Friday, August 31, 2012

A Grape Anthology

If you recall, it was late autumn when we first moved to the Riddle Ranch.  Absolutely everything was overgrown.  Nothing had been pruned or cared for in ten years.  As we started hacking into vines, shrubs, and trees, we uncovered rock-bordered garden beds, a pomegranate tree, and even grapes.  It really was like discovering a secret garden.


The grape vines are old so we weren't sure if they would produce anything.  We didn't even know what kind of grape vines they were.  With the pregnancy of our fifth (and all the sickness and exhaustion that comes with it), I never got around to trellising them.  Trudging down the steeper part of the hill where the grapes grew was incomprehensible, so it remained a secret as to what kind of grapes we had; or if we had any at all.


Early this March while my parents came to visit and wait for the birth of our baby, my amazing dad took it upon himself to prune the vines once again.  Now with a newborn, I still never got to trellising those grapes.  Last week, I thought I'd take a little peek under the mounds of vines and to my surprise, there were pounds and pounds of gorgeous clusters of every grapey color!  Red, purple, yellow, and green.  What were they all?  The unmistakable roundly dark purple ones were clearly concord.  A dream come true!  I'm still discovering what the rest of them are, but in the meantime I'm enjoying these late summer sunsets with my vines, clipping basketfuls of homegrown goodness.  For now, they are all being de-stemmed and frozen; a favorite treat around here.


How benevolent of these ancient berries to bare fruit after being so neglected.  Next year you will grow on a trellis, my beauties.  I am determined.


I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Simple Spaghetti Meat Sauce (Ragu) ~ A Skillet or Slow Cooker Recipe (GAPS & Paleo-Friendly)


Ah, spaghetti.  It is the time of year where all the sauce ingredients are in season.  This is the recipe I grew up enjoying.  Whether you simmer it in a cast iron skillet or let the slow cooker do the work, it is a welcome, hardy sauce that can be enjoyed over regular noodles or spaghetti squash, making it gluten-free as well as GAPS & Paleo-friendly.

Today, I'm making it in a 12-inch cast iron skillet, where the tomatoes will absorb some of the iron, upping the sauce's nutritional content.  First, we'll brown the meat along with chopped onion an bell pepper (I use the food processor to quickly get this done).  Once the meat is brown and the liquid is down to a minimum, we are ready to add the herbs.


I ran out to the garden for some fresh herb goodness and employed some of the homegrown garlic.  Next year I hope to make this sauce with all homegrown ingredients and I get quite a thrill just thinking about that; totally unashamed about my food nerdyness.


Stir in the herbs, a bit of sweetener to activate the tomatoes, and some tomato paste with water.  Here's a lil' small-space, bulk-buying tip:  use tomato paste instead of sauce.  It is easily rehydrated and saves a lot of room in the pantry.  Then we cover the sauce and let it fill the home with happy smells and allow it to simmer for an hour and a half.  Enjoy it over rice noodles or spaghetti squash.


New to spaghetti squash?  Here's whatcha do:  preheat oven to 350º.  Put about 1/2 cup water in a 9x13-inch baking dish.  Cut the squash in half, lengthwise, and place the halves, open-serface-down, in the dish.  Bake 40-45 minutes.  Allow to cool, then scoop the "noodles" out with a spoon.

Meat sauce with spaghetti squash.
Simple Spaghetti Meat Sauce
Prep time: 20 minutes, cook time: 1 1/2 to 6 hours; Serves 6-8 (hearty servings)
  • 1 pound ground meat of choice (beef, turkey, chicken, venison, moose...)
  • 1 onion
  • 1 bell pepper
  • 3 jars BPA-free tomato paste (this is what I use)
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup olives, sliced or chopped, optional (if you omit olives, add 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (2 if fresh) basil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (2 if fresh) oregano
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  1. Finely chop or minse onion and bell pepper (I use the food processor for this).  Brown meat in the skillet with minced onion and pepper.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients.  To cook in the skillet, simply cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.  To cook in crock pot, put sauce in the slow cooker and simmer on low for 2-6 hours.
  3. Serve over noodles or spaghetti squash, garnish with parmesan cheese, if desired.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Weekly Menu Plan ~ More Back-to-School Breakfasts & Lunches

Grain-Free Dutch Baby Pancake
We survived the first week of school.  New routines are still being learned and fine-tuned, but there were no tardies or late pick-ups, thankfully.  I think this year will be the most structured we've experienced, and it feels like a happy change.

Monday:
To-do:  soak sourdough tortillas
Breakfast:  Grain-Free Biscuits (double batch) with Eggs & Bacon
Lunch:  Sourdough Almond Butter & Homemade Jam Sandwiches, Hummus, Carrot Slices, & Raw Cheese Slices
Dinner:  Slow Cooker Meat Sauce (recipe coming this week) over Spaghetti Squash

Tuesday:
To-do: make sourdough tortillas, soak sourdough English muffins, thaw ground beef
Breakfast:  Paleo Breakfast Bread
Lunch:  Raw Cheese Slices, Fresh Grapes, Tortilla Chips, Paleo Breakfast Bread Squares


Thursday:
To-do: soak porridge, make primal cookies, thaw ground beef for Saturday night
Breakfast:  Scrambled Eggs & Fresh Grapes
Lunch:  Turkey & Cheese Wraps in Homemade Tortillas, Cookie Dough Bites, Fresh Salsa, Tortilla Chips

Friday:
To-do:  soak sourdough pancakes
Breakfast: Porridge & Eggs

Saturday:
To-do:
Breakfast:  Pancake Bar
Lunch:  Irish Nachos
Snack:  Fresh Melon Slices
Dinner:  Taco Salad

Sunday:
To-do: menu plan
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off)

I'm sharing this at Monday ManiaReal Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Easy Homemade Hummus Recipe ~ Akin to Trader Joe's


Homemade hummus has been one of those unconquered challenges for years.  My kids actually like hummus, but only the plain Trader Joe's kind.  I've tried and tried and tried to mimic it to no avail.  Until today.  Huzzah!  And it was so simple!  Now the kids get this in their lunches at least once a week along with carrots, cucumbers, or bell peppers to dip in it.  Hummus also works as a lovely spread for sandwiches and wraps.

Plain & Simple Hummus
Prep time: 5 minutes, Yields: about 2.5 cups
  • 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans (or chickpeas)
  • 3 cloves garlic (if you are using a high-speed blender like the vita-mix, there's no need to peel them.  Just toss 'em in!)
  • juice from 1 lemon (about 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  1. Put all ingredients in a blender (you will get the smoothest results in a high-speed blender like a vita-mix).  Blend on high until desired consistency.  You might need to use the agitator to help the blending process.  If you want a thinner hummus, add a little more olive oil or a splash of water, but don't go overboard or it will get too runny.
  2. Store in an airtight container in the fridge or freeze for later use.  Use as a dip for veggies, pita bread, or chips, or as spread on sandwiches and wraps.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back-to-School Lunches: Fun, Waste-Free Gear for Real Food Families

Tomorrow marks the completion of the first week of school - ever - for us.  Even though I couldn't keep my mind off the lunch situation, there were still gaps that needed filling.  So after a whole entire week (tehe) of trial and error, here is the winning combination of packed lunch gear.

Bento Boxes

I adore these!  After buying these BPA-free three-packs, I discovered these cute ones (pictured above). They have all kinds of styles and it's really fun to browse Amazon to find the perfect one for your children.  The ones I have are a very tight squeeze for my kids' lunch boxes, so I love this concept of the bento and lunch box all in one.

Water Bottles
After testing them out over the summer (meaning my kids accidentally dropping them countless times), these hold up beautifully with no threat of breaking.  I love that there will be no hint of plastic or metal taste in my children's water.  We only pack water for our kids lunches (no juice).   They are dishwasher safe and I love that you can see into them to be sure they are nice and clean.

There's nothing like opening a thermos full of warm, homemade soup to taste a little bit of home while away.  It's also one of the most healthy, protein-filled dishes you can nourish your body with, not to mention how incredibly frugal it is.


I started the year with these unbleached muffin liners and then came across these reusable beauties.    Muffins are awesome for packed lunches (here are some of my grain-free recipes).  These liners are safe to bake with (up to 500º) and they also come in handy as food dividers in the large section of the bento, as seen below (with the disposable kind, before I discovered these guys).

Carrots, homemade hummus, cookie dough bites, mostly raw wrap.

There you have it, folks.  This is how we are keeping packed lunches waste-free and healthy.  Do you have anything to add to this?  This school lunch rookie is always looking for tips.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Weekly Menu Plan ~ Back-to-School Breakfasts & Lunches

By the grace of God and coffee, I will make it through this week.
To say that the majority of my thoughts have been consumed by this particular menu plan would be an understatement.  It's all I've thought about.  Breakfast before 8:00?  Packed lunches every weekday?  How do you people do it?!  Well folks.  Here's my attempt at being a mom of three school-going children for the very first time.  Using no boxed cereal.  With all real food.  And gluten-free.

Monday:
Lunch:  Sourdough Peanut Butter & Homemade Jam Sandwiches, raw carrot slices, hummus, fruit leather
Dinner:  Sour Cream Noodle Melt using Rice Noodles

Tuesday:
Lunch:  Mostly Raw Wraps, Baked Oatmeal Squares, Fresh Grapes

Wednesday:
To do:  make chocolate chip cookie dough dip, thaw ground beef for Friday night
Lunch:  Sourdough English Muffin Sandwiches,Watermelon Slices, Raw Cheese Slices
Dinner:  Mexican Food Bar

Thursday:
To do: freeze smoothie pops, soak porridge
Breakfast:  Scrambled Eggs & Grapes
Lunch:  Ham & Cheese Roll-ups, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip with Apple Slices, Tortilla Chips
Dinner:  Quesorritos & Salad

Friday:
To do: soak sourdough pancakes
Breakfast:  Porridge & Eggs
Snack:  Cantaloupe Slices
Dinner:  Cheeseburger Patties on Top of Lettuce, tomato, and cucumbers & Potato Wedges

Saturday:
Breakfast: Pancake Bar
Lunch:  Irish Nachos

Sunday:
To do: menu plan
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off)

Have a lovely week!

Friday, August 17, 2012

PROBLEM: Hand Sanitizer SOLUTION: Hand Sanitizer


Back in the day when we only had two kids and I was just starting to embark on this healthy lifestyle thing, I thought I was protecting my family's health by slathering them with hand sanitizer any time they came in contact with... anything.  Then I found the Environmental Working Group and their breakdown on what hand sanitizer actually does.  I was shocked to find that not only is antibacterial hand sanitizer less effective than using warm water and non-antibacterial soap, it can also contribute to:
  • Cancer
  • Developmental/reproductive toxicity
  • Allergies and immunotoxicity
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Endocrine disruption
  • Organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)
  • Irritation (skin, eyes, or lungs)
  • Biochemical or cellular level changes
Away went the hand sanitizer and all antibacterial soap.  In it's place returned good ol' fashioned soap and warm water.  This didn't, however, help when we found ourselves at parks, on hikes, or out fishing where there is no sink or warm water to speak of and it was lunch time.  What finally drove me to find a solution was when I saw "hand sanitizer" on one of those foreign-to-me school supply lists.  Eek!  This is a first experience where my kids will be regularly faced with choices and mind-sets that differ from ours.  I knew it was coming and I know it will continue to come throughout this first school year.  The year of finding solutions starts today.



The first place I checked was the ever reliable Tropical Traditions and they didn't disappoint. There, I found thyme-extract-based hand sanitizer.  Finding a solution was easier than I thought!  To make it even more affordable, I can utilize their new 10% off coupon code (with a minimum $16 purchase): 21282.

I plan on having a steady supply and will keep one in my purse (which is currently a diaper bag) and for those above-mentioned day trips to pumpkin patches, you-picks, fishing trips, hikes, and parks for when it's time for a yummy picnic lunch.  I also plan to ask my child's teacher if he wouldn't mind that I supply all of his hand-sanitizing needs for the year with it (and explain to him why I think it's important enough to make this kind of financial investment to protect the whole class).  I totally understand his desire to keep germs at bay.  His wife just had a baby and I wouldn't want my husband bringing home all kinds of germs, either.  I have an infant of my own that I want to protect.

One of the blog's kind Facebook followers provided a link to a recipe for homemade hand sanitizer that I thought I'd also pass along.  I haven't made it yet so am unable to personally recommend it, but the ingredients look clean.

Here's to a healthy school year, both at home, outdoors, and in class!

Benefect Botanical Hand Sanitizer - 4 oz Pump Spray

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Cookies Are A Sometimes Food ~ A "Healthy" Chocolate Chip Oat Cookie Recipe


A cookie can be scrumptious.  Crunchy, sweet, or yumptious.  But a cookie is a sometimes food.
~Cookie Monster

Why is "healthy" in quotations?  Well, they are healthy because these cookies are made with spelt, oats, and unrefined muscovado sugar.  They are not healthy because the grains aren't soaked, soured, or sprouted. But here's the deal.  I modified this recipe slightly to remove any refined ingredients, but these are the cookies of my youth.  I have a long-standing love for them.  They render any self control useless.  You might try making them with sprouted flour, but I can't bring myself to modify this recipe any more than I already have.

When my brother and I were with baby-sitters, these cookies and I would rendezvous under the guise of hide-and-seek.  I generously let the baby-sitter count while I grabbed as many cookies as I could, stashed them in various corners of the house, and inhaled as many as possible before hearing "ready or not, here I come!"  When my parents returned and wondered what happened to all the cookies, I was provoked to reply, "That baby-sitter sure did love them.  I've never seen anyone eat so many cookies at once."

The cookies made me do it.

Maybe this recipe shouldn't be shared.  It's powers are too strong.

The fact that I'm posting a recipe that doesn't include soaking or souring and the fact that we are sending three of our kids to school this year probably has some of you interceding for my salvation.  Fear not.  My home schooling roots run deep and we plan on returning to edumacating at home.  As for these cookies?  I probably make about four batches a year and freeze them to only eat little bits at a time.  The only problem is I discovered that frozen cookies are delicious.  Now they live in the barn's chest freezer to distance myself from them.  I figure the Jewish people eat unleavened bread once a week, so it won't hurt us to eat unleavened cookies once a quarter.  Just go with it.

I've decided to make a batch, freeze them, and put two cookies in each child's lunch box every Friday as a spacial treat; one for them and one to share.  I hope they share.  The genes aren't in their favor though.  

Powerful Unrefined Chocolate Chip Cookies (eat at your own risk)
Makes about 3 dozen; prep time: 10 minutes, bake time: 15 minutes
  1. Preheat oven to 350º.  Cream butter and sugar thoroughly.  Beat in eggs, one at a time.  Add vanilla.
  2. In a separate bowl, mix, flour, soda, and salt.  Slowly pour in flour mixture into butter mixture while the mixer is on low.   Mix thoroughly.  Stir in oats, then chocolate chips.
  3. Shape loosely into balls, about 2 heaping tablespoons each.  Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown and the middle is still doughy.  Cool on cookie sheets for 2 minutes then transfer each cookie to a cooling rack.
Please excuse the blur.  I was holding a 4-month-old who somehow knew these were good and was trying to grab one.  It's a generational reflex.
TIP:
I take cookies very seriously and feel that most of them are over-baked.  This is an unnecessary travesty that makes me weep.  Here is my rule of thumb:  if the cookies still look raw in the middle but there is a hint of brown on the edges, take them out of the oven.  They will cook a little bit more as they cool on the cookie sheet for two minutes.  Then be sure to transfer them to a cooling rack so they stop cooking.  This will leave you with cookies that are gooey on the inside and crispy on the outside and they hold up beautifully.
One more picture of these beauties, just because.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Preserving: What I Choose To Freeze



Maybe it goes without saying, but I'm an incurable squirrel.  There is this insatiable instinct that kicks in from summer to fall where I have to put food up for the year, whether it's home-grown or not.  I find great satisfaction filling our pantry and freezer with nourishing, homemade staples.  Depending on what I can get my hands on or grow, every year looks a little different.  Since I don't have a pressure canner, I mostly stick to high-acid items to can, like jam, salsa, and tomato sauce.  But I'm not a strict canner, and with the purchase of our first beef cow last February, we put a chest freezer in the barn to expand our freezing capabilities.  Here's a breakdown of what fills our freezer and why:
  • Beans.  Because of BPA and lack of flavor, I stopped buying canned beans years ago.  It is extremely cheap to buy dry beans and they are easy to make.  About once a month, I make a new batch of refried beans to stick in the freezer and pull from.  I'll also soak and cook big batches of black, navy, and garbanzo beans to freeze in batches and pull out for soups, side dishes, and hummus.
  • Berries.  We pick most of the berries we eat ourselves.  We have plans to plant many blueberry bushes, raspberry canes, and a huge strawberry patch, but for now we frequent the no-spray strawberry stand down the road while they are in season.  Some are made into jam, some are eaten fresh, and some are frozen (here's how to freeze them).  There is a you-pick blueberry farm we can utilize for our blueberry stash.  I use some for fruit leathers and freeze the rest.  Wild blackberries grow everywhere up here so we usually choose an August morning to pick as many as we can.  Some are dehydrated and put in scones or snacks and the rest are frozen for smoothies or frozen treats.
  • Beef.  Twice a year we go in with three other families on a grass-fed cow.  This takes up the majority of our chest freezer.
  • Fruit slices.  We'll stock up on peaches, nectarines, and apricots.  After washing, pitting, and slicing them (you may also want to peel them), I lay them out on a cookie sheet, not touching, let them freeze, and put them in an air-tight container and back in the freezer.  They are used for smoothies and crisps.  My kids also like to eat the frozen slices by themselves.
  • Nuts.  We glean walnuts with a friend every October.  The kids and I shell them (they can't be stored in their shells), then I soak, dehydrate, and freeze them for use throughout the year.  We also buy bulk pecans and almonds and I soak, dehydrate, and freeze those too.  Freezing prevents their oils from becoming rancid.  They are used to eat by themselves, put into raw dishes, for pies, or nut butters.
  • Almond flour.  We buy it by the 25-pound box when it's on sale and I freeze it in 5-pound containers to make a plethora of grain free dishes like blueberry banana bars and apple cinnamon coffee cake.
  • Spelt Flour.  After milling spelt berries with my handy dandy WonderMill, I store it in the freezer to keep it fresh.  I use it to make sourdough flatbread and many other baked goods.
  • Seeds.  If you haven't noticed, bulk-buying is my jam, yo.  I soak and dehydrate seeds too, and pull them out when I need them.  I use: sunflower seeds for salads, butters, and raw dishes, sesame seeds for baba ghanoush or anything I feel like sprinkling them on, and chia seeds for smoothies and many other dishes.
  • Coconut flour.  I buy bulk coconut flour here (usually 2-4 bags at a time), pull out one bag at a time to store in the fridge and make things like zucchini chocolate chunk muffins, orange muffinsmaple pecan cupcakes, and pigs in a blanket with it.
  • Corn.  While corn is in season, I boil the cobs, cut off the corn, and freeze it to make things like creamed corn for the oncoming holidays.
  • Green beans.  This is another crop I'm freezing to make our favorite green bean casserole (now modified to be gluten-free) for Thanksgiving.
  • Pies.  Speaking of Thanksgiving, this year I tucked a couple grain-free apricot pies away in the freezer to lighten the load once holiday baking mania hits.
  • Cobblers.  I also made a couple cobblers using the same ingredients of the pie mentioned above sans the pie crust.  Those will be nice to pull out as a treat on a cold winter's night.
  • Cacao.  Another bulk item that resides in the freezer for raw hot chocolate, raw samoas, and other yummy treats. 
  • Leftovers.  They don't happen often these days with all these growing kids running around here, but when we end up with leftovers, I freeze them to pull out on a busy night.  This prevents the urge to fall prey to becoming dependent on drive-thrus or take-outs.
  • Tortillas.  Once I get my tortilla press, I'll start making them again.  For now, I buy them in bulk and freeze those guys, too.
  • Bone stock.  Chicken and beef stock take up a lot of space in the freezer.  We use it for nourishing potato cheddar soup, creamy tomato bisque, warming butternut squash soup, slow cooker beans and greens, slow cooker beef & root veggie stewenchilada sauce, and for cooking rice.
  • Enchilada sauce.  We usually go through one batch of this enchilada sauce a year, frozen in 1-pint mason jars.  Each pint is enough for one batch of these enchiladas.
There ya have it, folks.  These are the things that fill the Riddle freezer.  Please ignore the sounds of squirrel chirps.  Sometimes it escapes me without notice.  What do you like to freeze?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Real Food Weekly Menu Plan #39

There they are again.  Tomato, basil, and avocado on  e v e r y t h i n g  I eat.  It's an addiction.
This is the last week before school starts for us.  It will be the last week I can plan meals the way I have always done: served right after they are prepared.  I've promised myself not to panic about putting together school lunches and getting a nourishing breakfast done in time before we drive the kids to school for the first time ever.  I won't lie.  Most of my thought life is figuring out how to do this traditional school thing without sacrificing our children's health.  It's a tricky one!  You better believe I'll be taking you along for the ride and pleading for help from more experienced families.  In the meantime, I am going to enjoy every single meal this week.  They will be treasured as how life once was.  How life will be again.  But life really does change next week.  For a year.  Icandothis Icandothis.

Monday:
To do: thaw refried beans for Wednesday night
Breakfast:  Cheesy Eggs with tomato, basil, and avocado
Lunch:  Real Food Mac & Cheese
Snack:  Very Cherry Kefir Smoothies
Dinner:  BBQ T-Bone Steaks & Salad


Tuesday:
Snack:  Bell Pepper Slices with Baba Ghanoush
Dinner:  Fish Tacos (using ghee instead of canola oil) & Corn on the Cob

Wednesday:
To do: soak rice for dinner, thaw ground beef for Friday, thaw chicken stock
Breakfast:  Sourdough Bagels with Cream Cheese
Snack:  Watermelon Slices
Dinner:  Mexican Food Bar

Thursday:
To do: soak porridge
Lunch:  Quesorritos topped with Creme Fraiche

Friday:
To do: soak German pancakes, make enchilada sauce
Breakfast:  Porridge & eggs
Lunch:  Grilled Turkey, Tomato, Basil, Avocado Sourdough Sandwiches (pictured above)

Saturday:
Breakfast:  German Pancakes
Lunch:  Irish Nachos

Sunday:
To do: menu plan
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off)

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise Platter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Summer Squash 12 Ways ~ Recipes for the Harvest


If you've ever grown summer squash, you know this is the time of year it takes over.  Before you throw any extra over to the chickens, take a look at my summer squash recipe collection over at Modern Alternative Kitchen.  There's so much you can do with this fruit besides just zucchini bread.

Do you have any methods of using summer squash you'd like to add to the list?  More suggestions are so very welcome for all the squash growers of the land.


I'm sharing this at Monday Mania.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Preserving: Homemade Fruit Roll Ups ~ A Recipe


When I was a child, back in the days before home computers, cell phones, and Internet (my children don't understand how we survived), I loved me a good fruit roll-up.  You'd take the roll out of it's package and peel that leather off the wax paper.  From there, it was a matter of art and personal expression.  Some would roll the fruit leather back up and eat it like a burrito.  Others would hold it flat like a tortilla and take bites off it.  Me?  I rolled it around my thumb and sucked it clean off.  Wait.  I didn't actually just share my technique to the public, did I?  Don't tell anyone.

Now on to more adult-ish talk.  Did you know some kinds of fruit roll ups don't even have any fruit?  And most of them contain high fructose corn syrup (probably GMO), partially hydrogenated soybean oil ( also probably GMO), artificial colors and flavors, and MSG (listed as "natural flavor")?!  What the what?
"Sign me up for eating every horrid ingredient on the planet disguised as a fruit snack!"
Said no one ever.
Fruit leathers are the simplest things to make and the only ingredient needed is -- get this -- fruit!  You may also add spices like cinnamon if you want to get wild and crazy.

I waited forever to make fruit leathers because I thought I needed official non-stick dehydrator sheets. (NOTE: Although they won't be raw, you can still make these in the oven at 170º.  Check on them after 6 hours.) Then I remembered how I used to peel the leathers off the wax and thought, why not dehydrate them right on the wax paper?  Uh, yeah.  So here's how it works.  I've found that filling the blender with fruit will make enough purée for three sheets on the ol' Excalibur.  Depending on how many trays your dehydrator has, make as many batches that you need to fill that thing up.  If you can purée a fruit, you can leather it.  Here's what we're making today:

Peach Cobbler Fruit Roll Ups
Makes about 15, prep: 10 minutes, dehydrate 6-8 hours
  • 2 bananas
  • 4 peaches
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
Peel bananas.  Remove peach pits & cut out any bruises.

 
  
Purée all ingredients in a blender.  You'll get the best results in a high speed blender like a Vita-Mix.  You might need to use the agitator to push fruit down to the blades.


Cover 3 dehydrator trays with wax paper (I like to use this unbleached kind).  Pour 1/3 purée over each tray.  Spread it as evenly as possible over the paper so it will dry evenly.  I use my favorite spatula of all history for this job.


  Remember that the leathers will shrink to less than half their current sizes, so spread them to about this thickness (about 1/3 inch, but no need to get too perfectionistic):


Dehydrate at 105º for about 6-8 hours, depending on the thickness of the leather.  Check on them periodically.  If they are dried for too long, they will become chips.  Not long enough will leave them with soggy spots and unsafe to store at room temperature.  Once they are ready, they'll be firm enough to peel off but not at all brittle.
Roll the sheets up, one at a time, in a tight spiral.


Cut them evenly into fourths.  This will make a sizable roll up.


Now roll individual leathers in plastic wrap.  Store in the pantry.  If they are fully dehydrated with no soggy spots, they should be good at room temperature for six months to a year.


Pros:
  • I love that the leathers have practically no contact with the toxic-leaching plastic wrap with this method.   
  • These are fabulous snacks for on the go and something wonderful to slip into school lunches.  They have been tested on eight picky eaters who love the Trader Joe's fruit leathers and they said they liked these better!
  • Many flavors can be made.  Our favorites are blueberry, strawberry, and raspberry.  We like berries.  And all you use are, well, the berries!  In the fall we look forward to apple roll ups.
Con:
  • I struggle that there is waste involved.  Ya just can't reuse wax paper and plastic wrap, I'm afraid.  
Cost breakdown:
Because it's easiest to see the pricing using a 2-pound box of blueberries, I'm going to pull this from making two batches of blueberry leathers.  Banana leathers are probably the cheapest to make unless you're using homegrown produce, the next cheapest is fruit, then berries.  Two pounds organic blueberries made 2 batches (30 roll-ups), costing 17 cents each.  The fruit leathers we used to buy at Trader Joe's cost 49 cents.  If you are working with homegrown produce or some given to you, these babies are free outside of the wax paper and plastic wrap!

Do I think it's worth it?  Well, all my children enjoy them, it only takes about ten minutes of my time to blend, spread, cut, and wrap many of them at once, and they are super cheap.  I'm in love!  This is definitely one method of preserving we will continue to use.

Thrilled with the size of this fruit roll up.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Weekly Menu Plan. Or Not.

I am currently addicted to avocado, tomato, and basil.  They are showing up on everything.  Here they are smothering some cheesy eggs.
I am happy to announce that our family is going on a real vacation for the first time in over six years!  Although every nook and cranny of the minivan will be stuffed with food, I'm taking a vacation from menu planning.  I'm living on the edge, folks!  If you need some menu planning inspiration, you can browse 38 week's worth of real food weekly menu plans here.

And just what am I bringing with us?  I've scaled it way down to this:
See?  Really just the bare essentials.  Ahem.  I'll seek help when I return.


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