Homemade Ranch Dressing

     Finding dressing in the store that isn’t loaded with chemical preservatives is difficult nowadays.  Most of them have EDTA added to them to preserve freshness.   It is a widely used preservative that can even be found in baby foods. You know what also has EDTA in it?  If you have ever had your blood drawn the vacutainer tubes that they collect your blood in are loaded with anticoagulants, including EDTA!   I’m still looking into the difference in its functionality between ingested and vacutainers but still, the fact it is in something that we use to prevent blood from clotting and we are ingesting it has always freaked me out. Additional information on EDTA .

     Even the organic dressings are not always the best option as some are full of evaporated cane juice, aka sugar.  My taste buds must be changing because the store-bought brands seem very bitter to me now.  My husband is a big lover of Ranch dressing so I have experimented with different homemade ranch dressings and this is what I came up with. 

Homemade Ranch Dressing

  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4-1 cup buttermilk, depending on desired thickness (or plain milk with 1 tbsp of lemon juice added to it)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tbsp dried dill
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley (try half cilantro for an added kick)
  • 1 tbsp chives, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to your preference

If you have fresh herbs on hand they will taste even better you just may have to use slightly more to get the same taste (i.e. 3-4 tbsp fresh parsley).  This is easily adapted to taste so add more or less of what you like!  I am not a fan of mayo so I use yogurt but you could swap that. 

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Pumpkin Whoppie Pies and Pumpkin Bread

I usually have pumpkin puree on hand because I have found that not only is it delicious, it is great for dogs.  Over the summer our Blue heeler, Jax, decided it was a GREAT idea to get into the cat litter while I was in the other room.  He was very proud of himself until 12 hours later when he got incredibly sick. I don’t think the poor boy has ever been that sick before.  We tried to wait it out hoping he would get better quickly but he would seem better and then go back to being sick the next day.  I was planning on calling the vet in the morning when I remembered that pumpkin was soothing on doggie stomachs so I figured it was worth a shot.  Both of our dogs gobbled it right up, which was great since we couldn’t get Jax to eat very much at the time.  After that he was back to his old energetic self!  At least he is smart enough not to get back into the cat litter, nope he’s moved up in the world, on to cat food!

Like everyone else when the weather starts turning chilly and you can see the leaves changing colors you start to think fall and fall foods.  I was in the mood to bake something and I came across this Pumpkin Whoppie Pie recipe months ago and it sounded like a great idea now that it’s starting to feel like fall.  I found the recipe on the Deliciously Organic website http://deliciouslyorganic.net/pumpkin-whoopie-pies-with-maple-cream-cheese-frosting/ .  I have been waiting to make this because I couldn’t find maple sugar but when we made a trip to Pumpkinville in Ellicotville, NY a few weeks ago I hit up their maple stands.  Boy, maple sugar is expensive!  I bought the smallest one they had and it was still $5.  In this recipe, I used 1/4 cup maple sugar and 1/4 cup brown sugar plus I added about 2 tablespoons of real maple syrup in at the end to get the consistency I wanted.  They turned out well!  It was my first time using Sucanat and it wasn’t what I was expecting.  I have read about it and it is made directly from the sugar cane by crushing it.  It is then heated and paddled to create the Sucanat.  Since it still contains the natural molasses it is apparently a good brown sugar replacement.  I suppose, that is why I was expecting it to smell sweet like brown sugar.  I don’t think it smells sweet at all and it is made of rather large granules instead of the fine sugar I’m used to.

Granule Size

The size of the granules

Finished product

After the dogs got a spoonful of puree I still had some leftovers so I made pumpkin bread!

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup hot water

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Beat together the oil  and honey then beat in the eggs.  Mix in the spices followed by the whole wheat pastry flour, until just combined.  To help the baking soda work mix it in the warm water first then add it into the mixture.  Pour into a greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan.  Bake for an hour or until when you dip a toothpick in the center it comes out clean.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing it from the loaf pan to cool for another 30 minutes prior to cutting.

My aid in the kitchen, Kodiak.

Hubbard squash in a crockpot

After my traditional birthday lunch with my family my dad said he had something for me in the car.  What he gave me wasn’t what I was expecting.  He pulled out this ugly blue thing and a butternut squash (which is the only reason I could figure out what the first one probably was).  Apparently, it was a hubbard squash.  I have never heard of such a thing and when I got home started googling ideas of what I could do with it.  I found that it was supposed to taste similar to how a pumpkin would, which I think is false.  I decided to do a stuffed hubbard.  I work the night shift and with the squash taking about 2 hours to cook in the oven there was no way I could make it for a week meal that way.  I went for the crockpot!  Crockpots are probably the best thing when you work nights! I chopped the hubbard in half with some effort, thick skin, and scrapped the seeds out.  Put some extra virgin olive oil on it with salt and pepper to taste and put on high for 4 hours.  My crockpot will keep warm after it is done with the time so I woke up to a soft squash but not overcooked.  Awesome! The filling I made when I got up.  This was the perfect amount for two people who like to eat but you could make more if you had more squash.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1 Onion
  • tbs garlic
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • can of stewed tomatoes
  • sharp cheddar to top
  • tsp season all
  • tsp sage
  • fresh parsley

Dice the onion and saute until soft in olive oil (or coconut oil).  Add the garlic for about a minute until fragrant, followed by the ground beef.  Cook until no longer pink.  Add Season all and Sage (nutmeg, or allspice would be nice too).  Stir the spices in for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.  Allow them to heat through.  Once it is nice and warm put the halfed squash in a baking dish and fill them with the filling.  Top with fresh parsley and top with freshly grated sharp cheddar, whatever amount you’d like.  (if you are like us then lots of cheese is needed!).  Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Taste test:

The hubs didn’t care for the hubbard. I enjoyed it but I did think it was different.  On the plus side, I am really excited about cooking the squash in the crockpot.  Fall and Winter make perfect weather for stuffed squash and now I can make then even though I don’t get up til 7pm some days!

Hubbard squash in a crockpot

After my traditional birthday lunch with my family my dad said he had something for me in the car.  What he gave me wasn’t what I was expecting.  He pulled out this ugly blue thing and a butternut squash (which is the only reason I could figure out what the first one probably was).  Apparently, it was a hubbard squash.  I have never heard of such a thing and when I got home started googling ideas of what I could do with it.  I found that it was supposed to taste similar to how a pumpkin would, which I think is false.  I decided to do a stuffed hubbard.  I work the night shift and with the squash taking about 2 hours to cook in the oven there was no way I could make it for a week meal that way.  I went for the crockpot!  Crockpots are probably the best thing when you work nights! I chopped the hubbard in half with some effort, thick skin, and scrapped the seeds out.  Put some extra virgin olive oil on it with salt and pepper to taste and put on high for 4 hours.  My crockpot will keep warm after it is done with the time so I woke up to a soft squash but not overcooked.  Awesome! The filling I made when I got up.  This was the perfect amount for two people who like to eat but you could make more if you had more squash.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

  • 1 Onion
  • tbs garlic
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • can of stewed tomatoes
  • sharp cheddar to top
  • tsp season all
  • tsp sage
  • fresh parsley

Dice the onion and saute until soft in olive oil (or coconut oil).  Add the garlic for about a minute until fragrant, followed by the ground beef.  Cook until no longer pink.  Add Season all and Sage (nutmeg, or allspice would be nice too).  Stir the spices in for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.  Allow them to heat through.  Once it is nice and warm put the halfed squash in a baking dish and fill them with the filling.  Top with fresh parsley and top with freshly grated sharp cheddar, whatever amount you’d like.  (if you are like us then lots of cheese is needed!).  Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Taste test:

The hubs didn’t care for the hubbard. I enjoyed it but I did think it was different.  On the plus side, I am really excited about cooking the squash in the crockpot.  Fall and Winter make perfect weather for stuffed squash and now I can make then even though I don’t get up til 7pm some days!

Clean 15 or is it?

We’ve been trying to stick to the clean 15 for our non-organic items.  Partly because of the price of organic produce and because we live in an area without a lot of access to organic items.  Yes, we have a Walmart and Tops but if you look through Walmart the only organics I’ve found are the occasional green pepper for $2 per pepper.  You can find some other organic things in Walmart if you hunt them down, Annie’s Mac and Cheese, Muir Glenn, chicken, etc.  Tops is easier to shop in with the organic aisles put together in one section for cereals, pastas, soups, etc.  But the produce is just a little corner of celery, carrots, and a few other items that are hit and miss.

When we first started this I didn’t know how we were going to be able to do it in the area we live in.  I already make our own white-whole wheat bread since I have yet to find any around here.  Local bakeries use bleached all-purpose flour for the most part and when I do find some with whole wheat there are usually a list of preservatives involved.  The dirty dozen and clean 15 were a relief when I found them.  Now I came across the fact that the onions (and garlic) are sprayed with anti-sprouting agents AFTER harvest. TOXIC anti-sprouting agents.  Are these included in making them #1 on the clean 15?  I doubt it 🙂

I’ve tried to do some research on these but I can’t find much other than it’s toxic.  I’m sure that is what makes the outer skin on the onions crisp.  Interestingly enough I was just thinking the other day “why do the onions I buy from the farmers market have a different type skin?”.  I know they use them on potatoes to prevent spuds (stopping mitosis) which is why I opt for sweet potatoes when possible.

Thinking about it makes you wonder how clean are the clean 15? Sure they are better alternatives than the dirty dozen but still, not great for you.  How much does the anti-sprouting agent penetrate into the onion?  I doubt it is only the outside layer.  Do we really want to put something in our bodies that stops mitosis? No.

I use at least 4 onions a week in the food I make for our family.  With the health benefits of onions I was excited to know they were on the clean list. Now I am back to feeling overwhelmed and frustrated trying to eat healthy in today’s world.

Coffee love and peppers

I am currently working on my second batch of cold brew coffee.  Before J and I got married I attempted it and boy what a mess! I was given a not to happy expression when I mentioned making another batch for the hot summer weather.  There were coffee grounds all over the counter (plus the floor) and it took HOURS to drain all the coffee.  I received some feedback from a friend that a French Press coffee maker works well to separate the grounds quickly.  However, even though I am a big fan of coffee and own four different coffee makers, my collection does not include a French Press.   I was all prepared to suck it up and do it all over again when I looked at my drip coffee maker and thought “it drains hot coffee fast enough!”.  I’m excited to say it is going much quicker and minus the mess, woohoo!

When J and I first started dating every time I cooked for him he would tell me how much he loved it.  What I came to realize is he actually did!  I was skeptical at first and would throw some interesting ingredients in there but I was pleasantly surprised he was willing to try anything at least once, or twice if made a different way.  Excellent!  I love to cook and experiment so he is the perfect test subject.  His skills in the kitchen are somewhat lacking but he is great at cutting onions I can’t see through the tears and helping in anyway he can.

When I got him to agree to watch Food Inc with me I was worried that I would be disgusted by the things I saw and that he wouldn’t be affected and would want to keep eating the way we were.  I had known about Food Inc. for several years before and was toting the “Ignorance is bliss” mind set.  Surprisingly, J was the one to push to eat better in the beginning.  I have certainly picked up the slack in the last month or so and ruined several of his favorite places to eat (Subway, anyone? Ew.) but he defiantly got the ball rolling.  I love him for that.

We have added a few new foods to our diet.  We tried Quinoa for the first time in a stuffed pepper.  It was the first time I had actually enjoyed a stuffed pepper.  Before that I thought they were too saucy and had a  “weird” texture for me.  Honestly, I think that may be from the fact that I only really remember eating microwavable ones.  Being an avid label reader now and a new Step-Mom I am trying to cut back on the junk the kids eat while they are with us.   This would be difficult with kids that live with you full time it is even more so when they have full access to the food they are used to when they are not with us.  I am slowly introducing new foods with them and the peppers were one they loved, success!

Give credit where credit is due: http://www.rachelcooks.com/2011/07/08/southwestern-quinoa-stuffed-peppers-and-southwestern-quinoa-casserole/

Hello world!

I’m a newlywed and lover of all things nerdy.  My new hubby and I have recently been on a mission to improve our health through food.  We watched Food Inc. back in March and since that fateful day we have (slowly) changed our eating habits.  I want to share how we are cooking now and other things along the way.