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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kefir -- Wonder Food

 A very happy W sporting a kefir smoothie moustache!
It's true.  Kefir is a wonder food.

"I wonder what kefir is!"

"I wonder why in the heck someone would actually drink that!"

"I wonder what good it will do my body today!"

When I first heard about kefir, I was adamantly opposed to it.  My understanding was that it was along the lines of curdled milk.  Seriously? 

Who in their right mind would drink curdled milk?  Makes me throw up a little in my mouth just thinking about it.  Ugh.

This summer, however, I've done a complete 180.  I've gotten educated about it, and my family's been drinking it for nearly two months now.  And.it.rocks.

I must give credit where credit's due.  Dear Lydia N. came over one evening to bring dinner to my Daddy (How sweet!).  She didn't know that we'd moved to town and were living with him, so it was a pleasant surprise to get to visit with her.  I've known her (from a distance) since I was a pre-teen.  Lydia was one of the "older" girls (maybe 5 years...not so much now!) that every younger girl hoped would take notice.  She was so very sweet, gentle and kind.  A Jesus-loving, hippie-cool kind of girl.  The esteem I held her in then has obviously carried over to today.  :-)

Anyway, in the course of our visit, kefir came up.  I could not believe that she had her family drinking it!  She, very graciously & gently, explained how it had umpteen jillion probiotics (Yes, I exaggerate.  Just ask my Daddy about that one.) - several times that of yogurt (our homemade yogurt has 5-7 probiotics); how it can have probiotics that deal with yeast infections and also staph infections among others. 

I was impressed, to say the least, but not necessarily ready to run out to get some kefir grains to start my own culture at home.  Not, that is, until AB got a rash around her mouth that appeared to be a yeast infection gone wild.  (The girl sucks on two fingers a good portion of the time.  We're trying to break her of that, but not successfully as of yet.)  She had been eating yogurt, but that hadn't taken care of it.  It got worse.  I remembered Lydia saying that kefir would help take care of a yeast infection.

I made a late night call to see if she had any grains.  Bless her heart, she and her husband were heading out of the country the next day, but she took the time to make some calls, locate some grains, and even deliver them to my house.  What a sweet lady!

So...we tried some bottled kefir from the store while the grains were getting acclimated after being frozen.  It was yummy.  No, really.  Yummy. 

I was sold on the bottled kefir (particularly since it was on sale!), but it only had 10-12 probiotics.  It would have more if I cultured it myself.  So that's what I did.  :-)  That whole experience will be the next post in this Kefir series.  (I can't believe I just typed that -- series -- feels a little presumptuous!)

I do want to let you know, that this stuff is worth it. 
  • The rash around AB's mouth is cleared up!
  • My intestines are much happier with me now.
  • My Daddy has a "dermatological issue" that the dermatologist said he would have to deal with for the rest of his life with medication.  It had just flared up before we started the kefir.  He hadn't put his meds on it yet, and it cleared up after the first kefir smoothie...with no medication applied!
  • I shared some grains with a friend, and her husband has been a longtime Nexium user that couldn't go more than two days without taking it.  After drinking kefir for a couple of days, he stopped taking it and didn't need it for five days.
I'm looking forward to sharing how easy it is to culture kefir and enjoy it daily!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Frugal Trifle

What is more frugal than using what you have on hand to take care of what you need? 

Last Thursday I had a brunch meeting to go to...ok, I thought it was last Thursday!  (At least I wasn't the only one!  hee hee)  It was a "bring something if you'd like, but you don't have to."  That was nice not to have that pressure, but my Mama would have given me what for if I'd have shown up empty-handed.  So...Thursday morning rolled around, and I still hadn't figured out what to take.  Looking around the kitchen and the fridge I found angel food cake, strawberries I had cooked to make fruit leather, and heavy whipping cream.  Oh yes.

Trifle rocks.  I just have to say.  :-)  You really can't mess up a trifle -- it's just layers of yummy stuff, preferably in a clear glass bowl so that you can see the lovely layers!  Here's what I did for my "try the floor" (Thanks, W!)

For my trifle, I started with the whipping cream.  I eyeballed it into the mixer and added some powdered sugar and a bit of vanilla.  Then I let the mixer do its job.  I'm always paranoid about making homemade sweetened whipped cream -- if you go too long, you get sweet vanilla butter.  On this day, however, it turned out beautifully!  It was light and fluffy and just stiff enough.

Begin the layering!
  • angel food cake cubes
  • strawberries
  • whipped cream
  • repeat at least two more times
(One thing my husband suggested later in the day was shaving dark chocolate with a peeler and putting it in the layers on top of the whipped cream.  Not a bad idea!)

So...I had my beautiful, perfectly sized trifle (see pic; so proud!), and off I went to the church.  I met my dear friend FO as I was going in.  She had made healthy homemade muffins.  Good girl!  We checked the Parlour and the Loft and finally headed to the Main Office.  And when did Mrs. R (the lovely secretary) have it on her calendar?  Next week.  Ha!  At least I have an idea of what I can take then...or should I try something else?  Hmmm....

Caprese Salad -- Summer Favorite!

I love, love, love caprese salad -- particularly when some of the ingredients come from my backyard!  This pic shows fresh tomatoes & basil from our garden. 

Throw in some fresh mozzarella, a bit of olive oil and just a smidge of salt & balsamic vinegar and you're pretty close to tasting heaven!

Frugal Casserole

Tonight I had a bit of a dilemma.  Saturday night I had made tortillas (yeah, me!); combined ground beef with seasoned black beans, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder & chili powder; and then put them all together in quesadillas. 

We had that for dinner, and it was great!

We had it for lunch on Sunday, and it fit the bill. 

There was still some left over, though.  I really wasn't up to eating it the same way again. 


So...I decided to re-purpose my ingredients and add a few new ones to liven things up a bit.  Woohoo!

I found a small casserole dish... 
(Yes, relatively small because I didn't want to end up eating this forever either.) 
And let the layering begin!

I added a can of chili beans to my black bean & ground beef mixture.  There wasn't quite enough of the original meat/bean mixture to do the whole casserole, and I needed a bit more moisture. 

That came first in my dish.  I topped that layer with diced green chiles and fresh tomato slices. 

The next layer is my favorite, just because I love most all things cheesy, just ask Gina.  Ha!  I took about four ounces of cream cheese and nuked it for about 30 seconds to soften it up, then I added grated cheddar & mozzarella cheeses...til it looked right.  I also threw in some garlic & onion powder.  (I know, it's quite the shortcut, but it served my purposes.  Don't judge.)

That got topped off with a torn up tortilla.

Repeat and cover with a layer of shredded cheddar.

Next time I do this, I'll probably throw some corn in there somewhere. 
It would have added a nice layer of flavor...and a pop of color.  :-)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Garnish each individual dish with crushed tortilla chips and sour cream. 

"'Elicious!" as my sweet W would say.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Egg Whites, Anyone? No? How About Meringues? Yes, Please!

Making chocolate tapioca pudding was lovely.

Eating chocolate tapioca pudding was a treat.

What do you do with the 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9  left over egg whites? 
Make meringue cookies, of course!

Meringue cookies are so very nummy, and ridiculously easy! I do have to warn you, though -- eating a bunch of meringue cookies and deviled eggs in the same week is dangerous.   You will be potentially surrounded by a cloud of sulphur -- 'nuff said.

Here's what you need:
  • egg whites
  • cream of tartar (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs)
  • powdered sugar (1/4 c per egg)
  • vanilla (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs)
  • peppermint extract (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs) -- optional
  • chopped dark chocolate chips -- optional
Here's what you do:
  • Get your egg whites separated from the yolks.  (Make sure no yolks make it in with the whites, otherwise they won't whip up right at all.)   There are a couple of ways you can separate eggs -- you can use an egg separator (not my favorite choice); you can use the shell and pour the yolk back and forth between shell halves as the egg white slides down into the bowl (my Grandma's chosen method); or, my favorite, just crack open your egg, keep the yolk in one of the eggshells as you discard the other shell (I usually keep the eggshell in my right hand.) then dump the egg yolk & white into your other hand.  Let the egg whites slip through your fingers as the yolk rests in your fingers.
  • For your egg whites to whip up best, they need to be at room temperature.  The Joy of Baking website suggested letting them sit in a covered bowl on the counter for 30 minutes to get them at least close to room temperature.
  • Heat your oven to 200 degrees and cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper.  (For 9 egg whites I used two cookie sheets and then I made one giant meringue cookie on a small pan.)  Before you put out your cookies, you can put just a bit of the egg white mixture on the underside of each corner of each piece of parchment paper to hold it down on the cookie sheet.
  • Make sure your bowl and whisk are clean, clean, clean!  Any grease in your bowl will keep the egg whites from whipping up.
  • Mix the egg whites on medium low until they're frothy, then add your cream of tartar (1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs).  This will stabilize the molecular structure and keep the egg whites from deflating once they're whipped up.  If you don't have cream of tartar, you supposedly can use salt, but I've not tried that yet.
  • Here's the part where you hope you have a stand mixer because the egg whites will be whipped for a while at medium high -- all the way to soft peaks (when you lift out the whisk, an egg white mountain will be formed; a soft peak will fold over on itself).  What boggles my mind is that my Grandma would do it by hand!  I am such a wuss.
  • Now you get to add the sugar about a tablespoon at a time with your mixer going at medium high speed.  You'll want to use confectioner's (powdered) sugar here because it will dissolve much more easily than granulated sugar.  If you don't have powdered sugar, but you have a food processor, you can make your own.  Just pulse the amount you need in the food processor with the blade in the bottom until the sugar is as fine as you would like. 
  • Beat & beat & beat & beat.  Whip & whip & whip & whip.  The goal, now, is stiff glossy peaks (tips that don't fold over on themselves).  Once you're there (give it several minutes...maybe even 5), rub a little of the egg whites between your fingers.  Does it feel grainy or smooth?  If it's grainy,  it needs to be whipped longer so that the sugar has time to dissolve.  If it's smooth, you're good to go forward -- whip in the vanilla extract (1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs).
  • You can bake them as is, or you can add other flavoring.  I whisked in peppermint extract (about 1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs) and folded in some chopped up dark chocolate chips.  Delish!
  • You can get fancy at this point and put the stiff egg whites into a pastry bag and pipe them onto your parchment paper covered cookie sheets, or you can do as I do and use two spoons to drop them out.  I'm not really picky how they look!
  • Bake for 45 minutes -1 hour then rotate your cookie sheets for even baking and bake for another 45 minutes - 1 hr.  DON'T OPEN YOUR OVEN DURING THAT FIRST 45 MINUTES.  (Sorry to yell, but opening your oven will cause your meringues to fall.)
  • After the baking time is complete, you should be able to easily pick the meringues up off of the cookie sheet.  If they don't hold up to light tapping with a finger or they don't come off the cookie sheet easily, then they need a bit more time in the oven.  The Joy of Baking lady seemed to think they shouldn't be browned.  I like mine a little on the tan side -- Carmelized Sugar, Baby!  So...as far as the color (or lack thereof) on your meringue, it's a personal choice.
  • Now comes the difficult part -- slightly open the oven door and walk away...for several hours or even overnight.  Waiting is so hard to do!   (Ok, so I didn't wait.  I went ahead and enjoyed one...or two...or four.  Yikes!  Don't tell!)
  • Whew!  You made it to the end!  The cookies don't take as long to make as it took me to write this post, so be encouraged.  :-)
Do understand that I made meringues on the best but worst possible day -- it rained.  We desperately need rain, so I was very thankful, but the egg whites had to be used that day.  All of that to say, the meringues didn't stay crisp for long, they got soft and sticky thanks to the humidity in the air.  Just be aware.  If you have a choice, a sun-shiny dry day is the best way to go.  Regardless, though, enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...you make chocolate tapioca pudding.

Beg pardon?

I was making yogurt last week.  Trying to make yogurt, that is.  Distractions bombarded me from every side.  (I know.  You find that hard to imagine.)

Usually, I set a timer to say, "Hey, You!  Check the milk temp...NOW!" 
No.  No.  For some insane reason, this time I thought I could rely on myself watching the clock.
Whatever was I thinking?  Really.  I do know better than that.

By the time I remembered the milk (after nursing and diapers and trips to the potty and sending W back to bed to finish his nap for the third time), I rushed over in a panic, stirred it up and read the thermometer.  192.  Not good.

It would work.  I could make yogurt with milk that has gotten up to 192.  I think I probably have.  However, I am picky about my yogurt texture and consistency.  Some might even call me snobbish on it, but I'm truly just picky.  Anyway, I have discovered that, if the milk temp is outside of the 170s range (doesn't get that high or goes higher), the texture and consistency are off.  It gets lumpy or runny or any myriad of other things that I just don't like for my yogurt.

So here were my "lemons."  There was no way I was going to dump out half a gallon of milk just because it got too hot, but I really didn't want to choke down a half gallon of yogurt just because I was too cheap to chuck it.  What's a girl to do?

Then I remembered a recent Heavenly Homemakers post -- Creamy Pudding...made into pudding pops.  Oh. My. Gravy.  I had forgotten about those delectable summer treats, and now it was to become my "lemonade." 


Usually, I get out all my ingredients and then put them away as I use them. 
But I was flustered,
...and frustrated,
... and in a hurry.
 Not a good combination.

I poured my milk into the pot, added the cocoa, sugar, salt, egg yolks...and discovered I had no cornstarch.  I had had cornstarch the week before..before Hubby decided it might be a good catalyst for exploding a coffee can.  There's a good explanation for that, but you're just going to have to use your imagination today.

So what do you do when you have no cornstarch?  You do a Google search for substitutions, of course!  I didn't want to use flour.  The taste of raw flour just doesn't fit with the flavor profile of pudding.  Quick cooking tapioca was another option as a thickener. 

I knew that I had two boxes...in our boxes from Texas...in the garage.  By this time, I was determined.  I tore through boxes, sometimes quite literally, as I hadn't taken any type of sharp edge out with me to open the boxes.  Finally, I located my tapioca.  Whew!

With the tapioca thrown in the pot, I whisked,
...and whisked,
...and whisked,
...and whisked some more.
And then I whisked a little bit more.  Just for good measure.

Add in luscious butter and some vanilla, and we were good to go.

After enjoying some pudding as pudding,  I also put some of it in the freezer for pudding pops.  Looking forward to trying that out with my munchkins -- yum, yum!

So the next time life hands you lemons...well, you know what to do!