5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

5 Fresh Ways to Use Fresh Mint #garden #mint #cleaneatingGot a mint plant (or two) that’s going crazy? Not sure what to do with it?

I hear ya! Mint is famous for flourishing whether or not you want it to, which can be good (Hey, it’s yummy! And good for you!) and bad (There’s only so much mint one person can handle at a time.). It’s kind of tricky trying to find different ways to use fresh mint when it’s coming out of your ears. I’ve done all the usual things with my fresh mint so far:

All of those things get old, though, after a while, so I put myself on a mission to find some fun and creative ways to use my mint plant. I’m looking forward to trying out these five fresh ideas for my fresh mint!

5 Unexpected Ways to Use Fresh Mint

  1. Fresh Mint Iced Coffee – You know me, I’m always up for a good cuppa joe. So much the better if it’s made with an unexpected twist and an unusual ingredient. (Remember my Lavender Iced Coffee?)
  2. I never in my life would have thought to put fresh mint into cookies or cupcakes, but these bloggers totally went there! I’d like to try some Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies or Fresh Mint Chocolate Cupcakes!
  3. And while I’m baking, I think I shall have to whip up some Cranberry Mint Scones, which not only use fresh mint, but fresh cranberries, too! My mouth is watering just thinking about it.
  4. It’s admittedly not that odd for baked goods to incorporate a fresh mint flavor, but savory foods? This Moroccan Spiced Potato Pizza doesn’t have any cheese… but it does have fresh mint!
  5. Another yummy-sounding savory option is this Honey Mint Glazed Chicken. I’m sort of wishing I hadn’t already prepped all my chicken in marinades before putting it in the freezer!

 

Better than the Box – Chocolate Pudding

This post was originally published in 2009.  Better Than the Box Chocolate Pudding One of my main goals on this blog is to prove to anyone who doesn’t believe me that cooking healthy foods from scratch is neither difficult nor time-consuming. Too many people think that cooking is either a great mystery they could never solve, or so time-consuming they would always be stuck in the kitchen. Instead, they rely on boxes (or bags or jars, or packages, you get the idea) that are quick and easy, but expensive and chock-full of unnecessary and unhealthy ingredients.

There’s a better way!

You don’t have to be a gourmet and spend hours over your creations in order to serve healthy delicious meals to your family. So throw away the box and make something from scratch for a change. If I can do it, you can do it!

For example, chocolate pudding. For a long time, I never even ate pudding because I didn’t want to use the mix found in a box, but I thought that home-made pudding was too time-consuming and difficult. Then my diet was forcibly changed because of my son’s allergies: there were so many foods I couldn’t eat, that I began to think outside the box (literally!) for foods that I could eat. I thought I had kissed chocolate good-bye for a while, until I found an allergen-free recipe for chocolate pudding. And I realized that it was so quick and easy, I could make it any time I needed a chocolate fix.

Once I discovered that, I branched out and made all kinds of pudding: butterscotch, vanilla, coconut, etc. I used them to make trifles and parfaits for desserts to serve to guests. And the best part was, it was every bit as easy as using a box!

But not as QUICK, you say. Almost as quick, I say. It took me approximately 10 minutes, start to finish. Anybody can find 10 minutes in their day to fix themselves a chocolate treat!

I thought home-made pudding was hard, but it’s actually quite EASY. What makes it difficult is using an egg, because the egg(s) has to be tempered, or gradually heated so that it doesn’t cook before it’s thoroughly mixed in. That problem is easily avoided by not using an egg! You’ll find most pudding recipes require an egg, but as I discovered, vegans and food-allergic folks know that pudding without an egg is every bit as good. An egg adds richness to pudding. So if you want your pudding a little richer, go ahead and fuss with the egg. But if you just want some pudding, forget the egg. You won’t miss it!

It’s CHEAPer than buying the box. I bet you don’t believe me because those boxes are pretty cheap. Aside from the milk (which is not included in the box anyway), the ingredients in this chocolate pudding cost less than $0.40, even if you don’t buy them on sale.

It may not be HEALTHY, but it’s certainly healthier than what’s in that box. Have you ever looked at the ingredients? Sugar, modified food starch, cocoa, disodium phosphate, natural & artificial flavors, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, monoglyceride, diglycerides, Red 40, Yellow 5, Blue 1, Artificial Colors, citric acid, BHA. Yum. I don’t even know why they need all those food colorings, because, as Matthew McConaughey says in “The Wedding Planner”, “Chocolate’s already brown.”

Have I convinced you yet?



Once it’s reached the right consistency, remove from the heat and add the 100% chocolate bar and vanilla. At this point, you can get creative and try adding different things. For example, chocolate chips instead of the chocolate bar. Or different flavorings instead of vanilla. I have also used a mixture of coffee and milk to make a mocha pudding. Mmmm, that was yummy.

Pour the pudding into serving dishes and place in refrigerator to cool. If you plan on serving to guests, you may want to consider placing some plastic wrap tightly on the surface of the pudding while it cools to prevent a skin from forming. I don’t bother when it’s just for myself, or if I’m going to stir it up and use it in something else. Garnish as desired:

Better Than the Box Chocolate Pudding Sharing at Try a New Recipe Tuesday

 

A Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal

**This post was originally published in 2009.  Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermeal Summertiiiiimmmeee… and the livin’ is eeeaaasssyyyy…

Fish are jumpin’ … and the cotton is high…

And I don’t feel like cookin’….

Oh wait, that’s not part of the song. But it should be! Who wants to cook on a hot summer day? Not me! So I decided NOT to cook today, but I still felt like I should feed my family, so I compromised: Cold Plates!

An Easy No-Cook Summer Meal

This is one of those ideas that’s just so brilliant, I wonder why I didn’t think of it sooner! All one has to do is assemble a variety of cold, fresh foods, make it pretty and put it on the table. Presto, Change-o, Dinner! Simple as that.

I used some cold ham slices as the main portion of the meal and augmented them with some scoops of tuna salad. Then I added in some various fresh fruits and veggies, some cheese for my DH, and some pickles. A dollop of honey mustard served as a dipping sauce for the ham. Usually, bread of some sort is served with a cold plate, but I had none, so I offered crackers on the side.

The nice thing about these cold plates is that I could customize them to our different dietary needs. Here’s my plate with strawberries and unpeeled apples and apricots:

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermeal
Here’s DH’s plate with cheese and peeled apples instead:

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermealEven our Certain Little Someone had his own cold plate (not that he ate it all! He was mostly interested in the watermelon and sweet potato fries!):

Beat the Summer Heat with a Super Easy No-Cook Summer Meal Cold Plate #nocook #summermealSharing at Grounded & Surrounded, Tasty Tuesday

Something From Nothing: Bread Crumbs from Stale Bread

Something from Nothing: bread crumbs from stale breadWait! Before you throw it away, think for a second. Can you use it for something else? Frugality is not only saving your money when purchasing, it is saving your money by getting everything out of what you have already purchased. I read somewhere that the frugal person’s motto was the same as the environmentalist’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. If we all followed that motto, we’d save a lot of resources, in our homes and around the world.

For starters, what about that stale bread? Or those end slices no one wants to eat? Whatever you do, don’t throw them away!

Here are just a few ideas of what you can do with stale bread:

  • -bread pudding
  • -croutons
  • -stuffing
  • -french toast
  • -grilled/toasted sandwiches
  • -and my personal favorite, bread crumbs

How to Make Bread Crumbs

Whenever I have stale bread, or leftover chunks or pieces, I never throw them away. Instead, I use it to make bread crumbs. If I don’t have time at the moment, I bag them and put them in the freezer until I do. Some people keep a bag in their freezer for just such a purpose; every time they have some extra bread, they throw it in there and make a big batch of bread crumbs when they’ve collected enough.

Bread crumbs can be used for a variety of purposes, the main one being to bread meat such as chicken or fish before baking it. This adds flavor and texture. Bread crumbs are also used in meat loaf, or as a topping for a casserole or cooked vegetables. They also add nice crunch and a pretty touch sprinkled on thick soups, such as potato or chowders.

There are about as many different ways and methods of making bread crumbs as there are uses for them, but this is what I do:

Easy Bread Crumbs
Rip the bread into chunks and place in a food processor. Process until fine. Add spices to your liking (I like to use Italian spices such as oregano, basil, parsley, etc.), even grated parmesan cheese or garlic or onion powder, and pulse once or twice in the processor to blend it together. Spread in a fine layer on a cookie sheet and leave in a warm oven until very dry. I like to leave it in there for quite some time – half an hour or so – just to be sure all the moisture is gone so I can store it longer. Cool the bread crumbs and store in a tightly covered container (I reuse an applesauce jar for this purpose) in the cupboard. Alternatively, you can store it in a plastic bag in the freezer.

For meat loaf and some other uses, you may want soft bread crumbs. In this case, all you need to do is pulse the bread chunks in the food processor a couple times until you have coarse crumbs. Keep those crumbs in the freezer until your next meat loaf!

Lavender Syrup

Lavender Syrup  - 3 ingredients!  #yleo #essentialoilsI never ever would have considered lavender as a beverage flavoring were it not for a pleasant occasion a month ago or so when my sister and I went to a favorite coffee shop in Maryland, one we are rarely able to visit but enjoy very much. As we perused the lengthy menu board, the final item on the list caught my sister’s eye and she exclaimed that she *HAD* to try it. 

What was that concoction she had to try? Lavender Iced Coffee. 

Hmmm, I thought, unconvinced,but in the end, decided to follow my sister’s footsteps and give it a try. It sounded refreshing, and didn’t seem like it would be too horrible, plus I love to try new things.

A Refreshing New Twist

Word. It was amazing. Refreshing, yes! Also, quite delicious and crave-worthy. In a remarkable turn of events, however, I completely forgot about it once I got home and only remembered it when I was trying to brainstorm essential-oils-based refreshments for a class I was teaching.

In a flash of inspiration, I recalled the herbal goodness of the lavender iced coffee I had enjoyed, and realized it would be ridiculously easy to duplicate it by quickly boiling up a simple syrup and adding some lavender essential oil to it.

Easy peasy! And, of course, this versatile lavender syrup can be used for much more than coffee – splash it in lemonade, tea, punch, or anywhere else you’d like a dash of flavor.Lavender Syrup  - 3 ingredients!  #yleo #essentialoils

Recipe: Lavender Syrup

Summary: a refreshing flavored syrup you can add to hot and cold beverages

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar (I used coconut sugar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 3-4 drops lavender essential oil*

Instructions

  1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
  3. Cool to room temperature and add lavender oil. Store bottled in the refrigerator.

*Most lavender oil available on the general market today is more than likely adulterated in one way or another. I only use Young Living lavender oil because I know that Young Living controls the process from planting the seed in the ground to putting the seal on the bottle, and I know there’s nothing in it but the best and finest lavender oil available!

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?

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.

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!

 

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.

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.