Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Homemade Bran Flakes (Cold Cereal)

I've been making homemade granola, but am getting a little tired of the same old stuff. Plus, DD really enjoys various "flake" cereals, so I thought I'd see what I could come up with.

I found a recipe for bran flakes at Mr. Breakfast. Here it is:
Nutty Bran Flakes

1/2 cup bran
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup walnuts or pecans - finely ground
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large mixing bowl, sift together all dry ingredients. Add milk and water and mix well.

Cut parchement paper into two 12 x 16 pieces.

Lay one piece of parchement on a flat surface and scoop half of the dough onto the center. Flatten dough by hand and cover entire parchement with clear plactic wrap. Roll out the dough over the plastic wrap.

The goal is to make the dough extremely thin with areas of near transparency. You may notice that you are in effect making one huge bran flake at this point.

Remove the plastic wrap and place the dough (on the parchement) onto a 14 x 16 flat sheet pan. Cook for 10 minutes checking often after 5 minutes. A dough this thin will burn easily if left in too long.

The resulting product after cooking will be a leathery thin cracker (crunchy at the edges). Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. Repeat the rolling and cooking process with the other half of your dough.

Reduce oven temperature to 275 degrees.

After both huge bran flakes have completely cooled... rip and crack them into the sized flakes you are most familiar with (about 3/4 of an inch).

Place all flakes on a large cookie sheet and cook at the reduced temperature for 20 minutes... stirring the and flipping the flakes every five minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow flakes to cool completely. Serve with milk and fresh fruit. Stores well in a sealed container for up to two weeks.
And now, my experience.

First off, I could tell this just wouldn't be enough to justify the work I had to do, so I doubled the recipe. I also opted to substitute honey for the sugar (it's healthier) and omitted the nuts because I don't like nuts in my cereal.

I mixed together the bran, flour

and other dry ingredients

Then I added the wet ingredients:

and had DD stir:

Then we poured it onto the parchment paper and spread it out:

And popped it into the oven for it's first round of baking. The timer went off... but it was still gooey. Set it for 5 more mins, but it was STILL gooey. UH OH. I don't think I spread it thin enough, but we were already committed, so we cooked it for about three times as long as the recipe called for and then pulled it out. It was still soft, but no longer gooey.

We let it cool completely, and then tore it into smaller pieces and returned it to the oven for its second round of baking:

We stirred it every two minutes or so, and then took it out when a few of the pieces started looking too dark. We tasted them and... YUM. They tasted exactly right! DD and I did a little happy dance around the kitchen and then poured our flakes into a dish. Guess what we'll be having for breakfast tomorrow?

In closing, I'll say this: It's a lot of cooking time for very few flakes, even with the recipe doubled. The next time, I'll probably quadruple the recipe, make sure I spread it thinly and then just pop the parchment paper onto cooling racks and replace with another batch (I only have one pan with edges) until they're all done. Then we'll break it into smaller flakes and cook in as large of batches as possible.

But, all-in-all, I really liked the recipe and I'd definitely make it again.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Why Bother?

Bear with me a moment while I work some things out in my own head, and share that with you. It's the "why" I'm doing what I'm doing...

I spent Christmas with family and extended family, and actually discussed my intention to make as much food and other household supplies from scratch this coming year. Interestingly, one of my in-laws has read (or "skimmed" -- she said it was a bit dry in parts, and she's right, except I was afraid of missing information) "Omnivore's Dilemma". And yet, she hasn't really changed her family's way of eating very much.

When I offered to share my (soon to be here) copy with another SIL, she wasn't interested in reading it, despite being very interested in being healthy. I admit to being surprised, though I suppose it's a little like going back to school (OTOH, I always have a least one non-fiction book that I'm reading, and they're frequently books of information that I'm reading to learn from).

And then, last night whilst reading an essay from "Food, Inc." (which isn't as good or interesting or unoffensive as "Omnivore's Dilemma" still has some interesting info) I came across this quote:

"Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live." - Wendell Berry

It was an "aha" moment for me. How can I know what goes into conventional food production and NOT want to change the way I eat? For instance, SIXTEEN different pesticides are sprayed on each crop of conventionally grown apples. SIXTEEN. I know they've been declared "safe"... but are they really? How many things have been declared "safe" only to find out later that they cause birth defects or cancer?

I have to admit to it being easier to think about how I and my family are impacted rather than "the world" -- that's just so big. But if every other time I buy a chicken, I buy an organic one, how much healthier will my family be? (Yes, the world is also impacted but again it's a little hard to consider how my one chicken is going to change the world).

If I use natural household cleaners instead of chemicals, how much healthier will my family be? (Again, is it better for "the world" to flush vinegar down my drain that chemicals ... absolutely, but I'm more inclined to save my family first).

If I grow a garden, will my family be healthier -- even if that food only replaces 1/16th of what we eat for the year?

If I grind my own flour, buy locally grown food, and skip eating meat for at least one or two meals a week -- will my family be healthier?

And... knowing that they would be healthier, how can I NOT do those things? Because, after all...

"Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live." - Wendell Berry

Next time... back to recipes and my experience with them.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Refried" Beans

“Beans are highly nutritious and satisfying, they can also be delicious if and when properly prepared, and they posses over all vegetables the great advantage of being just as good, if not better, when kept waiting, an advantage in the case of people whose disposition or occupation makes it difficult for them to be punctual at mealtime.” - Andre Simon, "The Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy"

I use beans a lot. This is partly because I really don't eat much meat (something I'll go into more as time passes) and partly because beans are a great, inexpensive, extender for meat meals (like tacos or various meat casseroles).

But, I hate how expensive refried beans are to buy. Additionally, one of my reasons for trying to make foods myself is to know what is in what I eat.

So, I started with dried beans. For now, I'm using what I have on hand:

But I'm going to look into finding dried beans as locally as possible or maybe even try growing them myself once this runs out.

First, soaking beans before cooking helps eliminate some of the starches that cause gas. So, optimally, you should put your beans in a pot of cool water and soak overnight, drain, then cook. However, if you're like me and forget to think ahead, put your beans in a pot of water, bring to a boil and then set aside for a couple of hours instead. Next, drain them and add whatever liquid you want to cook them in. You can use water or broth (I prefer broth).

This time, I used chicken broth, because I had it on hand (I'd just boiled chickens for the dog's food).

You can also add onions for flavor while they cook as well, but my DH doesn't like onions, so I make them without (and then add them to my own food later). Bring to a boil, and then lower heat to simmer and let them cook a few hours until they are VERY soft (softer than you'd make them if you were just eating them as is).

I don't have a food processor (I KNOW.. it's shocking... and it's on my shopping list), so I smash the beans by hand. I do not refry them because I don't like the added fat, and because I really don't find that much of a difference in texture or flavor.

Put the beans in with very little liquid, and then add juice as needed to make the right consistency.

Slap your DD's hand when she steals a ladleful of beans to eat for lunch (okay... not really, and I actually had taken a picture, but it didn't turn out -- I love that my DD likes to eat beans. They are terrifically good for her!).

Put smashed beans into 1 cup (these are approximately that size... I use whatever little containers I have on hand) containers. Freeze.

I would have had about three more containers, but DD really, really liked the beans, and pulled more out to eat later! *G*

At some point, I plan on canning the beans in small half-pint jars instead of freezing, but I think that requires pressure canning, and that's a lot of work for only a few cups of beans. I'll probably do it when I pressure can my cream of mushroom soup.

Happy eating!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The First Step

Whole grains have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and blood coagulation. Whole grains have also been found to reduce the risks of many types of cancer. They may also help regulate blood glucose in people living with diabetes. Other studies have also shown that people who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who consumed less whole grain products. - Healthcastle.com

The first thing I decided to do was start grinding my own flour again. Yes, I admit it, I've been lazy this last year and have been BUYING flour, mostly all-purpose because it's the cheapest.

:::hangs head in shame:::

All-purpose flour has its place, mostly in desserts, but when I bake other items (like bread and pancakes), I prefer whole grain.


I ground oat, quinoa (the only grain that is a complete protein -- and it can be substituted for pasta in many dishes) and wheat.

Thankfully, I have a grinder, found on sale at the local natural foods store a couple of years ago. It does a great job, though I think I want to get a manual one, too, for the times when I might not have power, or I only want a little bit ground.

Okay... I have my flour... time to start baking. Check back later for more!

My List of Things To Do

This list will assuredly grow as time goes by and as I pull out the last of the processed food from my pantry and realize, "I can make that!", but here is a short list of some of the things I want to learn to make from scratch. If you can think of any processed foods YOU would like to learn how to make from scratch, leave them in the comments, and I'll see what I can do.

Cream of (mushroom, broccoli, chicken) Soup
Whole Wheat crackers (like Wheat Thins)
Cereal (to mimic cold cereals)

I'm also looking into homemade:

Hair shampoo/conditioner
cleaning supplies

Let the games begin!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

My Year of Living Healthfully

I anticipate it will be more than a year of living healthfully, but this coming year, 2010, I will endeavor to learn how to live in a way that eschews processed foods and encourages my body to recall what natural food is like. I plan to search out ways to make many of the convenience foods I currently rely upon from scratch, to garden with an eye on canning and freezing, and to buy my foods locally whenever possible.

I plan to document my experiments, both successes and failures, here on this blog. I will also share any information or knowledge I learn from the books, papers and blogs I read.

I hope you find it interesting and informative.

Welcome to my journey.