(Not So) Fakes: Magic Shell

Ask my family one thing I say all the time and chances are good they'll answer 'There is nothing out there that I can't make better myself'. Most of the time, it's true. One notable exception is last week's croissant 'fail', but we won't go into that right now.

Last month I posted about homemade chocolate syrup, this month it's chocolate again: homemade 'Magic Shell'. I promise, it won't always be about chocolate - nor sweets. But a request for ice cream topping that formed a crunchy shell was made and I obliged.

This is probably one of the easiest things to duplicate at home. In fact, in my years of cooking with coconut oil, I've accidentally 'magic shelled' a number things when I've added melted coconut oil to cold ingredients. I just played around with the ratios til I was happy with the result. What I settled on was

75 grams coconut oil
100 grams good quality dark chocolate

I melt them together in a bowl over simmering water. That's it. Use it immediately or bottle it and store at room temperature to keep it liquid. If it solidifies - which it will if your house is as cold as mine in the winter - set the jar in hot water for a few minutes.

"Christmas 'Kraut"

Other than the the colors and the timing, there's really nothing Christmas-y about the sauerkraut I make this time every year. The colors merge and it's ready more like Thanksgiving time - but "Thanksgiving 'Kraut" just doesn't have the same ring.

I've been making this version for a few years now. I'm not sure if that qualifies it as a 'tradition' even in my own house, but it's a nice, seasonal twist. An added bonus is that it looks pretty and smells like apples, so it's an easier sell to little ones and others who aren't used to cultured foods.

There is no real 'recipe', and it changes from year to year. The basic directions are from Sandor Katz' book 'Wild Fermentation'. These are the approximate ingredients I used this year:

two small cabbages - one red, one green, shredded
one apple, diced
cranberries, coarsely chopped
sea salt

I combined the cabbage, apple and cranberries in a large bowl, sprinkled about a tablespoon of salt per pound, and mixed it thoroughly.

I used a big wooden spoon to pound it to about two thirds it's original volume to release some of the juice. I let it sit a few hours, then packed it into a large jar a little at a time, packing it down more with each addition. There wasn't quite enough liquid to cover the cabbage, so I added a bit more salted water. (about one tablespoon per cup of filtered water, according to Katz) I covered it and set it aside, checking it every day or so to see how it was coming along, or if it needed more water.

It takes quite a bit longer to ferment this time of year, since the house is cold, but after a week, It looked like this:

We tried some Thanksgiving. I got around to making it a bit later than usual, so the flavors haven't had much time to blend, but it will improve over time. Just in time for Christmas.

Honey Caramel Dip

Just the other day I was thinking it would be nice to have a good alternative to macadamia nut butter for dipping apples in - something more along the lines of caramel....and today I find this: http://bit.ly/cHEbEX

If I wasn't low on honey right now, I'd try it today.

Terra Incognita II: How to roast a pumpkin

One of the best things about fall, as far as I'm concerned, is cooking with pumpkin. In the past I've always just used canned pumpkin, but today I decided to try roasting one. I searched around on the internet to help me decide on the best way to do it. After reading several comments about the results being 'watery' I decided to go with dry roasting.

The pumpkin I used was an organic, pie pumpkin from the grocery store. I don't know what difference it makes to use a pie pumpkin rather than an ordinary pumpkin, but I decided this was not the time to try it out.

I washed it, cut it in half and scooped out the seeds.

I put the halves, cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. I read that pumpkins release a lot of water while they are cooking, and I didn't want to take a chance on juices dripping into the oven.

I baked the pumpkin at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half - until the skin was a dark orange color and it pierced easily with a fork.

After it cooled, I scooped the interior into a bowl and pureed it with a hand blender. After what I'd read, I expected it to be watery and in need of straining, but that wasn't the case.  I ended up with 3 1/2 cups puree which I packed into freezer safe jars for storage in the freezer.

I'm looking forward to trying it out in our Thanksgiving pie.

Laptop Lunchbox

Laptop lunchboxes are another thing that falls into the category of 'things I've heard about for years, but finally took up'. I don't know why, I just wasn't all that interested. Maybe it's because they are plastic and I'm not all that crazy about plastic. Maybe I was just taken in by all the cute lunch boxes out there for kids.

Whatever it was, apparently I'm over it now. Not only did I buy the lunchbox complete with insulated case and water bottle, I ended up ordering an additional set of containers, egg molds, vegetable cutters and bought some silicon cupcake cups and little picks to use instead of forks. I also found flexible, flat blue ice that fits perfectly into the insulated top.

The lunchboxes come with a booklet with lunch ideas. I was a bit disappointed since the authors are under the impression that low calorie, low fat food is healthy for children, but there are a few useful ideas.

So far I haven't been all that creative, but I'm working on it. Creative or not, a lot less lunch come home at the end of the day than before. And after all, the healthiest meal in the world isn't much use if it doesn't get eaten.

Baked Oatmeal

For years I saw on blogs and boards references to 'Baked Oatmeal' for breakfast. Although everyone who mentioned it gushed about how great it was, it didn't sound like anything I wanted to try. I'm not sure what finally convinced me to try it, but eventually I did and I'll bet you already know what I'm going to say next. Yep, everyone loved it. Even the ones who don't like oatmeal.

It's been a long time since I last made it. It didn't really appeal to me that much during the summer, but that may just be me. Now that the mornings are getting rather - ahem-  'crisp', it once again sounds like a great way to start the day.

It's tough to come up with an actual recipe, since I tend to throw in what I have around the kitchen and what sounds good at the time. Today's version went something like this:

Last night I mixed and set out overnight:
 1 1/2 cup steel cut oats
Tablespoon yogurt
warm water

I like the texture and chewiness of steel cut oats. I don't know if it works as well with rolled oats since I've never tried it. If someone has maybe they could comment on it. Either way, oats are more nutritious when soaked overnight.

This morning I drained the oats and added:
dash salt
1 egg
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup real maple syrup (you could use honey)
chopped apple, walnuts, cinnamon, fresh grated nutmeg and a chunk of grass-fed butter.

I baked it at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes and served with more butter and fresh cream.

Next time, instead of apple and walnut, I'm thinking dried cranberries and macadamia nuts. On the other hand, I did just buy a bunch of persimmons...

Let me know what flavor combinations you come up with.

Meal planning

It's the beginning of another month, and time for me to plan and shop for the whole month. Yes, I meant to do it over the weekend, but it just didn't happen, so I'm doing it today. But I said a month ago I'd share my 'system' and I'm just now getting around to it, so no surprise that I'm behind on anything else.

I started planning by the month about a year ago. My first few attempts took hours as I deleted and rearranged meals to get the variety I was looking for. About six months ago I tried a new strategy that allows the variety I want and takes just a few minutes a month.

My menu starts with a template of seven columns with four rows per column. I designate each day as a certain 'category'. These can be changed to suit anyone's preferences or schedule.
Monday in our house is 'Meaty Monday'  - especially if it's something that would have leftovers to use during the week or in lunches.
Tuesday is 'Family Favorites' night.
Wednesday is 'Whatever Wednesday' (in other words, leftovers),
Thursday is Soup/Salad/Pasta
Friday we eat out
Saturday and Sunday have been for grilling - but I may change that as the weather changes, although we grill regardless of the season.

Next, I made a master list of all the meals we may want to cook.  I divide all the options into the same categories so all I have to do is choose four (or five, depending on how many weeks are in that month) items from each category and plug them in to the appropriate day of the week. I've already plugged in breakfast and lunch choices for each day that go well with the dinner category and fit our schedule, and those choices don't change month to month.

The fourth row is for after-school snack ideas - like fruit and cheese, homemade yogurt and granola or deviled eggs.

I usually plan one dessert for Wednesday (an added treat for leftover night), and one on the weekend. The weekday one is usually something simple - fruit and cream, homemade ice cream, chocolate mousse (yes, it's simple the way I make it), etc, while the weekend one is sometimes, but not always, more extravagant.

To shop for the month, I buy all the non-perishables, meat and anything that can go in the freezer for the whole month as well as vegetables, eggs, milk, cream, etc for the meals I've chosen for the first week of the month. At the end of the first week, I'll choose what I want to cook for the next week, and buy vegetables, milk, etc for that week, and if I've planned well, not much else.

I hope that makes sense. I'll try to post a sample. I've shared it with a couple of friends and they tell me it's working well for them. If you try it, let me know how it works for you.