiness rating: Not healthy

It could be argued that with walnuts and raisins in the filling it’s not as unhealthy as it could be, but if you’re even having that argument, you may be missing the point. It’s a Christmas cookie. Healthy is not the point. Live a little.

Yumminess rating: Yummy

Admittedly, raisins aren’t everyone’s thing, and my husband’s siblings don’t love these cookies. But my husband and I both like these cookies a lot, despite not normally being raisin people, so I see no reason to demote the kiflis yumminess status on that basis.

Kiflis (or Kiepfles or Kieffles or Kiefflis)

Dough

2 1/4 tsp yeast

1-2 TBSP cold milk

4-5 cups white flour

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened

3 egg yolks

1 cup sour cream

Filling

2 cups walnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup raisins

3 egg whites, beaten

Dissolve yeast in milk.

Work together the flour and butter with a fork, pastry blender or two knives, until the mixtures resembles coarse crumbs (such as for a pie crust). Make a hollow in the center of the flour mixture and put the yeast/milk mixture, egg yolks and sour cream. Mix. Knead for about five minutes until silky.

Wrap in saran wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least six hours.

The next day, start the filling. Finely chop the walnuts and mix with the rest of the filling ingredients. Cook over a low heat for 20 minutes or so, until the mixture is a golden to dark brown. If needed, add a splash of water to keep the filling from sticking to the pan or scorching.

Cut the dough in fourths and return three quarters of the dough to the fridge. Spread sugar on your counter and across the top of the dough, adding more as needed to keep it from sticking. Roll out the remaining quarter of the dough until it’s very thin–thicker than cardstock, but thinner than corrugated cardboard. (See the video for a visual of thin it should be.)

Cut dough into small squares (perhaps two and a quarter inches–experiment to see what size works well for you). Cut the squares diagonally to make triangles. Put a small amount of filling (perhaps half a teaspoon) on the long edge of the triangle opposite the point. Roll up the triangle toward the point. Bend into a crescent shape. Roll in sugar again.

Bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes or until very lightly browned and cooked through but still soft. Remove from cookie sheet to cool.