Violet Jelly

Violet jelly is a wonderful spring treat! With a taste reminiscent of grape it is sure to be a household hit.  The greatest part is that it is super easy to make as long as you have a big patch of violets nearby.

This evening I spent about 30 minutes and collected four cups of violets for a double batch.  If you have help it goes even faster.

 

Violet Jelly

2 Cups Violet Flowers
2 Cups Boiling Water
1/4 Lemon juice (about 1 regular lemon, juiced)
4 Cups of Sugar
1 Package Sure-Jell

Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the violets.  Cover and store in the fridge overnight.  Strain off the violet liquid and discard the flowers.  The liquid will be blue in color.  In a non-reactive pan combine the violet juice, lemon juice and pectin.  Stir and bring to a boil.  Add sugar and stir.  Bring to a boil and boil for at least one minute.  Skim off any foam and ladle into hot sterilized jars.  Seal and process jars in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  Check that all jars have sealed.  Once opened store in the fridge and consume within three weeks.  This recipe will make about 4 8oz. jars of jelly.

 

Gluten-Free: A Way of Life

I recently decided to switch to a gluten free diet.  To be clear, I do not have Celiacs Disease but I have enough other symptoms of a gluten intolerance that I (and my doctor) thought perhaps it was worth it to give a gluten-free diet a try.  Please understand that this is not a “diet” in the sense of the word that many people automatically think.  While it is entirely possible that weight-loss could occur while eating gluten-free I am eating this way for my health and well-being.  I am eating this way because when I don’t – I don’t feel good.  Here is my story.

The list of symptoms for gluten intolerance is long.  Just looking at a few of the symptoms almost anyone could diagnose themselves as gluten intolerant.  That’s why it is so important to work with your doctor.

Some of my specific symptoms include:

  • Weight Gain
  • Abdominal Pain and Cramping
  • Diareha
  • Constipation
  • Declining Dental health (increase in cavities, broken teeth, abcesses)
  • Reproductive System Issues (Irregular periods, endometriosis)
  • Hair Loss
  • Numbness in toes
  • Skin problems (acne and rosecea)
  • Joint Pain
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypothyrodism

A little over two years ago I finally joined a health club and hired a personal trainer. I started to get the idea that something else must be wrong with me when I was working out three times a week and had greatly reduced my caloric intake and NOTHING was changing.  Sure I gained muscle but that was about it.  Very few pounds were lost, my body shape wasnt changing and I really wasn’t feeling much better.  My physical indicated that my blood pressure was fantastic (120/72) and I had absolutely no issues with cholestorol so why did I feel so bad?  This was when I really began to realize that there had to be more to it than just being overweight.

My individual symptoms along with the length of time I had been suffering from them were evaluated and paired with tests run by my doctor determined that a gluten intolerance may be my problem.  Most of these issues have been things I have dealt with for years which were seemingly unrelated to eachother and were often things I attributed to the fact that I was getting older, was overweight and was generally inactive.  My family has always joked that I am a hyperchondriac. In reality I have always been a pretty healthy person but often I just didnt feel good and had no good reason not to.  Many times I went looking for something to be wrong just so I had a reason to explain why I felt bad.

The term gluten-free has been a buzz word on the internet for quite some time now so a quick google search can yeild millions of results and can overwhelm you with information.  I recently read two really great books that I would highly recommend if you think you have a gluten intolerance.

The G-Free Diet: A Gluten-Free Survival Guide by Elisabeth Hasselbeck

Celiac Disease (Revised and Updated Edition): A Hidden Epidemic by Rory Jones and Peter H. R. Green

What does it mean to be gluten-free?

People who follow a gluten-free diet have to eliminate all gluten from their diet.  Gluten comes mainly from wheat, rye and barley so the first obvious thing to get rid of is bread and pasta.  Unfortunaly gluten can be hidden in many things from spices, salad dressings and sauces.  Often it is the hidden things you have to really watch out for.  Fortunately for me, in recent years I have not been as big a bread or pasta fan as I used to be.  Perhaps my mind already knew I needed to avoid these things!  Also since there is such an increased media awareness of gulten intolerance many companies are clearly labeling their gluten free products and many are producing gluten-free alternatives.  In my small town I have already found three great sources of gluten-free products including pasta and bread and the great part is that they actually taste good!

So what does that mean for Eggs and Herbs?

Plain and simple, I will keep bringing you lots of great recipes as I always have.  Although most of my recipes will be gluten-free my goal is going to be to provide recipes that prevent you from having to buy strange ingredients like sorhgum flour, arrowroot, xantham gum and so on.  There are pleanty of websites and cookbooks out there that will provide you instruction on how to do that if you are so inclined.  My goal will be to provide recipes that are completely free of gluten and gluten substitutes.  They will just be healthy gluten-free recipes.

But I’m not gluten-free, you say.

Don’t worry! My husband isn’t either and I will still occasionally bring you some gluten-laden recipes.  Additionally my sister does a great series here on Eggs and Herbs called {Find it, Make it}.  She and her family are not gluten-free and she always shares some delicious stuff!

Being gluten-free is still pretty new to me. I am only a few weeks in to my journey.  Overall it hasnt been that difficult and the fact that I haven’t had to chew Tum’s or down Alka-seltzer on a daily basis is an early testament to the effect being gluten-free has on me.  One setbeack and three slices of gluten-laden pizza later had me convinced this was the way to go.

Balsamic Fruit Salad

I addition to running and working out Richie and I have been trying to improve our health by eating less and eating better.  We’re making a few small changes here and there that will hopefully add up to better health in the big picture of things.  Neither of us get enough fruits and vegetables (especially Richie) so we are trying to add more into our daily life.  Tonight, I added a simple fruit salad to our dinner.  It was quick and easy to make and tasty to boot!

Balsamic Fruit Salad

Fresh Fruit – I used 1 banana, 3 large strawberries, about 20 blueberries, 20 grapes and 2 cuties.  Use what you have on hand.
1 Lime
2 Tbs. Agave Nectar
3 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
Fresh Ginger
Salt and Pepper
Fresh Mint (optional)

Chop your fruit into bite sized pieces and add to a bowl.  In a separate small bowl prepare the dressing.  Zest one small lime into the bowl then add the juice of the lime.  If your lime is large just use half of it.  Add agave nectar, balsamic vinegar and stir.  Grate in a little bit of fresh ginger and add salt and pepper to taste.  Whisk together and then pour over the fruit.  If desired, chop a few mint leaves and add to the salad.   Stir, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate while you prepare the rest of your dinner.

ENJOY!

 

Why I Ran a 5K

A few weeks ago I got the idea to start training to run a 5K.  One of my blogging friends had been writing about the couch to 5K program she was doing and it sounded interesting but I certainly NEVER considered myself a runner.  Likely the last time I had run any further than from my car to Walmart in the the rain was over 15 years ago when I was playing soccer in high school.  Has it really been that long?

Several weeks ago I downloaded the 5K Runner app to my phone and told Richie I was going to run.  His response was, “Sounds great!” But I know he thought I was crazy.  Even still he has been right beside me every step of the way and even ran today’s race with me!  Since we live out in the country, down a dirt road, our running conditions are less than ideal.  Yet I laced up my sneakers and went for it.

When I run I head down our driveway towards the hayfield.  The old farming road is muddy, rutty and uneven.  Once I reach the hayfield I am met with hills, stubby grasses and tractor tire ruts.  Yet for some reason I push on.  In the back of my mind I tell myself if I can do this – running on a flat road should be a lot easier.

Two weeks ago I found out that there was going to be a 5K in Searcy at Harding University, my alma mater, so I decided to sign up.  The run benefited the Fight DMD Foundation and Downtown church of Christ’s “Investing in the Journey.”  Today was race day.

On the way to Searcy Richie asked me why I had decided to do this.  Truthfully I didn’t really know. It was just something I felt like I had to do.  As it turns out I would have 51 minutes and 30 seconds to think about it!

Sometimes as I ran I waxed philosophically in my mind, “Why am I doing this?”  Of course there were moments when I screamed accusingly to myself. “WHY AM I DOING THIS?” But in the end I did it and for no other reason that to say I crossed the finish line.

So where do I go from here?  I keep on running. I plan to take tomorrow off than start back in where I left off on my couch to 5K training and keep on going.  A quick check of ArkansasRunner.com informed me I will have a LOT more chances to improve my time.  And while I can not improve my height or the length of my legs maybe, just maybe, running will help me shed some of these extra pounds I have been carrying around for way too long.

Restaurant NOT Recommended

Restaurant NOT Recommended
Mamma Dean’s Soul Food Kitchen, Fayetteville, AR

In the past, I have not normally been one to write about something I DON’T recommend.  I don’t really have a reason except for the fact that if I don’t like it I usually forget about it and move on.  But recently, Richie and I visited a restaurant that neither of us liked yet I can not seem to get it off my mind.

While Richie doesn’t consider himself to be a HUGE Razorback fan he watches all of their televised football games, visits Hogville.net (an online message board for Hog Fans) on a daily basis and is most often seen wearing a UofA shirt of some kind.  We even went to a bowl game in Florida once.  But, he has never been to a game in Fayetteville so I guess that would be why he wouldn’t consider himself a huge fan.  I digress.

Anyway…the fans of Hogville.net talk a lot of football but do discuss other things too and food is one of them. So when Todd Blackledge of ESPN toted the Twice Cooked Chicken at Momma Dean’s Soul Food Kitchen as the best fried chicken he’d ever had, Momma Dean’s became a hot topic on Hogville.  Richie filed this away in his brain for a later date which just happened to be last weekend when we were in Fayetteville on a weekend away and we visited Momma Dean’s for our first and likely last visit.

The online menu of Momma Dean’s totes a pretty decent offering.  The cool thing is that for a flat price (currently $9.99) you get your pick of one meat, two sides, a bread and a dessert.  However, the online menu lists everything they might offer and not necessarily everything they have on any given day.  Still there was a pretty good selection on the day of our visit.

Because we had heard so much about it Richie and I both opted to get the Twice Cooked Chicken.  The chicken is first smoked in their outdoor smoker and then deepfried to give it a super crispy skin.  Additionally, I ordered corn nuggets, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, a roll and lemon cake.  Richie ordered mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with white gravy, the hot water corn bread and the chocolate cake.

What We Loved

  • The price.  The portion sizes were great, especially considering the meal was only $9.99.
  • The Corn Nuggets.  They were delicious but they tasted like the same Sysco brand frozen corn nuggets that were served in the cafeteria when I was in college.
  • The Chicken SKIN. It was hot, crispy and flavorful.

What We Liked

  • The Chicken.  We both liked the flavor of the chicken but it didn’t really taste like chicken.  The smokiness gave it more of a pork flavor which while good wasn’t something we just loved.
  • The hot water corn bread.  It was slightly sweet and heavy.  Richie is more a fan of a plain (not sweet), crunchy cornbread muffin.
  • The desserts.  They were tasty but average.

What We Disliked

  • The potatoes.  The potatoes were starchy and had absolutely no flavor.  I NEVER add additional seasoning to my food and was shaking on the salt and pepper like there was no tomorrow.
  • The gravy.  Neither of us liked our gravies.  Both were plain and unseasoned.
  • The roll.  Prepackaged.  Not hot.
  • Mac and cheese.  Again – no flavor at all.  Needed salt and pepper but was still yucky.

What We Hated

  • The drunk guy in the kitchen sloshing back the 40 ounce Budweiser as the coffee pot overflowed all over the floor soaking all the food that was spilled all over the floor in the quite disgusting, messy kitchen that was in full view of the restaurant.

If you go to Mamma Dean’s – perhaps you will love it.  If you don’t – don’t say didn’t warn you!

Delicious {and easy} Homemade Pizza

Pizza is definitly one of my favorite foods.  Infact, I have blogged about eating and making pizza on several other occassions!
Mmmm Pizza
Chicago Style Pizza
Sourdough Pizza Crust

Pizza is comfort food but pizza can vary incredibly and different styles and toppings are as diverse and clothing style and music genres.  Thin crust, thick crust, pan, deep-dish, hand tossed, Neoplolitan-style, Chigago-style, brick oven, wood-fired or grilled.  Round or square, extra-cheese, extra sauce, veggie or meat, fruit pizza, dessert pizza, and pizza that barely resembles pizza.

If you cook, chances are that you have attempted homemade pizza {or at least thought about trying it} on some occassion.  If your like me, some of these adventures have been more successful than others and have often left you wondering why you just didn’t order take out.

My quest for finidng a delicious homemade pizza recipe stems from the fact that the closest pizza place to our farm is 20 miles away and the closest {GOOD} pizza place is over an hour away.

After much trial and error I have developed a crust recipe along with a few tried and true tricks that help us to enjoy delicious pizza at home.

The Crust (makes 2)

3 Teaspoons Yeast (I keep a jar in the fridge rather than the single use packets.)
1 1/2 Cups Warm Water
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
2 tablespoon fresh herbs, chopped (I use a combination of thyme, rosemary, oregano, basil and parsley.)
4 – 5 cups flour

In the bowl of your mixer dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Allow it to sit for about 5 minutes.  Add the oil, salt and herbs.  Slowly add in the flour 1 cup at a time mixing with the dough hook.  When the dough becomes elastic and pulls away from the edges of the bowl you have added enough flour.  Let the dough rise 30 to 4o minutes. Divide the dough into two equal pieces for 2 – 12 inch pizzas.

Once the dough has risen you can immediatly use it for pizza.  The yeast will still be active and the dough will be very elastic resulting in a slightly thicker crust.  We prefer a thinner crust and I have found that freezing the dough at this point gives us the type of crust we are looking for.  I usually whip up a few batches of the dough and divide them into individual freezer bags.  The night before we plan to make pizza I pull one out and allow it to thaw, in the bag, on the counter.  This seems to allow me to stretch the crust much thinner.

The Sauce

We do occasionally use jarred sauce but most of the time I prefer to make my own sauce.  My basic sauce recipe is here.  You can omit the sausage if you plan to use it for pizza.  Freeze it in small freezer bags and pull one out to thaw when you get your dough out of the freezer.

The Cheese

I think I like pizza mainly for the cheese.  I usually use a combination of cheeses to get the best flavor.

1.  Sliced non-smoked provolone – This gives you that stretch that we all want to see with pizza cheese.
2.  Finely shredded mozzeralla cheese – Mozzerella flavor without all the moisture.
3.  Fresh Mozzerella – Just a little bit to top it off.  Use too much and you will have a soggy pizza.
4.  Parmeseana Cheese – Freshly grated please or not at all!
5.  Goat Cheese – I love it, Richie hates it!

The Toppings

The possibilities are endless.  Richie tends towards more traditional toppings where as I like mine a little more exotic.  Here is a list of our favorites:

Pepperoni
Canadian Bacon
Carmalized Red Onion
Pineapple (Always FRESH)
Mushrooms
Italian Sausage
Artichoke Hearts
Greek Olives
Sliced Vine Ripe Tomatoes or Cherry Tomatoes
Jalepenos
Arugula (adding during last 3 minutes of cooking)

The Cooking Process

I cook my pizza on a stone.  I always preheat my oven and my stone to the HIGHEST temperature setting on my oven.  I prepare my pizza on a peel (a wooden paddle) and slide it onto the hot stone.  I also cook my pizza at the HIGHEST temperature setting on my oven.  Pizza does not take long to cook.  Cook the pizza for 5-7 minutes until the crust firms up and the cheese is fully melted and just starting to brown along the edges.  Use your pizza peel to help you carefully slide the pizza off of the stone and directly onto the oven rack.  Cook 2-3 minutes more, watching carefully.  This is what helps you get a crispy bottom crust.  When you remove your pizza from the oven, to avoid a soggy crust, transfer the pizza to a cooling rack. Do not leave it on a hot pizza stone!  Always allow your pizza to rest a few minutes before slicing it and this will help prevent a soggy crust as well.

Enjoy!

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