Saturday, December 19, 2015

Homemade "Bisquick" Mix- No Shortening!

My oldest daughter (the aspiring baker) wanted to make a bundt cake this week, and the recipe she chose called for Bisquick Mix... I considered looking for another recipe.  Bisquick, although versatile and convenient, is not the ideal mix to bake with.  The worst part of Bisquick:  vegetable shortening. Vegetable shortening is hydrogenated oil- probably some over-processed, rancid oil, like soybean or canola; and hydrogenated oils are known to contribute to heart disease, obesity, and premature aging.  Do your matter how the fake food companies try to pass shortening off to the consumer, it is a killer.  Fake food, including shortening, has no place in my kitchen...

So, we looked for a homemade substitute for Bisquick Mix.  The results:  a healthier baking mix that I can give to my family without feeling that twinge of guilt that comes with eating junk!  I looked over three different recipes online to come up with one recipe that suits our needs...

3 c all-purpose, organic flour
4 1/2 t baking powder
1 1/2 t fine sea salt
1/2 c coconut oil (chilled/solid)

Ingredients, ready to mix

  • Put all ingredients into food processor.
  • Mix on low until coconut oil is combined.
  • Mix on high until mixture looks crumbly.
  • Store in a sealed container in your refrigerator or freezer until needed.
Crumbly, mixed Ingredients

Enjoy your homemade, better-than-store-bought baking mix in pancakes, dumplings, muffins, or anything else you make with Bisquick Mix!  It is versatile and convenient for the cook-on-the-go.

Store your baking mix in a sealed container!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Homemade, Naturally-fermented Black Zapote Drink

On some of the websites I've looked at regarding the black sapote (chocolate pudding fruit), it mentions that people in Central American countries have made a traditional fermented drink from the fruit...  but, as with many "traditional" recipes, this one seems to have not been recorded or is no longer in practice.  What else can I do but make my own recipe?  :)  I have experimented with fermented drinks before, so here I go again:

For the fermenting culture, I am using water kefir.  Many people use the grains to ferment, but the water kefir itself is a good culture!  And, you don't have to filter out the grains when you are done... this drink has a lot of pulp, so it would be practically impossible to recover kefir grains anyway.

The final product tastes a lot like the black sapote bread that a friend of ours gave to us... a nice citrus flavor with a delicate chocolate, fruity aftertaste.  I would even make this with lemon peel!  The choice is yours.

Meat of 1 medium-sized black zapote (chocolate pudding fruit)
1/4 c natural sweetener (I used unrefined cane sugar)
3-4 strips of orange (or lemon) peel, sliced with vegetable peeler
1/4 cup water kefir (NOT the grains)
Filtered, non-chlorinated water- to top off jar

All ingredients are mixed and ready to ferment!

  • Put all ingredients into a quart-sized jar, leaving a bit of head space.  Cap tightly.
  • Shake jar to incorporate sweetener and fruit.
  • Leave on counter for 2-3 days, "burping" container daily to remove excess gas.
  • Filter and bottle. (You can do a second ferment here, if taste is too sweet) Chill before consuming. 
  • Enjoy!
Look at all that carbonation... after only 24 hours.
(I ended up bottling after 36 hours, but it was still too sweet for me.  So, I let it sit on the counter, overnight before chilling...)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Chocolate Pudding Fruit

For my 100th post, I thought I'd do something a little different! Since moving back to Florida (in September), I have really come to appreciate all that south Florida has to offer. That being said, I feel like I should focus on what I am most thankful for here, in my own neighborhood.  It is important to know about your surroundings, whether it is knowledge of local foraging information, local, traditional herbal remedies, or just knowing where to buy the freshest local produce.  Your family will thank you for putting in the extra research to keep them healthy!

I've decided to introduce my readers to a rare tropical fruit- it may or may not be in your local grocery store/farmers' market.  But, if you ever come across this fruit, you will know exactly what to do with it and maybe even propagate your own chocolate pudding fruit tree!  Chocolate pudding fruit (black persimmon or black sapote) is grown in semi-tropical/tropical climates, and is really quite average-looking as far as fruits go:

Chocolate Pudding Fruit

The lifted calyxes of a ripe chocolate pudding fruit

The mature fruit will have lifted calyxes (the flower-looking part on top).  If you happen to find a fruit with calyxes that lay flat to the skin of the fruit, do not buy them as they will never fully ripen! You can see from the picture above that the calyxes are curled back from the skin.  

Mature, unripened fruit is picked when the calyxes are lifted off the skin, although they are usually hard as gourds.  But, as they ripen on your counter, you will notice that the skin turns a darker shade of green and the calyxes will turn black.  When the ripened fruit is handled, you will feel the hard skin give way to the softening meat.  Usually, if you let the fruit sit about 1-2 days after it starts to soften, it will then be ready for eating...

A ripened fruit- notice how soft the meat has gotten by the dent in its skin

Cut the ripened fruit down the middle and pull the sides apart- you will see that the meat is dark brown, like chocolate!  There are also large, almond-like seeds that you might want to save.  Just scoop out the meat with a spoon- Be careful not to rip the skin, which will make the meat harder to remove.  This meat can be eaten fresh and has a custard-like consistency.  It can also be used in many recipes, one of which I will share with you now...

The meat of a ripened fruit and seeds, ready to propagate

Unfortunately, the chocolate pudding fruit does not taste like chocolate... but, before you leave, I have a recipe that will make it creamy and chocolaty!  Here is my version of Chocolate Pudding Fruit Chocolate Pudding:

1 chocolate pudding fruit- meat scooped out in bowl
1-2 T cocoa powder
about 1/8 c cream
drizzle of honey

Mix all ingredients together with a spoon, making sure to smooch all lumps of fruit, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.  Eat alone or with a dollop of whipped cream on top!

Now to get that chocolate pudding fruit tree growing!  If you have saved the seeds for propagating, click this link to see the germinating directions.  According to these directions, the seeds have a very high viability rate!  I am planning on having at least two of these trees in my yard in the near future :)

Enjoy your healthy, homemade chocolate pudding!  And, if you can't finish it all, chocolate pudding fruit meat freezes very well for future use :)

More chocolate pudding fruit recipes:
ice cream

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Homemade Chicken Curry

I have been feeling a little uninspired lately and thought I'd turn to my vintage cookbooks for a little spark.  The cookbook that spoke to me was The Virginia Housewife, published in 1836.  I found tons of recipes that looked delicious (more to come), but today I want to try the ".... Curry After The East Indian Manner."  I have always loved curry and would love to introduce it to my family- from scratch and from real ingredients.

The original Virginia Housewife cookbook, cir. 1836

I realize that the instructions leave a bit to be desired- but remember, women were cooking over fires, not modernized, temperature-regulating appliances.  Therefore, specific cook times over different sized fires would cook differently.  I will do my best to "translate" this vintage recipe's instructions into more modern, precise ones.  Here goes!

What I used to make my Curry Chicken dish:

1, 4-5lb hen, cut into pieces (as you would to fry)- I halved the original recipe
3/4 T Celtic sea salt
1/2 c butter (one stick)
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
2 T curry powder

Adding Celtic sea salt to the chicken pot

  • Put the chicken into a medium stock pot and add water enough to just cover the chicken pieces.
  • Add the salt to the water and heat to boil (make sure you skim the foam that rises to the top of the broth)
  • Turn down the heat to low and simmer, covered, until the chicken is tender but not falling off the bone- 30-40 minutes.

Curry Chicken, seasoned and ready to stew
  • Take chicken pieces out of the pot, reserving the broth.  Put the butter into pot and heat until bubbly.
  • Over medium to medium-high heat, cook the onion and garlic until browned- be careful not to burn- stir often.
  • When onion/garlic is browned, put the chicken back into the pot.  Season chicken with curry powder and brown.
  • Pour the broth that was reserved from boiling the chicken into the pot and cook, covered, over med/low heat until everything is tender, about 10 minutes.
  • If you prefer a thicker curry sauce, just add a couple T of arrowroot powder, mixed with just enough water to dissolve.  Bring sauce to a boil and hold for 1 minute.
I just love the simplicity of this recipe!  And the curry sauce is fantastic.  I will serve my Curry Chicken with jasmine rice and a side of veggies.  

Try making this from-scratch, real food recipe with your family!  Enjoy this modernized version of this tried-and-true 1836 recipe... and maybe "translate" a few recipes for your own family from the archived vintage cookbooks on

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Homemade (Easy) Crème Brulée

I love French desserts!  They are usually full of rich ingredients like eggs, butter and cream, with just enough sugar to make them delicious without being sickeningly sweet.  Crème brulée is no exception. It is easy enough to make last-minute (an hour and forty-five minutes from start to finish), with minimal ingredients... not to mention the big impact it will have on your dining companions.

Beautifully creamy  crème brulée

I have modified a recipe from, using all-natural ingredients.  We have made this recipe a handful of times and it always delivers!  Here is my version of this gourmet French dessert, best served with a side of fruit, such as mangoes or berries :)

6 egg yolks, preferably from pastured eggs
1/4 c unprocessed, organic sugar (I like Florida Crystals)
1/2 t vanilla extract
2 1/2 c organic cream

1/8 c unprocessed, organic sugar
1/8 c organic brown sugar

  • Pre-heat oven to 300 F
  • Heat cream in a small saucepan until very hot but not boiling.  
  • While cream is heating,  whip egg yolks with sugar and vanilla extract until thick.
  • Pour hot cream into egg yolk mixture slowly, while stirring, until fully combined.
  • Pour mixture into ramekins (4) or into a larger, shallow baking dish.
  • Bake for 30 minutes (more for large dish) or until custard center has a slight jiggle when shaken.
  • Store in refrigerator for about an hour to cool to room temperature.
Custard, ready to bake!

Cooked custard, cooling before adding topping

Carmelized sugar topping on finished  crème brulée

  • Pre-heat the broiler
  • Mix the two sugars and spread evenly over the top of each ramekin.
  • Place the custard under the broiler until sugars melt and start to brown.  Keep an eye on the sugars so they don't burn.-OR- using a torch, melt and toast the sugars, making sure not to burn them.  I have tried both techniques and although the torch is more fun, the broiler toasts more evenly :)
Enjoy this rich, creamy dessert!  Great for the gluten-intolerant, too :)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Homemade Herbal Infusion

I'm sure all of you have tried an herbal infusion from dried herbs (also known as herbal "tea").  But, did you know that you can make an infusion from fresh herbs, found right in your own yard?  I will demonstrate how to do this, and believe me, it is so easy you'll want to harvest a different herb every day to try it out!

Today, I harvested a few stalks of Wild Bee Balm.  I found a patch of it out near the aspen grove on the side of our house just the other day... it is an edible/ medicinal herb and has been used by Native American tribes to treat colds and the flu- it is also related to Thyme, so it is a spicy herb.  I ate a leaf raw and it was quite spicy on my tongue!  If you eat it raw, make sure you mix it with other greens in a salad.  This is definitely not an herb you want to eat a lot of by itself.  But, in an infusion, it is much more mild; very fragrant and delicious!

Wild Bee Balm, freshly harvested

To check out other pictures of Wild Bee Balm (or other edibles), check out this website!  Edible Wild Foods is a great place to start when choosing herbs to use in teas or recipes...  Lots of great information!!

Wild Bee Balm, ready to infuse

Since I am using only the leaves and flowers of Wild Bee Balm to make my infusion, I have stripped the stems of all infusible parts and washed them of any debris or creepy crawlies :)  Since I am only using the soft parts of the plant, I will do a quick 10-15 minute steep in boiling water.  Just heat your filtered water to boiling (less is better, so you can always dilute the finished infusion to your taste). Then, take the infusion pot off heat and add your herb.  Cover with a lid and let it sit, steeping, for 10-15 minutes.  (If I were using a "harder" part of the plant, like the root or bark, I would make a decoction by simmering the plant material for the allotted time- anywhere from 10-30 minutes, depending on the herb).

Wild Bee Balm

When your infusion is done steeping, just filter off the herb with a mesh strainer or cheesecloth and enjoy!  I sweetened my infusion with a bit of honey, since Wild Bee Balm is a bit spicy and it was delish!  If your infusion is a bit too strong for your taste, just dilute with hot water until it is to your liking.  

A cuppa homemade herbal infusion

Enjoy your homemade concoction and know that your body thanks you!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Drying Herbs Without a Dehydrator

Now that I have shown you the edibles/medicinal herbs I have found in our yard, I will demonstrate how to preserve them for future use!  Dried herbs are very handy when it comes to making an extract/tincture/salve for the winter months, when you know the fresh herbs won't be available.
Just follow a few easy steps and you'll have a good supply of medicinal herbs, just when you need them!

Broadleaf Plantain, drying after a thorough wash

The first of two methods for drying herbs is bag drying:

1.  Pick the herb that you will be preserving.  Be sure to harvest the correct part of the plant- for some plants, this may be the leaf and for others, the root!  For some plants, it is your research before harvesting any medicinal herb.

2.  Wash your herbs.  You picked these plants from the great outdoors- be sure there is nothing in your medicine that you don't want in there!  I gently wash my herbs in a colander, making sure each individual picking is washed of any debris, dirt or other organic matter.

3.  Dry off your herbs.  Just place the washed herbs on a paper towel and let the water evaporate.  This will prevent wet spots from getting trapped between your herbs- moisture breeds mold, and you don't want that!

Catmint and Common Yarrow, freshly harvested

4.  When the herbs are dried off, place them loosely in a paper bag.  Do not stuff too many in there or the air won't circulate- once again, you want the herbs to dry, not ferment.  Label your bag before putting it up!

Make sure to label and date your bags of herbs!

5.  Shake your bagged herbs every day to circulate the air and help the plant material dry.  It may take a week or so to completely dry out the plants, so check the herbs until they are crispy dry and ready to put into storage. (I use recycled glass jars, tightly sealed, and store them in a dark cabinet.)

Red Clover, ready to store for future use

The second method for drying herbs is hanging.  This is ideal for herbs with long stems :)

(Follow #1-3 in the directions for bag drying)

4.  When the herbs are dried off, divide the herbs into small bunches.  Secure the stems of the bunches with rubber bands or string, to make sure none of the plant material will fall when hung upside down.
A small bunch of Catmint, ready to hang!

5.  Find a dry place and string up your herbs!  You could hang them from nails in your pantry or a string across your laundry room- wherever they will be out of the way and in no danger of being disturbed.  The first time I tried this, I hung them in my pantry, but quite low.  The ending result was more dried leaves on the floor than left for storage!  Hang the plants well out of reach of little fingers :)

6.  Check the herbs often and store in air-tight jars when crispy dry.

Take advantage of Natures bounty!  Stock up on your local medicinal herbs before the frosts come this fall.  And enjoy your good health all winter long!