Healthy Date/Apricot Bars

date/apricot bars

Here is a receipt for a great date/apricot bar, sweetened with a monk fruit sweetener; it is complete with information on this great alternative sweetener.  This makes a healthy breakfast bar.  The recipe is another one of my sister’s notes of grandeur, derived by her ingenious cooking skills, which she originally made with sugar.  Today, however, her cooking is inspired by the keto diet (therefore this bar no longer fits in her diet plan).

Recently I have begun investigating this keto way of eating for myself, which promotes a diet of high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrates.  I am looking to it for its over-all health benefits, rather than for weight loss.  The more I read, the more convinced I am that the avoidance of sugars, as well as a high intake of the right kind of fat calories, is beneficial for our bodies both to maintain health and loose weight, but it is essential that they be the right kind of fats.

Dr. Don Colbert has an excellent plan, the keto-zone diet, in which you bring your bodies into a state of ketosis, burning fat for energy, rather than glucose (sugar), by using premium fats for 70% of your daily caloric intake.  Presently I am exploring in depth his teachings on the multi-health benefits of his diet.  Not needing to loose weight, I don’t restrict my carbohydrates quite as strictly as his diet requires-until I learn otherwise.  Therefore I partake in this bar, which is made with organic whole wheat pastry flour, oats, butter, and monk fruit sweetener.

Indeed, high quality fats (avocado, olive oil, grass-fed ghee, MCT oil, krill oil) are important also for those of us who aren’t in need of shedding pounds,.  Rather we have a need to take in enough calories to maintain weight and acquire optimum health.  Consuming lots of rich desserts and empty starch calories to keep weight can lead to diabetes among other serious conditions.  1

The use of good alternative sweeteners is equally important, as eating the right kind of fats; these bars are made with butter and Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetener, which is available at Costco.  Monk fruit sweeteners are typically a mixture of monk fruit extract and other natural products such as inulin or erythritol;.  This Costco product is a blend of erythritol-the first ingredient-and monk fruit, also known as lo han guo, or Swingle fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii), which is a small round fruit, native to southern China.  2

Costco’s Monkfruit has a sweetness equal to sugar, though other blends may have a sweetness ranging from 100-250 times greater than table sugar.  The intensity of sweetness depends on the amount of mogrosides present.  Mogrosides are the compound-a unique antioxidant-in monk fruit extract, which are separated from the fresh-pressed juice of this Asian monk fruit during processing.  When separated they are free of calories; these sweet-flavored antioxidants-mogrosides-are mainly responsible for the sweetness of this fruit, rather than its other natural sugars, fructose and glucose.  Fructose and glucose are actually totally removed during the processing of this extract.  3

Though more research is needed to verify the health benefits of mogroside extracts from monk fruit, there is some evidence that they may have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties, as well as possibly having positive effects on cancer and diabetes.  Current studies, however, use much higher doses of monk fruit extract than that consumed in this sweetening product.  4

We find the satisfying of our need for pleasure is much needed in healthy eating, but how this calls for balance.  Indeed, balance is a key to all that concerns us about food, and it is imperative that we make the effort to discover what works best for us individually.  Our bodies are unique and complex.  Food can work as a medicine, as well as be a rich blessing to our souls, when consumed properly.

Eating with an attitude of reverence is a key to tapping into gastronomic pleasure.  One simple tool in reaching this goal is to focus on that childhood instruction “chew carefully”.  In order to do this, it’s imperative to slow down.

We find the need to slow down and “chew carefully” is present in all of life’s endeavors, in order to reap the maximum goodness promised; as the old adage goes “slow down and smell the roses”.

To achieve this, it is important to give thanks to our Creator for our food, as well as for all the daily blessings and trials that come our way.  Such insures our joy.  We apply this gratitude to the not-so-good, not for the trouble itself, but rather for our resultant growth that develops out of overcoming hardship.  Such a heart bent on thanksgiving pleases our God immensely; it guarantees a prosperous life.  (For more on heightened pleasures of proper eating, see Parmesan Dover Sole, 2017/04/10.)

Enjoy this delightful recipe!

References:

  1. https://drcolbert.com/7-healthy-fats-to-help-you-burn-belly-flab/
  2. https://foodinsight.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-monk-fruit-sweeteners/
  3. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/monk-fruit-sweetener
  4. Ibid.

finished product

Healthy Date/Apricot Bars  Yields: 2 dozen.  Total prep time: 1 1/2 hr/  active prep time: 40 min/  baking time: 50 min.

2 c pitted dates, packed down firmly, chopped  (I suggest taking a measuring cup to the store, thus pre-measuring fruit, as you buy in bulk).

2/3 c dried apricots, cut small

1 1/3 c butter, softened  (Plus several additional tbsp, as needed for moistening last of crumbs.)

1 c Lakanto Monkfruit Sweetner, cane sugar, or coconut sugar  (This Monkfruit is available at Costco.)

1 2/3 c old-fashioned oats (Organic is only slightly more expensive in bulk; available at most grocery stores.)

3 c flour (Organic whole wheat pastry flour is best.)

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco for $4.99/5 lbs.)

Spray oil  (Coconut spray oil is preferable for quality and taste.)

  1. thickened fruit-sauce

    Beat 1 1/3 c butter in a large bowl; blend in Monkfruit sweetner or sugar, beating until light.  Set aside.

  2. Measure dates in a measuring cup, packing down firmly; with a chef’s knife, chop into small pieces.  Repeat these steps with the apricots.
  3. “sifting” in sealed plastic bag

    Place fruit in a medium saucepan.  Add 2 1/4 c of water, cover, and bring to a boil over med/high heat.

  4. Remove lid, lower temperature and boil softly, uncovered, until a thick sauce is formed.  Be sure to stir about every 5 minutes.  Watch fruit carefully as it thickens, so as not to burn (see photo above).
  5. mealy crust

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  6. In a plastic sealed storage bag, place flour, oats, and salt.  Close the seal and shake vigorously (see above photo).
  7. Blend flour mixture into butter, until mealy; see photo.
  8. Place 3/5 of flour/butter mixture in bottom of a 9” x 13” pan, which has been lightly sprayed with oil.  Pack down evenly with hand, being sure to pat edges and corners really well.
  9. initial baking of crust

    Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes (see photo).

  10. Remove from oven and gently spread thickened fruit-sauce over top of crust.  Then, taking the rest of the flour/butter mixture, firmly pat rounds of dough between your two hands, placing these solid masses on top of date/apricots, until all is covered.  (May add a little additional soft butter to dry crumbs in the bottom of bowl, to moisten them and facilitate the last of the forming.)  See photo below.
  11. forming of top crust

    Return to oven and bake 30 minutes more, or until golden brown; see photo at top of recipe.

  12. Cut into bars, while still warm.  May freeze part of batch to have on hand for a nutritious breakfast bars.

Balsamic Eggs w/ Ghee Recipe

finished ghee

Discover here the health-giving attributes of the right kind of fats, such as grass-fed ghee in this delicious balsamic egg recipe, which is complete with the easy steps for making inexpensive ghee.

Increasingly, our mainstream culture is recognizing that dietary cholesterol is not a cause of heart disease or weight gain.  Mitochondria, the power plants in our bodies, either burn sugar or fat for energy.  A high carbohydrate diet makes the body go into a mode of burning glucose (sugar), while switching to a high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carb diet, allows the body to use fat for fuel.  This is why many people are achieving great success with the keto diet, which is high in fats.  Of key importance, however, is that one eats the right kind of fats!  1

Many vegetable oils, such as canola and soy oils (those most frequently used in restaurants and found on grocery shelves) are very unstable, oxidize quickly, and are almost always rancid; thus, they can be extremely detrimental to the nervous system and immune health.  They can be indigestible and lead to inflammation and free radical damage; inflammation is among the root causes of major diseases, such as diabetes, cancer, obesity, and arthritis, according to Dr. Don Colbert.  2

In approaching a high fat diet, to either maintain health or loose weight, it is critical that one know the kind of fats that are healthy.  There are seven recommended healthy fats-avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds, grass-fed ghee, MCT oil, and krill oil. Among these are three that I frequently use in my recipes: ghee, avocados (and their oil), and the king of oils olive oil, though this latter should not be heated, as it becomes carcinogenic at high temperatures.  3

Ghee made from grass-fed butter is highly health-promoting.  Dr. Axe states that the saturated fat found in butter (and coconut oil) provides the body with much needed fuel, as well as helping with blood sugar stability, when eaten in reasonable amounts.  It has 400 different fatty acids and a good dose of fat-soluble vitamins as well.  It is important that the cream the butter is made from is obtained from grass-fed cows, with their diet rich in beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A found in plants.)  When eaten in moderation, butter is very beneficial.  4

Butter made into ghee takes these health attributes a step higher.  Ghee is produced by gently heating butter to evaporate the water and milk solids from the fat.  Fat makes up about 80% of the content of butter.  The milk solids contain inflammatory proteins and sugar, which are detrimental to health, but when these are removed, pure butter fat (loaded with fat-soluble nutrients) results, providing a food good for healing and detoxification.  5

Following is a simple recipe for the preparation of inexpensive ghee at home, which I have perfected over time.  Note: my saucepan for making ghee was originally not quite heavy enough; thus, I could only produce clarified butter, when I used the high quality, European, grass-fed Kerrygold butter.  My not-so-heavy saucepan, however, was quite adequate for making ghee, with the lesser-quality, Trader Joe’s, hormone-free, regular butter; this ghee, however, is much lighter in color and isn’t as health-promoting.

The premium, grass-fed, European butter is higher in fat, making it impossible, without burning, to go beyond this first stage of clarifying the butter, while using my not-so-heavy pan.  Clarifying requires cooking only until the first foam arises and subsides; then, there is the removal of the skin of dry, milk solids.  Ghee is easily produced, when cooking continues after this initial stage and, following the subsiding of the first foam, a second foam arises.  Then the milk solids that have sunk to the bottom of the pan brown, leaving a nutty-flavored medicinal substance.

After several failures with Kerrygold butter, I bought a great, heavy, All-Clad saucepan at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.  (Go to Laban Bil Bayd-2018/03/26-for more information on the differences between clarified butter and ghee.)  These great balsamic eggs, with ghee, are a steadfast part of my diet now!  Enjoy.

References:

  1. https://drcolbert.com/7-healthy-fats-to-help-you-burn-belly-flab/
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. https://draxe.com/grass-fed-butter-nutrition/
  5. https://drcolbert.com/7-healthy-fats-to-help-you-burn-belly-flab/

balsamic eggs beginning to fry

Balsamic Eggs  Yields: one serving.  Total prep time: 5 min.  (or 25 minutes total, if making your own ghee.)  Note: though a thermometer may be helpful, it is not required.

1 tsp ghee  (May purchase ready-made at Trader Joe’s, or make your own inexpensively, following directions below.)

2 eggs, preferably duck eggs

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

  1. first foam

    For homemade ghee, prepare a strainer, lined with a coffee filter, and place it in a heat-proof dish; set aside.

  2. Over medium heat, shaking pan, melt 8-16 oz of high quality, unsalted butter (Kerrygold is ideal).
  3. breaking of first foam

    When melted, cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo).

  4. Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, temperature will be about 190 degrees (see above photo).  At this stage you have clarified butter.  Note: if foam is starting to brown deeply and quickly, your pan is not heavy enough to make ghee; remove from heat and immediately strain this clarified butter in a coffee-filter-lined strainer.
  5. second foam rising

    To proceed with ghee, cook butterfat until a second foam rises.  This will take 2-3 more minutes, and temperature will reach 250 degrees; see photo.  Watch carefully as dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.

  6. Immediately gently strain golden-colored butterfat through a coffee filter, into a heat-proof dish (see photo below).  Transfer into an airtight container to keep out moisture.  This lasts for months, when stored in the refrigerator.
  7. straining ghee

    In an egg pan, melt 1 tsp of ghee, over medium heat.

  8. When pan is hot, add eggs and lower heat to med/low.  Pour vinegar over yolks, just as the white is starting to form on the bottom of pan; see photo at top of recipe.  Cover with a splash shield (available at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, see photo below).
  9. splash shield

    When whites are nearly cooked, flip eggs over, cooking briefly, then transfer to a bowl, for easy spooning of these delicious juices.

Disguised Ham, c. 1857

disguised ham

Here is the fascinating history of the making of ham, with the differences between traditional and modern day industrial processing, as well as an early American receipt for holiday leftovers of this meat.

Eliza Leslie devised the perfect solution for the remains of our Easter dinners, in Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book (c. 1857), with her disguised ham recipe.  There she recommended to bake seasoned ground ham, mixed with mustard and egg yolk, on toasted bread, and crown it with a golden meringue.  1

Leslie started her prolific career in 1828, with her humble Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats.  Her writing had developed greatly by the time she published the above cook book, with her disguised ham; now the New Cookery Book included a thousand recipes.  Her cook books evidenced that Leslie was following the lead of the influential Amelia Simmons in her writing of American recipes for an American audience.  2

Prior to the influence of Simmons, the heritage of our national cuisine can be attributed greatly to African American cooks on colonial plantations.  Here, due to great rivalry, the colonial dames jealously guarded their well-provisioned tables; thus, the great recipes of their Native African American cooks were strictly handed down by mouth from generation to generation.  All the cook books published this side of the Atlantic-there were only a few-were really English cook books, which were merely printed in the States.  3

Simmons changed all this, when she ushered in the beginnings of our nation’s writings on American cuisine with American Cookery in 1796.  She introduced the publication of receipts using New World foods, such as cranberries, clams, shad, and terrapin, as well as cornmeal in puddings, corn cakes, etc.  She included Indian pudding, Indian slapjack (pancakes), and johnnycake or journey cake-called thus because these flat corn cakes were frequently carried on journeys.  4

Meanwhile, a number of American ladies followed Simmons’ lead with the writing of American recipes for an American audience; the most prolific of these writers was Eliza Leslie, from whom we have this inspiration for using leftover ham.

Back then cured meats were made by either dry-salting (dry-curing) or brining (wet-curing) large cuts for several days, giving them about 60% moisture and 5-7% salt by weight.  This process preserved them and they could be kept uncooked for long periods without refrigeration.  5

Today salted meats-ham, bacon, corned beef-are still popular, because of their great taste, even though salting is no longer essential for preservation.  The curing process has gone from several days for traditional, wet-cured meats to just hours for their modern, industrial counterparts-in the case of some bacon processing, the pork is cut into slices, immersed in brine for 10-15 minutes, and packed the same day.  With their milder cures, industrial meats generally must be refrigerated and/or cooked.  6

Now wet-cured hams are injected with brine.  The pork pieces are then “tumbled” in large rotating drums for a day to massage the brine evenly throughout the meat, making it supple.  Finally they are pressed into shape, partly or fully cooked, and are sold chilled, with no maturing period.  7

Modern corned beef is also injected with brine, and actually doesn’t touch any salt grains, as its name indicates-corn comes from the English word for grains, which includes salt grains.  (For the detailed beginnings of corned beef in Ireland, see 2018/03/05.)  8

With dry-curing, salt is used to transform pig into sublime hams, a process that goes back at least to classical times.  Among our modern versions of dry-cured ham are: Italian prosciutto di Parma, Spanish serrano, French Bayonne, and American country hams.  Though it is possible to cook these delicacies, which are comparable to long-aged cheese, they are best when eaten raw in paper-thin slices.  With a vivid, translucent rose color, their texture is silken and their flavor at once meaty and fruity.  9

In the process of dry-curing, the raw meat is cleaned, and then covered with salt, while being gradually pressed to draw out the blood.  (Specific herbs and spices may be added for flavor at this point.)  Next the hams are washed and hung to dry in a temperature-controlled atmosphere; finally, they are hung to air for a period of time.  This period may greatly vary: in the case of Serrano hams the time may be as little as 9 months, while 12 months are required for the Parma; the Iberian ham may take up to 2 years.  10

Though comparatively rare, dry-cured hams may use salt only in curing, such as with the Parma.  Most modern dry-cured ham, however, employs both salt and nitrites (either sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate), which prevents bacterial growth and gives the meat a desirable dark red color.  11

Potassium nitrate was first discovered in the Middle Ages; then, it was named saltpeter because it was found as a salt-like crystalline outgrowth on rocks.  Later in the 16th or 17th century, it was being used to brighten meat color and improve its safety and storage life, as well as enhance its flavor.  Around 1900, nitrite (a derivative of nitrate, due to chemical reactions during the curing process), began to replace saltpeter in the cure, except in traditional dry cured hams and bacons, where potassium nitrate has remained preferable.  Both nitrate and nitrite can react with other food components to form nitrosamines, which can be carcinogenic; thus, today we tend to read labels carefully to avoid both.  12

If you are celebrating this holiday with ham, utilize the historical Eliza Leslie’s disguised ham receipt for any leftovers.  Happy Resurrection Sunday!

References:

  1. Esther B. Aresty, The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1964) pp. 190, 192.
  2. Ibid., pp. 183, 187.
  3. Ibid., p. 183.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 173.
  6. Ibid., p. 175.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., pp. 173, 175.
  9. Ibid., p. 174.
  10. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ham
  11. Ibid.
  12. Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p173, 174.

finished sandwich

Disguised Ham (c. 1857)  Adapted from Esther B. Aresty’s The Delectable Past (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1964) p. 192.  Yields: 4-5 servings.  Total prep time: 35 minutes/  active prep time: 18 min/  baking time: 17 min.

1/3 lb or 1 c ham, chopped to a coarse grind  (May use leftover baked ham or 8 slices of Trader Joe’s Uncured Black Forest Ham, which is nitrite-free.)

2 tsp of mustard, or to taste  (Trader’s Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce is ideal.)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 lg eggs, 3 of them separated

4-5 slices of bread  (I use homemade Struan bread, see 2018/12/17.)

Spray oil, preferably coconut spray oil

  1. grinding of ham in food processor

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  2. With a food processor or Vita Mix, chop ham to a coarse grind, see photo.  Measure and place 1 c ground meat in a bowl.
  3. Season ham with mustard, salt, and pepper to taste (may not need salt, if ham is salty).  May refrigerate at this point and finish just before serving.
  4. ham/egg mixture

    Separate 3 eggs.  (If you are anticipating leftovers, when separating eggs, save 1 or 2 whites in a small container, in the refrigerator, to be used later.)  With a fork, beat yokes and 1 whole egg in a small bowl; mix beaten yokes/egg into ham.  See photo.

  5. Toast bread in toaster; spread ham mixture on top; place in a baking dish lightly sprayed with oil; bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes, or until brown on top (see photo below).
  6. after baking ham mixture on toast for 12 minutes

    With an electric mixer, beat egg whites until stiff.

  7. Cover browned ham with 3/4” beaten egg white.  Return to oven and bake about 5 minutes more, or until whites are just beginning to turn golden brown (see photo at top of recipe).
  8. Serve immediately.  Great way to use leftover ham!

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)

laban bil bayd and tabbouleh

This last of my Middle Eastern receipts laban bil bayd calls for eggs, baked in a thickened yogurt, which is seasoned with mint and garlic cooked in ghee.  This delightful dish is commonly used as part of the mezze, or the first course of appetizers.  The origin of ghee and the simple recipes for it and laban bil bayd will follow.

Vegetable oils are almost 100% fat, while butter is an emulsion of 80% fat, 15% water, and 5% milk solids; vegetable fats are most commonly used for sautéing, due to their high smoke points, or temperatures at which they burn.  It is misinformation that adding oil to butter raises butter’s smoke point.

The flavor of butter is important in this recipe; thus, it calls for ghee, with the smoke point of about 400 degrees F (200 C), as compared to 250 degrees F (150 C) for regular butter.

Ghee is a form of clarified butter; these two differ in that the first is heated just a little longer, browning the milk solids, thus producing a subtle nutty flavor and aroma, with great resistance to rancidity.

The most common form of clarifying butter, the one used by most restaurants, varies from the more efficient method suggested here for home use, which is actually the preparation of ghee, rather than clarified butter.

Because such large quantities of butter are clarified in commercial kitchens, it is easiest to gently heat the butter to the boiling point of water; the water then bubbles to the surface, where the foaming milk proteins form also.  The water eventually evaporates, the bubbling stops, and the froth dehydrates, leaving a skin of dry whey protein; this skin of dry milk solids is next skimmed off the top.  Finally, the pure butterfat is ladled out, to remove it from the dry casein particles, which have sunk to the bottom of the pan.

This technique, however, brings much wasted product when preparing small quantities, because this means of  separating the fat from the top and bottom milk proteins also scoops up the butterfat.  Therefore it is best to follow this quick, traditional method for making ghee, when clarifying little amounts of a pound or less of butter at home.

This takes the above process a step further, by raising the final heat and browning these sunken whey proteins, then separating them from the pure butterfat by straining.  In this way, the resultant clear fat is completely isolated by easily pouring it through a coffee filter, or layers of cheesecloth.

The word ghee in Sanskrit means “bright”.  In India, it was traditionally made from butter churned from soured, whole cow or buffalo milk, known as yogurt-like dahi; this preliminary souring improved both the quantity and flavor-quality found in this clarifying process.  Today, Indian industrial manufacturers usually start this procedure with cream; nevertheless, it is said that sweet cream produces flat-tasting butter, which affects the character of the ghee.

Ghee is prevalent both in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines.  My first encounters with it were in my early catering and teaching days during the 1980’s, when I was preparing East Indian foods, such as curries and dal (lentils).

Presently I like to make large batches of it, for storing in my refrigerator where it keeps for months; thus, it is readily available for frying eggs, searing meats and vegetables, making sauces-such as hollandaise-and popcorn, as well as using it as dips for lobster, crab, and artichokes.  It greatly enhances the taste of all these foods.

Note: it is especially helpful to utilize high grade butter-such as Kerry butter from Ireland-in making ghee for a hollandaise sauce or dip for shell fish, as the flavor will be better.  This is due to the higher butterfat content in European butters (82-86%), contrasted with 80-82% in that of its American counterpart.  (For more on the health qualities of grass-fed ghee, see Balsamic Eggs-2019/05/27.)

Join me in the great discovery of cooking with ghee, by first making this simple, seemingly innocuous egg dish that surprises with it powerful pleasure!

References:

Harold McGee, On Food History (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 36, 37.

https://www.seriouseats.com/2015/08/how-to-clarify-butter.html

https://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/2015/08/clarified-butter-recipe.html

https://altonbrown.com/clarified-butter-and-ghee-recipes/

finished product

Laban Bil Bayd (Lebanese eggs baked in yogurt/garlic/mint sauce)  Yields 6 servings.  Total prep time: 45-60 min (the length of time depends on if you prepare ghee with recipe)/  active prep time: 25-40 min/  baking time: 20 min.

Note: may make third of the recipe to serve two, using a 5-oz carton of plain Greek yogurt.

 

1/4 c ghee, or clarified butter  (A prepared version, which is not grass-fed, is available at Trader’s; may follow step 2, to quickly make your own in 15 minutes.)

2 lg cloves garlic, minced

initial foaming of butter

1/4 c fresh mint, chopped  (May substitute 2 tsp dried mint.)

2 c plain Greek yogurt  (Greek yogurt makes this recipe great; it is important that milk products are whole and organic for optimum health.)

1 lg egg white, beaten to froth

2 tsp corn starch

1 1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

White pepper, to taste

6 eggs

  1. foam subsides, just before raising heat

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

  2. May use a prepared version of clarified butter (an 8-oz jar is available for $3.99 at Trader Joe’s, but this is NOT grass-fed).  Better yet, for a homemade ghee: prepare a strainer, with a coffee filter in it, and place in a heat-proof dish.  Set aside.
  3. Over medium heat, shaking pan, melt 8-16 oz of high quality, unsalted butter ( grass-fed Kerrygold is ideal).
  4. When melted, cook until an even layer of white whey proteins forms on top (see photo in list of ingredients).
  5. Continue cooking until milk solids break apart, and foam subsides, temperature will be about 190 degrees (see above photo).  At this stage you have clarified butter.  Note: if foam is starting to brown deeply and quickly, your pan is not heavy enough to make ghee; remove from heat and immediately strain this clarified butter in a coffee-filter-lined strainer.
  6. To proceed with ghee, cook butterfat until a second foam rises, and it is golden in color.  This will take 2-3 more minutes, and temperature will reach 250 degrees; see photo below.  Watch carefully as dry casein particles, settled on bottom of pan, will brown quickly.
  7. Immediately gently strain butterfat into a heat-proof dish, through a coffee filter placed in a strainer (see bottom photo).  Transfer into an airtight container to keep out moisture.  This lasts for months, when stored in the refrigerator.
  8. ghee finished, as it foams a second time

    Chop mint-if using fresh-and garlic.

  9. Measure ghee (samneh) into a small saucepan, heat on med/low, add mint and garlic, and cook until garlic is golden brown.  Stir this frequently, watching carefully so as not to burn.  Meanwhile proceed to next step.
  10. Beat egg white until frothy (see photo below); an electric mixer hastens this process.
  11. Place yogurt in a heavy saucepan, adding salt, cornstarch, and foamy egg white, to which a final beat is given (if making a smaller recipe of only two servings, be sure to use just one third of whites).  CAREFULLY STIR IN THE SAME DIRECTION, until thoroughly combined.
  12. egg whites beaten to froth

    Continuing to stir in the same direction, cook over medium heat until it starts to boil.  Lower heat and simmer gently until thick, about 3 minutes.  Greek yogurt thickens more quickly than regular yogurt; if making a smaller portion, this will thicken very fast!

  13. Pour hot yogurt in an oven-proof dish (or evenly divide into

    separated browned milk solids with golden butterfat

    individual oven-proof bowls).  Spread out to completely cover the bottom of dish.  Break eggs on top of this mixture, spacing them evenly if using a larger dish.  Pour flavored ghee over eggs.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until eggs are hard (see photo of finished product at top of recipe).  Serve immediately for an incredible palate-pleasing experience!

Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread

Following is a family recipe for the best Irish soda bread and information on soft and hard flour, as well as details on what happens to gluten in the the kneading process.

There are two varieties of wheat flour: soft and hard.  This recipe uses the soft whole wheat pastry flour, with low-gluten content; cake flour, which is the other soft flour, is even lower in this mixture of plant proteins.  Hard, all-purpose, or bread flour is the other variety, which is high in gluten.

All wheat flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin, which combined form the gluten.  When dough is initially mixed, these proteins are mangled and knotted together in a relatively unorderly fashion.  Kneading lines these up; bonds are developed between neighbors; thus, gluten chains form, creating the surrounding substance within which the dough can develop.  In this way strength and structure are established, which trap gases and allow the dough to rise; this process is critical in producing a good loaf of yeast bread.

Unlike yeast bread, such manipulative action is minimal in its soda counterpart, providing for little  gluten development; its soft flour, being comparatively low in these proteins, produces a quick bread with its own appeal, which is a fine, tender crumb.  Being fast to prepare, it must be eaten with haste as well, as it becomes stale swiftly.

Irish soda bread has simplicity and a basic composition; it is leavened with the rapid-acting chemical baking soda, and as it has been said, brief mixing minimizes its gluten development.  This luscious loaf may be enhanced by adding either raisins or currants (see Mor Monsen’s Kaker, 2017/11/27, for the history of currants).

It is an understatement to say that my mother Pat, who now resides in heaven, loved her Irish heritage while sojourning on earth: I grew up, during every March, with a month’s worth of corned beef and cabbage.  On St. Patrick’s Day itself, sometimes there were scrambled eggs colored with green food dye, or toilet bowl water tinted likewise, and always a mandatory wearing-of-the-green.  (She would have to dash in the bathroom to revive the toilet water following each use.)

Mom will always be remembered by all, for her passion for green; year-round she favored this color in her clothing, home decorations, and above all God’s splendid paintings in nature.

I am honoring her during her month, by sharing our family’s recipes for Irish Soda Bread and of course, corn beef and cabbage, which will be next week’s entry.  Irish soda bread is a quick bread, traditionally made without fat; it generally calls for soft flour-made from soft winter wheat berries-which is marketed as whole wheat pastry flour.

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 521-523, 537-538, 549-550.

https://www.thespruce.com/the-science-of-kneading-dough-1328690

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheat_flour

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kneading

http://www.sodabread.info/history/

bread with Kerrygold butter from Ireland

Irish Soda Bread Yields: 10-12 servings.  Total prep time: 45-55 min/  active prep time: 20 min/  baking time: 25-35 min.

3/4 cup milk  (Alternative milks will do, or may purchase buttermilk.)

8 squirts from plastic lemon ball, for souring milk

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour  (Bob’s Red Mill flour is high quality; may grind 1 1/3 cup organic soft winter wheat berries, to make 2 cups fresh flour.)

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

3 tbsp sugar  (Organic is best; available at Trader Joe’s, or more inexpensively, in a 10-lb package at Costco.)

4 tbsp butter, softened

1/2 cup raisins or currants  (Currants available in bulk at upscale grocers, such as the national chain New Season’s.)

Spray oil  (Pam coconut spray oil is ideal; our local Winco brand, however, is far cheaper.)

  1. cutting butter into flour until mealy

    Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  2. If grinding fresh flour, begin to do so now with 1 1/3 c soft winter white wheat berries; wait to preheat oven with this option.
  3. Sour milk by placing it in a medium bowl, squeezing about 8 squirts from lemon ball over surface; set aside.
  4. In a large bowl blend flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar, with a fork.
  5. Cut 3 tbsp softened butter into flour mixture, until mixture is mealy and butter is well incorporated (see above photo).
  6. dough after kneading for 1 minute

    Stir in soured milk and raisins or currants.  Knead dough gently for 1 minute,  flouring counter and hands to keep dough from sticking.  See photo.  (Note: if grinding flour fresh, be sure to let dough sit in bowl, covered, for 45 minutes before kneading, to absorb excess moisture present in the coarser fresh-grind.)

  7. Form into a round loaf and place on a cookie sheet sprayed with oil.  With a sharp knife, cut an X on top of loaf about 1/2-inch deep.  Optional: dot with softened butter (see photo below).
  8. Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until golden brown and there is a hollow sound when tapped on bottom; see top photo.  Cool on rack.
  9. loaf ready to be baked

    This is best served with imported Irish Kerrygold butter-this treat is available many places, but the best buy is at Costco, when in stock.

Quinoa Dishes

salad topped with cooked quinoa

Our bodies are the temples of God; only through his grace, do we have the capacity to care for these holy houses with good diet and healthy exercise.  For years, such attendance was beyond my natural ability, but now I highly esteem the enabling gift from God, which provides me with the means to execute both these disciplines effectively.

Clearly I recall the days, when weighing 226 pounds, walking caused painful rubbing together of my fleshy thighs.  Brokenhearted, after repeated failures and fresh firm resolve, I would yet again reach toward the “easy” goal of a 20-minute walk, 3 times a week.  I could never achieve this, try as I might.

Lo and behold, my challenge has been reversed: now I have to be careful not to obsess about exercise, as I so love walking aerobically, for this invigorates me, stimulating a marvelous sense of well-being in my soul.

My trustworthy instruction book, the Bible, warns that there are advantages in physical exercise, but these are limited, as they pale in sight next to the gains acquired by putting spiritual development first.  Thus, we must approach workouts with great wisdom, so they neither own us, nor escape us.

My days are jam-packed, for I am gratefully fulfilling my ordained achievements with my food history writings and other ministry.  The result is a thrilling existence, in which I can run out of time at the end of a day, leaving me with critical choices, with which I have to prioritize.

Our gracious Father has granted me a tool to do such: there is a winter wonderland scene at the Tualatin Commons, the man-made lake near my home.  All the trees surrounding this body of water are dressed in bright, white lights (the floating Christmas tree was taken down after the New Year).  This has become my piece de resistance, which early in my day I start anticipating: will this pleasure be mine at twilight?  Only supernatural help allows me to accomplish the needed organization to allow this longed-for walk.

Discipline in ordering my day is critical; by necessity, exercise has become secondary to my fulfilling the higher purpose of my calling.  Often I recall how this valued ambulation used to be such a burden, causing sores on my overweight thighs, but now I crave walking.  I didn’t bring this miracle about; my great Healer affected it in me over time.  I am literally his walking miracle!

Not only has my exercise been refined, but healthy eating has come to me supernaturally, as well.  Slowly I have attained excellent eating disciplines; incorporating quinoa (KEEN-wah) in my diet is one such development.  This is a cereal grain, sometimes referred to as a seed; all grains, legumes, and nuts are seeds.

Quinoa is a power-food that is native to northern South America; it was domesticated originally as food for livestock around 5000 B.C., near the Lake Titicaca basin of Peru and Bolivia-I spent a night on this pitch black, remote lake, the largest inland body of water in the southern hemisphere, which doesn’t have electricity.

Quinoa was a staple with the Incas, second only to the potato in importance, and is still in the forefront among their indigenous descendants the Quechua and Aymara people.  It is a grain from a plant called Chenopodium quinoa, which is a member of the same family as beets and spinach.

Like many ancient grains, this seed was almost lost: in 1532, the Spanish explorer Francisco Pizarro destroyed quinoa fields, in his attempt to annihilate the Incan culture; this crop, however, survived in the high Andean mountains.  Quinoa was reintroduced to the modern world in the 1970’s and 80’s.

This high-fiber, complete-protein food, rich in numerous vitamins and minerals, produces a starch gel, similar to that of risotto, giving it a kind of silky texture, according to Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page in Culinary Artistry; they further state that its earth tones highly compliment the mineral and earthy components of lobster-try experimenting with this combination.

Here, however, I quickly prepare it in two savory dishes.  This pseudo cereal-not a member of the grass family, therefore not a true cereal-can also be cooked as a breakfast food; serve it with dried fruit, honey, and an alternative milk, such as almond or hazelnut.

My discovery of quinoa has blessed me immensely; may it benefit you  likewise.

References:

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), pp. 451-483.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quinoa

http://www.ancientgrains.com/quinoa-history-and-origin/

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/quinoa-the-mother-of-grains-1-57670322/

Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page, Culinary Artistry (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.), pp. 142, 143.

toasted yellow quinoa

Simple Cooked Quinoa  Yields: 3-5 servings, as a main course or side dish respectively.  Total prep time: 30 min/  active prep time: 15 min/  cooking time: 15 min.  Note: double this for healthy leftovers; this is especially good added to green salads (see photo above).

1 c quinoa  (Tri-color or red organic quinoa is preferable-color is important in diet.)

1-15 oz can of chicken, vegetable, or beef broth

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for optimum health; a fine grind Himalayan salt is available very cheaply at Costco.)

  1. Toast the grain in a hot, dry frying pan over medium heat, for about 6-10 minutes, stirring constantly as color starts to change; yellow quinoa will turn light brown in color (see above photo), while red quinoa  turns deep red.  This enhances the flavor of the dish remarkably!  Meanwhile go to next step.
  2. While quinoa is beginning to toast, pour broth in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan (or 3-quart pan, if doubling recipe).  Stir in salt and bring to a boil over medium heat; when liquid boils, add toasted seed and bring to a second boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes; red quinoa may take longer to cook.  When done, water will be absorbed and quinoa will be soft and somewhat translucent.
  3. Serve immediately.  Refrigerate any leftovers to reheat for an entrée, or to add to a green salad (see first photo).

carrots and quinoa

Carrots and Quinoa  Yields: 4-6 servings, as a main course or side dish respectively.  Total prep time: 45 minutes.

1 med yellow onion, cut in even 1/8 inch slices

4 1/2 tsp oil  (Coconut or avocado oil is best, as olive oil is carcinogenic, when heated to high temperatures.)

8 med carrots, or other vegetable  (Organic multi-colored carrots are available at Trader Joe’s; color is important in diet.)

1 c quinoa  (Red or tri-color is good.)

1-15-oz can chicken, vegetable, or beef broth

1/2 tsp salt  (Himalayan, pink, or Real Salt is critical for premium health; an inexpensive fine grind Himalayan salt is available at Costco.)

  1. red quinoa as it is beginning to change color

    To caramelize onions, cook slowly over medium heat in 1/2 tsp of oil, stirring every several minutes, until a light color starts to form; then, stir every minute, until dark brown.  Be sure to use a small amount of oil; too much oil will require a much longer cooking time, as will crowding the pan.

  2. Spray carrots with a safe inexpensive, effective vegetable spray (combine 97% distilled white vinegar with 3% hydrogen peroxide); let sit 3 minutes; rinse well.
  3. Bring broth to a boil in a covered 1 1/2–quart saucepan, over med/high heat; add salt.  (Use a 3-quart pan is doubling recipe.)
  4. Toast quinoa in a hot dry frying pan, over medium heat, stirring constantly as color starts to change.  This takes about 6-10 minutes-yellow quinoa will turn light brown, while red quinoa will become deep red (see photo above).
  5. To preserve vitamins just under skin, scrape carrots with a sharp knife, instead of peeling; slice thinly.  (Meanwhile keep checking the onions.)
  6. finished product

    Add toasted quinoa to boiling broth, cover, and reduce heat to med/low.  Allow to simmer until all the liquid is absorbed and quinoa is soft and somewhat translucent (this takes about 15 minutes for yellow quinoa, while red quinoa may take longer).

  7. Heat remaining 4 tsp oil in an empty frying pan.  Add sliced carrots, cover, and steam until soft, stirring occasionally.
  8. Blend onions into carrots; mix cooked quinoa into vegetables.  Serve hot (see above photo).

Norwegian Oven Pancakes

Norwegian oven pancake

The exceptional baking of Norway has been on my mind lately, with recipes I have been making since the 1970’s: I published the Yuletide bars Mor Monsen’s Kaker on 2017/11/27; and now I offer Norwegian Oven Pancakes.  This effortless baked pancake blesses at anytime, but truly it triumphs at a holiday breakfast-may it grace your Christmas morning, either before or after gifts.

Not always has the making of a pancake been so simple; in Consider the Fork, Bee Wilson details the time-consuming directions, published in the advice book Le Menagier de Paris, in 1393: take eggs, the fairest wheaten flour, and warm white wine-in place of milk-beating all together “long enough to weary one person or two” (this was done in a household of servants).

Almost every nation boosts of their own particular version of pancakes, some sweet and others savory; there isn’t room to define these multiple, provincial modifications; I will review, however, those of several countries that capture my interest in particular.

The Nordic pancake is typically like a French crepe, but their oven variation ugnspannkaka resembles a German pancake-also known as a Dutch Baby-which is baked, thick, and unleavened; today’s entry is the ugnspannkaka.

On the other hand, American hotcakes and griddlecakes are always made with a raising agent, such as baking powder, along with flour, eggs, and milk; thus, they swell and bubble in the hot frying pan.  In the 19th century, prospectors and pioneers employed sourdough starter for the rising of this light, airy flapjack; such is still the popular Alaskan mode.

Johnnycake and bannock are pancake types of old.  In world history, bannock dates back as early as 1000 A.D.; hence both the Native Americans and settlers were making this in early North America.  The Natives used corn, nut meal, and plant bulb meal in this creation; the immigrant’s technique was Scottish in origin, in which oatmeal was the key component.

Johnnycake was first recorded here by Amelia Simmons in American Cookery, 1796, with the ingredients of Indian meal, flour, milk, molasses, and shortening (for the history of shortening, see my Ozark Honey-Oatmeal Cookies, 2017/10/30).  These flat corn cakes were a staple in young U.S.A.

In England, pancakes are without a rising agent, using primarily flour, eggs, and milk, which results in their being close to French crepes.  Served for a sweet dessert or as a savory main course, these British cakes date back centuries, for Gervase Markam wrote their instructions in The English Hus-wife (1615); she, however, substituted water for milk and added sweet spices.  That nation’s Yorkshire pudding, a similar receipt to their pancakes, rises only slightly, by the well-beaten air in this batter without leaven.

These English unleavened varieties of flannel cake differ from their risen form found in Scotland, which includes baking soda and cream of tartar;  there are also numerous variables in Wales-among which some incorporate yeast, others oatmeal.

African pancakes, such as those in Kenya and South Africa, most often resemble the English crepe.  In Afrikaans, these unleavened English crepes are known as pannekoeke, while plaatkoekies refer to American-style “silver dollar” risen pancakes.  In Uganda, the pancake is united with their staple banana, usually being served at breakfast or as a snack.

Of all the vast productions, present-yet differing-in almost every nationality, the Ethiopian one enchants me the most; there they have injera, a very large spongy affair, which acts as a huge platter for their stews and salads to be served on at their feasts.  With the right hand, one tears the edges off this yeast-risen flatbread, to scoop up the meal, finally eating the underlying “tablecloth”, in which all the foods’ juices have been absorbed.  In 1984, I had the great pleasure of spending a whole day with an Ethiopian family in Billings, Montana, while they taught me how to cook and eat this authentic repast-I was fascinated with its injera, which simultaneously acted as a plate, an eating utensil, and finally the food itself.

Of all these above mentioned recipes, our Norwegian oven pancake is the most simple.  Enjoy this festive delight, which only takes minutes to assemble.  It is indeed glorious!

References:

Bee Wilson, Consider the Fork (New York: Basic Books, 2012, 2013), p. 147.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pancake

James Trager, The Food Chronology (New York: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1995), p. 52.

Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking (New York: Scribner, 1984, 2004), p. 548.

Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, 1796 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965, reprinted), p. 57.

pancake right out of oven

Norwegian Oven Pancake  Yields: 6 servings.  Total prep time: about 45 min/  active prep time: 15 min/  baking time: 30-40 min.  Note: leftovers are delicious either cold or at room temperature.

6 lg eggs

1/2 c sugar  (Coconut sugar is ideal; for its health benefits, see Zucchini Bread, 2017/07/24.)

3/4 c flour  (Bob’s Red Mill organic, unbleached white flour is high quality, or substitute whole wheat pastry flour.)

1 tsp salt  (Real Salt, pink salt, is important for premium health; available at nutrition center in local supermarket.)

1 tsp vanilla

2 1/2 c milk  (May use an alternative milk, such as hazelnut or almond.)

piece of butter the size of an egg, about 5 tbsp

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. With an electric mixer, beat eggs in a large bowl; blend in sugar, salt and vanilla; gently, quickly mix in flour.
  3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 9” x 13” pan in hot oven; watch carefully.
  4. batter before baking

    Very slowly add milk to above egg mixture, beating continuously.

  5. When butter is melted, roll it around baking dish, coating entire pan.
  6. Pour batter in greased baking dish.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until batter is set.
  7. Serve hot.  (Cold leftovers are also great!)