October 29, 2019

Homegrown Diet Diversity (And a Recipe)

An experiment - Ricotta Crust Fig Tarts - recipe below.

One of the challenges of relying on a diet of homegrown food is variety. Over the years I've tried to grow as diverse a garden as I can, but truth be told, some things are easier to grow in any given climate than others. If all I had to do was the garden, maybe I could succeed. As it is, we've got too many other things needing tending, so my gardening time and energy are limited. Instead, I focus on growing things that I can count on to do well in our region. Even then, there are no guarantees. I just have to take advantage of what produces well, and at the very least, hope I can get a seed crop out of what doesn't.

Mostly, our diet diversity is seasonal. Meals focus on whatever is producing well at the time. I do shop at the grocery store, but my shopping list is pretty basic. It sticks to staples we can't or don't produce ourselves such as olive oil and unbleached flour, a few particular favorites like black olives and bananas, and sometimes items to fill in a nutrient gap, like carrots for vitamin A after we've eaten up our own. I also shop for good deals for stocking up.

When it comes to meal planning, I focus on using what I have the most of. And that often means day after day of pretty much the same things to eat. When our chickens are laying well, we eat eggs every day, usually for lunch. But how many ways are there to eat eggs? A lot, actually, but before the summer is over, I still get tired of eating them. Zucchini is another "when it rains, it pours" kind of food. My solution to zucchini fatigue is to not plant it!

For the past several years I've been experimenting with trying to find diet diversity through creativity. I've also been trying to transition to substitutions for store-bought items with things I have readily available. Salad dressing, for example. I love ranch dressing, but dislike its ingredients. Dan likes oil and vinegar, but I have to buy those too. After experimenting a bit, I figured out that plain kefir on my green salads is just fine! Or I can easily add something like Cockeyed Jo's homemade Not "Lipton" Dry Onion Soup Mix for a flavored dressing if I wish. (And check out Jo's other recipes while you're there. She has a lot of homemade substitutes like that). Another dressing or dip we like is to mix kefir with salsa. Sometimes I add leftover home canned dried beans (black turtles are especially good). Former junky foods become tasty and healthy.

Kefir makes an acceptable substitute for sour cream on baked potatoes, and with baking soda for an excellent leavening agent. We also use it in smoothies, to top a bowl of canned fruit, and as a milk substitute on cold cereal (a rare treat, but when I find a good deal on Nature's Path organic cereals at the discount grocery store I stock up.) As you can see, we're finding a number of ways to incorporate a healthy probiotic food into our diet while eliminating several commercially processed foods.

Another one I've been experimenting with is ricotta. I have a lot of whey from cheesemaking, and making ricotta is one way to use it. It's usually used in lasagna, but I've experimented with other ways to use it.


It was the gnocchi dough that got me thinking about pastry crust. Since Dan likes pastries, that led to another experiment.

Ricotta Crust Tarts


For the crust:
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Mix with a fork. Roll out to about 1/4 inch thick and cut into 12 squares. Line muffin cups with pastry squares.

For the filling:

Use with your favorite pie filling. I used fig that I canned previously.

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

The crust wasn't flaky but it was good. I think I'll try it with baking soda and whey as leavening and see how that changes the texture. I'd also like to try these with a custard filling, for which I'd have to bake the crusts as empty shells. So, more experimenting and I'll have an update one of these days.

21 comments:

Sam I Am...... said...

Those tarts look delicious. I have the same dilemma and I don't have a garden to speak of but buy organic as much as possible. I don't have chickens either but buy organic eggs. I know I spend too much time experimenting with new recipes and I need to stick to my tried and true. I'm also thinking of other "issues" of sustainability which I will probably discuss on my blog. I always love your topics and you make me think which is always a good thing.

Mama Pea said...

I sometimes (much of the time?) feel I lack the culinary creativity of others (such as you, you always thinking/creative lady) but at other times I think I do okay and it's just my own cooking I get really tired of. When I need a good kick in the backside in the kitchen, I think of those dear, old pioneer gals who had soooo much less to work with than I do and yet came up with healthy substitutes and ways to supplement the family diet by being creative . . . as you always do. You give me encouragement to be more adventuresome in the kitchen. That's definitely a plus when we all try to grow as much of our own food as we can and stay away from pre-packaged, "convenience" foods. Now give me one of those luscious looking tarts and nobody will get hurt.

Leigh said...

Sam, I am definitely looking forward to your blog post. Growing one's own food or having a well-stocked pantry are common topics of discussion, but oftentimes the real-life challenges and problems don't get mentioned. It's always helpful to have people discuss their challenges and how they're trying to address them. I learn a lot from others.

Mama Pea, tarts all around! Let's have a virtual coffee break! I have to confess that I'm fortunate Dan likes plain cooking. He doesn't like sauces or fancy surprises. That helps! Like you, I'm the one who gets tired of my own cooking.

Reading about pioneer cooking has taught me some important lessons, such as striving to be content on less. I struggle with giving up mayonnaise, but they didn't even have it! Points to the fact that the problem is usually what we're used to.

Ed said...

Back when I had a 9 to 5 job, we gained diversity by raiding the work place break room. Many coworkers often brought in extras from their garden. To combat fatigue, I simply learned to stop picking. I would rather have too much and use it as compost than not enough. We composted lots of zucchini and squash over the years.

Kristina said...

First, the tarts look amazing. I agree, it's a challenge to have a diet of completely homegrown. I started making "homemade condensed mushroom soup" and love it for comfort food dishes. I do miss having dairy milk from our goats, as it was so beneficial for so many recipes.

Susan said...

Ricotta is one of my favorite cheeses - it is so versatile! I would imagine that it would make a very tender crust. This year I did my best to try to ride out the zucchini wave from beginning to end. I did pretty well, although I did end up giving the sheep the last four squash. There is a limit.

Rain said...

Very smart Leigh. I'm trying to find ways to use Ricotta as well. I use it in my "Italian cheesecake" it would make a nice filling in your Ricotta crust! I saw a recipe for Ricotta frosting for cakes and cupcakes, I have yet to try it, but why not? I think it'll be a nice texture.

Leigh said...

Ed, it's better to plant too much and have an abundance, than to not plant enough and be wanting. I used to feel that anything that we didn't eat or preserve was wasted. I finally had to remind myself that if it's fed to either the critters or the compost, then it's never wasted.

Kristina, your soup sounds really good. Do you have the recipe on your blog? Condensed mushroom soup is a useful base for so many dishes, but I don't buy it anymore. I'd like to be able to keep a nice homemade version around!

Susan, I'm guessing the sheep loved it! Feeding extra to the critters is always an excellent way to deal with surplus.

Rain, ricotta frosting sounds like an excellent idea! I'll look forward to what you think along with the recipe. :)

Nancy @ Little Homestead In Boise said...

Nice dessert. Hubby and I both developed dairy allergies sadly. I can do a little cheese and small amount of milk. We branched out planting corn this year. Hoping to plant more edibles in front yard next year...

Powell River Books said...

My mom and dad had two prolific fig trees when they lived in Sun City, California. I think one was called a Turkey Fig and the other a Mission. The big ones were nice to eat fresh, but they dried the smaller ones on window screens. Hot sun and little rain made that a good way to go. - Margy

Ann said...

We deal with our zucchini by spiralizing it into zucchini "noodles." I find they cook more evenly than slices. And like noodles, they pretty much take on the character of what ever you put on top - garlic, Indian, Italian, etc. They freeze pretty well too, so we can actually get a taste of summer in Feb. After that, we do what Ed does and compost what the chickens don't want.

Leigh said...

Nancy, that's too bad about the allergies. Does goat milk make a difference? That's great that you are expanding your food growing.

Margy, it would be lovely to sun dry fruits and vegetables, but you're right, it requires low humidity. I've enjoyed our figs more this year than before, but then the birds seemed to leave them alone. They had a chance to ripen on the tree!

Ann, sounds like you've come up with some good ways to eat zucchini! I've seen those vegetable spiralizers but haven't tried one.

Quinn said...

I think I'm lucky: eating one thing over and over for a while is kind of my natural "style" :) There's often a seasonality to it - like multibean salad from my gardens, or apples from the local orchard - but sometimes it's just what's on hand or I suddenly remember how wonderful something is - grilled cheese sandwiches, for example - and then I enjoy that every day for a while. Can you tell I've lived alone for quite a few years now? ;)

The Wykeham Observer said...

I'll bet the tarts are great. Do you make your own mince meat? I think that would be good in this tart dough.

J.L. Murphey said...

Leigh, Thank you so much for the nod and link! I'll have to try your ricotta crust next time I make mozzarella. Figs sound lovely,but any fruit preserve will do. Your ricotta crust gives me an idea for an alternate crust. I'll have to test it and get back to you.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Leigh, this is something that Masanobu Fukuoka discusses in The One Straw Revolution as well, this seasonal eating of fruits and vegetables (and in his case, wild herbs as well). It is an odd thing when you think about it: prior to the 20th Century (more or less), seasonal foods were the way of the world. It was really only in the latter 20th century that we got the idea that we should have the food we want any time of the year (if you really want to think about it as such, how much does this need for any food at any time contribute to pollution through air travel, truck travel, and car travel?".

Leigh said...

Quinn, it's interesting you should say that. Over the years I've found that I'm developing more seasonal taste buds. Fortunately, buy the time I get tired of a food, it's about done for the season!

Phil, I've never tried making mincemeat, but that's a really good idea. I have a colonial recipe for mincemeat as a method of preserving meat without refrigeration. I've always meant to try it. Maybe now's the time!

Jo, you are very welcome!I love your recipes because they match my goals. Looking forward to your upcoming cookbook!

TB, he inspired me to make my own food growing mandala. Let me see if I can find it . . . . .https://www.5acresandadream.com/2015/09/harvest-wheel_8.html. Actually, I should update it to include more winter growing and harvesting.

Goatldi said...

I will take two no make that three. I will most certainly try that.

I understand your frustration . When Geoffrey was really ill it was an up hill battle as not only were the menu options limited he couldn’t tolerate a myriad of scents and flavors. I am now the queen of how to present bland chicken one hundred different ways.

Anytime you need a get away you can come cook for me. Not only will I love and devour every bite I will enjoy the company.

Leigh said...

Goatldi, and would you like coffee or tea with those. :)

Illness presents another challenge, doesn't it? Allergies would too, or true food intolerances. I'm fortunate to have none of those! Although then, I'm sure I would be adapting what we're producing to what we can eat.

Anyway, it's fun to experiment. :)

Chris said...

I was only thinking recently (due to the change of seasons) why am I bored with my diet? Silly me, hasn't switched out the winter fare, in favour of the plentiful fresh foods available now. My body was telling me to get with the seasons!!

Personally, I cannot wait to be drowning in our own fresh eggs again. But I know what you're saying, lol. I'll order some wood soon, and get cracking on the coop renovations. It's incredibly overdue. Maybe I can have the new hens in, before Christmas. ;)

Love the pastry ideas though. Looks scrumptious! It reminds me of some of the foods I've switched out of our pantry, a few months ago. It's changed the way I bake, and what I buy. I've had a blog post on the back burners for a while, about it. When this busy season in my life with family, gives me a pause, I'll share too. :)

Leigh said...

Chris, it's funny how change of seasons brings on new food cravings! I like that about seasonal eating though. And you are so right that it changes how we cook and what we buy. I'm looking forward to your blog post!