Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Vegan Eats World: Review, Giveaway, and Spicy Drunken Noodles recipe!

The Wednesday Review:
Reviewing books, products and more you may be interested in

This giveaway is now closed. Thank you to all who entered!  Read on for the review and a free recipe, however! 

This is the fifth book in a series of giveaways!  
Like us on Facebook to stay up to speed with all our giveaways!  

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.  They did not pay me for my review.  As some of you know far too well, the opinions expressed herein most definitely are and perhaps unfortunately always will be my own! 

Dear cooks of international flair, 

I've been having way too much fun with this giveaway series.  Not only am I loading up on a stack of fresh cooking material for the kitchen and hopefully helping you to do the same, but I've been "meeting" readers from far and wide!  We've had winners in Missouri, Utah, Texas and Massachusetts, and I am curious to see where this next book will go!  The last book we gave away was Nourishing Traditions, and it sailed off to a new home in Utah!  We're giving away another book from the outstanding press, Da Capo Lifelong {follow them on Facebook for recipes, giveaways, and information on fabulous cooking books}; they generously offered us this giveaway on top of the one they just sponsored for Vegan Cupcakes!  

Speaking of generous, everybody's a winner with this review, because Da Capo's publicist gave permission to share a recipe for all of us to enjoy!  Read on for Spicy Drunken Noodles ... 

This is a book on international cooking, and I guess it also happens to be vegan - which is almost beside the point when you start exploring these flavorful, exotic dishes that weirdly can be made as easily as a bowl of spaghetti, in your own kitchen!  

This is also a huge book.  Almost as big as my (huge) baby, it boasts over 300 recipes from around the world! 

What's with vegan eating?  Vegan and vegetarian eating may be a pseudo-faddish lifestyle for some Westerners, but in many parts of the world it's just a way of life; animal products may be costly or hard to come by, and people rely on a plant-based diet in many regions as a matter of necessity.  Not surprisingly then, fabulously creative and delicious recipes have developed in remote parts of the world, meals which are consumed by everybody, not just card-carrying "vegans"!  You might be living a purely vegan lifestyle and seeking new material to jazz up your weeknights, or you may be roasting a turkey this afternoon but looking for a nutritious side dish with a little Mediterranean flair, or hoping to use up a few extra eggplant and thinking a Lebanese Moussaka Stew might fit the bill.  I, a die-hard self-professed advocate of whole milk, cheese and bacon, am delighting over the traditional Garlicky Potato Dip from Greece, Coriander Rye Muffins from Russia, Okra Masala (Bindi Bhaji) from India, and Takeout Stir Fry Noodles with Mushrooms and Greens from China!

What's inside: Rather than dividing the recipes by region, which is a cute idea but can be inconvenient when you want to quickly find a soup for a cool evening, these recipes are conveniently and handily divided by food genre.  Preceded by a section familiarizing novice cooks on tools, ingredients and lingo, there are twelve fat chapters in this book: Spice Blends (like Olive Oil Harissa Paste), The Three Protein Amigos: Tofu, Seitan and Tempeh (like Lemon and Olive Chickpea Seitan), Pickles, Chutneys and Saucier Sauces (like Whipped Garlic Dip), Salads, Spreads and Sandwiches (like Avocado Mango Cashew Salad), Soups (like White Bean Farro Soup with Chickpea Parmigiana), Curries Hearty Stews and Beans (like Mexican Homemade Refried Beans), Dumplings Breads and Pancakes (like Ethiopian Savory Crepes), Asian Noodles to Mediterranean Pasta (like Sizzling Seitan Pho Noodle Soup), Hearty Entrees (like Korean Veggie Bulgogi), Robust Vegetable Entrees and Sides (like Crisp Stir-Fry Greens with Veggie Oyster Sauce), Rice and Whole Grains: One-Pot Meals and Supporting Roles (like Crusty Persiaon Rice with Dill and Fava Beans), and Sweet Beginnings (like Walnut Spice Sticky Cake).

Recipes are all accompanied by a few little purple symbols, helping cooks that are seeking a dish to fit certain specifications: 123 denotes the easiest recipes; 45 denotes under-45-minute recipes; a chair marks recipes that are mostly inactively cooking on the stove or in the oven so you can be out of the kitchen; $ indicates inexpensive ingredients; low-fat marks recipes with a tablespoon or less of added fats; G indicates gluten-free recipes; and S marks recipes without soy.

Of course, the book is scattered throughout with beautiful color photographs of many of the delicious recipes you'll be encountering.  With recipes using traditional fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, recipes that bring on the heat with berebere and harissa, recipes that are familiar and recipes that are bizarre, there is something exploratory and exciting for everybody in this book.  But perhaps we should let the recipes speak for themselves?  I'll leave you with the recipe for Spicy Drunken Noodles, and then you can check out the book on your own or enter the giveaway below!

photo courtesy of Isa Chandra Moskowitz
used with permission

Pad Kee Mao 
(Spicy Drunken Noodles) 
From Vegan Eats World, reprinted with permission

Serves 2 to 3

There are many colorful stories about the origins of 
this addictive, fiery Thai noodle dish, but the strangest 
one may be about the wife who was so fed up 
with her drunken husband she turned to revenge 
via loading up his favorite noodles with fistfuls of 
hot chile peppers. Seems like her plan backfired, 
because the heady mixture of savory sauces and 
fiery chilies made him (and countless fans after) 
swoon and ask for seconds. Your homemade spin on 
this takeout favorite need not be punishingly hot to 
be just as good.

Thai soy sauce: Like her sister recipe, Pad See Ew (page 230), Pad Kee Mao is best made with genuine Thai soy sauces. One bottle of each Thai sauce will last for dozens of noodle dishes, making spontaneous Thai-style noodles an easy weekday meal treat. Chinese- or Japanese-style sauces don’t have the correct flavors; your dish may be good, but it won’t taste like Thai food. Thai thin soy sauce (light amber color, thin consistency, and strong, salty taste) does the job of standing in for fish sauce. Golden Mountain sauce is a special Thai seasoning sauce with a consistency and flavor slightly like Worcestershire sauce; it’s vegan, with complex flavors that soy sauce alone can’t cover. Thai black soy sauce and sweet soy sauce are thick and sweet sauces with molasses-like notes; both have their own unique character, but in a pinch are interchangeable. But for the most authentic tasting dish, use both!

Authentic Thai vegetables are much more challenging to find than the sauces, but a little cabbage, carrot, or even a few florets of broccoli or a handful of snow peas are fine.

Regarding the rice noodles, you have license to use whatever you can find. Many Thai restaurants use slippery, chewy, wide fresh rice noodles.  These noodles are delicious and will make the most authentic-tasting dish but can be difficult to find. If you can’t find sliced, fresh flat rice noodles at Thai markets, investigate Chinese markets for bags of soft fresh rice ho fun noodles: huge rice noodles that resemble a floppy kitchen towel folded into a squishy bundle. Regular Pad Thai rice sticks, if not authentic, are an easy-to-find substitute.

If you can’t use fresh ho fun noodles immediately, they can be refrigerated but will be stiff after being chilled a few hours (but they can keep for weeks, so it’s worth stashing an extra bag in the fridge for future stir-fries). To refresh ho fun noodles, steam them for 4 to 8 minutes until soft and pliable enough to unfold; the older the noodle, the more steaming required. Gently unfold this super noodle (if it rips a little don’t worry), and slice or tear into pieces. Don’t worry if they’re not pretty, they’ll taste like dynamite in noodle stir-fries. Keep the fresh noodles covered with a moist paper towel until ready to stir-fry.

Drunken Noodle Sauce

2 tablespoons Chinese vegetarian stir-fry sauce (see page 13)
2 tablespoons Thai thin soy sauce (see page 19)
4 teaspoons brown sugar or palm sugar
1 tablespoon Thai Golden Mountain sauce (see page 18)
2 tablespoons Thai black soy sauce or Thai sweet soy sauce (see page 19), or
1 tablespoon of each sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons lime juice
2 to 3 teaspoons Asian chili garlic sauce or hot red pepper flakes

Noodles and Vegetables

12 ounces Thai fresh flat rice noodles or Chinese fresh ho fun noodles
3 tablespoons peanut, canola, or grapeseed oil
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 to 4 red or green hot chile peppers
(Thai, Indian, or serrano), sliced into paper-thin rings
One 8-ounce package fried tofu or 1 recipe
Savory Baked Tofu (page 50), sliced into
1/4-inch thin strips
3 cups shredded Napa or savoy cabbage
1 carrot, sliced into matchsticks
3 scallions, both green and white parts, thinly sliced
1/2 cup lightly packed Thai basil leaves
1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
Lime wedges for squeezing over noodles

1. If the rice noodles are very fresh and soft, you don’t need to cook them; just tear into bite sized pieces if needed and proceed to the stir-fry. If already sliced, gently separate the noodles and set aside, or refold the ho fun several times into a wide tube and slice into wide, 2-to 3-inch strips. If the noodles have been refrigerated and are hard, set up a bamboo or metal steamer over boiling water. Steam the Thai noodles or the whole, unsliced ho fun until soft (4 to 8 minutes), then turn off the heat and keep covered. If using ho fun, when the noodle is cool enough to handle, either slice into strips or tear into pieces 2 to 3 inches wide with your fingers. Keep covered until ready to use.

2. In a liquid measuring cup whisk together the vegetarian stir-fry sauce, Thai thin soy sauce, brown sugar, Golden Mountain sauce, black or sweet soy sauce, rice vinegar, lime juice, and chili sauce. Chop the vegetables and arrange all of the ingredients within easy reach of the stove for the stir-fry.

3. Preheat a wok or large skillet over high heat, then pour in 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is rippling, stir in the garlic and chilies, stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the tofu and fry another 2 to 3 minutes until the tofu browns on the edges. Transfer the tofu to a dinner plate. Add another tablespoon of oil and add the carrot, cabbage, and white part of scallions and fry for 2 minutes until slightly softened. Transfer to the plate with the tofu.

4. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, add the noodles, and stir-fry for 1 minute. If the noodles start to stick, dribble in a teaspoon or two of water; whenever sticking starts to happen add a little water but don’t add too much or the noodles will become mushy. Now drizzle on half of the sauce, stir-fry for 2 minutes and return the tofu, cabbage, carrot, green parts of scallions, and the remaining sauce. Stir in the basil leaves and cilantro. Continue to stir-fry for another 1 to 2 minutes or until most of the liquid has been absorbed, everything is coated in sauce and the noodles are gently seared in some places. Transfer immediately to serving plates and squeeze lime wedges over noodles before devouring.

Add any of the following to the stir-fry before adding the noodles:

With Green Peppercorns: Stir in 2 to 3 teaspoons of fresh green peppercorns along with the chilies.

With Shallots: Slice a large shallot into paper-thin slices and fry along with the garlic and chilies until golden.

With Snow Peas, Baby Corn, or Broccoli: Add a handful of snow peas, baby corn or thinly sliced broccoli along with the cabbage

Without Noodles: Or omit the noodles entirely and double the amount of vegetables for a spicy all-vegetable Thai stir-fry.

Enter the giveaway!  

1. Leave a comment below.  Do you prepare vegan foods already, or are you just an international-cooking fan?  What is the best feature of this book for you?  Use a current e-mail address or Facebook page when you leave your comment, and I will contact you via that route when you win - so be sure it's one you check!  Winner will be chosen Wednesday, January 23, 2013.

2. Share this giveaway with a friend!  The more popular a review is, the more giveaways we are privileged to do in the future!  Use Pinterest, Twitter, e-mail, Facebook or any other medium to share this review with somebody, and feel free to add a bonus comment for yourself letting us know you did so.

We're still giving away more!  Chef AJ's Unprocessed, Ron Schmidt's Untold Story of Milk, and a bonus, edible round from Tropical Traditions - so follow us on Facebook to be alerted to all our giveaways!!! 

Bon voyage,

Mrs H

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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Olive Oil: It's Not What You Think It Is

Dear suspicious, 

"Natural" chicken ... 

"Grass-fed" beef ... 

"Whole-grain" bread ... 

"Free-range" eggs ... 

"Pure" honey ... 

"Certified humane" meat ... 

"Olive" oil ... 

Wait - what?  

The first time I tried legitimate olive oil, purchased from a neighbor who had personally pressed it on his property in New Zealand, I realized something was wrong with the so-called olive oil I'd been consuming my entire life. 

The olive oil we buy in supermarkets today is almost all (even expensive, Trader Joe's brands) made up of cheap vegetable oils - not what you thought you were paying for, and definitely not what you want to be eating, as they contain toxic chemicals and - even if you avoid some of the chemistry by buying organic olive-oil-vegetable-canola-blends - you'll be eating poor fats and putting yourself in a higher risk category for heart disease and maybe even cancer.  

When buying olive oil (we use mostly coconut oil right now, but I do enjoy a little of the ol' l'olio di oliva every once in a while), which is wonderful for your health when it is pure, check the label for COOC to see if it is Seal Certified.  Check this buyer's guide for other marks of authenticity for olive oil, and for a list of resources and trusted brands (hint: Bertolli did not make the list).  

Buon appetito!

Mrs H

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spices: Homemade Blends and a Well-Stocked Pantry

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at www.farmandhearth.com to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear spicy ones,

Some people collect Cabbage Patch Dolls.  Others collect antique teapots.  I suppose you could say I collect spices!  Spices are a nice collection to have because it is a constantly evolving, changing, updating collection that technically expires after only a few months, and needs to be refreshed.  Thus, I get the rush of satisfying serotonin from buying New Stuff every few months, and the drawers remain about the same size and I don't need to feel like I'm wasting space or money.

Plus, we like a lot of flavor in our food.

I love MarketSpice, which has a little outlet in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, Washington.  They also have a warehouse in Redmond, Washington, where you can call in your order and pick it up pre-packaged; but I love the heady rush of seeing row after row of fresh spices on the wall, teas and coffee blends, and the tiny store full of tea pots and tea strainers and French presses, spice grinders and mortars.

When I moved to Virginia, I made a visit to MarketSpice to stock up all my jars before heading to questionable territory that may or may not have spices suitable to my standards.  Southern Belle came with me and took the snapshot you see above!

People come in to the store with long lists they need to replenish, so when I came and said I had a long list and started rattling them off, the clerk suggested I just hand him the notebook.  I did, and he stopped what he was doing to stare.  "Well," he said.  "We've had some pretty long lists, but I'm gonna have to say this is the longest one I've ever seen."

"I'm just restocking the ones that are low," I said.  "You guys have the best."

By the time he finished, two other employees had joined him, starting from the bottom of the list and working their way up, while he worked his way down from the top.  They brilliantly deciphered my hieroglyphic notations and determined how many ounces of each I wanted - it was like they could read my mind!

While I love the spices at Penzeys, too (I'm told MarketSpice sources some of their spices from them, as well), the beauty of MarketSpice is you can buy whatever quantity you want; Penzeys come pre-bottled (which makes them fabulous gifts!), so they can be a little bit pricier; but the quality is just as high.  I source my vanilla beans from Beanilla, a great online resource with the most competitive bulk prices on the market today, and use them to make our homemade extracts and other deliciousnesses like ice cream or tapioca pudding.

Miz Carmen gave my sister Melissa the idea for these little spice jars, which
I received from Melissa as a wedding gift!  This is just one drawer out of several ... 
When I was home for Christmas this past December, almost a year after my earlier visit, I stopped in at MarketSpice to restock on a couple items, and find a few new spices to try.  It's a busy store, and there were even a few new employees - but the old employees remembered me - "Didn't you come in with that huge list?" and the new employees had heard of me - "Didn't you come in with that huge list?"!  I had to laugh - but this is just another reason why I love this store.  Quality customer care, every single time!

Following is a list of the spices and blends we currently have on file right now.  The list is always evolving - some things run out, others are replaced, gifts are received, some are good, some are bad, new blends are mixed - and so it will probably be different if you come in a week from now!  These are sorted by letter and variety, but they aren't exactly alphabetical.

MS = Market Spice, P = Penzeys, HM = Homemade blend or home-grown and dried

Numbers 33rd & Galena (P blend)

Aa Allspice (ground), Allspice (whole), Anise Seed, Anise (ground), Arizona Dreaming (P blend)

Bb Baking Powder (home mix), Baking Soda, Sweet Basil (HM, dried, frozen), Sweet Basil (Frozen Oil Paste, HM), Cinnamon Basil (HM, dried, frozen), Lemon Basil (HM, dried, frozen), Purple Basil (HM, frozen), Bay Leaf (dried, HM), Bread Topping (HM), BBQ3000 (P blend), Beaumonde, Berebere (mixed by my cousin)

Cc Chinese 5-Spice, Caraway seeds, Cardamom (ground), Cardamom pods, Cayenne, Celery Seed, Chili Powder (MS blend), Cinnamon (ground, Oregon Spice), Ceylon Cinnamon, China Cinnamon, Vietnamese Cinnamon, Cinnamon Stick, Cloves (whole), Cloves (ground), Coriander, Cornstarch, Cream of Tartar, Cumin (ground), Cumin (whole), Curry (regular), Curry (additional blend), Curry (Madras), Vindaloo Curry, Crab & Shrimp Boil (MS blend), Cajun (P blend), Chicken and Rib Rub (P blend), Cilantro (dried), Cilantro (HM, frozen), Cider Mulling Mix (HM - recipe below), Hot Chili Powder, Whole Cayenne, Seattle Chai Mix (MS), Chai Spice Blend (MS, no tea)

Dd Dill Seed, Dill Weed

Ff Fennel, Fenugreek (ground), Fenugreek (whole), Fish Stock (Hon Dashi, grains), Fennel, Flax (ground), Flax Seeds

Gg Garam Masala, Garlic Powder, Garlic Salt, Ginger, Gumbo File (Sassafras root, powdered), Roasted Garlic Seasoning,  Game Hen Blend (MS blend. I used this all up after compiling my list so it's actually all gone!), Galena Street (P blend), Ground Virginia Peppers (HM)

Ii Italian Seasoning (MS blend)

Jj Jamaican Jerk (MS blend), Jalapeno Powder, Juniper Berries, Crushed Jalapeno

Mm Marjoram, Mustard Seed (yellow), Mustard Seed (brown), Mustard (ground), Hot Mustard (ground), Mint (whole leaf, HM), Mint (coarse grind, HM), Sambhar Masala, Pav Bhaji Masala, Karahi Chicken Masala, Chunky Chat Masala, Mchuzi Mix (Kenyan blend), Matcha Powder, Sweet Mesquite Seasoning, Smoky Meat Rub

Nn Nutmeg (ground), Nutmeg (whole), Nigella Seed

Oo Onion Powder (HM), Oregano, Orange Peel (dried, HM), Chopped Onion (HM)

Pp Paprika (hot), Paprika (sweet), Paprika (smoked), Paprika (Spanish Smoked), Parsley (dried), Parsley (frozen), Pepper (Tellicherry, whole), Pepper (ground) Pepper (crushed, red), Poppy Seed, Pickling Spice (store blend), Pumpkin Pie Spice (HM)

Rr Rosemary (Whole, HM), Rosemary (Coarse grind, HM), Rosemary (fine powder, HM)

Ss Saffron, Sage (HM), Sage (ground, HM), Seasoned Salt, Penzeys 4/S Seasoned Salt, Pretzel Salt, Kosher Salt, Celtic Sea Salt, Pickling Salt, Bacon Salt, Truffle Salt, Mural of Fire (P Seasoned salt), Sesame (Black), Sesame (Yellow), Sugar (Green Chile), Sugar (Cinnamon, HM - recipe below), Sumac, Sour Cream Dip Mix (HM, recipe below)

Tt Tarragon, Thyme (whole, HM), Thyme (ground, HM), Thyme (flaked), Turmeric, Taco Seasoning (HM)

Vv Vanilla Bean

A Few of My Favorite Spice Blends
I like blending my own spices - although there are a few favorite blends I love to buy premade! - and if you have a great spice blend you are willing to share, I'd be keen to hear it!

Cinnamon Sugar
This is the perfect ratio of sugar to cinnamon! 

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup sugar

Blend thoroughly.  Sprinkle on toast, cinnamon rolls, steamed milk, chopped apples, applesauce ...

Cider Mulling Mix
A little cheesecloth or a mesh tea ball filled with spices, a pot on the stove and a jar of home-pressed cider ... I like to use just a small amount, maybe two teaspoons approximately, per quart. 

Approximately 1 tablespoon whole allspice
Approximately 2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon, approximately two inches, broken in half or shattered coarsely
Approximately 1 tablespoon dried orange peel pieces
A few shaves of a whole nutmeg

Toss together; increase amount in ratio listed as desired.  Store in an airtight jar.

Pumpkin Pie Spice (see the original post here!)
If you make the Libby recipe, just use two teaspoons per pie of this in replacement of what the can of puree calls for.  I use this to make my homemade pumpkin spice granola! 

1 tablespoon cinnamon
1-1/2 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice (optional)

Whisk ingredients together well; store in an airtight container.

Big Batch of Pumpkin Pie Spice (x 8)
Just a little pluttification ... and we have MORE! 

1/2 cup cinnamon (8 tablespoons)
1/4 cup ginger (12 teaspoons/4 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons cloves (6 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons allspice (optional)

Taco Seasoning (see the original post here!)
I got this recipe from Miz Carmen, who got it from Allrecipes, to which it was submitted by Bill Echols (thanks, Bill!)

Find a recipe for tortillas (whole wheat or white) here

1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
1 – ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Big Batch of Taco Seasoning
Have a huge family?  Making taco beef for a party?  Freezing batches of seasoned meat?  

To sedecuple the recipe (multiply it by 16), and make 16 ounces of taco seasoning (2 cups): 
1 cup chili powder
4 teaspoons garlic powder
4 teaspoons onion powder
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
4 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons paprika
½ cup ground cumin
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon sea salt
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon ground black pepper  

Adjust the ratios as you like to make it more to your tastes; do you have any good ideas of other spices to add to this mix?

Sour Cream Dip
Blend this with sour cream - how much you use is up to you, as strength of flavoring is purely a personal choice - and serve with chips, vegetables, meat, fried hobo pockets, or whatever else you love to dip!  I used to enjoy the Lipton Onion Soup mixed with sour cream, but when I tried it again a year or two ago I realized all I could taste was MSG and artificial flavorings - my taste buds have refined since my teen years!  I had to come up with this mix so I could enjoy that oniony, salty dip again! 

1 tablespoon Beaumonde
2 teaspoons chopped or flaked onion
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dill weed (or two teaspoons, if you like it less dominant)
2 teaspoons dried parsley

Blend well; whisk into sour cream.

Aluminum-Free Baking Powder (read the entire article here!)
If you bought this at the grocery store, it would cost twice as much as regular baking powder.  Crazy, huh?  

Sodium bicarbonate: 1/4 cup baking soda
Acid Salt: 1/2 cup cream of tartar
Starch: 1/2 cup arrowroot powder or 1/4 cup cream of tartar (optional, and highly recommended especially if you are going to put this in your cupboard for storage)

More!  We must have more!! 

All you spice fans and foodies out there - I am currently in the testing phase for a great chai spice blend, pickling spice, and an italian seasoning blend.  If you have a favorite recipe you are willing to share, please let me know and I will be anxious to try it!

Do you know of other great blends, or fabulous resources for spices?  Is there a great spice shop in your town?  I am always hunting for new and adventurous blends and applications for spices, like pepper in cookies and cinnamon on chicken - what is the most bizarre way you've ever used a familiar spice?  If I come across any new great resources or come up with a new great blend, I'll update this post!

Yours in season and out,

Mrs H

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Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Frothing Milk Without a Frother: and, Steamed Milk, Lattes and More

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at www.farmandhearth.com to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear steamed,

I love frothy, foamy milk.  Whether it's for filling a toasty mug of hazelnut-butter rum milk, or topping a nutty, fresh cappuccino, something about foamed milk just adds the perfect touch of sophistication, beauty and downright special feeling.

Needed frother 

I've been though a couple expensive frothers, ranging from $80 to $100.  They disappointed sorely.

Cruddy cellphone pic since my camera is still on the fritz
Happy ... for a while  

At first, they were great.  I loved them.  I sang their praises.  I couldn't be more pleased.  My milk was whirred to perfection in the little machine and poured, as thick as seafoam and just as moldable, into a cup of waiting espresso.  But they all started to fade.  Quickly.  Our first Keurig model lasted a few months, then quite eagerly heated but did not foam the milk; I returned it.  I got a new one - maybe that one was defective?  I used it twice, and then it reverted to wearily heating, and no longer foaming, the milk.  Disgusted, I returned that one, too.

Why me 

I started doing a little research, and learned that just about every milk frother seemed to fall prey to the same discouraging issue!  What's to be done?  I didn't want to spend a bunch of money on one again, even though I did get my cash refunded for my original purchase at Bed Bath and Beyond (I highly recommend this store for purchases of this nature, as they stand by their products!).

Why froth

But I still wanted bubbled, foamy milk!  Aside from being more fun, frothed milk - milk with air incorporated - tastes sweeter and has a more developed flavor than flat, plain milk.  I finally hit upon a fortuitous solution and have been using it steadily, well, every day, to fill my cup with bubbles of milk.  Using a french press, I utilized a method that most of you probably already use for washing your press!  Do you see where I'm going with this?  Read on ...

Frothed Milk
We have two small French presses, and a large one.  One of the small presses travels with Mr H when he is in the country, and the other is my pet toy for milk and tea.  The large one makes the perfect quantity of coffee for both of us in the morning - any leftovers are poured into a glass and refrigerated for iced coffee in the afternoon!  

Warm milk to desired temperature, stirring constantly to avoid developing a "skin" on top (if it does, just whisk it back in).  Pour into a French press - if using a small one, fill only halfway to avoid overflow.  Churn the plunger up and down rapidly several times until the milk turns to thick foam.  Top your cappuccino, latte, steamed milk, or other drink with an inch of foam!

I heat my milk on the stove, not the microwave.  This is a matter of personal preference

Just think - you probably burn about four calories just pumping this baby!

 Steamed Milk (more accurately, Hot Milk, since we don't use a steamer!)
My friend Chester told me about steamed milk when I was in college studying synapses and biopsychology.  "That's disgusting," I said.  Then I had one; life forever anew, welcome to me!  I drink steamed milk just about every day now!  I love it.  Hot milk doesn't have to be sweet, but if you like it sweet (I love just a hint), there are a variety of choices.  

Milk:  Start with whole, preferably raw or low-heat pasteurized milk.  I don't recommend ultra-pasteurized milk.  Even though we are heating our milk here, ultra-pasteurized milk goes through a process that is ill-designed for your health.

Sweetener: Cane sugar, brown sugar, sucanat, palm sugar, mild honey, maple syrup, stevia powder, stevia liquid, Torani syrups if you so desire

Flavors: Torani syrups, extracts and essences such as (but not limited to!) almond, lemon, ginger, orange, anise, vanilla, butter rum, hazelnut cream, maple, coconut, cardamom, pistachio, banana, caramel, french vanilla, peppermint ... If you have any great flavoring ideas, please mention them in the comments below!!  I like to use a mix of a few extracts - hazelnut being a favorite, followed by caramel, vanilla and almond!

Suggested: Natural Nut Flavors Natural Fruit Flavors Sweet Brown Flavors

I also highly recommend quality homemade extracts, Penzeys, or MarketSpice for superior flavor.  

Process: Steam milk to desired temperature: 140 - 150 is the norm, and anything above 160 will burn the milk and taste like gross.  Stir constantly; if milk develops a skin on the surface, I blend it right back in.  Pro tip: Never reheat cooled, previously steamed milk.  That stuff tastes nasty.

Drop flavors, syrups, and sweeteners into a mug, preferably warmed (you can fill it with hot water while you are preparing the milk to warm it).  You will have to adjust to your preference; over time, you will know what you like.  Easy does it, though.  With quality flavorings, a little goes a long way.  Nothing is quite like a cup of perfectly foamed, perfectly heated, overwhelmingly over-flavored cup of milk!

If your milk is perfectly foamed, then foam and milk will be one and fill your cup seamlessly.  As you whisk, the bubbles will rise to the surface (you can see this if you use a glass cup), leaving the bottom layer of smooth, creamy milk, and the top layer of foamy, bubbly milk.

Butter rum?  I think so.  
 Cafe au Lait
A Frenchie take on the simple latte, this is one of my favorite ways to steam up.  I don't follow convention exactly when preparing this, but for my purposes, the effect is about the same.  


Fill a warm mug halfway with strong brewed coffee.  I like Green Mountain Organic Ethiopian Yirgacheffe, myself. Fill the mug the remaining halfway with hot, frothed milk.  Whisk gently together and enjoy.

Caffee Latte
This is the italian version.  Italians like their coffee a little bolder - hence the reason they are hairier than Frenchmen. 

1 ounce fresh espresso
6 ounces steamed milk, frothed

Milk in cup; espresso in cup.  Whisk if desired.  If you like it sweet (I don't - it interferes with my bold espresso experience!), add sweetener of choice to the milk before frothing.

{White} Chocolate Mocha
We used this delectable treat to warm up after exploring the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy near our home.  It's pretty sweet, so we reserve it for special occasions only! 

1/4 cup chocolate chips (white, milk or semi-sweet)
8 ounces steamed, or hot, milk
1 shot espresso (1.5 ounces) or strong coffee
Whipped cream (optional) or foam
Chocolate, white or caramel syrup (optional)

Melt chips in a double-boiler. Using a spatula, scrape into a warmed mug (you can rinse with very hot water for a few moments prior to using).  Pour in the shot; add steamed or hot milk.  Whisk briskly.  Top with whipped cream or foam; add drizzled syrup or shaved chocolate if desired.  Read more about this drink here.

Not impressed
I need more

For a more complex guide on frothing milk, latte art and barista skill, check out this seven-part guide by coffeegeek.

Frothing 'til the cows come home,

Mrs H

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Tools of the trade 
The highest-rated French press, and the one I use, is the Bodum.  They offer a variety of sizes.  I suggest the Bodum if you don't want to go through several broken presses in the first year of use!

Primula makes an aluminum-free espresso maker ... 

Or if you want legitimate italian, try the superstar pot, Vev Vigano!  Be aware that espresso pots are measured in "cups" which refer to an espresso cup, about 1 ounce each.  

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Top Ten Posts of 2012: Salad, Gifts, Kids - and Lord of the Rings?

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, 
visit our new blog platform at www.farmandhearth.com 
to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Dear gentle and faithful Readers,

It's been a glorious year of blogging for me, as I have have learned, studied, stretched my limits, and watched the blog grow by leaps and bounds.  You, the faithful and cheerful reader, have visited again and again, increasing our readership by several hundred percent over the course of 2012.  You can't imagine how encouraging that is to a simple blogger like myself!  It motivates me to write and write some more, learn and learn again, and try, try harder!

I look forward to another year of growth, vibrant and sustainable living, and of course some more technical learning.  Looking back over my stats from the year, I pulled a list of the most-viewed posts.  Here is our collection of the top 10 reader favorites in 2012, in ascending order ending with the most popular of all.

This guy's favorite things are his toes!

#10  |  Educational Packs for Little Kiddos
I actually shared this post in Christmas 2011, but it has remained a steady favorite.  Download some coloring and activity packs for kids, and get some recipes for a very-homemade hot cocoa night!

#9  |  Fair Careers: Why I Work Full Time
This hot topic stirred up some interesting discussion on the sidelines, and got a lot of positive reviews from readers.  I don't think any two homes needs to be exactly the same, but sometimes I think people wonder why I don't do things "the way everybody else does!"  This post may answer those questions ... and provoke even more questions to follow!

#8  |  Dinner for a Hot Day: Cold Overnight Salad

A family heirloom recipe, I finally broke down and shared it on the blog (my secret is out!).  It stayed solidly in the top two slots for over half a year, and finally slid down as new posts usurped its position - but it remains a huge favorite with you and other readers, and with myself of course, because it is one of my all-time favorite recipes!

I really don't know why or how this post made it to the top ten, but it's amusing enough that I guess people find it interesting!  It was a freak occurence during part of my long year of travel when Mr H was going through rounds of training across the country with the Navy; I guess most of you can sympathize, and hopefully got off as easily as I did, in this instance! 

This post easily scored in the top ten because of the wildly popular recipe for Indian Fry Bread contained in it.  I myself love this recipe - for a while, we were making it a few times a week (we were poor!  I didn't have yeast!  The sourdough starter died!  What was I supposed to do?!).  It's sister post, while not making it into the top ten, is still one of our popular posts and a family favorite.  

This one seems a little random to me, but we like what we like, right?  This is the post where I found out about reCap ... if you own a mason jar, you will probably want one, too!!  Or ten. 

This surprised me a little because I posted it so near to the end of the year; however, I am excited that you all enjoyed it so much and it has become one of our most popular posts!  It lists some of my favorite or most dearly desired tools for the kitchen - all the best and most tested of their kind.  It's sister post, my top picks booklist, is one of the favorite posts of the month, but not the year.  

"Kids say the darndest things ..."  This post recalls some of the funny things I've heard kids say, weird things we believed as kids, and a few comics for, well, relief.  When I was a kid, I thought pickles grew in the ocean and that's why they were so salty; as a babysitter, I learned what a bobba chaya was.  Did you believe or say any weird things as a kid, or do your kids crack you up with their unfiltered view of life?  

This detergent post definitely earned a top spot in our year review.  My favorite detergent recipe of all time - we use it for diapers and clothes, and my husband takes containers of it with him on deployment - it is easy (3 ingredients!), free of chemicals, fragrances, damaging whiteners, and skin irritants!  

I have to say, this one took me completely by surprise.  The most favorite post of the year by far, it has somehow gone viral and raked in 1,500% more views than any other post.  I don't know why; but I think it's funny.  It's not even related to my general blog topics - it's just a humorous post about Lord of the Rings!  

More favorites:  These recent posts have scored top slots for the recent months, several of them spread via Pinterest and rapidly becoming favorites with many of my beloved readers!

Render Unto Caesar: Orange Julius
Well, it definitely made my nice list.  When I went home for Christmas, I blended up a few huge batches of this drink, much to the delight of my family!  Chill out with a creamy, smooth drink that has no added sugar!

Storing and Using Bananas: Freezing and Dehydrating and other awesome uses
It's not every day you end up with five cases of bananas, but I was happy to acquire them and even happier to use them!  If you want to stock up, save up and use up bananas, this is the post for you.

Nourishing Traditions Book Review
One of my favorite cookbooks and possibly one of yours, I wrote a thorough review (with links to an interview with the author!) and gave away a copy.

Booklist: Top Picks and Recommendations
As mentioned above, when we posted my list of favorite books it became a reader favorite and I can imagine why; I love reading booklists from other bloggers who read and ponder the same topics I do, and I am always eager for new material! I am sure many of my readers feel the same, and am glad I could be of some use by sharing this list.

Off to write again with the hopes of making you a happier reader!

Mrs H

tweet us @_mrs_h for chewy nuggets
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Friday, January 4, 2013

2013: Ideas for the New Year

Thanks for reading this post, I'm so excited to visit with you!  
After you've gleaned all the good information you need, visit our new blog platform at www.farmandhearth.com to read even more fascinating tidbits from the kitchen and the fields. 

Happy New Year!

Welcome to 2013!  Are you making New Year's resolutions?  Are you changing anything, hanging new calendars, spring cleaning in winter, preparing to file taxes?

Watching ma cook from a handy perch in the hiking backpack
I don't generally make New Year's resolutions because when I think of something that needs to change, I need to effect it immediately and not wait for a Tomorrow Me to get motivated to do it; however, a new year does bring the chance to refresh and revitalize many things in the home, and it can be helpful to make some clear determinations for a better life!

My New Year 

Twelve New Things 
Every year I like to come up with 12 New Things to do in the year ahead.  Each item is assigned a month, although mine don't necessarily happen in that order.  I got this idea from Sarah Mae's blog, one of the first blogs I started following when I joined the world of blogging, and one of my favorites to this day.  I finished almost all of my goals last year, except for Poor Man's Caviar - any unfinished goals will be rolled over into my 2013 list, which has not yet been completed!
12 New Things 2012 (somebody said #6 was cheating because it was inevitable, but you tell me if it's fair to include it in the list!)  
12 New Things 2011

Pantry Challenge
There are a variety of different versions of this, but the basic goal is to spend a month eating primarily from your pantry, "until the back of every freezer, fridge and cupboard shows" and to get creative with that half a box of orzo, the container of rice noodles you never finished, the bag of filo dough, and all that other stuff that can languish and be overlooked.  Some things, like milk and eggs, are still brought in fresh, but ideally you save money on the grocery bill, put the cash in the bank, and have a fresh start for your pantry!  I'll be evolving my own method, but we've already started a version this month and I've been excited to see some old familiar things finally hit the table!
Good (Cheap) Eats Pantry Challenge

No Spend Month Challenge
This is a great challenge that pairs quite nicely with the Pantry Challenge!  You can engage in varying levels of intensity, but the concept is pretty well spelled out in the name - you buckle down and really don't spend anything, as much as possible (and you have to be serious for it to really have an effect on your bank account!).  Bike or walk instead of drive; if you see a tool or book you'd love to have, write it down and save it for later - who knows, you might get one for free or decide you don't need it ... this happens to me more often than you might think!  In short, do everything you can to keep the purse strings cinched shut for a month, something that is sometimes easier accomplished by knowing it is only temporary.  And, after the month has passed, you may find that some expenses just don't need to be added back in! (Be forewarned that my goal might look more like "no spend deployment challenge" ... hence a little longer than just a month!)
Shannon's No Spend Month Challenge

Living Large in Smaller Spaces
There are all sorts of different organizing challenges and plans for clearing out junk, freshening your living space and losing dead weight.  You just have to find one that resonates with you - for me, it's a variety of choices.  To start things off gently, try Junk Your Kitchen, the 21 Day Organization Challenge, some of the many challenges and tips at Bowl Full of Lemons, or the 8-Week Housekeeping Challenge.  I'm using a variety of these, in parts, and two books which have rocked my world.
Guided by the truly liberating and motivating principles in this book: Scaling Down : Living Large in a Smaller Space

Organizing Finances
While I keep a pretty meticulous filing system, I think my management of our finances has a lot of room for improvement.  I've taken over all the bills and finances since we joined the military, as Mr H's deployments and sporadic training schedule interfere with him being able to take a consistent management role in this area.  I keep him apprised of all our statuses, of course, and he is involved in large purchases and decision-making; but the bulk of paperwork and day-to-day purchases falls on me.  We are blessed to be debt-free, but manipulating the finances to stay in the black and also set aside for the future still takes serious effort!  Follow Melissa and her family of 11 as they live on $8,000 a year! 

Sort Digital Photos
I try ... but they keep flooding in so quickly, it's more than I can take!  We have a new external hard drive, and I want to dump all our photos (from various computers and laptops) here, sort, and clean up the files.
Organizing Photos by A Bowl Full of Lemons

What We Eat
Eating better isn't about cutting foods out, or restricting certain items - it's about eating so much good stuff, you don't have room for the junk!  With a kitchen loaded down with fresh produce, home-grown and home-canned goodies, and delicious raw milk, home-made yogurt and crackers and more, I've started a slow resolution over the past few months to gradually cease buying anything processed (prepared foods - this includes items such as cream-top yogurt, gourmet pickles and other items that aren't really bad for you).  While we don't buy foods such as Twinkies or bread, we still buy enough prepared foods to give me cause for concern.  This may seem work-heavy, but the core of our diet is really quite simple foods and much of which can be prepared in advance or during down-time.  Why eliminate all purchased prepared foods?
Save money because homemade yogurt is cheaper, and better-tasting, than store-bought
Cut out unnecessary snacks because it's easier to buy and eat crackers or ice cream on a whim, than to take the effort to make them
Avoid mystery ingredients because even the most meticulous vetting can still result in some strange additives, sources and contamination

10 Green New Years Resolutions
Maybe you already do some of these things, and maybe you want to do better at them: bring reusable shopping bags, walk or bike instead of drive, bring your own water bottle - funny how "green" things are also "lean" things!  Save money and the planet?  That's a win!
10 Green Resolutions from Small Footprint Family

Do you have resolutions, goals or plans for the new year?  What would you add to these ideas - is there something you think I should include?

Mrs H

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