Monthly Archives: October 2013

Deliciously Depraved Brownies ~ (Wheat-Free)

You may already know that I have a love-hate relationship with wheat. I love it. It hates me. True story.

I’ve been working with a homeopath for about six weeks, trying to clear up a weird little hip/health issue that’s been plaguing me for a couple of years, and has been keeping me from running off and on. We’re making some progress., but now I get to spend the next month wheat-free while we give my body a rest and see if we can just get over it already so that when next race season comes around I can enjoy running again!

I’m not one to let a little dietary restriction hamper my creativity in the kitchen, and while there are some weird, and not very satisfying recipes out there for all kinds of wheat-free “treats” for people who are allergic or gluten-intolerant, there aren’t a whole lot of genuinely good, “I-just-don’t-miss-what-I-can’t-have” kinds of recipes. In fact, I hesitated to even put “wheat-free” in the title, because I was pretty sure that would make people give this recipe a miss before they ever gave it a chance.  It may be the mistake you’ll regret if you do! 😉

During my mission for a genuinely great, wheat-free chocolate dessert, I scoured the low-carb and gluten-free sites where many of those often-lacking recipes float around, then I played around in the kitchen to come up with some darn good brownies for Treat Night!  These aren’t sugar free, but I did lower the sugar content some without harming the taste any, IMO. Without mucking around any more about it, here goes:

Deliciously Depraved Wheat-Free Brownies

1 1/8 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

3 oz. baking chocolate squares

1/2 c. plus 2 Tbs. butter

1/2 c. unsweetened baking cocoa powder

4 eggs

1 tsp. real vanilla extract

1 c. sugar or 1 c. sugar/stevia blend like Domino Light

Chill bowl you’ll be whipping the eggs in and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Melt chocolate chips and baking squares in the microwave or over a double-boiler. Roughly chop the butter and stir it into the completely melted chocolate, heating an additional 20-30 seconds if needed to completely incorporate the butter into the chocolate. Stir in cocoa powder until well blended.

Whip eggs about a minute with a mixer, then add in the vanilla and sugar/sweetener. Whip an additional couple of minutes until mixture is light, but still liquid.

Make sure chocolate mixture is no longer hot (warm is okay, hot enough to scramble the eggs is not), and fold the egg mixture gently into the chocolate** until it is well incorporated. This takes me longer than it takes to fold into a souffle´, but I’m not sure why. It probably takes a good four or five minutes of folding before it was well-incorporated.

Spray an 8×8″ pan with baking spray, or rub well with butter, oil, or shortening.  Gently spread mixture into pan and bake in the 350-degree oven 20-25 minutes, keeping an eye on it toward the end to make sure it’s as gooey or as firm as you like it.  Remove from oven and cool.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting (with or without Maple Flavor)

1 c. butter

3/4 c. bakers cocoa powder

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tsp. maple extract (optional)

4 c. powdered sugar

3-4 Tbs. milk

2-3 Tb. corn syrup or thick maple syrup

Cream butter, cocoa, and vanilla/maple flavoring together. Gradually add milk and powdered sugar , 1 cup at a time, alternating between powdered sugar and a little milk.  Next, add corn syrup or maple syrup, and mix in well.  Spread on cooled brownies (if you can wait that long), and serve.

If you need to hold onto your frosting in the bowl for a little while, be sure to stick it in the refrigerator so it doesn’t start to melt or get too soft at the temperature in your kitchen.  When ready to spread, whip it up again and use.

*Note: This makes a pretty big batch of frosting, and you may do very well with a half batch if you aren’t inclined to spread a mongo-thick slab of frosting on yours.

**If you want to add nuts to your brownies (I really like mine with walnuts, but the rest of the family isn’t so crazy about it…) you can fold them in with the egg mixture, or simply sprinkle on top of the frosting.

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Acorn Flour ~ “Poor Man’s Flour”

If you want to try your hand at some food foraging, here’s a fun fall project to try! You can make flour from acorns, just as early settlers and pioneers did. We use almond flour (ground almonds) frequently in our baking, and this is only a little different. Almonds can be ground raw or roasted, but acorns are too bitter to use without first making them palatable by extracting the tannic acid in them.

Gather a bowl of acorns. This is one of those activities that I find extremely compelling. My family gets a little exasperated with me on our hikes as I stoop and fill my pockets with acorns every three feet or so. Kinda like how you can eat just one Lay’s potato chip, right?

Remove the caps from the acorns, then crack their shells and remove the meat just as you would to use any other in-shell nut. Put the hulled acorns in a pot and cover them with boiling water. Boil them for a couple of hours, then pour off the water and cover again with fresh, already boiling water. Continue to boil them for another couple hours, changing the water again when the water darkens. After they have boiled a second time, taste an acorn and see if it still has any bitterness left. If so, after you’ve rinsed off the old water, add another batch of fresh, boiling water and boil them a third couple of hours. Taste again. When they are no longer bitter, they’re ready to roast.

Boiling them leaches the tannic acid out of the nuts and into the water.  Tannic acid, remember, is what is in tea.  If you leave your tea bag or tea leaves to steep in your cup or pot of water too long, the tea becomes bitter.

When you are ready to roast them, pour the water off of them and pour the nuts out on a towel and pat the excess water off of them.  Place them on a baking sheet and roast in a 300-degree oven for about an hour.  At this point you can remove them, cool them, and eat them as is (you may want to salt them if you plan to eat them whole and roasted—try them with and without to see how you like them), or you can grind them into flour.  Any kind of mill or food processor should work.  You may have to grind them twice to get a fine enough grind to use as flour.

My personal recommendation is to replace part of the flour in a recipe you like (i.e. cookies, muffins, pancakes, etc…) with the acorn flour, and use part regular flour of whatever sort your recipe calls for.  But feel free to experiment!

Have fun—and happy home farming!

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Aspendale Farm & Small Home Farm Radio Update

Some of you have been wondering when I’m going to do another show, and hey, what’s up, anyway?  So here’s our latest update.

I’ve shared a couple of things already with my blog followers, and later I’ll mention some things I haven’t yet talked about. First, my producer, JJ, who is also my oldest boy, has gone away to college to pursue his degree in Advertising & Public Relations at Spring Arbor University.  That’s three hours away from home.  Like any typical college kid trying to enjoy college, pay for school, and maintain a decent Grade Point Average to keep his scholarship and do well in his classes, he’s really busy.  Neither he nor I have received any pay for doing Small Home Farm Radio at any time during the run of the show.  It’s been a labor of love – especially on his part.  He gets virtually no recognition from anyone but me.  And how far do a Mom’s hugs and pats on the back go for the hours of work he’s put into it?  LOL!  So I am not asking him to try to squeeze one more obligation into his overcrowded and underfed schedule.

I also shared that I’ve taken on more editing work recently. As of April this year I made the switch from doing occasional freelance editing to having a permanent staff position editing and proofreading.  I don’t get to choose my assignments any more.  They just send ’em down the pike and – voila!  There they are!  I have also taken on additional freelance clients.

In light of the increased hours my job requires, I’ve had to let some things go.  The three things I picked?  Well, first, putting out regular Small Home Farm Radio shows for now, anyway.  If I were to make it a paid job instead of a hobby it might be an option, but that’s not the way it’s working out right now.  Second, if you’ve followed my blog recently, you know that I no longer have my horse, Saxton.  I opted to shift the bulk of the responsibilities and time spent on horse-related jobs, training, and riding to the kids who still have horses.  It’s freed up some time and some mental capacity for me, and I feel really good about the guy that became Saxton’s new partner.  It will be a good relationship.  And third, I chose not to do any major canning this fall.  My Mom came up to visit and we made some basil jelly (which I hope to do a post about in the near future), some pear marmalade, and some pistachio butter just for fun.  In addition to some raspberry jam I’d made earlier in the season, that’s pretty much it.  I’m eating all my tomatoes fresh – just chopping them up and throwing them into chili, omelets, pasta…  and any abundance I’ll just freeze.  It was a light year for tomatoes, though, so I don’t expect to freeze much.

My biggest obligation, the one that is most important, is of course, educating my kids.  My leadership/business success-nerd husband who reads books on leadership for fun, takes a half day or more every three months to come up with three goals for that quarter.  Not three goals in each area (physical, work, family, etc.) — no, just three goals — period.  Research shows (so he tells me) that if you set one goal, you will achieve that one goal.  If you set one to three goals, you will achieve one to three goals.  If you set four or more goals, you will achieve no goals.  He’s actually very successful, so I feel confident following his lead. So I opted for the set one goal track, knowing I’d increased my odds by just choosing one. I chose that this quarter I will work hard to make sure that we get school on a really good, comfortable routine, where we are enjoying our work and having high accountability for the quality of schoolwork.  It’s easy to let “missing papers” and things slide, and we were heading down that road last year.  This year the offending kid (not naming any names <coughDanny>) is actually having to finish and account for last year’s missing work.  That’ll teach him!  And me, too, incidentally.

So, not that you care terribly much about my personal goals.  But notice there was actually nothing in that goal about canning, horses, the podcast, or even about getting laundry done and meals prepared.  If we eat PB&J for the entire quarter, so be it!  (Thankfully that’s not happening.)  I’m determined to meet my one goal.

The next big change – a very big change – that is on the horizon:  Aspendale Farm is up for sale.  We listed with a realtor a couple of months ago. Now we just sit tight until someone shows up who needs a 10-acre small home farm in the middle of the woods on the edge of Amish Country, ninety miles north of everywhere.  The average home sits on the market for about three years in our county.  So we’re not really expecting to pack up and hustle off for awhile yet.  The reasons for selling are varied.  Some are practical.  My husband travels regularly on business, and really wants to be closer to an airport.  As it is we are three hours from the nearest hub.  But there’s not even a little one close by where he can catch a connecting flight.  And a lot of his clients and team members are in southwest Michigan/northwest Ohio, which means an overnight stay instead of a day-trip when he has meetings.

As JJ has gotten closer and closer to finally leaving for college, we realized that if we want to have the opportunity to live anywhere near our kids and, eventually, grandkids, we’d need to be close to a larger population center. For our kids to be able to get jobs, the likelihood of needing to be near a population center is pretty high.  Yes, they may move off to Timbuktu, (Miss World-Traveler Cecily in particular), but at least it will be of their choice, and not of necessity. And the kids seem to be leaning toward wanting to live near extended family in NW Ohio, at any rate.

We also have family issues to consider – not being a regular part of my nieces’ lives has been a downer.  My parents are getting older, too.  And on and on.  The typical things one thinks of in regard to family.

I used to really, really miss Starbucks.  I know – shallow and crazy.  I swear they put cocaine in their coffee.  I still really enjoy getting a Starbucks when we travel.  But I’ve learned to make my own hazelnut latte at home.  My recipe is excellent and it takes the place of a Starbucks latte very satisfactorily.  So although that used to be a fantasy … moving closer to a town with a Starbucks — or at least *any* coffee shop — it isn’t any more.  Just a perk if/when we do end up moving.

We don’t have a destination in mind.  Likely SW Michigan.  But I adore, adore, adore Traverse City and can’t imagine not being there.  Still, the idea of being even further from family, and not near a hub airport (although, if I remember correctly, Cherry Capital Airport has connecting flights to Minneapolis, Detroit, and Chicago) makes that a tough place to end up.

The thing that finally turned the tide for me, though, has been –oddly enough– my friends here.  I have had four close friends that have made me really feel at home up here and given me heart-ties to this place.  In summer 2012 my good friend Michelle and her family moved when her husband was transferred to a pastorate in a different part of the state.  In early fall, my dear confidante and mentor, Rachel B, moved when her husband was offered a pastorate in Missouri.  Those were both very sad occasions.  But I felt pretty secure here, anyhow.

You see, my best friend Wendy has lived on her farm here for some 12 or 15 years.  (Obviously I don’t remember exactly.)  And she and her family were reasonably certain they’d live here forever.  Several years ago a mutual friend asked if our family would stay here or if we would move.  I jokingly replied, “I’ll move when Wendy moves.”  (Can you see where this is going?) This past spring, Wendy’s husband moved them into the parsonage at the church where he is pastor.  And how do I have all pastor’s wives for friends?  An odd circumstance to be sure!  Apparently, I’m a pastor’s wife magnet!  LOL!  Wendy and I had been seeing each other less and less frequently, though.  She has become increasingly busy.  I’ve mourned the lightening of that relationship terribly.  Wendy and I are two peas in a pod and I have loved her like I never imagined I could love a friend.  That has left me with one last girl friend close by.  Just a good friend – a fellow home-schooler.  Not a pastor’s wife.  LOL!  But this spring they decided that they were called to the mission field and are now on their way to being full-time missionaries in Europe.  <Sigh>  I have other friends and friendly acquaintances here, but the beating-over-the-head with losing all my best friends and severing ties to the area hasn’t been lost on me!  I’m not *that* oblivious.  So I agreed to be willing to go if and when the house sells.

Losing an orchard newly coming into production, a prolific raspberry bed, blueberries that are just now starting to bear a decent crop, that will be painful.  I’ve worked hard on getting my vegetable garden just right; building up the soil, building raised beds, mulching the paths, building a fence around it, putting up trellising… you know all that takes time, work, and money.  We spent three years building our barn and it was another year before we finally had really good arena fencing in.  I love my barn.  It’s as close to perfect as I could hope for.  These changes will be difficult.  But every move we have made has brought good things, and I trust that this one will, too.  So now we wait.  And we will see what the next chapter brings.

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Recipe: Perfect Grill Burgers and Fries (Part II – French Fries)

Photo from everystockphoto.com taken by Richard Elzey

Many of my really fond memories of my Dad revolve around food growing up.  Mostly it was snacks and treats I remember, since he didn’t have a huge repertoire when it came to cooking.  But when he did cook – oh my!  He made wonderful homemade french fries!  I’ve been making them “Dad’s way” since I first learned to cook.  But as delicious as his homemade fries are, they aren’t restaurant fries, and now I know why!

There’s a local named Mike, here in town, who owns a burger and ice cream shop.  It’s one of those walk-up window kind of places. Mike makes his own fries, doesn’t buy frozen.  (Ironic, huh?  We must start with frozen burger patties, but fresh spuds to cut into fries?  I know, right!)  Mike’s the one who first introduced me to cooking “restaurant fries.”  He says he cuts the potatoes into strips for french fries, then soaks them in a bucket of water with sugar in it — for two days.  Now, Mike’s fries are very good.  But I’m not likely to start making my fries two days ahead of time.  And I’ve found it’s not necessary in order to get really good fries.

You’ll need some good potatoes – one pound of potatoes is adequate for 2-3 people.  If you cut up some potatoes and it doesn’t look like enough, do another potato or two until it looks like enough servings for the number of people you are serving.  Scrub and rinse your potatoes to get the dirt off of them, and if you want them peeled, peel them.  If not, leave the skins on.  I can go either way, but I’ll peel them if I can spare the ten minutes to do the job.  I like to rinse them quickly, then, to get any residual dirt off of them.

Next, cut each potato in quarters, then cut the quarters into slices/strips (the long way) a la the french fries you know and love as shown in the photo above.  Here’s where we differ from Dad, who would then plunge his potato strips into hot oil, fry the heck out of them, then try to eat them while they’re still covered with boiling oil.

Instead, we’re going to get a large bowl – maybe five quarts, depending on how many fries you are making.  Fill the bowl with water and add about 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of sugar to the water, stirring until it dissolves.  Put the cut potato strips into the bowl of sugar water and let sit for an hour.  You can let them sit for several hours – or overnight – or for two days like Mike does.  But they should sit a minimum of one hour.  This allows the starch to begin to leach out of them and it flavors them lightly, (These are not sweet fries – they’ll taste a lot like what you get when you order your grill burger!  I promise!)

When you are about ready to cook the fries, pour your oil (peanut oil is a great choice) into a pan with deep sides, or into an electric deep-fryer.  That is one appliance I refuse to own!  I’d use it too often!  As it is, homemade fries are a 2-3 times a year treat.  My waistline and my arteries don’t need to be exposed to that on a regular basis!  Not to mention donuts, deep-fried chicken strips, fried pickles and mozzarella sticks – I don’t know. I’m sure I could find other things to deep-fry if it weren’t a bit of trouble to get everything out and put it back away.

I digress.  Put your oil in a pan with deep sides so it won’t overflow and cause a grease fire.  Seriously.  Not a thing to take lightly.  We had a grease fire in the kitchen and it was terrifying.  Don’t go there.  You’ll also need a candy thermometer and a slotted metal utensil or metal basket of some sort.  You could use a slotted metal spoon, a fry basket, or a slotted/wire skimmer.

Heat your oil to 300-degrees a la The Pioneer Woman’s recipe (she has good photos of how to do this), and keep the temperature steady.  You’ll probably want the heat between medium and medium-high for this.  Adjust lightly as needed but keep the oil around 300-degrees.  If you’re not talented at that, go ahead and buy or borrow a deep-fryer with automatic temperature control.  While the oil is heating, remove the cut potatoes from their sugar-water bath, and pat them dry with a clean towel.  The oil will spit if there’s water left on them and it will probably spit on you.  And on the floor.  And everywhere around.  And you’ll be slipping in drops of grease on your floor while you nurse your ouchie-boo-boos from the splatters.  You will probably also want to lay out some newspapers with a couple layers of paper towels on top of them to put your finished, hot french fries on to absorb the grease and have them plenty spread out right away to be able to salt them.  If you dump them in a bowl it will be harder to salt them uniformly.

Photo by: Me! (Erin Lahey) These were some pretty awesome fries if I do say so!

Once the oil is heated to 300-degrees, cook the potato strips a batch at a time.  Don’t crowd them too much, and make sure the strips aren’t stuck together anywhere.  Fry them for just about 5 minutes until they are just starting to cook, really.  You don’t want them to get brown yet, just softening up.

Remove from oil and lay on paper towels/newspaper to drain.  Don’t salt yet.  Continue cooking in batches until all your fries are done with the first stage.  When they’re drained and no longer dripping grease, put them into a bowl or something else and remove the paper towels, replacing them with fresh paper towels.  I find I can re-use the newspapers underneath just fine, though.  Next, turn up the heat a notch or two and let the oil heat to 400-degrees.  Once it’s hot enough, add back the fries a batch at a time and fry them until they are as brown as you like them.  It only takes about 2 minutes to get them to the way I like them.  As you remove the finished fries, spread them out well on the paper towels and salt them right away, before even pulling the next spoonful out of the oil.  When they still have oil on them, they will hold onto that salt better.  If you wait to salt them, the oil soaks in/dries off/disappears – I don’t know exactly – and the salt doesn’t stick to the fries so well.

Photo from everystockphoto.com taken by TheLawleys

That’s it!  When all of your batches of fries are browned, drained, and salted, serve with your Grill burgers.  And you just saved yourself a ton of money!  The secret to great restaurant-quality fries?  Soaking them in the sugar-water for at least an hour.  Double-frying them adds a nice touch and isn’t much trouble, but it crisps them up pretty nicely.  Enjoy!

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