July 31, 2006

Whole Grain Goodness

The following is reprinted from my previous website. I've reformatted it to fit into this multiply-sized space, I've updated it here and there, and I've fixed some misspellings).


Whole Grain Goodness
Deciding to eat more whole grains is a big step for many people. But sometimes what is even more daunting is how to go about it. So below I have described a few of the things we have done.
The biggest step we have taken is to start grinding our own grain. We've made a few forays into the world of cooked wheat berries but I must admit that despite my best intentions, we don't eat them that way very often. So most of this page will have to do with grinding flour--how to get started and what to do with the stuff once you've got it.

Kamut -- Hard Red Wheat -- Pearled Barley -- Rye -- Spelt

Grinding Flour
Grinding flour sounds harder than it is and has a far greater payoff than you'd ever imagine. You can buy ground flours made from whole grains but you never know how long they've been sitting on the counter before you buy them. Their flavors simply aren't as fresh as when you grind the grain yourself and use it right away.

We happened upon grinding flour somewhat round-aboutly. We had been buying our pre-ground grains in bulk at Rainbow grocery (in San Francisco), but as the Y2K "threat" loomed we decided to buy some items (that we would use anyway) just in case. We figured it couldn't hurt to have a few gallons of wheat, rice, beans and popcorn lying about. We also bought a hand grinder (assuming that if the Y2K debacle was true, then we wouldn't have electricity to use to grind the grain. And if an earthquake came along instead, we'd be ready for that too). When we ran out of oat flour a few months before the New Year, we pulled out a 5 gallon tub of oats and gave the grinder its first run.
We found that hand grinding could be either relaxing or annoying, depending on whether we were in a hurry or not. Our 3 year old loved to play with the oat berries and turn the handle on the grinder. And it was impressive when we pulled out a tub of hard red wheat to see that not all grains grind the same. (The oats grind much quieter and more smoothly. The wheat seemed to be at least twice as loud and a tad harder to grind as it seemed to occasionally catch in the grinder.)

We began to get into a habit of grinding any time we were standing around talking to someone. That way we'd have flour set aside for later when we wanted to make cookies without having to stand there for a half hour grinding first. Eventually we broke down and bought a grinder -- a Whisper Mill made by Creative Technologies. We didn't research our purchase. We simply went with the electric grinder that was sold by the same company from which we'd bought the grain (Provident Pantry). It cost us over $200 (which floored us.... But by that time we were hooked on freshly ground flour.) If you'd rather do a little grinder research before shelling out your dough, you might want to check Walton Feed's page that compares different grinders.
We don't use store bought white flour at all (well, except for making play-dough and I've used it also for making pirogi) and only occasionally buy other preground flours (such as the occasional bag of garbanzo bean flour or quinoa flour). Our favorite general purpose flour so far has been hard red wheat. It's packed with flavor. In fact, we've had friends beg us for our chocolate chip cookie recipe only to have them be disappointed when we tell them to just look on the back of a bag of Nestle's chocolate chips. (They'd rather get a new recipe than start using better ingredients.)
We don't make our own bread. At least, not often enough to say that we do. (We might make bread a few times a year.) But we do make lots of cookies, pancakes, waffles, muffins and scones. We generally go through one jar (see the empty jar to the right of the Whisper Mill in the above picture) every week or so.
The Grinding Process
Turning berries into flour is quite simple. With a hand grinder you pour the berries in, turn the handle and the flour comes out. With the Whisper Mill, the process is the same though the experience is rather different. The Whisper Mill, despite the word "whisper" in the name, is quite loud. The flour also tends to get heated up a bit (though not enough, I don't believe, to remove nutrients or spoil the oils).
With both the hand grinder and the electric one, you can set the fine-ness (is that a word?) of the flour. In other words, if you're grinding something like corn and you'd rather make polenta rather than corn meal, or corn meal rather than corn flour, you can set the grinder to do exactly that.
Important things to think about:

* Berries have a habit of running for freedom. In other words, if you can spill some, you will, no matter how careful you try to be. So you may want to set the mill and bag/tub of berries inside a larger tub of some sort.
* When you grind the flour (with the mill, not by hand) you'll end up adding a bit of flour to the air which will settle back as a beautiful white dust all over everything in your kitchen. There are things you can do to keep this at a minimum (like make sure the container that the flour is shooting into is entirely closed. And don't try to grind too much flour at once).
* And as you transfer flour from the grinder to another container, you may want to put newspaper underneath the whole operation so that when you're done you can dump any fallen flour into the container as well.
Advantages of Grinding Your Own Flour

The greatest advantage to grinding your own flour is having fresh flour. It really does taste better. If you doubt me, then come over and try some of my chocolate chip cookies or some of Rob's waffles. Store bought flour is sometimes so old that it's rancid before you get it home. Whole wheat berries can stay fresh longer than whole wheat flour. (Remember, the whole reason that white flour became all the rage back in the early 1900's was because it was more nutritious, because it's not. It was because it will keep fresh several times longer than whole grain flour. But as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter how much longer white flour remains fresh, it's bad for your health and it tastes like glue.)
Another advantage that crosses my mind once in awhile as I'm grinding flour is that when I grind my own flour, I know exactly what bugs are (or are not) in my flour. I've heard that we eat several bugs a year that get ground into the food that we buy prepackaged. Yuck!
You can also grind as much, or as little, flour as you need. If you only need a half cup of some oddball flour twice a year, you can buy the grain whole (which will keep throughout the year) but grind the flour only when you need it (since it would probably be bad by the next time you needed it if its something you infrequently use).
And you can buy the grain in bulk which is cheaper than buying the preground stuff. (Granted, you have to shell out dough for that grinder, but if you go in on it with someone and share it, you'll save yourself a heap of dough.)
Eating Whole Grains Whole

You don't have to grind grain to enjoy its goodness. In fact, you've probably already had cooked, whole berries of grain and not even given it a thought. Brown rice is a whole grain cooked whole and steel cut oats are made from a whole grain that is almost whole (often only chopped into halves or thirds, not mashed or ground).
The Joy of Cooking has a quite helpful description of grains and how to cook them. Suggestions include toasting the grain first, cooking the grain in broth or some other liquid besides water, and combining several grains for flavor and nutrition. Some grains can be cooked in a relatively short amount of time such as rice and oats. Others require presoaking to help soften them. And grains can be eaten as is (such as in a porridge, what we American's would call "hot cereal"), as a side dish (as rice might be), or in a salad.
Different grains also provide different nutrients. Amaranth has more protein, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus than most other grains. Oats are known for providing fiber. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a complete protein. (Check out Gretchen's list of grains for more in-depth descriptions.)

Everything you've ever wanted to know about Scottish porridge (made with oats).

Recipes from the low-fat vegetarian archive think apple-barley, kamut-biryani, and quinoa-vegetable-jambalaya

Descriptions of the grains with recipes to boot

July 29, 2006

Applesauce Muffins

I've made these three times this week (I'm trying to get rid of some applesauce.) and I don't have any left to take a picture of. But they look like plain old muffins, so I feel comfortable letting you use your imagination.

This recipe is taken from a book entitled Quick Breads, Soups & Stews, by Mary Gubser, which I found at the library. It has some wonderful muffin recipes in it.

2 cups all purpose flour (I usually use freshly ground hard red wheat.)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup melted butter
3/4 cup applesauce
1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (I don't like nuts in my food so I leave these out.)

Grease a muffin tin and preheat the oven to 350 F. (The cookbook says 400 F, but my muffins come out fine when cooked at 350 and I tend to set it there out of habit.)

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and brown sugar. Stir until well blended. In a separate bowl mix the eggs, milk, butter and applesauce. Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the applesauce mixture with quick strokes just until well moistened. Fold in the nuts. Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them three fourths full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.

I've tossed a bunch of chocolate chips in these once and they tasted great that way as well.

Oatmeal Sheet Cake

This is straight out of our "Joy of Cooking" cookbook. It's one of Rob's favorite cakes. I'm making it today for the potluck that will be following the girl's play. (A friend of mine organized several girls into a play that they wrote and directed themselves.)

1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (i use the thick rolled from wild oats.)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour (i usually use freshly ground hard red wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup sugar (i use sucanut.)
1 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

The recipe recommends making this a day or two before serving but I rarely plan that far in advance. It tastes just fine when it's fresh.

Combine the oatmeal and hot water and let them stand for 20 minutes.

All of the rest of the ingredients should be at room temp. (I can't even plan THAT far in advance. My ingredients are rarely at room temp.) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease one 13 x 9 inch pan.

Whisk together the flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl beat the butter and sugars until they're "lightened in color and texture." (Given that I'm using sucanut and dark brown sugar, that never happens for me. But I beat it about 5 minutes while I grease the pan and clean up the dishes from so far.)

Add the eggs and vanilla, the the oat mixture, then the four mixture. Scrape the batter into a pan and spread evenly. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. let cool briefly in the pan on a rack.

They then recommend icing it with some broiled icing recipe that I've never tried. I usually take a brick of cream cheese, beat the loofah out of it, add about 1/4 cup sucanut, beat it some more, and spread it on top of the cake. i sometimes toss a few flower petals or pieces of fruit on top to make it look nice.

(optional) When my rhubarb is going bonkers I usually pull out a bunch, chop it up and add it to the recipe. As my mom has said, "I've never been able to add too much rhubarb." I know I've added at least 2 cups and it didn't seem any more than when I had had 1 cup. It's a great way to use up rhubarb and it adds a little tartness and juiciness to the cake.

July 7, 2006

Cavalcade of Bad Nativities

Ideally I'd wait until Christmas time rolls around again to post this link, but as Sara (I think that's her name) says, "I've just been alerted to something so very, very wrong, it cannot wait."

Here's some more quotes:

"Once again proving that the only thing better than a cheap nativity is a cheap nativity with fiber optic holiness-indicators..."

"apologies for all the big images, but if I compress them too much, you lose the horror. "

"I don't know about you, but I never want to have to decide if I should eat the baby Jesus feet-first or head-first."

"God came to earth...as a hobbit."

The quotes are just a foretaste. The pictures bring it all to life. So here you go, a little bit of Christmas in July. Enjoy!

July 4, 2006

Cream Cheese Brownies

This recipe is directly from my Betty Crocker cookbook... more or less. ;-)

It's so good that I'm making it for the third time this week. Plan for gooey brownies, though. If you want clean fingers when you're done, eat these with a fork.

1 package chocolate chips cookies (Betty calls for 5 oz. of chocolate, but she's obviously not thinking straight. The chocolate chips I use, Rapunzel, come in 10 oz. bags.)
2/3 c. butter
1 3/4 c. sucanut (or sugar if all you have is the chemically bleached stuff)
2 t. vanilla
3 large eggs
1 c. whole wheat flour (or the chemically bleached stuff)

cream cheese filling
2 packages of cream cheese (8 oz. each)
1/2 c. sucanut
2 t. vanilla
1 large egg

heat oven to 350 F. grease bottom and sides of brownie pan. (betty says to use a 9-inch square pan. but i've been using something closer to 9 x 13 and the brownies have been coming out fine.)

melt butter and chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. cool 5 minutes.

in medium bowl, beat sugar, vanilla and eggs with electric mixer on high speed for 5 minutes. beat in chocolate mixture on low speed, scraping the bowl occasionally. beat in flour just until blended. (stir in walnuts if you're nutty enough to want that kind of thing. i'm not.) spread in pan.

for cream cheese filling: mix softened cheese (cream cheese isn't really cheese. did you know that?), sucanut, vanilla and egg. spread on top of the brownie mixture and, using a spatula, spread the lumps out a bit to cover as much of the top of the brownie mixture as possible.

bake for 45 to 50 minutes.

Modified Fruit Cake (Trail Mix Version)

For her birthday, my grandmother decided she wanted a fruitcake. So, though I couldn't marinate it for months, I decided to make one anyway. It turned out to be a hit. Unfortunately, I didn't save the page that I got the recipe from. So today I decided to make my own version of fruit cake -- a sort of trail mix version, without the peanuts.

1/2 c. - 1 c. currants
1 T. orange rind
1/2 c. - 1 c. raisons
1/2 c. dried, sugared pineapple
1/2 c. dates
1/2 c. dried sweetened cherries (not the overly sugary candied variety)
1/2 c. dried papaya
4 c. pecans
2/3 c. oatmeal (i used thick-rolled oats)
1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 t. baking powder
1 c. softened butter
1 c. sucanut
5 large eggs
rum or brandy

soak the currents, raisons and orange peel overnight in rum or brandy. (i used just enough almost cover the fruit.)

set the oven to 250 degrees (F). beat the butter and sugar until well mixed. add eggs one at a time. scrape the bowl to make sure the eggs are well mixed in. add the flour and mix just until the flour is thoroughly mixed in. add the pecans, oats, and fruit.

pour into 2 loaf pans that have been lined with wax paper. cook for 2 1/2 hours.

serve with a light dusting of powdered sugar on top.