Real Food on a Tight Schedule

5 ways to save time in the real food kitchen Usually, I’m talking about real food on a tight budget, but today we’re talking about being tight on a different sort of commodity: namely, time. We are all short on time, yes?

I’ve been transitioning from a work AT home mom to a working AWAY from home mom for the past few months, and it’s not been without its challenges on many levels. Sticking to a real foods diet has been a little more stressful in terms of preparation, and I’m finding that too much of my at-home time has been spent slaving away in the kitchen when I could be spending time with my family. 

I’ve slowly been figuring all this out, though, and I’ve come up with a few strategies that have cut down my kitchen time without sacrificing the quality of the food I serve.

1. Keep it Simple, Sister

This has always been my mantra, and even more so now. I’ve had to pull myself out of the mental box that says, “all meals must include a main dish and several prepared sides”. That’s simply not true! Here are some ways to simplify your menu (particularly your dinner menu):

  • Try one-dish meals or casseroles (I’m partial to stir-fry’s myself!). If they are well balanced with the appropriate amounts of proteins, carbs, and fruits or veggies, then you don’t need to have any additional accompaniments to the meal. Just make sure you have enough of it to satisfy everybody’s hungry tummy!
  • Forget prepped and cooked side dishes. There’s nothing wrong with a simple sliced apple or a pile of freshly chopped veggies (although I do like to experiment with different kinds of yummy apple side dishes!). Clearly, I still prepare more involved side dishes, but I’m learning that the fact my family eats fruits and vegetables is more important than the way they are served.
  • Think outside the box when planning meals: try an assortment of finger foods or a cold plate instead of an actual “dinner”.

2. Process Your Groceries

When you get home from grocery shopping (or from the farmers’ market), immediately prep all the food that you can. Obviously, some things cannot be sliced or chopped or otherwise prepped ahead of time, but do process whatever you possibly can. This will save enormous amounts of time when you’re getting ready to put dinner on the table.

Here are some foods I try to prep ahead of time whenever I can:

  • pineapples (won’t keep for long, but they don’t last for long around here anyway, so that’s not a problem)
  • kefir or yogurt (when you bring milk home, set a batch going right away)
  • rice, pasta, or other grains (cook them up and store in the freezer)
  • beans (soak and then cook in the crock pot)
  • winter squash (cook it in the crock pot, puree, and refrigerate or freeze)
  • onions (chop and freeze – thawed onions aren’t great in raw dishes but work perfectly for anything cooked)
  • meat (separate it into portions that will work for your recipes/meal plan; you can also brown ground meat for use in recipes like spaghetti and the like, or fry up bacon)

3. Take Ten

Build ten minutes into your night or morning routine to take care of various kitchen chores like:

  • culturing kefir, yogurt, sour cream, and anything you like to ferment
  • feeding your sourdough starter
  • defrosting meat (or whatever you need for the next day that is in the freezer)
  • soaking beans
  • cooking broth (or anything, really) in the crock pot

4. Utilize Your Tools

Make friends with your crock pot, your food processor, and your Vitamix (if you have one) because those babies will make your life a lot easier and will save you so much time! I actually don’t have a food processor, although I want to get one eventually, but I use my crock pot and my Vitamix all the stinkin’ time. I don’t know what I would do without either one!

  • The crock pot might take longer to cook something, but it’s completely hands off for the most part so it saves time in that regard. If you cook soup on the stove top, it might take less time, but you have to be present and constantly checking on it to make sure the pot doesn’t boil over or the liquid evaporate too much. A slow cooker cooks slowly (funny, huh?) and safely so that you can let it do its thing while you do yours. You can let it go overnight, or you can let it go all day, whichever is more convenient for you.
  • Crock pots are not just for roasts! As I mentioned before, I cook my pumpkins and other winter squash in it all the time. I also use it to make broth on a regular basis. I have used it to make granola, and steel cut oats, too. I’ve even baked bread in it!
  • And a Vitamix is not just for smoothies. Sure, it makes a mean smoothie, but it does a lot of other stuff, too. It will puree anything you need pureed, which seems to happen an awful lot in real-food-cooking for some reason. It’s also great at making your own sauces – savory sauces, sweet sauces, fruit sauces, any kind of sauce! It will even cook the sauce for you! I also occasionally use my Vitamix like a food processor, especially for grating carrots or potatoes. It works so fast and is so effective!

5. Have a Meal Plan

This is the oldest trick in the books, and for good reason: it works! I have to admit I struggle with consistency with this one, but there is no denying that food prep goes a lot more smoothly – and quickly – when I’m working from a menu. My favorite menu planning tool is Plan to Eat, an online program I highly recommend, and consider to be totally worth it in terms of how much time and money you save when using it. (By the way, that’s my referral link, and you can try it for free for 30 days.)

Above all, keep in mind that some things in life are more important than real food. I’ve learned to make concessions along the way; for example, I keep a bag of flour in the cupboard for those occasions (that occur on a regular basis) when I simply don’t have time to grind my grain. I also am not ashamed to buy store-bought healthy (ish) treats for my kids when I don’t have time to make cookies from scratch. We eat out at least once a week, and although we try to eat at healthier restaurants and make healthier choices when dining out… it’s still eating out and it’s still not very healthy! But it’s a necessary break for all of us, and one we look forward to, and so we consider it worth it. Your concessions might look different, but don’t be ashamed of them or embarrassed by them.

How do you serve your family real food when time is short?

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How to Bake With Stevia {Without Affecting Flavor}

How to Bake with Stevia Extract Almost a year ago, I wrote a post about how to convert sugar measurements to stevia for cooking and baking. All of the information in that post is true and accurate, but since then I’ve fine-tuned my routine a bit and developed a method for baking with stevia that doesn’t affect the texture or flavor of the final product. I’ve baked all kinds of things this way, and it seems to work across the board with all different kinds of recipes, so for the most part, this is how I bake with stevia.

1. Use Half the Amount of Sugar

The first step is to reduce the amount of sugar called for in the recipe by at least half. Now, for most conventional recipes, I already reduce the amount of sugar by as much as half anyway. So for the purposes of baking with stevia, I reduce the amount of sugar I would personally use by half.

For example: 

  • A recipe calls for 1 cup of sugar. I think that sounds like a little bit too much sugar going on for that particular recipe, so I would probably only use 3/4 cup at most.
  • Since I’m going to also be adding stevia, I can reduce that 3/4 cup even more, and use 1/2 cup or less of sugar.
  • Most recipes can handle this without drastically affecting the final texture, but there are some recipes that for whatever reason will not work well with the reduced sugar. In those cases, I usually just forego that particular recipe!

If you’re starting with a recipe that’s already inherently fairly healthy and/or has been healthified, you can just reduce the sugar by half and move on to the next step.

2. Replace the Remaining Half of Sugar with Stevia

Now you can follow the conversion chart to replace the remaining amount of sugar the recipe requires.

For example:

  • The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of sugar. You’ll put 1/4 cup of sugar in your batter.
  • You’ll add 1/4 t. of stevia to replace the remaining 1/4 cup of sweetener.

3. Proceed As Directed

Just finish up the recipe the way it’s written. You shouldn’t need to make any other adjustments unless you want to.

And that’s it! You’ve just significantly reduced the sugar in your baked goods without sacrificing taste or texture! It’s even better if you use a “healthier” sugar like coconut sugar or sucanat.

Stevia Plant

the stevia plant before processing into extract or powder

Where to Buy Stevia (Plus Also What Kind to Use)

I like to use liquid stevia (you can find either glycerin- or alcohol-based varieties), which is essentially an extract of stevia (like peppermint or vanilla extract). The powdered stevia goes through more processing and often has a bitter after-taste, so I stay away from it. (Plus, a lot of powdered stevia contains additional sugars which totally ruins the point.)

I usually get my stevia from one of the following sources: 

  • Trader Joe’s (oh how I love Trader Joe’s!)- I *think* it costs around $7, but I’m not positive. I’ve had the same bottle for probably 6 months now, so I can’t remember exactly how much I paid. I do remember thinking it was an excellent price.
  • MOM’s – Mom’s Organic Market is a local chain and their stevia is actually a private label so I’m not sure the original manufacturer. I do know that their stevia tastes a lot better than other brands I’ve tried (NuNaturals, for example, which I like, but the stuff at Mom’s is better), so I’m thinking it’s probably from a more expensive brand that I haven’t tried yet, ha! The good news is that it is also priced very well (once again, not remembering the price, but remembering the impression that it was a great deal).
  • No access to either one of those stores? No worries! If your local health food store doesn’t carry reasonably priced stevia (and most of them don’t), you can order it online from Vitacost or Amazon (those are affiliate links right there). I ordered mine from both places before I was able to start purchasing it locally.

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How to Start a Sourdough Starter

Full Disclosure: I am no sourdough expert. Yet. I’m workin’ on it! I am, in fact, only writing this post so that when I write posts about recipes that use sourdough starter, I can point you back here so you can find out how to make sourdough starter yourself. It doesn’t seem quite fair to just say “Use your sourdough starter in this recipe” and then not give you any help about how to go about getting a sourdough starter. So. This is my beginner’s guide to sourdough. 

What Is Sourdough Starter, Anyway?

Essentially, sourdough starter is a combination of some type of flour and water that has fermented and “soured”. This fermentation process helps develop naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria that become leavening agents, making the sourdough starter an excellent alternative to commercial yeast.

What Do I Need to Make a Sourdough Starter?

The short answer is: flour and water.

The long answer is…. well, a little longer.

  • Flour – The best flour is a freshly ground flour, at least from a nutritional standpoint. I would imagine that a fresher flour also produces a higher-quality sourdough starter. The good news is that you can start a starter (heh) from any kind of flour! I personally have used both wheat and spelt with good success. Gluten-free flours will require a little more care, but they’re definitely possible.
  • Water – The water should be de-chlorinated. If you use water from the tap, it’s definitely got chlorine in it, so you will need to remove the chlorine. The easiest way to do that is to leave a jar of water sitting out for about 24 hours. I’ve also had good success boiling water and then cooling it to room temperature. I don’t know if that effectively removes all the chlorine, but my sourdough is always happy and bubbly, so it works for me!
  • Glass Bowl or Jar – Use a glass jar or bowl to contain your sourdough, or maybe ceramic. Plastic and metal are no-nos. You can use stainless steel utensils for stirring, though.
  • Scale – Now don’t get scared. You can make a sourdough starter using typical American measuring cups and spoons. But here’s the thing: sourdough is based on equal weights of flour and water. You can approximate that to the best of your ability using liquid and dry measuring cups… but it’s so much easier to just measure them by weight on a scale. Then you can know for certain you have 150 grams each (or whatever measurement you’re going for) of both flour and water. A small investment of $25 will get you this nice little scale that tucks away into a corner of your kitchen when you don’t need it, and works perfectly every time. That’s the scale I have and I highly recommend it.

Can You Tell Me How To Start a Sourdough Starter?

I thought you’d never ask! And also, I don’t really have a good answer. And by that, I mean, I don’t have any pictures and I  don’t feel like starting a new starter just so I can take pictures, so I cannot make a sourdough tutorial for you right this moment.

However, I can give you some basic information and also direct you to some great resources for crafting your own starter.

  • Wheat Starter I (with measuring cups, if you don’t have a scale and don’t want to use one) – I initially used this guide to starting sourdough from Creating Naturally by Mindy. It’s fantastic! The instructions are detailed but simple and easy to follow. After two previous failed attempts at sourdough, I was thrilled with the success I achieved by following Mindy’s instructions.
  • Wheat Starter II (by weight)King Arthur Flour has great instructions for creating and maintaining your starter by weight.
  • Spelt Starter – I admit it. I cheated. When starting my spelt sourdough starter, I took advantage of Cultures for Health’s spelt sourdough starter culture. It comes dehydrated in a little packet, and really seems to make the process easier. I miscalculated the amount of spelt flour I had available to me when I started the sourdough, and so I had to “pause” the process while I waited for my order of spelt grain to arrive. I kept the barely-started culture in the fridge, and when I took it back out and restarted it, it was like nothing had ever happened. I didn’t have to start from scratch again as I had feared, and I was quite pleased! However, you can start a spelt sourdough culture using spelt flour and water in the same way you would wheat.
  • Gluten-Free StarterCultures for Health also has a rice flour starter you can use, which I imagine would be easier than making your own from scratch. But if you’re adventuresome, Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free has a tutorial for starting your own gluten-free sourdough culture that seems easy to follow (note that it does begin with a pinch of commercial yeast, but that’s only to get it going). Note that while gluten-free sourdough starter begins in much the same way as regular sourdough starter, it is maintained and used in a much different way, so I highly recommend you get some guidance if you’re new to the whole idea. Sharon Kane is an expert in the process and has written a book called The Art of Gluten-Free Sourdough Baking. Although I have not personally read it, it comes highly recommended by people in the know, so I feel confident recommending it to you in turn. She also has a website with other available resources.

How Do I Maintain My Starter? 

Each of the links above contains instructions for maintaining your particular starter, but basically, you just need to keep feeding the little pet flour and water on a regular basis. You can do that at room temperature or in the refrigerator, depending on what works best for you.

  • At Room Temperature: This is ideal in the sense that your starter will always be ready for you to use. So if you bake bread every day or even every other day, you’ll probably want to keep your sourdough starter on the counter. This means you will need to feed it (remove at least half the starter, and replace it with equal parts flour and water) every 24 hours. Personally, I find that to be kind of a pain, not to mention it involves an awful lot of flour, so I choose to keep my starter in the fridge.
  • Refrigerated: If you bake bread only once a week or less (like me), this will probably be the ideal situation for you. You can keep your starter in the fridge, and you don’t have to worry about feeding it every day. You can forget about it for up to 7 days at a time. But you do need to think ahead: the day before you want to bake bread (or perhaps the morning before you start the process, depending on your starter and the conditions in your kitchen and a lot of other factors), pull the starter out of the fridge and bring it to room temperature. Then you’ll want to feed it at least once, and possibly up to 3 times, over a period of another 12-24 hours, before it’s ready to be used for baking. In an ideal world, I pull my starter out Saturday morning, feed it by noon time, and then again in the evening. On Sunday morning, I mix up my sourdough bread and let it rise until Sunday afternoon, when I shape it in loaves and let it rise some more. By Sunday evening, it’s ready to bake, and then we have fresh bread for the week. (We don’t eat a lot of bread.) Sometimes this routine gets truncated, and it still works out OK.

How Do I Use My Starter?

Now that, my friend, is a loaded question. There is a reason people have written entire books on the subject.

But you know me – I like to keep things simple. So I’m going to point you to the easiest ever recipe for using your sourdough starter, and the only one I use. (Occasionally, I have experimented with enriched sourdough breads that add eggs and other ingredients, but for the most part I stick to this recipe.) It’s actually more of a formula that I discovered while surfing the internet about sourdough one day, and I found it on The Fresh Loaf forums. It’s simple:

  • 1 part sourdough (any weight)
  • 2 parts liquid (de-chlorinated water, milk, etc.)
  • 3 parts flour (I’ve used mostly wheat or spelt, other flours you may need to experiment with the amounts)
  • salt, the equivalent of about 2% of the weight of your flour (I just dump salt until I think I have enough. When the dough doesn’t taste bland, I know I have enough salt.)

The recipe author’s blog (originally in French, translate into English with the help of Google) has more detailed instructions on the rising and baking of this bread.

Any Other Ways to Use Sourdough Besides Bread?

You know me: “Waste not, want not” is my motto. I can only count on one hand the times I’ve dumped half my starter down the drain when feeding it, and it hurt my heart every single time. Instead, I usually try to turn that excess starter into something like pancakes, waffles, biscuits… and even sugar cookies! Basically, any batter that is based on flour can benefit from the use of sourdough, so you can just get creative. So far, I’ve only used recipes that have actually already been worked out for me, but once I’m more confident in the whole process, I’ll be able to adapt regular recipes to the inclusion of a little sourdough starter so as not to waste a single drop.

And there it is, my friend. Your guide to sourdough. Get thee henceforth and sour some dough!

 

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How to Substitute Stevia for Sugar

Welcome back to the Get Healthy & Fit series here at Authentic Simplicity! Joining me are 18 other bloggers, all desirous of improving their health and raising their level of fitness. We each have a different goal in mind and a different plan to reach that goal; and you can follow each blogger’s progress here. Follow along on Twitter and Pinterest as well!

I discussed my personal goals at length the first week, but to sum up, this is what I’m hoping to do in the course of these 12 weeks:

  • Kick my sugar habit
  • Lose approximately 10 lbs. and a few inches
  • Fit in my clothes
  • Develop sustainable habits like eating more proteins and fewer carbs

 

After going to Allume and pigging out on the goodies there, I fell off the wagon for a week or so and indulged my sweet tooth way too often. I’m back on track now, though, and really disciplining myself to almost eliminate sugar completely. I allow myself to enjoy it on the weekends (mostly Sunday) and a few chocolate chips here and there throughout the week, but for the most part, I’m sweetening with only stevia and occasionally some raw honey

How to Substitute Stevia for Sugar

When I first started using stevia as a sweetener, I pretty much just played it safe and used it mostly in my coffee. I wasn’t really sure what else to do with it, so for a long time, I did nothing else. Then when I got serious about reducing the sugar in my diet, I started experimenting a lot more with stevia, and found out that it wasn’t as complicated as I thought. In fact, I’ve discovered that replacing sugar with stevia in most recipes is really as simple as this:

A few notes to clarify the information on the chart:

  1. The 1 cup:1 tsp. ratio works well in fractions, too: a 1/2 cup of sugar is a 1/2 tsp of stevia, a 1/4 cup of sugar is 1/4 tsp. stevia, etc.
  2. The measurements for stevia are base measurements, by which I mean you may want to increase them slightly depending on your taste. For me, 5 drops is a perfect replacement for a tablespoon of sugar, but I know many people prefer a few more drops.
  3. These stevia measurements are for both liquid and powder forms. 
  4. Different brands make their stevia products differently, so you may have to experiment. I use mostly NuNaturals glycerine-based liquid stevia.
  5. While these conversions are pretty reliable, they may not work in every recipe. Some recipes require the bulk that sugar gives, so you may have to adjust other ingredients (namely the ratio of liquids to dry) to compensate for the difference. This should be easy to adjust if you’re working with a recipe you have used before, because you’ll know if the batter is right or not. If it’s too dry, add some more liquid; if it’s too wet, add some more flour. I recommend experimenting with your own tried-and-true recipes and allowing yourself to become accustomed to its usage before attempting to convert brand-new recipes from sugar to stevia.
  6. The measurements for tablespoons and teaspoons also work for converting honey to stevia. The cup measurement is a little more iffy because of the other qualities besides sweetness that honey brings to a recipe (namely, the fact that it’s liquid). In a recipe that calls for larger amounts of honey, start by replacing half of it with stevia (according to the conversion rates on the chart), and then go from there. Be prepared to adjust the recipe as necessary.

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Super Simple Spicy Black Beans {Secret Recipe Club}

Super Simple Spicy Black Beans at Authentic Simplicity

So you know I’ve been such a good girl lately, almost completely eliminating sugar from my diet (or attempting to) and significantly reducing my consumption of refined carbs. And then what blog was I assigned for November’s edition of The Secret Recipe Club? Sweet as Sugar Cookies, of course!
Secret Recipe Club
If you haven’t visited Sweet as Sugar Cookies, then you’re in for a treat. Literally. If your sweet tooth is as powerful as mine, you’ll feel like a kid in a candy store with all the delightful desserts Lisa offers up: Honey Ginger Chai Bars, Lime and Coconut Crumble Bars, and Pumpkin Spice Thumbprints, to name just a few.

Oddly enough, though, I settled for a savory recipe, probably because I was feeling the effects of indulging in way too much sugar at Allume and afterwards and needed to balance all that with a little bit of healthiness. Since I had some black beans in the pantry, I chose to make her Spicy Black Beans, which was actually from a Secret Recipe Club event a year and a half ago.

What I love about this recipe is its simplicity. (You might not know this about me, but I like things to be simple. And authentic.) Just dump everything in the pot and simmer for a few minutes, then done! That’s my kinda cookin’, friend!

I will say this: I highly recommend you get in the habit of cooking up dry beans in the crock pot and freezing them so that you always have cooked beans on hand when you need them for a recipe. It’s the simplicity of canned beans without sacrificing the authenticity of the “real thing” (not that canned beans are terrible; but dried beans are definitely better).

Super Simple Spicy Black Beans


Find out how you can join the Secret Recipe Club, too, and partake in all the fun (not to mention the good eatin’!). And be sure to check out all the other bloggers’ delicious takes on their secret bloggy spy mission by browsing through the links below.


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12 Ways to Enjoy Whole Grains {Get Healthy $ Fit Series}

Welcome back to the Get Healthy & Fit series here at Authentic Simplicity! Joining me are 18 other bloggers, all desirous of improving their health and raising their level of fitness. We each have a different goal in mind and a different plan to reach that goal; and you can follow each blogger’s progress here. Follow along on Twitter and Pinterest as well!

I discussed my personal goals at length the first week, but to sum up, this is what I’m hoping to do in the course of these 12 weeks:

  • Kick my sugar habit
  • Lose approximately 10 lbs. and a few inches
  • Fit in my clothes
  • Develop sustainable habits like eating more proteins and fewer carbs

Last week, I showed you how you can easily and relatively quickly cook any whole grain. Now the question is: what to do with it? If you’re only used to consuming those grains in the form of flour, you might feel a little stuck once you have a heaping pile of cooked whole grain, wondering what in the world to do with it now!

I’m here to the rescue. Not too long ago, I was in the same boat you are, but I quickly learned how versatile and delicious whole grains can be.

Keep a batch of cooked grain in the freezer and then defrost it and turn it into any of the dishes below.

10 ways to use whole grains

Easy Uses for Whole Grain

  • Use whatever whole grain you have in place of the rice when you make rice pudding.
  • Use a whole grain to make a fun variation of rice pilaf.
  • Make a quick breakfast hot cereal by combining cooked whole grains with enough milk (any kind), cooking and stirring it until it’s smooth and creamy. Add sweetener and spices as desired.
  • Toss some cooked grain into a pot of soup towards the end of the cooking time.
  • Serve it straight up as a side dish, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh or dried herbs. Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Make a pasta-like salad by combining cooked grains and diced veggies (steamed if you want), and drizzle with any kind of dressing. Add in some fresh herbs for extra flavor. If you need specific recipes, here is a whole bunch of whole grain salad recipes.
  • Turn the above side dish into the main event by adding some protein in the form of meat, beans, seeds, cheese, or eggs.
  • Add half a cup or a little more of whole grain to a bread recipe for extra texture and crunch.
  • Use it in meatballs and meatloaf in place of the bread crumbs.
  • Give a fresh new twist to risotto by using a different grain instead. Try this recipe for barley risotto.
  • Combine mashed beans or sweet potato with cooked grains to make delicious veggie burgers, like these quinoa and sweet potato cakes.
  • Take your stir fry to the next level by introducing new grains instead of rice or rice noodles.

This Week’s Update

Yikes! This week I was very bad and it showed up on the scale. I was crazy busy and did not take the time to seek out truly healthy foods.

Here are my current stats that I will update every Monday:

Weight: 134.2 (up half a pound)

Waist (inches): 30-31

Butt: 39-40

Find out how the other ladies are doing with their weight loss efforts and other goals by clicking on the image below.

How do you cook whole grains?

Read more inspiring and informative posts at these link-ups: Motivation Monday, Mom’s Monday Mingle, Homestead Barn Hop, The Bulletin Board, Better Mom Mondays, Natural Living MondayTip Me TuesdayTrivium TuesdayMom’s LibraryTitus 2sdayTeach me TuesdayHip Homeschool HopTitus 2 TuesdayDelicious DishesOpen Call TuesdayTiny Tip TuesdayHealthy 2Day WednesdayFrugal Days Sustainable WaysWorks for me WednesdayWomen Living Well WednesdayReal Food WednesdayWhole Foods Wednesday,Allergen-Free WednesdayEncourage One AnotherLife in BloomThought-Provoking ThursdaySimple Lives Thursday, Homemaking Link-UpTastetastic ThursdayKeep it Real ThursdayFrugal Thursday RewindHomeschooling on the CheapFellowship FridayFight Back FridayFeast in Fellowship FridayFrugal FridayI’m Lovin’ ItWeekend Bloggy ReadingSnacktime SaturdayShow & Share SaturdayWeekend Whatever

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How to Cook Any Whole Grain {Get Healthy & Fit, Week 6}

Welcome back to the Get Healthy & Fit series here at Authentic Simplicity! Joining me are 18 other bloggers, all desirous of improving their health and raising their level of fitness. We each have a different goal in mind and a different plan to reach that goal; and you can follow each blogger’s progress here. Follow along on Twitter and Pinterest as well!

I discussed my personal goals at length the first week, but to sum up, this is what I’m hoping to do in the course of these 12 weeks:

  • Kick my sugar habit
  • Lose approximately 10 lbs. and a few inches
  • Fit in my clothes
  • Develop sustainable habits like eating more proteins and fewer carbs

Although I’m going low-carb, I’m not eliminating carbs entirely. Instead, I’m almost completely eliminating sugar from my diet (replacing it largely with stevia), and focusing on the healthiest carbohydrates possible. To that end, when it comes to grains, I am trying to minimize the amount of flour (any kind) I consume, and instead eating the grain in its entirety.

This is kind of new territory for me, to be perfectly honest. I’m familiar with whole-grain flours, but eating the actual grain whole is another matter altogether. I’m finding, though, that there are delicious ways to enjoy whole grains at any meal, and that cooking whole grains is a lot easier than it seems. 

How to Cook Whole Grains Quickly and Easily

Most people cook rice and other grains in a 1:2 or 1:3 (depending on the grain) grain-to-water ratio. Rice, for example. The recipe on a package of brown rice generally suggests cooking 1 cup of rice in 2 cups of water. The problem with this is that depending on a lot of different factors, some of them beyond your control, the water will cook off or absorb more quickly than the rice does. Or, alternatively, the rice will be done before all the water is absorbed, and you’re left with mushy rice. Neither scenario is appreciated during the dinner rush hour!

Furthermore, this process takes at least 40 minutes, and the same is true for almost any grain. Although I try to keep ahead of the game and have an extra batch of rice (or other grain) cooked up in the freezer, it still takes forever to cook grains with this method.

Here’s where I owe a huge thanks to my readers! When I posted about my method of cooking rice a while back, I asked my readers for their favorite method of cooking rice, and I got some great responses. A couple people mentioned a method I had never heard of, and it intrigued me so much I had to give it a try. It worked so well that now I typically cook my rice in such a way, and I also cook all other whole grains in the same fashion.

What I love about this method is that it takes less time than the more common method. I don’t know the science of how all that works, but I know it’s true! You can easily cook a grain in half the time by following this simple method. 

Oh, you want to know what the method is? I guess I shouldn’t make you wait any longer, huh? 

How to Cook Any Whole Grain

Cook It Like Pasta

Honestly, I can sum up the instructions in one simple phrase: cook it like pasta. Fill a big ole pot with water, and bring it to a boil. Add your grains, leave the lid off, and let it boil away until the grain is tender.

That’s it. It typically takes about 20 minutes, sometimes a little more (only when I’m in a hurry, of course!), depending on the grain and other factors.

But if you need more specific instructions, here ya go:


Once your grain is cooked, you can do whatever you want with it! You can turn it into a dish for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, limited only by your imagination. If you’re not familiar with cooking with whole grains as an ingredient, just imagine that every grain is rice, and then fix it like you would rice. Nine times out of ten, it will work just as well.

But if you need more inspiration, I will be sharing with you some ideas for preparing whole grains next week! Be sure to subscribe if you aren’t already, so you can get that post delivered to your inbox or reader.

This Week’s Update

Woot! The numbers on the scale continue to go down! Little by little! The other measurements, unfortunately, are progressing at an agonizingly slow pace. I am thankful that at least they continue to trend downward for the most part.

Here are my current stats that I will update every Monday:

Weight: 133.6 (3 lbs total weight loss so far!)

Waist (inches): 29-30

Butt: 39-40

Find out how the other ladies are doing with their weight loss efforts and other goals by clicking on the image below.

How do you cook whole grains?

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How to Use Stevia Plus A List of Stevia Recipes

Welcome back to the Get Healthy & Fit series here at Authentic Simplicity! Joining me are 18 other bloggers, all desirous of improving their health and raising their level of fitness. We each have a different goal in mind and a different plan to reach that goal; and you can follow each blogger’s progress here. Follow along on Twitter and Pinterest as well!

I discussed my personal goals at length the first week, but to sum up, this is what I’m hoping to do in the course of these 12 weeks:

  • Kick my sugar habit
  • Lose approximately 10 lbs. and a few inches
  • Fit in my clothes
  • Develop sustainable habits like eating more proteins and fewer carbs

Types of Stevia, and Which Ones to Use

I’ve mentioned before that I’m using stevia more and more as a sweetener, and I’ve almost completely eliminated sugar (cane sugar) from my diet. I don’t eat sugar at all at home, and I try to keep my consumption of it minimal when I’m eating elsewhere. Personally, I think it’s the best thing anyone can do for their health!

Stevia is a great replacement for sugar because it doesn’t raise the glycemic levels, which is good news for people like me who are purposely reducing carbs and sugar for that very reason. Of course, food manufacturers see the money available here, and are doing everything they can to profit from this trend, which inevitably results in a watered down, less-than-healthful product.

Consequently, you’ll see all kinds of stevia sweeteners popping up in stores everywhere, but not all of them are created equal. Real Food Forager and Kitchen Stewardship both have done a lot of research about stevia and have written great posts about the different kinds and which ones you should use. Since my information on stevia largely comes from them, I will direct you to their work instead of attempting to reinvent the wheel.

Suffice it to say, your best bet with commercially available stevia is the liquid form, preferably glycerin-based rather than alcohol-based. Powdered stevia (with the notable exception of the SweetLeaf brand) is often highly processed with added chemicals and sugars, which, in my opinion, makes it a less desirable option. I do still occasionally use it, but mostly because I received a whole package of different types of stevia in a giveaway, and I hate to waste them! (You know how I feel about food waste!)

In an ideal situation, you could grow your own stevia and make your own stevia liquid from that. I was actually attempting to do exactly that this year, but something happened to my plant and the whole thing turned black. I am thinking it was a little cold snap we had, but since none of my other plants were affected, I’m not really sure. I still plan to order some dried stevia online and make my own liquid, which is also an option if you’re not up to growing your own stevia.

Stevia Plant

How to Use Stevia

Since stevia is a LOT sweeter than sugar, you only have to use a few drops of it per serving. As you can imagine, this complicates the process of baking, where the ratio of dry to wet ingredients is important. I also find that stevia – even liquid stevia – can negatively impact the taste of the finished product unless you use the more highly processed powdered stevia products that act as a one-to-one sugar replacement. My personal opinion is that I don’t really like baked goods made with stevia alone, so when I do bake with it, I usually prefer to use part stevia and part other sweetener (such as honey or palm sugar).

I use my stevia all the time in beverages and raw foods, though. You have to play with it a bit to find your personal level of desired sweetness, but I find that 5 drops is the perfect amount in my cup of coffee.

Other easy uses for stevia that don’t require a recipe:

  • Oatmeal
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothies
  • Tea
  • Lemonade
  • Dips (I love to mix peanut butter, plain yogurt, cocoa, and a little bit of stevia for a great apple dip!)
  • Whipped Cream

I also have used liquid stevia with good success in vinaigrettes and other dressings, as well as tomato sauce. I just add a few drops until I get the desired level of sweetness.

Stevia Recipes

If you’re not familiar with stevia, it’s best to start with recipes that have already been adjusted rather than attempting to substitute your favorites. Once you’ve experimented with it, you’ll get a better handle on how to work it into your regular recipe repertoire (hey, say that 3 times fast!).

To get you a head start, here are some great recipes (most of them I’ve tried myself, but some of them are on my to-try list) that use stevia:

This Week’s Update

Unfortunately, there was an upward trend on the scale this week, which I am blaming entirely on Aunt Flow (Dad-Blast that woman!). The measurements continue to creep downward every so slowly.

Here are my current stats that I will update every Monday:

Weight: 135 (up almost a pound)

Waist (inches): 30-31

Butt: 40

Find out how the other ladies are doing with their weight loss efforts and other goals by clicking on the image below.

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Make Your Own Dairy – Ghee

One of my resolutions this year was to make more of my own dairy products: cheese, butter, sour cream, and the like. And while I’ve actually conquered quite a few of the items on my list, so far, I’ve only shared Sour Cream and Homemade Yogurt with you here.  It’s about time to make another item on my list, so today I will show you how to make ghee.

What’s Ghee?

Ghee is butter that has been boiled down to remove the milk solids, leaving behind only the fat. It has a caramel-esque flavor that, if possible, improves upon the amazingness that butter already is.

What Do You Do With Ghee?

Anything that you would do with butter! It’s particularly useful for frying because it has a higher smoke point than butter does. I have used it instead of straight butter in some baking recipes, too, but because it’s pure fat (all the sugars and water have been cooked out), it can be a little more greasy, so you do have to make some adjustments when baking.

Why Ghee?

For one thing, the amazing flavor. It just can’t be beat, and you don’t know what I’m talking about until you’ve actually tasted it. Yum!

For another, it lasts a really long time. If you’ve made it successfully, it should last indefinitely in the fridge and for several months (at least) room temperature.

As you can see, it is extremely stable, which is the most desirable quality when it comes to fats. Unstable fats = free radicals = disease. Always choose stable (saturated) fats.

Ghee is often tolerated by those intolerant to lactose – but test it carefully first! Don’t make any assumptions. Also, some people with dairy allergies can tolerate ghee. (Not my Certain Little Someone, sadly. We tried it.)

Ghee is digested more readily than butter, making its nutrients more readily available to the body. Like other saturated fats, it also aids the body in the absorption of vitamins and minerals from foods eaten together with it.

In traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine, ghee is said to be useful for maintaining healthy skin and eyes, and is good for enhancing memory and brain function. (Gimme some more of that stuff!!)

Why Make Your Own Ghee?

If you’ve ever priced ghee in the store, the answer to this question is quite obvious. For example, at Amazon.com, Purity Farms 13-oz container of ghee is $8.31 right now. I could make that same amount myself with farm-fresh butter for less than $5 (Right now, I could make it for $3.50, the sale price of butter at my local farm.).

And it is brain-dead easy. Seriously.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the short version of the instructions:

Melt butter. Simmer it. Simmer more. A little more. OK, done.

Oh, you need a little more than that? All right, here ya go:

How to Make Ghee

Chop unsalted butter into cubes and place in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over low heat.

Melt the butter over low heat. Don't stir.

Simmer the butter over low heat. No need to stir. Just keep an eye on it.

Keep simmering the butter on low heat. Don't stir. Don't raise the heat. Just keep simmering.

The foam that develops on the surface is the water cooking out of the butter. The milk solids should be settling on the bottom of the pot. In between the two is the rich golden ghee.

Very gently, so as not to disturb the milk solids on the bottom of the pan, skim the foam off the top.

When the liquid under the foam is a nice golden color and smells like popcorn, the ghee is done. Let it cool slightly, then pour it through a mesh strainer lined with cloth or paper towels into a bowl. Be sure no particles are left in the liquid.

And that’s ghee! Told ya it was easy. The hardest part is discerning when it’s finally done, but honestly, if you err on the side of caution it will be fine. It might not last quite as long or be quite as “pure”, but it’s still butter and it will still taste good. However, if you let it go too long, it will definitely burn, so you don’t want that to happen. Hence the reminder to keep the heat on low! The whole process should take about half an hour or so, more if you’re making a larger batch.

You can make as little or as much as you want. I’ve made as little as 1/2 a pound of butter, and as much as 2 lbs. and both were fine. Clearly, you’ll have to watch a smaller batch even more carefully so as not to burn it.

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Another Healthy Fat for Free! {Something from Nothing}

something from nothing graphic Once upon a time, thrifty agrarian folks – who were hearty and healthy and rarely suffered from conditions like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes – took great pleasure in the fruits of their labor and enjoyed it to the fullest, wasting not even a morsel or a speck. Especially bacon. They had no qualms about eating bacon every day for breakfast to their heart’s content… and they made sure to save every last drop of the rendered bacon grease to use for frying… or even drinking. (Don’t believe me? Check out this list of grandmas and grandpas who enjoyed their bacon.) For generations, they survived and thrived on bacon (and a few other things of course).

And then in the twentieth century, a new generation came along and declared that those old folks knew nothing. They were killing themselves eating all that nasty saturated fat! No, no, a healthy diet must include no fat at all. OK, maybe some fats, but only the healthy polyunsaturated kinds. Definitely no saturated fats ever. Oh, wait, no, maybe it’s the trans fats that are the problem.

And then heart disease sky-rocketed. So did diabetes. And cancer. And all sorts of other first-world diseases.

Hmmm. Maybe the old folks knew something after all. 

Me? I figure they were on to something, and I aim to follow their example. If you’re not convinced, read Food Renegade’s primer on healthy fats. Or any number of well-researched and well-written books like The Good Fat Cookbook,  In Defense of Food, Good Calories Bad  Calories, or Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It.

Which is why I religiously save every bit of bacon grease when frying up bacon and keep a jar of it in my refrigerator at all times. It is absolutely my favorite way to save money and eat healthy.

Bacon Grease: A Free, Healthy Fat

In my book, Your Grocery Budget Toolbox (You can get the first chapter free simply by subscribing!), I talk about the importance of prioritizing healthy food so that you know where to spend your hard-earned money. I determined that for myself, healthy fats were of the utmost importance, because those unhealthy fats (that everybody says are so good for us… I’m talking about canola oil, vegetable oil, margarine and the like) can do a lot of damage and I want to avoid that if possible.

Unfortunately, healthy fats can be very expensive! To really get the good stuff (expeller-pressed, virgin, etc.), you almost need to spend an arm and a leg. Or at least your entire grocery budget. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way, and bacon grease is one of them.

How to Get Bacon Grease

I buy uncured, nitrite-free and nitrate-free bacon at Trader Joe’s for $3.99 a pound (Grass-fed would be better if you can afford it.) and fry the entire batch up at once. I make sure to fry it at low or medium heat so as not to burn the grease and get all kinds of little black specks in it, as it’s not quite so good (or good for you) then (although some people disagree with me on that). Once all the bacon is cooked, I give the pan and the grease a chance to cool off a little, then I pour the liquid grease through a mesh sieve into a jar. I let it cool completely, and then I store the jar in the fridge.

Some sources say the bacon grease will last a month; others say it will last indefinitely. Saturated fats are pretty stable (which is one reason why they are so healthy), so I personally think it lasts significantly longer than a month. At any rate, it doesn’t stick around here for too much longer than that because I use it for everything!

How I Use Bacon Grease

Although it has a very strong bacon flavor, bacon grease goes well with just about everything. (Bacon makes everything better, dontcha know?) Some of my favorite uses are:

  • frying eggs (Mmmmmm!)
  • sauteing vegetables
  • panfrying meat
  • greasing a pan
  • cooking green beans (I should have bought green beans at the farmers’ market today)
  • refried beans

Some other bloggers have other great ideas for using bacon grease:

Or maybe you’re in the mood for Bacon Grease Chocolate Chip Cookies?

Do you save your bacon grease?

Did you know you can also save chicken fat?

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