REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

homemade buttermilk ranch dressingI know that ranch dressing is arguably not in the realm of Real Food 101 for everyone reading here.  But oh my it certainly does hit the spot for anyone who grew up in my family.  We used to put ranch dressing on everything!  It wasn’t just for fries, it was also for salads, meats, veggies, and anything else savory.  The problem: we were eating bottled salad dressing or dressing from restaurants when we were out.Growing up, the only less-offensive version of Ranch dressing was when we would buy the ranch flavoring packets and at least make our own from mayonnaise and sour cream at home.  But that isn’t much better since the packets contain MSG, the mayonnaise had industrial waste oils in it, and we used to buy fat free sour cream.  It is memories like this that make me feel so grateful that I started embracing whole foods.  To top it all off, I learned that fats are nourishing and healthy.I like to use ranch dressing for salads of course, but it is also amazing as a dip for vegetables, these GAPS fried cheese sticks, or chicken strips.  You can also use it as a spread on sandwiches, it gives a really great herbed flavor.  I have also drizzled it over any cooked vegetable I have at dinner, like my riff on this recipe for sauteedbrussel sprouts, bacon, and pecans.

Equipment Needed:

large bowl
whisk
good knife

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

1 cup homemade mayonnaise
1 cup sour cream (find grass-fed dairy here; buy culture starters here)
1/2 cup buttermilk (find grass-fed dairy here; buy culture starters here)
juice of one lemon
large handful chopped fresh parsley
large handful chopped fresh dill
large handful chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon onion powder (buy organic spices here)
1 teaspoon garlic powder (buy organic spices here)
sea salt to taste (buy various natural sea salts here)
pepper to taste (buy organic peppers here)

  1. In a large bowl whisk mayonnaise, sour cream, buttermilk, and lemon together until smooth.
  2. Add chopped parsley, dill, chives, onion powder, and garlic powder and whisk together.
  3. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve!

Crispy Homemade Hash Browns

secret to crispy hash brownsI find nothing more satisfying than a large breakfast on the weekend.  The only problem was that I had never learned how to make hash browns from scratch.  We always just bought them, frozen, in bags from the grocery store.  When I did think of making them, all I could imagine was that you had to peel a potato and grate it like you would a block of cheese.  I had no interest in doing that!

But the call of fresh hash browns was enough for me to learn, especially since I have been eating more carbohydrates in an effort to raise my metabolism.  There’s a simple trick to getting really crispy hash browns, and I’ll share it with you today!

Hash browns, eggs, quiche, frittatas, toast, fresh juice, pancakes, waffles, fruit, you name it.  That my kind of breakfast!  Throw a little lacto-fermented ketchup on these babies and you’re good to go.  Plus, when you eat a big breakfast you get the benefit of extra energy and a roaring metabolism.  Win win!

PUFA and Conventional Potatoes:  Have you ever read the ingredient list on a bag of frozen potatoes?  From fries to tater tots to hash browns, the story is always the same: vegetable oil and potatoes.

Vegetable oils are industrial by-products.  We were never meant to consume canola, cottonseed, soybean, grapeseed, or other oils in the quantities that we do in processed foods. We were meant to have saturated fats, like coconut oil and butter.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are also the perfect mechanism to disrupt our omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid ratio balance.  Industrial vegetable oils are almost always PUFA, which are inherently unstable and may cause health problems.

Which brings me to: it’s a good thing hash brown are a lot easier to make than I thought!  Fry them up in ghee or expeller-pressed coconut oil.   Enjoy crispy potatoes with breakfast to raise your metabolism for the day, no PUFA in sight!

So What’s the Secret?  Squeezing out the water from the potatoes!  You have to press out the extra moisture from these shredded potatoes in order to get them really crispy.  It’s the same principle as squeezing the water out of zucchini for fritters, or patting meat dry so it can get a nice brown sear.

Equipment Needed:

  • food processor, kitchen towel
  • cast iron skillet, spatula

Note: Make sure you use expeller-pressed coconut oil for this recipe, since regular unrefined coconut oil will taste and smell like coconut.  Expeller-pressed coconut oil has a nice neutral taste, perfect for these savory kinds of dishes.  Alternately, you can use ghee, which won’t burn like butter when used for frying.

Crispy Hash Browns

6 large russet potatoes, peeled and halved to fit through feed tube of food processor
coconut oil or ghee (buy expeller-pressed coconut oil here, how to make ghee here)
salt and pepper to taste (buy unrefined sea salt and organic pepper here)

  1. Lay out a large kitchen towel, and set aside.  In a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, process potatoes until they are completely shredded.  Remove from the food processor and pile in the center of the kitchen towel.
  2. Gather the corners of the towel together and twist to seal and grab firmly.  Over the kitchen sink, twist as hard as you can manage, squeezing out as much of the water from the shredded potatoes as possible.  Unwrap.
  3. In a large cast iron skillet, melt ghee or coconut oil over medium-high heat.  Cook about half of the shredded potatoes in the skillet for 5-10 minutes, until golden brown.  Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Using a spatula, flip the potatoes over to brown on the other side.  Season the other side with salt and pepper as well, adding more ghee or coconut oil to the pan if needed.
  5. When both sides are golden brown, remove from the skillet and serve.  You can save extra hash browns in the fridge, as they reheat very well.

Wintertime Snack: Shortbread Wedges & Peppermint Hot Cocoa

This recipe is an excerpt from my Natural Cocktails e-book, which is perfect for the homemade mixologist who doesn’t want any fake colors or flavors in their cocktails.  I use this shortbread recipe as a garnish for one of the cocktails in the book.  And I think this peppermint hot cocoa would be amazing with a little Creme de Menthe added to it.There is a line in The Polar Express where the narrator talks about the children on the train drinking hot cocoa “as thick and rich as melted chocolate bars”.  I always imagined what that might be like, snuggled up in my jammies on a magical train ride to the North Pole.  Immediately after making this cup of hot chocolate I was transported to that imagery again. This hot cocoa looks exactly like what I pictured as a child when I read that line in the book.  Paired with a simple homemade shortbread cookie, this is one of the most decadent yet subtlely sweet treats that I have made this season.All you need for an excellent shortbread are clean, wholesome ingredients.  They will speak for you without any frills as long as you buy quality butter, salt, flour, and whole sweetener.  Grass-fed butter, yellow and nutrient-dense with vitamin K2.  Almond flour, ground fine with a gentle and slight natural sweetness.  Sea salt, unrefined with trace minerals still in tact.  Raw honey, fragrant and sweet.  Coconut flour, powdery and dense providing a crumbly texture in our cookie.

Ever since I discovered the simplicity of the shortbread cookie I have been a fan of it’s buttery richness and slightly salty crunch.  I love to keep shortbread basic, without even any vanilla in the dough.  My favorite shortbread cookie was made with sprouted flour originally, but since starting GAPS nine months ago I have found this almond flour to be the new front runner.  It has a nice subtle sweetness to it that I prefer.

Grain-Free Shortbread
makes one 9-inch round shortbread, cut into 12 wedges

1 3/4 cups almond flour (buy almond flour here)
1/4 cup coconut flour (buy coconut flour here)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (buy unrefined sea salt here)
1/4 cup honey (buy unfiltered raw honey here)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cold, cut into small pieces (buy grass-fed butter here)
1 teaspoon vanilla (buy organic extracts here)

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Generously butter a 9-inch round pan or a glass pie plate.  Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the almond flour, coconut flour, and salt.  Pour honey over the top.  Add diced butter.  With a pastry blender, or with your hands, combine ingredients until they form small crumbs the size of peas.
  3. Press crumbly dough into the buttered pan.
  4. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the edges are nice and golden brown and the middle is set.  While still warm, cut the wheel of cookie into wedges with a sharp knife.  Let cool completely.
  5. Cut the wedges one more time to make sure they are completely loose.  Using a small spatula, lift the wedges out of the pan and serve.  Dip into peppermint hot cocoa, below.

Coconut milk hot cocoa laced with peppermint extract is an intoxicating contradiction of hot liquid and cooling mint oils.  Bitter cocoa powder is coaxed to play nicely with the touch of raw honey, and because coconut milk naturally contains coconut cream and coconut oil, the warmed and blended cocoa is very smooth and thick.

Use the best quality ingredients you can find, so that they will stand up on their own and create an experience as you consume them, not just sustainance.  Organic cocoa powder should not be processed with alkali (also called “Dutch-process”) like it’s commercial counterparts.

Coconut Milk Peppermint Hot Cocoa
serves 2
1 1/2 cups coconut milk (find coconut milk here)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (find cocoa powder here)
1/4 cup raw honey (find raw honey here)
1 teaspoon peppermint extract (find clean organic extracts here)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (find extracts here)
  1. In a saucepan, gently heat coconut milk until warm.  Whisking constantly, gradually add cocoa powder and whisk until completely absorbed.  Add honey and stir until fully incorporated.  Add peppermint and vanilla, stirring to combine.
  2. Remove from heat and pour into heavy-bottomed mugs.  Serve with shortbread wedges, or another tea cookie or two.
See my resources page for more information about quality ingredients like vanilla and peppermint extracts and truly unrefined sea salt with all it’s trace minerals present.
Note: I am marking this recipe as vegan and dairy-free since you can make the cookies with coconut oil.  Enjoy!

REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Yogurt

homemade yogurtYogurt can be made many different ways: raw milk yogurt, 24-hour yogurt, yogurt made from one of many different culture strains.  That’s the great thing about yogurt.  It’s very simple, but it’s also variable depending on what you would like to make yogurt for.  Some are thick, some are thin, but all have that bright and sour flavor that we all love.

Yogurt is basically milk and cream that has been thickened with beneficial bacteria.  We all know that yogurt is “good for you”, but why?  Probiotic foods are claimed to be good for our bodies in many ways: gut flora balance, immune system defenses, and general health.  Making your own yogurt at home is simple, and yields the freshest probiotic bang for your buck!

What Kinds of Yogurt Are There?

Making yogurt can be done many ways.  But first you must understand the difference between yogurts that culture at room temperature and those that culture in a warm space.  Room temperature cultured yogurts are called mesophilic, and warm temperature yogurts are called thermophilic.

You can use a yogurt maker or a dehydrator to make thermophilic yogurts, which is very easy since temperature controls are built into these kitchen items.

Mesophilic yogurts are easiest for a beginner, since they simply culture in a jar on the kitchen counter at room temperature.  You can buy mesophilic starters here.  I have personally used the Viili culture from Cultures for Health, and it really was easy to use!  This was what I used before I bought my dehydrator, which really facilitates ease when making yogurt.

Where did yogurt come from?

There seem to be as many strains of yogurt as there are traditional societies.  It seems every culture has some kind of fermented dairy they traditionally make, from Indian raitas and lassis to our American acidophilus yogurts sweetened with fruit.

The history of yogurt is fascinating.  According to Wikipedia:

How milk was first cultured into yogurt remains a mystery. Analysis of the L. bulgaricus genome indicates that the bacteria may have originated on the surface of a plant…

There is evidence of cultured milk products in cultures as far back as 2000 BCE. In the records of the ancient culture of Indo-Iranians (Iran and India), yogurt is mentioned by 500 BCE. In this record the combination of yogurt and honey is called ‘the food of the gods’. Persian traditions hold that ‘Abraham owed his fecundity and longevity to the regular ingestion of yogurt’.

The oldest writings mentioning yogurt are attributed to Pliny the Elder, who remarked that certain nomadic tribes knew how ‘to thicken the milk into a substance with an agreeable acidity’. The use of yogurt by medieval Turks is recorded in the books Diwan Lughat al-Turk by Mahmud Kashgari and Kutadgu Bilig by Yusuf Has Hajib written in the 11th century. Both texts mention the word “yogurt” in different sections and describe its use by nomadic Turks.  The earliest yogurts were probably spontaneously fermented by wild bacteria in goat skin bags.

I think the rich history of yogurt is absolutely fascinating.  To think that ancestral peoples discovered thickened milk and it’s beneficial and sour goodness is amazing to me!

What Kind of Milk and Cream Should I Use?

If you use raw milk, your finished yogurt will have a tendency to be runnier than it’s store-bought or pasteurized counterpart.  This is due to the enzymes present in raw milk, which are good for you but result in a thinner yogurt.

So how can you thicken your raw milk yogurt up?  By adding cream to your milk mixture before culturing.  It also helps to heat your milk to 110 degrees (Fahrenheit) before culturing.  I also find that 24-hour yogurt tends to be thicker, probably due to the extended culturing time that allows it to thicken and proliferate for longer.

You can also use pasteurized milk if you don’t have access to raw milk.  Try to get the best quality milk you can: whole, organic, grass-fed milk.  You can find good quality milk information for your area here.

Why should I make yogurt?  Yogurt is probiotic and is claimed to aid in digestion and immune system function.  Of course I can’t make any health claims here that are definitive, but I do notice that when I eat fermented and probiotic and enzymatic foods, I feel better.

Making your own yogurt at home is also much fresher than anything you can buy, and that generally means that the probiotic count is very high.  Homemade yogurt is simple, something you can make once a week for you and your family that will nourish all of you.

Equipment Needed:

  • saucepan
  • candy thermometer
  • glass quart jars and storage lids
  • dehydrator or yogurt maker
  • yogurt starter, OR a good quality store-bought yogurt (plain, organic, whole milk, grass-fed if possible), OR yogurt from a previous batch

Remember that when you make yogurt, the process is cyclical.  Once you make your first batch, you can save a few spoonfuls to make your next batch and keep going that way to make endless batches of yogurt.

If your yogurt ever fails to continue proliferating, you can always buy a new starter or buy a good quality store-bought yogurt to get your yogurt-making cycle going again.

Basic Whole Milk Raw Yogurt

1 quart (4 cups) raw milk (find raw milk near you here)
raw cream, optional for up to 2 cups of the milk (find raw cream near you here)
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, gently heat milk until it registers at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Pour into glass jars, leaving at least an inch and half head space.  Add one or two heaping spoonfuls of yogurt starter, stirring very well to incorporate without lumps.
  3. Cover loosely with a storage lid, and place into a yogurt maker or dehydrator.
  4. Set the temperature to the heat specified.  If you are using store-bought yogurt as your starter, then set your temperature at 85-90 degrees.  I like my yogurt a little thinner, so this temperature is perfect for me.  You can also go as high as 100 degrees.
  5. Culture for 12 hours or so, or until the desired thickness is reached.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

24-Hour Raw Milk GAPS Yogurt

1 quart (4 cups) raw milk (find raw milk near you here)
raw cream, optional for up to 2 cups of the milk (find raw cream near you here)
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat, gently heat milk until it registers at 110 degrees Fahrenheit, stirring occasionally.
  2. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.  Pour into glass jars, leaving at least an inch and half head space.  Add one or two heaping spoonfuls of yogurt starter, stirring very well to incorporate without lumps.
  3. Cover loosely with a storage lid, and place into a yogurt maker or dehydrator.
  4. Set the temperature to the heat specified.  If you are using store-bought yogurt as your starter, then set your temperature at 100 degrees.
  5. Culture for a full 24 hours, to make sure that the lactose present in the milk is completely converted to lactic acid by the culturing process.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

Yogurt Made with Pasteurized Milk

1 quart (4 cups) milk
yogurt starter (find yogurt starters here) either from a new batch or a previous batch of yogurt OR good quality store-bought yogurt

  1. In a saucepan, briefly scald the milk and then remove from heat and set aside.  Let cool but only until still warm to the touch.
  2. Pour into glass jars and add the starter, mixing well to incorporate without any lumps.  Cover loosely with a storage lid and put into the yogurt maker or dehydrator to culture.  (Alternately, follow the directions on your starter packet if it is specific for temperature and culture times.)
  3. Culture overnight for about 12 hours, or until desired thickness is reached.  Then place your yogurt in the refrigerator and let it chill for an hour or two to thicken up completely.

As far as varieties of yogurt, you can buy many different kinds on my resource page.  When you receive the starter in the mail, simply follow the directions that they come with.  Some culture at specific temperatures and for specific times, depending on the strain of bacteria in that particular yogurt.

Remember to read the specifications before you buy, so that you will know if you need a yogurt maker or dehydrator to make your yogurt at home.

How should I use my yogurt?  Use your homemade yogurt for smoothies, yogurt bowls with honey and nuts and fruit, to make frozen yogurt, or just to mix with a little jam and take to school or work for lunch.  Sometimes I just like to drizzle mine with honey and dig in.

Chocolate Peppermint and Coconut Citrus Fudge

twofudgesThe holidays are my favorite time of year, full of excitement, friends and family, food, and entertaining.  But it is also the time of year when we need to give our immune systems some support, not bombarding them with foods that are difficult to digest.  So instead of making fudge with conventional ingredients like marshmallow fluff and white sugar, make these healthier versions.  Your body will thank you.

These fudges are perfect for increasing your intake of heart-healthy coconut oil.  Coconut oil contains lauric acid and other fatty acids that are very good for you.  I try to eat 4 tablespoons of coconut oil every day.  But aside from the practical benefit, these are beautiful and nourishing during the time of year when we usually eat a lot of refined sugar and flour during the holidays.  If you make these for a holiday party, or even to simply have around at home for a sweet snack, you will find that you are able to curb the need for white sugar and white flour.

I really love it when I find a dessert recipe that is not only GAPS-legal but actually and truly very, very delicious.  I mean really delicious, as in: you-don’t-have-to-have-real-food-tastebuds-to-appreciate-this delicious.  And it is a really special day when I have not one, but two, recipes to share that are up to this standard.  I have read coconut butter fudge recipes before, and I find these combinations below to be the most approachable and satisfying.  Adding the shredded coconut to these makes them extra special.  They have a lovely texture and flavor.

 

1/2 cup coconut butter (aka coconut spread) (buy coconut butter here)
1/2 cup expeller-pressed coconut oil* (buy coconut oil here)
1/2 cup cocoa powder (buy cocoa powder here)
1/4 cup thick, raw honey (buy set honey here)
2 teaspoons peppermint extract (buy peppermint extract here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (buy good vanilla extract here)
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (buy shredded coconut here)

  1. In a food processor, combine coconut butter, coconut oil, cocoa powder, honey, peppermint, and vanilla until very well-combined.  Add shredded coconut and pulse until combined.
  2. Spread mixture into a square glass pan**, smoothing the top evenly.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan, and cut into squares (if it’s too stiff, then let sit 10 minutes at room temperature and try again).  Using a small spatula, loosen the individual squares.  Store in the refrigerator in a container.  To serve, remove from the fridge and let the chill come off for about 20 minutes.

*Expeller-pressed coconut oil is neutral-tasting, as opposed to virgin coconut oil that tastes like coconut.  I prefer less coconut taste, but if you love coconut, go for the virgin coconut oil.  They are both extremely good for you! (buy all kinds of coconut oil here)

**You can also line your pan with parchment paper and then lift the entire square of chilled fudge onto a cutting board to cut into squares.  I prefer not to waste the parchment, but this method is very effective!
1 cup coconut butter (aka coconut spread) (buy coconut butter here)
1 cup coconut oil (buy coconut oil here)
1/2 cup thick, raw honey* (buy set honey here)
1 tablespoon citrus zest (lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime)** (buy a microplace here)
2 tablespoons citrus juice (lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime)**
1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut (buy shredded coconut here)

  1. In a food processor, combine coconut butter, coconut oil, honey, zest, and juice.  Process until very well-combined.  Add shredded coconut and pulse until combined.
  2. Spread mixture into a square glass pan***, smoothing the top evenly.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Remove the pan, and cut into squares.  Using a small spatula, loosen the individual squares.  Store in the refrigerator.  To serve, remove from the fridge and let the chill come off for about 20 minutes.

*Use more honey for lemon, lime, and grapefruit.  Use less honey for orange, since it’s naturally sweeter)

**It’s very fun to make two batches of this fudge, and use zest from two different fruits.  I like doing one lemon and one lime; the flecks of color from the zest is gorgeous.

***You can also line your pan with parchment paper and then lift the entire square of chilled fudge onto a cutting board to cut into squares.  I prefer not to waste the parchment, but this method is very effective!

These recipes both use coconut butter, also known as coconut cream concentrate and coconut spread.  You can find jars of coconut butter at the Wilderness Family Naturals link in my resource page for a best quality coconut spread.  Yum!

REAL FOOD 101: How to Make Beet Kvass (and why!)

beetkvassBeet kvass may be one of the most beautiful lacto-fermented drinks that I make at home.  Deep purple and slightly effervescent, some claim that beet kvass cleanses the blood, detoxifies the liver, and supports kidney health.  I have even heard that kvass pulls heavy metals from our bodies.  I’m not able to make any of those claims, but I certainly feel pretty good when I am drinking beet kvass regularly.  So I simply trust my own experience.

Beet kvass is also very simple, only made with four ingredients: beets, salt, water, and whey.  And when each ingredient is the best quality, you don’t need complicated recipes.  The simple blending of these four items with a little time on the counter can provide your body with needed electrolytes, vitamins, probiotics, and well-being.

I like to make my beet kvass with more whey and less salt.  I find that the lacto-fermentation process still works very well, but I don’t get an overly salty kvass in the end.  The whey also helps keep the fizziness in the kvass at the perfect level.  In Nourishing Traditions you can find a beet kvass recipe on page 610 (buy Nourishing Traditions here). The standard recipe is only a 1/4 cup of whey and more salt.  You can try it that way as well, but I have tried several combinations and I am sharing my favorite!

You will need a few items beforehand if you want to make beet kvass.  These are fairly simple to find, and will come in handy not just for making kvass, but other lacto-ferments you may want to give a try.  For example, most of these items are used in my tutorial for how to make water kefir.

The only thing you may have trouble finding or making is whey.  But if you already buy raw milk it’s simple to make: you simply leave your milk out at room temperature, covered, and let it separate.  Then when you let the solids drain through a sieve, the liquid that drips off is whey.  Separated milk is about half whey and half curds, so a gallon of milk would give you a half a gallon of whey.

If you don’t have raw milk yet, then you can get organic, plain, whole milk yogurt.  Then you can either pour the liquid off the top of it, which is whey, or you can strain the yogurt overnight in a sieve placed over a bowl and the whey will drip through.  This is my preferred way to make whey myself, although I use homemade raw milk yogurt when I do.

I prefer the ease of straining yogurt to make whey for several reasons: it doesn’t take as long as separating raw milk, it separates better and cleaner, and it tastes better.  Plus you can use the strained solids from the yogurt to make savory yogurt cheese, or a sweet base for a fruit tart if you mix it with honey and vanilla.  Remember that there is a reason nature made our foods this way.  We have use for each part!

If you have a dairy allergy and cannot use whey, then you can simply substitute with more salt in the recipe.  It will be salty, but the lacto-fermentation process will still take place properly with all salt.  For this recipe, you can substitute 1 tablespoon sea salt for the 1/2 cup of whey.

Beet Kvass
serves 4

1 large beet, or 2 small beets, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
large pinch of sea salt (buy unrefined sea salt here)
1/2 cup whey
filtered water

  1. In a half gallon jar, add cut beet cubes and sprinkle with sea salt.  Pour in the whey, then top off with enough water to fill jar completely.  Stir well.
  2. Cover with a dish towel to keep dust and bugs out of the jar.  Leave on the counter at room temperature for 1-2 days.  You’ll know it’s ready when you see little white bubbles or foam on the surface of the kvass.
  3. Remove cloth.  You can leave the beets in the kvass, your you can strain them out.  I like to leave them in.
  4. Cover with either a sprouting lid (buy a sprouting lid here or here) or a storage lid (you can buy mason jar storage lids here).  Transfer the finished kvass to the refrigerator to halt the lacto-fermentation process.
You need to drink only about 4 ounces of beet kvass in the morning on an empty stomach to get a concentrated benefit.  My six-year-old must need something in his body that beet kvass provides, because every time I make it his eyes light up and he asks when we get to drink the “beet ka-vass”.  But no matter the benefit you believe there is in beet kvass, it is truly grounding to make a healthy tonic from your bare hands to nourish you from the inside out.

Hydrating Watermelon Face Mask

watermelon face mask

I may not be the girliest girl.  I mean, the usual amount of makeup I wear is mineral mascara that I either purchase or make.  But even though I might not get fully makeup-ed except when I go out, I could live at the spa!  Every day.  Forever.  Ahhh!  I love the spa!

There’s only one problem: spas cost time and money.  And I will fork over both of those when I really need it, but most of the time I am busy being a mom, writing here, and going back to school.  Spa time gets pushed waaaay down to the bottom of my priority list.  Or does it?

Why not make your own!?

One of the simplest spa treatments to whip up at home is an all-natural face mask, like in this hydrating watermelon-yogurt facial.  It’s cleaner than anything from a bottle, it’s made with real food good enough to eat (so it’s good enough for your skin!), and it’s quick.  Plus, you feel so good afterwards, it’s worth 20 minutes of “me time” in the comfort of your own home.

Watermelon and Yogurt: Why?

Watermelon has naturally occurring hydrating properties that will restore moisture to your skin if it is dry or tired.  Watermelon is like nature’s sports drink, with plenty of electrolytes, minerals, and vitamins readily available to your body to absorb.  Watermelon is mostly water, and is a good source of the anti-oxidant flavanoids lycopene, beta-carotene, and lutein, vitamins B6 and A, electrolytes like potassium, and minerals like magnesium.

Yogurt is alive, teeming with probiotic goodness that can not only help your insides, but you skin too.  Lactic acid and enzymes present in the yogurt can aid your skin’s exfoliation process, as well as purifying the new skin that has been uncovered.

Are there more homemade options?

One excellent resource is this DIY Organic Beauty ebook, which I absolutely love.  She writes about all kinds of homemade shampoos, conditioners, bronzers, lotions, sunscreens, and more.  You name it, she has done the work for you!

Typical Spa Woes:

As I said above, if there is one thing in the world I could spend money on over and over and never get tired of it, it would be spa treatments.  I love massages, facials, masks, scrubs, hot stones, and waxes.  I feel relaxed, clean, and glowing after any one of those treatments.

For most of us, the spa is just a getaway that we splurge on once in a while.  And even when we do get there, if we care about the ingredients of the lotions, tonics, wraps, and masks, we may need to choose our products very carefully beforehand, like in the Skin Deep database.  If you do choose a spa skin care line, be sure that there are no lurking toxic additives to your favorite-smelling lotions, oils, and cleansers!

Some green-minded spas I have found use very high-quality ingredients that are completely non-toxic and sometimes even “good enough to eat”.  But those spas and organic skin care lines can be difficult to find in your area, let alone pay for.

Look carefully if you seek out a spa day near you, to make sure you are comfortable with the quality of the treatments and the products.  Otherwise, let’s get to the homemade facial!

Equipment Needed:

  • small glass bowl
  • spoon

 

Watermelon Face Mask

For softer skin:
2 tablespoons yogurt (find yogurt starters here, how to make yogurt here)
1 teaspoon watermelon juice

For aging skin:
2 tablespoons mashed avocado*
1 teaspoon watermelon juice

*the avocado helps plump up your skin, as well as protecting it and providing deep moisture for thinner, more delicate skin

  1. To make the watermelon juice, simply press a spoon into the watermelon flesh until the juice is released.
  2. For softer skin: Mix the yogurt and watermelon juice together until fully blended and pink.  Apply to your face and neck and leave for 10 minutes before rinsing.
  3. For aging skin: Mix the mashed avocado and watermelon juice together until fully blended and smooth.  Apply to your face and neck and leave for 20 minutes before rinsing.

Simple Honey-Sweetened Chocolate (and GAPS Chocolate Chips!)

homemade chocolate with honeyHandmade chocolate, fragrant with cocoa butter and vanilla bean and enhanced by just a touch of coffee.  Chopped fine, this simple chocolate becomes chocolate chips for truly spectacular homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Poured into molds, this chocolate can easily become homemade candy, such as these GAPS Peanut Butter Cups.  And simply cut into bars, you can make homemade chocolate bars for snacking or even s’mores!

Homemade chocolate chips are surprisingly easy to make, despite the ease with which most people can simply buy a package of chocolate chips from the store.  For many people, store chocolate chips are not an option.  Whether from principle or allergies, I have good news: you can make chocolate chips at home!

What’s wrong with store-bought chocolate chips?  Most store-bought chocolate chips are made with soy lecithin to make the texture smooth.  If you are allergic to soy, this can be very frustrating. Plus, even if you aren’t allergic to soy, I doubt it is ideal to eat soy lecithin when you are committed to a whole foods and traditional foods diet.

Store-bought chocolate chips also almost always are sweetened with white sugar or evaporated cane juice.  If you are on GAPS (a low-starch, probiotic, gut-healing diet), this is tricky because I have yet to see a chocolate sweetened with honey anywhere besides random companies on the internet (which I think are too pricey).

There are two typical problems you run into when making homemade chocolates.  Fortunately, I do not think it is too hard to avoid either one.  Just follow my steps, and learn a little about chocolate and how it behaves in the kitchen by reading below!

The first common problem is how to temper chocolate to make it set up at room temperature. I do not know that much about it except for what I have learned looking at recipes that call for it.  They usually start with unsweetened, dark, or milk chocolate from the store, which is then melted (but not too hot!) and cooled (but not too cool!).  It sounds like a headache unless you know what you’re doing.

An easier way to temper chocolate is by using a microwave like Ina Garten recommends in this recipe, but I do not like to microwave food anymore if I can help it.  Even though the chocolate is properly tempered in the microwave method, I don’t want the worry that I am destroying nutrients in the chocolate.  Plus, we don’t even have a microwave anymore!  And most importantly, my version of making chocolate is way easier!!

The second common problem is keeping your melted chocolate from seizing into a grainy mass.  This is problem is one that you need to pay attention to with my recipe below.  But don’t worry!  If you understand why melted chocolate seizes, then you’ll be well-equipped to keep your chocolate smooth and gorgeous.

I read this description of seizing chocolate somewhere, and it finally made sense to me: melted cocoa butter with cocoa powder and sweetener added is best treated like a soft solid.  It’s not really liquid.  This is why chocolate can seize when melted if even the tiniest bit of water touches it.  Think about when you add a small amount of water to flour: it becomes a balled up thick paste.

The same thing happens when you get a drop or two of water, say from condensation or a slightly damp kitchen tool or the steam from the water simmering beneath your melted chocolate.  That small amount of water will turn your smooth melted chocolate into a grainy ball of chocolate.  And it can happen suddenly, too!  Keep your water simmering gently, and take care that every tool you use is bone dry.

On the other hand, if you add a significant amount of water or liquid to the melted chocolate, then it doesn’t seize up.  There is enough liquid going into the mixture all at once that you will not be left with a grainy mass, but simply a softer chocolate after it is cooled.  So when you add vanilla or coffee to your melted chocolate, do not fear!

Why add coffee to chocolate?  I have noticed that a few of my favorite cooks add coffee to anything they make with chocolate or cocoa powder.  The idea is that the coffee is just enough to enhance the flavor of the chocolate, but not enough to taste like the coffee.  It is just that the chocolate tastes better.  I have tried it, and it is true!

But of course, you can leave it out.  Or use decaf or a coffee substitute if you wish.  Remember that coffee is GAPS-legal, but most coffee substitutes like Teeccino and Dandy Blend are not GAPS-legal because of the use of grains in the mix.

A note on cocoa butter:  Cocoa butter is the white solid fat that comes from the cocoa pod.  It is most recognizable as “white chocolate”, which is simply cocoa butter sweetened and flavored.  The cocoa butter fat is much easier to digest for GAPS people when compared to cocoa powder or chocolate in it’s typical bar form. Fortunately, I have an excellent source of cocoa butter on my resource page.  The cocoa butter is pure, organic, fragrant, delicate, and absolutely gorgeous!

(Even so, after your digestive problems have subsided, you can start consuming cocoa powder if you can tolerate it on GAPS.  You can see the official answer here, in the GAPS FAQ page under “cocoa”.)

Equipment Needed:

  • large glass bowl and medium saucepan OR double boiler
  • heat-proof rubber scraper
  • large glass pan OR jelly roll pan
  • good knife for chopping into chocolate chips (optional)
  • cutting board

Handmade Chocolate

3/4 cup cocoa butter (buy cocoa butter here)
3/4 cup cocoa powder (buy cocoa powder here)
6 tablespoons raw honey (buy raw honey here)
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (buy organic, fair-trade coffee here)
scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean (buy vanilla beans here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (buy high quality extracts here)

  1. In a glass bowl set over simmering water, melt cocoa butter completely.  Turn the heat off and, using a whisk, add cocoa powder gradually and incorporate completely until there are no lumps.  Add honey and vanilla seeds from scraped vanilla bean (reserve the bean for another use).  Whisk until smooth.  Add vanilla extract and coffee and whisk until smooth again.
  2. Let cool, stirring every 10 minutes or so, 30 minutes total.  Use to make candies, or pour into molds and let harden.

GAPS Chocolate Chips (Chunks)

3/4 cup cocoa butter (buy cocoa butter here)
3/4 cup cocoa powder (buy cocoa powder here)
6 tablespoons raw honey (buy raw honey here)
1 tablespoon brewed coffee (buy organic, fair-trade coffee here)
scraped seeds from 1 vanilla bean (buy vanilla beans here)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (buy high quality extracts here)

  1. In a glass bowl set over simmering water, melt cocoa butter completely.  Turn the heat off and, using a whisk, add cocoa powder gradually and incorporate completely until there are no lumps.  Add honey and vanilla seeds from scraped vanilla bean (reserve the bean for another use).  Whisk until smooth.  Add vanilla extract and coffee and whisk until smooth again.
  2. Pour into a glass pan or jelly roll pan and let harden at room temperature.  Then chop into small bite-size pieces.  Use in chocolate chip cookies or other baked goods!

Cocoa butter is difficult to find, and even when you do it can be low quality and have a rancid taste.

Yellow Coconut Cake with Cocoa Buttercream Frosting

yellowcoconutcakeflowers

Tender yellow cake is layered with fluffy cocoa buttercream, and all gently sweetened with the floral notes of raw honey.  Fresh milk, eggs with richly colored yolks, and dense coconut flour combine to make a cake of substance that won’t throw you into a sugar-spiral.  It is nice to enjoy your food without having to pay the price for it later!

This cake is moist, dense, and perfect for a birthday celebration or holiday.  Like my little boy’s birthday party!  I have missed having the yellow cakes from my childhood as I have gone through my real food transformation.  I only remember making cakes from boxes as a child.  I do not think it even occurred to me that I could make one from scratch.  Also, I just could never get it quite right with sprouted flour (though I am still determined to figure it out here!)

Update: This Yellow Butter Cake made with sprouted flour is my new favorite!  I cannot tell which one I like best, to be honest.

This is my favorite version of this cake, which is a riff I have been working on inspired by Jenny’s coconut flour cake here.  I have changed a few things, but it remains delectable and a sure crowd-pleaser.  In fact, I made an almond flour cocoa cake to go alongside this cake at the party, but everyone preferred this cake over the double chocolate option.

Make sure that you cut this cake thinly, since coconut flour is dense and contains a fair amount of fiber.  It will fill you up more quickly that it’s white-flour-made counterparts.  Savor each bite and do not feel guilty.  This is cake the way it was meant to be eaten!

Equipment Needed:

Yellow Coconut Cake
makes two 9-inch round cakes

one dozen eggs
2 1/4 cups milk* (find raw milk here)
3/4 cup honey (buy raw honey here)
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract (buy high-quality extracts here)
2 cups coconut flour (buy coconut flour here)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda* (buy aluminum-free baking soda here)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (buy unrefined sea salt here)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Butter two round cake pans, line with parchment circles cut to fit the pans, and then butter the parchment paper as well.  Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl mix eggs, milk, honey, and vanilla together until completely blended and smooth.  In a separate bowl, whisk coconut flour, baking soda, and salt together to get out as many lumps as possible.
  3. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and combine very thoroughly with a mixer.
  4. Pour into the prepared pans and bake for about 40 minutes, or until slightly browned on the edges and the cake pulls away from the sides of the cake pan.
  5. Place the cakes on cooking racks until completely cool before you loosen them from their pans.  Run a knife around the edge and carefully turn the cake pan over until the cake comes out.
  6. Assemble cake by placing one cake on a plate, spreading with Cocoa Buttercream and stacking the second cake directly on top.  Then frost the entire cake with the rest of the Cocoa Buttercream Frosting (below).
Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
makes enough for one double layer cake
.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature (buy grass-fed butter here)
1/2 cup raw honey (buy raw honey here)
2/3 cup cocoa powder (buy non-alkalized cocoa powder here)
2 tablespoons brewed coffee**, cooled (buy organic, fair trade, shade grown coffee here)
2 tsp. vanilla (buy extracts here)
.
  1. Put butter and honey into a bowl on your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whisk at a high speed for 3-5 minutes until well-combined and light colored.  Turn mixer off and add cocoa powder and vanilla.  Start mixer slow until combined, then whisk on high for another 3 minutes.  Turn off, scrape down the sides of the bowl, unhook the whisk attachment and use to combine by hand.
  2. Chill entire bowl and detached whisk attachment in the fridge for 30 minutes.  Remove and whisk once more for 3 minutes.  Use to frost immediately.  Store leftover frosting in the fridge.

*If you are on GAPS, use coconut milk instead of milk and omit the baking soda.

**A small amount of coffee in chocolate recipes really makes the chocolate flavor pop.  You don’t taste the coffee, but the chocolate tastes better.  If you don’t want to use coffee, use a good quality coffee substitute, like Teeccino or Dandy Blend (though neither are GAPS-legal).  Weak coffee is GAPS-legal.  The coffee substitutes are kinder on your body (not acidic, no caffeine).  Pick whichever suits you best!

This post is a part of Weekend GourmetSunday School, Monday Mania, Fat Tuesday, Traditional Tuesday, Slightly Indulgent TuesdayHealthy2day WednesdayReal Food Wednesday, The Mommy Club, Simple Lives Thursday, Pennywise PlatterFull Plate Thursday, Fight Back Friday, and Fresh Bites Friday.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products

Sour Cream Ice Cream with Dulce De Leche Topping

I’m the girl at the frozen yogurt shop who bypasses the special flavors and toppings and fills up on the plain.  I love the tartness and the fact that it’s not overly sweet.

One of my favorite Brazilian cookbooks has a recipe for molton dulce de leche cake; the author recommends serving it with sour cream ice cream.  Although the cake recipe was a bit too fussy and precise for my tempermental oven, I loved the idea of pairing sour cream and dulce de leche.

Enter this simplified combo: a tangy sour cream ice cream recipe that’s surprisingly smooth and creamy for being eggless and a simple one ingredient recipe for dulce de leche that doesn’t involve potentially exploding cans.  Do the dulce de leche recipes involving boiling a can of  scare the bejezus out of anybody else?  For my fellow plain frozen yogurt fans, the ice cream is great by itself as well.

Sour Cream Ice Cream

INGREDIENTS:

* 1 pint sour cream
* 1/2 cup water
* 1 cup sugar
* 1/4 cup Lime Juice
* Zest from a lime

DIRECTIONS:

Make simple syrup: in a medium saucepan combine 1 cup of sugar and 1/2 cup over medium heat. Once sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk sour cream in a bowl and gradually add in the syrup, the lime juice and the zest. Mix until smooth.

Refrigerate mixture until thoroughly chilled. Add the mixture to your ice cream maker and follow your machine’s instructions. Place into freezer to harden.

Dulce De Leche:

* 1 or 2 cans sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 425.

Pour the condensed milk into a glass pie plate or small baking dish. Place within a larger baking or roasting pan and add hot water halfway up the pie plate or baking dish.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake 1 1/2 to 2 hours until browned. Stir and serve immediately or let cool, whisk and refrigerate in a covered jar or container.