Thursday, March 31, 2011

Review: My first impression- Virgin Coconut Oil

On Monday, the much-anticipated sample arrived from Tropical Traditions. For those of you that haven't heard the story, let me fill you in. In mid-March I applied to review a sample of Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil, and a few days later I was approved (or rather my blog was evaluated and approved). I eagerly cyber-stalked that box across the United States (via the shipping information thoughtfully provided by Tropical Traditions). 

I have used coconut oil before, from another company. I was happy enough to use it to pop popcorn or occasionally fry an egg.  The oil was organic, and coconut oil, but as it was refined and not virgin, the similarities end there. I wont mention the brand; I am simply giving you my frame of reference (perhaps not unlike your own).

I opened the Tropical Traditions jar, first taking note of the fact that this has a definite coconut smell (the other brand has no identifiable coconut smell). I next took a spoon and tasted a small sample, and while it is not sweet, it left the taste of coconut on my tongue (this taste was also lacking from my previous experience). I then rubbed a dab of the oil on my hand (I don't like to waste anything, so any time I measure organic olive oil or coconut oil I rub any stray drops into my hands and face), and it felt very rich. All in all, Tropical Traditions has made a favorable first impression.

I want to get to know this oil more. To that end, I will be trying a few recipes and listing the links to them on this page, along with comments about my experience with the oil. I will follow up with a separate post detailing my conclusions after I have had a chance to experiment.

If you want to be part of the fun, here is how you can get involved:

If you would like to order Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil, you can use this link: During checkout you will be asked "How did you hear of us?" If you choose "Referred by a Friend" and enter my ID # 7488739, you will receive a complimentary copy of Tropical Tradition's book ("Virgin Coconut Oil" with personal stories of people using Virgin Coconut Oil and over 85 recipes) and I will earn coupons for free products.

If you have questions or have had experiences with coconut oil in general or Tropical Traditions specifically, and would like to be part of the discussion, comment below. If I can't answer your question, I will do my best to find an answer for you.

Disclaimer: Tropical Traditions provided me with a free sample of this product to review, and I was under no obligation to review it if I so chose.  Nor was I under any obligation to write a positive review in return for the free product.

  • Additional note: Tuesday, May 10, 2011:

I haven't forgotten about experimenting with the Tropical Traditions Gold Label Virgin Coconut Oil. I have added a Baked Oatmeal recipe using the coconut oil to reduce the amount of butter. I will also have a granola recipe to post soon.
I have also been using the Tropical Traditions sample coconut oil to make popcorn, and the results are awesome.
This oil takes some getting used to, it melts at approximately 75° (25°C) and below that temperature it is solid, so it behaves a bit differently than other oils that I have used. I added the oil to one cookie recipe, and as I was creaming the coconut oil with butter and sugar, some of the coconut oil solidified on the edge of the beater and the bowl. I'm still getting to know the oil, and I will probably try a few recipes from their website (I usually prefer to write my own version of a recipe).

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Focaccia-style Pizza Crust

One big step towards eating all organic has been to buy as much organic cheese as possible, which is no small task when you have two people that enjoy cheese as much as we do. As in many things, organic cheese is more costly than its mainstream counterpart. After much searching we found organic mozzarella.

We have always relied heavily on mozzarella for our budget staple: homemade pizza. This simple meal has seen us through the leanest times of the last few years, and has been one of our comfort foods. The price of the "good" (i.e. organic) mozzarella was definitely an issue, since it was half the size and as expensive, or more, than what we had been buying. If we used as much cheese as we usually did on a sheet pan pizza, it would certainly not qualify as budget-friendly. We tried a few different approaches, but finally settled on using a crust based on focaccia bread (a flat Italian bread, seasoned with olive oil, herbs and sometimes, salt). In my version, this flavorful crust is blind-baked for a few minutes, topped with a simple sauce of choice, mozzarella, a smitch of feta cheese, and whatever toppings fall to hand. Leftovers of this pizza are a nice accompaniment to a hot bowl of soup, or can easily be reheated for another meal.

2¼ tsp yeast (1 envelope)
1 cup warm water (105°-115° F/41°-46°C*)
1½ Tbsp raw sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1½ tsp salt (grind fine after measuring)
3½-4 cups flour (I substitute 1 cup, or more, with whole wheat)
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine yeast, water & sugar. Stir and leave it for 3-5 minutes (you should see foam forming on top of the water).
Add salt and oil, and then gradually add flour until the dough comes together. The dough should be moist but not overly sticky.
At this point you can decide if you want to knead the dough by hand or in the mixer. I prefer by hand, so I remove the dough once it is combined; (if you choose to use the mixer, do so according to your model's instructions, being careful not to over-knead).
If kneading by hand, knead for approximately 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
Coat the dough in olive oil, cover and put in a warm place (app. 80°F/27°C*) until doubled, 45-60 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400°F (app. 205°C*)
Punch down and roll out app. ½" thick onto a prepared sheet pan (I usually line my pans with parchment, or in the case of my earthenware pan, coat with oil).
Dimple the surface and brush generously with olive oil & sprinkle with coarse salt, Parmesan cheese & herbs.
Blind bake the crust for app. 5 minutes, remove and top according to your preferences- I suggest a simple sauce, 8 oz mozzarella cheese, 1-2 oz Feta cheese, homemade pepperoni, bacon, onions, mushrooms, etc.
Bake for an additional 13-20 minutes until crust is browned on the bottom and cheese is melted.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Briar Patch Breakfast Sausage

When I started cooking everything from scratch, I began to realize that I need more spices, many more than I had ever needed before. Granted, most things kitchen-related are sort of a Briar Patch* for me, but my herb and spice collection is rapidly over-taking my tea selection, and that is no small feat. I have two drawers filled, and lists of spices that I still have to purchase for future recipes. In my humble opinion, a wide variety of  spices and herbs are an essential arsenal for individuals trying to eat natural, and still have flavorful options on the menu. In my case I am often trying to duplicate products that I have had to give up because of additive sensitivities, but I have also noticed that my palette is becoming more developed, and I simply want to taste what the (natural and organic) world has to offer.

As I mentioned when I posted my Italian Sausage recipe, I have been working on some  experiments. Today I have another sausage recipe to share with you; this time a Breakfast Sausage. I have tried many different approaches, and this was definitely a keeper, but I doubt this will be the last sausage recipe that I post. After all, if you are like me, you can't go to the store to pick up a new flavor, so I want to have (and offer) a broad range of choices.

1½ lbs ground pork
1½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp rubbed sage
½ tsp rubbed savory
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
¾ tsp marjoram

Mix the spices well, sprinkle over the ground pork, and combine thoroughly.
Allow to rest in the refrigerator for a few hours to overnight.
Shape into patties and fry thoroughly; you can also shape into patties and freeze for future use (thaw well before frying).
This would go nicely with Baked French Toast, could be fried and crumbled into macaroni and cheese, or be served up as sausage and biscuits, etc.

*Reference to Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby'er_Rabbit

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Italian Sausage

Among the many things I have given up in the food portion of my life, sausage was one of the toughest. I have been working on various recipes, and have more experiments planned. I find myself often trying to capture an elusive memory of the taste of a particular sausage that I haven't had in years, and cannot sample now, but this week I came up with the following recipe for Italian Sausage. I forgot to add the sugar, and the result was a flavorful sausage with a touch of heat. I am including the sugar on the list, since this was how I originally wrote the recipe (I will sample this again later). I try to use as many organic ingredients as possible, but I especially recommend it in the case of the meat, wine and balsamic vinegar.
1½ lbs ground pork
1½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp onion powder
1½ tsp garlic powder
1 tsp pepper
1½ Tbsp organic balsamic vinegar
1½ Tbsp organic red wine
1½ tsp paprika
1 tsp toasted and ground fennel seed
2¼ tsp oregano
2¼ tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
4 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¾ tsp crushed red pepper
1½ tsp raw sugar

Blend spices, wine and balsamic vinegar (and sugar if you are including it) and allow to mingle for a few moments.
Mix the spice blend into the ground meat thoroughly and refrigerate in a covered container.
Form into patties and either freeze for later use (thaw before cooking), or eat this with a day or so (keep in mind that when dealing with ground meat, safer is better). You can also brown loose, but I felt that the taste was more substantial in a patty.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

This week goes in the win category.

This week goes in the win category for me. That isn't saying that this week has not had its challenges, like Sunday night's mystery reaction. As always, almost everything I ate was homemade, but there were a few new ingredients. I was happily enjoying dinner and dessert, until an allergic reaction crashed the party. Sometime in the next few days, when Hubby is around (for safety and moral support), I will start testing the suspect ingredients to see what the culprit is. I am not looking forward to hives and trouble breathing, but I need to narrow down the list. It has been quite a while since I had such a severe reaction, and the severity of this attack was alarming.

So why is this week still a win? Because I was able to get my hands on a few new tools to make my life in the kitchen a bit easier. Recently my food processor decided to start chewing itself up along with whatever I was processing. Since I am not fond of plastic (especially as an ingredient), I decided that this was the last straw, and I started looking for a replacement (preferably a quieter and more effective one). I did tons of research, and I think I know what I want to get, but it is a bit out of reach. I decided to get a food mill for now, and with considerable savings, I was also able to get a heavy-duty stainless mandoline, a spice grater,  a stainless steel cookie sheet (sans Teflon), and a stoneware jellyroll pan (all for app. $157). I received the loot today, and I am as happy as a clam.

I have a level of enthusiasm for kitchen tools and ingredients that many women reserve for new shoes or clothes, and considering that I use my kitchen considerably more than I do my shoes, it makes total sense. The mandoline and food mill had been long-time ‘wants', so I can cross them off of an ever-growing list that still includes:
meat grinder
grain mill
pasta maker
rolling pin
food processor
ice cream maker
gas stove top and electric convection oven
etc. etc. etc. LOL
I know that is quite a list, but to be fair, I am making everything from scratch. I should also point out that this list has been around for a long time, and I am waiting to buy really good quality tools, and until then I can MacGyver my way through.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Banana Bread

I was thinking about what to post, and I realized I haven't shared one of my oldest recipes. Here is my recipe for a simple, but really popular Banana Bread. This recipe makes a very moist loaf that is better after a day or two. Butter the sides of the loaf, right after you take it out of the oven, to add a light touch of salt to the crust. I have known people to enjoy a slice of this with peanut butter.

1 cup raw or brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp milk
2-3 crushed brown bananas (If you have bananas that have gone brown, and don't have time to bake, wrap them well and freeze them. I usually vacuum-seal bananas in groups of 3.)

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*) -if using stoneware, check the recommendations of your manufacturer regarding oven temperature, prepare a loaf pan (I butter the stoneware bread pan that I use)
Cream butter and sugar thoroughly, then add eggs one at a time. 
Whisk  flour and other dry ingredients together.
Alternate adding the dry ingredients and bananas and milk, being very careful not to over-mix (if you stir the batter too much, the bread will be tough).
Bake for 40-60 minutes (time varies according to shape and type of pan) until a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from pan to a cooling rack and butter the sides and bottom if you like.

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Banana Mango Whoopie with Coconut Cream Cheese Filling

I recently received a mango from our co-op. Not having much experience with mangos, I had to look up how to tell if it was ripe. It wasn't, so a staring contest ensued. I stared, and I plotted what to do when it finally blinked (went ripe). I finally settled on making Banana Mango Whoopie Cookies, with a coconut cream cheese filling. I figured out the recipe and headed to the kitchen, and I was not disappointed with the results. These are super moist (sort of like the top of a muffin), the mango is subtle, and the filling tastes like a cross between a coconut cream pie and a cheesecake.

Banana Mango Whoopie Cookies
1 cup raw sugar
½ cup butter
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
1 Tbsp milk
1 ripe mango (puréed)
2 bananas (crushed)

Coconut Cream Cheese Filling
3 cups confectioners sugar
½ cup butter
8 oz cream cheese (room temp.)
½ cup shredded coconut (I use dried coconut that I soaked in sweetened water or milk)

Preheat oven to 350°F (app. 175°C*) & line baking sheets with parchment.
Cream butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time.
Mix dry ingredients, including flour, salt, baking powder & baking soda and alternate adding dry ingredients and fruit to butter mixture.
Stir only as much as needed to fully incorporate the ingredients.
Place batter on the parchment- I used app 2 tsp. of batter per cookie
Bake for 10-13 minutes, until tester comes out clean and bottoms are lightly browned.
Remove from oven, let cool completely.
Frost the bottom of one cookie and press to the bottom of another, making a yummy sandwich cookie.

Cream butter and cream cheese until well-combined, add sugar and coconut & mix until well-combined. Icing flavor will develop over time, so it is a good idea to make this a day in advance and refrigerate (allow to warm up for a few moments if it is too hard to spread just out of the fridge)

*I use an online conversion chart and round up or down, as seems appropriate. Please adjust according to your judgement, and send me a message if you find an error. Thank you.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

'Messy' Meat for Sandwiches

I was trying to think of something new to shake up dinner, and I heard someone mention a certain ‘sloppy' sandwich. I had some ground pork on hand, and while I didn't have any tomato sauce, I did have some organic tomato paste. This recipe is a little bit spicy, so adjust the spices (esp. cayenne) to your family's taste.  I served this with a homemade focaccia bread, and the herbs and salt were the perfect balance to the spicy sweetness of the meat.

I usually serve this with Focaccia bread,
but the plate pictured has Syrian Onion Bread.

1-1½ lb lean ground pork or beef
8 oz tomato sauce or tomato paste (if using paste, add water to desired consistency) 
1 Tbsp molasses
2 Tbsp organic balsamic vinegar
1 tsp ground mustard
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp dried shallots (best ground into powder)
¼ tsp garlic powder
1/8 tsp clove
1/8-¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp Ancho chili powder
¼ tsp thyme
salt & pepper to taste

Brown the meat in a pan, drain if there is a large amount of fat.
Mix tomato sauce or paste, and the rest of the ingredients and add to the meat
Simmer for approximately twenty minutes.
Serve with bread or your choice.