Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
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Muhammara Recipe

wpid CAM01752 300x222 Muhammara Recipe

Once upon a time I followed a very strict Candida diet and experience several great health benefits including weight loss and increased energy. The benefits for me outweighed the costs, namely food I had to give up. In fact those benefits are so great that I’m looking to realign the food I eat with the diet again. Unfortunately one of the items that doesn’t align well (ok, at all) with the Candida diet is traditional hummus (because it is made of beans which are a no-no).

Huge bummer, because I really like hummus. (Really!). As much as I like it, I like having energy a lot more so I started searching for a suitable substitute. I’m pretty pleased with what I found: Muhammara. It’s a delicious red pepper dip originating from Syria that, while I can’t say is a perfect substitute for hummus, is still super yummy and satisfies my need to snack. The recipe I found was good as-is, but it was missing something. To get it just right, I made some adjustments and now I especially like it (and so does Ryan)! Here’s my new-and-improved slightly altered recipe for Muhammara.

Click here for the recipe.

 
 

Crock Pot Apple Butter

red delicious apples

Last month our partner in Arcadia Growers Group gifted us with some fresh, pesticide-free produce. One of the items was a half bushel of red delicious apples. Per their name, they are delicious! But… they’re not very pretty. Pesticide-free means I choose to trade a perfect-looking apple for a perfectly edible apple that might look a little less than appetizing. (They look 10 times better in this photo than in real life!) They polish up decently but with a few soft spots here and there they really needed to be peeled before eating.

I’m not complaining at all – they were worth the 60 seconds needed to peel! But, if I’m being honest, apples are usually a grab-and-go snack at our house so even just the 60 seconds of peeling was enough to keep us from eating them as quickly as we normally would. Besides that, there were so many that I knew I’d need to process some of them before the entire batch went to waste. The problem is, red delicious apples aren’t exactly known for their cooking and baking qualities. Fresh eating? Yes. Baking and cooking? Not so much.

I asked our readers on Facebook what they thought I should do with our apple gift. The best suggestions were making apple chips and making apple butter. Honestly, I wanted to try both (and certainly had enough apples for that) but with the Thanksgiving holiday and simple busyness abounding in our lives lately, the apples sat a smidge too long. They started to get a smidge soft. And making apple chips started to sound a smidge unrealistic.

But… soft apples are right at home in apple butter.

canning apple butter

 

I’ve never made apple butter before. After looking up several recipes, using the crock pot seemed to be the most fool-proof way to go. I found lots of recipes online, many of them with essentially the same ingredients but with slightly different amounts and cooking times. I used all of those recipes as a guide to make my own.

The process takes about 12 hours, mostly hands-free. I realize not everyone has as flexible a schedule as I do. This might be a great Saturday project. Otherwise, you could cut and gather the ingredients the night before, start the process in the morning (7:30 AM) reduce the heat on your way out the door (8:30 AM) and be home in time to add the vanilla bean (5:30 PM). After dinner you’ll be ready to puree and process your apple butter (7:30 PM). The jars will be cool and ready to enjoy for breakfast the next morning!

canning apple butter

canning apple butter

Crock Pot Apple Butter Recipe

INGREDIENTS
  • 6 lbs (8-10) Apples [Note: I ended up using 12]
  • 3/4 Cup Granulatd Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Brown Sugar
  • 1/2 Cup Apple Cider or Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 tsp Cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp Cloves
  • 1/2 tsp Nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp Salt
  • 1 Vanilla bean (or 1 Tbsp vanilla extract)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Peel and core the apples. Cut them into small pieces.
  2. Add everything but the vanilla bean to the crock pot. Stir.
  3. Cook on high for 1 hour.
  4. Stir the mixture again. When replacing the lid, move it partially so that it remains slightly open. Cook on low for 9 additional hours.
  5. Slice the vanilla bean down the middle with sharp edge of a knife. Then run the flat edge of the knife down the length of the bean to push out the inside. After 10 hours of cooking, add the vanilla bean and simmer mixture on low for another 2 hours (12 hours total).
  6. Remove the vanilla bean. Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture. (You could also use a blender/food processor and puree the mixture in batches. Be careful not to slosh hot apple butter onto yourself!)
  7. Ladle hot mixture into sterilized jars. Leave a ¼ inch of headspace. Use a butter knife to press along the inside edges of the jars in order to remove air bubbles. Securely add sterilized lids and bands.
  8. Process jars for 10 minutes in a water bath canner. Remove jars and set them on a towel or wire rack to cool. Allow jars to cool completely before handling. (If you don’t want to can your apple butter, you can store the jars in your refrigerator for up to two weeks. Freezer-appropriate containers of apple butter can remain in the freezer for two months.)

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Chicken Week (Psst! We Have Chickens!)

Guess what? We have chickens!

chicken close up 1

We are the proud owners of six ISA Red egg-laying hens who are six weeks old as of today! If all goes well, they’ll be supplying us with fresh, brown eggs by the end of the summer. We selected ISA Reds because they are docile, quiet and good egg layers. Those traits make them a good fit for our suburban setting and our need for a family-friendly flock. Our girls came from Tractor Supply Company on Shaver Road in Portage. Here’s a tip I learned from one of the TSC employees: If you show up the day before the next batch of chicks are scheduled to come in, they’ll sell you the week-old chicks at a discounted rate to make room for the newbies. So you spend less AND TSC nurses your chicks through the first week where some chicks tend not to make it. The chicks were origianly $2.99 and I paid $1.00 for each of them. Winner winner chicken… well… *ahem*.

DSC03632

When I was growing up, my aunt raised chickens and turkeys (Hi Aunt Bonny!) so I have a general idea of how to chase care for them. But as an adult, I have to admit I was (am?) a wee bit clueless about what goes into raising healthy birds. I’ve heard that chickens are super easy to care for so I set out to learn how and why. I started my search for chicken knowledge on the good ol’ world wide web. I found lots of helpful info at www.backyardchickens.comAbout.com’s Small Farm pages and a few other blogs which I’ve saved to our Chickens board on Pinterest.

But by far the most helpful information I found came from the forums at www.permies.com. (If you’re interested in sustainable living, the information – and support – in these forums will make you drool. Grab a napkin and go check it out!) This website was created by Paul Wheaton (dubbed the Duke of Permaculture) and provides an avenue for him to share his knowledge on the subject as well for others to contribute. In this ongoing forum post, Paul describes five ways to raise chickens (coop and run, chicken tractor, truly free range, pastured poultry in pens and pastured poultry in paddocks) and then provides compelling arguments for why pastured poultry in paddocks is THE way to go. This info helped me think outside the box regarding how to raise our chickens in a manner that is healthiest for them and ultimately for us. I’m working on putting my own this-farm-is-in-the-suburbs-and-needs-to-look-nice-without-costing-a-lot spin on it. More on that later this week…

 

In addition to information and inspiration from Paul Wheaton (and other permies), I also received great practical and design advice from the book Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. To be honest, I’m a sucker for packaging, and it was originally the beautiful front cover that compelled me to check this book out. The whole thing is full of brilliant coffee-table-worthy photos but thankfully the book itself is worth as much as the pictures. This book provides a practical overview of how to raise chicks to become healthy chickens along with detailed advice on how to design your yard to meet your chicken’s needs without sacrificing style or function. I’m glad it’s in my micro-farm library!

 

Now that I’ve gathered all of this great info on chicken-keeping, I’m no expert, but I am a well-armed newbie! In celebration of our girls’ first week living outdoors, I hereby dub this week “Chicken Week” at Arcadia Farms and plan to share all of my new-found poultry insight with you. If you’ve been thinking about raising backyard chickens but have wondered what it will really entail, come back for more throughout the week as I share with you both what I’ve learned from experts and what I’ve experienced in real life. I’ll be talking about:

  • Why we decided to raise backyard chickens (and why you should consider it too)
  • Which birds make good urban or suburban chickens
  • How to care for baby chicks
  • Designing a chicken-friendly garden/yard in the suburbs
  • Reducing (or eliminating!) the cost of chicken feed
  • Building a chicken coop (ours cost $0!)

Also on our Facebook page we’re running a contest this week where you get to help us name one of our hens. Stop by and vote for your favorite name (or make a suggestion of your own) and then please stop by Friday to see who wins!

I can’t wait to share Chicken Week with you!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.    

 
 

Dye from Natural Causes

Straining natural blue dye through coffee filter

I heart food (and my belly shows it!). I hate food dye (and my baking shows it!).

Well, I don’t hate food dye – I hate artificial food dye. My distaste for Red 40 and other unnatural food colorings began when our son started having major issues with hyperactivity, attention deficit and unexplainable mood swings. His school was convinced he had A.D.D., needed to see a doctor and should be on medication. We were convinced that he was an energetic BOY with a very creative imagination… but agreed that he did have trouble following directions, often for no explainable reason because he knew what he should be doing and all signs pointed to the fact that he wanted to obey. While I concede that medication is a good choice in some situations, we much prefer to look for natural answers to issues before jumping for pills.

So we started doing some research… it didn’t take long before we discovered the link between artificial food dye/coloring and health problems in children, especially hyperactivity. Attention deficit and extreme mood swings were also in the list of symptoms.

According to www.cspinet.org “the three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens [cancer causing substances], says CSPI. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet is still in the food supply.”

We did an experiment – no artificial dye for the little guy for as long as possible and then we’d see what happened. What did we see? Several things! First, his ability to follow directions, pay attention and control himself was markedly improved after we cut artificial dye in his diet. Second, when he did eat artificial dye – even a relatively small amount – we could see a spike in problem behaviors. And lastly, we saw that artificial dyes are (expressly and sometimes covertly) in a significant number of things that simply don’t need coloring! (Marshmallows have blue dye, some ‘fresh’ tomatoes have red dye on them, meat sometimes has red dye to make it look fresh, etc.)

Angry Grocery Shopping

We quickly discovered how difficult it is to feed kids without giving them artificial color. I had recently become a label reader because of my concern and curiosity about what’s in the ‘food’ we eat. Now I do it religiously. Grocery shopping takes longer. It drives home the point for me of how important it is to produce the food my family eats. And to be honest, grocery shopping has evolved into a task that makes me angry. I love capitalism like most people love the Beatles (seriously) but I just can’t fathom how people working for corporations who put these chemical-ridden, processed health hazards with pictures of dinosaurs and princesses onto grocery shelves can sleep at night! It makes me mad that I have to scour the label to make sure I’m not poisoning my family – and that even after reading I can’t be 100% sure I know what’s in there. (Have you ever read the ingredients list for lunch meat? Yeah, I said ‘list’, as in five or six things other than just ‘turkey’.) Grrr…

Happy Frosting

Cupcake with red raspberry dyed frosting

This pink frosting is made using dye from red raspberries.

So there. Every two weeks when I go to the grocery store I get a little hot under the collar. But let’s move on to something a little more sunshiney-puppies-kittens-balloons-and-smiles-ish, shall we? I like to cook and bake so I haven’t minded that whenever Owen is invited to a birthday party, I have to bake some dye-free cupcakes for him to take along. (He doesn’t mind either – he’d rather eat a separate cake than deal with the affects of artificial dye on his behavior!) So far I’ve had a chance to experiment with different homemade cake mixes and frostings. (We especially like this frosting recipe – I substituted almond extract for the vanilla and it was delicious! We’ve had it with and without cocoa.) Once we used the chocolate frosting, otherwise it has been plain old white. Owen doesn’t seem to mind, but I think we would both enjoy a little color.

Owen was invited to a birthday party today, so today I whipped up some butter cream frosting along with natural food dye – red, purple, blue, and orange! Hooray!

Wouldn’t you like to try baking with natural food dyes? Not only are you avoiding chemical health risks, you’re also adding a teeny bit of nutritional value to what would otherwise be a delicious lump of creamy sugar! Scroll down for recipes and my thoughts on how they taste.

How to Store Natural Food Dye

But one quick note before we get to the recipes: Those tiny squeeze bottles of artificial dye sitting among your baking supplies don’t spoil or go bad. {Selah} Natural food dye won’t last a decade like the fake stuff. You’ll need to store it in the fridge in a sealed container (mason jar with a tightly closed lid?). I can’t say for sure how long it will last, but one article I read said it will go bad after two weeks. Signs that the coloring has gone bad are an odd odor or mold spores. If you want to refresh the coloring after one week has gone by, try bringing it to a boil for 30 seconds which would kill any mold spores but will likely deteriorate the color. Consider this your excuse to bake more sweets so you can use it all up in the two week window!

Another idea: Freeze the coloring in ice cube trays for on-demand, small quantities of color at a later time!

Pale purple forsting on cupcake

This pale purple frosting is made using dye from a red cabbage.

Natural Food Dye Recipes and Reviews

When using natural food dyes, substitute the dye for liquids used in your recipe. I’m currently working on developing some concentrated dye that can be used more like conventional dye and that is preserved with ascorbic acid or vodka for long-keeping. I’ll update you when I have those experiments figured out!

Natural Dye Recipe

2 cups chopped fruit or vegetables

1 cup of water (approximate)

* Add chopped fruit/vegetables to small saucepan

* Simmer on medium heat until desired color and consistency is reached

* Once fruit/vegetable is soft, mash with fork or potato masher to expel more color

* Strain mixture through coffee filter or cheesecloth into a glass container

* Clean saucepan; return strained juice to saucepan and boil down to further concentrate color

* Allow dye to cool before using

RED – RASPBERRIES

Taste: There’s definitely a raspberry taste to the frosting when using this dye. I’ve read that beets are the way to go when you want red dye with very minimal taste. However at the time of writing this post I decided to use only things I had on hand, including frozen raspberries. Perhaps I’ll go dig up some beets for a follow-up post.

PURPLE  – RED CABBAGE

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

BLUE – RED CABBAGE

* Follow same instructions but add small amounts of baking soda to the dye as it cools to obtain the desired color.

Taste: No cabbage taste but there is a cabbage smell to the dye all by itself

ORANGE – CARROTS

Taste: No carrot taste

GREEN – SPINACH

Haven’t had a chance to try this yet!

 
 
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