Category Archives: Cooking and Food

Cheesecake Gifts and Recipes

In early December, my friend Kim called with a brilliant Christmas gift  idea. She needed to borrow my springform pan to carry it off.  Why? Because cream cheese was on sale for .59 cents a package! And because cheesecakes make such delectable gifts! With her springform pan and mine, she could save a lot of time baking two at a time. So we both stocked up on cream cheese and got busy!

But here’s the *brilliant* part. Kim and I both used totally different *base* cheesecake recipes and found that we could tweak the basic recipe by adding specific variations to the filling. This way we could bake 4 different cheesecakes, with our different add-ins, and be able to cut each one in fourths, producing cheesecake “samplers” to give away. In the end, I gave out several cheesecakes that were each divided into four options: Chocolate, Mini-chocolate chip, Raspberry Swirl, and Plain. Fun! And they looked so pretty in the professional cake boxes we got at the Cake Supply Store for .69 cents each. While you are there, they also have white cardboard cake circles for .39 cents apiece. Handy items, I highly recommend them!

This is a gift idea that can be given away fresh, or frozen, as cheesecakes do freeze very well. I opted to give mine away fresh, but told each recipient to stash it in the freezer if they wanted to save it for a later date.

I’m so kicking myself for forgetting to take pics! Here is the Cheesecake Factory recipe I used, with instructions on how to pull off the variations I mentioned above.

Added bonus–this Cheesecake Factory Filling recipe always makes enough for a test batch…so have a glass dish on hand (or another cheesecake pan!) and make a smallish cheesecake with the extra filling to keep for the family to try!

Cheesecake Factory Cheesecake Filling

Graham Cracker Crust: 2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs, 1  1/3 cups sugar, 1 stick melted buttermix together, and press in bottom and up sides of 9 inch springform pan. Bake at 350*F for 10 minutes.

Filling:

1 1/2 lbs cream cheese
1 1/3 cups sugar
5 large eggs
16 ounces sour cream
1/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Cheesecake Directions:

1. All the filling ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy with an electric mixer set on low (keep the setting at low during the entire mixing process).

3. Add the sugar a little at a time and continue beating until creamy.

4. Add one egg at a time and beat after each egg.

5. Add flour, vanilla and lemon juice, mix well.

6. Add the sour cream and beat well.

7. Pour cream cheese mixture into the springform crust-lined pan.

8. Place on the top rack in the middle of a 325 degrees preheated oven for one hour and 15 minutes.

9. When time is up turn oven off, prop open oven door and leave in oven for one hour.

10. Remove from oven and let cool then refrigerate for 24 hours.

Important tip : A cheesecake should season. The wait is worth it. The flavor ripens and becomes enriched.

Okay here’s what I did for variations on this theme:

  1. Chocolate Cheesecake–add 1/2-3/4 cup cocoa powder, or more to taste!
  2. Mini-Chocolate Chip Cheesecake–add the entire 12 oz package mini-chocolate chips to the filling!
  3. Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake–heat one cup raspberry preserves slightly, and add half of it to the filling. Pour the filling into the prepared crust, and then drop dollops of the preserves around on the filling. Swirl it in with a knife.

Bake for the same amount of time as you did for the plain cheesecake, and enjoy! We also made a Raspberry Swirl-Mini-Chocolate Chip cheesecake and it was just amazing. Ten thumbs up by the five people that live here!

Deborah Vogts also has a wonderful recipe for Chocolate Chip Cheesecake–the crust alone is to-die-for–as you can see in the picture.  Check this lovely author’s blog out for more delicious recipes!

Deborah Vogt’s Delicious Chocolate Chip Cheesecake

Crust:cheesecake
2 cups vanilla wafer crumbs
1/2 cup flaked coconut
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons baking cocoa
1/3 cup butter, melted

Cheesecake:
3- 8 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips

In medium mixing bowl, combine vanilla wafer crumbs, coconut, sugar, baking cocoa. Add melted butter and mix well. Press onto the bottom and partially up the side of a 10-inch springform pan. Set aside.

In large mixing bowl, beat cream cheese until smooth. Beat in sugar, and then add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Fold in miniature chocolate chips. Pour into prepared crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 50-60 minutes until center is nearly set. Turn off oven and allow cake to cool for an hour. Carefully run a knife around edge of pan to loosen. Let cool completely and then refrigerate overnight. 16 servings.

Great Dip Recipes for the Holidays

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was going to have to post some recipes from the October Writer’s Retreat I attended. Here are some goodies for you! More to follow!

Julane’s Corn Dip

  • 2 cans Mexicorn
  • 2 bunches green onions ( or one regular onion, diced pretty small)
  • 1 can chopped green chilis (can use chopped jalapenos if you prefer–but it does make it hot!!)
  • 1 cup real mayo
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 cups grated cheese ( Julane recommends  sharp cheddar or the taco seasoned kind)

Drain corn.  Chop onions.  Add mayo, sour cream, chilis and cheese. Mix well and chill. SO EASY!!

And SO good!!

Julane’s ESPINACA Dip

Julane says her boys would eat this like soup if she’d let them!! Just watch that your crock pot doesn’t get too hot and scorch the cheese!

  • 2 (8 oz) pkgs cream cheese
  • 4 oz. Velveeta cheese
  • 1 cup whipping cream (or heavy cream if you have your own)
  • 1/2 c. milk
  • 1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
  • 1 sm. onion diced
  • 1 small pkg frozen chopped spinach, (thawed)
  • 1/4 c. chopped jalepenos, with juice (I use the canned chilis because we don’t like it quite so hot when kids are eating it–unless your kiddos have really “tough” taste buds)

Place cream cheese, Velveeta cheese, whipping cream, milk and Ro-Tel in a crock pot on medium to high heat. While cheese is melting, dice the onion and add to crock pot. Add chilis (or jalapenos, juice and all) and add spinach that has been well “squeezed” of any moisture (want it as water free as possible). Reduce heat on crock pot and cook about two hours.

These sound like great appetizers to have on hand prior to your holiday feasts! We’re going to try them out on New Year’s Eve!

Enjoy! And treat yourself to a visit to Julane’s blog, Inspiration From the Commonplace!

Tips for Bake Sales

bake sale 1.1Family and friends have been anxiously awaiting this post since mid-November! Not because they need the vital information I’m going to share for hosting a successful bake sale, but rather for the glory this post is going to give to God for the great things He hath done!

A friend of ours was diagnosed with cancer in July.  This homeschool mother of 7 and her husband have had a rough year in all areas, and then along came this cancer diagnosis. In an effort to *do* something helpful, our homeschool group decided to host a bake sale. Here’s what I learned in the process!

PRAY hard!

Hosting an outdoor bake sale in November isn’t the most *brilliant* of plans, but that’s what we did. Here in the mid-west, November weather is typically pretty blustery. The week leading up to the bake sale was chilly, but not too bad. However, the forecast for the Friday of the sale, was downright awful! Everybody called to let me know that Friday was going to be miserable, hands down. But what can you do when you’ve got ads out everywhere, and all the radio stations have been announcing this fundraiser for days?

You pray, that’s what you do. And it helps to have a 13 year old in the house reminding you that God is a miracle worker. I told all my girls that we were packing a change of clothes to take along, because we would probably get soaked…with a forecast of 100% chance of rain, and 30 degree temps…don’t you think it prudent to plan ahead a little? But my daughter kept chiding such plans…”Oh ye of little faith, Mom!”

So we kept baking, baking, baking…and praying, praying, praying!

Involve the Kids!

bake sale 2This tip deserves its own spot in the post. Being homeschoolers, each family had children coming along eager to help. One family had the awesome idea of making costumes! They came with the cutest sandwich board type costumes–one of a cupcake, and another of an M&M cookie. Another family had a chef’s costume, and another donated a banana costume (banana bread, anyone?). We had a line of around 20 children clowning around attracting business for us. Those costumes did the trick!

One of the boys threw in a pogo stick for extra credit. Now THAT got people’s attention!

Enlist help!

This goes without saying, but I thought I’d better say it anyway. Mass email your support group, being sure to call the ones who aren’t online and try to get an idea of what items they are bringing to the sale. You don’t want to end up with four tables of brownies, for instance. Well, maybe you do–especially if a moment of chocolate is necessary for the morale of the troops on sale day.

We shared around the following jobs:

  • Decide on a good location for your sale, and work out all the details. Staples graciously allowed us to use their parking lot free of charge.
  • Get ads in the local newspapers, and call/email the local radio stations with a public service announcement to make sure news of the fundraiser reaches as many in the community as possible. Do this a week or two in advance. In our case, the radio stations gave a free blurb every day leading up to the bake sale, and then really pushed it for us on sale day. The newspapers gave us a free “story” spot due to the sale being a fundraiser.
  • Make flyers to put around town at the local businesses!
  • Make signs to put up at big intersections on sale day!
  • Make colorful neon poster board/cardboard signs for the kids to hold to attract traffic and passersby on sale day. (It’s a good plan to make plenty of these, and bring extra poster board and permanent markers along to make more if necessary. Wind and rain–and kids!–can wreak havoc on the best of signs!)
  • Get two (at a minimum) canopy tents for your sale, and make sure you have weights to anchor them down at all four corners. In addition to this, buy two or three shower curtains and rings to attach to the back of the tents to provide added protection from wind and rain. The rings will clip along the upper tent poles perfectly, and the shower curtain can be clamped at the bottom corners to the tent legs. Works great!
  • Do you want to raffle an item off to make a little more money for your recipient? We raffled off a homemade quilted denim throw. Just be sure to have tickets and a ticket jar on hand!
  • Have a jar on hand for donations, and tape a picture of the recipient to it so buyers will know where their money is going. They may want to donate additional funds directly to the family, or a medical expense account. So be prepared with that information.
  • Round up however many tables you will need to display your culinary works of art!
  • Be sure to let the home bakers know how you want the foods packaged, and whether or not to price their items.
  • Be prepared with a money box and however much change you think you’ll need on hand. Many people start out with $50 in ones, fives and about $15 of that is in quarters.

Pricing or Not Pricing?

On the subject of pricing, initially we price-checked what pies, rolls, breads, cookies, etc were selling for at local grocery stores. We wanted a good idea of what the public would be willing to pay for the same items–of the homemade variety.  We asked our contributors not to price their items, thinking we would make up a pricing sheet or board that would cover everything in generalities. However…

The day before sale day, we decided–after much prayer and weighing out the pros and cons–to not price anything. Talk about a leap of faith, but we felt impressed that we needed to let the Lord pour out His blessings on this sale, and that pricing things would only limit our profits.

So we made it a “donation only” bake sale!

Sale Day Arrives! Drum Roll…

Okay. So we were ALL praying that God would give us great weather, right? Well, the local farmers must have been praying for rain, because the night before the bake sale the wind howled, the skies erupted and the rainwaters gushed! However, morning arrived and we loaded our Suburban full of baked goods in only a slight misting of damp! All the way to the bake sale, we watched the sky. Incredibly, it looked fairly clear above the city! We arrived at the Staples parking lot along with several other families, and got both of our canopy tents set up with no wind or rain or damp at all! God is SO good!

In fact, besides being chilly, the weather that whole morning was great! We had a ten or twenty minute shower mid-morning, but other than that, it was truly a miraculous answer to our prayers! We had two moms that really planned ahead for “miserable” weather, one brought a cooler of hot chocolate and cups (which we and our customers guzzled freely!) and the other brought a bag of ponchos for the kiddos out holding signs. She also brought a gigantic pot of hot chili, cheese and crackers for those of us working through the lunch hour! (I’m telling you, these ladies are the ones you want for friends when the going gets tough!)

Around 1 p.m. the wind came up, and the radar was warning of major rain moving into the area by 2 p.m. Sure enough, it moved on in! Still we held out, and people stopped by, feeling sorry for us, I’m sure! Many of them told us they wouldn’t have stopped except for the children lining the sidewalks by the road.

Soon we caved into the weather around us and started tearing things down. We were cold, but happy! Off we went to a friend’s home to count money and see if the day had been the success we hoped for!

The End Result

bake sale 3Doing the bake sale on a donation basis made our job so easy. Most people didn’t ask for change, so we had them directly deposit their cash and checks into the donation jar we had on one of the bake sale tables. We did come prepared with change, but would have only needed maybe $20 worth of quarters, ones and fives at the most.

90% of our customers responded SO generously to our “donation” bake sale.  We had people buy $50 worth of foods, and pay for it with $150! One guy paid $30 for a pie…and the stories go on and on. Yes, some people got away with a steal, but the generosity of others more than covered those instances.

Our bake sale might have made $300-$400, had we priced every single thing. We were hoping to make $500 which would cover two chemo treatments for our friend with cancer.

But guess what? Back at the house after the sale, we just kept counting and recounting the money because we could hardly believe our eyes!

On a Friday, a day that everyone expected to be absolutely miserable (and indeed, it turned into an awful, miserable day after 2:30 p.m.)…God must have pulled out all the stops because we ended up making exactly $1,500!

Yes, $1,500! We immediately called our friend, the one we were raising funds for, and told her the good news. She was blown away. Finally she was able to speak and she said,

“I have 3 months of chemo left and $1500 is the exact amount I need to finish paying for them.”

Wow. Of course God knew this need, and knew how to meet it. It was our privilege to be His toolsl! Especially as many of us were a little bit skeptical about how much money we could make off of a bake sale in the first place.

In spite of our misgivings, we turned the end results over to God–weather, profits, getting a late start planning, etc. We decided ahead of time, no matter what happened, we would praise Him. And He sure blessed our socks off!

Luke 6:38 says,

“Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

That is sure truth to take to heart in times of need. Not necessarily referring to money, but also to love and service, and sharing whatever talents God has blessed you with. We all have something He wants to use for His glory!

And while you’re at it, NEVER underestimate God!

Homemade Pizza Sauce

Here is my friend’s famous pizza sauce recipe, as per yesterday’s  request by “fellow midwesterner”!

First of all, to make pizza sauce, we start with tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce (taken from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving)

  • 45 lbs of tomatoes (paste tomatoes thicken up the best)
  • bottled lemon juice

Wash tomatoes; drain. Remove core and blossom. Cut into quarters; simmer 20 minutes in a large sauce pot, stirring occasionally. Puree tomatoes in a food processor or food mill.  Strain puree to remove seeds and peels.  Cook pulp in a large, uncovered sauce pot over med-high heat until sauce thickens, stirring to prevent sticking. Reduce volume by one-half. Add 1 TB bottled lemon juice to each pint jar, 2 TB to each quart jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints 35 minutes, quarts 40 minutes, in a boiling water canner.

Okay. Once you have your tomato sauce, you can use it to make pizza sauce for the freezer! That recipe follows, but first:

***Be sure to read this paragraph!***

Notice that this pizza sauce recipe can be made with either store-bought tomato sauce plus tomato paste, or home-canned tomato sauce. If you use home-canned, make sure your home-canned sauce is thick by using paste tomatoes, and/or lengthening the time you cook your tomatoes before canning. The longer they cook, the thicker it gets, but your volume is also reduced.  So the following recipe assumes you will use store-bought sauce and tomato paste. If you use home-canned, thicker sauce, then you can eliminate buying tomato paste from the grocery store and use approx. 41 oz of home-canned sauce. If your home-canned sauce is not very thick, you may add the 12 oz can of tomato paste to it to thicken it, and keep to the 29 oz of tomato sauce. Hopefully that was clearer than mud.

Homemade Pizza Sauce

  • 1 can (29 oz) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (12 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 TB Italian seasoning
  • 1 TB dried oregano
  • 1-2 tsp fennel seed, crushed (optional–fennel seed has a unique taste, we don’t like it much)
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • sugar to taste (start tasting at 1-2 tsp)

We also add a little marjoram, basil, thyme–all of these taste good in Italian dishes. Play around with the spices that your family appreciates, and leave out the ones they don’t.  You may also leave the sugar out. We think it plays down the tangy-ness of the sauce.

In a saucepan, over medium heat, combine tomato sauce and paste. Add remaining ingredients; mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Cool. Pour into freezer containers, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Freeze for up to 12 months.

This recipe also may be canned following the Ball’s Blue Book of Preserving directions for “seasoned tomato sauce” which says to add 1 TB bottled lemon juice to each pint jar, 2 TB bottled lemon juice to each quart jar. Ladle hot sauce into hot jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process pints 35 minutes, quarts 40 minutes in a boiling water canner.

This super yummy pizza sauce is extremely good with the following recipes:

Homemade Pizza Pockets

Homemade Pizza Dough

Brownies and other Ooey-Gooey Delights

Hard to be overly health conscious when these treats are in the house! My oldest first baked these brownies on May 17, 2009, to assuage the trauma caused me by the “vicious possum attack of ’09″…remember my sad tale,“Hard Life Knocks on the Farm”?

Anyhow…this brownie recipe has been asked for by three friends now, so I better get on the ball and post it here. Am also sharing my oldest’s recipe for “Ooey-Gooeys”…a no bake treat she first made with her Aunt Kimmy. Special memories!

Chocolate Chunk Pecan Brownies

  • 1 cup butter (okay, you can use margarine but it will turn to plastic in your liver…I’m just sayin’…)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (chocolate chips work)
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 350*F. Grease 13×9 inch pan. In medium saucepan over low heat, melt butter. Add sugar, vanilla and eggs; blend well. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt; mix well. Add chocolate and pecans. Pour into greased pan.

Bake at 350*F for 30-40 minutes or until set. Cool completely. Cut into bars

Yield: 36 bars

Ooey-Gooeys (we always double this recipe!)

  • 12 TB crushed graham crackers
  • 4 TB honey
  • 8 TB peanut butter (we use sunbutter)

Mix all ingredients in a small bowl. Shape into golf-ball sized lumps. You should be able to make a dozen. Spoon onto baking pan lined with waxed paper. Chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes. Goes great with a glass of milk!

Orange Smoothies

Have to share this cold, frothy recipe here…it is delicious, especially on a hot summer afternoon. And we’ve had a lot of those lately. In the past week we’ve picked buckets and buckets of blackberries and apricots, wheelbarrows of onions and cabbages, weeded the gardens, carried gallons and gallons of water to the newest garden that has no hydrant…here’s hoping we can coax our melons and sweet potatoes to hang in there…

Orange Refresher (serves 4)

  • 1 cup nonfat plain yogurt (I used vanilla yogurt)
  • 1 cup water
  • 6 oz can frozen orange juice concentrate, unsweetened
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 8-10 ice cubes

Blend in a blender until smooth! Did you know that the citric acid in orange juice enhances calcium absorption from the yogurt or from milk? Mm-hm.

You could also add in various ingredients for extra nutrients, like raw egg, 1-2 TB protein powder, 1/4-3 TB brewer’s yeast (B vitamins), 1 tsp.-1 TB flaxseed oil or olive oil (to assist in absorption of vits. A, D, E, K).

This recipe is from Sue Gregg’s Breakfasts cookbook.

Lastly, if you’ve had access to blackberries lately…you’ve got to try this scrumptious recipe for Blackberry Pie Bars from Joy the Baker’s site. Let me just say…the lemon zest rubbed sugar crust was incredible! This recipe is for my blackberry friend, TR!

Yummy Superfoods: Spotlight on Cacao Nibs!

If you haven’t discovered the Live Superfoods website yet, today is *your* day! What is a “Superfood”? It’s a nutrient-dense food that ramps up your health at the cell level like you can’t believe.

Superfoods range from powders to actual foods. Be sure to check out the big variety of superfood powders at Live Superfoods–our favorite so far is Mesquite with its amazing claims for diabetics. Plus, it happens to be delicious sprinkled on yogurt, or added to smoothies and hot drinks!  Camu Camu powder is said to be highly effective against depression, containing between 30 and 60 times as much vitamin C as an orange!

Goji berries, bee pollen and wheat grasses are some other superfoods our family has tried and fallen in love with. And this is just the tip of the superfood iceberg. Today, I want to tell you about raw cacao nibs!

Raw Cacao Nibs

Chocolate is made from cacao beans…need I say more? But unlike processed chocolate, raw cacao nibs (broken up cacao beans) are rich in nutrients, and full of health benefits. You won’t believe all the ways they are good for you, so go to the link below and read up!

A snippet from the Live Superfoods website on Raw Cacao Nibs:

Cacao has more antioxidant flavonoids than any food tested so far, including blueberries, red wine, and black and green teas. In fact, it has up to four times the quantity of antioxidants found in green tea!

Cacao is LOADED with magnesium and just might be the number one source of magnesium of any food. Could this be why women crave chocolate before or during their menstrual period? Magnesium balances brain chemistry, builds strong bones, and is associated with creating more happiness. Magnesium is the most deficient major mineral on the Standard American Diet (SAD) – over 80% of Americans are chronically deficient in magnesium.

But what do you do with Raw Cacao Nibs?

We love our nibs mixed in with a little raw honey and coconut butter, and goji berries if we have them. You won’t find a healthier, more palate pleasing, melt in your mouth treat to replace that candy bar fix.  Sometimes we mix it up and freeze it in candy molds, and then just pop them out of the molds, bag them up and store them in the freezer.

(I think I’m going to go pull one out for a snack this minute!)

Here’s another fab recipe. I first tried Agave at the homeschool convention this spring. WOW. Delicious stuff, with the same consistency as honey, but more expensive!

Raw Almond Butter Cups from Everyday Raw by Matthew Kenney

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1.5 cups agave (divided)
  • 2 cups coconut oil (divided)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1 cup cacao nibs
  • parchment paper
  • a baking sheet with sides

Directions:

  1. In a medium bowl, mix the almond butter, 1/2 cup of agave, 1/2 cup of coconut oil and sea salt. Set aside until ready to use (not in refrigerator).
  2. In a blender, blend cacao nibs, 1 cup agave, 1.5 cups coconut oil until smooth.
  3. Spread 1/2 of the cacao mixture from Step 2 onto a parchment lined baking sheet with “walls” to create a thin layer. Place in freezer for 15 minutes or until it firms up.
  4. Remove from freezer and spread almond butter mixture from Step 1 over the hardened cacao mixture.
  5. Spread remaining cacao mixture over the top of the spread almond mixture and put the pan back into the freezer until its firm.
  6. Remove from freezer and turn out the mixture from the pan onto the cutting board. Remove parchment paper and cut up the firmed up mixture into small piece. Voila! Almond butter cups!
  7. Be sure to store these in the fridge or freezer.

Yield: about 1.5 quarts.

For my previous post on nut butters, including Almond Butter, go here!

Last but not least…I’m able to order our raw cacao nibs from Frontier through our local co-op. My coffee grinder handily spins some of them into a powder so my oldest daughter (braces) can enjoy them, too.  We’re totally devoted fans!

Please Pass the Organic Chicken Meat!

chicks09This news in! Organically fed chickens develop different and superior genes than conventionally fed chickens.

Why is this exciting to me? Well, our spring broilers arrived last Wednesday which means my freezer will be 25 chickens richer in about 7 weeks, Lord willing. Makes this organic, grass-fed effort to raise quality meat for my family much more satisfying.

Get this: Two groups of chickens from two generations were fed exactly the same things, except one group was fed organic feed, and the other, conventional feed. When all was said and done, scientists evaluated RNA (Ribonucleic acid–similar to DNA but different) samples from both groups’ intestines to check out their differences in gene expression. They were unprepared for the amazing results! For more info, check out this article at naturalnews.com: Organic Chickens are Genetically Different from Conventional Chickens.

My immediate thought is this: what does this say about us? If the different cultivation methods of chicken feeds can cause such changes in a chicken’s gene pool, then what does eating conventionally raised veggies and fruits as opposed to eating organically grown veggies and fruits cause in my own personal gene make-up?

Another thing–this study was done in the Netherlands. The conventionally fed chickens were NOT being fed feed containing genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), ie: “Frankenstien foods”, as they are known in Europe. Farmer John, my organic CSA farm neighbor, tells me that currently, most all corn grown commercially in the USA contains GMO’s, so it would be interesting frightening (!) to see a study comparing GMO grain fed chickens with their organically fed counterparts.

A 2006 Consumer Reports study urges that chicken is among the top products to purchase organic. It does not contain the toxic hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides that conventionally raised poultry do. This report even suggests that low levels of artificial hormones can increase one’s risk of developing cancer. Traces of toxic heavy metals have even been uncovered in commercially grown chickens. For a list of more chemically laden foods to avoid, go here.

Not only that, when you raise your animals on pasture and feed them organic feeds, you reap a huge bang for your buck. Why? Omega-3 fatty acids are created in the leaves of green plants, where they are vital to photosynthesis. When my chickens graze fresh green grass every day, they are accumulating more of these essential fatty acids. When I eat my chicken, I’m eating its Omega-3’s–and that’s just one of many nutrient benefits.

So…how about that? We really are what we eat, or er…what our animals eat.

Toxic Peanut Butter

Peanuts in a BowlCancer causing toxins in peanut butter…what next? They are more correctly called: aflatoxins. Peanuts, and certain other crops such as corn contain the highest risks of aflatoxin contamination, because they attract the molds Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus. Aflatoxins are the most toxic, naturally occuring carcinogens known. Yikes!

FYI–“Afla”toxin takes its name from the short hand of  its causative agent, the mold  A. flavus, A. fla.

A little side trip

I have always wondered why so many people had peanut sensitivities. But I reasoned my doubts away, thinking peanuts were just highly allergic, like milk. After all, there are so many lactose intolerant people out there, right?

Well, a few months ago, we were introduced to the wonders and health benefits of drinking raw milk, and educated by Mark McAfee on why lactose intolerant people can drink raw milk without any reactions whatsoever. It’s as simple as this: in raw milk, the lactase enzyme hasn’t been killed in the pasteurization process. This enzyme is necessary for many people to be able to break down the milk sugars they drink. Very exciting for certain members of our extended family who haven’t been able to drink store milk for decades! Believe me, they are cured and can drink raw milk all day long now with no adverse reactions.

So I revisited my questions on the peanut butter problem. See, God stuck me with this “inquiring mind” that just won’t stop. I can’t help it. And here’s what I  found out. The question is…

Do you really want to know?

Lest you think I’m basing this on internet drivel–please verify it all at the Cornell University website where you will learn wa-ay more than I have room for in this post!

The FAO, Food and Agricultural Organization, estimates that 25% of the world’s crops are affected by mycotoxins, of which aflatoxins are the most notorious.

Aflatoxins are sometimes detected in milk, cheese, corn, peanuts, cottonseed, nuts, almonds, figs, spices, and animal feeds . Milk, eggs, and meat products are occasionally contaminated because of the animal consumption of aflatoxin-contaminated feed.

Most people agree that aflatoxins should be considered very dangerous, and not at all allowable in food, if detectable. However, the United States FDA has set the allowable concentration for aflatoxins in human foods at 20 ppb (parts per billion). Foreign markets let far less get past them, allowing only 4-15 ppb. Animal feed can contain up to 100 ppb, which as we saw previously, sometimes allows for contamination of our dairy products and eggs. Because these molds are colorless, and don’t break down in cooking, it’s difficult to know if our foods are contaminated in these ways. And who knows what slow and steady exposure to aflatoxins will lead to over many years time?

SHOCKER: Evidence exists that Iraq used aflatoxins in their biological weapons–specifically in bombs and warheads! Agh!They evidently think that aflatoxins pose somewhat of a danger to humans!

But back to peanut butter…

Supposedly humans have a high tolerance for aflatoxin exposure, but I’m not willing to take that risk, when the lab results have shown such carcinogenic effects on animals. And not when the experts are also saying that children are  at risk from chronic exposure (pb&j anyone?), with such side effects as stunted growth and delayed development.

So you might want to check these things out for yourself.

Personally, our family loves sunbutter made from sunflower seeds. Almond and cashew butters are some other delicious nut butters, great with apple slices, in smoothies, or spread on romaine lettuce leaves and then drizzled with a bit of raw honey! Mmm! We haven’t yet tried to substitute these for peanut butter in cookies…but it’s on our can’t-wait-to-try-this list!

P.S. Since I brought up nut butters, it might be of interest to clarify that peanuts aren’t actually nuts, they are legumes… ;O)

Barley Biscuits

Manna from Heaven would be so lovely, in my opinion. We’ve had such a snow-laden winter, that the poor chickens haven’t wanted to free range much. Why bother when the ground is covered with cold, white stuff, right? Sometimes I walk through the drifting snowflakes to do my twice a day chores, and dream of manna. Yes. If those snowflakes were only manna, I’d never again have to pay organic feed prices for my flock!

I did have a manna experience this past week, when our Bible study friends came by and blessed us with their stash of organic grains, and even several bags of milled flour, kinds I’d always wanted to experiment with, but hadn’t yet! Hard red winter wheat, millet, rye, barley, spelt–which is one of our all time favorite grains!  Sadly, my friend is giving me these things because her young son has been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes…and because of this awesome site’s life changing info: Living Without Type 1, she is finding great success in eliminating grains and dairy from their diet. I encourage you to check the site out yourselves, it’s amazing, people are dealing with Type 1 by changing their diets–eliminating grains, dairy, going raw and organic and as a result, no more insulin shots! This is the delight of  “food therapy”–as opposed to drug therapy, check it out!

So tonight we gave barley flour a try…and WOW! We are hooked…fly thee to thy nearest health food store, get some barley flour and hie thee home to bake these…

Barley Biscuits–makes 9-10 biscuits

1. Blend the following dry ingredients in a mixing bowl:

  • 2 cups barley milled from whole barley (or buy barley flour)
  • 4 tsp baking powder (I recommend low sodium and aluminum free)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt (we love Farmer John’s “real salt”)

2. Blend together in separate bowl:

  • 1 egg, well beaten
  • 1 cup buttermilk (I keep powdered buttermilk on hand, as well as kefir which can be substituted for buttermilk)
  • 1 1/2 TB oil
  • 1 1/2 TB melted butter, unsalted

Or, instead of separating the last two ingredients, you could use 3 TB oil, or 3 TB melted butter–but it’s delicious half and half.

3. Blend liquid ingredients into dry ingredients just until mixed. Dough will be quite soft, like batter, and very light.

4. Drop spoonfuls of batter on lightly greased cookie sheet or stoneware, and bake in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes until lightly golden on the bottom.

These are the fluffiest, lightest, whole grain biscuits ever–with delicious taste that will appeal to the whole family!

(and while you eat them, pretend you’re one of the 5,000 being fed on five small barley loaves and two fish…)

Next thing I want to try…Ezekiel bread!