Homemade Elderberry Syrup

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, delicious food, and laughter.  We actually ended up staying home from our celebration, as my son was sick AGAIN!  He is all better today, but we’ve been in the house a lot with little ills more often than I would like to admit. I’ve been cooking up chicken broth, and we’ve been taking probiotics and elderberry daily too.  I know it’s helping, but little kids just seem to be susceptible to every little germ out there!!

Do you know about the wonderful Elderberry?  So first of all it is a berry, so of course contains antioxidants, which are great for warding off cancer and various other diseases. It has long been used to treat respiratory diseases such as cold and flu, and some evidence suggests that elder may help reduce sinus swelling and nasal congestion.

Studies have also suggested that the little elderberry has some amazing powers, such as possibly reducing the duration of flu by 3 days as well as reducing flu symptoms.  One study even showed elderberry extract actually killing the H1N1 flu virus in a test tube!!?

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So I’ve been buying a prepared Elderberry Syrup for years that I think has been effective in helping us fight the flu. But this year I decided to get crafty and try making some myself.  The original recipe I used was too sweet for our liking, so I reduced the honey a bit and it came out just great.  We have been using it once a day for prevention and more frequently when sick or trying to fight something off.  We have been taking 1 tablespoon a day for adults and 1 teaspoon a day for children (skipping a day at least once a week) and up to 4 tablespoons a day for adults and 3 teaspoons a day for children when sick or fighting something. This syrup has several other immune boosting and anti-bacterial herbs and spices, and is also really delicious.  I usually put some in the freezer too; the honey keeps it from freezing too hard and it is so yummy to take frozen. And do use raw honey if you are able, it is full of live enzymes and good stuff that gets killed in the pasteurization/heating process of typical honey.

It should be noted that raw elderberries have a chemical in them similar to cyanide, so need to be cooked to make them safe for ingestion.  Anyone on medications or with special issues should speak to their doctor before using elderberry.  And please remember not to give this syrup to any child under 1 as it contains honey, which can be toxic for little ones.

If you are sensitive to honey, or want to give this remedy to your littlest ones, stay tuned for an updated post soon.  My next batch will be made with maple syrup, as I have embarked on a new diet to help with my IBS, a low FODMAP foods diet, but more on this later!

And here it is, I know you’ve been waiting for it, another use for the nut milk bag! When the syrup is done it needs to be strained, which can be done through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or, you guessed it, nut milk bag! I used my nut milk bag last time and was really pleased because I was really able to squeeze all the elder-goodness out at the end.

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Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

1 cup dried elderberries

4 cups filtered water

2 inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

3/4 cup raw honey

Add all ingredients except honey to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the mixture reduce by half, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag. When the mixture has cooled but is still warm (118 degrees F or less) whisk in the honey and store in a glass jar in the fridge, or in the freezer.  The mixture should keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

I’d love to hear what you use to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season!

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Chicken Enchilada Soup

My 4 year old surprised me the other day.  Not to say that he doesn’t surprise me every day in some way, but there have been very little surprises or branching out lately in the food and eating department.  But I just keep on keeping on, following Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding and knowing that he will come around eventually.

He had not eaten pesto, or anything on his noodles but butter in probably a year.  SO when I made fresh pesto the other night tossed with pasta, leftover chicken, and green beans, I also put out plain noodles, chicken, and green beans.  When my son sat down at the table for dinner he said, “What’s in the pot??” When I told him, he exclaimed, “I like pesto!!”  I almost fell over but didn’t let on for a minute as he proceeded to gobble it down and have seconds.  I was jumping for joy inside, but remained calm and cool so as not to encourage him either way.

I was hoping that we had entered into a more adventurous stage of eating finally, so I had high hopes for last night’s chicken enchilada soup. He likes chicken, rice, chips, cheese, and avocado, so I thought this one might be a real hit.  Well it certainly was for the rest of the family, but no such luck with our little friend.  He ate chips, cheese, and avocado for dinner.  Oh well, maybe next time, or the next, or the 10th or 20th time, because there will be a 20th time.  It’s that good.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I roast a lot of chicken around here and am always looking for new ways to use up the leftover chicken meat.  I mean I love chicken noodle soup and all, but it gets boring.  And I always have extra rice hanging around too.

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I was inspired by a recipe I saw online and she made these amazing looking crispy tortilla strips from scratch for topping the soup, which I was all set to do, until I discovered MOLD on my tortillas!!! So we had to settle for good old corn chips as topping until next time, and you can get the recipe for those from the link below.  I changed it up a bit, so here’s my version:

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SOUP

(gluten free, dairy free option)

  By Dana Youkilis

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

½ cup red bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

2 Tbsp fine ground yellow corn meal or masa harina

1 quart chicken stock

1 14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup cooked, chopped chicken meat

1 ½ cups cooked rice

3 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Sea salt to taste

For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn chips or homemade crispy tortilla strips (get the recipe from All Things Health), anything else that floats your boat

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the carrot and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add the chili powder, cumin, corn meal and ¼ cup of stock and continue stirring until the stock is mostly evaporated, about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the stock and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let the soup simmer about 20 minutes.  Add the chicken and rice and cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt, add the cream and remove soup from heat.  Garnish with your choice of toppings.

Nutrition Facts (per serving not including toppings): Calories 251; Total Fat 8g; Saturated Fat 3g; Cholesterol 35mg; Sodium 504mg; Total Carbohydrate 30g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 8g; Protein 14g

Homemade Nut Milk

For years and years I have been buying and drinking non-dairy ‘milk’ of different sorts, as I have never been able to digest regular milk.  First it was soy milk; sweet, thick and delicious.  After some time I stopped being able to digest soy, so switched to rice milk.  It was thinner and decidedly not as delicious, but I made do with it for many years.  Then came the news about rice and arsenic, and though I still have my reservations about whether this is really a threat, I couldn’t keep feeding my boy something that could potentially harm him.  So we switched to almond milk, and had been enjoying it for a while now.  Lately though, I have been reading about carrageenan, a thickener in many non-dairy milks that has shown in some studies to have a detrimental effect on some individual’s GI tracts (read more about this here and here…and now I just found out it’s in my sliced turkey too. DOH!!).  Well no one needs any extra inflammation in their lives, and anyone who knows me knows I certainly do not need any extra GI irritation.  Now, you should know that carrageenan is still on the FDA’s list of approved organic ingredients, but personally, I don’t really have a whole lot of faith in the FDA and their many lists.

Anyhoo, I have been seeking out milks that do not include carageenan for the past few months, and some have proven to be better than others, but then I started to wonder about these other ingredients too.  Take a look at this:

IMG_3028I’m pretty OK with cane sugar and salt…but Locust Bean Gum?? Gellan Gum?? What are these and why do we need them?

So I’ve been hearing how easy and amazing it is to make your own nut milk, and also how beneficial it is to soak your nuts and seeds before consuming them.  So I finally gave it a shot.  I do own a Vitamix, so all I really needed was a nut milk bag (everyone seems to hate this particular combination of words so I’ve been trying to throw ‘nut milk bag’ into my conversations as often as possible lately).

I started with almond milk, and it was good, but there was a bitterness that comes with raw almonds that I just couldn’t get past.  So this week I tried cashew milk..HELLO!  It is so creamy and delicious and SO easy to make, I don’t think I will ever go back to that stinky boxed milk again.  I am excited to experiment with other nuts and seeds so I will keep you posted.  But for now, here is how cashew milk goes.  It’s still somewhat experimental right now, so just go with what feels right to you, you can’t really go wrong with cashews.

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Cashew Milk

(Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free)

Adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen

3/4 cup raw, unsalted cashews

4 cups filtered water

1-2 dates, pitted (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt (optional)

Soak cashews in filtered water for 4-6 hours, no longer.  Apparently cashews can be finicky when it comes to soaking ; most “raw” cashews have been heat treated and  can become a bit slimy if soaked too long.  Drain and rinse well. Combine cashews, water, dates, vanilla, and sea salt if using in the blender and puree for 1-2 minutes until a smooth consistency is reached.

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Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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This is the only downfall that I can see of homemade nut milk. It doesn’t last as long.  Also, I have to say that with the cashews I don’t even think I needed to strain it, as there was barely an sediment left in my nut milk bag.  But that will probably depend on the blender you use and how smooth you like it. Also, you could sweeten with honey or maple syrup too, or not at all if you like it that way or plan to use it in a savory dish.  I was wondering if I could make an unsweetened version and freeze it to use in dishes when I need it.  I’m not sure how well it will freeze, so I will keep you posted on that too.

But don’t you worry, I have found some other uses for my NUT MILK BAG, which I will let you in on soon!  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about anyone else’s nut milk adventures and how they turned out.  Here is my first smoothie made with homemade nut milk, spinach, banana, and peach.  YUM!

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