Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Stevia- My Splenda Alternative

For years I have used Splenda as a sweetener. Of course, everyone has heard the dangers of artificial sweeteners, especially Splenda. Their moto used to be "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar". Thus, leading people to believe it was a more natural sweetener. But they were forced to change it when they were sued for false advertising! I loved Splenda because of three things, 1) It measures cup for cup like sugar, 2) It is fairly cheap, and 3) It's a no calorie option. It is hard to find something that meets all those qualities. I did though!!

It's called "Stevia In the Raw". For those who don't know, Stevia is an all natural sweetener. You might know it by the brand names Truvia, SunCrystal, ect. Stevia In The Raw comes in a bag just like Splenda, measures like sugar, and its no calorie! It costs only a dollar more than Splenda, which I'm willing to pay for a healthier option! The only bad thing is that it isn't available everywhere. I can't seem to find it at ANY Walmart. But I did find it at my local Reasor's (grocery store), and I haven't checked Target yet.

So, no more sweetener to sugar ratios for me! Yay!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Make It Yourself: Crockpot Yogurt

You can make yogurt in your crockpot... did you know that?? I discovered this fact a few months ago and tried it out. It is super easy and it makes the most delicious yogurt for a fraction of the cost of buying it!
This is what I do:

First, gather the ingredients. You need a half gallon of milk  (organic, raw, or regular pasteurized), 1 1/2 cups of powdered milk, sweetener (I used honey and agave), vanilla extract (or some vanilla beans), and 3/4 cup of yogurt with live active cultures. Also, you need a 2 quart crockpot (I bought this one especially for yogurt making for $4.00 on black friday).

*** Edit*** I no longer use the powdered milk and the yogurt still turns out great!

Pour the half gallon of milk into the crock and set it on low for 2 hours and 45 mins.

Now turn the crockpot off and let the milk cool with the lid on for 3 hours. When 3 hours have passed, remove 2 cups of the warm milk to a bowl.

To the bowl/milk, add 3/4 cup of yogurt with live active cultures. Wisk well.                                                  

To the crock, add the rest of the ingredients ( if you want plain yogurt, just leave out the vanilla and sweetener) and mix well.                                                                                                              

Pour the yogurt mix back into the crock and stir. Replace the lid and wrap the whole crock in a thick bath towel.                                                                                                                                                     

Let the yogurt sit in a warm place for 8-12 hours. In order to culture, the yogurt has to stay warm. Since my house stays pretty cold, I warmed my oven a little (too hot will kill the bacteria in the yogurt), then turned it off and placed the whole bundle in there.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

After, it cultures, chill thoroughly before eating.

At this point you can add fruit if you like. I don't suggest putting the fruit in until it is completely finished. So easy! Try it!                                                                                                                                          

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What to do with a whole chicken... or what I did anyway...

I recently posted about changing my poultry habits. Since it costs more to buy "good" chicken, I took the cheaper route and purchased a whole chicken. You could just take your whole chicken and roast it or cut it up, but I don't really like dark meat (did I also mention that I detest handling raw poultry? I do it, obviously, but It really grosses me out!) but my husband does and I was determined to get the most out of my chicken so... I got creative.

First, I figured out the easiest way to cook it was in the crockpot (because you don't have to handle it much, of course). I just plopped the bird (mine was approx. 3 1/2 pounds) in the crock and added enough water to cover the bird halfway. I added a quartered onion, and some parsley and thyme. Then I just let it go. It only took about three hours and it was falling off the bones! Next, I removed the chicken to a plate and stripped the skin off. I pulled out as many bones and junk as I could and threw it, with the skin back into the crock. I let this reduce into a nice little chicken stock. I then strained it and poured it into quart jars (this chicken made 2 quarts) and stored one in the freezer and one in the fridge! It turned out very dark and gelatinous (it tasted very good too)!

Now for the meat... I let the chicken cool and shredded all the meat. You could chop some, slice it, whatever... I used the white meat to make chicken salad, enchiladas, ect. For the dark meat, I added BBQ sauce and my husband had BBQ sandwhichs. I also found that I could add some of the dryer dark meat to the chicken salad and it didn't offend my palate (it's the slimy dark meat that I don't like)!

I was very satisfied that nothing went to waste. Also, having shredded chicken on hand made putting dinner together a cinch!

Saturday, January 9, 2010

New Year's Resolutions: Part 1

Well, it might be a little late to write about New Year resolutions since January is almost half over, but... oh well. I'm gonna do it anyway! After watching Food Inc., I decided I was going to try to do even better with our family's food supply. Starting with our meat. The information that I learned about how commercial poultry is raised was particularly disturbing to me. So I'm starting there! I used to buy Tyson, Purdue, and other big name brands of chicken. When we started to go more natural with our food, I was delighted that these same brands provided a "natural" alternative! Yay!

But wait. Read the package closely. What makes it "all natural"? When I took a closer look, I noticed that there was nothing on the package that said, "No antibiotics, No growth hormones, Not cloned, ect.". It just claimed to be natural- no more information! Usually these "natural" products were priced a little higher, so I was dissapointed that I was duped by this scam. But you live, you learn, right?

So I set out in search of a better chicken...

We don't have a Trader Joes or a decent co-op in our area. We do have ONE Whole Foods Market, but it is an hour drive, one way. There are some family farms that offer natural, free range chickens, but the price was a little out of our budget. The main source of shopping in our area is Walmart and a few limited grocery stores, which aren't usually stocked with natural foods. However, when you look really hard, sometimes you have some luck!

At our local Reasor's, I found a brand called Smart Chicken. Which claims to be hormone and antibiotic free, and naturally raised. They also offer an organic option. I have not tried this one yet.

At Target, I found a brand called Bare Natural. They have all the necessary requirements on their label as well. I have tried this brand several times when I found it super cheap on sale.

At Walmart, my mom found a brand called HarvestLand. This has been my favorite option, so far. It is truly all natural and it is raised on small farms (where the chickens are allowed to see the sunlight!). And it fits within our budget! I got whole chickens in this brand for $1.98 per pound! Compared to the local farm chickens that are $5.99 per pound, that is a good deal (although I would love to support these local farms, we just can't afford it right now. But I plan to keep looking for a better deal)!

So, I had to do some looking around but I managed to find a naturally healthy chicken that didn't have unusually large breasts for a decent price! Yay! That's one resolution- done!

(I'll let you know what I did with my whole chicken later. I'm a white meat girl, so a whole chicken was a challenge for me. But I managed to use every last bit of it!)

Food Inc.

Have you seen the documentary movie Food Inc.?? I watched it the other day with my mom and husband and boy oh boy, was I SHOCKED!! My husband was already on the "real food" bandwagon, but this just reinforced our decision to eat better and most importantly, know where our food comes from and how it's made! It was so shocking to see how cattle is raised (they are left to stand crowded together, knee deep in cow feces)- it's no wonder we hear of a different ecoli outbreak or beef recall every month! And I'm sure you've noticed how big chicken breasts have become in recent years. I kept saying to my mom, "Look how huge these breasts are, it's unatural! They must be giving the chickens something..." Well, guess what?? THEY ARE! The poultry industry has actually messed with the chickens to make them grow bigger breasts because that is what most people eat! Not to mention, all the growth hormones they are given to make sure they grow into these huge chicken monsters in record time! They also keep the chickens in total darkness twenty four hours a day to make them grow faster! It's disgusting! I live in the mid-south where poultry farming is a huge industry and I didn't know this stuff was going on!

There is much more information in the movie- cloned animals used for food, genetically modified foods (gmo's), ammonia cleansed beef (yes, that's what I said! Watch out for those fast food burgers. In an effort to head off ecoli contamination, they are having their meat "cleaned" with a process that uses ammonia!), and it also spotlights some good farming practices.

So, if you are interested in your own health. Or you have been concerned by the ever-so-present food contamination scares. You should check out Food Inc. It will change what you put in your mouth!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Who knew it could be so easy... Part 2

Corndogs... who doesn't love them?? But...the ones that you can buy in the store are full of junk, fried in trans fats, and who knows where those hotdogs came from! In walks the perfect solution: Corndog Muffins!!!

They are super easy! Line your muffin pan. Cut each hotdog into thirds (use all beef or all chicken). Fill each cup 1/4 full with your favorite cornbread batter. Add one hotdog piece, then more cornbread batter. Bake at 400 degrees. Here they are:

Don't they look yummy (pardon the abused muffin tin)!

These are really easy for kids to eat. They are a good portable food as well, great for school lunches, ect. Also, they freeze really well so you could make a big batch and go straight from the freezer to the microwave for an easy lunch!

Your kids will be pleasantly surprised to find a hotdog in their cornbread!!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Who knew it could be so easy...

Tonight for dinner I tried a new recipe. Easy Mac-n-cheese, found here. I don't usually like to make homemade mac-n-cheese because it is a two-pot process. One to boil the pasta and one to make the sauce... oh and you have to make a roux and... let's admit it. It is easier to just resort to the box stuff! Especially when you have a three year old pulling on your pant leg! Well... say bye bye to the boxed macaroni that is chalk full of junk that you don't really want in your body! This was sooooooo easy!
One pot.
No waiting for water to boil.
No straining the pasta.
No making sauce.

Are you ready?? Here is the recipe:

Easy Mac and Cheese*

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pasta

3 3/4 cups whole milk

1 t. sea salt

2 cups shredded cheese (I use white cheddar and colbyjack)

Mix pasta, milk and salt in a large sauce pan. Cook over medium-high heat STIRRING ALMOST CONSTANTLY until the pasta is tender (10-15 minutes). Remove from heat. Add cheese and stir until melted. Serve immediately.

This is what it looks like when you start:

Here it is when it is all finished:

It looks a little soupy in the picture but its not. It turned out really thick and creamy. The starch from the pasta mixes with the milk to make a super simple sauce. No flour or butter needed! I know it's hard to believe, but it really is that easy! You gotta try it to believe it!!

*The recipe above is not the original. I tweaked the original a little (added more salt, milk, and cheese- I like it really cheesy). For the original recipe, visit the link above.