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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Homemade Pita Chips

Last night, I made my own homemade pita chips for the first time.  As I was chewing my first bite of crispy heaven, I thought to myself, "Why have I never made these before?"  They were absolutely delicious!  They are so easy to make, I think I'll be making a batch every week now.

Homemade Pita Chips

Ingredients:

6 whole pita rounds
4 Tablespoons butter
4 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Cut each pita round into 4 wedges, and separate the layers into individual wedges.  You will have 8 chips per pita round.  Arrange the pita chips in a single layer onto large baking sheets, with the rough side up.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan, then add the olive oil, garlic powder, and sea salt.  Brush the butter mixture onto the pita wedges.  Bake pita wedges for approximately one hour, or until the chips are crispy and just starting to turn a golden color.

Serve with salsa, bean dip, or just eat them plain.  They're delicious either way!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Homemade Calendula Salve

No herb is better suited for first-aid uses than the cheery, golden flowers of Calendula officinalis.


Calendula is easy to grow from seed and produces an abundant amount of flowers, which can be used in the kitchen, medicine cabinet, and for beauty products. 

One of my favorite preparations to make out of Calendula blooms is Calendula Salve.  This salve is wonderful for skin health, and can be used for dry skin, cuts, scrapes, burns, eczema, blisters, and rashes.  So plant some Calendula, and begin harvesting the flowers as soon as they start to bloom, cutting off a few inches of stem along with it.  Hang them in bunches to dry, and keep them in jars or paper bags.  Alternatively, if you cannot grow Calendula yourself, find someone locally who can supply it or order it online.

To make Calendula Salve, you will first need to make Calendula Infused Oil.  The oil is simple to make, and you can make extra for other uses besides the salve.  The infused oil is a nice moisturizer for the skin right after showering, and can also be used for skin irritations much like the salve.

Calendula Infused Oil

Ingredients and Equipment:

1/3 Cup dried Calendula flowers
Olive Oil
Pint Jar

Clean and thoroughly dry the pint jar.  Be sure there is no moisture present, since the least bit of moisture can cause mold to form.  Add the dried flowers to the jar, and cover with olive oil to about an inch under rim to allow for expansion of the herbs.  Cover the jar with a clean piece of cheese cloth, cotton cloth, or nylon and secure with a rubber band or string.  Do not put the actual jar lid on yet, as some herbs release gasses while infusing that could cause the jar to break.  Let the oil infuse in a sunny window for at least 10 days.

Strain out the plant material and compost it.  The remaining oil can be returned to the jar for storage, with the lid on, for up to a year.  You can top the jar off with some extra olive oil if you would like to fill it the rest of the way; this also helps to avoid mold growth, since there will be less air space in the jar.

Once you've got the infused oil made, you can move on to making the actual salve.

Calendula Salve

Ingredients

1 Cup Calendula Infused Oil
1/2 Ounce beeswax, cocoa butter, or emulsifying wax

In a saucepan, warm (but don't boil) the infused oil.

In a separate saucepan, heat the beeswax just until melted.  Pour the melted wax into the warmed oil, and gently stir until combined.  Allow the mixture to cool slightly before pouring into jars or tins.  Then, allow the salve to cool completely before covering.  Store in a dark, cool place for up to one year.

If you would like a thicker or thinner salve, try adjusting the amount of beeswax.  The more beeswax you add, the thicker it will be.

I like to keep my salve in the little, wide-mouth half-pint jars, but you can use just about any non-reactive container you can find.  You will want to be sure that whatever container you use has a wide enough opening for you to comfortably get your fingers in, however.

Once you have mastered the recipe, it is fun to branch out and experiment a little.  Try using different dried herbs in place of the Calendula.  For example, Lemon Balm is good for healing dry, cracked lips and cold sores; Lavender salve can be rubbed on the temples to relieve headaches; and Peppermint salve makes a good foot-rub for sore feet.  Just be sure that whatever herb you choose is positively identified and non-toxic.

In addition to trying different herbs in your salves, you can also experiment with using different types of oils when you make the Infused Oil.  You can try using or combining other liquid oils, such as sunflower oil or avocado oil. 

You can even use solid oils, such as coconut oil or palm oil, as long as you melt it down with the liquid oils first.  I like to add a little dollop of palm oil to my Calendula Salve, because it gives it a nice golden color.  To do this, place both the liquid oils and the solid oils in a double boiler, and heat just until the solid oils have melted.  Then use the oil blend in place of the olive oil in the Infused Oil recipe.  Generally, you don't want the solid oils to make up more than 1/4 of the total oil, so that it stays liquid for infusing.

It's such a rewarding feeling growing your own herbs and then putting them to a practical use!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Homemade Furniture Polish I

If you've gotten into making your own cleaning products, like I have, you will want to try this super-easy recipe for furniture polish.  This is a great way to make your wooden furniture look clean and shiny, without the creepy chemicals being added.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 Tablespoons lemon juice or vinegar

Combine ingredients in a small bowl.  Dip a small section of soft cloth (I like to use old, cut up t-shirts) into the oil mixture, and rub into wood, buffing until it has a nice shine. 

And that's all there is to it!  I hate cleaning, but using my own homemade products helps to make it a little more tolerable.

Bonus Recipe:  Furniture Polish II

Monday, June 27, 2011

Homemade Air Freshener

Making your own air freshener at home is easy and inexpensive.  This recipe will add a subtle, yet pleasant fragrance to your home:

2 Cups water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 drops lavender essential oil (or other EO of your choice)

Combine all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well.  Spray through-out your home.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Praiseworthy Pineapple Juice



Pineapples are one of the world's favorite tropical fruits, coming in second only to bananas.  This sweet, juicy fruit is high in vitamin C, which is why it was carried by sailors in the days of old to protect them from scurvy.  Pineapples made it on the Environmental Working Group's "Clean 15" list, since they are relatively low in pesticide residue.  If you do not have access to organically grown produce, pineapples are a good alternative to many fruits that are high in pesticide residue, such as apples and strawberries.

Not only are pineapples a delicious food, but the juice of this fruit is a very useful commodity to have around the house.  When using pineapple juice, it is always best to use fresh, raw pineapple juice.  Canned or bottled juices have been pasteurized, and this heating renders one of pineapple's most useful components, bromelain, inactive.

To get the juice out of your fresh pineapple, you can use a blender or food processor, mortar and pestle, or simply place it in a bowl and squish it with a masher.  Then, strain out the chunks (saving them for eating or cooking), and store the juice in a covered glass jar in the refrigerator for seven to ten days; alternatively, store the juice in a freezer-safe container (leaving one inch of head-space to accommodate for expansion) for up to a year.

So, now that we've got all this pineapple juice, what should we do with it?

1.  Give Yourself a Facial

Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which digests protein.  This makes pineapple juice beneficial for the skin because it will eat away the dirt and dead skin cells on your face, revealing the fresh, supple skin underneath.  In addition, pineapple juice will help to fade skin discolorations, so it is helpful for age spots and dark circles under the eyes.

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon pineapple juice

Once a week, apply the pineapple juice to your face and throat using your fingers or a soft cloth.  Be sure you don't get any of the juice in your eyes.  Leave the juice on your skin for 5-10 minutes, then rinse well. 

Pineapple juice can also be applied to your whole body, and is especially helpful for dry, callused knees and elbows.

2.  Meat Tenderizer

Pineapple juice can be used to tenderize tough cuts of meat, such as round steak.  To use pineapple juice as a meat tenderizer, about an hour before you prepare your recipe, cover the meat in pineapple juice and allow it to soak.  Discard the juice after you have soaked the meat, and prepare the meat according to your recipe.

3.  Sourdough Starter

Making your own bread is fun!  Pineapple juice is great for this sourdough bread starter recipe from Fieldstone Organic Farm:

½ C unsweetened pineapple juice
½ C whole grain flour
1 C whole grain flour (additional starting on day 4)
1 C water (make sure you use reverse osmosis or distilled water)
¼ t cider vinegar (optional)

Day 1: Mix 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover and let sit for 24 hours at room temperature.


Day 2: Add 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover and let sit again. You may or may not see bubbles at this point.


Day 3: Add 2 T whole grain flour and 2 T pineapple juice. Stir well, cover and let sit again.

Day 4: Stir mixture and measure out ¼ Cup. Discard the rest. To the ¼ C add ¼ C whole grain flour and ¼ C water. Let sit 24 hours at room temperature.


Repeat day 4 until mixture expands to double it's size and smells yeasty. Mixture may start to bubble after a couple of days and then go flat and look totally dead for a couple more days. If this happens, at day 6 add the ¼ teaspoon vinegar with your daily feeding. This will lower the PH and wake up the yeast, which will then start to grow.

Once the yeast starts growing, starter should be fed equal parts of flour and water in a quantity sufficient to make enough starter for your recipe. Store the starter in the refrigerator when you are not using it. It needs to be fed equal parts flour and water once a week to keep it alive. This is very important to maintain a healthy starter. (You can either use or discard part of it when feeding so that you do not become overwhelmed with starter.)

4.  Vinegar

And, just so you know, you shouldn't throw away the peels and cores of your pineapples.  Make vinegar out of them instead!

Pineapple Vinegar
From Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

Ingredients:

1/4 cup sugar
Peel of 1 pineapple
water
cheesecloth (or old T-shirt)
glass jar

1. In a jar or bowl, dissolve the sugar in 1 quart of water. Coarsely chop and add the pineapple peel. Cover with cheesecloth to keep flies out, and leave to ferment at room temperature.


2. When you notice the liquid darkening, after about 1 week, strain out the pineapple peels and discard. (compost!)


3. Ferment the liquid 2 to 3 weeks more, stirring or agitating periodically, and your pineapple vinegar is ready.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Black Bean Wraps

Beans, beans the magical fruit, the more you eat, the more you...  Well, you know how it goes.

Despite all the silly poems out there about beans making you "musical," I went ahead and planted some in the garden this year (it helps that I found out adding a pinch of baking soda to the water when you soak them will alleviate some of your "musical" talent).  I have black beans and tongue-of-fire beans planted, and they are currently growing quite nicely.



Since I will have some fresh beans from the garden, I started searching for recipes to use them.  I found a site called Frugal Granola that had some really great recipes.  I found this recipe, that included not only black beans, but many other veggies and herbs that we have in our garden.

Black Bean Wraps

1 Cup cooked black beans
1 Cup diced fresh tomatoes
1 Cup fresh corn
1 cucumber, diced
1/4 Cup diced red onion
1/2 Cup diced bell peppers
1/4 Cup chopped herbs (fresh basil, cilantro, parsley, lemon basil, etc.)
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes, salt & pepper to taste
4 thin slices of chicken or turkey breast
4 tortillas (if using homemade, make sure they are thin enough to roll up)

Stir together beans, tomatoes, corn, cucumber, onion, peppers, herbs, lime juice, garlic, and seasonings.  Lay one slice of meat on each tortilla.  Sprinkle veggie mixture on top, and roll up.  Slice in half and serve.
This recipe is one of my favorite kinds:  quick and easy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Homemade Raspberry Iced Tea


"Iced tea is too pure and natural a creation not to have been invented as soon as tea, ice, and hot weather crossed paths." -John Egerton

Mr. Egerton had it right; no hot, sticky, summer day would be complete without a tall glass of iced tea.  Iced tea ranks right up there with lemonade as one of the best thirst-quenching summer drinks.  But besides being deliciously satisfying, tea (especially green tea) is very high in antioxidants, which help your cells to regenerate and repair.  And since tea is relatively low in caffeine, it won't dehydrate you like sodas, iced coffee, or alcoholic beverages.

The tea recipe that I am going to share with you today is a favorite of ours, and my husband requests it every summer.  I prefer to use green tea since it provides more health benefits, but any kind of tea could be substituted.


Raspberry Iced Tea


Ingredients:


4 Quarts water
1 1/2 Cups sugar or 1 Cup honey
12 ounces (3 Cups) raspberries
16 (1.8 g) green tea bags or 2/3 Cup loose leaf green tea
1/4 Cup lemon juice

Combine water and sugar/honey in a large, non-reactive pan.  Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar/honey.  Remove pan from heat and add the raspberries, tea, and lemon juice.  Stir and cover.  Allow to steep for 20 minutes.  Strain out raspberries and tea.  Pour hot tea into a heat-proof container, or allow the tea to cool if using a glass tea jug.  Refrigerate.  Serve tea with ice cubes and lemon wedges if desired.

If you would prefer to make a smaller batch of this tea, just cut the ingredient amounts in half.  For a little something different, you may want to try adding some peppermint sprigs or lemon balm with the green tea.

This is a very tasty and refreshing tea for hot, summer days.  Stay cool this summer and get all the benefits of antioxidants by drinking some raspberry iced tea.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Fermented Dandelion Soda


It is Spring!  And it is likely that your yard is harboring an abundance of those cheery, little weeds known as dandelions (Taraxacum officinale).  Rather than let this prolific plant go to waste every year, I attempt to utilize them in some way.  I have dried and preserved the roots and leaves for medicinal uses, and eaten the fresh greens as a food source.

This year, however, I thought I would try my hand at making a special treat using the flowers:  Dandelion Soda.  I started with a recipe I had found in a book years ago, called Dandelion Fizz.  Problem was, it wasn't really all that fizzy.  Still a good tasting drink, but it needed some work.  This year, I worked on modifying the recipe, and I came up with a good tasting drink that fizzes just like soda.





Dandelion Soda

2 Cups tightly packed dandelion flowers (gathered from a pesticide/herbicide free area)
4 Cups boiling water

2 Cups sugar
or
1 1/3 Cups honey

2 lemons, juiced (save the rinds!)

1.  Rinse the dandelion flowers well to remove dirt and any little creepy-crawlies (I found several ants on my flowers).


2. Place the dandelion flowers in a heat-proof container made of glass, ceramic, enamel, or stainless steel (I used a large stainless steel bowl, but a crock would also work well); pour the boiling water over the flowers.  Cover the container with a lid or a large dinner plate, and allow the dandelions to steep in the boiling water over night.

3.  The next day, strain out the dandelions using a mesh stainer, a piece of nylon, or cheesecloth.  Pour the liquid into a non-reactive pot (again, enamel or stainless steel work well).  Add the sugar/honey, lemon juice, and lemon rinds to the pot as well.  Heat until the sugar/honey dissolves, but do not bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

4.  Strain out the lemon rinds, and ladle or pour the liquid into a crock, a quart jar, or other non-reactive container.  I have used canning jars, but I also have a glass decanter that I saved from some Captain Morgan and up-cycled into a soda fermenter-er for this project.  I prefer to use glass; since it is transparent, you can easily check the progress of your soda to see if it has started to bubble.

Once you have poured the liquid into your container, you will need to cover the top so no fruit flies try to taste your soda.  I used a scrap of nylon secured with a rubber band to cover the top of my bottle, and cheesecloth would also work well.  Whatever you choose, make sure that it is not air-tight.  Air needs to be able to escape as the soda ferments, or your container could explode.


5.  The soda will ferment best at around 75 degrees F.  However, I just let mine sit on the kitchen counter, and it did just fine.  Allow the brew to sit for approximately a week, but check it daily.  In the first few days, it may develop a film on the top.  Do not be alarmed, this is normal.  Gently stir it to break up the film on top.  Eventually, the mixture will begin to have a pleasant scent, and you will be able to see little bubbles rising to the top.  This is carbon dioxide, and is produced as a by-product of the fermentation.  Once your soda has a nice smell, and is bubbly, it is ready to drink!

6.  You may notice that a layer of sediment has formed on the bottom of your container.  You can either try to filter this sediment out using a damp piece of nylon (I don't ever throw out my stockings if I get a run in them, they work great for filtering), or you can gently pour off the liquid, leaving the sediment in the container.  Once you have taken care of the sediment, you can wash your container and return the soda to it for refrigeration, or you can serve it right away with some ice.

Should you decide to refrigerate your soda, keep in mind that although the fermentation will be slowed, it is still occurring.  This means that carbon dioxide is still being produced, so you should leave the nylon or cheesecloth on as your cover to prevent explosions.

Dandelion soda is an easy project and a great alternative to the corn-syrup filled cans at the grocery store.  My kids are generally the ultimate product testers for me, and they both gave it a big thumbs-up!  So, don't let those dandelions go to waste!  See what you can make of them...you may be pleasantly surprised.






This post was shared on The Nourishing Gourmet.