Category Archives: Cooking and Remedies

Sourdough Starter… How & Why

In a world filled with innumerable options for organic, whole grain, artisan baked, and seriously fancy bread, why would someone go to the trouble to make their own? Control over ingredients, incredible smell and taste, and satisfaction from producing homemade loaves are just not enough for most of us to make time for bread baking as more than a special occasion activity. But if you are reading this, I could safely guess that you want to eat healthier and feel better.

Long fermented sourdough is the bread that our ancestors depended on as the cornerstone of their daily diet and the “staff of life”. Now in our current culture, bread has been vilified to the degree that we often feel bad for enjoying it. We buy gluten-free substitutes or pass on bread completely thinking that it’s the only choice we have for optimal health. New science (and old sensibility) are revealing that for most, gluten is not the problem. And this goes far beyond bread. In our effort to industrialize food production, we have lost some very important practices that affect our digestion of all grains. This means that much of the gluten-free product at today’s grocery stores is just as indigestible and irritating to your system as the wheat products you were buying them to replace! Let me repeat that. It’s not just gluten making you sick.

Wheat and other grains like brown rice, quinoa, and spelt, plus nuts, seeds, and legumes all contain protective mechanisms that work to ensure that they can still propagate themselves when they are consumed by herbivores with one stomach. The grains are eliminated “pre fertilized” in nature. Gluten, other lectins, enzyme inhibitors, and phytic acid allow the seed to pass through the digestive system without harm. This is good for the plant but bad for our digestion and absorption of nutrients. Luckily, old methods of soaking and fermenting grains break down this protective barrier, making the grains less irritating to our system and much more digestible and nutritious.

A long sourdough fermentation process as described in the following recipes breaks down the carbohydrates and the long stretchy gluten in the dough and greatly reduces phytates in the grain. This process produces a very tasty loaf, but also neutralizes the antinutrients and unlocks vitamins and minerals in the grain. People who have experienced gluten intolerance (not the 2% of the population who have celiac disease) should be able to eat and enjoy this bread without discomfort.

Long fermentation does take a long time though. If you want to incorporate this bread into your daily life, you’ll need to make some new habits. First, you need a starter and that starter needs a little attention to stay alive. Once it’s working well, you just need to feed it once or twice a week. Then you’ll need to create a leaven and let the dough rise overnight. All of this can be done on a weekend with the active work of mixing and kneading only taking a short time and the rising happening while you do other things or overnight. Once you get into the swing of things, it will become second nature and you’ll have healthy, homemade loaves, our staff of life, available whenever you like.

SOURDOUGH STARTER

I started baking homemade bread for my family in 1996. Crusty french baguettes were not available at the supermarket back then so I became obsessed with perfecting the recipe so that we could enjoy them at home whenever we wanted. The rest of the country was on a bread tangent too so my close friend often brought me freshly ground flour that she was using to make daily loaves in a bread machine. My results were incredibly tasty and much healthier than anything I could buy at my local market. The cookbooks that I used to perfect my methods, Baking with Julia and The Best Bread Ever, both contained lengthy recipes for sourdough starters that intrigued me. I was daunted though by the amount of time required to create one (I was making bread in between nursing babies and diaper changes) and the number of variables that could go wrong, so I never gave it a go.

Fast forward to 2013. A book I read a couple of years ago by Michael Pollan called Cooked that talks about the four elements Earth, Fire, Air, and Water and how they relate to cooking and eating that was turned into a Netflix documentary. I watched it with my homeschoolers and we were inspired to finally take the plunge into traditional bread making as a science project. I searched the internet for information and found loads of different processes. I decided to use the easiest one that seemed most likely to end in a loaf of bread rather than frustration.

What follows is so simple! I find this to be a top priority when trying something new. Expensive or hard to source ingredients and complicated instructions stall us when we are embarking on a new idea. To me, simple equals success. Once you have mastered this technique, research the other traditional starters. Rye and spelt flour produce wonderful results, and you can even do a starter with organic grapes. The world of fermented dough awaits!

*Note 12/19

Nearly 7 years into sourdough baking, I have learned a thing or two that will make your experience even more successful. The main tip is that you need to discard a lot of starter to get yours active to its maximum potential. I am never one to waste even a morsel of food. It goes against my morals as much as stealing! So what to do with all that starter? Since the original writing of this post, I have added Sourdough Crackers  & Pancakes to Bloom.

Let me tell you that while the crackers take a bit of time and muscle, they are the most loved of all my recipes by my family. I make a lot of good food and frankly, they are a little spoiled and hard to thrill. They are grateful for my meals but not often gushing with praise. Not so for these crackers that taste like the orange crackers in the red box that aren’t as healthy a treat as they are advertised to be. The pancakes are no harder than any others from scratch. Just remember to start them the night before.

The discarded starter that you end up with when you feed your developing friend has all the health benefits described above. It just doesn’t have the strength yet to give sourdough bread the lift it needs. So keep a separate mason jar labeled “discard” and add what you would throw away in the instructions until you have enough to make one of these recipes. You will also have to discard some starter if you are reviving it after a long rest in the fridge. If you are making bread often and need “discard” for pancakes or crackers, just feed the starter for a few days before you make your bread instead of waiting. It will help it grow even stronger and you will end up with all you need.

Recipe

Ingredients

unbleached, organic, white bread flour – The quality of the flour is important for your health and for developing a strong starter. Please feel free to use whatever you already have, but buy the good stuff when you restock. It should only be a dollar or two more than standard commercial flour

finely ground, whole, organic spelt flour (optional)

filtered water, room temperature

Equipment

2 quart, wide mouth mason jar or ceramic bowl (do not use metal)

measuring cups or a scale (highly recommended)

mixing spoons (I like a small wooden spatula)

plastic wrap or the lid to your container

Creating a sourdough starter takes about 5 days depending on the temperature in your house. The ideal temperature is between 70-75 degrees. If your space is cooler than this, the fermentation will take longer. If it’s too hot though, this will kill the developing yeast. The general rule of thumb is that if you are sweating, your starter will be unhappy.

Day One

1/2 cup or 120 grams flour

3/4 cup or 180 grams of water

Combine the flour and water in your jar or bowl. Mix the ingredients well until they are combined into a thick, smooth batter. When you are done mixing, scrape down the sides of your container so that there are very few small bits left which can dry out and ruin your final product. Place the lid on the container loosely without tightening it or cover with plastic wrap, leaving a tiny corner open for air circulation.

Day Two

Discard all but 75 grams or 2/3 cup of the starter. Feed the remaining starter with the 100 grams (7/8 cup) of flour and 125 grams (1 1/8 cup) of water. Stir well to incorporate the flour and scrape down the sides. Place the lid on the container loosely without tightening it or cover with plastic wrap leaving a tiny corner open for air circulation.

You may have small bubbles forming today, but if the starter doesn’t look much different yet, just stay the course.

Day Three

Discard all but 75 grams (2/3 cup) of the starter. In your original container, feed the starter with the 100 grams (7/8 cup) of flour and 125 grams (1 1/8 cup) of water. Stir well to incorporate the flour and scrape down the sides. Place the lid on the container loosely without tightening it or cover with plastic wrap leaving a tiny corner open for air circulation.

By day three you should have lots of bubbles forming letting you know that there is some good yeast developing. It should also be starting to smell like a warm loaf of sourdough bread. Don’t get too excited if your starter has a huge burst of energy in these first days. This initial activity is a great sign but does not mean it is ready to use. If you are concerned, check the troubleshooting guide below.

Day Four

Discard all but 75 grams (2/3 cup) of the starter. In your original container, feed the starter with the 100 grams (7/8 cup) of flour and 125 grams (1 1/8 cup) of water. Stir well to incorporate the flour and scrape down the sides. Place the lid on the container loosely without tightening it or cover with plastic wrap leaving a tiny corner open for air circulation.

On day four, you should notice that the batter is honeycombed with bubbles before you feed it. It will also smell even more pungent. If you taste a little bit, it should be quite sour, but without salt, it will not taste like bread. Check the troubleshooting suggestions if you are concerned.

Note: I like to add two tablespoons of finely ground, whole spelt flour (in place of two tablespoons of white flour) to the starter on day four and every few times I feed my mature starter. It gives it a quick kick that causes the fermentation to accelerate and strengthen the starter. This is not required and can be done anytime once your starter is established as well.

Day Five

Discard all but 75 grams (2/3 cup) of the starter. In your original container, feed the starter with the 100 grams (7/8 cup) of flour and 125 grams (1 1/8 cup) of water. Stir well to incorporate the flour and scrape down the sides. Place the lid on the container loosely without tightening it or cover with plastic wrap leaving a tiny corner open for air circulation.

By now the starter should be active enough that it will double in size from one day to the next. This will tell you the yeast is very active and is creating tons of little pockets of air inside the batter.

After day 5, you can continue to feed and discard your new starter for another week or more to give it great strength and activity. It will rise bread after day 5 but if your first loaf is dense, it is simply because your starter is too young. Mine is many years old now and is as reliable as Old Faithful. It also comes back to life very quickly if I leave it for a rest in the fridge. It’s worth the patience to feed it for a long period at first.

Resting Your Starter

Now your starter is ready to use or can be placed in the fridge to rest until you are ready to make bread. If you’d like to rest the starter, cover your mason jar or transfer it to a clean jar if you had it developing in a bowl. Keep it in the fridge until one day before you want to make bread. A quick note about mason jars… If you take an active starter and put it in the fridge, it will continue to expel gas continuously, just more slowly. I never fully tighten my jars so that if the starter is super active, the gas can escape without exploding the glass jar. This has happened to friends and it’s not pretty!

In this refrigerated state, it must be brought to room temperature and fed at least once a week. When you feed it, leave it on the counter for twenty-four hours and then cover it tightly and put it back in the fridge. For this process, follow the directions above, discarding all but 75 grams and feeding 100 grams of flour and 125 grams of water.

Now you are ready to make leaven. I use my starter so often that I don’t need to follow the discard and feeding instructions above to make leaven. I simply remove my starter from the fridge, let it come to room temp, and measure out the ingredients for the leaven. If there is leftover leaven from the Rustic Boule, add it back to your starter jar. The leaven for the Enriched Sandwich Bread is completely added to your dough and also wouldn’t go back into the jar because it contains milk.

If you are taking a long break from making bread, you will need to discard some of your starter before feeding it. You can discard up to half the starter without harming it and still keep it growing strong. Set a task in your schedule to remove it from the fridge and feed it once a week, leaving it out to develop for 24 hours and placing it back to rest in the refrigerator.

Troubleshooting

This recipe is for the most foolproof starter I’ve found. That doesn’t mean that nothing can ever go wrong with it, though. Once you have a bubbling happy starter, I suggest dividing it into two containers and even freezing about 120 grams of it tightly sealed in a small freezer bag. This way if you have a mishap with mold or forget about it on the counter for too many days, you don’t have to start all the way over at square one.

Q Nothing is happening inside my starter. It just looks like paste.

This may happen if you are trying to get a starter going during the coldest months of the year or if your flour is highly processed or bleached. If the flour looks clean and white, but just lifeless, add one teaspoon of active dry yeast when you feed it next. This will give it a little kickstart to get things bubbling away. I’ve also found that a tablespoon of finely ground, whole rye or spelt flour can have the same effect. Additionally, always make sure you are using room temperature water. Water that is too cold will slow the fermentation and water that is too hot will kill the starter.

Q There are tiny black dots on top of my starter that are not mold.

Early in the developing process, a little bit of the flour on the surface of your starter may oxidize. This can mean that you had a little too much air circulation or not quite enough water. You can gently scrape off the top layer and discard it or just stir it into the mix. Once the fermentation is going strong, this will stop happening.

Q There is a thin layer of liquid on top of my starter that is slightly grey or red.

This indicates that your starter had too much liquid and too little flour. Pour off the liquid and feed the starter normally, increasing the flour by a tablespoon or two until it feels like a firm paste when stirred. If the flour/water ratio gives you consistent trouble, try weighing the flour instead of using measuring cups.

You may also notice liquid rises to the top of your starter consistently when you rest it for a week in the refrigerator. This is normal. When you are ready to bring your starter to room temp and feed it, pour off this liquid or stir it in and feed it normally. Many people say that this “liquor” gives the starter more flavor. I have nothing scientific to prove this but I never pour it off.

Q My starter is moldy

In order for a starter to get moldy, it has to have had undesirable bacteria introduced to it at some point. Make sure that your jar or bowl and mixing spoons are scrupulously clean. You can also transfer your starter to a clean jar for storage every few weeks to avoid buildup of hard batter on the sides, rim, and lid. If your starter is moldy, carefully spoon off all but about ¾ cup from the bottom of the jar. Put this in a new clean jar and feed it until it is forming a strong honeycomb of bubbles again before you put it away to rest. Alternatively, discard the entire thing and defrost your frozen “emergency batch” as described above. Once it’s defrosted, feed it and let it develop on the counter for a few days before you put it in the fridge to rest.

Now you are ready to make bread! Your starter will work for sandwich bread, classic sourdough, pita, pizza crust, English muffins, or rolls… Actually, anything that you can imagine can be made with a starter.

Sauerkraut Basics

SAUERKRAUT

Sauerkraut is the perfect introduction into the world of lacto-fermentation. The ingredients are inexpensive and easy to obtain and work well with the simple fermentation method below. The result for a small amount of effort will be a delicious and highly nutritious food teaming with healthy bacteria that is normally pitifully absent from the western diet.

Do not mistake the pasteurized, and to many, soft and unappealing sauerkraut that is sold in supermarkets for the same product as the one you are creating here. Lacto fermentation is an artisanal craft and does not lend itself well to industrialization and mass production. For this reason, commercial sauerkraut is heated after packaging, killing all of the beneficial bacteria that developed during it’s production. Homemade sauerkraut retains this beneficial element, boasting a count of ten trillion live bacteria in a four to six ounce serving. This means that two ounces of your house kraut has more beneficial bacteria than an entire bottle of probiotics. These bacteria kill pathogens in your digestive tract and replenish it with healthy flora.

Another benefit of this product is that cabbage is notably high in anti-inflammatory properties, vitamin A and C. When cabbage is fermented, it opens up the cell walls unlocking a higher ratio of vitamins. A fermented head of cabbage can have 200 times more bio-available vitamin C than it did raw or cooked.

A note on equipment: Websites with beautiful crocks equipped with special valves, wooden pounders, powdered fermentations starters, and lovely jars to store your fermented products abound on the internet! All of these materials are fun to use and can make fermenting large quantities much easier. NONE of it is needed though!

We Americans tend to take old world knowledge and methods and create lots of high priced gadgets and rules needed to implement them. This creates barriers to doing new things that can increase our health and well-being TODAY. My goal with this recipe is to show you that you can lacto ferment nearly any vegetable or fruit with things you already have in your fridge and cupboards. After you have followed the method a few times, you can make adjustments to your equipment and know where to invest a little money to simplify things. In the meantime, keep every glass jar that you can get your hands on, remove the labels, and keep them for storing all of your experiments.

Historically, fermentation has been done in glass or ceramic vessels for best results. Before stainless steel, the metals that bowls and containers were made of were reactive and would even break down as the veggies did their work inside, so metal was never used in any of these preparations or dough making. Low quality plastic can also break down in exactly the same way although restaurant grade containers should be fine. Knowing all of this, start your first fermentation in a mason jar. They are inexpensive and most likely to give you a great result.

Recipe

1 medium head organic cabbage

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

1 scant tablespoon of sea salt

4 tablespoons of whey or reserved sauerkraut juice from a previous batch (whey recipe below)

Buy the best cabbage you can find for this recipe. Organic cabbage from the supermarket will work just great, but if you can buy it from a local farmer there will be more beneficial bacteria on the leaves. The lacto-fermentation process creates an environment for these bacteria to multiply. This will ultimately preserve the food and also create a product that is essential for proper gut flora. Over time, eating these kinds of foods will heal your digestive tract and help you begin to absorb the nutrients that you consume much more efficiently and completely. So the better the cabbage is to start with, the more nutritious the final result will be.

Rinse the cabbage and discard any badly damaged or wilted leaves. Remember you are not trying to clean every trace of bacteria from the cabbage. Just remove visible dirt and insects. Briefly dry the leaves and separate them from the core. Slice the leaves into small strips just as you would for coleslaw and place them in a bowl. I like to slice them by hand because the sauerkraut ends up crunchier and thicker. If you use the food processor, it will be a much quicker process and your final product will be a softer. Now very thinly slice the core and add it to the bowl.

Now add the salt and caraway seeds to the cabbage and start massaging to get it to release the water in its leaves. You can do this by squeezing it with your hands or smashing it with a potato masher or wooden mallet. Keep this up until the cabbage is noticeably wilted and there is lots of liquid in the bowl. Once it is nicely wilted, you can add the whey or reserved sauerkraut juice and briefly mix.

To begin the lacto-fermentation you will need a large mouth, one quart mason jar. The large mouth is important because it will allow you to weigh down the food. A standard quart jar with the smaller opening will make this more difficult. Make sure that your jar is clean and dried. Add the cabbage with all of its liquid to the jar. Use a heavy spoon to press the cabbage down into the container, forcing the liquid up to the top.

Now you will need a weight to keep the cabbage submerged in the brine while it is fermenting. I set this up by placing a small (very clean) mason jar filled with water right on top of the cabbage, pressing down until all of it is sitting under the brine. This is important because cabbage that is exposed to air will spoil, while the cabbage submerged in brine will ferment. Once submerged, cover tightly over the top of the small jar with plastic wrap. You must have an airtight seal for the fermentation process to happen properly. When I do this in larger quantities, I just make sure I have a glass jar or bottle that fits easily into my larger vessel before I start the recipe and use plastic wrap to press it down and create an airtight seal in the same way as with the smaller jars.

Once everything is covered nicely, set the jar on the counter for at least three days. During this time, press down hard on the smaller jar a couple of times per day to help the bubbles that are forming to come up to the surface. You can tighten the plastic wrap occasionally as you release the gases. The temperature in your house and your personal taste will determine how long you let the cabbage ferment at room temperature.

On the third day, try a bit and see how sour the kraut has become. Continue tasting each day until it seems perfect to you, up to a week or even more in cooler months. You will notice the freshly fermented kraut has a distinct smell when you open the container. Don’t worry that this means it’s spoiled. If it tastes something like a sour pickle, it is just right and that smell will continue to go away as it ages in your fridge.

You can remove the weight and put the lid on your jar now or transfer your freshly fermented sauerkraut to smaller, clean, dry mason jars, leaving an inch of headspace so that the cabbage doesn’t touch the rim. Date and label your jar/s and place them in the fridge. You can eat this straight away or let it sit in the fridge for a few weeks before eating it. Many authors say that this rest time mellows the flavor and increases the nutrition in your kraut.

Now you are on a roll!

Now that you have this basic method under your belt, you can use it to ferment just about any vegetable or green. With veggies that have less of their own liquid, you will make a medium brine by dissolving 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons of salt in one quart of water. Add four tablespoons of whey or liquid from a previous ferment to the brine. Pack your mason jar full of sliced veggies, cover with the brine and follow the directions above.

WHEY and CREAM CHEESE

This recipe produces two products. The first, whey, is essential for making all kinds of lacto-fermented products and soaked grains. In lacto-fermentation, the beneficial bacteria in the whey will give your fermentation process a kickstart, allowing you to use less salt in your recipes. You may also use whey in soaking grains, brown rice, and beans to reduce the phytic acid and other “anti-nutrients” in them, allowing for easier digestion and increased nutrient bio-availability.

Recipe

32 ounce carton of organic, full fat yogurt

stainless steel bowl and strainer that nest nicely

paper towel

plastic wrap

Nest your strainer inside the stainless steel bowl and place the paper towel in the bottom of the strainer. Make sure there aren’t big wrinkles in the towel and that the edges are tucked in at the top. If the edges of the towel are hanging over the side, it will draw the whey up and out instead of into the bowl. Stir the yogurt and add the entire carton to the the towel lined strainer and cover the entire contraption with plastic wrap. You may use some extra plastic wrap or a large rubber band to secure the strainer and bowl so that you have a sturdy system.

Place the straining yogurt into the fridge overnight or until there is no liquid dripping through the strainer. The liquid that ends up in the bowl is your whey! Pour this liquid into a very clean mason jar. It will keep in the fridge for 6 months, but if you start fermenting all the veggies in your refrigerator, it will get used up quickly.

Once you have the whey that you need, you will be left with strained yogurt which is what is sold in the market as Greek yogurt. This product is also what was historically used as cream cheese. You can eat this just like regular yogurt, adding maple syrup, your favorite fruit preserves, or nuts. Also try making it into muesli with oats and seeds. This traditional, European breakfast is incredibly healthy with both soaked grains and beneficial bacteria. You can also make savory spreads or dips with it. Add chives, parsley, cilantro, dill, and a tiny bit of chopped garlic with salt and pepper for a healthy and delicious veggie dip or spread for a bagel.

Turmeric Milk

Have you heard the buzz in the holistic health world about turmeric or curcumin? Turmeric is the bright yellow-orange flesh of the Curcuma longa plant. The root is ground into a powder and used as a spice in curry and many other dishes and is also what makes mustard yellow.

Recent research shows that turmeric has some pretty amazing health benefits so I’ve been trying to find a way to get it into my family’s diet. There are lots of articles online about this research but here is a little summary. Turmeric relieves symptoms for both rheumatoid arthritis and cystic fibrosis suffers and irritable bowl syndrome, prevents cancer and actually slows the growth of cancer cells, reduces the risk of childhood leukemia, improves liver function, protects your cardiovascular health, reduces cholesterol, and both prevents and teats Alzheimer’s disease. More practically speaking, turmeric has been shown in clinical trials to be equally effective as an anti inflammatory and pain reducer as the popular over the counter anti-inflammatory ibuprofen! My hubby has had amazing, nearly instant results using it for sore muscles and joints.

Until I found the turmeric milk recipe that follows, I was just turning everything we ate yellow and only managing to add a little of the spice to things like chili or soup. I noticed that to get a real pain relief effect, we needed to get a large amount of the spice all at once, so sprinkling a teaspoon into our food wasn’t going to cut it. This recipe contains a more generous does of turmeric, plus the chili looks red again which the children really like.

If you look online for Ayurvedic turmeric paste recipes, you will find more traditional preparations of turmeric tea. As I’ve played with these and made them my own over the last few weeks, I finally arrived as this one. I make the paste and refrigerate it when I have a little extra time. Then when we need the turmeric milk or tea, it’s very fast to prepare. Be careful with the turmeric when you are making this paste. It will stain your hands, clothes, dishtowels, and pets if they are close by. Rinse everything off and wash your hands well so you don’t end up with a mess.

Ingredients

You may measure your ingredients with measuring spoons or by sight. The recipe doesn't have to be exact to work well.

You may measure your ingredients with measuring spoons or by sight. The recipe doesn’t have to be exact to work well. Use local honey for the added benefit of allergy protection.

1 can coconut cream, coconut milk is also OK

3 Tablespoons ground turmeric

1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 Tablespoon freshly grated ginger or 1 teaspoon dried, ground ginger

2 Tablespoons local honey

a tiny pinch of sea salt

Use a rasp or cheese grater to grate about a 1 inch knob of fresh ginger. No need peel the ginger in this case.

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Add all of the ingredients to a small saucepan and stir over medium heat. The spices will combine with the coconut cream and begin to thicken as it comes to a gentle simmer. Use a small whisk to break up clumps. The combination, most unfortunately, looks like what I find in the diaper of a breastfed newborn when I’m wearing my midwife hat. If you’ve nursed a baby, this will crack you up every time you make this paste!

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When the paste is smooth and thick, store it in a clean mason jar. Now you can make turmeric milk or tea easily whenever you would like to have it. The traditional Ayurvedic suggestion is to drink it each night before bed.

To make the drink, add a heaping tablespoon of your paste to 8 ounces or so of liquid in a small saucepan. If you use black tea, the result will be a lot like a chia latte. You can also use dairy, almond, cashew, rice, or hemp milk. Whatever you choose, bring it to a gentle simmer and stir well to combine. You may want to add a little more honey to sweeten the final product or leave it as is. Pour the drink into a mug and serve it with a spoon. Stir the drink as you go so that you don’t get a big gulp of spice powder at the end!

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Instant Pot & Stove Top * Poached Chicken & Chicken Soup

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I start my batch cooking each week with a poached chicken. It is one of the easiest ways to cook a whole chicken and leaves you with delicious and very versatile meat plus lovely, clear stock. It also makes the chicken very easy to pull apart so the bones are ready for bone broth in a snap. Both stove top and Instant Pot instructions are below!

Even if you don’t do batch cooking, this perfectly cooked chicken can be turned into multiple meals, making this recipe both delicious and economical. Everyone can afford a local-organic chicken if it is going to stretch into many dishes! I buy a really ethically sourced chicken at my local health food store each week for about $2.89 a pound. This is a lot more than what I can find at the regular supermarket for $.69 a pound if it’s on special.

Here’s the thing though. We made a commitment a long time ago not to spend our dollars on food that harms us and our ecosystem. We are willing to stretch the more expensive meat into several meals. The higher priced chicken doesn’t increase my grocery budget even a dollar but we can feel great about our food. We know that the chicken we are eating led a totally normal life outdoors, foraged and ate it’s natural diet and died humanely. This can’t be said for the grocery store brand. In fact, I would never make one of those chickens into bone broth because it would only be concentrating the junk that it had been exposed to during it’s life before we consumed it.

So out of this one chicken, this is what I make each week:

4 Quarts Chicken Soup – Once my poached chicken has cooked and cooled, I remove all of the dark meat and reserve it for soup. You’ll find the whole recipe below. We eat this throughout the week topped with fresh herbs as a side to our lunches. You can also easily turn chicken soup into a chicken pot pie or chicken and dumplings dinner if it doesn’t all get eaten up.

1 Quart Chicken Stock – Before I make my chicken soup, I reserve one quart of plain chicken broth for the base to another soup. You can use it for anything but I like to make nettle soup in the spring, cream of broccoli, lentil, or white bean with preserved lemon. When I’m batch cooking, I get this soup made as soon as my chicken is done and put it into a container for later. The stock will save nicely for up to a week in a mason jar you choose not to cook with it right away.

1 Family Dinner – After I remove the dark meat for my soup, I am left with the perfectly cooked breasts. If you are not batch cooking, this meat will save nicely if it is covered in some of the broth and refrigerated or frozen. I like to turn it into my meal right away so that my time is free on other days. We shred the breast for lettuce wraps, add it to pasta with sauteed  greens and Parmesan, add it to an easy mushroom and Dijon cream sauce that tops rice or pasta, stir fry it with lots of veggies,  or eat it simply sliced with mashed potatoes and broccoli. There are endless chicken breast recipes so you won’t have trouble making use of your perfectly cooked meat.

Bone Broth – There are a lot of cranky food know it all’s on social media that complain that some big distinction has been made between stock and broth as a marketing hook. I don’t know if this is true but I grew up with grandparents who always cooked from scratch and they used broth and stock differently.

Stock is the liquid that is the result of cooking meat in water, just until it is done. It is usually served along with the meat like in chicken and rice or dumplings. The broth my grandpa Clarence had eternally simmering on the back of his stove is made from the bones and bits of meat that can’t be removed from a carcass. Veggies are added for nutrition and flavor. A good broth has to be cooked for a very long time to extract its healing properties and will be rich and dark in color when it’s finished. This can be sipped plain or used to replace some of the water in recipes that call for cooking liquid.

So as far as me and my grandparents, broth is not stock. So with ALLLL that background info, I’ll get to my point. Each week, I take bones from my chicken and the veggies that I poached with it and turn it into bone broth. The recipe for this is in a separate post.

Ingredients

1 5 lb chicken

4 carrots

1 whole celery heart

2 large leeks or shallots

1 large onion cut in half

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1 inch of ginger

Whole fresh herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro, tarragon and sage

1 bay leaf, fresh if possible

8 peppercorns

3 whole cloves

1 cup white wine (optional)

3/4 lb small mushrooms

1 Tbs salt

1/2 tsp of dried chili flakes (optional)

Stove Top method

Start by chopping all of the vegetables that you have to add to your poached chicken into large pieces. Those suggested above are just a rough guide. You can use absolutely anything you have on hand. Leave out or go light on cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, or turnips. Their strong flavor will overwhelm your dish. Rinse your chicken and remove the giblets.

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Leave all of your herbs as whole as possible to make them easier to remove from finished stock.

Place it in the largest stockpot that you have along with all the other veggies. Add the wine, spices, salt, and herbs. Now cover the chicken with cool water, about 10 cups or more.

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I like to use a generous amount of water so that I end up with lots of stock. If the chicken is floating to the top, place a colander over the top of it to weight it down before covering the pot.

Place the pot over high heat and bring it to a boil quickly. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 20 minutes. If you needed a colander, you can remove it now. Cover your pot again and bring the pot back to a strong boil. Turn the heat off and leave the covered pot to sit for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the exact size of your chicken.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the veggies to a bowl if you would like to eat them with the cooked chicken breast. They are perfectly cooked but will get soggy if left in the broth. You may also reserve these vegetables to use to make bone broth later.

Now remove the chicken into a casserole dish with a pair of strong tongs. Be very careful to approach this part with Julia Child confidence and courage since the chicken is extremely hot and slippery. Let it sit for 10 minutes or more until it has cooled enough to touch. The chicken may fall apart as you remove it so be sure to get all the pieces out of the pot.

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Carefully begin to pull the chicken apart into large pieces. The bones should literally slip out. You may have to work slightly harder to take the breast apart but it should not be difficult. Unless you plan to serve the whole chicken, put the dark meat and breasts into separate containers. Leave the bones and skin in the casserole dish if you plan to start your bone broth on the same day. If you’d like to do your broth on a separate day, put them into a container and refrigerate or freeze them.

Instant Pot Method:

The instructions that follow are for an 8 quart Instant Pot and a 5 pound chicken. If you have a smaller pot and chicken you can use less vegetables and water. The cooking time decreases by about 3 minutes per pound for smaller chickens. You can’t really overcook the meat by cooking it a few minutes too long since it is in liquid. If it’s under cooked, just put it on for a few more minutes.

Start by chopping all of the vegetables that you have to add to your poached chicken into large pieces. Those suggested above are just a rough guide. You can use absolutely anything you have on hand. Leave out or go light on cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, or turnips. Their strong flavor will overwhelm your dish. Rinse your chicken and remove the giblets. Place it in the Instant Pot along with all the other veggies. Add the wine, spices, salt, and herbs. Now cover the chicken with cool water. I like to fill my Instant Pot all the way to the max fill line so that I get tons of broth from each chicken.

Use the pressure cook button to set your pot for 25 min on high pressure. When the pressure cooking has finished, let your pot natural release for at least 20 min.

When the chicken is cooked, remove the veggies to a bowl if you would like to eat them with the cooked chicken breast. They are perfectly cooked but will get soggy if left in the broth. You may also reserve these vegetables to use to make bone broth later.

Now remove the chicken into a casserole dish with a pair of strong tongs. Be very careful to approach this part with Julia Child confidence and courage since the chicken is extremely hot and slippery. Let it sit for 10 minutes or more until it has cooled enough to touch. The chicken may fall apart as you remove it so be sure to get all the pieces out of the pot.

Carefully begin to pull the chicken apart into large pieces. The bones should literally slip out. You may have to work slightly harder to take the breast apart but it should not be difficult. Unless you plan to serve the whole chicken, put the dark meat and breasts into separate containers. Leave the bones and skin in the casserole dish if you plan to start your bone broth on the same day. If you’d like to do your broth on a separate day, put them into a container and refrigerate or freeze them.

Chicken Soup

Dark meat removed and reserved from poached chicken

Broth reserved from poached chicken

4 carrots, chopped

1 whole celery heart, chopped

2 large leeks or shallots, finely minced

1 large onion, finely minced

4 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped fine

4-6 Yukon gold or red potatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces

1 capful apple cider vinegar

dried chili flakes (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

1 cup fresh or frozen baby peas

fresh herbs like dill, basil, chives, or parsley chopped for garnish

1 handful soft greens like mizuna, watercress or arugula

1 green onion, chopped for garnish

Start your soup by sweating the onions, shallots or leeks, carrots, and celery in a large stock pot until they start to soften. Adding a little salt while they saute will help this process. Add the garlic and continue to saute for 90 seconds or until the garlic is fragrant. Add the potatoes and the reserved chicken broth.

Simmer on low until the vegetables become soft but are still al dente. This can take anywhere between 15 and 30 minutes depending on their size. Add the capful  of apple cider vinegar and simmer for 5 minutes.

Taste the soup and add chili flakes, salt, and pepper to taste. Add the peas and reserved chicken. If you are using fresh peas, simmer the soup for 3 minutes to soften them. If the peas are frozen, no further cooking is needed.

At this point, you can cool the soup and refrigerate or freeze it. When you are ready to serve it, put fresh herbs, greens, and green onion into serving bowls, then top with the hot soup. Add cooked rice or pasta for a hearty, nourishing meal.

Mullein Garlic Ear Oil

When I was a young mom, my kids often had earaches. The pain usually intensified in the evening hours when their activity slowed and the pediatrician’s office was closed. I hated the idea of taking them to urgent care when their immune systems were already working hard, knowing they would be exposed to all kinds of new germs. I also read that the majority of earaches and infections were not actually helped by the antibiotics we were running around in the night to get. This motivated me to research effective natural remedies that I could make easily at home.

Over the years, I’ve refined this ear oil process down to a quick and easy procedure that you will love! A few disclaimers before we get started though… First, there is always a very slight risk of botulism when raw garlic is sitting around in oil. Although this risk is extremely low with this oil because it is gently heated, it is still not an edible product.  If you have small children, keep it out of reach and do not let them get it into their mouth when you are treating their ears.

It is also very important that you never put liquid of any kind into an ear where the eardrum has ruptured. If your child has a simple earache from playing outside in the wind or too much swimming, this is perfectly safe to use. If your child has an ear infection, you must check the eardrum before you treat it with this oil. There are two ways that you can do this. First, you can ask your pediatrician to take a quick peek for you. They can look easily and give you the green light to try a natural remedy for a few days. This however does not do anything to avoid the midnight urgent care runs! Another option is to purchase a simple ear scope and look yourself. This is not nearly as complex as it sounds. Here is a link to purchase my favorite ear scope http://www.amazon.com/Notoco-Otoscope-1202-Scope-Specula/dp/B000CEAXEM. This book is full of photographs of eardrums to help you interpret what you are seeing  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0964231417/ref=olp_product_details?ie=UTF8&me=&seller=. I sincerely promise that this is not rocket science. Once you know the eardrum is intact, you can get your oil ready.

You only need three ingredients and about thirty minutes to make this oil. The flowers that this calls for are called mullein flowers. I like to buy them from Mountain Rose Herbs but they should carry them at any local health food store. Buy them at the beginning of cold and flu season so that you are ready to go when the sore ears strike.

Store your mullein flowers inside of an airtight container in a dark pantry. Store your mullein flowers inside of an airtight container in a dark pantry.

You will also need some a few cloves of garlic and some olive oil to make this remedy.photo (68)

Smash the garlic cloves with a heavy knife and place them in a small saucepan. Add a nice handful of mullein flowers in one layer with the garlic. Just cover the ingredients with olive oil and place them on the stove over VERY low heat. Set a timer for ten minutes and stay right with the oil.

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Watch the oil during the ten minutes, making sure that only the tiniest bubbles are forming around the garlic. Do not let the oil sizzle, which will cook the garlic rather than extracting its powerful properties. If the heat seems too high, remove your pot from the fire and then briefly put it back and forth to keep the bubbles small. After ten minutes, set the pot aside and set the timer for another ten minute interval. You can leave the oil sit like this for several hours as well, but I’ve never been able to manage to make this ahead of time and sore ears don’t wait for hours. While you wait, set up a colander with a cheesecloth or paper towel to strain the oil completely.

Strain the oil into a measuring cup so that it will be easy to get into the container you decide to keep it in. Strain the oil into a measuring cup so that it will be easy to get into the container you decide to keep it in.

Once the ten minutes have past, pour the oil into the lined colander to insure that none of the solids make it into your oil.

Audree helped get every drop of oil into the measuring cup. Audree helped get every drop of oil into the measuring cup.

Once most of the oil has strained, squeeze the cheesecloth or paper towel so that none of your ear oil is wasted.

You can find tincture bottles online at at your local health food store. You can find tincture bottles online at at your local health food store.

Place your finished oil into a clean dry container. I like using a tincture bottle since it makes application easier.

Before you use the oil each time, make sure it is sealed tightly and place it into a mug of hot water. Leave it a few minutes until the oil is comfortably warm but not hot. Test it on the inside of your wrist before you place it in your child’s ear. This will make you smell like a garlic clove so your house with be totally protected from vampires.

When the oil is warm, have your child lay on their side (ouchy side up) so that they can comfortably watch a movie or listen to a story for about ten minutes. With a towel nearby, place a few drops of ear oil right into the eardrum. If your patient is young and wiggly, you can put a small piece of cotton at the opening to keep the oil from dripping out. An older child can just hold a towel nearby to grab any drips. Once about ten minutes has past, have the child sit up holding a towel over the ear. Ask them to tip their head to the side so that the oil will drip out. Do not clean out the ear canal because the remaining oil will continue to soothe the ear throughout the day. This ear oil can also be used effectively for adults with earaches or infections. Use the exact directions from above since adults act like babies when they are sick.

Repeat these directions a couple of times a day until the symptoms have passed. This oil will keep in the refrigerator for a few weeks, but I always use it up quickly and make a fresh batch for each sore ear.

Have a vibrantly healthy Fall!

Instant Pot & Stove Top *Bone Broth

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If you plan to use all of your bone broth within a week, a mason jar is perfect for storing it. For longer storage, freeze it flat in a zip-lock bag. I prefer quart bags rather than gallons so that I can use up all of what I defrost.

Bone Broth

Each week as I finish my Monday batch cooking, I start a fresh batch of bone broth. This is an economical step as well as habit that is wonderfully health enriching for my family. It also makes my heart happy since I’m continuing a tradition of the eternally simmering pot that was never absent from the back of my Grandpa Clarence’s stove.

The benefits of bone broth are a popular topic! This amuses me because it is not really a fad, but the resurfacing of a practice that goes back innumerable generations.

It’s popular for good reason. Bone broth is rich in vitamins and minerals to nourish you and your family.  It also contains one amazing element that is generally missing from the Western diet; gelatin!   Gelatin aids in digestion by actually attracting the digestive enzymes to the surface of cooked food particles.  This is a unique benefit because in most cases cooked foods actually repel digestive juices.

Bone broth heals the nerves, improves digestion, reduces allergies, improves joint function, increases the strength and flexibility of bones, and gives us energy and strength.  It is a perfect staple food that can be used on its own, as a nutrition packed ingredient in many recipes, or to enhance the nutrition of grains and pasta.

To prepare to make bone broth, follow the poached chicken recipe here on my blog or save the bones from a whole roast chicken.

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For variety, every few batches of broth, I roast my bones. After I’ve removed all of the meat from the chicken (pictured above), I place the bones in a casserole and put them under the broiler on low. Turn the bones every few minutes so that they become toasty brown on all sides. Be careful removing the casserole from the oven. It will be very hot!

You can also add the vegetables that you used to flavor your cooked chicken to the broth if you don’t plan to eat them. In addition, save all of the peels and cut ends of vegetables that you use throughout the week in a zip-lock. Any veggies that are just passed their prime for serving fresh but not spoiled are a great addition to your broth. You can even add wilted herbs and lettuce. Change up the flavor of your broth by adding chilies, ginger, citrus zest, cloves or allspice… really anything that sounds delicious. Just remember that the flavors of what you add will be concentrated and will end up in other dishes you cook with bone broth like rice.

Ingredients

bones from 1 organic chicken

cold filtered water

1 cup wine (optional)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or lemon juice OR 1 lemon cut in half

1 large onion, quartered

2-4 carrots, roughly chopped

3 celery ribs, roughly chopped

1 bay leaf, fresh if possible

all of the veggie scraps and nearly expired produce you’ve saved (remember that cruciferous vegetables add a strong flavor so use them sparingly or leave them out)

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Stove Top Method

Place all of the ingredients in your largest stock pot and cover with cool water and optional wine.  Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow to simmer covered, for 6-24 hours.  The longer you cook the stock, the more nutritious and flavorful it will be. I cook my broth until the medium sized bones crush easily when pressed with a fork.

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Remove your finished stock from the heat and allow to cool until it is safe to handle.  Strain the stock through a colander or cheese cloth into a large bowl to remove the vegetables and bones.  What you have now is an unsalted broth. Do not add salt to your broth until you are ready to use it so that the amount can be adjusted perfectly for each recipe.

The broth can be stored at this point or simmered to reduce it’s volume (I’d rather keep two mason jars in the fridge than 6 or 8!) and make it richer. To reduce it, place the broth back into the stock pot and simmer until reduced to about 1/4 of it’s original volume. The amount you actually yield will depend on the size of your original cooking vessel and how much water you used. In this state, the broth is wonderful to add to sauces but will be too strong to use alone as soup base or to cook rice or pasta. If using the reduced stock in these applications add about 1/2 stock and 1/2 water to your recipes.

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I like to store the broth in different amounts so that I can use or defrost it easily for various recipes.  I freeze larger amounts to use as the base for soups and stews.  Smaller one and two cup amounts can be frozen for making rice or pasta or for single servings of soup, making a ramen style dish that is dramatically healthier than the packaged stuff.  If you use a Ziploc bag for freezing, the bags can be stacked flat when frozen so that they take up the least freezer space.

Instant Pot Method

After much experimentation with the Instant Pot, I have decided it is my preferred method for making bone broth. It is not necessarily quicker but there are other benefits.

First, I don’t like having an open flame on the stove going while I sleep. If I am going to simmer my broth for more than one day, this means I have to refrigerate it multiple times and then heat it again. It’s a pain! I have tried a crock pot as a solution to this open flame problem but I don’t get soft bones and broth that gels as well when I do it this way. Actually I’ve found that Instant Pot broth gels better than both stove stop and slow cooker broths.

I also don’t love the way bone broth smells when it’s cooking, and Audree flat out hates it! Having it contained during preparation keeps the time the house smell like broth to a minimum. One other little note about smell… You will want to invest in a second sealing ring for your Instant Pot if you want to make things like yogurt or sweets in your pot along with bone broth. Because this has a strong flavor, it will imbue your sealing ring with a meaty flavor that does not cause a problem when making stew or beans but is not Delicious in my Greek yogurt. I use my clear ring that came with the pot for savory foods and a blue one that I bought on Amazon for mild tasting foods and desserts.

The last benefit is that my Instant Pot broth comes out much more clear. This is an aesthetic benefit, but something I like as opposed to the cloudy broth that results from long simmering.

To make your broth, place all of the ingredients in your instant pot and cover with cool water and optional wine. You can use a 6 or 8 quart pot without adjusting the amount of ingredients but your yield will be different.  Cover the pot and move your valve to seal. Now set the pot to high pressure for 4 hours using the manual pressure button. Once the 4 hours have passed, press cancel to turn off the pot. Now without allowing any pressure to release, set the slow cook feature on normal for 12-20 hours. It will natural release during slow cooking, but leaving the pressure in the pot for as long as possible helps break down the bones.

When the slow cooking time has elapsed, I always test the bones with a fork. If the smaller to medium sized bones crush easily, your broth is done. If they are still quite stiff, I pressure cook it for a few more hours before straining it.

Strain the finished stock through a colander or cheese cloth into a large bowl to remove the vegetables and bones.  What you have now is an unsalted broth. Do not add salt to your broth until you are ready to use it so that the amount can be adjusted perfectly for each recipe.

The broth can be stored at this point or simmered to reduce it’s volume (I’d rather keep two mason jars in the fridge than 6 or 8!) and make it richer. To reduce it, place the broth into a stock pot and simmer until reduced to about 1/4 of it’s original volume. In this state, the broth is wonderful to add to sauces but will be too strong to use alone as soup base or to cook rice or pasta. If using the reduced stock in these applications add about 1/2 stock and 1/2 water to your recipes.

I like to store the broth in different amounts so that I can use or defrost it easily in various recipes.  I freeze larger amounts to use as the base for soups and stews.  Smaller one and two cup amounts can be frozen for making rice or pasta or for single servings of soup, making a ramen style dish that is dramatically healthier than the packaged stuff.  If you use a Ziploc bag for freezing, the bags can be stacked flat when frozen so that they take up the least freezer space.

Sore Throat Remedies

If you have nasty bugs causing sore throats and congestion in your house like we have this week, here are some natural suggestions for soothing pain and helping everyone heal quickly.

Brew lose Oolong or black  tea (or seriously, any tea bag you have laying around) with an inch or so of chopped, fresh ginger.  Ginger warms the body, increases circulation, helps with nausea, and is a natural anti-viral.  Add a a small, fresh cayenne pepper for people who like spicy food.  This helps activate the immune system and increases circulation, and causes an endorphin release that will help you feel better right away.

Warming Ginger Tea

Brew lose Oolong or black tea (or seriously, any tea bag you have laying around) with an inch or so of chopped, fresh, ginger root.  Bash the chopped ginger a bit with a mallet or rolling pin to release the juice.  Ginger warms the body, increases circulation, helps with nausea, and is a natural anti-viral. Add a a small, fresh, cayenne (or other small, medium heat) pepper for people who like spicy food. This helps activate the immune system, increases circulation, and causes an endorphin release that will help you feel better right away.

Slippery Elm Capsules

Slippery Elm Capsules

Slippery Elm capsules will soothe the pain of a sore throat.  It’s an easy remedy to use for little ones because it has very little of its own flavor; although Audree still says it tastes bad.  I love it, but I’m crazy like that.

Slippery Elm Tea

Slippery Elm Tea

Open one slippery elm capsule (make sure the bottle says “inner bark”) into a cup of any brewed tea and stir.  Drink this while it’s steamy and warm for the maximum effect.

Ginger Ale

Ginger Ale

If you don’t have any of these remedies available or you are sick too, and not feeling like nature mother, plain ginger ale is a super soothing.  The ginger will calm tummies and the carbonation feels really good on a sore throat.  Try to find a brand that is sweetened with cane juice instead of high fructose corn syrup.  There are several supermarket brands that have natural ingredients so you should find it easily.

Whole fat Greek Yogurt with blackberry preserve swirl

Whole fat Greek yogurt with blackberry preserve swirl

Greek yogurt is good for everything.  This morning we used it to put out the fire of our sore throats.  The yogurt also introduces beneficial bacteria the body needs to get back into balance quickly.  When you buy high quality, natural yogurt, you can control the sugar content and flavor, knowing there is no junk making it taste delicious!