Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Making the Perfect French Toast

Everybody is familiar with the expression, “Waste not, want not.”

And everybody knows that when your bananas start getting too ripe, you either make banana bread or end up throwing them all away…

…but don’t stop there…

..also stop wasting your stale bread…by making French toast out of it.

French toast is great because it only requires ingredients that most of us keep stocked always…or have to go to the store or add to our Instacart account quickly…

The perfect French Toast is fluffy, soft, and cinnamon-y, 

French toast is also so darn easy to make….and can be made in less than fifteen minutes….and you really fon’t need a recipe…but there are a few tips that are worth knowing.

\So let’s talk about these tips…

 

 

 

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The Ingredients

Two of the types of people that I envy the most are those people who can play the piano by ear…and those people who can cook without a recipe.

I am an accountant. I have to know exactly how much of each ingredient to use whenever I am cooking ANYTHING…My husband always laughs at me for this fact.

I have made French toast that has turned out soggy or egg-y way too many times to wing it like almost everybody else..

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Making the Perfect Quick Bread—(Any Flavor You Can Imagine)

To freeze...Wrap in plastic and aluminum foil..can be frozen for up to three months.

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Amaranth…The What

The other day as I was making my sandwich for lunch, I noticed that my bread was called “Ancient Grain”…I thought to myself, wonder what that means…hope it doesn’t mean that my bread has been around since ancient times…if that were the case, the bread would probably be stale…and the sandwich would probably make me sick.

So as I did research on out next cooking method—boiling—I found that one of the most commonly boiled foods are grains and have decided to explore this topic of “ancient grains” and grains in general for a while….beginning with amaranth.

 

 

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Ancient Grains

Ancient grains are those grains that existed thousands of years and continue to thrive today….such as amaranth…which has been cultiivaed as far back aa 8,000 years ago.

Aramanth was originally harvested in Mexico and was in fact the central staple of the Aztec empire…possibly making up to 80% of the calories in their regular diets.

 

 

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The Aztecs

The Aztec people  used amaranth for medicinal purposes….believing the grain to had healing powers.

Amaranth also played a significant role in their culture.

They even held an annual festival each December. This festival was a tribute to their god Huitzilopochtli. The Aztecs would prepare for this festival by decorating their homes and trees with paper flags and fasting. The people prepared for the whole month of December, probably like many of us do each December now to pay homage to our God.

During the festival they would sing songs…offer up prayers to this god…and eventually end  the festival  by offering a human sacrifices.

Not only that…they would also make statues of this god out of amaranth seeds and honey….eventually cutting this statue into small pieces and eating it once the feast was over.

In fact, even the name of the grain has religious importance…having been derived from either the Greek word amarantos, meaning “one that does not wither,” or “the never-fading.” …or the Hindi word Amar which translates to the the word “immortal.”

This all took place until the sixteenth century when Cortez “discovered” the Aztec civilization and  Spaniards began moving into the land The Spanish immigrans of this  “Spanish conquest” began fervently,  and often forcefully, trying to convert the Aztecs to Christianity.

They declared any  foods that had previously been involved in “heathen” festivals and religious ceremonies of the Aztec people—such as amaranth—as illegal…burning most of the amaranth plants and heavily punishng anyone caught with the grain.

After this Spanish Conquest, the grain almost went into extinction, but complete eradication of amaranth proved impossible. The seeds from the amaranth plant have in fact spread around the world.

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Amaranth and Your Own Diet

Amaranth has a sweet and nutty taste.

Technically amaranth is not actually a grain at all, but a seed

As far as nutritional value, amaranth is a gluten-free grain that is one of the best protein sources for vegans. Amaranth also contains high amounts of many important amino acids, minerals, and vitamins

Let’s now look more closely at the nutritional value of amaranth….and why the Aztecs believed that amaranth had healing powers…and then we will see how amaranth is a common ingredient in many dishes in the following countries—Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, China, Russia, India, and Nepal,.

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Please Don’t Feed the Ducks

 

 

 

 

The Bread…You can use almost anything dry and crunchy to make your dry breadcrumbs—including hot dog buns, baguettes, croissants, sliced sandwich bread, Italian loaves, white, wheat, sourdough, rye, crackers, bagels, Goldfish, potato chips, or any combination of these.

Both sweet,and savory breads will make perfect breadcrumbs as long as your bread is nice and dry before crumbling.

Actually combining several different types of bread will add more flavor.

However, do not use stale bread. Stale bread makes stale-tasting breadcrumbs…go figure?!

Collect various odds and ends of breads in a large, re-sealable bag in your freezer until you have a need for using breadcrumbs.  One loaf of typical bread will yield about 4C crumbs. Then when a recipe calls for breadcrumbs, use this as an opportunity to make crumbs out of whatever bread you have collected.

But your bread needs to be dry.

Toasting the Bread…If  you’re using fresh bread to make your breadcrumbs, place the slices on a baking sheet and bake at 225 for 15min. Halfway through the baking time, turn the bread over so that the bread dries evenly.

Your goal in baking the bread in the oven like this is to evaporate all the moisture out of the bread, completely…

Toasting the bread  at such a low temperature will obviously take longer, but this temperature will heat the bread just the right amount to sufficiently vaporize moisture without darkening the bread’s surface or changing its flavor.

The Prep Work…Once your bread is totally dry and crispy, crumbling it into smaller pieces honestly won’t be that big of a deal.

Ar rhis poinr, you xould use one of three methods to finish making your breadcrumbs.

  1. The Blender or Food Processor
  2. The Box Grater
  3. Your Hands

The Blender of Food Processor…Perhaps the easiest and most common way to make breadcrumbs is in a blender or food processor, I honestly don’t have a food processor…still debating whether or not I would actually use one since I have a nice blender already…(more on that later).

Place chunks of the torn dried bread into a blender or the bowl of a food processor.

Add the chunks of bread in small batches.

Be careful not to overcrowd the bread so that grinding wjill be easier.

The Box Grater…A box grater, like the one that I understand is used to grate cheese at home…(honestly I can’t remember the last time I bought cheese that wasn’t already grated)…is another option.

To use a box grater to make breadcrumbs, place the grater in the center of a large bowl. Swipe your bread down its sides like you would a block of cheese.

The “DIY” Method…Finally you can simply make your breadcrumbs by hand. Place the dry bread in a Ziploc bag. Smash with a rolling pin until you have the desired size of breadcrumbs.

The Grand Finale…Regardless which method you are using, you need to end up with crumbs that range in size from crumbs that are the size of oatmeal flakes or rice and larger pieces about the size of small peas.

Now you are ready to toast your crumbs.

To toast your breadcrumbs on the stovetop, pour about 3Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the crumbs, stirring or tossing frequently, for about five minutes…until they are crunchy and golden brown.

Finally season your breadcrumbs with kosher salt. Let cool on a paper towel-lined plate.

Storing Breadcrumbs…How long your breadcrumbs can be used will depend on whether you store them in your fridge or freezer or at room temperature.

Fridge…Your breradcumbs will stay “fresh” in your fridge for up to one month.

Freezer…Your breadcrumbs will stay “fresh” in your freezer for up to three months, as long as they are kept in a resealable bag,

Room Temperature…Your breadcrumbs will stay “fresh”  at room temperature for up to three days, as long as they are kept in an airtight container.

Getting Healthy, Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Acacia Honey—The What?! Why?! Which?! and How?!—July 2018 Honey of the Month

Acacia honey is one of the most popular honey varieties. It is widely considered one of the best kinds of honey in the world, provided it is authentic….and is.highly sought after around the world.

Acacia honey is made from the nectar of Robinia pseudoacacia, what we here in America know as the black locust tree, or “false” Acacia…

This tree is not only native to North America, but is also found in Europe—from Northern Italy to the Ukraine, especially in Hungary—where the tree is known as the acacia, even though the honey does not actually come from true acacias.

As far as color, acacia honey is a very pale, light golden colored—much like liquid glass. Acacia honey is often jarred with the actual honeycomb visible in the jar beause the honey does have such clarity and a pale color.

As far as taste. acacia honey is one of the lightest tasting honeys in the world, having a clean, light and mildly sweet, floral taste with delicate vanilla tones and no aftertaste..

Why?!

Adding acacia honey to your diet can provide many health benefits, including…

  1. Dealing with diabetes…Acacia honey has a very low sucrose content and a high fructose level, making it the best choice for diabetics. In addition to being a good choice for diabetics, acacia honey is known for its therapeutic qualities, including…
  2. Helping boost the health of your skin…The rich supply of minerals found in every type of honey, including iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, and copper, as well as vitamin C and other antioxidants, can help reduce the appearance of wrinkles, soothe inflammation, and decrease the appearance of scars, blemishes, and burns when topically applied
  3. Helping you lose weight more quickly...Honey mixed with water or milk can help satisfy your sweet tooth and make you feel full. This will possibly keep you from munching out while vegging out in front of the TV and stimulate your metabolism.
  4. Lowering your blood sugar…Although most people worry about their blood sugar being too high, acacia honey can help lower the blood sugar. Also, hypoglycemia is a dangerous condition, and eating acacia honey can deliver a concentrated burst of carbohydrates to your system that will balance your blood sugar levels
  5. Helping you deal with allergies…Acacia honey, like almost all other honeys, is great for helping you deal with allergies and other respiratory problems because of the antibacterial properties, rich nutrients, and antioxidants that it contains.
  6. Preventing chronic diseases…Acacia honey contains antioxidants that are able to seek out free radicals throughout the body and reduce the negative impacts of oxidative stress…in turn, lowering cellular mutation and reducing your risk of chronic diseases—such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease.
  7. Supporting your immune system…Acacia honey naturally contains hydrogen peroxide, a powerful antibacterial agent that can help prevent infections throughout the body and relieve strain on your immune system.

Which?!

When buying acacia honey, or any other honey, make sure that you are buying a honey that is pure, organic, authentic, raw, unprocessed, unheated and unadulterated from a responsible source with a reputation for producing “clean” honey that hasn’t been processed, heated or pasteurized in any way.

There are many processed products claiming to be acacia honey. Avoid these. After all, our goal in this “What Now?!” segment of Muffins and Magnolias blog has been to start eliminating processed foods from our diets and replace these foods with healthier alternatives.

Obviously, the best place to buy your acacia honey is directly from a beekeeper, who sources the honey directly from the beehive.

But you can also find sources of acacia honey from sites such as Organic Acacia Honey.comOlive Nation, and Savannah Bee.

How?!

Acacia honey is an excellent choice for cooking because of its mild flavor and the fact that it mixes easily in liquids and batters. Other ideas for using acacia in your kitchen include…

1. Berries…Acacia honey is a fantastic topping and the perfect complement to the natural taste of any berry—such as blueberries, blackberries and strawberries…

2. Beverages…Acacia honey is a good choice for mixing with beverages—such as tea—because it sweetens your beverage, without actually changing the taste of the drink

3. Bread…Acacia honey and creamy butter makes an excellent topping for toast.

4. Cheese…Acacia honey is great when served with hard cheeses such as Grana Padano, an Italian cheese made from unpasteurised, semi-skimmed cow’s milk that has been aged for about two years.

The word “grana” means “grainy” in Italian.

This cheese is a “grana” cheese—a fragrant, dry, crumbling cheese with a firm, thick and deeply straw-coloured rind and intensely sweet flavor…very similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, but much less expensive because more areas actually produce this type of cheese. Grana Padano is also less crumbly, milder and less complex than Parmigiano Reggiano.

5. Wine…The best wines to pair with acacia honey are

  • Barolo…such as this Aldo Conterno Barolo Bussia 2013 Nebbiolo
  • Zinfandel…such as this Rombauer California Zinfandel 2016
  • Gavi…such as this Principessa Gavia Gavin 2016

6. Yogurt…Finally, acacia honey is great paired with Greek yogurt…in recipes such as the following Kiwi Smoothie.

Sweet, Sweet Sunday

Barley Malt Syrup

Barley Malt Syrup—The What?!

Barley malt syrup is an all-natural dark brown, thick and sticky liquid sweetening product that is only half as sweet as sugar and with its own strong distinctive flavor. The consistency of barley malt syrup is similar to molasses and golden syrup.

Barley malt syrup is made by drying and then cooking sprouted barley malt, and then filtering and reducing down the liquid that has developed until it reaches the desiered consistency.

Barley malt syrup is not refined in any way. Nor does barley malt syrup contain any chemicals. The enzymes that turn the carbohydrates in the barley into sugar are found already in the grain, instead of having to be added.

Any store specializing in wine or beer making is likely to sell barley malt syrup, but be careful to make sure that you only get the true barley malt syrup, not high fructose corn syrup with flavoring added.

Barley Malt Syrup—The Why?!

Even though barley malt syrup contains almost no fructose or sucrose, it contains about sixty percent maltose. Maltose, also known as malt sugar, is much less sweet than sucrose, so it will take more barley malt syrup to make a food taste as sweet.

One tablespoon of barley malt syrup contains sixty calories, sixteen grams of carbohydrates, eight grams of sugars, one gram of protein, and sixty-five milligrams of potassium…at the same time, barley malt syrup contains none of the following—fat, sodium, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium or iron.

Barley malt syrup does contain some minerals and vitamins, but is not a good source of minerals and vitamins in general, as compared to some of the other sugar substitutes available.

Barley malt syrup is also a good source of soluble fiber, and does have a glycemic index of about forty, which is lower than table sugar.

Barley Malt Syrup—The How?!

Barley malt syrup has a nice flavor and goes well in certain recipes—such as barbecue sauces, raw desserts, baked beans, and cakes. As far as “home remedies” are concerned, barley malt syrup is useful in treating irritable bowel syndrome…(very important at our house for my spouse).

Barley malt syrup is sometimes used as an ingredient in home brewing wine or beer. Barley malt syrup is also a common substitute for molasses or honey on bread or pancakes.

Speaking of bread and beer, later in the post there is a whole-grain bread recipe that I found that involves using barley malt syrup in combination with beer—combinations of sweeteners being used along with barley malt syrup being quite common is baking, by the way.

Barley Malt Syrup—Grocery IQ Master List or Not?!

As far as my choosing barley malt syrup as the new healthy alternative sweetener in our house, I don’t think that this is a good idea.

My husband is a type 2 diabetic, and barley malt syrup is not the ideal sweetener for helping to control your blood sugar because of its high maltose content. The health risks associated with a high consumption of barley malt syrup clearly outweigh its potential health benefits.

Also because barley malt syrup is less sweet than table sugar, we would have to use more of it, which affects not only blood sugar levels, but our food budget perhaps.

Finally, note that barley malt syrup also contains gluten, making it unsuitable for those following a strict gluten-free diet.

Malted Guinness Beer Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup malted wheat flakes
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
12 ounces Guinness Stout, at room temperature
1 tablespoon barley malt syrup

Topping:

2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon malted wheat flakes

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease an 8″ x 4″ loaf pan.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly pour in the Guinness and add the barley malt syrup. Use a wooden spoon to stir until no dry patches remain.

Scoop the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Pour the melted butter over the top, then scatter the malted wheat flakes over it.

Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until the crust is browned and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 15 minutes; turn the loaf out of the pan and finish cooling.