Friday, February 11, 2011


Last week, my cousin posted an article about making your own organic butter on Facebook. Ah ha! I said to myself, This will be perfect for my blog! So since I'm working doubles the entire weekend, I figured I should get this one in before I do nothing but eat, sleep, and work for the next couple days.

But first a few notes about the butter and margarine debate. I think we used butter mostly at my house, but I can't say for sure. I think it was pretty interchangeable, but from what I can remember, we had Land O Lakes butter sitting out on the table (rarely in the fridge) most of the time. I liked that we kept it at room temperature because it was actually possible to spread it on foods that were not scalding hot.

When I got married, I'm pretty sure we switched over to margarine, because that's what my husband was used to using, and I didn't have much of a preference at the time. But then I found out the awful truth about margarine: It's bad for you.

Long story short, it's imitation butter. And imitation is never better than the real thing. It goes back to the removal of the saturated fats and replacing it with scientifically engineered compounds like trans-fats, and we all know trans-fats are big no-nos.

So then I tried buying butter at the co-op grocery store. Surprisingly, they had about 15 different kinds of margarine and exactly one kind of butter. Sweet cream butter that had to be refrigerated and was hard as a rock. This would not fly with my husband. So we went back to the margarine until I recently found Land O Lakes spreadable butter with canola oil at the regular grocery store. They had a few more options there as well, but I'm happy with the canola oil mix for now and my husband will use it so everyone is satisfied.

So anyway, I decided on a whim at about 8 o'clock tonight to make my own butter using the article I mentioned previously. It claimed the process took ten minutes, so I figured why not?

I had already obtained organic heavy whipping cream ahead of time, and the only other ingredients are an electric mixer, ice water, and sea salt (to taste), so I was ready to go a few minutes after eight. The first step was to mix the whipping cream until it became a butter-like substance, which, supposedly takes about 10 minutes. I think it ended up taking me closer to 20, but it was a bit extended because I had to check the bowl several times to see if buttermilk was separating from the butter at the bottom. When it was finally separated, I had to find a couple containers appropriate for saving the buttermilk and coax said liquid into the containers while simultaneously not including the butter. This probably took another five minutes or so.

After that I had to check my freezer to see if we had ice cubes ready (we did, yay!) and pour the ice water into the bowl to wash the butter and try to remove more buttermilk. I washed it three times and the water began running clearer, so I figured I was good to go. The last step was to remove the rest of the liquid and then salt and wrap it up. Well, this whole removing the rest of the liquid part was probably the most time consuming part of the task. I squeezed and squeezed out liquid with my spoonula until I couldn't get any more out and so I went to salt and wrap up the butter and call it a day. But when I picked it up and tried to mold it into some cute, square-ish shape, I realized there was a ton of liquid still inside the butter ball. So I tried squeezing out more liquid with the spoonula, but none would come out. I finally resorted to squeezing out the liquid as best I could with my bare hands until I finally gave up and figured it was good enough. This whole process probably took me another 20 minutes or so.

Then there was the task of trying to figure out how to shape it into a cute little butter block. Well, I didn't really have any ideas, so after a few sorry attempts I ended up just lining a storage container with wax paper and shaping the butter to the container shape. I think in the end it took me about 50 minutes from start to finish, but I think I could shorten this to about 30 minutes or so once I've done it a few more times. I plan on taking some of the butter to work tomorrow and trying it out, along with some of the buttermilk. I think I'll put the butter on my roasted garlic sourdough bread I bought to go with the lasagna I made for lunch (and have for leftovers tomorrow!). No idea on the buttermilk. I may just add it to some oatmeal. Pretty excited about the whole thing, nonetheless.

In other news, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is fascinating and makes me want to garden more than ever. I'm very disappointed that I'll be moving mid-summer and so a garden is out of the question again this year. Last year they dug up my backyard to do work on the downstairs duplex, so it was a no go. Before that I didn't have yard space to call my own, so I haven't had the chance to try it out. Hopefully next year though. However, I just got done reading the part where the author learned how to make cheese, and it seems about as easy as making butter, so I think that will be my next project.

Monday, February 7, 2011


For my recipe from my grandmother's cookbooks this week, I decided to get one from Crepes & Omelets. I had the day off and it was my husband's first day of his three week break from school, so a leisurely breakfast seemed to be in order.

We only had four eggs left, so I figured omelets wouldn't work too well (plus we were seriously lacking in the cheese department of the fridge), so I decided to make crepes. It was grocery shopping day, and we basically had no food left, so I decided to use the last of the strawberries and make dessert crepes.

...Well, the strawberries apparently went bad overnight. BUT, we had a ton of frozen fruit, so it worked out. Anyway, here is the dessert crepe recipe (I cut it in half and got about 5 crepes, but mine were a little thick and I spilled some batter):

2 eggs
2 tbs. melted butter
1-1/4 cups milk
2 tbs. brandy or orange liqueur (I made some brandy crème brûlée about a year ago, and that's the only reason I had either of these ingredients on hand)
1 tbs. sugar
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt

Place ingredients in blender container in the order listed (I did this with my Magic Bullet and failed to realize I should reverse the order...oops. It worked out though, so no worries!). Blend at high speed 20 to 30 seconds (or 10 seconds or less in your Magic Bullet!). Scrape down sides of the container. Blend a few more seconds.

Pan preparation: If using a no-stick spray shortening, spray pan before heating. Before cooking first crepe put 1/2 teaspoon butter into pan. If the pan is well seasoned it should not be necessary to add more butter for each crepe.
Pan temperature: Crepe pan is at the correct temperature when the batter sizzles slightly when poured into the pan, and a crepe will cook on one side in approximately 1 minute. Crepes should be pale in color, not dark brown (mine were mostly pale with brown highlights).
To cook crepes: Two or three tablespoons of batter is usually enough to cover the bottom of a 6- to 7-inch crepe pan. If necessary, adjust the amount needed for the pan you are using. Pour batter and quickly tilt the pan so the batter covers the bottom entirely. If you have put in more than just a thin coating, pour excess back into the bowl. this will leave a small flap on the crepe but it won't be noticed when the crepe is filled and folded.
When to turn: The crepe is ready to turn when it begins to set and crisp around the edges. Loosen around the edge with a spatula or knife so you have a starting place to pick up the crepe with your fingers, them simply flip it over. If preferred, carefully turn with a spatula (or, if you're an expert egg flipper like me, just flip the crepe like over easy eggs). Should it start to tear when picked up, it may not be cooked enough to turn. Cook a few seconds longer and try again.
After the crepes are cooked: Stack cooked crepes on a plate. They will be easier to separate if they are not placed squarely on top of each other. It is not necessary to put foil or waxed paper between each crepe. Makes 16 to 20 5-inch crepes.

So I filled my two crepes with frozen strawberries and mangoes, and the warmth of the crepe defrosted the fruit a bit to make it just the right temperature. My husband ate his three crepes with Karo syrup. He said, "They were okay... but there wasn't much to them." I told him to put fruit on them next time... duh.

I liked this book and I thought this was a great basic crepe recipe, but there's a lot of random ingredients in most of the recipes, so I think next time I use the book I'm going to have to plan ahead. There's also recipes for blintzes and frittata, and I definitely want to try those at some point too. I think next week I'll try out something from the ancient PTA cookbook. Wish me luck in advance.

Food Rules

I finally got around to reading Michael Pollan's Food Rules today and managed to devour the entire book in about an hour. It essentially breaks down the last part of In Defense of Food, into 64 simple rules of thumb about food and eating. Below are some of my favorites and some comments on them:

Rule #3: Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human would keep in the pantry. I've been doing a better job of checking ingredient lists lately and making sure I recognize everything on there. I've still bought a few things that broke this rule (Yoplait yogurt was on sale and it's got a few questionable ingredients, but I don't think I can get the hubby to eat real yogurt and it's a nice work snack).

•  Rule #7: Avoid food products containing ingredients that a third-grader cannot pronounce. I finally got my husband on this one, because it was originally stated that if you couldn't pronounce it, it wasn't okay. My husband is about half a semester away from earning his PharmD, so he can pronounce most of that stuff and even knows what a lot of it is too. He seems to think that this knowledge makes it okay for consumption—but it's not. And now, with the new rule, he can't argue it anymore.

Rule #13: Eat only foods that will eventually rot. I thought this was a good rule because it's the stuff that's really good for you in food that goes bad with time. That means that if it doesn't go bad, there's no good stuff in it. Interesting note: Pollan mentions that honey does, in fact, go bad. But it takes centuries. So now I know I never need to throw away honey again (Hint: If it crystallized, just throw it in the microwave until it's smooth again!). 

• Rule #19: If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don't.  I just thought this was a funny (and true) play on words. 

• Rule #23: Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food. So guilty of not doing this. I think I would be okay skipping meat more often—but hubby's gotta have his meat at almost every meal. His exceptions: pasta (sometimes), breakfast (sometimes), and PB&J. I'm going to try to make more foods without meat in them, but the trick is finding things he'll eat. Future goal, I think. 

• Rule #24: "Eating what stands on one leg [mushrooms and plant foods] is better than eating what stands on two legs [fowl], which is better than eating what stands on four legs [cows, pigs, and other mammals]." I've heard this one before, although it was simpler: "The less legs, the better." This also accounted for the ultra healthy and leg-less fish. This one is a bit harder to follow for me too, because I like beef and pork so much more than chicken. I think chicken is kind of boring, or you have to add a lot to make it interesting. I do like fish though, but I've got to convince hubby before I can get more in the house. 

• Rule #25: Eat your colors. This is another one I've heard before and I've done a better job as of late. Basically the different colors in your food represent different nutrients, so the more colorful your diet, the more nutrients you obtain.

• Rule #39: Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Now I don't feel bad for making two cakes last week... 

• Rule #43: Have a glass of wine with dinner. As Pollan noted, this rule is well-known but few recommend it because of the taboo surrounding alcohol and alcoholism in the United States. I've got a very good friend who is a recovering alcoholic, so I know the damages it can do. However, alcoholism is extremely low in Europe, where there are much lower (or effectively non-existent) drinking ages. This says to me that normalizing appropriate drinking behavior in your household will do good both for your physical and social/mental health. 

• Rule #44: Pay more, eat less. As my previous post will attest, I wholeheartedly agree with this rule. We spend less of our budget on food than any other nation and we're eating junk. If we spent a little extra money on it, we could be eating so much better. 

• Rule #49: Eat slowly. Another great piece of advice that goes unnoticed in the United States. We're all too busy to slow down and actually enjoy our food. My husband is a huge culprit of this: He will chide me when he's finished and I'm still only halfway through my meal. Sometimes it's hard though. I get either a 15-minute or a 30-minute break at my jobs, so if I want to eat, I basically have no choice but to scarf down while there's still time. When I only get a 15-minute break, I try to eat dinner already and just bring a small snack to tide me over. 

• Rule #52: Buy smaller glasses and plates. Sometimes we'll eat off of the salad plates instead of the dinner plates, and it does make a big difference. I feel like I've eaten more than I have because my plate is so full. We have smaller glasses at the house, but I don't use them as often as I used to. I'll have to get back in the habit. 

• Rule #54: "Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper." Excellent adage that I'm terrible about following. When I have to be somewhere in the morning, I usually get up about a half hour before I need to be there, which leaves pretty much no time for breakfast. Then, if I'm working, I won't eat lunch and so I'll be starving by the time dinner comes around and stuff my face. My P.E. teacher in high school once said that you shouldn't eat after 6 PM for the same reasons, so I try not to eat when it's really late, and I'm normally pretty good about it. 

• Rule #59: Try not to eat alone. Again, this one's hard for me because my husband and I are often on different schedules and when I'm at work, I'm usually the only person on break. When I can eat with others though, I strongly prefer to do so. 

• Rule #60: Treat treats as treats. Another funny and true play on words. It goes along with Rule #39 in saying that it's okay to eat things that are bad for you, as long as you don't do it every day.

• Rule #63: Cook. We've been doing a lot better about this and I feel like we've been spending less on food because we haven't been going out to eat as often as we used to.

• Rule #64: Break the rules once in a while. Nobody's perfect, and it's only going to hurt you if you obsess over your food all the time. Weight Watchers gives its clients extra points each week on top of their daily limit as special occasion or splurge points, and it's actually really good for you if you're trying to lose weight. This is because if the body figures out you're trying to starve it, it will start retaining every last morsel you put inside it. As such, you have to trick the body with special treats every now and then so it doesn't catch the scent. So you see, it's good for you to break the rules.

Excellent pocket reference for when I need a quick rule of thumb on food. Next on my list is a book I borrowed from my mom called Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I also ordered Michael Pollan's first book and a couple books by Marion Nestle which should arrive later this week.

Friday, February 4, 2011


For those of you living under a rock, there was a giant snow storm raging through the Midwest this week, or as I liked to call it, the Snopocalypse. Seeing as how my birthday was yesterday, my husband and I decided to have our cake-off while we waited out the storm.

To review, both of our families have traditionally made red velvet cake as a birthday treat. I recently found a copy of my grandmother's recipe and my husband obtained his grandma's recipe and we made one of each to see which was better.

The key differences were as follows:

• My grandmother had me mix my baking soda with vinegar before adding it to the batter. Hubby had no vinegar in his recipe.
• Both recipes called for shortening, but in an effort to make mine a little more "traditional," I used real butter instead of shortening. Hubby used margarine in the frosting where I used butter.
• My cake had slightly more red food coloring and much less cocoa.
• My baking time was slightly longer.
• My frosting used milk as a base (I substituted heavy whipping cream); his used water. Mine also had vanilla.

Now, I have baked one other cake in my life about 12 years ago and my husband doesn't recall ever having done so. But he is the baker of the family, and I'm the cooker, so I feel as though he had a slight advantage to begin with. However, watching him bake made me take that back. When he took his cakes out of the oven and tried to put them on the cooling rack, he managed to nearly destroy one of the layers trying to get it out of the pan and onto the cooking rack. Both of my layers came out of the pan quite easily, though he claimed I over-floured the pan.


Then there was the frosting debacle. My frosting looked beautiful and appetizing, while the hubby's was grainy and runny. He ended up remaking it and it still didn't turn out right in his opinion. I find this particularly interesting because my grandmother made a note on her recipe that she didn't care for the appearance of her frosting, even though it tasted fine and she rarely used it. So either I'm a much better frosting maker than Grandma, or she had some seriously high standards for frosting.

 My Cake

  His Cake

So as you can see, my cake is clearly more aesthetically pleasing than his, but what about taste?

My husband and I split our cakes in half and each took two half-cakes to work. We had our co-workers partake in blind taste-tests (they had to determine the better cake before we identified the makers).

Now here is where I think my husband cheated. I got three votes in favor of my cake, three votes in favor of his cake, and one vote for his cake/my frosting. He got four votes for his cake and one tie. When we tasted it together, we agreed his cake was more moist, but my frosting was better. So clearly, he sabotaged my cake before he gave it to his co-workers.

Despite this, I think the plan now is to combine the two recipes into a super recipe. I wasn't sure why my grandmother would have me mix the baking soda and vinegar, set it aside, and then add it last to the batter, so I tried to look for an explanation online. The best answer I got was that originally red velvet cake was made with beets rather than red food coloring (kind of like carrot cake, but with beets) and if the beets reacted with the baking soda, it would make the cake more blue than red, so the vinegar was added to try to prevent that. Seeing as how hubby's cake turned out fine without the vinegar, I think I'll skip it from now on.

Also,  I'm not sure how important the cocoa is to the flavor, so I think maybe we'll compromise and go somewhere down the middle. Then I think we'll still use the butter and cook the cake a little shorter than I did and see what happens from there.

Our downstairs neighbors were kind enough to shovel the walkways after the storm, so we're planning on trying out our combo recipe as a thank-you to them tomorrow. Meanwhile, I think my next Grandma recipe will be from the crêpe and omelet book. More on that next week.

Grocery Shopping

I just got back from a grocery shopping trip, so I thought the topic would make a good post. (Note: I've been working on this post for almost a week now, so I've been to the store about five times since!)

I remember going grocery shopping with my parents often while I was growing up. We'd frequently go after church on Sunday (just like everyone else, it seemed), and always to the regional grocery chain in our area. Both of my parents would take my two younger siblings and me, but usually only one parent would go at a time. I'm sure we made them both miserable as the three of us would beg for every sugar-coated "non-food" that we came across, but my parents remained judicious and only gave in some of the time. Money for groceries never seemed to be an issue, so our cart was typically filled nearly full by the end of the trip. However, my mom used to clip coupons when I was very young, and there were a few things my parents would only buy when they were on sale (such as strawberries or yogurt), so food prices did affect our diet somewhat. We'd stroll down every aisle unless we were certain there was nothing in it we needed (i.e., the dog food aisle), and the whole trip probably took around an hour and a half.

We didn't buy organic, but I'm not even sure there was organic food available when I was a kid. We typically would buy some fresh fruit staples like bananas, apples, and oranges, but fresh vegetables were a little more uncommon. Sometimes we would get carrots or celery, and I think my mom would usually have a tomato on hand, but not much else. My mom was slightly more concerned about healthy eating (and subsequently enjoyed it more) than my dad, so I think she was usually the one buying the fresh produce.

Most of our meat was bought prepackaged, but our grocery store was (and still is) better than most about purchasing from reputable, local sources. It had a pretty good meat counter, and we would occasionally buy steaks or bacon wrapped chicken from them. We never bought fish though, or really any seafood. I don't think my parents really liked it (or perhaps didn't know much about cooking it), but my mom buys a lot more fish now.

We always bought white bread, so there is this special place in my heart that will always love it, even though I know I shouldn't eat it. We bought whole milk when I was younger, but switched to 2% once my siblings and I were older. I think at one point we tried to switch to 1%, but no one liked it so we went back to 2% (Though if my husband would drink it, I'd switch back to whole!). The rest of our cart was filled with "non-food" items like Cap'n Crunch, Pringles, and Pop-Tarts.

While we're on the subject of my grandmother this week, I went shopping with her a handful of times too. She shopped at the same chain as my parents for her big weekly trip, and bought much of the same things (except minus a lot of the kiddie food and in smaller amounts). When she needed to grab one or two things, however, she went to the family grocer about a block from her house.

I remember my grandmother would take my hand and we'd walk together down the street to the store. The clerks were all very friendly and knew my grandmother by name and chatted with her while she did her shopping. The store was about the size of the food section in a convenience store, and packed full of food.  They also did a lot of butchering and so my grandmother may have gotten her meat here, but I can't remember for sure. The butchering was what eventually caused them to close, because the state made some law that lumped their butchering in with the big commercial butcher businesses and required them to have a different refrigeration system that was too big and too costly for their store. Hundreds, if not thousands, of locals protested the law and begged for them to make an exception, but their pleas ultimately fell on deaf ears, so one of the last of the family grocers in the area was forced to close.

Once I started shopping for myself, I shopped much the same way my parents did. I'd go to the same grocery chain and go down every aisle until my cart was full. I don't have as much food money as my parents, so I've been more judicious about my food selection. I try to pay attention to sales and won't buy a lot of things when they're not on sale. I've also become more interested in local, humane, and organic food, so I try to buy it when I can. This is not always easy, because sometimes it is astronomically more expensive than the regular stuff. For example, the chicken breasts I like to buy are antibiotic and hormone free, but it can cost up to $7.99/lb. The regular chicken breasts are often $1.99/lb. when they're on sale. It's hard to justify spending four times the amount, and so my husband will usually win out and we'll get the cheaper, regular chicken. But when there's only a dollar or two difference, I'll usually get the better chicken instead.

More recently, I've begun shopping at the local co-operative. I paid a $60 one-time membership fee (that I can get back at any time), and I am now a share-holder of this grocery store. They buy lots of seasonal produce and meat from local, organic farmers, they bake most of the bread they sell, and offer a lot of other healthy and "healthy" foods. The share-holders get to vote on what gets put on the shelves, so since I live in a very liberal, mid-sized Midwestern college town, there are many dedicated individuals who ensure honest, wholesome food is available.

This past week, I did the majority of my shopping at the co-op. I didn't make a list, but I did have a goal: To stay on the perimeter of the store. Michael Pollan has said that in most grocery stores, "real food" is always on the perimeter of the store (p. 157, In Defense of Food), and all the other "food" is in the middle. The one striking error to this is that nearly always the baking supply aisle (with flour, sugar, spices, etc) is always a center aisle. Olive oil is also mixed in with the dressing and what not, but most of those things are not needed on every trip, so I will let this factual error slide. Anyway, I successfully accomplished this goal on my trip. Here is what I bought and where I bought it in the store:

I began in the produce section, which is right in front of the main entrance. I chose to use a basket instead of a cart because I'm much less likely to buy too much food (However, I am probably more likely to over stuff the basket beyond what is easy to carry). The co-op sometimes has Fair Trade bananas (my previous trip they were just organic, but most of the time they get fair trade), so I grabbed four bananas. My husband is not a huge banana eater, but we both like them in smoothies when we make them; I usually grab four so that we'll each eat two before they turn brown. Cilantro and avocados were both on sale and I've been wanting to try to make guacamole, so I bought two avocados and a cilantro bunch. Navel oranges were on sale, so I bought one, and I decided I wanted to try a tangelo, so I bought one of those as well. We went through the red potatoes I bought last week, so I bought a few more this week. Blueberries were still on sale, but we had a whole container at home, so I skipped them this week.

Next I walked past the juice along the edge because it is sooo expensive (about $7-8 for a smallish container of real fruit juice). I got to the eggs and dairy next. The grocery store I usually go to has free-range, antibiotic free chicken eggs available from a local Mennonite farm, and the co-op also has these available. This time, I realized, they also have an organic version. It was a dollar extra per dozen, but I decided to go for it. I bought a small container of Greek yogurt last week and enjoyed it in my smoothies, so I bought a larger container this week. I was out of 2% milk at home, so I bought a quart of organic, grass-fed 2% milk. Lately, I haven't been drinking as much milk, so I decided to get the quart instead of the half gallon because my milk was going bad before I'd finish it.

I turned the corner and walked past the wine selection (which I'll save for another day, I'm sure) and headed for the meat counter. The co-op offers 100% grass-fed beef, which is hard to find without going directly through a local farmer. I had to double check because the sign only said "grass fed" and all cows are grass fed...until they reach the feedlot. Michael Pollan says we need to look for signs that say 100% grass fed, but the meat counter guy assured me it meant 100%, so I bought 2 lbs. ground beef and a chuck roast (one of my husband's favorite meals to cook!). I also bought a whole chicken, raised cage-free without antibiotics an hormones, etc.

Then I turned the corner again and found the bread area. I bought a small loaf of 100% whole wheat and some 100% whole wheat rolls.

I then reached the front of the store and checked out. The whole trip took about 20 minutes and cost me $57.20, which is much less than I typically spend at the grocery store (although I've been going weekly to the co-op instead of every three weeks or so to the regular grocery store).

All in all a success, but the co-op does have a few things missing from it. I had to go to the regular grocery store, and unfortunately Wal-Mart, to buy supplies for the cake-off (more on that later), and to get a few things my husband insists he can't live without. But as of right now, I'm willing to break down my shopping into multiple trips, so I think this will work.