Accidental Barley Graham Crackers: Lessons in Baking Without a Recipe

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Shortbread is definitely my favorite cookie. It isn’t sickeningly sweet, like most cookies, and they are dead simple to make. So dead simple, in fact, that the other day I decided I could take a quick glance at a recipe and then go from there.

I had barley flour, so I decided I’d use that in place of all-purpose flour. I do that a lot – substituting different flours for all-purpose – and most of the time it works well. There’s a bit of finagling one has to do with the amount of liquid, letting the dough sit to hydrate, etc. But with that in the back of my mind I can usually make it work. (Also, I don’t particularly like to follow recipes. Which is why I don’t usually bake with them, or at least not with any personal need to stick with them. There, my secret’s out.)

Then I decided I’d use sorghum molasses instead of sugar. There are all sorts of things that this throws off – sweetness, moisture, and acidity for starters. But hey, things were already getting wildly out of hand so why not?

I stuck with butter for the fat, ya know, since I didn’t want to muck anything up.

So yeah, at this point I was not making shortbread cookies, even though I thought I was. I patted the dough out onto the greased cookie sheet thinking it felt a bit too moist for shortbread. I cut it into eighths thinking it would fall into a billion pieces after it was baked. I docked it all over with a fork wondering if it would even remotely resemble a cookie.

It turned out to be the best graham crackers we’ve ever had.

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Our (wheat-free) Pantry Ingredients and the Meals We Make From Them

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Nearly two years ago I wrote about dealing with scratch cooking burnout. Even us die hard real foodies get a case of burnout every now and then and, judging from the comments, there are quite a few of us dealing with it.

Besides the fact that I cook 98% of our meals at home, I think overdoing the new and exciting recipes does me in from time-to-time. My husband and I used to joke that I never made the same thing twice in one month. That makes for great recipe development, but it’s just not sustainable anymore. We have two more children to feed now and a much more complicated day-to-day.

Instead, I now lean on meals I know I can throw together quickly, using my pantry staples, and incorporate any vegetables I might have around from the garden or market. It saves my sanity for us to eat at least a few of the same things every week, so here is a list of meals and staple ingredients we eat most weeks.

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Cold Bean Salads – a summer delight!

With summer vegetable season in full swing, my garden is pumping out the produce. Something I’d planned for all winter and spring – this season is busy as I try to keep up with all of the goodness pouring into my kitchen.

Because we eat seasonally, what is available to pick from the garden, the typical ‘green salad’ is only available in spring and fall. By mid summer all of our spring lettuces have gone to seed and those seeds get re-planted in late summer to produce again in the cooler months of the fall.  

Not to worry. Mid-summer salads are some of my very favorite. The greens we have in abundance right now are kale, chard, cucumbers, zucchini and my favorite – beans. Continue reading

Gumbo Fried Rice

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This past week I strolled through our gardens, surprised at those vegetables still giving despite our recent triple digit temperatures. I snapped off okra pods, pulled black-eyed peas at the green bean stage, and came back up to the house to make dinner.

I made gumbo earlier this summer when our okra was a bit more prolific. It was my first go-round with this spicy, tasty dish and I was blown away. Where had gumbo been all my life? We served it over rice and it was wonderful.

But this night I had plans to make fried rice. The rice was cooling and I had some garlic and ginger in mind. That okra reminded me of those delicious flavors of gumbo – paprika, thyme, garlic, and cayenne. Fried up with rice, grass-fed beef, and those garden veggies; we were smitten with this fusion of flavors.

And I’m hoping you will be too.

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Cinnamon Coconut Milk Ice Cream In a Bag

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Getting ice cream is one of the great joys of summer, and as we wind down the season it seems a great time to fit in at least one more cold, creamy treat. But my husband and son aren’t able to share it with us, so much of the joy is lost for our family.

Recently we wanted to make ice cream at home, the kind we could all partake in. But we don’t have an ice cream maker and I’m not even sure if our solar panels could run one if we did. I’d heard that you could make ice cream simply with ice, ziploc bags, and salt so I thought we’d give it a go. I’m so glad we did.

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I love projects like this where yummy food meets great project for the kiddos. It got us talking about heat transfer and freezing points and other “extras” I could add to our homeschooling day. But more importantly, ice cream… that we can all eat!

Here’s how we made it (and how to find more real food and allergy-free recipes like it).

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A Tough Look at the Real Cost of Food

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About eight years ago we began to look into eating organic foods. I was, up until that point, a bargain shopper, stocking our freezer with $.69/lb chicken and filling our fruit bowl with whatever was cheapest.

Once we began to learn more about our industrialized food system, we started taking a look at what we ate and what was most important to invest in. Animal products became the priority for us so we started sourcing organic then pastured then local meats and dairy products. The sticker shock took my breath away.

I began to wonder why grocery store food was so cheap, if this other stuff was so expensive. How were they farming? What were the farmers making? How hard is it really to raise healthy animals and grow good vegetables.

Harder than I thought, it turns out.

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New Feature: Freezer Meals

Freezer cooking is the process of cooking multiple meals at one time and placing them in the freezer for a later date. This technique allows you to maximize your food prep time because you are only doing it once for multiple meals, and gets you ahead of schedule with meals that are ready to eat in your freezer. 

The new Freezer Meal feature in Plan to Eat will allow you to cook meals, freeze them, and Plan to Eat will keep track of the meals in your freezer as you drag those meals onto your planner. It’s a cool little feature that allows you to better use the food that you have on hand, and gives you all of the advantages of getting ahead of schedule by freezer cooking.

Here’s how it works:

Raw Crunch Bars: finally, a solution for lunchboxes (and a giveaway!)

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With school starting again I am finding myself wandering the aisles of the grocery store looking for easy and quick snacks to toss into lunch boxes. Most of the pre-packaged treats commonly available come with unpronounceable ingredients, and I really don’t see the benefit of feeding them to my children, so the product goes back on the shelf and I continue aimlessly wandering the store. I am looking for something that is genuinely nutritious and ready to quickly go into a lunchbox on a day when I am behind schedule… which is most days.

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Late-Summer Vegetable and Rice Soup with Ginger and Lime

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Sometimes less is more, even when it comes to tasty food. I am generally a lover of bold flavors, especially this time of year. Spicy salsas with fresh garden tomatoes, flavorful zucchini dishes, and an abundance of raw vegetables dipped and dressed with pungent flavorings. These are all part of how we’re eating as we finish up August.

But sometimes you just need a break from all of that, especially when little tummies are unsettled as they were in our home recently. I find that cooked vegetables, broth, and a little something extra is the most nourishing thing for those who need subtle foods. This dish still makes use of those fresh green garden veggies, but adds a slow simmer with broth and rice to keep it tame.

Deliciously simple and easy to make, this dish is taken from ho-hum to yum with aromatics and a splash of lime.

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Pork Chops with Fresh Black-Eyed Peas and Onion Gravy

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I was shelling our black-eyed peas while sipping on a quart jar of tea the other day and the irony of that whole scene was a bit comical. I live deep in the heart of Texas but I most definitely do not fit the bill of a southern woman… even when surrounded by tea and black-eyed peas.

Even with my Minnesotan roots showing, I am falling in love with these southern peas. For one, they grow really well here despite the clay soil, drought, heat, and other beatings a plant can take. For weeks now we have been eating them pretty much every day in one form or another. They work well as a green bean at the younger stage. Just pick and snap as you would any other green bean.

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