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Deliciously Organic: November 2009

Deliciously Organic

A blog devoted entirely to simple, wholesome, organic cooking.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Peppermint Mocha

Now that the holiday season is here I should probably confess to you that I love coffee.  I don't just like coffee, but I really, really enjoy it.   I know I shouldn't, and I know all of the reasons why it's not nutritious and it's my one weaknesses.  (we all struggle with something, right?)  Now, don't get the idea that I walk around with a cup in hand all day, but I do love the delicious flavor of coffee on a cold morning or meeting up with a friend and lingering over a steaming cup with rich cream and honey. 

Nothing says Christmastime to me more than a tall peppermint mocha.  The peppermint/chocolate/coffee combination is heavenily and the first sip makes me breath calmer and slow my pace. I love going to Barnes and Noble, ordering a peppermint mocha, and then browsing around the bookstore seeing what's new.  I usually get stuck in the cookbook section and could probably spend days in that tiny nook of the store. One day last year, while the kids were in school I went to our local B+N, ordered my peppermint mocha, started browsing, and lifted the cup to my lips to take that first sip and the next thing I knew, I was covered in hot coffee.  I looked up, no one was around, and I thought, "Wow, well this is nice, I'm standing in the middle of the bookstore, burned, and I have coffee all down my clothing and on the carpet.  I decided I wasn't going to let it ruin my time alone at a bookstore without the kids, so I slyly walked away from my mess (it's not like I had paper towels to clean it up), cleaned myself up, ordered another mocha and went on with my browsing (with a huge brown stain down my outfit).  After that incident I'm a little freakish about making sure my lid is on tight when I order any sort of hot drink.

The other day I decided since the Christmas season is here I really should come up with my own recipe for peppermint mocha using herbal coffee (much healthier), cocao powder, peppermint extract and whipped cream.  The result?  Well, let's just say I'll save some money now that I have a wholesome organic peppermint mocha recipe that I can make at home and I don't have to feel guilty afterwards!  Now all I need is to find some organic, all-natural red sprinkles to put on the top and I'll have Christmas in a cup.

Peppermint Mocha
Makes 1 8-ounce serving

1 1/2 Tablespoons cocao powder
1 1/2 Tablespoons rapadura (dehydrated cane juice)
6 ounces whole milk
2 ounces strong brewed herbal coffee (I use teeccino)
a splash of peppermint extract
2 Tablespoons whipped cream

Whisk together milk, cocao powder and rapadura in a small saucepan over medium heat. When milk begins to steam take off of heat and pour into a mug.  Add the herbal coffee and splash of peppermint extract. Top with a large dallop of whipped cream.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Food Inc.

I played a ton with my camera this week and here are a few pictures from our Thanksgiving.  My husband  woke up at 3:30am to smoke this turkey.  We injected it the night before with garlic butter and then covered it with Herbamare.  It's the most mouth-watering turkey I've ever gravy needed.  Pecan pie has to be one of my all-time favorite and I wait all year for that one slice.  It's worth every minute in the gym the next day.

We finished the weekend off watching Food Inc.  If you haven't seen this movie, it's now on DVD and I highly recommend watching it.  Food Inc. is a incredibly informative documentary about our food supply and it's communicated in a very approachable way.  It was a great movie to watch right after I finished The Omnivore’s Dilemma . (I just bought the kid's version for my daughters to read.)  One of the topics in the movie that shocked me are the Veggie Libel Laws.  The Veggie Libel Law were passed in 13 states and make it easy for food producers to sue their critics.  So for example, since I live in the state of FL I can't make any negative comments about a specific food without the threat of being sued by that company.  This concept really sunk in with me last night as I was watching the movie and I just can't believe that there are companies in America that have basically taken away part of the first amendment. 

The movie also reinforced to me why to buy from small farms and knowing how they raise thier animals and grow thier crops.  There was a couple in the movie that were at Polyface farms in Virginia that said they drive several hundred miles just to buy their meat.  I turned to my husband and said, "That's us!"  Once a year I drive across FL to meet up with Jenny from Peaceful Pastures to pick-up my years supply of meat.  Knowing that the meat I eat is raised on the pasture is extremely important especially on a nutritional level.

The official website for Food Inc. is fulled with helpful articles and resources.  There is also a page on the site where you can sign the petition for the Child Nutrition Act to support healthy food choices in schools.  This is a topic that is very close to my heart since my kids are school age now.  Every time I go have lunch with my kids at school my heart aches when I see what the other kids are eating.  Their plates are filled with sugar, processed meats and refined carbohydrates.  Please take a moment to sign the petition to help make a change. 

One of the last topics talked about on Food Inc. is how we can tell the food producers what we want with our choices at the grocery store.  If we start buying more organic fruits, vegetables and meat the companies will supply what is being demanded.  We can all start voting with our forks and follow the simple principle, "If you can't read it don't eat it". 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sweet Potato Casserole

Each year when Thanksgiving week comes I look back over the year and am always amazed at the blessings in my life. I have a wonderful husband who I love more than the day I married him, two adorable kids who bring laughter and joy into my life each day, a loving and supportive family, amazing friends who encourage me, and a place that I can call home.

I'm thankful I live in a free country, and for those who serve to keep us safe. To those of your who are without your loved ones this holiday season, I've my heart goes out to you. 

Last of all, I am so thankful for all of you, my readers. I can't tell you how encouraging it is to read your comments and have the opportunity to create new, healthy recipes for you.  Even though I have never met many of you, I feel we are becoming friends.

I hope this week you have a blessed time with your friends and family.

Sweet Potato Casserole
The sugary pecans and buttery sweet potatoes are such a divine combination. This is my Grandma's recipe that I've tweaked a bit to use only whole, organic ingredients. If you haven't found a sweet potato casserole recipe for Thanksgiving yet, this one is super simple to prepare and makes great leftovers.
Serves 6-8

3 cups sweet potatoes, cooked and mashed
1/2 cup rapadura
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup rapadura
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 cup pecans chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix together sweet potatoes, rapadura, eggs, butter, milk and vanilla in a large bowl.  Pour into a 8x8 buttered dish.  Mix together the topping ingredients and sprinkle over the casserole.  Bake for 35 minutes or until casserole is bubbly and topping is golden brown.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Chocolate Caramel Bars

A few weeks ago my husband bought me a camera and I've had such a blast figuring out how to use it.  The camera came with one rule that I had to agree to before the purchase; if he bought it for me, I would NEVER ask him to carry it around.  Can you tell he's not much of a camera guy?  What's funny is he married into a family that's full of shutterbugs.  My Dad will casually shoot a few hundred photographs at a normal family gathering.  My brother Luke has a video production company so he pulls out the cameras also . . . Let's just say that our last family vacation was incredibly well documented.  I think we had over 1000 pictures. 

When Pete and I got married, he was stunned at the fact that there was always a camera around (I've had to plead with to him to be in at least one picture in my upcoming cookbook!)  Years ago he would make comments like, "Doesn't it bug you that there's always a camera out at family gatherings?"  I hadn't really noticed.  Last year my Dad gave my brothers and I DVDs of all of our family videos (there were 81!).  We were watching one late one night and there I was, about 8 years old, dancing in the living room with my two brothers being filmed with a HUGE umbrella light in the corner.  When Pete saw it he said, "Oh my gosh, now I get it!  You don't even notice the cameras because you were constantly being filmed and photographed as a kid!"  Yeah, I guess that pretty much explains it.

Since I received my camera, I've read tutorial after tutorial and can't wait to cook something new, throw it on the table and see what kind of pictures I can come up with.  I've called my brother and he's given me some quick tutorials and we've been bonding over things like aperture and f/stops.  Each day, I kiss my husband good-bye, get the kids off to school, and quickly pull out my tripod, camera and some food . . . it's like an addiction, I just can't get enough.  The timing of all of this is quite humorous given the fact that I have more to do in the next 5 weeks then I can possibly handle.  I guess the camera is providing an outlet during this insanely busy time in our family.

I was going to wait until December to share this recipe with you, but I just couldn't.  I found it in a Martha Stewart magazine the other day and thought for sure I could change up the ingredients a bit using whole wheat flour and such.  The end product is a recipe I'll be using at the holidays for many years to come.  A batch of these would be perfect to make for that first evening you have family in for the holidays or to bring as a hostess gift.  They're best when made the day before so they can sit overnight in the fridge.

Chocolate Caramel Bars
Adapted from "Martha Stewart Living" magazine. 
Yields 16

3 tablespoons organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1 1 /2 cups plus 1 tablespoon whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into tablespoons

10 ounces dark organic chocolate (I like Green and Blacks)
1 1/2 cups organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
1/4 cup water
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt, for garnishing

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 8 x 8-inch square pan with unbleached parchment paper. Leave an overhang on all sides. Lightly butter the parchment inside the pan and then set aside. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together whole cane sugar, maple syrup, flour and salt to combine. Add butter and process until dough begins to come together. Pour dough out onto pan and press evenly into pan. Bake for 30 minutes, until golden brown.

Place chocolate in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat whole cane sugar and water over medium heat.  Simmer until it reads 220°F on a candy thermometer, about 6-7 minutes. Remove from heat and add the butter, cream, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Put saucepan back over heat and bring to a boil, stirring until smooth. Pour mixture over chocolate and let mixture sit for 1 minute. Whisk together until smooth and then pour mixture over crust. Refrigerate overnight. To serve carefully lift up on the parchment paper to release the bars from the pan. Cut bars using a knife dipped in hot water and then quickly dried. Sprinkle with sea salt. These bars can be kept in the fridge for at least 3 days.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Pumpkin Pie

I can hardly believe Thanksgiving is just next week! Our family is moving to Southern California the week before Christmas (yes, I know, not the best timing) so due to thinking so much about our move (and testing recipes, and finishing up the manuscript for my cookbook) it finally dawned on me yesterday that I need to start thinking about what I am going to make for Thanksgiving dinner.

I am a huge fan of making as much of my Thanksgiving dinner in advance, and my pumpkin pie recipe can be made many months ahead of time. So many pumpkin pies I've tried are cloyingly sweet, heavy, and stick to the roof of your mouth, but this pie is light with a custard-like filling. The filling freezes very well, so you can make it and freeze it up to 3 months in advance. The pie crust can also be frozen so all you have to do the night before is: set your filling out on the counter to thaw, let your pie crust thaw in the fridge, roll out the dough the following morning, pour in the filling, and bake!

My husband loves to eat hard sauce with his pumpkin pie. Unfortunately, due to the extreme processing of the ingredients it would be down-right shameful to post the recipe (it's a mixture of powdered sugar and amaretto) but I will at least admit that it is eaten in our house on Thanksgiving. It's fun to have him in the kitchen stirring and tasting for about an hour until it's just the way he likes it. He puts the bowl in the fridge and then comes in the kitchen every 30 minutes or so to eat another spoonful. I, on the other hand, prefer to eat my pie with a large dollop of whipped cream...and I can post those ingredients.

Pumpkin Pie
Keep in mind that the pie crust recipe makes 2 9-inch crusts. 
Serves 8

1 unbaked pie shell (click here for pie crust recipe)

3/4 cup organic whole cane sugar or sucanat (to read more about this sugar click here)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon soft wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of sea salt
3/4 cup pureed pumpkin
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup coconut milk

Preheat oven to 450°F and adjust rack to middle position. Whisk together whole cane sugar, maple syrup, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and pinch of salt together in large bowl. Pour in pumpkin and whisk. Add eggs and milks to mixture and whisk until combined. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 350°F and bake for an additional 30 minutes until edges of pie are set. Cool to room temperature before serving.

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Red Pepper, Corn and Potato Soup

This past week my husband and I took the kids to Disney World. We had a fabulous time watching the girls eyes fill with wonder and excitement, eating all sorts of new foods, and being away from the distractions of daily life.

On Monday we went on a ride that was about the "land we live in" and the message sent to us on the ride really surprised me. They talked about how wonderful it is that we have new technologies that enable us to grow all sorts of crops no matter what the climate and to also yield huge amounts of foods quickly. They talked about genetically modified foods, hybrid produce and fish, and fish farming. They talked about plants such as the tomato tree that was a "new" type of tree that lasts longer than any other tomato plant and produces more tomatoes. They also talked about how the farming methods of old are damaging and now we have new ways of farming that are bigger and better.

This was all coming from the perspective that all of these things are enabling us to produce more food and that the food is also "safer" to eat. I was intrigued that millions of people ride this ride each year and are told only one side of that story. We aren't told about the modifications to the cells that are made and the studies that are coming out almost monthly proving they are harmful for us. We aren't told about the antibiotics that are fed to the farmed fish since they aren't in their normal environment. We aren't told about the countries like Africa that won't even take America’s "new and improved" (gm) crops because of health concerns.

The interesting thing is that Disney is sending this message. From what I could tell, they are really trying to improve things, but I don't know if taking fish out of their natural environment and changing the structure of the cells of plants improves our food supply.  It seems to me it makes it more processed and not the way nature intended. Genetically modified foods, such as the roundup ready seed, are changed at the cellular level by adding roundup to the cell so that when the plant is grown roundup can be sprayed on the plant and the plant won’t die. This type of genetic modification is being done to: corn, potatoes, canola seed, alfalfa, papaya, soybean, and sugar beets. How can plants that have traces of roundup in them be healthy for us to eat?

You may be reading my blog today for the first time and haven’t thought about organics much or whether gmo foods are good for us or not, and I'm glad you're here reading today. Seven years ago, before I began my journey down the path of organics I'd never thought about any of these things either and since reading and studying about them I’ve learned that you can't believe the all of latest studies about health or the advertising on that package of cereal in the pantry. I hope to encourage you to take a closer look at those ingredients in your pantry and fridge and dig deep to find out how those ingredients are made and where they are coming from.

So after a week of being away from the kitchen, I was ready for something nourishing and comforting and this soup fit perfectly. The soup is very simple to put together, keeps for several days in the fridge and also freezes well.

Red Pepper, Corn and Potato Soup
If you would like your soup to be spicier then add an extra chipotle or two. Serves 8

3 pounds Yukon potatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 bag frozen corn, thawed
1 red pepper, roasted and skins peeled*
1 28 ounce can diced tomatoes
1 chipotle in adobo
6 tablespoons fresh cream
2 green onions, chopped

Place potatoes in large pot; pour chicken broth over potatoes and then top off with water until liquid covers the potatoes by an inch. Cook until tender. Meanwhile, puree the red pepper, corn, tomatoes, and chipotle in bowl of food processor. Set aside. When potatoes are tender, pour corn mixture into pot. Using an immersion blender, blend soup until smooth (or process in batches in the food processor or blender). Season with salt and pepper. Serve with a drizzle of fresh cream and chopped green onions.

*To roast the pepper: Heat broiler in oven on high. Place red pepper in oven and broil until skin turns brown. Rotate pepper. Repeat. Continue to broil until all sides are brown. Take out of the oven and immediately place in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. After 10 minutes, remove plastic wrap from bowl and the skins will peel right off of the pepper.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Potpies

I think I found my husband's favorite dish. After making these pot pies the other night he told me the next day he was sitting at his desk craving them.  The crust is flaky and buttery with crispy edges enveloping a mixture of creamy chicken and mushrooms.

You might look down at the crust recipe and gasp that I am using white flour. This is the only time you will ever see me use white flour. I have tried for years to come up with a whole wheat crust recipe that tastes like my family recipe but I haven't found a way to do it without a bit of white flour.  I hope in the future to come up with the right whole wheat flour combination, and when I do I'll make sure to share it with you. 

By the way, I entered my chocolate cake in the Bon Appetit blog contest. I'd love it if you took a moment to vote for me:

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pies
Serves 4
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold
1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 1/4 teaspoons coarse sea salt
10 tablespoons ice water

Pulse together flours and sea salt in bowl of food processor to combine. Add all of the butter and pulse,  about 10 1-second pulses, until the mixture looks like wet sand. Add water one tablespoon at a time, pulsing briefly after each addition. Pour mixture out onto a clean counter and form into two disks. Wrap disks and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes.

3 chicken breasts
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, minced
5 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Preheat oven to 375°F and adjust rack to middle position. Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and roast in oven for 35-40 minutes until cooked through. Remove from oven, cool for 10 minutes, and shred chicken. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and mushrooms and saute until mushrooms have released their juices and onions are soft, about 10-12 minutes. Make a well in the center of the pan and add garlic and thyme. Stir garlic mixture in the middle of the pan until you can smell the heavy aroma of the herbs, about 30 seconds and then stir into mushroom mixture. Add cream, chicken, and salt. Divide mixture into 4-8ounce ramekins.

Roll dough out on a floured surface until 1/4-inch thick. Cut circles out of dough that are just a little bit bigger than the size of the ramekin. Place a circle of dough on top of ramekin and press on the sides to seal. Repeat until all 4 ramekins are covered with dough. Bake for 25 minutes, or until dough is golden brown. Let rest about 5 minutes before serving.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Homemade Vanilla

It still amazes me how many preservatives and additives are in the little things we use in the kitchen.  Take a look at the ingredient list on bottle of vanilla in your pantry; there should only be three ingredients - vanilla beans, alcohol, and water.  Most vanilla extract sold in stores is not a pure product.  Some vanilla extract contains a petroleum product called, "ethylvanillin" and some Mexican vanillas don't even use real vanilla beans but instead use "tonka" beans which can be toxic if consumed in high doses. Other ingredients found in vanilla extracts are: caramel coloring, sugar, and corn syrup.  If you are doing your best to bake with whole, organic ingredients then it's a good idea to make sure your vanilla, spices, and condiments are coming from good sources also.

After chatting a bit with some of the ladies from Rodelle (a company that sells some amazing organic vanilla) they informed me that in order for vanilla to be classified as an "extract" you need 18-20 vanilla beans per 750ml of alcohol.  They also told me that in order to get the best flavor out of your beans you can chop them up before adding them to the alcohol, or let the whole beans ferment in the alcohol for at least 2 months.  Homemade vanilla lasts a couple of years if kept in a cool dark place and there is the added benefit of having wonderful fermented vanilla beans in your pantry to be used in your baking.

A few months ago I decided to make my own, so I bought 25 vanilla beans from a mail order company (about $14 with shipping), and a bottle of organic vodka ($14).  I was able to make a large 24 ounce jar of pure vanilla extract.  (I normally would have paid over $60 for the same amount of organic vanilla extract.) The best part is that as you use your vanilla, you can top it off with some more vodka to make more! 

Homemade Vanilla
Yields 24 ounces

1 24 ounce mason jar (or other jar of your choice)
18-20 vanilla beans (chopped, if you don't have 2 months to let them ferment)
1 bottle organic vodka

Place vanilla beans in jar and pour vodka over beans.  Make sure the lid is on tight and store in a dark, cool place.  If you chopped your vanilla beans then let mixture sit about 3 weeks before using.  If using whole beans then let the mixture sit for 2 months.  Shake bottle before using. 

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Chocolate Cake to Celebrate

After three years of cooking, testing recipes, writing, and sending out proposals; I'm elated to tell you that I have signed a book deal! My cookbook, Deliciously Organic, will be coming out in the fall of 2010! AND, as if it couldn't get any better, Helen from Tartelette will be doing the photography! I can't even tell you how thrilled I am to work with her.

To celebrate, I thought it fitting to whip up a chocolate cake with dreamy, light as air, chocolate frosting. The cake is moist, dense, full of rich chocolate, and topped with the dreamiest chocolate buttercream frosting.  It's the kind of cake you'll want to eat alone, so you can close your eyes and enjoy every little morsel.

Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook" by Ina Garten

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup cocao powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup butter at room temperature
2/3 cup organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
2/3 cup muscovadosugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brewed herbal coffee

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 9-inch cake pans and then dust with flour, knocking out any excess. In a medium bowl sift the flour, cocao, baking soda and salt. (There will be about 2 tablespoons of bran left in the sifter, discard.) In a small bowl mix together buttermilk, sour cream and herbal coffee. In bowl of mixer, with paddle attachment, cream the butter, whole cane sugar and muscovado. Start on low speed and then increase to high. Beat for about 5 minutes, until light. Add the eggs and vanilla and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Scrape down bowl. With mixer on low speed add a 1/3 of the buttermilk mixture followed by 1/3 of the flour mixture.  Repeat twice ending with the flour mixture. Mix until just incorporated. 

Pour batter into prepared pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool on a cooling rack, for about 10 minutes, and then remove from pans and cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

8 ounces semisweet chocolate
4 large eggs
1 cup organic whole cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
1 pound unsalted butter, softened, each stick cut into tablespoons

Melt chocolate over a double boiler and set aside to cool. In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine eggs, whole cane sugar, vanilla and pinch of salt. Set bowl over pot of simmering water. Whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 degrees, about 5 minutes. Beat egg mixture on medium-high with whisk attachment until light and billowy, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and add butter one tablespoon at a time. When all of the butter is added turn off mixer and add chocolate. Whisk entire mixture for 1 minute on high until light and fluffy. 

To assemble:  Place one cake layer on cake stand and top with about 3/4 cup of icing.  Place second layer on top and front the top and sides.