Monday, April 28, 2014

My Kefir adventures

As some of you may know I have struggled with a digestion system that has been out of order for many years. You can read about my journey to find relief from all these digestive issues HERE. One of the things that has really helped is probiotics. I began making my own yogurt it has been a fun adventure. While I enjoy making yogurt, it is a bit difficult and I have ended up with more than a few failures. Kefir is a bit more forgiving and after a month of making and using kefir, I have yet to experience any failures.

Kefir is an ancient drink that has been used in various cultures throughout the years. It is said to be the drink of long life. Wikipedia has a great overview of kefir. Kefir is made by fermenting milk with a special starter grain (which is not really a grain at all but a culture of yeast and good bacteria)  The milk and kefir grain are fermented at room temperature for about 24 hours. Kefir can be bought at a health food store or a specialty store, but it seems rather expensive for something that can so easily be made at home. I got a kefir start from a friend who has been culturing kefir for a while. I was interested in trying kefir but a  bit hesitant. I finally asked for a start and was surprised at how easy it is to make.


To make kefir at home you will need:

1. A non reactive container, I used a mason jar
2. A piece of cheesecloth, a paper napkin, a cloth, or other covering for the container that will allow gasses to escape.
3. Milk or other liquid to ferment. Goat or cow's milk are traditional, but coconut milk, almond or soy milk and even sugar water will work.
4. Kefir grains
5. strainer  (optional, but recommended)

these are the kefir grains ready for the milk

About one Tablespoon of kefir grains are put in the container with about 1 cup of milk (leaving at least an inch of room for expansion). Cover with a cloth, napkin, paper towel or cheesecloth. Let the milk and grains set at room temperature for about 24 hours.
After 24 hours remove the grains (this is where the strainer comes in handy).  Add the grains to another cup of milk to begin the next batch. It is seriously that easy. I was so surprised

After 24 hours the kefir will be ready for our morning smoothie

After a couple of weeks the grains will have multiplied. (I am about a month into it and my grains have nearly doubled so I am adding them to about 2 cups of milk). I can share a start, or continue creating more kefir. Currently  I am creating more kefir because the children are beginning to enjoy it and I am finding more uses for it. Health food lover has over 80 recipes or ways to use kefir. Amazon has several books available on kefir. One such book that looked like it would be a great resource is, Cultured Food for Life: How to Make and Serve Delicious Probiotic Foods for Better Health and Wellness.

Mostly we use the kefir as a base for a morning smoothie. This makes it really easy. I just make my morning smoothie with the kefir, and then I start a new batch which is ready for the next morning. The amazing thing is that it can go for more than 24 hours without any negative effects. So I can skip a day and do not have to worry. I love that it is so forgiving. It is so much easier than yogurt and many people say it has more benefits. I know that I am enjoying the benefits of this health drink. It is all part of a master plan to get my gut back into order for a much healthier me.

What about you? Do you enjoy kefir? What is your favorite recipe?  Do you have some advice for those who are just starting the journey? Leave a comment below so we can all learn.

This post shares as part of real food wednesdays

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's your favorite kitchen gadget?

We all have our favorite kitchen gadget. Mine  is the Kitchamajig It is a pretty cool tool. I picked it up for a few cents at a yard sale this last summer and have loved it ever since.

The Kitchamajig is just a handy little tool. I use it when I am cooking or serving vegetables. I love to use it as a pasta strainer. It is my favorite salad serving spoon. It makes a great fryer basket when deep frying. It is a great all purpose tool. Written right on the thing it says strains, drains, beats, blends, whips, mixes.  It is such a simple little thing, yet so helpful. It is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen next to my knives, although my husband laughs when I use my cheap knife when I have a really nice set of expensive knives. I keep telling him it is my favorite. That is part of who I am. If I have a favorite I use it.

What about you, what is your favorite tool in the kitchen or around the house?  Leave a comment below so we can all learn and share and  be sure to check out some of my other favorite tools from Amazon.  I have to say that I am in love Amazon, I love that I have the ability to shop for just about anything right at my fingertips. (Shhh.. don't tell my husband I have another love besides him.)

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NOTE:  The Amazon links above are affiliate links, this just means that I am referring you to Amazon to look at kitchen gadgets. You can read the full disclosure by clicking the privacy policy tab at the top of the page.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Is it safe to eat?

Millions of dollars are thrown into the trash each year due to expired food items, but does this have to be? Can you eat expired food items safely?

How do you react when you discover that a food item has expired?

A. Eat it anyways knowing that it has enough preservatives to last a lifetime.
B. Throw it out right away; with no hesitation and no questions asked.
C. Check the calendar to see how far expired it is.
D. Smell it, take a tiny taste and then if it seems alright proceed with caution
E. Call your Mother or best friend and ask for advice.

It is something that most people will experience at some point in life, finding a food item that has been forgotten until expired But how do you know, if it is safe to eat? Some foods are pretty easy to tell, milk for example; when it is gone bad you can tell by the disgusted look coming from the fridge. Fresh foods are easy to tell when they have expired and the life has gone out of them. Lettuce gets all dried up and can even get crispy to the touch. Celery gets all limp and lifeless. These things are pretty easy to tell. Bread gets moldy and cheese grows colorful. There are clues that these fresh foods have gone bad and should end up in the trash, but what about the array of  processed, packaged food items that line the shelves of our supermarkets, how do you tell about them? Many people use the dates on packages and cans to decipher the freshness and safety of a product.

There are two types of dates that are printed on our processed food items. One is a "use by" date and one is a "sell by" date. A "use by" date is the one to pay a bit more attention to. This means that the food is at it's freshest before that date. After a period of time the food begins to lose some of its nutrition and sometimes the texture or color can begin to change. Much of the food is still safe to eat after this date. In fact, there have been cans of food that are many years old that when opened and tested by scientists the contents were fine for consumption. A "sell by date" on the other hand, is really just a way for the large food companies to  ensure that their products are being rotated and that their products are moving and being sold. These foods often have plenty of preservatives and really do not go bad. Some of these foods really could last a lifetime. 

So what do you do when you find a food item that has expired? You do not have to get in a hurry about throwing it out. Much of the food is good well beyond the date printed on the label. The most important thing is to check the original packaging. I am a bit concerned to eat food from a dented, rusted over can that looks like it has been rolling around in the back of a farmers truck for the last two months. On the other hand I am not so worried about something in the original package that is several years expired that looks like it might have been forgotten in the deep, dark, depths of the pantry. If the original packaging is in tact it is likely still good to eat.

Much of the freshness of a product is built into the packaging. Most processed foods will keep well in the sealed package, but once the original packaging is opened or damaged then the food tends to go rancid and loose its appeal. An unopened box of crackers will remain fresh for several months, or even a year after the expiration date, but those same crackers when opened, can go stale sitting on the shelf long before that date ever arrives. Once food is opened then it is best to use it up within a reasonable amount of time. 

Use your senses. If it is in an original package and is in tact and not opened, I would say that is a good indication that it is Ok to consume. If you open a can, bottle or package and the contents seems strange or the smell seems really off; be careful, and if your inner voice says "stay away" I would listen to that. Avoid any can that is dented. Dented cans may have small air leaks allowing air and bacteria to get into the food, so dented cans are a cause for concern, but no so much as a bulging can. Do NOT consume any food from a bulging can, it absolutely is not safe.  Bulging cans are a huge indication that the food has gone bad.

Once you discover that  a product is past "the date" and expired, the next thing to do is to check the packaging. If it is all in tact and looks good then I would suggest that you would be fine to go ahead and use it rather than tossing it.  If for some reason you just can't use expired food, consider sharing with someone such as a single mother or a widow who may be having a tough time making ends meet. They would probably be grateful for the blessing. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

For the love of popcorn

A teaser from my newest cookbook that will be coming out sometime in May.

What is it about Popcorn that makes it so appealing? Is it the smell wafting through the air beckoning us to have a handful? Is it the fun of watching popcorn as it grows to be over thirty times its original size?  Maybe it is the popping sound as it explodes into something wonderful?  Could it be the crunchy, yet somewhat creamy texture of popcorn?  Is it the pop-able shareable fun?  What is it that has us in love with this simple stuff called popcorn?


Cajun spiced popcorn 
4 quarts popped corn

4 Tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 teaspoon hot sauce

 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

 1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

Heat the butter with the spices for about a minute just until it becomes fragrant. You can do this in the microwave if desired
Pour the hot spiced butter over the popcorn and toss to coat.

In case you missed my first cookbook Quick breads made easy from A-Z  I have included a link





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