Mother Earth Living Blogs >

Food Matters
All about fresh, flavorful food

Kitchen Product Review: VitaClay Multicooker


Image courtesy VitaClay

I have never written a blog or even a review before, but the VitaClay Multicooker is  worth writing about!

Having received my Multicooker a few weeks back, I couldn’t wait to test it. First up were the basics – rice.  I’ve never enjoyed cooking real rice (as opposed to Minute Rice) before because of the mess and the time and the very real possibility I would ruin it.  But my first attempt in the VitaClay produced a pot full of the most beautiful fluffy, perfectly cooked rice ever.  And I have to say, it has to be the easiest fix ever.

After the rice success, I was sold. But the fun continued! Next up, Lamb Stew.  Using the recipe provided on the VitaClay site, I set out.  This was a first for me. I had never cooked with lamb before, but I jumped in feet first.  It was incredible! Not only did the slow cooker setting (which cooks much faster than a traditional crock pot) work wonderfully, the flavors that the clay pot brought out of the lamb and veggies were incredible.

Since then I’ve experimented with other slow cooker meals, and I can’t wait to try the yogurt maker next. I admit I’m a bit intimidated with the idea of making my own yogurt. But now that I’ve had time to work with this appliance, I do believe I can do it!

Thanks, VitaClay, for such a fun and useful addition to my kitchen.


Image courtesy VitaClay

Recipe: Curried Lamb Stew

Recipe courtesy VitaClay

Ingredients:

• 1 pound of lamb cubed
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 sweet onion chopped
• 2 celery ribs chopped
• 2 carrots chopped
• 1 red bell pepper chopped
• 1 large green apple chopped (peeled)
• 2 cloves garlic minced
• 5 cups beef stock
• 1 cup heavy whipping cream
• 1/2 cup tomato paste
• 2 teaspoons curry powder
• 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
• 2 Yukon gold potatoes chopped (not peeled)
• 1 can of chickpeas (drained and rinsed)

Instructions:

1. In a skillet on the stove top, saute the onion, celery, carrot, bell pepper, and apple in the olive oil on medium heat for about 6-10 minutes.

2. Add the minced garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a large bowl mix together the broth, cream, tomato paste, curry powder, cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.

4. Add the sauteed veggies to your VitaClay slow cooker. Then add the potatoes and lamb. Poor the broth mixture over all.

5. Cover and cook on the “Stew” setting for 2-2 1/2 hours or until the veggies and lamb are tender.

6. In a food processor, puree the chickpeas until smooth (add 1 tablespoon of water if needed).

7. Add the chickpea puree to the stew and mix will to combine. Cook for an additional 15-20 minutes and it’s ready to serve.

8. Garnish with a bit of chopped parsley for some added color.

Alternative Christmas Dinner Ideas

Most American households serve a traditional dinner for Christmas (and Thanksgiving), which includes stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and a vegetable dish. My family is no different—my maternal grandparents serve a turkey dinner and the paternal side, which has many more mouths to feed, goes all out with turkey, ham and homemade chicken noodles. Two huge meals in a few days time are daunting, and after Thanksgiving my vegetarian appetite for these courses has been more than satiated.

If you find yourself in a similar situation; simply want to add variety to your typical fare; or are looking to start your own holiday traditions, these alternative ideas are sure to please any palette.

Family enjoying Christmas dinner
Photo by Fotolia/dglimages.

Swap Meats

Rather than preparing a turkey or ham this year, consider serving something a bit more special. Roasted goose or duck, duck breasts and braised lamb shanks aren’t dishes we’re likely to make on an average day. These recipes take no longer to cook than a turkey or ham, and will add a new level of allure to the table.

Skip the Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes are simple, comforting and loved by all, but there are so many other types of potatoes to try: potato gratin, duchess potatoes, scalloped potatoes or herb-roasted potatoes. All of these recipes are simple enough to make, but provide a fresher take on the traditional potato dish.

Stews & Soups

Luckily, my holidays are the best both worlds: On Christmas Eve we have homemade chicken and noodles then, Christmas Day is the traditional turkey dinner. However, depending on your holiday traditions, you could easily replace turkey with a hearty soup or stew. The benefit of soups and stews? They usually take less time to prepare, which means you can enjoy your meal, guests and conversation much sooner.

Spice Up Your Sides

Typical holiday side dishes include cranberry sauce, fresh veggies with dip, and green bean casserole. While all of these are delicious, we just had them in November! Consider roasted Brussels sprouts in place of green bean casserole and a delicious chutney instead of cranberry sauce.

Go Vegetarian (or Vegan)

Skip the meat entrée altogether and opt for a hearty, meat-free meal with a nut roast, mashed cauliflower and your choice of veggies. These dishes meet the needs of anyone in your family or social circle who might have a special diet and they’re often easily made dairy- or gluten-free, as well.

Dessert, Please!

No holiday meal is complete without something a little sweet. Pumpkin pie, gingerbread, peanut butter balls and peanut clusters seem to be common staples for dessert menus. The world of desserts and baking is so vast, why stick to the same dishes every year? Keep your favorite dessert on the menu, but add variety with no-bake mint chocolate chip pie, pecan pie tarts, tres leches cake or any other tasty treat that appeals to you.

What non-traditional dishes grace your Christmas table? Let us know your favorite alternative holiday recipes, if you try any of these ideas and how they go over with your guests.

The Perfect Pavlova Recipe


Photo by Kristina McCurdy

Anyone who knows me or has ever entered the Hart household knows that every morning I can be found wandering the house with a cup of tea listening to the news; until the news gets boring and I switch to cooking shows. My husband finds this routine particularly annoying as I habitually leave a trail of half drunk tea cups whilst complaining about how television chefs make recipes look way too easy. Nothing puts me in a tizzy more than an incomplete or incorrect recipe. I have spent countless hours following recipes step by step only to end up with the less than desirable. The only silver linings in sight are that I have the opportunity to create the perfect recipe and that for once something wasn’t my fault.

This scenario held true for many many many years regarding my recreation of the pavlova. For years I had watched a television chef whip up this dessert with ease. Naturally, my next step was to run down to my chicken coop to collect eggs and return to my trust mixer in hopes of making my very own pavlova. I had no such luck making this fluffy dessert takes; as, it takes way more skill and care than American television chefs will have you know. The recipe I will now present to you is the most perfect combination of European and American recipes  that I have been working on and finally perfected after four years.

Ingredients

• 6 Extra-Large egg whites, at room temperature.
• Pinch of salt
• 1 Cup of superfine sugar
• 2 Teaspoon cornstarch
• 1 Teaspoon white vinegar
• teaspoon vanilla extract
• Whipped cream
• Fruit


Photo by Kristina McCurdy

Directions

1. Line a baking tray with parchment paper; NOT wax paper (I did that once.) 

2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I keep seeing American recipes that have this wrong.

3. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.

4. Beat in the sugar one spoonful at a time. Be sure you are using superfine sugar; otherwise, your sugar will not melt and your cake will be grainy.

5. Add salt and vanilla extract.

6. Beat the mixture until shiny peaks form.

7. Add vinegar and beat until the mixture is shiny, white, and stiff. This can take up to five minutes. It should look like marshmallow when it is done.

8. At this point you can fold in anything: cocoa, shredded coconut, almond, or melted jam. Just be sure to fold; or, your egg whites will deflate.

9. Scoop out your mixture into a ring mold or free style a circular shape and put it in the oven.

10. Bake for 60-90 minutes.

11. The cake is finished when the sides look crisp and the top looks dry. Do not open the oven door as fast cooling will deflate your meringue. Let the oven cool with the meringue inside. When you are ready to serve peel the parchment paper off the cake and cover your cake with your favorite whipped topping. Depending on the season sometimes I add lemon or lime zest into my whipped cream.

Finish with your favorite fruit. Most people use berries or figs. Enjoy!

If you are not going to eat your pavlova right away store it in a box in a dry place. If you store your cake in the fridge the egg whites will sweat and ruin the meringue.

4 Ways to Make Your Diet More Nutrient Dense & Consistently Healthy


Photo by SocialMonsters

In a perfect world, every meal you eat would be filled with organic fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat and high-protein meats — all delicately sautéed in the finest of olive oils.

As you probably know quite well, this perfect world does not exist — at least most of the time. Schedules are busier than ever, you have a million things to do and places to go, and more meals than you care to admit are ordered from a fast food window or heated up in your microwave.

Fortunately, eating a more nutritionally dense diet is easier than you may think and it doesn’t take up a lot of time or money. Boost the healthiness of the foods that you are eating with these tips:

Understanding Macronutrients, Micronutrients and Phytonutrients

In order to get more nutrition out of your food, it’s important to understand some of the commonly-used terms. For example, you might see a lot of references to macronutrients and micronutrients. In a nutshell, notes Pediaa, your body needs larger amounts of macronutrients to be as healthy as possible; they help with energy and growth and include protein, fat, fiber and carbs. Micronutrients, while also necessary for health, are needed in much smaller amounts; antioxidants, minerals like iron and zinc and vitamins are all examples. As for phytonutrients, they are natural chemicals found in plants that help protect the plants from disease, and in turn may also boost our health and nutrition.

Shop Locally

One of the easiest ways to get more nutritional value from the foods you eat is to buy them from local sources. Unlike the apples and cucumbers you buy at the grocery store — which were probably picked days if not weeks earlier and have lost up to half of their nutrients — the foods you find at farmers markets and the like are freshly-picked and chock full of nutrition. Check around for these types of markets and try to shop there as often as you can.

Once you get the food home, store all of the veggies (except the root variety) in the fridge. All fruit — except berries, tomatoes and avocados — should be stored at room temperature to help keep vital nutrients intact.

Consider a Supplement

One of the best ways to make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your diet is to take a multivitamin. Think of it as a nutritional insurance policy for those extra busy days when you eat on the go. You can also take nutrient-specific supplements that will help meet a particular health goal. For example, as Amway Connections notes, in order to help maintain strong bones, it is important to get enough calcium in your daily diet.

While getting enough weight-bearing exercise and eating a lot of calcium-rich dark leafy greens are great starting points, calcium requires vitamin D in order to be properly absorbed. To be sure that this happens, you may wish to take a daily vitamin D supplement like Amway’s Nutrilite Vitamin D. It provides 2,000 IU of vitamin D3 along with vitamin K2, which can help calcium get from your bloodstream into your bones.

Know When to Go Raw and When Cooked is Better

Getting more nutrients into your daily diet does not necessary mean consuming vast quantities of salads and smoothies. While it is true that some foods are better to eat raw — a good example is spinach, which loses a great deal of its vitamin C when cooked — other foods, like tomatoes, are healthier when cooked; the bioavailability of lycopene in tomatoes increases by 25 percent when they are boiled. Cooking meats and eggs will also denature their protein, which makes them much easier to digest.


Alison Stanton has been a freelance writer for the past 18 years. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Alison thoroughly enjoys writing about a wide variety of people and topics. When she is not writing, Alison can be found hanging out with her family—which includes three wonderful rescue dogs—and sipping a caffeinated beverage from Starbucks.

6 Delicious, Simple Black Elderberry Recipes


Photo by Fotolia

Black elderberries have a long-held reputation for their immune-supporting properties, having been used for thousands of years by traditional cultures across North America and Europe. Because of the delicious taste as well as the immune-boosting qualities, this berry has been used in homemade jams, wines and syrups.

Black elderberry is unique in providing both antioxidant and immune support, due to its natural concentration of anthocyanins (the antioxidants that give it that deep purple color) and other flavonoids.*

This time of year, Black elderberries are a staple in many households for kids and adults alike. The vibrant little berries can be consumed daily throughout immune season for long-term support for your body’s natural defenses, or they can be taken as needed, at onset of an immune challenge.*

Today we’re sharing some of our favorite, simple ways to eat, drink and be merry with black elderberry all season long.

Everyday Elderberry Recipes:

Black elderberry is a tasty way to get daily immune support.* Here are three easy ways to work it into your daily routine:

Super Berry Oatmeal: Stir ½ cup mixed berries into a ½ cup serving of oatmeal, then top with 2 tablespoons coconut milk and 1 teaspoon black elderberry syrup. Sprinkle on hemp seeds or slivered almonds, and serve. This warm, comforting and nourishing breakfast is ready in under 10 minutes! Serves 1.

Elderberry Swirl Yogurt Parfaits: Swirl 2 teaspoons black elderberry syrup into 1 cup yogurt of your choice, taking care to leave some pretty swirls. In two short, wide-mouthed glasses, layer the swirled yogurt with ½ cup granola, 1 sliced banana and 1 cup blueberries for a breakfast that brightens any morning. Serves 2.

Quick Elderberry Jam: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 2 cups frozen elderberries with ¼ cup grape juice. Cook, stirring and mashing often, until the fruit and juice are simmering and slightly thickened, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in ¼ cup black elderberry syrup. Transfer to jars and refrigerate for up to a week, or freeze for up to three months. Spread on toast, swirl into applesauce or yogurt, or use atop pancakes and waffles. Serves 8. 


Photo by Fotolia

Special Occasion Elderberry Recipes:

Black elderberry can also provide immune support when you need it.* Here’s a trio of feel-good, taste-good recipe ideas. 

Elderberry Sunrise Slushie: In a blender, mix 1 cup orange juice with ½ cup ice, a dropperful of echinacea extract (for additional immune support) and a dropperful of ginger extract (for digestion).* Scoop into a glass, and drizzle on a teaspoon of black elderberry syrup. The active constituents in echinacea will make your mouth tingle! Serves 1.

Black Elderberry Sorbet Sundaes: When you’re craving something cool but don’t want to drag out the blender, scoop some mango or berry sorbet into a bowl, then top with black elderberry syrup and shredded coconut. Use a tiny spoon to savor each cool bite! Serves 1.

Black Elderberry Fizz: Pour 1 teaspoon black elderberry syrup into a glass. Top with ginger kombucha (for grownups) or sparkling lemonade (for kids). Fizzy drinks are a fun way to brighten any day! Serves 1. 

Gaia Herbs uses Certified Organic European Black Elderberries to create a juice concentrate that provides the equivalent of 14,500 mg of fresh elderberries per serving of our Black Elderberry Syrup. This delicious syrup—with natural vitamin C from acerola cherries—contains no artificial flavors or colors, no preservatives and no high fructose corn syrup.

Want more ways to use Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup? Visit our recipes page for quick, delicious ideas.

Gaia Herbs cultivates health and well-being by stewarding sustainable relationships between plants and people. We offer more than 200 liquid extracts, functional powders, teas and patented Liquid Phyto-Caps®, each formulated to do what’s best for your body — and for nature. We use only organic methods on our farms, and that same organic approach continues through manufacture. Part of our seed-to-shelf commitment is the industry’s only traceability platform, MeetYourHerbs®. This dedication to purity, integrity, and potency ensures the safety and efficacy of our products. Take control of your own well-being and experience the Gaia difference.

Stay connected. Join us.

*This statement has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Spooky Halloween Movie Night Snacks

Halloween movie season is officially here, and I’ve been whipping out our favorite films, picking specific nights to watch each one. At our house, we take October very seriously, and movie nights don’t consist of just a bowl of popcorn.

We come up with elaborate, yet easy to make foods that fit the theme of that night’s flick pick. Occasionally we’ll cheat and steal a Pinterest idea or buy something from the store. I’m not a recipe kind of gal, so I’ll share my ideas and you can fill in your favorite way to make that dish.


Photo by Karyn Wofford

Corpse Bride

This is my favorite Halloween movie…yes, I like it more than Nightmare Before Christmas!

Emily’s Eyeball Eggs- Corpse Bride’s faulty eye inspires this dish which consists of making traditional stuffed eggs, but covering each stuffed half with a hollowed half to make it look like a whole egg again…or an eyeball. Use a toothpick to secure a halved olive for the eye’s center.
Corpse Cupcakes- If you can make killer chocolate cupcakes (no pun intended) this one’s for you. Vegan, gluten free or store bought, anything goes. Dig up a little bit of the center to give it that graveyard look, then insert a boney arm, which you can find around any cake decorating department during October.
Grape Maggot- I couldn’t forget the wise worm, Maggot, that lives inside Emily’s head. Line some green grapes on a toothpick, then secure chocolate chip eyes with a little cream cheese.

Nightmare Before Christmas

Now for my second favorite movie.

Jack Skellington Cheeseball- I love the versatility of a cheese ball, you really can mix and match any kind of cheese. Cashew cheese is an awesome option for vegans…Treeline is a great brand. Use black olive pieces or seaweed to create Jack’s simple face. Serve with Late July’s Summertime Blues Multigrain Chips for that spooky Tim Burton look. These chips are organic, vegan and undoubtedly delicious! For a bolder pop of flavor, give their Multigrain Dude Ranch flavor a whirl, they taste similar to, but way better than artificial Cool Ranch chips.
Ghoul Eyes- Halloweentown is bustling with eccentric monsters with creepy characteristics. Clear cups layered from bottom to top with raspberry pie filling, vanilla yogurt, a kiwi slice and a chocolate chip in the center mimic the googly eyeballs of the townspeople.


Photo by Karyn Wofford

Hocus Pocus

This film about a spell casting, witch trio is a family friendly classic that I was introduced to only a couple of years ago. It’s very spooky and traditional.

Warty Watermelon Witch- This one takes some carving skills, but is no more difficult than creating a Jack-o-Lantern.  Slice the top of the melon off, scooping out all of the insides for use later. Carve a fun witch face, just be creative, making the mouth extra wide. Carve a bit off the bottom so the melon will sit upright on a plate. Replace the top. Scoop watermelon and any other fruits you want to mix in into the witch’s mouth, allowing a large portion to cascade out of the mouth, onto the plate.
Melted Witch Soup- Buy or make your own pea soup, then add in other “witch parts” like olive eyes or bell pepper warts, whatever suites your taste.
Peanut Butter Cup Witch Broom- For those who don’t have much time, insert all natural pretzel sticks into Justin’s mini peanut butter cups for a cute, quick treat.

BeetleJuice

We always start out the season with this one. Everyone loves it.

Purple Potato Bugs- I stole the initial idea from Pinterest, then modified it a bit. Buy a bag of those tiny purple potatoes, but small, yellow potatoes work if you can’t find them. Purple just looks cool! Toss them in olive oil then bake until tender. Insert slivered almonds for legs and pipe on sour cream eyes after they cool. Get creative and add your own touches, like melted cheese for stripes and herbs for antennas.
Shrunken Head Apples- Who could forget the shrunken head guy from Beetlejuice? Recreate this little guy by peeling apples and carving faces into them. The faces can be very undetailed and not very good, they’ll still produce cute results. Dehydrate the apples in the oven or a dehydrator.
Beetle Juice- A no brainer, I know, but serving up a good “beetle juice” punch is easy and festive. I like the combo of sparkling water, pineapple juice and cherry juice.

It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown

It’s not the holidays without good ol’ Charlie Brown.

Great Pumpkin Oranges- These are so easy it’s hard to believe, because they look awesome. Peel oranges and insert little celery pieces at the top. Voila…the Great Pumpkin in snack form. Kids love it and so do I.
Great Pumpkin Seeds-  I’m really getting elaborate here. Bake your own yummy seeds with a variety of flavors, like garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Go sweet with maple syrup and cinnamon! The kids can help with this too, then carve the pumpkin when you are done. Set it on the table for the movie.
Anything Pumpkin- Instead of rambling on with the obvious, anything pumpkin goes…pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin pasta…you get the idea.


Photo by Karen Wofford

The Addams Family

Whichever version you are a fan of, The Addams Family is a Halloween favorite.

Thing’s Finger Sandwiches- Any sandwich will do, then cut them into tiny “finger” sandwiches. I always make a cute sign for these so everyone gets the reference to the character “Thing”, a hand creature who is pretty much the family “dog”.
Morticia’s Mash- Purple potatoes come into play again to make creepy mashed potatoes. I sliver black olives for “legs” and place them around halved olives to create little spiders throughout the top of the potatoes. Serve in individual cups for a cute display.
Gomez’s Love Potion Punch- Grape juice, sparkling water and strawberry halves make up this punch. For a very “Addams Family” look, you can add some dry ice while being sure to scoop with a ladle. You cannot touch dry ice with your bare hands and kids should stay very far away, because it can cause burns. But adding it to punch creates fog and a bubbling effect, which is awesome.

I hope this gets you in the Halloween mood. Maybe you have your own natural, spooky food ideas that skip the typical food coloring and artificial flavors. Share them with us in the comments!


Karyn WoffordKaryn Wofford is a type 1 diabetic, EMT and Certified Wellness Specialist. For years she has educated herself on wellness and natural, wholesome living. Karyn’s goal is to help people be the healthiest they can be while living fun, happy lives.


Save
Save

4 Recommended Pre-made Shrub Drink Syrups

Taste of Texas
Image Courtesy Shrub Drinks

Taste of Texas

Handmade in tiny batches in San Antonio, Shrub Drinks are made with chef-selected vinegars. Try Prickly Pear, Balsamic Cherry or one of nine other flavors.
To Buy: $18 for 12.7 oz; shrubdrinks.com

Made in Detroit
Image courtesy McClary Bros.

Made in Detroit

Detroit-based McClary Bros. is a family company handmaking small-batch drinking vinegars. For the holidays, Michigan Apple Pie might be perfect.
To Buy: $17 for 16 oz.; mcclarybros.com

In Good Company
Image courtesy Shrub & Co.

In Good Company

Shrub & Co. Cranberry Shrub with Douglas Fir includes fir foraged by The Living Wild Project, an educational resource focused on California's wild food.
To Buy: $24 for 16 oz.; shrubandco.com

Sip Strong
Image courtesy Strongwater

Sip Strong

Strongwater offers cocktail and mocktail recipes using its gourmet shrubs, with flavors including Persimmon & Lavender, Blueberry & Mint and Peach & Rose.
To Buy: $25 for 8.5 oz.; sipstrongwater.com

Wild Drinks and cocktails
Cover courtesy Fair Winds Press

Read Up, Drink Up

Learn more about DIY shrubs, as well as squashes, switchels, tonics and infusions with Wild Drinks and Cocktails by Emily Han.
To Buy: $21; motherearthliving.com/shopping