Crock Pot Beans and Skillet Cornbread

If you're a lover of all things pork, relish in this post as it's one of the very few you will find on my blog that use it. I realize I'm in the minority here but I do not purchase pork products because I don't eat them. Growing up I never liked pork that much. Bacon yes, a BLT just wasn't complete without it. But as an adult it's become psychological. Mind over taste buds so to speak. (And after recently finishing up "Charlotte's Web" little girl isn't a fan of pork anymore either, go figure!).

Most factory crate pork is raised on GMO corn feed, junk food and often other animals. Pigs are fat, and fat holds excess toxins. Pigs don't sweat. So where does all the toxins from their food go? It doesn't go stays right in the pig then goes into our bodies when we eat it. Sorry, but that alone has kept me from consuming pork and most recipes that call for it I substitute with local, grass fed beef.

So we've established why I don't eat it...but my husband has not joined my anti pork bandwagon. And he goes without it at home because I don't buy it. I believe part of my responsibility as a wife and mother is to research the food I buy and what I feed my family, so I've cut out a lot of products over the years and sometimes feel bad about it, I really do. So yes, you'll find his stash of real bacon bits, occasional local Italian sausage and two months ago I made his favorite pork chop dinner. Not too long ago I also made a batch of beans with smoked beef bacon. Everyone but the big man liked it. He wasn't easily fooled and said it was sacrilegious to make beans with anything but a ham hock. A meal not eaten is a meal (and money) wasted. So I vowed to never do that again (nitrate free beef bacon runs $7 per pound!).

Over the weekend the temperature drastically dropped here in Middle TN, so a bonfire sounded nice and what goes better with that than a bowl of beans and cornbread? So I just went for it and picked up a ham hock from Peaceful Pastures at the farmer's market Saturday morning. I figured if I was going to get a hock it might as well be local, pastured and grass fed. And I really couldn't beat the price ($5) or the size (see the photo below, it was HUGE!). Here is what their website has to say: "Did you know that pigs are also grazing animals? It's true! We use Tamworth hogs, a rare heritage breed brought over by the first settlers. They achieve excellent weight gains on grass without confinement or commercial feeds. The meat is tender and moist but without excessive fat. Our hogs are also treated to produce from our own garden as well as all the leftover pumpkins (their favorite!) at the end of the growing season from a local farm."

And without further ado here is an extremely easy crock pot bean recipe and the best skillet cornbread I've ever made. The big man was well pleased and said it was the best he's ever had. So thanks to Peaceful Pastures and Azure Standard for making this possible with the best ingredients I could get my hands on.

Crock pot Beans
Feeds A LOT and takes about 8 hours from start to finish

2 cups dried pinto beans
2 cups dried navy beans
1 large yellow onion
1 large ham hock
approximately 6 cups of water

(Beans and onions are organic from Azure standard, Anytime you see water listed in any post it's spring water. Distilled will work just fine, just whenever possible try to not use tap water as it can alter the flavors of any recipe. We are fortunate that our city stopped adding fluoride to our water over a year ago but chlorine and God knows what else is still in there...thus the obsession with filtered water).

Sift the beans and look for any pebbles, remove them and discard. Rinse the beans (no need to pre soak overnight) and place in a large crock pot. Dice one large yellow onion. Mix it in with the beans.

Place the ham hock in the middle of the pot, cover with water and top with the lid. Turn on high for one hour. Turn the heat down to low after one hour and simmer 6-7 more. Just watch the beans and when you see them rise to the top and see their plump it's done. Turn off the crock pot and remove the ham hock to a plate. (If you do not eat pork here is an option. Ladle out some beans before adding the meat back in). Shred the meat off of the bone and add the it back to the pot.

Ladle into bowls over cornbread, top with black pepper, fresh, diced onion and chow chow if you have some.

Skillet Cornbread

First step, melt one stick of butter in a saucepan on low heat while you mix together the following dry and wet ingredients. Watch it closely so it doesn't burn.

Second step, place a 12 inch skillet into a cold oven and then turn it on, preheating it to 425 degrees.

Dry Ingredients: Mix the following in a medium size bowl
1 1/4 cup non gmo organic cornmeal (always use non gmo organic corn products if you have access)
3/4 cup all purpose unbleached flour (I use Montana Wheat organic, non gmo)
1/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 tsp salt (kosher or Celtic gray is good)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda

Wet Ingredients: Mix the following in small bowl
1 cup heavy cream (I use raw cow's milk, buttermilk would be fine but heavy cream makes this so good!)
1/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs
Whisk the wet ingredients to break up the eggs and evenly distribute them into the milk.

Once the oven has reached 425 degrees, remove the cast iron skillet with an oven mit. Measure 2 TBLS of the melted butter into the skillet. Quickly whisk the wet ingredients into the dry, adding the remaining melted butter from the saucepan. Mix well and pour into the prepared skillet, scraping the sides of the bowl to remove all of the batter. Using a pot holder, place the skillet back into the oven and bake about 15 - 20 minutes (longer if you use a smaller skillet) until the top is golden and the batter pulls away from the edges. Using an oven mit remove the skillet from the oven and allow it to cool 15 minutes before serving.


Easy Skin Care

For several reasons including but not limited to toxins, health and economic, many more people are jumping on the DIY bandwagon these days when it comes to their well being. Homemade beauty products have been around for thousands of years, and while products and regimen's have evolved, some simple basics remain tried and true even in today's 21st century techno world.

I have combination oily skin. Slightly dry on the cheeks and oily in the T zone area. For those of you who share my demise you can sympathize with me I'm sure. Trying to hydrate one area while working to keep others clean and clear can be a great challenge! While I've had my share of acne spots over the years I believe a good diet, free of as many hormones as possible, a lot of water, good dose of sunshine for Vitamin D, no smoking, limited alcohol and a good skin care regimen has kept my skin pretty darn healthy and so far wrinkle and age spot free. Over the years I've tried many things but for the past seven or eight I've stuck with some of the basics I want to share with you today.

There are so many factors when trying to achieve healthy skin, some completely out of our control. But if you remember one thing from this post it's to always remove any makeup you may wear. Fortunately I only wear makeup once a week, and sometimes not even that. But if and when I do I always remove it, never sleep in it. No matter how tired I think I am! And one more idea is to not over wash. On days I am home the entire day I may only wash my face with warm water, nothing else, and then swipe a bit of witch hazel all over and I'm done. It's finding that balance that's right for you but trust me...always remove dirt and makeup and if your skin is relatively clean skip the soap that night. Try it and see how it works for you.

Here is a photo of the products I use on a daily and weekly basis and a description below it. What you won't see? Sunscreen. On days we'll be out in the sun an extended amount of time we prefer THIS ONE by Dr. Mercola. But on a daily basis we skip the sunscreen. If you are curious why please take some time to research all sides of the sunscreen epidemic and decide for yourself what you think is best.

What natural product have you found you can't live without?

From left to right:
Jojoba oil - I use this most frequently but sometimes rotate with coconut oil

Cleansing Oil from Village Apothecary - it is fabulous and THE best cleaning oil I have ever used

Bragg's Apple Cider Vinegar - as a toner for breakouts, mixed with water for drinking (internal cleansing) and also used to mix with the Benzonite Clay for the best detox mask on the planet

Benzonite Clay - Weekly I measure 2 tsp clay and 2 tsp apple cider vinegar into a small glass dish. Mix well with a small spatula and apply to the face avoiding eyes and mouth. I let it dry until it cracks, then soften it with a bit of warm water. You can rub the clay around on your face to exfoliate it. Once all the mask is removed, pat dry with a clean towel. Swipe a lavender infused witch hazel cotton ball over the face. Once dry apply moisturizer of choice.

Witch Hazel - plain and lavender infused (I filled a quart jar half way with dried lavender. Covered the flowers with plain witch hazel. Covered and shook daily for six weeks. Strained it and re bottled in the original witch hazel container).

Eco Diva Body Oil - this is what I use most of the time now, but occasionally alternate with coconut oil. But by far the best body oil ever.

Larenim Mineral Roll Me Away Peel - a gentle resurfacing serum that really works!

Tropical Traditions Coconut Oil - I buy this by the gallon for use in the kitchen and the bathroom. Next to it is a recycled jelly jar (red and white checkered lid). I keep one of these in each bathroom for use as a moisturizer and oil pulling. 

Rustic Fermented Bread

I am a baker. A baker who does not like making bread. I love bread, I enjoy the scent, the kneading and of course it's consumption. However no matter how hard I've tried over the years I end up with a doughy center or holes the size of golf balls. So when I came across fermented, no knead bread I knew it was for me.

Why ferment anyway? Well it's as simple as this: no sugar. When the yeast is allowed to grow, or come to life, over a longer time period there is no need to "shock" it to life with warm water or sugar. This type of bread making takes forethought and preparation but the pay off is divine. We still use sprouted grain bread but I'm making 1 - 2 loaves of this rustic bread per week as it makes great croutons, yummy grilled sandwiches (think panini) and excellent with warm herb infused olive oil.

If you do not own a dutch oven try using any pot with a tight fitting lid. Many blog posts you'll find some rather expensive kitchen gadgets (like this Le Creuset, it is well worth the money tho) but they aren't always necessary. In spite of all the gadgets in my kitchen there is always something I do not own, so I improvise. Get creative and maybe even search the web for ways other cooks have done the recipe a different way. 

So here is what you'll need on day one:
3 cups unbleached flour - this is very important, it must be unbleached. Wheat Montana is what I use currently from Bulk Nat Foods, that is until I move onto wheatberries and grinding myself.
(Here is where you can experiment using different flours. Right now I'm using an organic, non GMO all purpose that's also good for bread. Not using spelt, rye, whole wheat, etc at the moment but you can try different combos, I'd just keep the majority a plain all purpose of some sort until you get the hang of it).
1 1/4 tsp sea salt 
1/4 tsp active dry yeast, Saf Instant Red is the brand I currently use
1 1/2 cups cool, unchlorinated water (spring, filtered or distilled)
Herbs of choice if you want a flavored bread, but I leave this out for our regular bread

Combine all the dry ingredient into a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and pour in the water. Mix it with a rubber spatula until incorporated. It will be sticky and that's okay. If it's too dry add a little water at a time until it's sticky.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 - 18 hours. The warmth of your home may depend on how quickly it rises. If the heat is on it may only take 12 - 14 hours. I tend to let mine go about 16. (See those little bubbles in the photo? That means it is ready!)

Tools for day two:
Dutch oven with a lid
Cornmeal (I use a non gmo organic from Bulk Natural Foods here in TN)
Dough scrapers or two rubber spatulas, HERE are the scrapers I use
Dough mat, cutting board or a clean counter top
Flour for dusting
Oven mit or pot holders
Cooling rack

Uncover the dough and turn it out onto a pastry mat or cutting board (you could also use a cookie sheet, the counter top, etc). Dust the top of the dough with a little flour, cover with a tea towel (these are best as they are lint free). Let the dough rise another 2 hours. 

After this time put the dutch oven (without the lid) into a cold oven. Turn the oven on and preheat it to 475 degrees. 

When the temp has reached 475, remove the pot with potholders and sprinkle a tiny bit of cornmeal onto the bottom of the pot. Uncover the dough and using dough scrapers shape it into a round ball of sorts. Lift it into the pot and sprinkle the top with a little cornmeal. 

Cover with the lid and bake 30 minutes. After this time remove the lid and bake an additional 10 minutes (or until the loaf is golden brown, could be less or could be more depending on your oven). Transfer the baked bread to a cooling rack and allow it to rest for at least one hour before cutting it. 

The bread will have a nice crisp crust and a soft interior. Keep it in an airtight container or bread bag. It will soften once stored but you can crisp it back up in the oven if you want to. Another good use for day old bread is turning it into bread crumbs and croutons. Here is how I make my croutons for soups and salads. 

Rustic Herb Croutons - 
Cut the slices into cubes. Heat a large skillet over med / high heat. Add butter, olive oil, thyme, basil, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper, garlic and onion powder. Stir and mix well. Add cubed bread. Stir frequently to prevent burning. Remove from heat when toasted on all sides. Measurements are up to you but make sure you have enough butter and oil in the pan to fully coat the bread. Store in an airtight container up to three days.

Beer Chuck Roast

I have a very busy week starting tomorrow, so this weekend I prepped a bunch of food ahead of time for the week, including a grass fed chuck roast from Triple L Ranch. After cooking I shredded the beef for sandwiches through the week. This was incredibly simple yet full of flavor. Be sure to spoon some of the leftover juice from the pan over top the shredded beef to keep it moist.

Rinse chuck roast and pat dry with paper towels. Season with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Let sit at room temp 10-15 minutes.

Heat about 2-3 tablespoons each of olive oil and butter in a Dutch oven on medium high heat. Brown all sides of the meat. While the roast is still in the pan, deglaze it with one pint (minus two or three sips) of beer, this Hefeweissbier is fantastic! But any beer of choice will work. We just prefer the taste of this one.

Top the pot with a lid and transfer it to a 350 degree oven until meat is fork tender. This roast was 3.5 pounds so it took about 2.75 hours before it fell off the bone.

Let the meat rest 10-15 minutes and then shred the it. Spoon drippings from the pot over the meat (I did not make a gravy as this meat will be used for sandwiches, hot and cold). Store in a tightly sealed glass container in the fridge until ready to use but no more than five days.

***This photo is of the roast after browning and deglazing with the beer, no after photo on this one!***

Raw Milk Ricotta Cheese

We love ricotta cheese. From pizza, Italian cookies, lasagna and bruschetta home made just can't be beat. I searched the Internet for a version that started from milk, not whey and found this amazing recipe from Smitten Kitchen. It is to die for. It is by far the best ricotta cheese I have ever tasted. Of course rich, raw grass fed milk and cream does make the different. I squeeze fresh lemon juice for this as well, I believe it makes a difference over the bottled version. Leftover whey can be used on plants that require a little acid, added to smoothies for straight protein, fed to chickens (if you or a friend keeps them) or added to the compost pile.

The trick to this cheese is letting it sit. Don't rush it. I allow mine to rest and drain for one hour, that is the consistency my family prefers. Since I have not changed this recipe one smidgen, I'm directing you HERE for the recipe. It's the best, trust me.