Monday, February 28, 2011

Mindfully Meatless Mondays: Healthy and Inexpensive Hummus Wraps with Homemade Everything

It's Monday and that means I have a simple dish that's free of meat to share with you.  This week, I made something that's almost entirely free of animal products and is made of homemade components.
In this post I'll teach yo how to make your own tahini, hummus, and wheat tortillas.

We make hummus often because it's high in protein, inexpensive to make, lasts forever, and is delicious.  It's nearly impossible to give a specific recipe for hummus because it's really about achieving the right balance of flavors, which varies from day to day.  Every recipe calls for these ingredients:
  • chickpeas
  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • lemon juice
  • salt & pepper
  • tahini

Tahini is a paste made of sesame seeds.  It's my least favorite part of making hummus because it's very expensive, and because it's so high in oil it usually becomes rancid before I am able to use the entire jar.  For years I have purchased it in bulk or at Middle Eastern grocery stores, but I'm happy to have discovered that it's easy to make high quality tahini at home without much effort. 

Note that you'll find a much better price on both sesame seeds and oil at almost any ethnic grocery store than at a supermarket, so explore your city or consider ordering online. 

Homemade Tahini
makes just over a cup of paste
1 c. sesame seeds
1/3 c. toasted sesame oil

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan just until you can smell them.  Don't let them brown.
DSC00892Let them cool and throw them into a food processor.
DSC00894Add the sesame oil.
DSC00896Process until it's smooth, periodically scraping down the sides.
We used about a third of the tahini to 2-3 cups of beans that we boiled from dry.  The hubs was in charge of the hummus, so I can't be sure about any details other than it tasted fantastic.  Creamy and well balanced.  He did use some warm water to help smooth everything out, which is normal when using dried beans.
The final product:
While he was working on that, I rolled out the tortilla dough I'd made earlier in the day.  I mostly used this recipe from Kitchen Stewardship. 

Homemade Wheat Tortillas
Makes 10-12 medium tortillas

2 c. white whole wheat flour (I only ever find this by King Arthur.)
1 tbsp. salt
1/3 c. butter  (you could sub olive oil to make it vegan)
1/2-2/3 c. warm water

Mix your dry ingredients.
Add cold cubed butter.
Work it with your fingers until the pieces of cold butter are small and the mix looks like cornmeal.
Add enough water to bring it together and knead for a couple minutes.  The recipe above says to knead until it's smooth, but that didn't happen for me, as you can see, and they still rolled out fine.  Rips like this indicate that there isn't quite enough liquid worked in, so I sprayed the dough with water while it rested.
Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for an hour or two, or 12 hours in the fridge.
Divide into as many pieces as you want.  I did 10 because we wanted larger tortillas.
Roll the pieces out into thin circles.  They should be rolled thinly but not so thin that they'll become crispy like crackers when cooked. 
Heat up a dry cast iron pan or griddle to low heat.  The dough will bubble, so be prepared to pop each of those bubbles and move it around the pan.  Cook just until each side browns, around one minute each.
Easy, cheap, and good for you.
Hummus Wraps
Layer down a piece of lettuce close in size to the tortilla.  This allows you to pack everything the night before and avoid letting the hummus and veggies make the tortilla soggy.
DSC00910Big blob of hummus.
DSC00911Layer on the veggies.  We used peppers and carrots because they're our favorite to eat with hummus.  Sprouts are also delicious on this wrap.
DSC00913Use aluminum foil to wrap everything up.  Use the foil to keep the wrap together, and leave the top open until the end so it's easy to eat come lunch time.  (You can easily save the piece of foil and reuse it later, too.)

DSC00914After lots of heavy winter food, this wrap satisfied my craving for crunchy light food with bright colors.  You can't beat the price for a work lunch, and it's pretty darn tasty, too.
I hope you enjoy it!  Happy Monday!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Simple Beef Stew, Seeds, and SLT

Hey! It's Thursday! That means I have a short post for you, and a bunch of great linked up posts from other bloggers out there who are keeping it simple these days.
First I thought I'd share a simple stew that we through together last weekend. It took just a few minutes to throw together and it was very inexpensive since it used home canned tomatoes and stew beef.
We started with some local grass fed beef (from Stringtown grocery in Kalona) dredged in flour, salt and pepper.   
Then we added one large onion and five carrots, roughly chopped.
DSC00670 Once everything got nice and brown, we tossed in a jar of tomatoes and some bay leaves. 
DSC00673After three hours simmering away on the stove, we got a thick rich broth with tender beef and vegetables.  The broth had great body and the beef was falling apart.  We sopped it all up with crusty bread and were more than satisfied.
 I'd also like to show you the seeds I bought for this year! I'm teaming up with a couple friends to grow more than my garden can hold, so some of this will be in the yard and the rest will be just a few blocks away.
From Baker Creek:
Anise Hyssop
Thai Sweet Basil
Elephant Dill
Lemon Balm
Wild Strawberries
Sioux Tomato
Tokyo Long White Bunch Onions
They also sent a free packet of Parisienne Carrots, which I can't wait to try!
From Seed Savers Exchange, I got
Lemon Drop Tomato
Climbing French Green Bean
Green Zebra Tomato
Amish Paste Tomato
Lettuce Mix
Green Tomatillo
Dwarf Blue Curled Kale
Healthy Pepper
French Breakfast Radish
Riesentraube Tomato
Ground Cherry
Lemon Cucumber
Bee's Friend Flower
DSC00709 I'm going to be starting things as soon as possible (though I'm already behind by not having started yet, according to the Farmer's Almanac) and I'll be taking photos and sharing them here.
Until then,  check out these great posts and link up your own! Remember we four host the hop:

and Annette at Sustainable Eats

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mindfully Meatless Mondays: Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes

Greetings everybody!
How was your weekend?  While the temperatures are still a little on the low side, it is feeling distinctly like the great thaw is upon us and I couldn't be happier.  I'm going to get some seeds started very soon and have an exciting new way of doing it that I'm looking forward to sharing with you, but first I'm going to share my first post for Mindfully Meatless Monday: Peanut Butter and Jelly Pancakes!
I love spending a little extra time on breakfast during the weekend, but truthfully pancakes are a great weekday staple, too.  Just make them all up at once and reheat every morning for a quick and filling breakfast, snack, or even dessert. 

This recipe has a detectable level of peanut butter, but you could certainly add more to get a stronger peanut butter flavor if you're nuts for it.  (Not to mention that you could smear peanut butter all over each one...) I used white whole wheat flour.  You could substitute whole wheat pastry flour or half unbleached all purpose and half whole wheat flour, but the texture won't be as fine.  I used honey but you could easily substitute maple syrup or regular sugar.

Peanut Butter Pancakes 
makes 8-10 medium sized pancakes
serve with quick strawberry jam (instructions below)

Mix dry ingredients in one bowl:
2 c. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt


Mix liquids in another, beginning with peanut butter.  We used our homemade stuff, which is just some roasted peanuts, honey, salt, and a little canola oil spun in the food processor for a few minutes.  I found it easiest to start by beating the eggs in the bowl and then adding everything else.

2 tbsp. peanut butter
2 large eggs


2 1/2 c. buttermilk
2 tbsp. melted butter
1/3 c. honey
Whisk just until it comes together.
Add the wet to the dry and stir just until it's combined.  It might look a little thinner than this, but it should definitely still be lumpy. (If it's too thick at this point, add a little more buttermilk.)
 Let the batter sit while you prepare the quick jam.  (It's really a jam and not a jelly because it has chunks of fruit in it.)
Start with
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1 tbsp. corn starch
1/3 c. honey or sugar

Heat this over medium.  At first it'll look a little clumpy
But keep going until it's smooth.
Use 3-4 cups of your favorite fresh or frozen fruit.  I decided a dreary February was the perfect time to use of the last of the frozen strawberries from this summer. 
Dump in your fruit and turn up the heat to medium high.
Cook until the fruit breaks down and releases its juice and the sauce thickens.  The color should be bright and there should still be nice big pieces of fruit.  To me, strawberries are the quintessential pairing with peanut butter.
You can start frying up the cakes while the jam is finishing.  I do mine in my cast iron skillet, and you could fry up enough for a crowd on a cast iron griddle.  Remember the first couple never look that great, and always add some extra butter to the pan between batches.

Slather on that jam.

 They should be nice and fluffy, and you should be able to taste the nuttiness of the peanut butter.

DSC00840These were a snap to bring together and they taste even better the next day.  They'd be great for any of those nights when you want to have breakfast for dinner, and are sweet enough not to require dessert afterward.
I hope this recipe gets you into the kitchen and flippin' cakes. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dealing with Aphids on Indoor Plants and SLT

Greetings folks!
I have to tell you, it was hard to sit down and post today.
Check out our current weather:
Yep, it's the third week of February in Iowa and we're in the 60's.  Needless to say I've been outside soaking it up as much as I can.
Today I wanted to write a quick post about some annoying pests I found on my favorite chili pepper plant: aphids

I bought this plant from the farmer's market and it produced big spicy chilis throughout the summer.
The seller instructed me to bring it indoors once it started getting cold, so I put it in a large pot in the sunniest window I have.  While it still produced some chilis at first, it quickly became clear that the plant was not nearly as happy as it had been while living outdoors.  Around Christmas, it stopped producing entirely.  Although the leaves were still intact, this was my first indication that I had a problem.  Plants produce fruits and flowers when they have ample energy to feed them.  When a plant is stressed, it will drop anything it can to conserve resources.  This is the first lesson in pest management: a stressed plant is more susceptible to pests and disease.
I was watering plants the other day when I noticed that the pepper leaves looked like they had spots on them.  A closer look revealed evidence of my new nemesis, the aphid.
Aphids feed on indoor and outdoor plants. When they eat the green matter from plants, they leave behind a sticky substance called 'honeydew' that coats leaves and stems.  Here are the aphids on one of my leaves:
 Here are the best steps for dealing with aphids:
  • Before anything else, isolate the infected plant. It's very easy to spread infestation.
  • First, try physically removing the bugs.  Two easy approaches are with a fast hard stream of water or with a damp rag.  (Be careful not to bruise the leaves or stems.)
  • Monitor the plant.  If bugs do return, try using soap.  Dilute dish-washing soap with warm water so the soap is only 2-3% of the solution.  After you've thoroughly cleaned the leaves of visible bugs, spray leaves top AND bottom with the soap solution.  (If your plant is an edible one, be sure to rinse it before harvesting any food.)
  • Keep the plant isolated until you are absolutely certain you have no more bugs.
  • If you're interested in insecticides, you can read this publication.  That said, I do not use them in my home or garden.
  • Finally, know when to give up. It's possible that the plant was simply too stressed or the infestation too great for it to recover.  
As with many things, preventing infestations is much easier than dealing with them after they've spread.  Some tips for avoiding infestation:
  • Keep plants in their ideal growing conditions.  If a plant isn't thriving, try moving it to a different location or adding extra lighting, especially in winter months.  A stressed plant is far more likely to have disease and insect problems.  It goes without saying that a plant that isn't intended to be grown indoors will be much more problematic. 
  • Water lightly and at regular intervals and maintain good drainage.  Wetness is the perfect environment for molds and pests to thrive.  Watch for signs like wilting or yellow leaves that indicate over watering. 
  • When you do water, check your plants closely for any problems or signs of weakness.
  • Closely inspect new plants when you bring them home.  It's very easy to bring disease or pests in with a new plant.  
  • Consider choosing pest and disease resistant varieties. 
House plants improve the air quality of our homes, and add warmth and green to indoor spaces, so I think it's well worth it to keep them as healthy as possible.  I'd love to hear about your experiences dealing with pests and disease on your plants, indoors and out.
Let me know in the comments, and link up your posts to Simple Lives Thursday!  What are you doing to consume less and produce more? Remember that these wonderful bloggers and I host:

and Annette at Sustainable Eats

Monday, February 14, 2011

Mindfully Meatless Monday: Seth's Bean Burgers from Ukraine

In my last post, I wrote about some of my favorite meatless meals. I was happily surprised at the response of my friends and readers who seemed to be inspired by the post and excited to see some meat-free options that look tasty and easy to put together. I started thinking more about the idea of meatless meals. Eating vegetarian or even vegan meals is totally normal for my family, but I realize that it isn't for others. Skipping the meat has become unconscious for us as my culinary repertoire has expanded and as I've become more interested in eating locally, seasonally, and with minimal environmental impact. That said, I realize that this isn't the case for most of us. Many people still plan their meals around the large hunk of protein, and the vegetables are relegated to side dishes. Meatless Monday is a simple campaign based on these premises: meatless is good for your body and it's good for the Earth. I do not have an ethical problem with eating animals, but I do think there's plenty we can do if each of us eats meatlessly one day a week.  It also gives me great satistfaction to take some cash out of the pockets of the meat industry.  The Des Moines Register wrote about Soedexo's participation in this recent article.  The US government continues to recommend a specific diet for Americans, but they refuse to suggest that we eat less meat.  The latest guidelines suggest we replace some of our meat with seafood for heath reasons, but stops short of suggesting simply reducing meat consumption.  I think this quote is telling of the influence the meat industry has on our government:

'When a reporter demanded to know why the government didn't just say, "Eat less meat," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack responded that the seafood recommendation was "a way of saying what you're saying." '

To help you be mindful about eating less meat, and to give you a little inspiration and some simple, family-friendly ideas for meatless meals and snacks, I'm starting my own little campaign of Mindfully Meatless Monday.   I'd appreciate any requests or suggestions in the comments, and look forward to sharing these satisfying eats with you.

To begin the series, I'd like to share my friend Seth's photos and story about making his own version of my bean burgers.  Seth is doing research in Ukraine and reports that fresh foods are scarce.  He did a great job of cobbling together some delicious-looking pinto burgers on his first try with limited resources.

If Seth can make tasty food when he's in Ukraine and it looks like this outside, can't you? (This view is out his window, of the Kiev caves and monastery!)


He ran to the nearest market and grabbed a load of goodies, including fennel, chili, and something called 'musk seed' (?)


I'm going to use his words, because they're pretty much perfect.

"I went to the market and made a pretty good haul.  It turns out they do have spices here but you have to go to the "Oriental" section.  They assumed I was Turkish.  Anyway, I got some good stuff, two packets of spice for about a dollar.  The main problem was that I had to get pinto beans instead of black beans.  Also I forgot ketchup and buns.  I was too excited to wait a day so I didn't soak the beans, I just boiled them longer."

He is totally right that soaking the beans isn't really necessary, and I think the pinto beans are just fine. I've used a mix of black and pinto beans before with good success.

Seth added half of a small onion and 1/4 of a carrot to the batter, which I think is an excellent idea, and a great way to increase your veggie servings, especially if you have kids that don't like raw vegetables.

Here are his burgers, frying up.  I commend his use of cast iron, the best and cheapest of cookware!


He served them up on slices of bread.

Finished Product

Final notes:
"They were really good!  Burgery.  Sort of like a flat falafel.  In retrospect I would have used more chili, more salt, garlic, pickles instead of cucumbers but I was happy with how the mustard here went with it (it's more like horseradish). Lastly, I would like to point out that I cut the carrot with the axe."
Seth has inspired me to keep up the effort to be mindful about reducing my meat consumption, and I hope his dedication and enthusiasm has inspired you, too.
I look forward to many more MMM's in the future, and can't wait to see what we come up with together.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My Favorite Meat-Free Meals, and SLT

Hey folks! I'm writing today to share some of my all-time favorite meatless recipes.  I'm doing so because a friend of mine, Phillip, is trying to reduce his meat consumption.  I'm taking his effort as a reminder that regardless of where it comes from, meat is simply not required eating every day, or even every week.  We've got stores of pork and beef from local ethical sources, but meatless meals tend to be a little bit cheaper and just as satisfying. I hope you can find something here that looks delicious to you, and please share your favorite meat-free recipes or blogs in the comments section. Quick Tomato Sauce with Pasta
Omit the cheese and this one's vegan.  This is a great way to use up lots of fresh veggies, and is very reasonably priced since pasta is so inexpensive.
Fresh Pitas with Hummus and Fixins The original post includes gyro meat, but truthfully it was the least interesting part of the entire meal, and the pitas hold up very well without it.

These are so good, and can be made with any beans you have around. I highly encourage the use of dry beans!
That link is to my pizza crust, which I top with that simple tomato sauce and lots of veggies roasted with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper.
That is a really old post, but I've made the recipe over and over.  It's flexible, cheap, and reheats well.  Plus it's major kid-pleaser.
I love anything with a fried egg, so I've written about how to make them here.
This dish is super fast to throw together on a weeknight, and packed full of protein.
I hope you give at least one of these recipes a try, and remember that meat is a luxury and should be treated as such.  The best thing that we can do for the animals we eat is to honor their sacrifice, and I think abstaining at times should be a part of that.  Please share your opinions and favorite vegetarian dishes/blogs in the comments.
Finally, it's Simple Lives Thursday!
We host:
and Annette at Sustainable Eats
So link up your posts!

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