Gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage

Gnocchi used to be one of those things I’d never think to make from scratch – because I guessed the process involves some complex, extremely delicate kitchen magic. But then the prices of store-bought gnocchi rose and we stopped buying them. Then, one day, I was reading The Shoemaker’s Wife, and got the most irresistible craving when I came across the description of making gnocchi with butter, garlic and sage. It all sounded so easy – mashed potatoes, flour, an egg, roll out the dough, cook the dumplings. What could possibly go wrong? Dinnertime was about to roll soon, and I just figured out I’d quickly make a batch of gnocchi and surprise my husband.

Well, let me just tell you dinner was very late that night, and I ended up having to scoop up bits of dough with a spoon and dump them into boiling water (which made me understand, for the first time, the origin of the word ‘dumpling’). My husband tactfully said it was delicious as he consumed his plate of amorphous blobs, but I was pretty sure gnocchi was not supposed to assume the consistency of playdough on a hot day.

What could I do but harass Italian friends for their family recipes, scour the web, and keep trying? I came across this tutorial yesterday and gave it another go, and made some definite progress – though I didn’t attain the elegant shapes of the tutorial, at least I was able to roll out the dough and cut it with a pastry knife. I made two changes from the tutorial: used a potato masher, rather than a potato ricer (I’ve never even heard of such a contraption before), and popped the little bits of dough into the freezer on a large tray before cooking them, to better retain the shape. I ended up keeping one batch in the freezer for a quick dinner next week.

The dressing I like to make for gnocchi is simple and delicious: melt equal parts of butter and olive oil in a skillet, add 3-4 mashed garlic cloves, a pinch of salt, and a handful of sage leaves. I am blessed with an abundance of fresh sage from the garden, but you can use dry sage leaves, or omit it altogether if you are not a fan.

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Easy Homemade Chocolate Spread

My latest MEN post features a recipe for homemade chocolate spread that is delicious, easy to make, and far better for you than anything store-bought. It contains exactly four ingredients, and one of those is water.

“Do you like chocolate spread on toast, pancakes or waffles? My kids are ready to eat it by the spoonful if we would only let them, but the kind of commercial junk that passes for chocolate spread in the industry doesn’t have a place on our pantry shelves (Nutella, for instance, contains about 55% sugar and 30% oil, leaving only 15% for anything else).”

The detailed recipe is here.

Seriously Simple Sesame Cookies

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Although it’s hard to compete with the oatmeal coconut no-flour cookies, these cookies are lately gaining a place of favor in our family. They are delicious, extremely easy to make, convenient for little hands to shape, and not that bad in nutritional terms. Lovers of sesame seed, like us, will find these addictive.

Recipe is as following:

1 cup flour (almost any kind will work)

1 cup sesame seeds

4 tbsp of your preferred sweetener (maple sugar, date sugar, honey)

1 egg

5 tbsp coconut oil

1 tsp baking powder

Mix everything together. You should have a pliable, workable mass. If it comes out too dry, add a little water or an extra egg.

Form round flat cookies, place on cookie sheet and bake until edges are just slightly golden. It should only take a few minutes. Don’t overbake!

Allow to cool and store in airtight container.

How to juice a pomegranate

The pomegranate is a delicious fruit with many health benefits, but it can get really messy. When I want to treat my family to fresh, antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice, I seed and juice my pomegranates in the following easy, low-tech way:

1. Cut the pomegranates in half (as shown in the picture, bottom right).

2. Hold the pomegranate halves above a large bowl and seed. I do that by knocking on the outer peel with the handle of a heavy knife – a technique taught by my father-in-law. You can also just remove the seeds with your hands.

3. Once you have the bowl of pomegranate seeds (see picture, top right), mash them with something flat and heavy. I use a beer stein for this purpose – put it on top of the seeds in the bowl, bottom down, and press. The juice will flow.

4. Strain the juice by placing a strainer over a second bowl and pouring the contents of the first. Often, you will have residual juice after the first straining, so press some more.

The fresh pomegranate juice should be consumed as soon as possible so that its unique properties aren’t lost. It gives an antioxidant boost and is also an astringent, great for upset stomach and diarrhea.

The peels go on the compost pile and the remaining seed pulp to the chickens, who love it, so nothing is wasted!

No-Flour Oatmeal Cookies

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Nothing beats oatmeal cookies for a quick and easy snack, and these, a recent experiment, containing no flour or baking powder, are sure to become a favorite recipe. Word of caution: whenever I cook or bake, I’m basically winging it, so if you’re into exact measurements, sorry.

Go ahead and take:

1-1\2 cup of whole or rolled oats

1\2 cup dried, shredded, unsweetened coconut meat

A generous handful of raisins or dried cranberries

A dash of cinnamon

3 heaped tablespoonfuls of coconut oil (and, really, I must digress for a second, because I always feel like I can’t sing the praises of coconut oil enough. It’s delicious in all kinds of baked goods that I want to keep dairy-free, and makes lovely, crisp cookies and mouthwatering, flaky pie crust)

1\2 cup honey, date sugar, or whatever your preferred sweetener is

Mix everything thoroughly in a bowl; it’s best to knead with your hands.

Add 1-2 eggs, just enough to make a sticky mixture.

Take a wax-paper-lined cookie sheet. Pick up small portions of the cookie mixture (about egg-sized) and flatten them thoroughly with your two hands. Place the cookies on the sheet, evenly spaced, and pop into the oven for about 10-15 minutes on medium heat, just until the edges start to turn golden-brown. Do not overbake.

Enjoy with a nice hot cup of tea or cocoa, or with a glass of cold milk.

Top Cheap and Healthy Foods

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The more financially challenged a family is (I deliberately avoid using the word ‘poor’, as I believe poverty is as much a state of mind as of the pocket), the higher proportion of its budget is directed towards buying food. It makes sense – you can scrimp on entertainment, clothes, and all sorts of frills, but everyone needs to eat.

Some things are really no brainers when it comes to food choices: avoid prepackaged ready-to-eat stuff, soft drinks, and anything that isn’t food in its basic, natural state. But what if you really need to take this a step further? What foods are the best bargain, financially and health-wise?

Whole, dry pulses and grains – beans, lentils and peas of all kinds have provided a source of protein and nourished healthy populations all around the world for millennia. Combined with barley, rice, bulgur, corn, etc, these create dishes with an amino acid balance that needs only a little animal protein to make a well-rounded, low-cost diet. Learn how to prepare grains and pulses the right way by soaking and/or fermenting them.

You can get a lot of food out of a few bags of lentils, peas and beans, and when properly stored, they will keep almost indefinitely.

Oats – oats are very nutritious and make an excellent breakfast cereal, much better than any cold cereal you can buy. Get your oats whole and roll them yourself for longer storage and to get the most of their health benefits, and pre-soak for maximum digestibility.

Eggs – containing the most effectively bioavailable protein in human nutrition, eggs are filling, nourishing and incredibly versatile. They also have the advantage of being almost universally cheap. Of course, it’s a million times better to consume home-grown eggs with a healthier fatty acid profile and essential vitamins, but even a store-bought egg is a source of wholesome protein when you can ill afford anything else.

Organ meats – the general public has a refined taste when it comes to chicken and turkey, and prefers clean, white meat, breast being the most popular. Stuff like liver, hearts, stomachs, etc, falls by the wayside, and can often be got very cheaply – all the better for you! Organ meats contain plenty of iron and B12, and, of course, are an excellent source of animal protein. They can figure in a variety of soups, stews, casseroles and other dishes.

Vegetables – if you have a productive garden of your own, you’re in luck. If not, you still rely on what you buy – and though fresh vegetables are an essential in a healthy diet, they can be tricky on the budget. Prices go up and down according to season and other factors, and even when you get a really good deal on certain veggies, there’s only so much you can buy, and they won’t store forever. Learn to buy what is cheap and in season, rather than have a fixed idea of what you’re going to eat.

Plain dairy products – commercial dairy products are controversial, but if you don’t keep a dairy animal, plain unsweetened store-bought dairy products are still a good bet, and are usually affordable. Stick to whole milk, plain yogurt, naturally processed cheese and unsalted butter.

Canned goods – don’t automatically dismiss all that comes from a can. Some canned foods are very nutritious – such as canned tomatoes, beans, tuna, sardines, and more – and sometimes you can get very good deals on them, so keep your eyes open.

Whatever you do, don’t be tempted to make your meals more palatable or filling by the addition of refined sugar and highly processed vegetable oils. It will only mess up your blood sugar and satiety signals, and will ultimately make you hungrier.

Good luck in finding the best way to feed your family healthy, inexpensive food – I know this can be tricky, but the rewards are well worth it.

Super Simple Cheese

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While dreaming of full-blown homesteading and dairy animals (and I do believe that dreams attract reality!), I quench my craving for home dairying and cheesemaking by making this very simple cream cheese. It’s super easy to make and really delicious – puts me in mind of those cream cheeses that are usually too expensive for us to buy.

To make it, take sour cream and yogurt in half and half proportion (as much as you like), add salt/pepper/dill/garlic to taste (keep in mind that the cheese will become more concentrated in taste when it’s done, as liquids will drip), mix everything thoroughly and place in a cheesecloth over a strainer and bowl.

Tie up cheesecloth and leave overnight. In the morning, your cheese should be of nice, spreadable consistency.

Refrigerate and consume within a couple of days. Enjoy!