Real Food

Savor the flavors of everyday real food, fresh from the garden or stored on your pantry shelves.

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1/23/2015

Butternut squash are an important winter food, the rich orange flesh delivering vital nutrients in a sweet and velvety goodness that can be utilized in a variety of ways.

I use a pressure cooker to quickly process the squash, enabling me to deliver a delicious dish literally in a matter of minutes. As soon as the pressure cooker comes up to pressure I remove it from the heat.

winter squash
Butternut squash reaches the perfect softness in minutes when processed in a pressure cooker.

scooping out
When the pieces are cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out easily with a spoon. If the skin has been cooked sufficiently and is very soft, another option is to process with the skins, preserving all of the nutrients.

blend until smooth

Blend the squash to the desired consistency, adding the liquid remaining in the pressure cooker or water, 1/2 to 1 cup at a time.

Remember that most butternut squash soup (or pie) recipes call for additional liquid, such as any milk or creamer alternative, or in the recipe below, coconut milk.

Process the puree' until all lumps and texture have disappeared and the mixture is smooth and creamy.

soup

Ingredients

• 6 cups butternut squash puree'
• 1 16 oz. can coconut milk
• 1 tbsp minced ginger
• 1/2 tsp salt
• 1/4 tsp garlic powder
• 1/4 - 1/2 onion, cooked until carmelized
• Optional: 1/2 tsp red curry paste

Instructions

1. Saute onion until clear.

2. Add to blended squash along with all other ingredients.

3. Heat and serve.

4. Option: Thinly slice 2 carrots and 2 stalks of celery and steam in a separate pot to speed their cooking. Add to the soup when soft. Garnish the bowl with a spring of cilantro.

You'll be amazed at the deliciousness of the coconut-ginger combination with the rich flavor of the butternut squash. Enjoy!

For more tips on storing winter squash. check out my other blog post for MOTHER EARTH NEWS.

Douglas Stevenson is a long term member of The Farm Community, one of the largest and oldest ecovillages in the world. He is the author of The Farm Then and Now, a Model for Sustainable Living sold in MOTHER's Notable New Books. He is also the host of GreenLife Retreats, including The Farm Experience Weekend and workshops on organic gardening, sustainability, and living the green life!


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/22/2015

Stock Simmers in the Pan

Most of us at MOTHER EARTH NEWS are steeped in a passion to waste nothing. When it comes to chicken, I use everything but the cluck.

This tasty chicken stock is easy, delicious and has the added benefit of filling your house with a delightful aroma that will make your kids and dogs go a little cra-cra. If that isn't enough, chicken stock is free. Just round up that carrot that may be too limp for salad, that half of onion you want to use up, and whatever herbs and spices you have on hand.

Once you have made your stock, you can use it right away for soup by adding noodles or rice and some chopped vegetables. Or freeze it to use later.

Making chicken stock:

1. The first step is to scrub your hands and work surfaces with hot soapy water. Break the chicken carcass apart and put the pieces in a pan with enough water to just cover the bones. Bring the water to a boil.

2. While you wait for the water to boil, chop up a carrot, stalk of celery, onion and whatever other vegetables you have on hand. If you like garlic, add that too, along with a grind of salt and pepper.

3. This is yet another time that growing herbs on a sunny windowsill pays off. To make my stock, I clip a few sprigs of fresh parsley and rosemary. The fragrance just from snipping them off the plant brings back memories of last summer ... and helps me cope with the cold weeks before I start seeds for spring planting.

Parsley And Rosemary In Winter

Add all your vegetables and herbs to the pot and bring the temperature down to a friendly simmer. Depending on the size of the bird, it takes about 90 minutes to extract all the goodness from the bones and vegetables.

Strain the stock through a fairly fine sieve into a shallow container that will allow the stock to cool quickly. If it's chilly outside, I put it on my potting table to cool (out of reach of my dogs). Skim any fat off that rises to the top. At this point, either pour into a freezer container and label, or put the stock back on the stove to make a soup that will put summer in your family's hearts.

You can read more about Dede Ryan's other writing at Dede Ryan's blog.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/21/2015

Growing on at least three continents and available to forage even when there's snow on the ground, henbit (Lamium amplexicaule) and other plants in the Lamium genus are a too-often ignored wild winter food.

Edible Lamium 

How to Recognize Henbit and Other Edible Lamiums

All Lamiums are in the mint family, and like other members of the Lamiaceae have square stems (roll a stem between your forefinger and thumb and you'll feel the four distinct sides) and opposite leaves (the leaves attach to the stem in aligned pairs).

The leaves of both henbit and other edible, similar looking plants in the Lamium genus (all of which share the unfortunate common name deadnettle) are 1/2 to 2 inches wide, and can be oval, spade or heart-shaped. The leaves have deeply scalloped margins. Henbit leaves attach directly to the stems and the upper leaf pairs can appear at first glance to be one round leaf surrounding the stem. Other Lamium species have short leaf stalks, but the leaf shape is similar. The deep veins give them an almost quilted appearance. There are hairs on the leaves.

The pink or purple flowers grow in whorls in the leaf axils (where the leaves join the stems). The petals of each small flower are fused into a 1/2- to 2/3-inch tube.

Henbit and other dead nettles are low-growing plants. The lower stems sprawl on the ground and can root where they touch soil. But the last few inches of the stems usually grow upright. Henbit likes disturbed soils and often shows up as a garden and farm weed.

L. purpureum, known by the common name red dead nettle, is a close relative of henbit that is just as winter-hardy, widespread, and has similar uses in the kitchen. As its species name suggests, its leaves are tinged with a reddish - purple color. This is especially true at the tops of the plants.

Best Ways to Eat Lamiums

Lamium plants may be in the mint family, but they don't taste anything like mint. Rather, they are relatively mild leafy greens that can be eaten raw or cooked.

I think henbit and other Lamiums are best when combined with mild-tasting wild winter greens such as chickweed or cultivated leafy greens. Henbit holds up well to strong seasoning: garlic and/or ginger are good choices depending on the direction your recipe is taking. You can also use it to replace the spinach in Greek spanakopita recipes.

Best Way to Harvest Lamiums

If you harvest just the top few inches of the stems of this species, you are in no way threatening the plant's survival. In fact, henbit will grow back even bushier and more tender if you harvest this way.

Leda Meredith is the author of Northeast Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Beach Plums to Wineberries. You can watch her foraging and food preservation videos, and follow her food adventures at Leda's Urban Homestead. Her latest book is Preserving Everything: Can, Culture, Pickle, Freeze, Ferment, Dehydrate, Salt, Smoke...and More.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/19/2015

Like many of you, my motivations for canning and preserving are varied. I like the control canning gives me over my food. I like knowing that the food my family eats is high quality and chosen by me, with no unsafe "non-food" surprises lurking in the bottom of the can.

I like the fact that the food I can not only tastes better than the same item purchased at the grocery store, but is healthier than its commercially canned cousin too.

And sometimes food nostalgia drives my canning/preserving. If you grew up in the 1950s or 60s you may fondly remember spiced apple rings. In an age when boxed spaghetti and sauce and brightly colored Cool-Aid (with cyclamates!) were de rigueur, spiced apple rings held a special place, served with Sunday dinner or on special occasions.

Spiced Candied Apple Rings 

Over the years they seem to have fallen out of favor, along with the artificial coloring that made them almost beet-red. But spiced apple rings add the perfect touch to a winter-friendly comfort food meal. The other night I served them with stewed beans and a pasta casserole to rave reviews from the grandchildren. They are also a good accompaniment to chicken cutlets or pork chops. Since fresh apples are still available, winter is the perfect time for this canning project.

Safe Home Canning

Before starting any canning project, it’s always a good idea to brush up on home canning safety tips. Lessons learned at Grandma’s knee might no longer be considered safe. MOTHER EARTH NEWS has published many canning articles that help keep us up-to-date, including the very helpful Home Canning Guide. You can also find a step-by-step water bath canning tutorial on my Seed to Pantry site.

Spiced Apple Rings Recipe

Ingredients:

• 5 pounds of 2-1/2-inch diameter apples
• 8 cups water
• 2 tbsp vinegar
• 4-1/2 cups sugar
• 2-1/4 cups water
• 1/3 cup red hot cinnamon candies
• 1/2 cup cider vinegar (5% acidity)
• 1 lemon, sliced
• 1 tbsp whole cloves
• 1 tbsp whole allspice berries
• 1/2 tbsp ground mace
• 5 or 6 pint canning jars

Instructions:

1. Peel and core the apples.

2. Slice into 1/2-inch rings.

3. Add apple rings to a large pot filled with the 8 cups of water and 2 tbsp of vinegar (prevents the apples from browning).

4. In another large pot (6-8 quarts) combine sugar, 2-1/4 cups water, red hot cinnamon candies, cider vinegar, lemon slices, cloves, allspice and mace.

5. Bring the sugar mixture to a boil over medium heat. Be sure to stir almost constantly so the sugar doesn't burn. Reduce heat and let simmer 3-5 minutes (the candy should be dissolved by this point). Drain the apple rings and add to the syrup.

6. Gently stir the apple rings into the syrup and simmer for 5 minutes or so. Fill 5-6 clean, hot, pint canning jars with the apple rings. Strain the hot syrup to remove the whole spices and lemon. Pour the strained syrup over the rings leaving 1/2-inch head space. Wipe the jar lips with a moist paper towel, add lids, and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes.

7. As you can see the rings are not bright red! Although they will continue to absorb the red coloring as they sit, if you really want the apples to be bright red, add a few drops of red food coloring to the syrup mixture.

If you find the thought of artificially colored candies unpalatable, substitute 4 cinnamon sticks for the cinnamon candies. The rings will not be red, but will have the same warm cinnamon flavor.

Like any pickled product, the apple rings will be better after sitting for 3 weeks. This recipe was adapted from the Heinz Successful Pickling Guide.

Renee Pottle is an author, Family and Consumer Scientist, and Master Food Preserver. She writes about canning, baking, and urban homesteading at Seed to Pantry.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/15/2015

dragon fruit

One of the most unusual looking fruits in the store, dragon fruit bursts with color and nutritional benefits. From a healthier heart to stronger bones and even a tougher immune system, this little fruit has a positive impact on your body. Dragon fruit, also known as a pitaya, comes from a cactus – and it's also easy to grow.

Health Benefits

High-fiber, low-calorie foods are a dieter’s dream, especially when they taste good. Even if you aren't trying to slim down, dragon fruit offers myriad vitamins and minerals such as fiber, phosphorus, calcium, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and C.

The flesh of the fruit is riddled with tiny black seeds. The edible seeds of this fruit contain omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, which help to reduce the risk of heart disease. Even though this fruit will satisfy your sweet tooth, it doesn’t contain any complex carbohydrates.

It doesn't stop there, though. There are quite a few home remedies that involve dragon fruit. It can also be used to treat acne and relieve sunburned skin.

DIY Dragon Fruit

Even if all previous attempts at gardening have failed, it’s likely you’ll be able to grow your own dragon fruit. Start with a self-pollinating variety for even easier maintenance. Unless you want to wait a few years for your cactus to bear fruit, skip the seed stage and just use a stem cutting.

Once you've acquired a stem cutting, allow the cut end to dry over. Keep the cutting out of sunlight for this time period, too. Allowing the cut end to seal up helps to prevent fungal infections that can occur if you plant the cutting without first letting it heal. This normally takes about a week.

Now for the hard part. Plant the cutting in potting soil – only between 1 to 2 inches deep – and set the pot in a sunny window. Remember, this is a cactus, so you only need to water it once every two weeks. If the soil dries out, don't panic – it’s supposed to.

Eventually, the cactus will develop wispy tendrils sprouting from all over its surface. Congratulations, you have a healthy plant! If you've ever grown ivy before, you'll recognize how strong these little roots can be. They will happily latch on to nearly any surface, so it's important to provide the plant with a trellis.

Move the cactus to a larger pot, but no bigger than 25 gallons. Keep the soil high in phosphorus but low in nitrogen. You can buy soil with these qualities or make your own. Once repotted, gradually move your cactus into more and more sunlight.

Your goal is for the cactus to have at least half a day of sunlight, with a full day as the optimal amount. Keep in mind that moving the plant too quickly into direct sunlight can have adverse effects.

Care and Maintenance

It's important to encourage the dragon fruit cactus to grow up instead of out. That means that you need to remove many of the roots from the sides of the cactus – leaving the tendrils on the top of the plant – to encourage upward growth. Also, make sure that you're directing the stems towards their trellis as it grows.

Continue this process until the cactus is at least 2 feet tall. That might sound big but, in order to bear fruit, the cactus will need to build about 10 pounds of mass, so it needs plenty of room to grow.

Your goal is to get the cactus to flower, and these flowers will produce fruit – unless they need pollination – in about a month.

Even though dragon fruit is easy to grow, it does take time – so don't wait to get started. Have patience and don't worry, this is one of the few plants that you can forget to water for a few weeks at a time. Soon you'll have healthy snacks at the ready.

Photo by Flickr/tippi t


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/12/2015

Midwest Winery Vineyard

“What though youth gave love and roses,/ Age still leaves us friends and wine.” — Thomas Moore, 1815

In the Midwest we are proud to be hailed as “the bread basket” of the nation and produce a multitude of crops. However, grapes and wine production are not generally synonymous with this area. Nevertheless, several vineyards and wineries do thrive in the area. Some grow their own grapes and many import the grapes from an environment that is more conducive for producing the best grapes for wine production. If you enjoy wine, pursuing the hobby of making wine yourself reaps many rewards and also expands your appreciation for what goes into the making of a good wine. As with many hobbies, it is not just the end result, but the process itself, that provides an intriguing experience.

Another distinct advantage of producing your own wine, is having complete control over what goes into your wine. Some commercial wine producers add other ingredients to their wine, besides grapes and sugar, to enhance flavor and sometimes increase shelf life. Sulfites are an added ingredient that some people are allergic to and can easily be omitted from your own wine. Sulfites act as a preservative, so when omitted from the wine, an opened bottle needs to be consumed within a few days.

Illinois Winemakers

Dave and Joan, a couple who reside in Mundelein, Illinois, have produced several vintage years of wine. They first became interested in the process through some mutual friends and now pursue the hobby. They explain that even though we are not in the heart of wine country, there are many wine enthusiasts in the Chicago area and also several sources to buy both equipment and fresh grapes. Generally, the grapes shipped into this area are from the Lodi region of California. Dave and Joan, generally produce a blend of Merlot and Muscat. The Muscat grape is very juicy, easier to work with and more predictable in producing a good wine. The white wines are in many ways harder to produce for the beginning vintner. They are more fragile and harder to work with. Grapes for the Red wines are more “predictable” and easier to work with.

Before pursuing the hobby of wine making, it’s good to have an overview of the craft itself and also determine if your area of the country is an area where grapes, and sometimes other types of fruit, can be successfully grown and utilized for wine production. Or, in the case you cannot grow the fruit yourself, where you can procure grapes. It is interesting to note that some vintners do a combination of both. While touring a vineyard in Illinois, near Starved Rock State Park, I learned that a portion of their grapes are purchased from another vineyard and only some produced locally. So depending on your needs, you can do a little of both.

The Midwest Wine Press

All 11 states in the Midwest have at least some degree of wine production, and the figures don’t even include home wine production by hobbyists. According to the Midwest Wine Press, Michigan is the leading Midwestern state for wine production with 2,650 acres dedicated to grape growing. The Midwest Wine Press is “the first business publication dedicated entirely to the art and business of winemaking in the Midwestern United States.” They can be found at the Midwest Wine Press website.

In my next story, I will get into the nitty-gritty of the art of wine production and the steps that it takes to produce a “drinkable”, enjoyable product. Cheers!

Photo by Fotolia/gburba


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.



1/7/2015

Winter has finally descended upon us. The holidays are over and done, today is the last day of vacation. Kids going back to school and workers back to work. The temperatures here in the midwest are hovering around 20, but the brisk cold winter wind is bringing that down to about 3 with the wind chill factor. The bugs that are taking the country by storm decided to stop here on Honeysuckle Hill for a visit and I have had a mild stomach bug for a couple of days. No one else here is sick, just me. We're eating lots of soups and I'm munching dandelion leaves a couple of times a day. It's keeping the stomach cramps to a minimum and I really feel pretty good, so it must be working.

I love lentils. Do you? My husband always thinks they are too bland. He'll eat them, but they're not his favorite. Until I started fixing them like this. Lentils are a wonderful ancient food that have been eaten by civilizations much older than ours. They are believed to have been cultivated as long ago as 8000 years. They are mentioned in the Bible. Before the 1st century AD, they were introduced into India. They are a traditional dish served in India known as dal, and most homes there eat lentils at least twice a day. They are also a healthy powerhouse of nutrition, containing high amounts of folate, B vitamins, fiber and protein, as well as many other vitamins and minerals. There are yellow lentils, brown lentils, red lentils and green lentils. You can easily make vegan, vegetarian, or meals with meat. Here's a picture of the mix I keep in my pantry:

lentils

It's just a mix of all the colors of lentils, because I think they're pretty. There are so many things you can do with lentils- burgers, loaves, casseroles, shepherd's pies and soups and stews. Today we're going to stick with the soup. This recipe serves 4 conservatively. Here's a list of the ingredients you'll need to make this lovely rich Lentil Coconut Soup:

Ingredients:

• 1 tbsp olive oil
• 1 medium to large carrot, diced small
• 1 to 1-1/2 stalks fresh celery, diced small
• 1 medium onion, diced
• 3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
• 2 cups sorted and rinsed lentils
• 1 can organic coconut milk
• 3 cups spring water
• 1 tsp garam masala spice
• 1/2 tsp ground coriander
• 1/2 tsp ground ginger
• Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Dice your carrot, celery, garlic and onions.

2. Using a heavy bottomed stainless steel saucepan, heat the  olive oil and then add the chopped vegetables. Sweat them, stirring often, until the onions become translucent.

3. While they are cooking, sort and rinse your lentils, like you would any bean you cook, looking for small stones or pieces of dirt.  Rinse well and drain.

lentils4

4. Once your vegetables are cooked, add the dry lentils, the water and the can of coconut milk.

5. Add the spices , saving the garam masala for near the end of the cooking. Do you keep garam masala in your pantry? I used to always make my own, pounding whole cardamom and nutmeg pods and it was a lot of work. But it's not a spice you use every day, so one batch would last quite a while. Then my local health food store started carrying it in their bulk spices department and I bought some to try. I've never looked back. It's a wonderfully aromatic blend of spices... coriander, cardamom, cumin, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. I use it in curries and stir-fries too. If you don't have this wonderful spice, you can make a good enough substitute with this recipe. Mix together 1 tablespoon cumin, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom, 1-1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir in an airtight jar.

6. It will take your lentils about 35-40 minutes to cook. Keep an eye on them and stir often. The general rule of thumb for cooking lentils recommends 3 cups of liquid to 1 cup of dried lentils. I use a little less than that as I like my soup to have a hearty thickness to it.

7. Once it starts to boil, turn the heat to the lowest setting you can and simmer for the duration. When your lentils are about 4 minutes from completion, add the garam masala.

This soup will easily stand by itself as a hearty lunch or supper fare. If you're really motivated, you could bake naan to serve with it. It would pair well with a sandwich or any kind of cracker you might have on hand. I happened to have a beautiful loaf of spelt bread I had baked a few days ago, chock full of sesame seeds and raw sunflower seeds and golden flax seed. It was beautiful, even though I used my bread maker to do all the heavy work since I was not feeling up to par.

lentilsoup9

It made for a luscious filling late lunch on a snowy Sunday. My bear of a husband was sated, and I was extremely happy with the delicate richness the coconut milk added to the lentils. I had said to him earlier, "It will either be magnificent or awful." Thank goodness, it was magnificent.

It's simple to make. It's common pantry ingredients. It doesn't take long to cook. All the perfect ingredients (in my book) for a perfect meal. With heart healthy ingredients like lentils, you can feed a crowd of any size and age group economically and easily. 1 cup of cooked lentils packs a whopping 36 percent of your daily recommended allowance of protein, making it an excellent source for people who choose not to eat meat. Lentils, like all legumes, provide an excellent source of fiber. I'm always looking for star quality items to keep in my pantry as part of my food storage systems and lentils, split peas and all manner of dried beans are right up there at the top of the list.

Happy 2015 to you all. And as you start this new year, I urge you to take time to consider your kitchen and your pantry and all your food storage needs for your family. I wholeheartedly recommend Sharon Astyk's book Independence Days as a good place to start. She does a really good job of explaining the whys and wherefores of food storage.


 All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Best Practices, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on the byline link at the top of the page.












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