Cinnamon Raisin and Banana Bran Muffins

2 ripe bananas, mashed

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger

1 Tbsp orange zest

1 ½ cup bran cereal

½ cup raisins

1 cup milk

¼ cup coconut oil

1 egg

1 cup whole wheat flour

½ cup unbleached all purpose flour

1 cup whole rolled oats

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line a 12 cup muffin tin.

Mash the bananas and mix with the cinnamon, ginger, zest, bran, raisins and milk,  Let sit until the bran cereal has started to soften and break down (about 15 min).  Meanwhile mix coconut oil with the egg until well combined.  Add softened bran mixture to egg mixture and combine.  Add flours, oats, salt, baking soda and baking powder to the banana and egg mixture and fold together until just incorporated.  Spoon batter into lined muffin cups (about ¾ full).  Bake for 15-22 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the muffins comes out clean.  Let cool slightly, remove from muffin tin and enjoy.

 

Carrot, Zucchini & Applesauce Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp baking soda

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp salt

1 cup date sugar

½ cup coconut oil

¾ cup unsweetened applesauce

2 eggs

3 cups grated carrot

1 cup grated zucchini

1 cup unsweetened dried coconut

¾ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and line 24 muffin tins. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a medium sized mixing bowl.  In a smaller separate bowl combine the date sugar, coconut oil, applesauce and eggs, mix to incorporate.  Add egg mixture to flour mixture and mix until just incorporated.  Stir in carrot, zucchini, coconut, raisins and walnuts.  Divide batter into muffin lined muffin tins and bake for 15-20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the muffin comes out clean.  Let cool slightly, remove from muffin tins and enjoy.

 

 

 

Healthy Homemade Banana Bran Muffins

The muffin top: dreaded or almighty – extra belly weight or the better half of a sweet breakfast bread? As far as I am concerned, the whole terminology uncertainty is rather unfortunate. How did we get so wrapped up in the muffin top conundrum and forget about the integrity of the whole muffin? At what point do we examine the flavor, health benefits and textural appeal of the whole muffin or the strength and health condition of the whole body instead of criticizing or over-praising just one part?

Both the literal and figurative muffin tops can be detrimental to overall health and wellness. The nutrition facts on a “healthy bran muffin” I investigated at the local grocery chain contained 275 calories and 28 grams of sugar per serving, which is only half the muffin.

This means the average muffin consumer is going to get 550 calories and 56 grams of sugar in the first meal of the day. Research from the Mayo Clinic has revealed that excess belly weight significantly increases the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.

In fact, it may be the conventional muffin that plays a role in the unhealthy development of a muffin top. Starting your day with a muffin like this one is what I am tempted to call healthy eating suicide. After a night of rest your body’s internal systems are starving for nourishment to provide the energy and nutrients it needs to function at top speed throughout the day.

The refined carbohydrates (aka sugar as soon as it hits your mouth), added refined sugar and flavorings provide only a sugar rush and crash.  Not only are you hungry for more hardly an hour after eating, your metabolism is clamoring to maintain regular function.

However, I am a big fan of muffins and a homemade muffin is a whole different animal, as far as I am concerned. Homemade muffins can actually be a healthy and easy breakfast food to have on hand throughout the week. Muffins don’t have to cause muffin tops, and muffin tops don’t have to be the only decent tasting portion of the muffin. Using whole grains, nuts, seeds, flax, bran, fruits and vegetables in your homemade muffins can help you create a more wholesome and good tasting food all the way through.

Whole grains will help slow down digestion, prolong energy release and jumpstart the metabolism. Added nutrients from dried or fresh fruits and vegetables will add nutritional value to promote strength, satiation and healthy function throughout the day. Flax seeds, nuts and seeds contribute healthy fats and oils your body needs, as well as some beneficial protein and nutrients.

Forget your predispositions about the chalky bran muffins of your past, adding bran and other fibrous ingredients to your muffins in balance with some added moisture from mashed bananas, applesauce or yogurt will create a fiber-filled and delectable finished product. Fiber will aid in digestion and keep you satiated for a longer period of time.

Muffins are an easy project I like to undertake about once a week so we have some healthy breakfast alternatives on hand for rushed mornings or weekend brunches. My favorite recipe, by far, is made with banana, cinnamon, raisins, bran, whole wheat and oats. It stays moist and fresh for days and requires no added sugar. Check back Thursday for the recipe and some other muffin inspiration and until then, whatever you do, don’t even think about laying your hands on a store bought muffin!

There is nothing like a perfectly prepared burger, preferably medium-rare on a toasted whole-wheat bun, but with no mayo. Instead, stout and stone ground mustard, a thick layer of crisp dill pickles, lightly caramelized red onions still warm from the pan, fresh tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt, a few leaves of butter lettuce and more ketchup than I would like to admit.

This is precisely the problem. I love the hand-packed, well-seasoned and grass-fed beef burger that I make at home; a far cry from the conventionally sold stacks of horrifyingly thin and colorless rounds separated by white waxy papers. Call me a burger snob all you want but, in my defense, I take comfort in knowing that the meat I put in my body is 100% meat, from a good source and not pumped full of additives, antibiotics, preservatives and artificial flavoring.  Not to mention the perfect personalization of toppings, in just the right amount and order that creates the perfect bite all the way through.

You don’t have to buy a whole cow to have easy access to grass-fed beef (see my previous post on the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed beef). Heritage Meats in Rochester, WA is an artisan butchering company that specializes in organic, locally grown and sustainable meats and supplies a great assortment of grass-fed beef products for Full Circle’s Green Grocery program. For your first spring BBQ or family burger night, add some healthy protein to your farm box and forge your own better tasting burgers. All the meat products supplied to Full Circle from Heritage Meats are pasture-raised and grass-fed in Washington, and better for you and the environment than mass-produced, grain-fed beef products.

This weekend, at what I called “the great burger-off”, my thankfully patient friends were presented with a buffet line of toppings and slightly enormous grass-fed beef patties (seared quickly and broiled with a thin layer of sharp cheddar).  Before anyone could get a bite I snapped photos and made note of topping combos and quirky burger making practices. Here are a few of the combinations that made us smile and a secret patty packing recipe that makes the most tender and tasty burgers, as far as I am concerned, on the entire planet.

My Backyard’s Best Burger Patty

(Makes appx. 6 big patties)
2 lbs ground grass-fed beef
½ large yellow onion, finely diced
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
3 cloves fresh garlic, smashed through a garlic press or finely diced
1 Tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
2 Tbsp Worcester sauce
3 Tbsp ketchup
2 tsp Chaloula (or your favorite hot sauce)
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
12 slices of sharp cheddar (or your choice of cheese to melt on top)
Mix all ingredients by hand in a large mixing bowl, making sure to incorporate well.

Form 6 equal palm sized rounds of the mixture (making more or less depending on the size of patty you want).  Pat the rounds out by hand and sear for 3 minutes per side on a hot grill (or until your desired doneness).  Before removing from the grill melt your cheese of choice on top.  Serve immediately with an array of the following:

Killer Topping Combos:

  • Grilled sweet or red onions, blue cheese, avocado, butter lettuce, spicy aoli
  • Sautéed Cremini mushrooms, feta cheese, grilled peppers, red leaf lettuce, basil aoli
  • Fresh sliced tomatoes sprinkled with sea salt, fresh picked basil leaves, avocado, roasted red pepper caponata, butter lettuce
  • Slightly melted brie, thin slices of fresh granny smith apple
  • Fresh pesto, spinach, fresh mozzarella cheese, tomato slices
  • Swiss chesses, sautéed mushrooms, sauerkraut and spicy whole grain mustard
  • Pickled red peppers, butter lettuce, fresh mango chutney
  • Grilled zucchini, balsamic roasted onions and blue cheese

When the sun finally battled through the incessant barrier of clouds, I put on and old pair of jeans and my mud caked garden shoes and dove head first into outdoor projects. With complete abandon I attacked the weeds that had uninhibitedly taken over; relishing the feel of warm rays soaking into my back and shoulders and letting the sun hit my face to revitalize the freckles that hibernate through the winter months. I had myself so completely convinced that this was the big break of springtime that I even dug up the barbeque and set up the outdoor grilling area. I was ready for warm evenings, the smell of caramelized sweet onions and barbeque sauce. That night the first hand packed burger would sizzle as it hit the hot grill and I could hardly contain my anticipation.

As rain came in the form of a torrential downpour around dinnertime, rain boots, coat, and a bit of a frumpy attitude accompanied me to the grill. I was simply unwilling to postpone the burgers, especially because I had already thawed a package of ground “cow”, as I have come to call the gigantic 1/3 of an animal we received, butchered and packaged as part of a local grass fed beef cooperative. What some may think is plain old ground beef was, for me in this moment, none of the above. If you have ever had a hand-packed grass fed beef patty grilled to perfection you know the feeling. The burgers, steaks, roasts and even stews I had made from this well raised and well fed animal were relished, I imagined, like Hindu cultures worship the bovine deity.

The burgers, although mildly dampened with rainwater, were nothing short of delectable. If you have never had the fortunate opportunity to compare a grass fed patty to the conventional counterpart I highly recommend it, rain or shine. Not only do you get a tender and fresh flavor, grass fed beef is also a much healthier indulgence.

Feedlot cattle that gain up to 2-3 pounds per day eating corn, soy and grain before slaughter experience abnormally rapid weight gain that destroys beneficial nutrients and loads on the saturated fat. Grass fed cattle, on the other hand, produce beef that is high in nutrients, packed with health benefits and safer for consumption. A grass fed patty not only tastes better, it is better for you, the cow it came from and the environment that supported its growth.

A few Grass Fed Facts:

  • Grass fed beef has 7 times more beta carotene, 3 times more vitamin E, 1/3 less cholesterol and ¼ less saturated fat than grain fed beef.
  • Higher levels of vitamin E prevent oxidation of cells and higher concentrations of vitamin K2 help ward off heart disease and support brain function.
  • Each bite contains more heart healthy omega 3’s and less artery-constricting omega 6’s.
  • A powerful antioxidant called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is only produced by grass fed ruminants and helps build muscle and ward of cancerous cells.
  • Studies found up to 6,280,000 more e-coli cells in the stomach of feedlot cows and 58% of feedlot cattle tested positive for campylobacter bacteria.
  • Grain feeding cattle requires more than half the world’s supply of grain, which requires an immense amount of gasoline consumption, fertilizer, and land monopoly for production.
  • Cattle have digestive systems specially designed to digest fibrous grasses. When fed grain the cow’s stomach becomes excessively acidic, causing ulcers and allowing harmful bacteria from the stomach to leek into the cow’s bloodstream. This is not only painful and sickening for the cow, it requires the use of antibiotics and other drugs that are passed down to you through the beef you eat.

Kick off your summer barbeque with a better burger, if not for the simple and pleasurable experience of tasting something the way only your great grandparents may have remembered it, maybe for the sanity of knowing exactly what is going into your body and knowing it will nourish and not destroy your body.

After a grand burger cook off and tasting event this weekend where friends patiently stood by as I photographed and noted the contents of various burger stacks, I have an extensive list of favorite topping combos, patty makings and burger secrets to come for Thursdays post.



Sprouting at home is easy and requires little or no equipment not already have on hand. To save a few pennies, improve the taste, texture and nutritional status of your favorite recipes and to ensure you are eating well produced, safe and healthy sprouts, start sprouting in on your own kitchen counter today. See Monday’s post for a list of good seeds, beans and grains to sprout as well as some nutritional information on the super-food quality and power of sprouts.

What you will need:

  • 1 wide mouth jar (the bigger the better – ½ gallon or bigger)
  • Cheesecloth or a fine mesh screen to cover the mouth of the jar
  • A rubber band, string or fine wire to secure the lid on the jar
  • Your sprouting seed/bean/grain of choice

How to start

  • Use 1 part seed to 3 parts water
  • Place desired amount of seed in your jar. All of the following measurements will yield one quart of sprouts – 2 tbsp alfalfa or clover, ¼ cup radish or mustard, ½ cup lentils, 1 cup wheat or rye, 2 cups sunflower
  • Add the appropriate amount of filtered or spring water to the jar depending on what amount of seed you choose
  • Secure your cheesecloth or mesh screen over the lid of the jar
  • Let soak at room temperature for at least 6 hours for smaller amounts of seeds and 12 hours for larger measurements
  • Drain well and keep in a mild but warm dark place.
  • Rinse sprouts twice daily in a strainer and return to the jar
  • After three days place your sprouts in a slightly lighter area to increase the amount of chlorophyll, continue to drain twice daily
  • After 5 to 6 days your sprouts will be ready for consumption. Rinse before using and remove any hulls left behind from the original seed
  • Store sprouts in the refrigerator for up to one week in a clean and covered glass jar

Add sprouts to your favorite sandwich, wrap, soup, salad, pizza or stir fry. Spicier sprouts like radish and mustard make great garnishes for meats and seafood. Sprouts may be slightly cooked but provide the most nourishment when eaten raw and fresh.

Soba and Sunflower Sprout Salad with Cashew Dressing

2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves crushed garlic
¼ cup fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp tamari
3 Tbsp smooth cashew butte
1 tsp chili sauce
2 9-oz packages soba noodles
3 cups fresh sunflower sprouts
6 green onions thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 red bell pepper thinly sliced
2 carrots quartered and thinly sliced (on a mandolin if you have it)

Combine olive oil, garlic, orange juice, sesame oil, tamari, cashew butter and chili sauce in a small mixing bowl.  Whisk to combine. In a large saucepan bring water to a boil and add soba noodles.  Cook until just soft, drain and set aside. Toss cooled noodles with sprouts, green onions, cilantro, bell pepper and carrot.  Add dressing and toss until salad has a light coating and good flavor. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

*Add ginger soy grilled chicken or salmon for extra protein

Following up on my article on soaking grains from last week, I thought I would discuss the result of going one step further in your whole grain preparation. If your grains are left soaking for three or more days (not necessary for the nutrient absorption and pre-digestion process, but an option that creates a whole new delicacy) the result is a sprouted seedling. As I explained, soaking helps release the “dormant energy” of the seed, making it more available for use by your body. As it happens, the dormant energy of any grain, seed or legume is the source of life and growth potential that it contains – remember it’s not just food, it’s a plant’s form of reproduction as well. As the growth process begins during sprouting, food enzymes are activated, nutrient levels increase and new vitamins and minerals are taken on. Like the initial soaking process, sprouting eliminates the nutrient blocking enzymes, begins pre-digesting the grain/legume/seed and results in a more nutrient rich and available food for your digestive tract.

With the recent salmonella outbreaks in commercially produced sprouts, what better time to take your grain soaking to the next level and try some at home sprouting? Depending on what you chose to sprout, nutrient contents vary, but all sprouts are healthy nutritional powerhouses. Some of the best grains for sprouting are: amaranth, barley, buckwheat, millet, oats, quinoa, rice and wheat/rye. Other great seeds and legumes to sprout include pumpkin, radish, sesame, sunflower, broccoli, alfalfa, clover, garbanzo, lentil and mung. Avoid sprouting large beans such as black, fava, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, and soy as they can be harsh on digestion and toxic to the body.

Don’t write off sprouts as a past time for hippies and granola lovers. Sprouts can be a delightful addition to a gourmet meal or a simple sandwich. They taste great, add texture and flare to foods and have amazing nutritional benefits.

  • Sprouted wheat contains almost four times the amount of niacin and twice the amount of vitamin B6 and folate as un-sprouted
  • Sprouted wheat has a higher protein to starch ratio, which makes its impact on your blood sugar level less extreme. More protein than starch will help maintain energy and satiation longer and decrease cravings
  • Chlorophyll is abundant in sprouts and has intense purification, anti-inflammation and regeneration qualities
  • Sprouts help eliminate excess and stagnancy built up in the body from symptoms induced by stress, diet and lifestyle in modern cultures
  • Sprouts, especially of broccoli seeds, contain high levels of sulforaphane that supports antioxidants such as vitamin C and E and has been researched for its aid in cancer fighting regimens
  • Sprouts contain highly effective and beneficial digestive enzymes that help build healthy intestinal flora and proper digestion and assimilation processes
  • Sprouting cereal grains can produce up to 300 percent more vitamin A
  • A large variety of phytonutrients (naturally occurring plant based compounds) in sprouts have positive health benefits that include combating degenerative disease, aiding in pain relief and anti-inflammation, detoxifying the body, counteracting harmful free-radicals and oxidation and aiding metabolism and immune function
  • Alfalfa sprouts help clean and tone the intestines, remove harmful acids from the blood and contain enzymes that help with the assimilation of protein, fat and carbohydrates. Carotene, magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus zinc, vitamins K and P and abundant chlorophyll in alfalfa sprouts provide nourishing and healing qualities.
  • Sunflower sprouts (pictured above) are a rare food form of natural vitamin D, a necessary but usually deficient vitamin for most people. Vitamin D aids in bone and immune system health and plays a role in fighting cancer and cardiovascular disease.

This weekend, while waiting for my homegrown sprouts to work their magic, I picked up some beautiful sunflower sprouts at the farmers market. They were a treat to snack on plain (snappy and fresh — hinting of fresh spring life) as I meandered my way around the remaining booths. Luckily I managed to save a few for last night’s dinner, where they added a perfect crisp crunch to the top of  a black bean, quinoa, sauteed greens and arugula pesto salad.

Check back this Thursday for easy at home sprouting instructions and more recipe ides for the final product.

Everyone is telling you that whole grains reign nutritionally supreme, but what they are not telling you is that it is easy for “whole grains” not to live up to the nutrient rich, good-for-you standards they are held to. As I explained on Monday, processed whole grains in packaged foods like cereal, cookies and crackers, are hardly better than their refined counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are some setbacks to natural whole grains that can inhibit the nutritional benefits if not properly prepared. Enzyme inhibitors and natural substances that the plants use to protect their seeds can almost completely prevent the digestion and absorption of whole grains. For this reason, it is absolutely necessary to soak all grains before cooking them.

Phosphorus in the bran of whole grains is tied up in a substance called phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium,copper and zinc in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Traditional societies usually soak or ferment their grains before eating them, processes that neutralize phytates and enzyme inhibitors and in effect, predigest grains so that all their nutrients are more available. Sprouting, overnight soaking, and old-fashioned sour leavening can accomplish this important pre-digestive process in our own kitchens. Many people who are allergic to grains will tolerate them well when they are prepared according to these procedures. – Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon

Soaking grains will help those who have digestion troubles by easing the labor of grain breakdown and absorption. For every grain eater, soaking will benefit your body by providing more accessible and digestible nourishment.

Soaking is an easy process that can be done several days beforehand.  In a large, non-reactive bowl, soak your grains in water with 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice, vinegar, keifer or buttermilk (to provide an acid that works to neutralize the nutrient blockers).

After 12 to 24 hours rinse your grains and prepare as instructed.  For baking purposes it works well to soak your grains in the liquid (buttermilk, yogurt, milk or non dairy alternative) called for in the recipe.  After soaking add the rest of your ingredients and prepare as instructed.

Here are two of my personal favorite soaked whole grain breakfast treats!

Creamy Morning Oats with Fresh Fruit

3/4 Cup Organic whole rolled oats
1 Cup Organic unsweetened plain keifer
1 tsp. Cinnamon
½ Cup fresh seasonal fruit of your choice (pears are a great pick in the winter and blueberries are my summer favorite)

Combine all ingredients except fruit in a medium sized ceramic or glass bowl. Cover and soak overnight at room temperature.  In the morning add fresh fruit and enjoy!

Unbelievably Fluffy Whole Grain Waffles

2 Cups whole-wheat flour
1 ¼ Cup plain keifer or ¾ cup plain yogurt to ¾ cup milk
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
4 eggs split into yolks and whites
½ cup vegetable oil

Combine flour and keifer or milk and yogurt in a medium sized mixing bowl.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add baking powder, salt, sugar, egg yolks and vegetable oil to flour mixture and mix to incorporate.  Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Fold in egg whites gently in three parts until just incorporated. Do not over-mix the egg whites in the batter or the fluffy consistency will be lost. Pour waffle batter onto hot waffle iron and cook until golden brown. Serve immediately with fresh fruit, yogurt or syrup.

The status of grain in the modern diet is debated as if it held a place in office: should it be impeached from our dietary guidelines, should we use it to solve world hunger or should we blame it for the obesity of a nation and the degradation of worldwide environmental systems?

Some nutritional scholars believe that grains should be avoided completely, arguing that our bodies did not evolve to digest grains and they cause a downward spiral in many facets of your internal health. Ancient Eastern medicine traditions, on the other hand, hold grains as an important element of dietary balance. Recent western medicine research has popularized “whole grains” to an almost divine status; launching campaigns that assure dieters and skeptics that anything labeled whole grain is an automatic health food.

You are confused? So am I. Avoiding grains completely is difficult and may not be the best option, but popular refined forms of grain are digging a rut into the health of many. I am going to venture out on a limb and say forget it: forget the great debate, proceed with moderation and, as always, keep in mind that whole foods are always better than their processed counterparts. Somewhere in-between the “whole grain” coco puffs and the Paleolithic style no grain diets there has to be level ground:  a few whole grains from natural sources, a few indulgences and a happy and healthy body.

Figuring out how grains fit into your lifestyle and how they impact your health as an individual may be the best place to start. Pay attention to how you feel after eating a particular grain and make note of whether it was processed, whole, soaked, raw or cooked.  You may find that some grains like quinoa, whole oats and millet are easier for your body to digest and provide more prolonged balanced energy.

There is some truth behind the recent “whole grain” campaign phenomena in that whole grains contain fiber, nutrients and protein that improve the way your body digests, uses, and stores grain-based foods. Whole grains have also been shown to play a role in helping improve cognitive function and mood. However, alleged “whole grains” in your honey nut cheerios, are probably not going to do the deed. The processing and additives that go into cereals, breads, cookies, crackers and the like are more than enough to destroy the health benefits of a natural whole grain.

Proper grain preparation methods are crucial to the health benefit they impart and may alleviate the health issues that grain opponents cite. Not eating packaged and processed grain products and taking the time to prepare whole grains at home is necessary to help your body absorb the nutrients. Soaking grains overnight helps germinate the dormant energy of the seed, release nutrients and ensure proper digestion.

Breakfast is the often the best (and most delicious) time to indulge in some healthy whole grains. During sleep your body’s systems slow down and burn energy reserves for basic function so it is important to wake up the process by providing healthy fuel. Whole grains provide the energy and nutrients your body needs to get your metabolism running and to power all internal organs for full daily function. But, no matter what the health claims a cereal box says, steer clear and start experimenting with homemade whole grains instead.

Soaking old-fashioned rolled oats in almond milk with a dash of cinnamon is one of my favorite easy go-to’s.  Check back this Thursday for some easy at home and on the go healthy grain preparation tips and recipes.

Knowing how your food is made is equally as important as knowing where it comes from. I know (because I am a culprit of this myself) it is easy to get caught up on the labels that have been plastered on products all over the grocery store shelves. However, what labels usually don’t tell you is how the product was made; how much processing it went through, what other products have been added to it and exactly how it came to be on your local market shelf.

Knowing the origin and production process of the food you put in your body can help connect you with the earth, people, plants and animals that feed you, as well as helping ensure that every last bite is going to make a positive impact. Buying organic, sourcing as locally as possible and trusting the producer and distributor that provide for you is a great fist step, but nothing can outweigh homemade foods you have a personal hand in from start to finish. Not only do you know exactly what goes in, you know and can control the details of the entire process.

Realistically, I realize that it is close to impossible to make everything you eat from scratch, but learning how to make a few of your favorite staple foods can be a fun process that also benefits your health. One of my favorite foods to make at home is yogurt. I hardly go a day without a bowl of yogurt and my favorite granola that my father makes and sends me in gallon quantities on a regular basis. Since I eat it so regularly, and yogurt is commonly a food that is highly processed and can contain a lot of additives when not produced well, I thought it would be a good one to undertake at home. Homemade yogurt has a great original taste and texture that you can’t find in the store bought version. Use good quality organic milk to ensure your final product is as filled with nutrients and beneficial probiotic bacteria as possible.

Basic Homemade Yogurt

1 Quart whole milk

3 Tbsp plain organic yogurt

Heat milk to 105 degrees (any lower can promote growth of harmful bacteria and any higher can kill the good probiotic bacteria). Remove from heat and thoroughly stir in yogurt. 

At this point, unless you have a conventional yogurt maker, you have the option of using a thermos, a warm oven or a heating pad.  I prefer to use my oven because I find it is the easiest to regulate temperature in.

Pour the milk mixture into a clean ovenproof dish or jar and set in a 100-degree oven for 6 hours. This method works especially well with gas ovens that have a pilot light that keeps the oven at a warmer temperature. Use an oven thermometer to ensure your oven is not too hot or cool during the process.

If using a thermos, pour the milk mixture into the clean thermos, wrap with a towel or blanket for extra insulation and let sit for 6 hours. If using a heating pad, place the pad in a box or insulated cooler with the jars of your milk mixture. Let sit for 6 hours and use a thermometer to regulate the 100-degree temperature. After the 6-hour incubation period of your choosing, remove the jars and test the yogurt.

If your incubation was too hot the yogurt can curdle and get very stiff.  If you did not incubate for long enough or the temperature was too low, the yogurt will be very runny. After successful incubation, store in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to one month. If you desire, add fruit, honey or jam for flavoring right before consumption. Your yogurt will last longer if not exposed to any additional ingredients during storage.

I am a true Idahoan at heart; born and bread in the land of potatoes and well accustomed to the “Oh the potato state huh…did you drive a tractor to school?” remark. Somehow, even without a tractor or a potato field within miles of my hometown, I couldn’t escape the inevitable potato pride and affinity for all things potato, which elicits snickers from those who have not yet come to terms with the true greatness of the land I call home and its famous tasty taters. I feel a tinge of disappointment when the potato is brushed off the nutritional map into the junk food denomination as a mere vehicle for ketchup, salt, deep fried grease, bacon bits and sour cream. The potato, let me tell you, in its many colors, sizes, varieties, shapes and flavors, is one of nature’s greatest packages of delicious, nourishment; easy, versatile and actually quite good for you. In the spirit of the season and upcoming St. Patrick’s day celebrations, what better time to pay respect to this underestimated tuber?

The potato is a tuber that grows underground on the roots of the plant after it has matured and flowered. This makes them a great locally grown food you can consume well into the winter months because they can be left insulated and preserved in the cold ground until just before use. There are over 4,000 known varieties that come in hues of blue, purple, red, golden, pink, white and dark brown.

If the fryer doesn’t get a hold of them before you do, potatoes are a rich source of nutrients while low in calories and fat. A bad rap has been placed on the potato for its starchy carbohydrate content (80% on average) but recent nutritional research has found that a significant portion of this is not directly digested in the stomach and small intestine and is instead a resistant starch that helps regulate digestion, makes you feel fuller longer and promotes sustained energy similar to the effects of fiber. Potatoes also contain about 10% protein, which plays a significant role in the energy supply process and maintenance of sustained, even energy after consumption.

Although it is hard to believe when you picture potatoes as the crispy contents in an air packed bag of chips, whole unprocessed potatoes with the skins on supply a good amount of vitamin C, B vitamins (folic acid, thiamin and niacin), potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron and zinc. In addition, the phytonutrients in potatoes, which vary according to color, are great antioxidants that help clear your body of harmful free radicals. Blue, purple, and pink potatoes are richest in antioxidants and make a beautiful display on the table.

In eastern medicine traditions the potato is revered for its healing properties, especially on the digestive system. Internally, potatoes are attributed with the power to calm the digestive tract, decrease bloating, lubricate the intestines, tone the spleen and pancreas and fortify the kidneys. Externally, raw potatoes are used to draw infection out of wounds and decrease swelling.

Idahoan, Irish or otherwise, people of all walks of life can enjoy potatoes for their nourishing qualities, easy availability, versatility and ubiquitous appeal. In addition to the Russets in Full Circle’s Farm-to-Table box this week, Austrian Crescent Fingerlings, brilliant purples and buttery Yukon Golds are available for substitution. Check out the amazing recipe for Baked Potato Soup in the recipe section of your member page or the Potato Parsnip cakes on our Good Food Life blog that are perfect for a St. Patty’s day brunch or appetizer.