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Deliciously Organic: May 2010

Deliciously Organic

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

Apricot Preserves

This weekend my friend and I loaded the kids in the car and drove out to a large self-pick farm. The farm was full of ripe blueberries, plums, apricots, blackberries, and peaches. The kids walked cheerfully through the blueberry bushes carrying little pint-sized containers and picked berries to their heart's content. Several times I looked back and saw my youngest grabbing large handfuls of berries and popping them in her mouth.  It's a memory I'll carry ingrained in my mind forever. I simply love seeing my kids out in the elements, picking fruits and vegetables, understanding where their food actually comes from. 

Sunday afternoon I gave my kids a large sack of apricots to half and pit while I washed and sterilized the jars. They turned on some Taylor Swift and we all sang at the top of our lungs (and shook our hips) as we got all the elements ready for our preserves. It took about an hour of singing and working together to fill the jars - a delightful kid-friendly project for a sunny afternoon. If you don't have kids you could invite a few friends over and have a preserve-making party. Break out some wine, turn up the music and enjoy creating wholesome little jars of goodness.

Apricot Preserves
These preserves are made with honey instead of the traditional white sugar or corn syrup.  A light colored honey such as a clover honey works best in this recipe.
Makes about 4 cups

4 8-ounce jars with lids
1 cup honey
1/4 cup water
2 pounds apricots, halved and pits removed
4 pits, crushed and wrapped in a piece of cheesecloth
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 230°F and adjust rack to middle position.  Wash jars and lids with soap and water and place them on a large baking sheet.  Place jars and lids in the oven.  Bake for 10 minutes until jars and lids are completely dry.  Carefully remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat honey and water to a boil in a large non-reactive pot (such as enameled cast iron, or stainless steel).  When mixture comes to a boil add half of the apricots and pits wrapped in cheesecloth. Simmer mixture until the apricots just begin to soften. Stir in the remaining apricots. Simmer for an additional 30 minutes until all of apricots have softened and are falling apart. Stir in lemon juice, remove the pits wrapped in cheesecloth, and remove from the heat. Spoon hot preserves into jars and seal tightly with lids. Cool to room temperature and store in a cool, dark place. Once a jar of preserves has been opened, store it in the refrigerator.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Homemade "Little Debbie" Devil Squares

After experimenting for several years I'm now convinced you can make anything with unrefined, wholesome ingredients.  My repertoire now includes these little snack cakes.  They probably won't sit in a vending machine unspoiled for months, but they taste at least as good as the real thing! 

You can use this cake recipe to make ding dongs or a splended two layer, frosted cake.  In fact, the flavors are so deep and rich you can serve the mini versions at your next dinner party and no one will know they're "snack cakes" (just don't announce it by saying "Ding Dongs for dessert"). 

Most likely because of my sweet tooth, I often get questions about the organic whole cane sugar I use in my recipes.  I wrote a guest post this week at Simple Organic explaining in depth why I love this sweetener and how to practically apply it to your baking and cooking.  It might answer some of your questions, and help you recreate some childhood memories, without the crazy chemicals. 

Homemade Devil Snack Cake
Makes 10 3-inch cakes 

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup cocao powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons brewed herbal coffee (such as teeccino)

3/4 cup butter at room temperature
2/3 cup organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
2/3 cup muscovado
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and adjust rack to middle position. Line a 12 x 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper, oil with butter, and 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 speed to high.  Beat for about 5 minutes, until light.  Lower speed to low and add the eggs and vanilla and mix until just incorporated.  Scrape down the 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 pan and bake for 16 minutes, or until a cake springs back when lightly pressed.  Cool completely.

Adapted from All Recipes

1/3 cup water
3/4 cup organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
3 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Whisk together water, whole cane sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer.  Set bowl over pan of barely simmering water and mix with handheld electric mixer at low speed (you can also do this by hand with a whisk).  Beat until the mixture holds stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.  Place bowl on standing mixer and add vanilla to mixture.  With whisk attachment, whisk mixture an additional two minutes until cool and billowy.


1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 pount organic dark chocolate, finely chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

Whisk together cream and maple syrup in a medium saucepan.  Bring to simmer over low heat.  Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Add butter to chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth.

To assemble:  Cut cake into 20 3x3-inch squares. (Make sure the cake is completely cooled.  If not, it will be difficult to assemble the squares.)  Spoon a few tablespoons of frosting on 10 of the squares and then top with second square of cake.  Spoon 3-4 tablespoons of ganache on each cake and frost top and sides using an off-set spatula.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Homemade Pickles and a Memorial Day Menu

Most of us will fire up the grill this weekend as we celebrate Memorial Day with friends and family. In case you're hosting a get together and need a little inspiration, I've provided a fabulous, organic menu with some of my recipes from the last few months. You may note the addition of the homemade pickles. I enjoyed preparing these pickles with my daughter the other day and when I bit into the first crunchy-salty bite, I decided they're the perfect addition to any barbeque (they also make a great hostess gift).  The recipe is so simple, I don't know why I haven't made them before! 

Homemade Pickles

So give some friends a call, fire-up the grill, and enjoy a great meal as we all remember those who fought and perished for our freedom.

Homemade Pickles
Makes 6 pickles

1 quart-sized mason jar with lid
6 pickling cucumbers, or small cucumbers
3 sprigs fresh dill
1 tablespoon sea salt (Celtic Sea Salt is my favorite)

Put cucumbers and dill in the mason jar.  Pour enough water into jar to just cover the cucumbers.  Add salt.  Screw lid on tightly and gently shake the jar until the salt has dissolved.  Place in a dark, cool spot for 3 days until "pickled".  After 3 days, store in the refrigerator and serve cold.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Raspberry-Strawberry Coolers

Are you addicted to soda? If you're like most of my friends, the answer is a reluctant yes.  It's astonishing how many of us are addicted to these sweet, bubbly drinks.  Who wouldn't want to sip them all day?  An ice cold soda on a hot day is pretty close to taste perfection, but unfortunately it's not very nourishing for the body.  As you probably know, sodas today generally consist of High Fructose Corn Syrup, carbonated water, caffeine, and flavorings.

"Pure fructose contains no enzymes, vitamins, or minerals and robs the body of its micronutrient treasures in order to assimilate itself for physiological use . . . Research indicates that this free fructose interferes with the heart’s use of key minerals like magnesium, copper and chromium. Among other consequences, HFCS has been implicated in elevated blood cholesterol levels and the creation of blood clots. It has been found to inhibit the action of white blood cells so that they are unable to defend the body against harmful foreign invaders . . . Because it is metabolized by the liver, fructose does not cause the pancreas to release insulin the way it normally does. Fructose converts to fat more than any other sugar. This may be one of the reasons Americans continue to get fatter. Fructose raises serum triglycerides significantly." (Bill Sanda, The Double Danger of High Fructose Corn Syrup)

Most people I know realize we shouldn't drink so much soda, but what are the alternatives?  I try to drink water for thirst, but occasionally crave something effervescent.  My favorite soda substitutes are these coolers homemade from berries, lemon, and vanilla bean.  While they don't provide the caffeine of colas, they deliver the cold sweet flavor and fizz we crave. 

Kombucha stands as another excellent alternative.  Kombucha is a fermented drink made from a kombucha mushroom that results in a bubbly drink full of probiotics.  You can find my favorite brand, Synergy, at most health food stores.  Synergy combines their brewed kombucha with fresh juices for a sweet, fabulous combination.

If you want to kick your soda habit, I recommend drinking water first when you're thirsty.  Then, replace your first soda of the day with a drink like the one below or kombucha.  Remember, slow changes make the difference.  You can do it!

Raspberry-Strawberry Cooler
You can use frozen and thawed berries if you can't find fresh ones.
Serves 4

2 cups raspberries
2 cups strawberries
1 lemon, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 vanilla bean (split, seeds scraped, pod reserved; or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract)
1/4 cup honey

4 cups seltzer

Place raspberries, strawberries, lemon, vanilla bean, and honey in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Cook until berries have released most of their juices, about 12 minutes.

Strain mixture through a fine sieve, pressing gently with the back of a spoon.  Discard the solids.  Cool completely.  Mixture will keep for one week in the refrigerator.

To serve: Pour 1/4 cup syrup into 4 ice-filled glasses. Top each with 1 cup seltzer. Serve with lemon wedges.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Grilled Hamburgers with Sour Cream and Herbs

I was born in Dallas, Texas and raised in a 70s ranch-style home in the suburbs. The back of the house featured a spacious L-shaped deck - my favorite childhood spot. The deck was stained cherry red, with a pretty lattice work above for shade, and a built-in bench and swing. My brothers and I spent hours upon hours playing on the deck in the summertime - skipping rope, swinging and reading books, and propping the hose on the lattice work just right to create a cool water spray we considered as fun as any water park in town.  We also gathered wooden spoons from the kitchen and used them outside as microphones for "singing competitions." I confess, I always gave one brother a perfect 10, but downgraded the other's score. Don't ask me why I did it. They still give me grief for it. 

In Dallas, the weather was favorable for grilling year-round. My parents hosted parties on the beautiful deck and my dad would grill up hamburgers, ribs, chicken, and his famous fajitas. The food was always wonderful, but the grilling added family stress because of the legendary flare-ups. I'm not sure if that particular gas grill was poorly constructed or not, but we all knew what to do the second my dad yelled, "Get me some water!" My brothers and I immediately stopped everything else, made a bee-line for the kitchen, grabbed the first generally water-tight container we saw, filled it, and run as fast as our legs could carry us to the deck. My dad quickly doused the flame (and unfortunately the meat). I never thought the flare-up drill was strange. Well, I did question why the grill produced huge, glorious flames every-so-often, but I thought that was the price you paid for grilling. 

When my husband and I were newlyweds, Pete was happily preparing to cook a meal on our new grill when I asked if I should get him a pail of water. He looked at me quizzically and asked why. "Well, for the flare-ups of course!" I explained the entire "flare-up and douse" process and we laughed until our bellies hurt. I'd never seen the humor in the water-dousing drill before.

I haven't seen a single grill flare-up since I left that modest Texas house with the restful back deck. My dad grills almost every time I visit without producing a single shooting flame or urgent cry for "Water!" He has produced some amazing dinners on his new grill, though. He found a recipe for hamburgers that makes me smile just thinking about it. The beef is mixed with sour cream and fresh herbs, topped with grilled red onions, and served on a toasted whole wheat bun. I had forgotten about this creation and found it the other day in my family recipe book and decided to give it a whirl. Oh my. These burgers are good. The sour cream gives the meat a cool flavor and the herbs add a springtime touch. It makes me contemplate adding a hose to our patio roof and busting out the wooden spoons.

Grilled Hamburgers with Sour Cream and Herbs
Serves 4

1 pound ground beef (grass-fed preferred)
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
1 teaspoon parsley
1/4 freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 teaspoons coconut oil

4 whole wheat hamburger buns
Condiments of your choice

Gently massage ground beef, sour cream, thyme, rosemary, parsley, black pepper, and salt until just incorporated.  Divide meat into four portions.  Flatten each portion to 3/4-inch thick.  Gently press center of patty down to create a slight depression, about 1/2-inch diameter.  Cover and chill patties 1 hour and up to 8 hours. 

Coat red onion slices with coconut oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Remove patties from refrigerator and grill to desired doneness. While the patties are grilling, also grill the onion slices until lightly charred. 

Serve hamburger on whole wheat bun and topped with red onions and any condiments of your choice. 

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Friday, May 14, 2010

Strawberry Shortcake

I think it's time to share one of my little pet-peeves.  I keep seeing recipes in books and magazines using the phrase 'Whole Wheat' in the title.  I get excited and start reading, only to find the recipe also calls for white flour.  It seems to me, if a recipe says 'Whole Wheat' in the title, it should't use any refined flour.   It's confusing enough trying to decipher what food labels mean ("All-Natural, Lower-Calorie, Zero Trans-Fats Chemically Enhanced").  Inaccurate recipe titles make matters even more complicated.  I don't think bakers deliberately try to deceive readers.  Maybe they just want credit for including the stuff.  Here's a simple plea to the world of food writers and recipe publishers: "Please, keep 'Whole Wheat' whole!"  Is that too much to ask?

It might be.

The season's first strawberries have arrived at the markets and I decided it was about time to create a whole wheat strawberry shortcake recipe.  Not too dense, not too sweet, buttery, flaky, light, with honey-sweetened strawberries and whipped cream.  I hope you'll enjoy them, even without the magic words in the title.  

Strawberry Shortcake
Adapted from Cooks Illustrated
Serves 6

2 pints strawberries, sliced
2 tablespoons honey

1 ¾ cups whole wheat pastry flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon sea salt
2/3 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
3 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons honey

Preheat oven to 475°F and adjust rack to middle position.  Toss together strawberries and honey in a small bowl. Set aside.  Whisk whole wheat pastry flour, whole wheat flour, baking powder, and salt in large bowl.  In a medium bowl whisk together buttermilk, cooled butter, egg and honey.  Pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients and stir until incorporated.  Spoon 1/3 cup scoops of dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Bake for 15 minutes until tops are golden brown.  Cool for 20 minutes. 

Whip cream and honey together until soft peaks form.  To serve:  Cut each shortcake in half, spoon several tablespoons of whipped cream on the bottom-inside layer of the shortcake.  Spoon strawberries over cream and top with other half of shortcake.  Serve immediately.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Baked Garden Tomatoes with Cheese

Spring is finally here!  I'm a very happy girl seeing markets full of sweet berries, plump sugar snap peas, and the first ripe tomatoes.  I love exploring the market with my kids.  They especially enjoy the free samples.  Last week, we met up with Molly and browsed the market together.  It's a blast shopping with her because she's made a point of really getting to know the farmers.  I've a lot read about this concept in magazines and newspapers, but have never seen it truly practiced.  I was shocked the first time we shopped together seeing nearly every farmer greet Molly by name! 

My kids took to Molly quickly and we all enjoyed collecting our fresh produce and discussing our plans for it.  If you haven't Molly's blog (Organic Spark) you should check it out.  I appreciate how deep she goes with each topic she covers.  She's also working on a TV show called "Farm to Table".  Hopefully, we'll all get to see it soon!

The piles of beautiful spring produce at the markets provide a good reminder to buy organic as much as possible.  Pesticides and herbicides don't stay on the outside skin of produce, they can soak into the flesh, too.  Fruits and vegetables with thin skins absorb the most chemicals.  According to the Environmental  Working Group, different pesticides have been linked to cancer, nervous system toxicity, endocrine (hormone) system effects, and skin, eye, and lung irritation.  If you would like to read further, here is a simple and easy to read website with basic information about pesticides.

My mom gave me this recipe a few years ago and I think it brings out the sweetness of a tomato better than any other recipe I've tried.  You can eat it alone as a side dish, or use it as a topping on fish or thick crusty pieces of sourdough.  May the wondrous variety of the produce markets put a spring in your step!  

Baked Garden Tomatoes with Cheese
Adapted from Epicurious
Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 tablespoons green onion, minced
1 3/4 pounds (about 6) vine-ripened or heirloom tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350°F and adjust rack to middle position.  Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onion and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and green onion sauté for 30 seconds, until fragrant.  Stir in tomatoes and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook until tomatoes just begin to soften, about 5 minutes.  Pour tomato mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish and sprinkle evenly with cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese melts and is golden. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

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Friday, May 7, 2010

Almond Poppyseed Crackers with Ricotta and Honey

Lately I've felt like I should turn my blog into an "organic dessert blog."  Maybe you've noticed the oatmeal cream pies, apple cakes, and lemon meringue pies in the last few weeks.  My mind has been spinning with new dessert ideas and many of them have dribbled out onto the blog.  I've actually had dozens of other desserts I've wanted to share, but forced myself to slow things down and insert a salad or two every once in a while. 

You see, I've been thinking so much about desserts because I've already started on a second book.  With  Helen (Tartelette).  It's a gluten-free dessert book. (ahhh!) I've made list after list of recipes.  Each time I read through them I get all giddy.  I have a serious sweet tooth and to be able to write a book, with an incredibly talented lady, about desserts, well, let's just say I'm a very happy girl. (If you live near me, don't be alarmed if I show up on your front porch unannounced with sweets - it's not like we can eat everything that comes out of the oven this year!) 

In an effort to avoid posting another dessert this week, I went on the hunt for a savory snack to share with you (with a little honey drizzled on top).  I love snacks.  My kids and I munch on fruit and vegetables constantly, but often I want something more substantial - like a crispy cracker.  I haven't yet found a store-bought organic cracker made with only unprocessed ingredients that I really love, so I tend to go without.  I came across this recipe the other day for crispy crackers made with almond meal; they're delicious, crispy and gluten free!

The crackers are great by themselves, but you can take them to the next level by smearing ricotta on top and drizzling them with honey.  Some might enjoy them topped with fruity preserves or a hard cheese.  Be careful though, you might eat the entire pan before you realize it - then you won't have room for dessert!

Almond Poppyseed Crackers with Ricotta and Honey
Adapted loosely from Martha Stewart Living
Makes 12 crackers

1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
1 tablespoon coconut oil (to read about the benefits of this oil click here, for the oil I recommend click here)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 egg white

3/4 cup ricotta cheese (for a recipe to make your own, click here)
1/4 cup honey

Preheat oven to 350°F and adjust rack to middle position.  Stir together almond meal, poppy seeds, coconut oil, salt and egg white until incorporated.  Lay a 16-inch long piece of parchment paper on the counter.  Pour dough onto parchment paper and cover with an additional piece of parchment paper.  Using a rolling pin, roll the dough to an 8 x 12-inch rectangle.  Uncover and cut the dough into 2 x 4-inch crackers with a paring knife.  Transfer parchment paper with cracker dough onto a baking sheet.  Bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown.  Cool to room temperature.

To serve: Spread 1 tablespoon of ricotta onto each cracker and drizzle with honey.  Serve immediately.

Soaked Method:  Follow instructions above and bake crackers at 160°F for 8-10 hours, or until crispy.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Mini Coffee Almond Teacakes

Last week I enjoyed a fabulous lunch in Dallas with several people who've been working on my cookbook.  I'm truly blessed by the talented team designing, editing, and photographing this project. Our meal featured quick, witty humor and loads of laughter. The following day we shot the book's cover photo. My mom and grandma came so David could get a photo of us to include in the book. It was special have the three of us there, especially since I've been greatly influenced by their teaching. The shoot was a blast for the first 2 hours, but then I started having thoughts like, "I'd kind-of rather wash my face, put on my worn-in apron, and cook at home with my kids." I realized I'm definitely most comfortable at home, at the stove. Don't get me wrong, the photo shoot was fantastic, but not exactly something I want to on a regular basis.

The week full of meetings allowed another bonus - visiting nearby family.  My Dad and I visited a brand-new Whole Foods off I-75; it was the biggest one I've ever seen.  It featured a wine and cheese bar, kombucha on tap (woot!), and 20 different types of sugar sold in bulk - just to name a few things.  For those of you in the Dallas area, it's definitely worth a visit.  I think I'd go broke if I shopped there every week. 

After I got back home I was thrilled to throw on my "well-worn" apron again (my friends actually made me buy a new one because they say it's not attractive . . . I wear the new one when they're around and pull out the old one when they're not). I jumped right back into the process of creating and baking again. I actually intended to give you a recipe for Thai chicken wraps, but the pictures didn't communicate how delicious they were, so I switched gears and popped in these mini chocolate coffee cakes. They only took 5 minutes to get in the oven and are as tasty as they are cute. The spongy little cakes are subtly sweet and great for tea. 

Mini Coffee Almond Tea Cakes
Adapted from Donna Hay
Makes 12 tea cakes

2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon organic whole cane sugar or Sucanat (ground in a coffee grinder until a fine powder), to read more about this sweetener click here
1/4 cup almond meal
2 teaspoons instant herbal coffee (such as Dandyblend)
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 egg whites
12 coffee beans
1/4 cup brandy

Preheat oven to 355° F and adjust rack to middle position.  Stir together the flour, whole cane sugar, almond meal, herbal coffee, butter, and egg whites until combined.  Spoon into a lightly-greased mini muffin tin.  Top each muffin with a coffee bean and bake for 12 minutes.  Remove from oven and drizzle each muffin with brandy.  Set aside for 5 minutes and then turn muffins out onto a cooling rack.  Serve at room temperature.