Homemade Coconut Milk

The boys and I made a sad, sad trip yesterday. One of my favorite local grocery stores is going out of business.

We stopped by to see the reality with our own eyes during yesterday’s errand run, and it is undeniable–the bakery, deli, meat, seafood, and freezer sections are completely vacant. The produce section is apparently the next target, because the prices in that area were SLASHED. While I’m totally bummed about the store closing, I’m NOT bummed about getting a ton of apples for $0.99/lb, a 3lb bag of oranges for $1.99, a nice pineapple for $1.50, and two coconuts for $1 each!

Wait…two coconuts? How did those end up in my basket?

What in the world was I thinking? Oh…right…I was channeling my inner homeschool mom.

“Won’t this be a fun and educational thing to do?!? The kids will be fascinated to see the processing of a fresh coconut!”

I also had read on Spartan Race’s Food of the Day email about using fresh coconuts…so I guess it was just all working together to cause my impulse buy. 🙂

Regardless of HOW I made it home with two coconuts, the fact remains that they were sitting on my table.

First, we used a CLEAN screwdriver and a hammer to open the coconuts, and then we collected the coconut water from inside.

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Then we used the hammer to crack them open. A quick taste of the coconut meat and coconut water sent the boys running for a glass of water to get rid of the taste! Hmmm….that could be a problem.

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Naturally…I consulted Google, and came across this site which gave instructions for making coconut milk! Three out of four members of our family are sensitive to cow’s milk and usually drink almond milk instead, so coconut milk is certainly something that I was interested in trying.

Simplified instructions: Process the meat of one coconut, the coconut water from that same coconut, and two cups of boiling water for about 5 minutes. If desired, add sweetener to taste in the last minute of processing. I had to split this into two batches in my 7 cup food processor. 

I knew that we would only be using the coconut milk for drinking and in sweet recipes (like smoothies), so I added a bit of sweetener to make it more tasty. One coconut produced almost a full quart of milk.

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Of course, it didn’t ALL make it into the jar because the boys kept sneaking sips from the bowl with their straws while it was still warm from the processing… 🙂 Sounds like success to me!

After squeezing out the milk, we were left with a bowl full of finely ground, slightly sweetened coconut meat. I’m going to use some of it in muffins, and I’ll freeze the rest for later use. You can also apparently dry it to make coconut flour, but since I had sweetened it I chose not to go that route.

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Overall, I’m thrilled with the results! I still have one more coconut to process, but I may try freezing the meat and coconut water until we’ve used up the first batch since the milk only lasts a few days in the fridge (no preservatives!). You can’t beat getting a quart of preservative-free coconut milk and about two cups of minimally processed coconut meat for $1!

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Check back tomorrow, when I’ll post my delicious new smoothie recipe featuring our fresh coconut milk!

Muffins, Muffins, Muffins everywhere!

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted…I’ve been baking muffins.

Ok…maybe I’ve done a few other things too. I have baked a LOT of muffins though.

We’ve tried lots of new recipes over the last few weeks with lots of new ingredients. I’ve been trying to master the art of making a whole-wheat muffin taste more like a muffin and than like…well…warm spicy bread. Although my dad and Paula Deen say that you can never have too much sugar, I’ve been trying to find a balance that will allow the natural flavors to shine without feeling like I’m feeding my family a candy bar.

Since I’m trying to move toward more whole-food ingredients, there has been a definite learning curve. Some of the new ingredients I’ve been playing with in my muffin recipes include whole wheat flour, ground flax seed, raw honey, less refined sugars, and veggies!

I’ve had success with recipes like carrot-applesauce muffin, zucchini muffins, pumpkin muffins, and our old reliable banana muffins. I’ve also had failures with those same recipes–except the banana muffins…those are resilient enough that I haven’t managed to mess them up yet. 🙂

Some things that I’ve learned:

  • Adding sour cream or yogurt to the batter will help moisten whole wheat muffins and make the sweetener sweeten better
  •  Although they say you can substitute ground flax for an egg (1T flax + 3T water) or some of the fat (3T flax for 1T butter/oil) in a recipe, I’m almost always too chicken to try it. I usually just adding a bit for an extra boost of nutrients in the overall recipe.
  • Whether or not it is possible to have too much sugar, it is definitely possible to have too little.
  • If you put too little sugar in a recipe, you will clean up 6-10X the crumbs from your floor/furniture because the kids would rather crumble the muffins than gobble them down like properly sweetened ones.
  • Baking my own muffins from scratch is much less expensive than buying pre-made muffins, and I get to control what goes into them!
  • Muffin recipes are amazingly flexible. As long as you add enough sweetener (see above), you can add or substitute ingredients pretty much at will. Batter seem too thick? Add a splash of buttermilk! Don’t have buttermilk? Use sweet milk or almond milk or yogurt or sour cream or applesauce or…you get the idea!
  • I hate muffin papers. I don’t use them. I bake muffins in an oiled muffin tin and they come out just fine. I don’t lose any muffin yumminess to that sticky paper, and I have one less thing to pick up when the boys forget that our maid doesn’t exist.
  • I love silicone baking liners, but I don’t use them for baking. I use them for separating items in Zander’s lunch…sometimes even muffins! 🙂
  • Muffins freeze really well. I just cool them completely and pop 6 into each quart sized freezer bag. They warm up in 30 seconds in the microwave for a fast breakfast, or I can just pop it still frozen into the lunchbox. By the time they get to lunch, the muffin is ready to eat.

Now for a recipe!

Whole Wheat Banana Muffins (adapted from Heavenly Homemakers)

  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour (I usually bump closer to 2 cups) 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup mashed over-ripe bananas (about 2-3 bananas–I always use 3 and have a bit more than 1 cup in the end)
  • 1/3 cup honey (if using sugar, I would probably double this amount)
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • up to 1/2 cup pecan pieces (optional)

Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  In a separate bowl, mash bananas, or puree them in a blender. 

I keep ripe bananas in my freezer all the time for this very purpose. You just let them sit for a few minutes on the counter (or zap them for 30 seconds in the microwave if you’re running behind like I usually am) to soften them enough to squeeze them out of the skins (gross but oddly satisfying). The great thing is that they’re already pretty mushed when they come out, so there’s not much mashing or pureeing required–just a few swipes with a fork to finish it off.

Mix mashed bananas, honey, melted butter and eggs into flour mixture.

Fold in pecan pieces if using–I actually spoon half of the batter into cups first, then fold them in for the last half of the batch because Michael only likes them WITH nuts and Zan only likes them WITHOUT nuts. Naturally. 🙂

Spoon batter into buttered or paper lined muffin tins. Bake in a 400° oven for 20 minutes.

I get anywhere from 12-15 muffins from this recipe, depending on how I hold my mouth when I’m mixing it up.

When they come out, I let them cool for a minute or two in the pan before removing to a wire rack. Since these are quite moist, they need to be completely cool before putting them into a container or you can put a paper towel in there with them to absorb the extra moisture if you’re too rushed to wait the whole time.

Enjoy!

I’ll post my pumpkin muffin recipe tomorrow, after I test it one more time tonight. It’s an adaptation of this recipe, but I have to make sure I can recreate it before I unleash it on anyone else. Ha!

Creamy Chicken and Pasta

I have been trying to creep toward cooking with more “whole” or “real” foods. It’s a difficult journey, as any of you who’ve tried it know all too well.

I baked a beautiful batch of whole wheat muffins, and no one would eat them. NO ONE.

I tried to get rid of the margarine, and my sweet husband fussed because he missed it.

And don’t even get me started on the snack cake and sweet tea situations.

So I’ve decided that I’m going to do my best, take small steps, and make sure that whatever I serve up is delicious. If they love what they are eating, they won’t care what’s in it!

That leads me (finally) to my newest recipe. I had been reading on blogs like Heavenly Homemakers about using heavy cream to make…wait for it…CREAM sauces! I know it’s a novel concept, but just stay with me. 😉

I was getting ready to cook supper, and all I could think of was caramelized onions. It was a chicken night, so I knew I’d need to work that in too. Hmmm…and pasta. We’d had rice and potatoes most recently, so pasta it was. Unfortunately, that was all I had in the way of inspiration. I didn’t want a tomato sauce, and I hadn’t done any meal planning.

I just started cooking the onions to see where it would lead.

This is what it turned into…

 

Creamy Chicken and Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 8oz pasta (I used penne)–cook and drain
  • 1 large onion, halved and sliced
  • 1lb chicken tenders, defrosted if frozen
  • 1 small bell pepper (picked from my garden!!), chopped
  • 1/4-1/2t dried basil and rosemary
  • salt to taste
  • 3/4-1c heavy cream
  • butter for cooking onion and chicken–maybe 1-2T?

Cook the onion in 1T butter on medium to medium-high heat until beginning to soften and brown. Add chicken (and a little more butter if needed for moisture) and cook until lightly brown on both sides. Toss in bell pepper pieces, herbs and salt, cover and let cook for about 5-10 minutes tossing and/or stirring as needed until chicken is cooked through. Add about 1/2c water about half way through to help keep from sticking and to begin creating a sauce.

Break up chicken into smaller pieces, lower heat, pour in cream and stir. Add cooked pasta and toss to cover with sauce.

Enjoy!

(You can also top it with Parmesan cheese, but we didn’t make it that long. The flavors are so deep and rich that we all gobbled it down before we had the chance to add anything else to it!)

 

 

The easiest homemade bread EVER

If someone was just randomly reading my blog, I guess that they would immediately assume that all I cook and eat is bread. I have a recipe for whole wheat bread, one for rolls, and now yet another bread recipe!

That person would be really close to being right. 🙂

I love bread. I love homemade bread. Mainly though, I love EASY and DELICIOUS homemade bread.

Did I mention that this recipe only uses a handful of ingredients? AND doesn’t require kneading? AND comes out with a deliciously buttery crust that will make you think that you are consuming something that involves way way WAY more than 1 tablespoon of butter? Yeah…I now make 4 loaves at a time.

Oh…and they freeze beautifully too. Bonus!

I found the recipe at Alexandra’s Kitchen, and you should look there for great step-by-step photos that I just can’t seem to make.

Peasant Bread

Ingredients:
4 scant cups flour (I prefer bread flour)
2t salt (kosher is great, but any will work)
2c warm water (warm to touch but not hot enough to burn)
2t dry yeast (or one packet)
1T sugar

Mix water, yeast and sugar. Let proof for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix flour and salt. Pour wet ingredients into dry and stir well. Cover the bowl and let rise 1 hour in a warm spot.

While the bread is rising, thoroughly butter two oven-proof bowls (1-1.5 qt works best because larger bowls won’t let it rise properly) using about 1T of room temperature butter for each bowl. Seriously…use the whole tablespoon of butter in each one…you’ll thank me later.

After the rise, fold the down with 2 forks. Kind of pull it down and toward the middle a few times with the forks to “punch it down,” then divide it in half. Place each half into a buttered bowl.

Let the dough rise another 30 minutes. Go ahead and turn the oven to 425 so that it’ll be ready.

Bake the loaves at 425° for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375° without opening the door and bake for another 22-25 minutes. If the bread is browning too much on top, you can cover it loosely with foil for the last 5-10 minutes.

Turn it out onto a wire rack to cool a few minutes before devouring.

The bottom crust will be golden brown, deliciously buttery, and perfectly crispy. The smell is amazing, and your husband will think you can work magic.

If you want to freeze the second loaf for another night, just let it cool all the way before wrapping it in foil. Pop the foil-wrapped loaf into the freezer. When you’re ready to use it, you can put it (foil and all) directly into the oven to warm.

I cook 4 loaves at once now so that we can enjoy the fresh-baked taste even on quick-cook nights. Since I don’t want to worry with a single huge bowl of dough that doubling the batch would make, I just make two regular batches at the same time. It’s really only a couple more dishes and no extra time.

Hope you try it and enjoy!

45 Minute Rolls

Ok…so this recipe was originally called “30 Minute Rolls” when I first tried it, but it bugged me that it actually takes 45 minutes to make them. 🙂 Regardless, these rolls are super fast to put together and absolutely delicious. We like to use the leftover rolls for sandwiches or hamburger buns.

45 Minute Rolls

Ingredients
1cup plus 2 Tbsp warm water (1 1/8 cups)
1/3 cup oil
2 Tbsp yeast
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
3 1/2 cups bread flour (all-purpose will work if you don’t have any bread flour)

Heat oven to 400°.

Combine water, oil, yeast, and sugar in the mixer bowl and allow to rest for 15 minutes. Using a dough hook, mix in the salt, egg, and flour. Knead with the hook for a few minutes–until flour is well incorporated and dough is soft and smooth.

Grease a 9″x13″ pan. Grease your hands and pinch the dough into 12 balls. Place the dough balls into the pan and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Bake for 10-12 minutes at 400° or until golden brown.

 

These rolls are Michael’s new favorite recipe. I make them at least once a week unless I want to risk a cranky crew at home! Please let me know if you try them.

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Bake

Ok…I am calling this recipe “sneaky” because it has LOTS of veggies in it, but tastes so good that they don’t even notice! I made this dish for the first time a couple of days ago after seeing this recipe on Pinterest. I knew that I had some frozen spinach at home, and this recipe looked too good not to try. I decided to make a few adjustments though. Here’s my version of the recipe:

Sneaky Chicken Pasta Bake

  • 8 oz uncooked pasta (I used two different kinds that I had leftover from other meals)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 (16 oz) bag frozen spinach
  • 1 medium zucchini, shredded
  • 1lb boneless chicken
  • 1 (14 oz) can Italian-style diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (8 oz) brick cream cheese
  • 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1½ c shredded mozzarella cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 375°. Cook pasta according to package directions. If you’re using two different types like I did, make sure to put the longer cooking pasta in earlier if you don’t want texture differences.
  2. While pasta cooks, cook onion and chicken in a large skillet until nearly cooked through. Season to taste as chicken cooks. I used Nature’s Seasoning, a dash of italian seasoning mix, onion powder, and garlic powder.
  3. When chicken is almost done, add 1/2 bag of spinach and let it cook a couple of minutes before adding zucchini and tomatoes. When mixture begins to bubble, add cream cheese and sour cream and stir until well incorporated.
  4. Mix in drained pasta and spread in a large baking dish. Cover and bake until bubbly, about 30 minutes.
  5. Top with cheese and return to oven until melted.

This dish was SOOO good! We ate it with my homemade rolls (the recipe for which I will post very soon), and everyone was raving about how delicious this supper was. I was just thrilled that no one seemed to notice that there were THREE different veggies in it. I knew I was taking a chance on the boys not eating at all that night because the spinach was easily visible. I never dreamed that ALL THREE of them would want seconds!

Just for clarification, that’s a toddler male, a 6-year-old male, and adult male ALL eating a meal without complaints that did not include hamburger or potatoes. They didn’t even TRY to pick around the spinach or tomatoes. This one is a keeper for sure!

Next time I’m going to double the recipe and freeze the second half to bake another night.

Homemade Sports Drink

Zander is going to daycamp this summer (at least until I finish training my replacement in August). They play outside all morning and have inside activity stations in the afternoons, so I want to make sure that he is getting plenty of fluids and replacing those electrolytes that he is sweating out. I do not, however, want to pay the amount of money required to send a bottle of Powerade or Gatorade every day.

Thankfully, I found the answer on one of my favorite blogs–One Good Thing by Jillee. Jillee was looking for a homemade version of the sports drinks that her boys were guzzling down, and she posted her recipe for the rest of us to enjoy. I have made it about 8 times now, and can throw it together in less than 2 minutes while trying to run out the door to work, daycare, and daycamp in the mornings.

Zander loves it, and it’s made from ingredients that I typically keep around my kitchen anyway. Plus, I know exactly what’s in it! I like that.

Homemade Sports Drink
Adapted from Jillee’s recipe:

1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice (the only real change that I made…Zan likes a little more flavor than 1T will provide)

In a 1 liter bottle, mix dry ingredients and lemon juice with about 1/2 c hot water. Put the cap on and shake to mix until the sugar is dissolved. Add orange juice and fill the rest of the way with cold water. Serve immediately or chill until ready to use! Easy, huh?

I make a liter at a time, and his water bottle holds about half. So far, he has never failed to drink every drop! You could easily make a larger batch by scaling the ingredients up, but it takes so little time to make, I just do it as I go.

Enjoy!