A Minimalist Bridal Registry (Part One): Some Guiding Principles and Items to Avoid

Putting together a minimalist bridal registry: suggestions for guiding principles, and a list of items to avoid.

(This post idea came from reader Laura. Congrats on your engagement, Laura! It started getting ridiculously long, so I had to break it into two parts. Who knew I had so much to say on bridal registries? Here, I offer some suggestions in what to look for when registering, as well of some things I don’t recommend. In my next post, I’ll share a list of the items I do recommend.)

When I was creating my bridal registry nine years ago, I had no idea what I was doing.

I was 20. I had never lived alone. I hadn’t done a lot of cooking, and I didn’t know what I would need.

I made my registry at Wal-Mart and registered for all the cheapest stuff I could find. I thought I was doing my guests a favour, and didn’t think there was any difference between expensive stuff and cheap stuff except cachet. I ended up getting a lot of things myself from the dollar store, thinking it was just as good as anything. I had no experience with that kind of thing and didn’t know what would actually be worth a splurge.

It’s been almost nine years since then, and I’ve learned a thing or two about what I actually find useful, and what’s worth the extra cash. I’ve also discovered what is a total waste of money, and just adds to the clutter.

I regret most of my registry choices. Most of it ended up being junk that needed to be replaced in a matter of  years. I’ve spent the years since replacing many of those things with useful, good-quality items that I hope will last the rest of my life.

So I thought I’d share some of the wisdom I’ve amassed since then.

(Note: You’ll notice that I’ve chosen to focus on items for the kitchen. There are a few reasons for this. First of all, these items make up the bulk of most registries, and my list was already a mile long with just kitchen stuff. Second, the kitchen is the heart of my home, and I have the most opinions on the matter. And third, most of the other items you’d register for will be very specific to your particular home, lifestyle, and tastes.)

Here are some guiding principles I suggest when putting together a bridal registry:

  • Look for durable items. Have long-lasting in mind. Things like sturdy drinking glasses and reliable brands (e.g. Corelle for dishes).
  • Look for classic styles that won’t quickly go out of date. They might feel like the more boring choices, but at least they won’t look dated in ten years. (And I want my stuff to last more than ten years.) In other words, you might want to avoid aqua, chevron, and bird silhouettes. They look pretty now, but they’re the dusty roses and forest greens of tomorrow.
  • Avoid plastic. It will crack and melt. There are a few exceptions (like Rubbermaid storage containers), but plastic is generally not made to last. Plus, you risk leaching toxins into your food. Choose glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and wood where possible.
  • Avoid items that only serve one purpose. You can’t always do this (i.e. you probably want a butter tray to only store butter); but in general, try to think of a few good items that are multi-purpose instead of buying a hundred different things, each with its own purpose. How often are you really going to use a strawberry huller?

Before I offer my list of suggestions, I thought it might be useful to start  with the following:

Surprising items you won’t see on my list:

I’ve nixed the following items — even though they’re incredibly popular and can be found in most kitchens and bridal registries — either because they’re questionable in terms of toxicity; they’re not made to last; or they only serve one function (which would be better achieved with another tool).

  • Microwave. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I just don’t trust ’em. We reheat food either in the toaster oven or on the stovetop. It takes a few more minutes, but you get used to it.
  • Nonstick frying pan. Not only is Teflon kind of scary, but it’s way too delicate. All the nonstick pans I’ve ever owned are long gone because the coating chipped and flaked within the first couple of years. You definitely don’t want to ingest Teflon bits. I prefer stainless steel and cast iron for frying and stovetop cooking.
  • Stand mixer. You might find one of these useful later in life, or maybe you regularly bake in bulk. But I got a KitchenAid a few years ago and rarely use it. It takes up a substantial amount of counter space, and you can do most of those things by hand or with a food processor. A handheld mixer should suffice for making things like whipped cream. (I will concede that a KitchenAid is wonderful for its attachments — pasta maker, ice cream maker, grain grinder, etc.)
  • Knife block. You do not need that many knives. You need three. Most knives that come in a knife block, you’ll never use. And storing them on your counter takes up precious space that could be better used. More thoughts on knives in my next post.
  • Toaster. That’s a bulky appliance for only one function (toasting sliced bread). What a waste. We haven’t had one for years. Use a toaster oven.
  • Kettle. This might be different if you’re a big tea-drinker. But if you’re short on space, a pot on the stove-top works just as well and is much easier to clean.
  • Pizza pans. Again: these serve only one function. We make a lot of pizza, but we just use our rectangular baking stones (which we also use for almost everything else, too.)
  • Gadgets for grating, dicing, chopping, etc. These always sound great and I’ve owned my fair share but I never end up actually using them. I find a knife and cutting board more efficient (they’re always already out), and much easier to clean. (I find that any time you save using the gadget is more than used up with cleaning.)
  • Coffee-maker. I’ve omitted it simply because I don’t drink the stuff and therefore have no opinions on the matter. For what it’s worth, my husband loves his Keurig, which he uses with the reusable filter. (Please do not use K-Cups unless you hate money and your planet.)

So now that you have a few general principles to guide you, and you know what I don’t recommend, what do I recommend? My suggestions can be found here: A Minimalist Bridal Registry — Tools for a Lifetime of Fabulous Food.

Anything else you’d add to my avoid list? Do you think any of mine are crazy? What other guiding principles would you suggest?

Image courtesy of JD Hancock.

Brewing Your Own Kombucha: Flavouring and Carbonating

 Brewing your own kombucha: tips for adding flavour and fizz to homemade kombucha

Finally! The last installment of my How to Brew Your Own Kombucha series!

Last week I explained how to grow your own SCOBY from store-bought kombucha (Stage One); I then proceeded to share how you can brew your own kombucha from a home-grown SCOBY (Stage Two). Next, I want to explore how to keep brewing kombucha, as well as flavouring and carbonating your kombucha to make it that much more fantastic.

STAGE THREE: Make Your Kombucha Extra-Tasty!

So, if you’ve managed to let your homegrown SCOBY float around in your sweetened tea for another whole week as I discussed in my last post: congratulations! You should have your very first batch of kombucha!!

Like I mentioned in my last post, If your SCOBY sank, you probably have a new thin film growing on top of your kombucha, in addition to the SCOBY you grew earlier. This film is a new SCOBY (often called a “baby”), which can eventually be used for brewing more kombucha, but it’s probably too thin to do much with right now. You might want to grow it a little bigger in following cycles. I’ll tell you more about that later. For now, you’ll probably want to keep using your first SCOBY for your next batch of kombucha. It can be used for dozens of batches, and will just keep growing (if you can get it to float on top!).

Anyway, time to dig in to your new kombucha! Which hopefully looks something like this once you remove the cloth cover:

finished kombucha(The SCOBY in the photo is a couple of months old — if yours is new, it won’t be that thick. You can see the new baby floating above it)

Before you do anything, start brewing your next batch sweetened tea for your next batch of kombucha, using the recipe/method from my last post: 10 cups of water, 3/4 cups sugar, 6 bags of tea. Just bring it all to a boil on your stovetop and then let it cool.

Meanwhile:

Remove your SCOBY(s) and set it/them in a bowl. Cover with a little kombucha to keep it from drying out.

kombucha - removing scobyI know. I take amazing photos.

Now, you can drink your kombucha just the way it is. Just pour into a couple of bottles and enjoy. It should be tangy and slightly sweet — kind of cidery — and no longer taste at all like tea. But don’t get greedy and drink all of it — you’ll want to save some for your next batch (at least a cup).

Your first brew is probably not very fizzy, if at all. That’s okay. If you really want fizz, take heart: in a few more cycles, you can probably get a good carbonation going, as your SCOBY gets more mature.

Personally, I like my kombucha chilled; I also like to mix it up with some fruity flavours. And bubbles makes it extra-special. For this, you’ll need to do a second ferment. (Meaning you’ll have to wait ANOTHER 5-7 days before you can start drinking it. I KNOW! Kombucha requires so much patience!) So here’s what I do:

Preparing a Second Fermentation (for Flavour and Carbonation)

Get out a couple of quart jars with lids. Add whatever juices, fruits, or spices you want to use to flavour your kombucha.

(Some people use fancy bottles with hinge tops and stuff like that, but I have no idea where to get those items. So for now I use mason jars.)

I have found that my favourite combination is raspberry-ginger. It creates a drink reminiscent of cranberry ginger ale. Rosy, fruity, and slightly spicy. Whatever you choose, you’ll need about a quarter cup of fruit juice. You can add fresh fruit, too, but I’ve had the best flavour results with juice.

So far I’ve also tried pieces of fresh peach, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries: I recently tried apple-cinammon (using apple cider and a piece of cinnamon stick. I wasn’t a fan). Your call.

I keep frozen cubes of raspberry juice (that I squeezed in the summer) in my freezer: I toss a couple into the bottom of the jar. Then I add a thin slice of fresh ginger. (Ginger adds great flavour, and really helps to carbonate it. I can ALWAYS tell when I’ve included ginger — even just a tiny bit — because it really helps create fizz.)

(Another tip: pre-slice a whole piece of ginger root and store it in your freezer. That way you already had perfectly-sized pieces handy for flavouring your kombucha.)

Sometimes I’ll add half a teaspoon of sugar to each jar, too, to further aid in carbonation.

adding juice and gingerThen add your kombucha to be flavoured. Fill it up almost to the top — leaving only a quarter-inch/centimeter of space at the top. The gases need to build up pressure to create the fizz.

filling kombucha

If you don’t want to flavour your kombucha but want the fizz, skip the fruit juice but do the rest — add the sugar and pour the kombucha into new jars and seal. I still recommend a little bit of ginger, though.

(Also, another tip: remember that you have to save some kombucha for your next batch. If you’re using the proportions I suggested, you’ll need to reserve 1 1/2 cups of kombucha as your “starter” for the next batch. Empty out your big fermenting jar into another vessel and measure out this amount of kombucha; then return the 1 1/2 cups to the original jar. Mark the level with a Sharpie, like this:


line mark
That line marks how much of your old kombucha you need to reserve every time you make a new batch. Saves you some time and fuss in the future.)

Going back to your flavoured kombucha: now tightly cap your jars/bottles and put them back where they were fermenting before — somewhere out of direct sunlight. They’ll have to stay there for a couple more days.

(Once your flavoured kombucha jars are all ready, you can return to the sweetened tea you started brewing when you started out. Make a new batch of kombucha using the method I described in my last post, using your new kombucha starter. All you’re doing is adding your fresh sweet tea to your new starter in your big vessel, and returning your SCOBY to float on top. Include your new, thin baby if you have it — hopefully it will grow thicker, so you have a second SCOBY as a backup or to give to a friend!)

Like I said, you want to let your flavoured kombucha jars sit for another 5 days or so, for the flavours to steep and for the carbon dioxide to build up. You might notice that the lid becomes stiff from the carbonation inside. This is a good sign.

kombucha(Here I’ve got four bottles of kombucha brewing for their second ferment; I also went a little overboard and did a double batch of new kombucha, too.)

After that, pop your jars of flavoured kombucha in the fridge to chill.

Finally: time to enjoy!

If you grew your own SCOBY, it’s probably been close to six weeks since you started your kombucha adventure. But it’ll be so worth it. Now your delightfully healthy drink should be lightly bubbly and full of complex flavour — as addictive and delightful as soda, without the deleterious effect on your body!

Future batches will be way easier to make, and you won’t be feeling so impatient because you already have some in your fridge.

Before drinking, just remember that another thin film will have formed on top of your kombucha (another tiny baby SCOBY). Just scoop it off and compost it.

If you can’t get yours to carbonate right away, don’t worry. It’s still delicious without the fizz, and you can keep experimenting. Mine still doesn’t always end up very fizzy (or even at all, sometimes.)

But sometimes, I end up with something beautiful, like this:

carbonated (fizzy) homemade kombucha

Some people talk about jars exploding and kombucha fizzing out all over the place when they open them up, but I’ve never gotten anywhere near that amount of carbonation. Just a light fizz to make it sparkle.

With my best batches, I get a little bit of a chhhhhh when I open the lid. It’s terribly satisfying.

finished kombucha

There you have it! Once you get the hang of it it’s actually very simple. Then you can start experimenting with different kinds of teas (I’m starting to explore different proportions of green and white teas in combination with black), fruits and spices.

Any questions, or tips of your own?

Brewing Your First Batch of Kombucha With a Homegrown SCOBY

brew your own kombucha

Interested in brewing your own kombucha? It’s an easy and inexpensive way to enjoy that delicious, tangy, healthful, probiotic beverage!

In my last post, I explained how I grew my own SCOBY from a bottle of store-bought kombucha. (It’s absurdly easy). That was Stage One.

Next, I’ll explain how you can brew your first batch of kombucha with your brand-new, homegrown SCOBY.

After that, I’ll share what I’ve learned about flavouring and carbonating your kombucha.

Stage Two: Brewing Your First Batch of Kombucha

First, you’re going to need a vessel in which to brew your kombucha. To be honest, this was the trickiest part for me! It needs to be glass (NOT plastic or metal), it needs to have a large enough mouth to be able to transfer the SCOBY in and out, and it needs to be big enough to hold your whole brew for about a week.

I’ve found the best vessel for me is a 96-oz (a.k.a. 3/4 gallon a.k.a 3-liter) glass jar (i.e. a family-sized Vlasic pickle jar). It doesn’t need to have a lid. You could start with a quart-sized jar and work your way up to something bigger (just halve the recipe I offer below).

big kombucha jar

(To give you a point of reference when determining how much to make: I’m the only one who drinks it in my house, and I drink about a glass a day. I brew a new batch every week, to keep my SCOBY happy. This sized jar gives me more than enough.)

Once you’ve got your vessel and your SCOBY ready, you need to brew a batch of sweetened black tea. So you’ll need tea (in bags or loose) and white sugar (preferably organic). You can experiment with other teas later, but black works the best to start. You could try Ceylon, English Breakfast, or Darjeeling. (Learn more about tea options here.) I personally use mostly Ceylon with a little green tea. So far, I’ve just been using a cheap box of Lipton tea; I want to find something better yet.

And don’t worry about all that sugar — it will be eaten up by the bacteria, leaving you with a low-sugar beverage.

The proportions I personally use for the sweetened tea are as follows:

  • 10 cups water
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 6 tea bags (I currently tend to use 5 black, 1 green)
  • 1 1/2 cups kombucha from previous batch (or the stuff you grew your SCOBY in)

With this, you will get a little over 2 liters (half a gallon) of finished kombucha to drink. (Some, you will have saved for your next batch of kombucha.) That’s more than enough to last me a week (until the next batch is ready).

Anyway, to brew the tea, I throw the first three ingredients into a big pot, stir it, bring it to a boil, and then let it cool to room temperature. I don’t even time it or anything. It might take a couple hours to cool completely. (You just don’t want it to be too hot and kill your precious SCOBY).

making sweetened tea for kombucha

making sweetened tea for kombucha 2

kombucha tea

Once it’s cool, Pour the sweetened tea, along with 1 1/2 cups of the old kombucha (in which you grew your SCOBY), into the big glass vessel. Then, with clean hands, place the SCOBY to float on top. (It doesn’t matter if it sinks; it’s just nice if it floats because then it will continue to get thicker. If it sinks, you’ll just get a really thin new SCOBY on top of the liquid which you could grow into a bigger SCOBY later.)

Cover your glass vessel with a kitchen towel, cheesecloth, or a coffee filter, and secure with an elastic. Then set it somewhere safe, out of direct sunlight, to ferment. The SCOBY will transform that sweetened tea into a delightful beverage.

brewing kombucha

Now you have to wait another week. Kombucha-brewing demands patience!

(Tip: Some folks will tell you to wait anywhere from 5-10 days; I have found that a week is perfect. That also makes it easy to keep brewing continuously — I know that I always brew a new batch every Wednesday.)

If all goes well, by the following week your tea mixture will have turned into a delightfully tangy, slightly effervescent drink reminiscent of  cider. Yummo!

You can drink it just the way it is, but you also might choose to chill, carbonate, and/or flavour your lovely kombucha. Whatever you do, be sure to save some kombucha for your next batch!

Come back tomorrow and I’ll share a few ideas to make your kombucha extra-tasty! (Along with some tips for continuous brewing.)

Did I miss anything? Do you have any tips to add?

How to Start Brewing Kombucha Without a SCOBY

 

How to grow your own kombucha SCOBY. So easy!

Folks: after years of wanting to brew my own kombucha, I’m finally doing it. I’ve been brewing my own kombucha successfully for a couple of months, and it has become my favourite beverage. I drink it every day.

Also? It’s easy! I can’t believe I was ever intimidated by this!

And I never even had to buy a SCOBY! Want to find out how you can make your own kombucha without the costly investment of buying a SCOBY? In this post, I’ll tell you how to grow your own SCOBY. Next, I’ll share  how to start brewing your first batch of kombucha. For the first step, all you need to begin is a bottle of ready-made kombucha and a whole lotta patience. Read on . . .

My Journey To Kombucha-Land

I’ve been interested in kombucha for years. A fizzy, tangy-sweet probiotic drink that’s good for you? Sign me up!

I started getting into Traditional Foods back in 2010 when I was trying to learn how to conceive naturally. I started soaking grains and consuming saturated fats and fermenting vegetables. But the one thing that continually stumped me was beverages.

Basically all conventional beverages are problematic — conventional pasteurized milk; pasteurized fruit juice; chlorinated/fluoridated tap water; and obviously, worst of all, SODA (or as we call it around here, POP). None of these drinks are anything like what our ancestors drank. I personally don’t care for coffee or tea. Wine and beer aren’t completely horrible, but you don’t want to make them staples of your diet, especially when you’re pregnant.

What is a gal to drink?

I eventually was able to source some raw milk, but otherwise we began to drink mostly filtered water in our house. I got used to it, but I often craved something a little more exciting.

Everyone in the Traditional Foods world seemed to be brewing and drinking kombucha. Everything I heard about it sounded great — healthful, tasty, and slightly effervescent like pop. It sounded like the perfect solution.

The trouble is, before I could start making my own kombucha, I needed a SCOBY (an acronym for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast — the thing that turns sweetened tea into kombucha. It’s sometimes called a “mother” or “kombucha mushroom”). You can get SCOBYs from other people who brew kombucha, but I didn’t personally know a single person who was into traditional foods (I only knew people online). You can also buy SCOBYs online, but they’re expensive (and shipping in Canada is terribly expensive), and I was hesitant to make the investment without having ever tasted the stuff. I didn’t know where I could buy it ready-made. What if it was gross? And what if I messed it up?

So kombucha remained a thing of my dreams.

Then, while my family was in the U.S. for the weekend, I found bottled kombucha available at the local Whole Foods store. Hallelujah! It was love at first sip. I had to have more of it. And I pretty much went ballistic when I discovered kombucha is super-high in B-vitamins — something I’m constantly trying to get more of, in an attempt to balance my hormones.

But at $3.50 a bottle and only available on the other side of the border, I wasn’t likely to be purchasing it in large quantities. (Note: I have since discovered a couple of Canadian suppliers, but it’s still expensive and hard to get your hands on).

GT's kombucha

Anyway, in a moment of serendipity, I posted a photo of my store-bought kombucha on Instagram, saying that I wished I had a SCOBY so I could brew my own. And to my great joy, LilyGirl explained that I could, in fact, brew my own kombucha with that very bottle! Woohoo!

I bought another bottle of kombucha, took it home, and got to work.

Growing Your Own SCOBY

To be clear: you do need a SCOBY to brew kombucha. But you can easily grow your own from a bottle of pre-made kombucha!

(Note: I had read from a number of sources that since 2010, it no longer worked to grow your own SCOBY from store-bought kombucha. I wonder if that’s only the case if you try to grow your own SCOBY using the popular method of mixing kombucha with sweetened tea. Regardless, I’ve been brewing my own kombucha with my own homegrown SCOBY since August 2013 with great success. And in fact, the method I used is even simpler than any of the tutorials I’d read before.)

To begin, you’ll need a bottle of unflavoured store-bought kombucha. It needs to be unpasteurized/raw. I personally used GT’s Synergy Original.

Here’s what you do:

  • Pour the bottle of kombucha into a clean mason jar. A quart jar is a good size.
  • Cover the jar with some cheesecloth or a coffee filter (or any cloth, really) and secure it tightly with an elastic or a canning ring. (This is just to keep bugs and junk out of your brew, while allowing it to breathe. It’s a living organism, after all!)
  • Let it sit on your counter for a couple weeks until a white film begins to form on the top. Don’t jostle it or it will sink and you will have to start all over again (I learned this the hard way). The film will continue to grow thicker as it sits on your counter. Once it’s about a quarter-inch thick, you’re good to go. In August, it took me about 3 weeks to get it this thick. Now in November, with the cooler temperatures, it takes closer to a month.

scoby

And that’s it! You have your own SCOBY! Time to start brewing!

In my next post, I’ll explain how to brew your very first batch of kombucha.

You’ll need:

  • a large glass jar or bowl — at least a half-gallon (2-liter) size
  • black tea (Ceylon, English Breakfast, or Darjeeling — even cheap Lipton will work for now)
  • white sugar

Any questions? Have you tried this? How successful were you?

Hog-Harvesting Day: A Photo Tour

Warning: if the title wasn’t clear enough, the following post contains photos of our family handling very large quantities of unprocessed meat. If you’re squeamish about these things, you may want to skip this one.

pigs

For as long as I can remember, my extended family on my dad’s side has gotten together to butcher a couple of hogs every year. It’s a Mennonite tradition carried over from their childhoods in Mexico. It always happens in someone’s garage, and there’s always chili for lunch. Always.

No one in my family has ever raised pigs before this year (at least, not in Canada).  My parents and aunts and uncles always pitched in to buy them — already killed, cleaned, and cut in half — from the local butcher.

This year was a special year: my parents raised their own pigs for the first time. They kept six pigs out in pasture, to roam freely and wallow in mud, the way pigs were meant to roam and wallow. After the pigs finished destroying the area of pasture they were given, they were fed organic oats that my uncle got from the local Heinz plant where he works.

In recent years it has become increasingly important for me to only eat healthy animals that have lived happy lives and been killed humanely. (The same goes for the animals whose milk and eggs I consume.) If I’m going to eat meat, I don’t want to participate in torturing animals. If tortured animals are the only ones available to me, I generally refrain from eating meat. (That’s why I order off the vegetarian menu at restaurants.)

I also like to be as involved as possible in the processing of my food, to ensure its quality and to maintain a connection to the food that sustains my body.

I’m incredibly fortunate in that my parents have always raised their own cattle and chickens — always free-range, in the great outdoors. I was absolutely thrilled when they decided to add pigs to the menagerie. Now I can also eat pork with a (mostly) clear conscience. (I’m never completely comfortable with my omnivorous ways.)

I thought I’d share some photos from butchering day, in case that kind of thing interests you.

Note: my parents had the pigs killed and cleaned (i.e. degutted) by the local abattoir; they came to us in halves (lengthwise). We took it from there.

We did three pigs in one day, with nine pairs of hands helping.

We began by cutting the hog halves into manageable pieces, and then removing the skin and fat.

 starting edited

 cutting

cutting meat

The fat was ground up in a meat grinder and put into our huge cauldron (I don’t know the English word — in German, it sounds roughly like mew-groopin, and it exists for this sole purpose), to render into lard. The process takes several hours, with constant stirring and supervision. The bits of remaining meat turn into cracklings (which we call griven), which are strained out of the lard.

griven edited

griven

griven 2Mmm. Griven absolutely must be eaten on homemade bread with homemade strawberry jam.

Meanwhile, the meat was divided and turned into different cuts — ribs, roasts, and chops. A good amount was ground up and seasoned for sausage.

grinding meat

ground porkHere, I’m separated 20 lbs to turn into Italian sausage, which we’ve never done before.

italian sausage seasoning

italian sausageHere, we’re making Mennonite-style sausage (“reukvarsch”) to be smoked. The only seasoning is salt and pepper, which my parents do by sight (no measuring).

making sausageIf you’re wondering: the sausage casings are sheep intestines.

On to the smokehouse:

smokehouse

Preparing the fire for the smokehouse:

smokehouse

Preparing the sausages for smoking:

smoking sausage

sausage3

After smoking for about two hours, they’re ready to package.

smoked sausage

And what would an old-fashioned Mennonite hog butchering day be without liverwurst?

Pork liver:

pork liver

The liver gets ground up with other bits of leftover pork (cooked and raw), seasoned, and made into thick sausages using the large sheep intestine (rather than the small intestine):

making liverwurstThe sausages are cut into short lengths, tied up, and boiled in pork broth.

Sounds gross, but I tell you it is absolutely delicious on homemade bread with jam.

Last, we packaged the lard. Not everyone wanted theirs, so I got more than my share. I took home about 5 gallons of the stuff. Can you believe my luck?! (I use it for frying and making flour tortillas, mostly. It is literally impossibly to buy pure lard around here without preservatives, especially organic. This is a real treat.)

pouring lard(In the bottom right of this photo, you can see some of the cooked liverwurst in a bowl.)

lard 2Lovely lard. It will turn creamy white as it cools and hardens.

lardThat’s ALL LARD. Yes.

There you have it! Any questions? Have you ever done anything like this??

Recipe: Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Squares

peanut-butter chocolate-chip cheesecake squares. A simple, not-too-sweet treat!

So I decided to add another recipe to the repertoire of not-too-sweet treats I’ve been sharing here. I made these the other day and Ben declared them “The perfect dessert.” They’re filling and indulgent, without being too sweet.

I developed this recipe out of a desire for a go-to, not-too-sugary, not-too-processed cheesecake recipe. I couldn’t find one so I had to make one up. The greatest challenge was coming up with a good crust.

Growing up, I knew how to make cheesecake crusts using one of two standard ingredients: either store-bought graham-cracker crumbs or Oreo cookie crumbs. Those were your options. You added more sugar and some butter (or margarine!) to either one of these bagged ingredients and pressed it into the bottom of your pan before adding your filling.

When I started to transition to real/traditional foods, I realized that these staple items in my pantry had to go. They were filled with obnoxious non-food ingredients like hydrogenated oils, artificial flavours, and of course, high-fructose corn syrup.

I started playing around with simpler ingredients. Turns out, you can make an excellent crust using just flour, sugar, and butter (and cocoa, if you want).

This recipe still has plenty of sugar, so you don’t want to make it often or eat it all in one sitting. It also still contains white flour. But it’s definitely less sugary and processed than the recipes I grew up with, and I’ve decided it’s acceptable as an occasional treat.

In this recipe, I’ve added cacao nibs to add some rich, chocolatey flavour and textural intrigue without adding more sugar, but you can omit them or substitute chocolate chips.

peanut-butter chocolate chip cheesecake squares

Kathleen’s Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Squares

Note: it’s best to make cheesecake with room-temperature ingredients. So take your cream cheese,  eggs and peanut butter (if applicable) out of the fridge an hour or so before you start. This will give you a smoother batter, and you won’t have to beat it as long, which helps prevent cracking during baking.

Also note that this recipe requires you to bake the crust on its own for a bit before adding the rest and completing the baking.

 Crust:

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cocoa
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted

Combine all the ingredients in a square 9-inch glass pan, and then pat it down in the bottom of the dish evenly. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. Let it cool a bit before adding the filling.

 Cheesecake filling:

  • 2 bricks (1 pound) cream cheese
  • ½ cup natural peanut butter
  • ½ cup sugar (sucanat, evaporated cane juice, or coconut palm are all good)
  • 2 eggs
  • handful raw cacao nibs (optional)
  • 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips

Mix all of the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a mixer with the paddle attachment just until blended. Pour onto the cooled crust. [Updated to add: sprinkle on chocolate chips]

Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. Cool and cut into squares.

Serves 9 (If everyone’s being self-disciplined)

Substitutions:

If you’re in the mood for chocolate cheesecake, omit the peanut butter and add 3 tbsp cocoa powder.

Recipe: Pecan Peanut-Butter Protein Bars

I’m sharing another recipe with you today, as part of my not-too-sweet treats series. (You can find the full list of recipes here. The recipe series began as a response to my post, Why I’m Glad Natural Sweeteners are Expensive.)

This recipe is adapted from Katie Kimball’s Protein Bars, from the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go. I’ve made them a bunch of times, and everyone in the family loves them.

Katie says you can substitute any nut for the pecans, but I suspect the pecans contribute quite a bit of their natural sweetness to this tasty snack, which is why they need so little additional sweetener. Her recipe also includes 1/4 cup optional chocolate chips, but I don’t find them necessary. Your family  might, if you’re used to sweeter treats.

Another bonus with this recipe is that it contains molasses, which is high in vitamin B6 (something my body tends to need), iron, potassium, and calcium. All important nutrients. It doesn’t taste very strong, though — the peanut butter seems to mask the flavour. You might want to start out with only two tablespoons and work your way up if you’re not fond of molasses. Personally, I find that after one taste of these bars, I start to crave more of the molasses flavour. Perhaps my body recognizes and appreciates the Vitamin B boost?

Pecan Peanut-Butter Protein Bars

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup pecans
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 tsp cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 2/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter
  • 2-3 Tbsp blackstrap molasses (unsulphured)
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey
  • ¼ tsp vanilla
  • Drizzle of maple syrup or honey, as needed

Preheat oven to 250.

Process nuts in a food processor until they become a coarse meal.

(This is my Ninja food processor)

Pour nuts into a large bowl and mix in the remaining dry ingredients, followed by the peanut butter, molasses, honey, and vanilla.

Stir well, until it all sticks together. Add a drizzle of honey or maple syrup if it’s too dry.

Grease a glass 8-inch square pan. Pour in nut mixture and press flat (It may help to moisten your hands first, if it’s really sticky). Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until golden around the edges.

Allow to cool, and then cut into bars with a sharp knife.

peacan peanut-butter squares

pecan peanut-butter squares - cutVoila! Store in the refrigerator for best quality.

Recipe: Cinnamon-Vanilla Rice Pudding

So I’ve been sharing some of my favourite not-too-sweet recipes, in response to my recent post on sugar (and why I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive, because it keeps us from eating too much sugar). Anyway, here’s another recipe to add to the list — and for once, it’s not chocolate!

I am proud to say that I came up with this recipe all on my own. It’s inspired by risotto, if you want to know, adapted to create a sweet (but not too sweet) pudding.

I’d never made a satisfactory rice pudding before I came up with this one. It felt like I was just making runny pudding with rice floating around in it for no apparent reason. One day it dawned on me that I could achieve the same beautiful creaminess of risotto if I followed the same basic principles: start with arborio rice, sauteed in oil; then slowly add the liquid and stir, stir, stir until the rice releases all of its wonderful starch to create a rich, creamy pudding.

I played with the spices until I discovered perfection, in the form of a whole cinnamon stick and a half a vanilla bean. Oh my goodness, you guys. These two little flavour punches will knock your socks off. (Okay, they knocked my socks off. Maybe you don’t like perfection.) Plus, the sight of those beautiful black specks (i.e the vanilla bean seeds) will impress your friends and make you look like a real foodie.

Anyway, here’s the recipe I came up with. I’ve included substitutions if you don’t have a cinnamon stick and vanilla bean on hand. I’ve made it at least a dozen times, with or without the fancy spices.

Kathleen’s Cinnamon-Vanilla Bean Rice Pudding

You’ll be amazed how far four tablespoons of sweetener go in this super-flavourful pudding. I prefer the texture of Arborio rice, but I imagine regular white rice would work, too.

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coconut oil (preferably extra-virgin organic)

1 cup Arborio rice

4 cups milk

1/2 a vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 tsp vanilla extract)

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half (or 1 tsp ground cinnamon)

2 tbsp organic cane sugar (or alternative)

2 tbsp honey (preferably local, raw)

rice pudding ingredients(I’m using a whole vanilla bean here, because I fished it out of my homemade vanilla extract and didn’t think the flavour would be strong enough with just a half)

Method:

In a large saucepan heat oil over medium heat; stir in rice to coat.

Stir in milk, sugar, vanilla bean (if using), and cinnamon stick; slowly bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring constantly (more or less — you can stop and do other things in the kitchen, but don’t wander too far), until most of the milk is absorbed and rice is tender. It should be nice and creamy.

Remove from stove and allow to cool for a few minutes. Fish out the cinnamon stick and vanilla bean. (Be sure to scrape out all the delectable vanilla bean seeds with the tip of a sharp knife and stir them into the pudding.) Stir in raw honey and vanilla extract (if using). Pour into individual serving dishes and refrigerate until cool and firm, about an hour.

Serves 5-6.

cinnamon-vanilla rice pudding

Look at those beautiful vanilla bean seeds. They make this dish so rich and flavourful, and will impress your friends.

Have you tried anything similar? Again, do you have any not-too-sweet dessert recipes to share?

Recipe: Not-Too-Sweet Dark Chocolate Pudding

not-too-sweet dark chocolate pudding

Yesterday I started to share some of my favourite not-too-sweet treats. I decided to share these recipes in response to my post explaining why I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive (i.e. because it prevents us from eating too much!)

Today, I’m continuing with another favourite:

Not-Too-Sweet Dark Chocolate Pudding

This is a very standard, simple chocolate pudding recipe, with the sugar cut down significantly. It doesn’t keep my almost-two-year-old daughter from loving it, though.

As ever, organic ingredients are preferred when possible. Our family makes this pudding using whole, raw milk from our aunt’s cow. Yum.

Ingredients:

  •  1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp granulated sugar (we typically use organic cane sugar. Other sweeteners would work well, too, especially maple syrup)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla

1. Whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt in a medium pot. While whisking, slowly pour in milk to incorporate with dry ingredients. The mixture will look like chocolate milk.

2. Set pot over medium heat. Stir continuously (a silicone spoon works best), being sure to scrape sides and corners of pan so you don’t get lumps, until the entire surface of the pudding bubbles, about 8 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir 1 more minute.

3. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Scrape into 4 individual-sized containers with lids (I like to use 4-oz mason jars, as in the photos). Let them cool a little before applying lids, so they don’t get all steamy and squishy inside – about 10 minutes. Refrigerate until firm — about an hour.

Makes 4 generous servings. (We don’t mess around with chocolate pudding around here).

Note: Although a lot of recipes say to do this, I don’t put plastic wrap onto the surface to prevent a “skin” from forming, because (a) that sounds ridiculously toxic, and (b) I don’t see a problem with a skin. Your call. (In the photos, the skin has already been unceremoniously gobbled up.)

Now for some close-ups. I don’t have a fancy camera or any photography skills whatsoever, but you get the idea.

Oops, look who’s interrupting the photo shoot to steal some food again . . .

. . . So I had to give her her own little bowl full. (Notice the chocolate on her nose . . . and shirt . . . I told you we don’t mess around with chocolate pudding around here.)

L eating pudding

How about you? What are your favourite not-so-sweet snacks and desserts?

My Favourite Not-Too-Sweet Treats (And a Recipe for Chocolate Date-Nut Energy Balls)

Not-Too-Sweet Treats (And a recipe for chocolate date-nut energy balls)The only thing too sweet in this photo is the little girl. Awww . . .

The other day I wrote how I’m glad natural sweeteners are expensive, because it naturally curbs the amount of sugar my family consumes. Since we’re committed to healthy eating, and try only to consume unprocessed sweeteners like organic cane sugar, honey, and maple syrup, we’re forced to limit our sugar intake. These sweeteners are costly, and we just can’t afford to eat much. So I’m forced to cut back on the sweetener I use in my recipes, and to limit sweet treats in general.

One of the great things about being forced to put less and less sweetener in our food is that we’ve slowly acquired a taste for less-sweet foods. My daughter only knows chocolate in its bittersweet form, and most store-bought sweets strike us as grotesquely sugary.

After reading my post, a friend asked me to share some of my favourite not-so-sweet snacks and desserts. I thought that was a great idea! So here’s a short list of some well-loved homemade treats. Throughout the week, I’ll share the recipes, and then link them up here. After the list (below), I’ll share one of my favourite sugar-free treats: chocolate date-nut energy balls. Yummo!

Just a side note: I work hard to keep lots of not-sweet snacks handy, that we can reach for when we’re feeling munchy — things like hard-boiled eggs, crispy chick peas, cheese, homemade crackers, chopped veggies and dip, etc. But we still enjoy plenty of sweet things, too. I personally believe that limited amounts of (natural) sugar is still an important part of a healthy diet.

You’ll notice the list is pretty chocolate-heavy, because my daughter and I are both huge chocolate fans. (The darker, the better, in my opinion). But I’ve tried to include some other flavours, too.

These are our go-to sweet snacks. They’re all in regular rotation around here. I’ve made them all at least a dozen times, and have perfected them to our tastes.

Kathleen’s Favourite Not-Too-Sweet Treats

And now, for the recipe:

Chocolate Date-Nut Energy Balls

Chocolate date-nut energy balls (no added sugar)

I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of similar variations on Pinterest and the like. They’re similar to Larabars, only way cheaper and with no unnecessary packaging. This recipe is kind of a combination of several recipes I’ve tried. It’s gluten-free and contains no added sugars — just dates/prunes to sweeten.

They are magical. So simple and so delectable. Not to mention nutritious and filling. My daughter — who doesn’t care for food in general — adores them, and refers to them as chocolate balls (or cock-cock balls, but . . . yeah, that doesn’t sound quite right). Just throw the ingredients in a food processor, roll them into balls, and you’re good to go. They travel well in purses, lunch bags, or diaper bags.

Note: In my experience, a blender does not work for this recipe, nor does a wimpy food processor. It’s gotta be fairly big and tough. I have a Ninja Food Processor, and it works great.

As always, organic ingredients are preferred.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup almonds
  • 2 cups dates
  • 1/2 cup raisins, prunes, or more dates
  • 4 Tbsp shredded coconut (optional)
  • 5 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil (or more as needed)

Method:

  1. Pulse walnuts and almonds into a fine meal in a food processor.
  2. Add dates and remaining dried fruit, a few at a time, and continue to pulse/process until it all clumps together into a big, sticky ball. Some (cheaper) dates may be quite hard and dry, and will give your food processor a hard time; if this is the case, just process one or two at a time until they’re all incorporated. Extra coconut oil and/or a teaspoon of water will help if it’s really dry.
  3. Add remaining ingredients and pulse until everything is thoroughly mixed.
  4. Pour mixture into a medium-sized bowl. Then shape into your preferred form. I prefer to roll them into little balls — they’re easier to serve to little folks this way, and I find the finished product tidier. You could also press the mixture into a rectangular glass pan, refrigerate to harden, and then cut into bars with a sharp knife.
  5. Store in refrigerator for best quality and to keep them nice and firm, but room temperature is fine, especially for shorter periods of time.

almond walnut cocoa balls hand

chocolate larabar almond walnut date

toddler hand sweet treat ball(I told you Lydia loves them. The little thief! I did not tell her she could have one . . . )

So what are some of your favourite sweet-but-not-too-sweet snacks? Or your favourite not-sweet snacks? Feel free to link up some of your own recipes! I’d love to get more ideas!!

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