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Saturday, September 29, 2012

root beef stew

Root Beef Stew
. Delicious in cool weather, warming and healthy, and uses ingredients which are easy to come by during the winter months.

Begin by marinating beef 4-12 hours. Combine, and refrigerate

2 lbs stew beef, or chopped roast
2 c red wine
1/8 c Worcestershire sauce
4 cloves garlic
1/2 onion
1 Tb black pepper

About 2 1/2 hours before you plan to eat (or store) your stew, start doing these steps. 

Dice evenly
2 medium potatoes, peeled or scrubbed
3 carrots
2 parsnips
1 small turnip
1 or 2 cups of mushrooms, if you prefer, or leave button mushrooms whole 

and slice 2 medium vine tomatoes into wedges. You can leave out the tomatoes or add whole peeled tomatoes from a can if the season is not offering you good quality fresh fruit.

Set all these aside in a bowl.

Dice 1 large onion, and crush 3-6 cloves of garlic.

Get out a large soup pot and put it on high heat. Add olive oil once the pan it hot and immediately add the garlic and onion. Once partially clarified, use a slotted spoon to drain beef chunks of their marinade and toss them in as well. Sear beef. Don't bother cooking all the way through, but the pan and oil should be just barely less than smoking hot so that the outside of the meat sears quickly and the flavor is trapped inside. It will be a noisy process. It's short, though, so just go for it.

Once the beef is seared, turn heat immediately down to low.
Add all the chopped veg and stir together.
Add the red wine marinade left over from marinating the beef.
Add beef or vegetable stock, alone or combined with water, enough to barely cover the solid ingredients.
Add 1 bay leaf, about 4 inches of rosemary and 3-4 large leaves of sage. Use the whole sprig of rosemary, don't bother taking off the leaves, as you will remove this before serving.
Add salt. Don't bother with more pepper just yet as you had one full tablespoon of the fresh ground good stuff in the marinade you added, remember? Wait and taste later.

Cover your pot. My stovetop and pot work well on the largest burner on gas mark 3. You may have to play a little. The goal is to keep the stew barely bubbling, not quite simmering but close. You are going to leave the stew cooking like this, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The veg will be long cooked by that time, as will the beef, but the whole mess will be lovely and fragrant, beautifully seasoned, and tender by the time you are done. Check it occasionally to ensure there is still enough liquid. Add water as needed.

Once cooked to perfection, there is still one final step to finishing this stew nicely.
Combine in a small bowl 1/4 c cold water and 4 heaped Tb cornstarch thickener.
Pour into stew. Stir in well.
Bring stew up to a simmer, still stirring, until you feel the juices suddenly thicken with the cornstarch.

Allow your stew to sit off the heat for 10 minutes or so before serving. I don't know exactly why, but this seems to make a difference with the flavor. Perhaps it allows the cornstarch to settle in? If you know, please share in the comments! Oh, and remove the sage, rosemary and bay. No need for them anymore. They've done their job.

Root Beef Stew is wonderful served with a crusty loaf of bread and butter, a tossed salad, and baked apples. Dig in!

Monday, September 24, 2012

healthy apple butter

Do you love apple butter? Me, too! But I don't love the calories. Most apple butters contain almost as much butter as they do apple. For a lighter, healthier, but still delicious and delightfully easy alternative, try this.
  • 8 to 10 apples. Core, dice. Don't bother peeling. I assume your apples are washed, so why bother? You can use several different types of apple, or all one type. I don't suggest making it entirely out of Granny Smiths, however, as it might end up a little more tart than you are accustomed to!
  • One stick of butter. That's approximately 1 Tb for each apple. I have used coconut oil in place of butter with good success, for those who can't have dairy. Use your judgement and increase or decrease the amount of fat if your apples are extra large or very small. Cooking apples are the best for this sort of thing as they mush so beautifully and improve in flavor with cooking, but I can't get them where I live at this time in my life, so the regular eating apples I use are generally the right size per Tb of butter. Oh, and please use real butter! No margarine rubbish. Seriously.
  • 3-4 Tb water 
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c brown sugar -- or honey, or ideally none at all
  • 1 Tb cinnamon, ground 
  • 1 tsp ginger root, ground 
  • 1/2 tsp orange peel, ground 
  • 1 Tb vanilla essence 
Dump everything but the vanilla into a large pot with a lid. With lid on, heat on the stove at a low to medium heat for about 45 minutes, or until everything is beautifully mushy. Add the vanilla off the heat. Taste, and modify by increasing spices or sugar amount if you need to.

Now, blend perfectly smooth. I prefer an immersion wand blender for this step, as I don't have to wait for things to cool off. Blend until there are no chunks and no pieces of skin to be found.

Storage. You can refrigerate. Of course, use your judgement regarding the life of your apple butter in the fridge. You can freeze. You can also pack pint sized jars with the hot apple butter and can them in a water bath for 5 minutes, so that you can keep apples on the shelf for a much longer period of time. This apple butter is gorgeous all by itself as a dessert, or spread on toast, or with peanut butter in a sandwich. I've even enjoyed it on vanilla icecream. Yum.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

debunking a herbal myth

As my interest in and use of herbalism has increased, so also has my awareness that we have a lot of misunderstanding about herbs and their uses. In particular, one myth I would like to clarify has been brought to my attention since I began nursing.

My son is a few weeks shy of one year old. He is still nursing strong, many times a day. At one point, early in our nursing relationship, I wasn't sure it would last this long, nor be so good, as we had trouble establishing a latch and then I had to deal with a milk oversupply issue. It wasn't easy. I used herbs while pregnant, while postpartum, while nursing, and I use them still for issues like PMS and cyclic regularity, even natural cleaning, as well as the occasional thing that comes up like bug bites, headaches, spraying greenfly off the roses. Herbs are wonderful in their uses! God's gift to man -- explore the wilds of the earth that was newly formed, subdue and learn all about it, and find out all about nature's medicine cabinet. It is amazing how perfectly His design is formed in nature, where plants that complement each other grow together, and remedial herbs often grow near the plant that caused the complaint.

Since I've been nursing, I have experienced that my son goes through growth spurts from time to time, and requires more milk. This takes more from my body. I like to daily drink about 16 ounces of a blend I make at home which is strong in red raspberry leaf, the ultimate fertility herb, as it is not only safe for my son to try if he feels like sharing but supports and strengthens the workings and regularity of all my woman's parts. And not only that, but red raspberry leaf helps to increase milk ejection reflex, which I have noticed has diminished significantly over the last year as is normal for many women the longer they nurse, and I find that this helps my son stay happy for longer at the breast. He and I have no desires to wean just yet. I find as well that I am benefited by drinking a mother's milk herbal blend, containing galactagogue herbs like fenugreek and blessed thistle, and I will alternate my regular blend with my milk blend for a few weeks at a time as needed.

I have been told that science and modern medicine does not support the use of galatagogue herbs. I have been told that there is no medical evidence that herbs increase milk supply. One must consider, though, that there are many studies which prove that herbs do increase nutritional value for the mother, the quality of her milk, her ejection reflux, and the proportion of fat in her milk, even if the actual number of fluid ounces remains the same. Often, increased nutrition of the mother leads directly to increased milk output, too, although not in every case. I have been told that the success of herbs is purely placebic, and that the same results might be achieved by merely training the body to respond by drinking water at every nursing, and then the body will start producing more milk when water is drunk even not at nursing times. One must consider, then, that even if the success of herbs could be proven to be purely placebo in effect (which it so far has not been proven), the result is still worth achieving and as such is worth promoting as a means to longer success with breastfeeding by more mothers.

While the comments against herbology as an aid to breastfeeding have not been proven, there is still a point to be made. The quality of herbs play a huge factor in the misconceptions out there. The success of any herbal remedy is necessarily going to be due to a combination of appropriate growing for quality and maximum essential oils, correct harvesting, and the freshness of the herbs in the remedy used. Herbs may be used fresh cut for almost any remedy or recipe. Dried herbs are often the most convenient, however, as they last a lot longer on the shelf, requiring only cool, dry and dark. But when red raspberry leaf, for example, is purchased in teabags by a young woman wanting to help regulate her postpartum hormones, typically the product inside the bags was dried and shelved on average up to or even over two years previously. The quality of the herbs has been significantly reduced simply by this elapsed time, as volatile oils and medicinal properties in the dried herbs will decay and diminish as the herbs slowly turn further to dust. This young woman will not experience relief to the extent she had hoped for simply because the product she purchased was not up to scratch. Sadly, the vast majority of dried herbs sold on the market in the USA are over 18 months old before they reach the public. I have nothing here to prove this suspicion, but I greatly suspect the reason that modern medicine typically does not support the use of herbs as remedies is due to this low standard. Of course herbs won't work well, or at all, if they are so old their medicinal properties are chopped to half or less!

The solution is to find a reputable source for purchasing your herbs, and to ensure the quality of those herbs is high because of not only careful handling and packaging but also a very short shelf life before they reached you. Your herbs should be easily less than a year old by the time they reach your hands. Ideally, they should be less than 6 months old by the time you get them, and you would discard anything leftover that passed a year. There are a few sources that are reliable and reputable. I won't give out nasty names to those companies I am less than thrilled with, but I would like to give a shout out to one particular company that I am very favorably impressed with. is my go-to for herbs that I cannot grow and dry myself, as the freshness and quality of their products is beyond outstanding, delivery is fast, and prices are very reasonable. They offer a large selection of bulk herbs individually and blended for specific purposes. Second to BulkHerbStore, I like to visit the bulk herb section of my local health food store for odds and ends, such as bentonite clay and dried plantain for making an anti-acne face masque, and for culinary herbs and spices that I may find inconvenient to take care of at home. Wherever you find your mother's milk tea or any other herbal remedy, though, be aware that not all manufacturers are created equal, and seek out the ones that are going to honor your dollar. Put the best in your body not via price tag but by the quality of the herbs you receive.