Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos (And A Little Bit of Mom-Bragging)

Last week I was able to spend time with my parents. They live about seven hours away, as the crow flies, wait…I mean, by car…so spending time with them is always a HUGE treat.

One of the things I love about visiting my parents is eating my mom’s food. She’s one of those people who never gives herself credit for being amazing, which I simply can’t understand – seeing as how I think she’s, like, you know, Superwoman. I’ve been trying to get her to admit that she’s a great cook for years, but she truly thinks her food is – at best – mediocre.

Meanwhile, no matter how hard I try and even if I do exactly what she does when I use her recipes, my food just doesn’t come out the way hers does.

That’s how I know she’s a chef. Anyone can follow recipe directions, but a chef has an intuition about his/her food that is utterly unique. That’s why my mom’s food will always be better than mine. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m super proud of her because of that! And most of all, I’m thankful that she faithfully made delicious (or, simple, she would call them) meals for our family all those years because that was the catalyst for my current love of all things food. I’m a novice foodie, you might say. And I owe it all to my momma, whom I love deeply and admire greatly.

I could literally talk about my mom all day, but since we have some Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos to make, I’d better get back on track.

What I meant to say was that during my visit with my parents, my mom was making a fried tortilla dish similar to taquitos called tostadas. (I hope to be able to write a post about how to make them very soon, so stay tuned!) We had all been out at the pool, but when we walked in, the smell of fried corn tortillas was filling the house.

I took a full, deep breath through the nose and said, “It smells like…”

“Mexico?” My mom said, and we both chuckled.

“…home. I was going to say it smells like home.”

And that sums up how I feel about my mom’s cooking. I love it not for how it tastes, but for how it makes me feel. Safe…young…loved.

Don’t get me wrong, my mom’s food tastes amazing, but it’s more than just food to me. It’s who I am.

So today I’d like to share a little bit of who I am with you.

They’re called Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos and they are to die for!

Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos

Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos

What You’ll Need

Shredded beef

Corn tortillas

Canola oil

Toothpicks

A plate and paper towel (for draining excess oil)

A shallow, wide, nonstick pan

Guacamole (yes, I consider this a must have ingredient)

The Shredded Beef

The best taquitos are the shredded beef kind, but you can make them with any type of meat: shredded chicken, shredded pork, ground beef, even tofu! In my humble opinion, though, the only kind of taquitos worth eating are shredded beef taquitos.

To make Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos, you must have Crock-Pot Shredded Beef. I promise, everything else pales in comparison! You can click the link for the full recipe, or you can use the snapshot recipe below.

Basically:

In a crock pot, roast a beef round (I have found that Costco’s beef rounds are excellent in this recipe) for six-eight hours (on high, longer on low), until it is “fall apart” tender. That is, when you insert a fork, the beef shouldn’t feel tough at all.

To be more specific, insert the round of beef, fat side down, into the crock pot and add enough water to cover an eighth to a quarter of the round. That usually works itself out to about 2 cups of water, give or take. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt and pepper directly onto the round. Then, slice one onion, one green bell pepper, and (peel and chop) three cloves of garlic, and add them to the crock pot (mostly on top of the round).

Cover and cook the round on high for six-eight hours until the beef is tender and the vegetables are wilted and translucent. Then, scrape the cooked vegetables and excess fat off into the (now) beef broth and remove the round to a nearby plate or bowl.

Make sure to save that yummy beef broth, though. You can use it for a bunch of different things, like Beef Au Jus or Beef Demi Glace.

Refrigerate/freeze immediately (for later use) or, if shredding promptly, let the round stand for about 20-30 minutes (until the interior is no longer scalding hot). Then, with your hands (truly the best method), shred the beef just like you would string cheese, until you have a neat, little collection of beef strands with which to make your taquitos.

Again, you can refrigerate or freeze your beef at this point too, if you don’t want to use it right away. I usually cook two rounds at once and shred and freeze one of them so that I have shredded beef on hand when taquitos or tacos come up again in my meal rotation (once a week). One average-size round usually makes about 20-30 taquitos, depending on how much beef you use to fill each tortilla.

Shredded beef before it is pan seared.

Shredded beef before being pan seared.

This last step is optional, but I really think the depth of flavor it produces enhances the flavor of the taquitos exponentially.

In a nonstick skillet, pan sear the shredded beef in a little bit of canola oil, salt, and pepper until moderately browned, rotating periodically. Remove from the shredded beef from the pan and let it stand for a few minutes until it is cool enough to work with. Set aside.

Shredded beef after being pan-seared.

Shredded beef after being pan seared.

The Tortillas

Corn tortillas need to be softened before they can be used in fried dishes because they will crack and tear if this step is skipped. There are two ways soften corn tortillas. The long (but authentic) way is to heat them on the open burners of a gas stove or on a cast iron comal (toritilla warmer).

But, if you’re like me, you don’t have time to heat 30 tortillas, one by one. That’s why option two is the one I use. It’s cheating, but it works.

Stack about 15 corn tortillas on a paper plate. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Take the bottom half of the tortillas and move them to the top of the stack. Microwave for another 30 seconds. Set aside.

Microwaving the corn tortillas to make them pliable.

Microwaving the corn tortillas to make them pliable.

Assembling the Taquitos

At this point, you will want to create your taquito assembly line: shredded beef, tortillas, toothpicks.

Taquito assembly line.

Taquito assembly line.

Before you begin assembling your first batch of taquitos, start heating just enough canola oil to cover the bottom of your pan on medium-high heat. You want to oil to be very hot by the time you are ready to fry your taquitos.

Use just enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan. No deep-frying in this recipe!

Use just enough oil to cover the bottom of your pan. No deep-frying in this recipe!

Place a small handful of shredded beef in the center of a tortilla.

Place a small handful of shredded beef in the center of a tortilla.

Place a small handful of shredded beef in the center of a tortilla.

Fold one side of the tortilla up over the shredded beef and curl inward, wrapping it completely around the shredded beef.

Fold one side of the tortilla up over the shredded beef and curl inward, wrapping it completely around the shredded beef.

Fold one side of the tortilla up over the shredded beef and curl inward, wrapping it completely around the shredded beef.

Then continue rolling the tortilla until one side completely reaches the other.

Continue rolling the tortilla until one side completely reaches the other.

Continue rolling the tortilla until one side completely reaches the other.

Insert a toothpick into to taquito, making sure it goes completely through the outer flap of the tortilla and the remaining taquito.

Insert a toothpick into to taquito, making sure it goes completely through the outer flap of the tortilla and the remaining taquito.

Insert a toothpick into to taquito, making sure it goes completely through the outer flap of the tortilla and the remaining taquito.

This is what they will look like when you’ve got a few of them rolled and ready for frying.  I usually roll and fry them in batches to make the most of my time.

Five little taquitos, all in a row.

Five little taquitos, all in a row.

Frying the Taquitos

Fry the taquitos in hot canola oil for two-four minutes on each side, or until golden brown and fairly crunchy. 

Fry the taquitos in hot canola oil for two-four minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Fry the taquitos in hot canola oil for two-four minutes on each side, or until golden brown and fairly crunchy.

Your taquitos will look like this once they’ve been fried on one side:

Flip the taquitos over to make sure they fry on both sides.

Flip the taquitos over to make sure they fry on both sides.

Prepare a paper plate lined with two paper towels to drain the excess oil from the fried taquitos.

Prepare a paper plate lined with two paper towels to drain the excess oil from the fried taquitos.

Prepare a paper plate lined with two paper towels to drain the excess oil from the fried taquitos.

Once each taquito is sufficiently browned on both sides, use tongs to remove them, one by one, tipping them upward so that any excess oil drips off into the pan.

When removing your taquitos from the frying pan, tip them upward so that any excess oil drips off into the pan.

When removing your taquitos from the frying pan, tip them upward so that any excess oil drips off into the pan.

Let your taquitos stand for a few minutes, both to cool down and so that the paper towel can continue absorbing any excess oil.

Let your taquitos stand for a few minutes both to cool down and so that the paper towel can continue absorbing any excess oil.

Let your taquitos stand for a few minutes both to cool down and so that the paper towel can continue absorbing any excess oil.

Once they’ve cooled down, carefully remove and discard the toothpicks. Then, plate up your taquitos with some Easy Guacamole and sour cream, lemon juice, salsa, hot sauce, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, Beans del Olla, Spanish Rice, or whatever else you think would make this dish superb.

Make yourself some Easy Guacamole and enjoy!

Make yourself some Easy Guacamole and enjoy!

Until next time, my friends!

S. Taylor, The Taylor of All Trades

Easy Guacamole – A Family Tradition (And A Little Bit About Being An American-Mexican)

I don’t think I’ve said this yet, but if you don’t know, I’m a fourth generation Mexican-American on both sides. Shhhh, don’t tell my sister. She’ll start talking about the fact that we are a sixteenth German on my dad’s side and some sort of non-hispanic on my mom’s side.

In my experience, though, people don’t generally want to know every single possible ethnicity I embody when they ask me what I am. So, for ease of conversation (and because it’s almost 100% true), I say I’m a Mexican-American and leave it at that.

But even that is misleading. When my friends read this they’ll probably start laughing and say (maybe even out loud), “Ha! You, a Mexican? Yeah right!”

You see, I’m what we Americans affectionately call an “Oreo”: dark on the outside, light on the inside. Neither is better or worse than the other, neither is preferable to the other, and neither work against the other concerning my ontologically composition.

But the record does need to reflect that since I can’t handle spicy food, don’t speak Spanish, wouldn’t know the first thing about thriving in Mexico, and have little to no understanding of authentic Mexican culture, I am, in fact, more American than Mexican. So I guess you could say I’m an American-Mexican, not the other way around.

But not everything about being Mexican is lost on me. Some of my favorite things about myself are the things that are very “Mexican”: loyalty to family and friends, a die-hard work ethic, a love of being hospitable, using terms of endearment instead of formal designations whenever possible, talking – a lot, having a hug and/or kiss accompany salutations (especially around family. How long does it take YOU to say hello and goodbye to la familia? You have to add at least 25 minutes to the start and end of a party for just saying “hi” and “bye” to everyone if you’re going to be a member of MY family).

Oh, and one more thing: I love Mexican comfort food. Well, it’s Americanized Mexican comfort food, really. But the food my momma taught me how to make is legit, believe me.

And what is one thing you HAVE to have if you are going to make and eat Mexican food?

GUACAMOLE!

So here is a family recipe for easy guacamole that my momma taught me, that her momma taught her, and so on and so forth. It’s the best and only kind of guac I eat, but, no, it doesn’t include lemon juice, tomatoes, cilantro, onion, or Tapatio. Think of it as the base for the guacamoles with which you are most familiar. But don’t stick your nose up at it. It’s the easiest, yummiest guac you’ll ever make!

What You’ll Need

Avocados (I used three, medium-sized avocados)

A mixing bowl (large enough to mash freely without spilling guac all over the place)

A trash cup or bowl

A knife

A fork

A spoon

Mayonaise

Salt and pepper (optional, but highly recommended)

The Avocados

Every good guac starts with perfectly ripe avocados. They should be tender to the touch, dark green on the outside, and light green on the inside. And I think I’d better just go ahead and say that Haas avocados are really the only kind worth using. So creamy. So meaty. So perfect!

Every good guac starts with perfectly ripe avocados. They should be tender to the touch, dark green on the outside, and light green on the inside.

Every good guac starts with perfectly ripe avocados. They should be tender to the touch, dark green on the outside, and light green on the inside.

Cut your avocados in half, carefully running your knife around the pit. Then, cut off the tippiest top of the avocado, on a diagonal, to remove the brown portion where the nib used to be. 

Cut off the tippiest top of the avocado remove the brown,

Cut off the tippiest top of the avocado, on a diagonal, to remove the brown portion where the nib used to be. 

Next, remove the pit by holding the avocado cut-side up in one hand and (very carefully) thrusting your knife’s broad side into the center of the pit with the other. The knife will get stuck in the pit, and when you twist and pull back, the pit will come lose just like that. You may need to whack at the pit a couple of times to get the knife in the right spot (try for the center of the pit), but, whatever you do, never, EVER stab at the pit with the tip of the knife. The pit is incredibly slippery and your knife will glide right past the pit, through the flesh of the avocado, and right into your hand. If you don’t want to end up in the ER over making guac, DON’T stab the pit with the tip of your knife!

Remove the pit by holding the avocado cut-side up in one hand and (very carefully) thrusting your knife's broad side into the center of the pit with the other.

Remove the pit by holding the avocado cut-side up in one hand and (very carefully) thrusting your knife’s broad side into the center of the pit with the other.

A note on ripeness: You know your avocado is not ripe enough if:

1) It resists your knife when you cut it in half.

2) The pit cannot easily be removed.

Under ripe avocados make for terrible guac. They don’t mash easily and don’t taste very good at all. If you’ve already cut an under ripe avocado in half, put the pieces back together, put it in a plastic bag, put it in the refrigerator, and check in a few days. When it’s softened up, it’s ready to use!

Once you’ve removed the pit, gently cut into the flesh of the avocado lengthwise and widthwise in a grid-like pattern. Again, don’t cut too fast or too deep. The knife will go right through the flesh and skin of the avocado and slice your hand open (no bueno!).

Cut into the flesh of the avocado lengthwise and widthwise in a grid-like pattern.

Cut into the flesh of the avocado lengthwise and widthwise in a grid-like pattern.

Next, take a spoon and run it along the skin of the avocado. This will release the flesh of the avocado, which you can drop right into your mixing bowl.

Take a spoon and run it along the skin of the avocado.

Take a spoon and run it along the skin of the avocado, releasing the flesh from the skin.

Note: Keeping a trash cup or bowl handy makes clean-up easy and ensures your counter top stays avocado free.

Keeping a trash cup or bowl handy makes clean-up easy and keeps your counter top avocado-free.

Keeping a trash cup or bowl handy makes clean-up easy and ensures your counter top stays avocado free.

Once the flesh from all of your avocados is in your mixing bowl, mash it all up with a fork until creamy. It should go from this:

Mash the flesh of you avocados with a fork until creamy.

Mash the flesh of you avocados with a fork until creamy.

To this:

Fully mashed avocado.

Fully mashed avocado.

In all honesty, you could eat it just like this. But it’s not as yummy as it could be, which is why you want to add some Best Foods, full fat mayonnaise. The mayo helps increase the creaminess of the guac, lightens its overall color, and deepens its flavor immensely. And I’m sorry to say it, but Miracle Whip or some reduced fat version of Best Foods mayo simply will not do. Not if you want to eat the best guac of your life!

Add about a tablespoon of mayo, more if you are working with more avocados.

Add about a two teaspoons of mayo, more if you are working with a larger amount of avocados.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Once all of your ingredients are in the bowl, mix away, making sure the mayo, salt, and pepper get fully incorporated into the avocado mash.

Stir the avocado, mayo, salt, and pepper together until fully combined.

Stir the avocado, mayo, salt, and pepper together until fully combined.

I always do a final taste test to make sure I’ve used enough salt and pepper. Don’t be shy, if it needs more salt, add more salt. Otherwise, that’s it!

Whip up some homemade tacos or taquitos and be ready to have all of your friends asking who made the yummiest, creamiest guacamole they’ve ever tasted!

Easy Guacamole and Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos. A yummy, dynamic duo!

Easy Guacamole and Homemade Shredded Beef Taquitos. Is your mouth watering yet?

Until next time, my friends!

S. Taylor, The Taylor of All Trades

Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad

My husband and I are trying to eat healthier and we are trying to do things more naturally to move away from processed foods. Those desires made the prospect of sprouted wheat very appealing. Well, appealing to me anyway. To be honest, I’ve sort of foisted my interest in healthy eating on my dear ol’ hubby, and he’s taking it in stride (very graciously, I might add!). Anyway, once I’d figured out that it was super easy to sprout my own wheat berries, I decided to try out an easy recipe that seemed appropriate for this kind of grain (spelt, to be exact).

I’m using the term “recipe” loosely here. There are no measurements and it’s the type of thing anyone could come up with on their own. I just like food that tastes good – using raw ingredients was a bonus!

So here is my “recipe” for Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad (quantities, ingredients, and measurements to taste)…

In a bowl, combine:

Sprouted Spelt Berries

Sprouted Spelt Berries

Sprouted Spelt Berries

Garden or Fresh Sweet Basil, Garden or Fresh Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley, and Homemade or Fresh Mozzarella

Garden or Fresh Sweet Basil, Garden or Fresh Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley, and Homemade or Fresh Mozzarella

Garden or Fresh Sweet Basil, Garden or Fresh Italian Flat-Leaf Parsley, and Homemade or Fresh Mozzarella

Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar, Kosher Salt, and Pepper

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar

And that’s it! Stir it up and enjoy! It’s a super hearty salad, so make sure you use enough cheese and herbs to offset the density of the sprouted spelt.

The finished product -  beautiful and tasty Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad!

The finished product – a beautiful and tasty Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad!

Until next time, my friends!

S. Taylor, The Taylor of All Trades

Sprouted Wheat. Spelt, To Be Exact

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting friends on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. They live a very different life than I do, and I love that. I know next to nothing about eating healthily, and even less about ground-up cooking. Luckily, that’s what friends are for! These friends introduced me to women who, because they live in a remote area, choose to do many things themselves; things like sprouting and milling their own spelt berries.

Say what?

Yup, you heard me right: sprouting, milling, and spelt berries were three (well, four) words I knew nothing about before meeting these amazing women.

It  seems I’m a little late to the party, but that’s okay. It means there are a ton of resources online that one can use to get even better explanations of this stuff than I can provide.

But, since I now have a cursory overview of what it means to sprout and mill one’s own spelt flour, I couldn’t help but put all that information to use.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get to it!

1. Key Terms

Spelt: Basically one of the oldest, most nutritious forms of wheat available today. It has a long, exciting history that I’m sure you would all find exuberayting, but for the sake of time, let’s just say that it is hearty, healthy, and just the type of sustaining grain to keep thousands of people groups alive across many, many centuries.

Spelt/Wheat Berries: It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to figure out that the thing I needed to buy was called “spelt berries.” I kept asking google to tell me how to “sprout spelt” and that just wasn’t enough information. So, when you are trying to buy your own batch of grains to sprout, make sure you tell the internet what kind of grain you would like and that you would like it in berry form.

Sprouting: Sprouting is the purposeful hydration of various grain berries (spelt berries in our case) until they sprout, which is exactly why this process is called “sprouting,” and why products made from sprouted grains are called “sprouted breads,” “sprouted cookies,” etc. It’s a very specific stage in the life of this little grain, and the reason people sprout in the first place is because it activates and enhances the nutritional attributes of the berry itself. You’ll have to google the specifics if you want all that good sciency information. Remember: I’m the Taylor of all Trades, which also means that I am the master of none. Plant DNA falls under the master-level category of information as far as I’m concerned, so don’t feel bad if you want to look elsewhere for the specific nutritional information regarding sprouted grains.

Milling: This just means grinding the grains (once they are fully dried) into a powdery substance, also known as sprouted flour. Because it’s all I have, I used my Magic Bullet for this step in the process, but, as I’ll explain later, I don’t think that’s sustainable. I may have to invest in a more legitimate option if I want to preserve my Magic Bullet.

So there’s our foundation. Now when I use these terms, if you didn’t already know what they were, you will be able to follow along like the brilliant, astute person you are!

One disclaimer: to try and make this easy on everyone, I’ll do my very, very best to keep the following instructions to the fewest words possible. My husband says I’m an over-explainer, and I totally know that I am. So, for the sake of being helpful, the next portion of this post will be comprised of short, to-the-point directions.

2. Sprouting Spelt (or, as I like to call it, Spelting)

Purchase Spelt Berries

I bought Bob’s Red Mill Organic Spelt Berries from Amazon and the box contains (4) individually sealed (24) ounce bags.

Purchase spelt berries. I bought Bob's Red Mill Organic Spelt Berries that contains (4) individually sealed (24) ounce bags.

Purchase spelt berries. I bought Bob’s Red Mill Organic Spelt Berries that contains (4) individually sealed (24) ounce bags.

Rinse Spelt Berries

There are many ways to do this. The easiest, I think, is to put your spelt berries in a bowl, submerge them in cold water, and run your fingers through them until you think the batch has had a good cleaning. Super fun to let the kids help with this part!

Rinse spelt berries in cold water. My batch was pretty clean, so there were no bugs, dirt, or dead berries in it (dead berries float to the top when your bowl is filled with water).

Rinse spelt berries in cold water. My batch was pretty clean, so there were no bugs, dirt, or dead berries in it (dead berries float to the top when your bowl is filled with water and should be discarded. They will not sprout).

Next, drain the old water – without draining your spelt berries, you want to lose as few as possible – and repeat the rinsing process as many times as it takes for your water to remain clear when you sift the spelt berries with your fingers. Again, because my bag was pretty clean, this only took me one rinse. It may take you 2, 3, or even 5 times. Don’t worry, keep at it!

Dump out the old water and rinse as many times as it takes for your water to remain clear when you sift the spelt berries with your fingers.

Drain the old water and repeat the rinsing process as many times as it takes for your water to remain clear when you sift the spelt berries with your fingers.

Soak Spelt Berries

After you rinse your spelt berries thoroughly, you will need to soak them. Fully submerge them in water in a bowl, jar, or container that will allow them to plump to double/ triple their original size. I used a large glass bowl. Let your spelt berries soak for at least eight, but no more than twelve hours. If you let them soak too long they will begin to ferment (are you makin’ beer or flour, there, ya lush?).

Soak spelt berries in water for at least eight hours, but no more than 12. The berries will absorb the water and plump up in the process.

Soak spelt berries in water for at least eight hours, but no more than 12. The berries will absorb the water and plump up in the process.

Once they’ve soaked for at least eight hours, drain the leftover water from your bowl completely. You’ll notice that they’ve plumped up and might give off a faint “yeast” smell (like when you are baking fresh bread). That’s okay, but if the smell is VERY strong, you will not want to continue this process. If they have a strong, sour smell, they’ve fermented and are no longer on the path to becoming flour. Beer, maybe, but not flour.

After soaking for (8) hours, your spelt berries will have plumped up to double or triple their original size.

After soaking for (8) hours, your spelt berries will have plumped up to double or triple their original size.

Let Them Sprout

After you’ve soaked your berries, what follows is a day-long (or more) waiting game. Sprouting occurs best in dark, warm places. The temperature in your house may slow down or speed up the sprouting process, depending on how cold/hot it is. To sprout your spelt berries:

To sprout your spelt berries, wrap them in  a damp cloth, place them in a bowl, and let them sit in a dark, warm place for at least (24) hours.

To sprout your spelt berries, wrap them in a damp cloth, place them in a bowl, and let them sit in a dark, warm place for at least (24) hours.

Wrap them in a damp cloth, place them in a bowl, and let them sit in a warm, dark place for at least twenty-four hours. The images below show the progress of my sprouting spelt berries at ten, fifteen, twenty-four, and thirty-six hours.

My spelt berries after 10 hours of sprouting. You can see the sprout (the little white spot) just peeking through at this point.

My spelt berries after (10) hours of sprouting. You can see the sprout (the little white spot) just peeking through at this point.

My spelt berries after (15) hours of sprouting.

My spelt berries after (15) hours of sprouting. Sprouts have completely broken the surface at this point.

My sprouts at 24 hours. Good progress, but since it was pretty cool in my area (slowing down the sprouting process), I wanted to give them a little more time to sprout.

My spelt berries after (24) hours of sprouting. Good progress, but since it was pretty cool in my area (slowing down the sprouting process), I wanted to give them a little more time to sprout.

At this point, (twenty-four hours of sprouting), I removed them from the damp cloth, put them directly into the glass bowl, and covered it with the damp cloth. The sprouted berries looked like this.

At this point, (twenty-four hours of sprouting), I removed them from the damp cloth, put them directly into the glass bowl, and covered it with the damp cloth. The sprouted berries looked like this.

Spelt berries at (24) hours of sprouting. Removed from damp cloth; placed directly in glass bowl,; covered by damp cloth.

Spelt berries at (24) hours of sprouting. Removed from damp cloth; placed directly in glass bowl,; covered by damp cloth.

FINALLY, at (36) hours, my spelt berries had sprouted to my desired length.

FINALLY, at (36) hours, my spelt berries had sprouted to my desired length.

You can sprout your spelt berries as long as you would like. Eventually they will become wheat grass, which I know a lot of people consume regularly. But since I’m not one of those people, stopping at thirty-six hours of sprouting worked perfectly for me.

Taste Them!

No, really, taste them! They are super yummy! Kind of sweet, kind of earthy, a tad chewy, and a tiny bit reminiscent of Honey Smacks (without the honey, of course).

Another view of my sprouted slept berries at (36) hours of sprouting.

Another view of my sprouted slept berries at (36) hours of sprouting.

3. Eating/Preserving Sprouted Spelt Berries

So, once you’ve waited forever and a day (okay, okay, maybe just twelve hours and a day) for your spelt berries to sprout, you have a few options as to what you can do with them:

Eat Them Just the Way They Are

Sprouted grains are a great source of nutrients and are super hearty. If you want, you can keep them around just for snacking on throughout the day. But be sure to refrigerate them if you don’t want them turning into a wheat field in your kitchen. That is, they’ll keep sprouting if you don’t take steps to slow/stop the sprouting process.

Make a Sprouted Salad or Use Them as a Garnish with Other Dishes

Fresh, sprouted salads are super yummy. You can add just about anything you want, and, because sprouted grains are so dense, a little goes a long way. I recently shared a recipe for a Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad, using herbs from my garden and mozzarella that I made in my own kitchen. It is to die for!

A beautiful and tasty Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad!

A beautiful and tasty Fresh Herb Sprouted Salad!

But if you don’t want the sprouted spelt to be the main attraction, you can always just use them as a garnish atop other dishes. It’s a win-win situation!

Freeze Them

If you don’t want to use your sprouted spelt berries right away, you can put them in a labeled ziplock bag (excess air squeezed out, of course), and store them that way for months. You can also store milled spelt berries (a.k.a. sprouted flour) in the freezer. It’s a great way to continue reaping the rewards of all your hard work months into the future!

Mill Them

This process is simple-ish, but I took a lot of pictures just to be safe. Again, I’ll be keeping my directions short to save time and reduce the amount of rambling that normally accompanies my explanations:

Preheat your oven to it’s lowest temperature settings (usually around 150 F) and transfer your sprouted spelt berries to cookie sheets so that you can dry/dehydrate them (a dehydrator will work too, or sun drying).

Cover cookie sheets with sprouted spelt berries.

Cover cookie sheets with sprouted spelt berries.

Dry/dehydrate your sprouted spelt berries in the oven for 3-8 hours with a spoon in the door so that moisture can escape, and shake/rotate the trays every hour or so to keep the berries from roasting. (If your spelt berries roast, they will no longer be useful for baking.) The time it takes to fully dry your berries will depend on their water content, the climate in your area, and whether or not the temperature gauge on your oven is true.

Keep a spoon in the door of your oven so that moisture can escape while your sprouted spelt berries dry out.

Keep a spoon in the door of your oven so that moisture can escape while your sprouted spelt berries dry out.

You can check whether or not your sprouted spelt berries have dried sufficiently by tasting them. Dried berries are dense, dry, and earthy. If you don’t dry them out completely, they will jam up whatever appliance you use to mill them and burn out its motor (no bueno!)

Once your berries are dry you can begin to mill them in a grain mill, a coffee grinder, a food processor, or a blender. I used my Magic Bullet. Be sure to only mill a small amount of sprouted spelt berries at a time. If you try to mill too many at once, they will jam up your grinder’s motor because the milled flour gets sifted toward the bottom of the grinder where the blades are. I smelled the motor of my Magic Bullet overworking itself a few times, so I think I will invest either in a coffee grinder to use specifically for milling sprouted spelt, or an actual grain mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. But they are fairly expensive, so I may have to save up before I buy one.

If using a grinder or blender, mill a small amount of berries at a time.

If using a grinder or blender, mill a small amount of berries at a time.

Just in case you were wondering: milling produces the same amount of flour as the amount of sprouted grains you started with. So (24) ounces of spelt berries will become (24) ounces (or three cups) of sprouted flour. 

Milling produces the same amount of flour as the amount of sprouted grains you began with.

Milling produces the same amount of flour as the amount of sprouted grains you started with.

The consistency of my sprouted flour. If you desire finer flour, keep grinding and then sift out as many of the larger grains as you would like.

The consistency of my sprouted flour. If you desire finer flour, keep grinding and then sift out as many of the larger grains as you would like.

Another view of my sprouted flour.

Another view of my sprouted flour.

Once you’ve milled your sprouted spelt berries, they can be used to make cakes, cookies, breads, and many other baked goods. I used them to make Sprouted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies and they were delicious! They added an earthy depth of flavor to the cookies that was truly delightful.

Sprouted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Sprouted Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

So, have fun figuring out new ways to use your sprouted spelt berries and the flour you mill from them. The sky’s the limit when it comes to this historic, nutritious grain!

Until next time, my friends!

S. Taylor, The Taylor of All Trades

Growing Herbs in the City

My brand spankin' new herb garden, situated on a teeny tiny little cabinet on my teeny tiny little balcony. "Though she be but little, she is fierce (Helena, A Midsummer Night's Dream)."

My brand spankin’ new herb garden, situated on a teeny tiny little cabinet on my teeny tiny little balcony. “Though she be but little, she is fierce (Helena, A Midsummer Night’s Dream).”

Urban gardening is a growing phenomenon. I’m not jumping on a bandwagon or anything, I just love to cook. And anyone who loves to cook knows that the best tasting food is homegrown and scratch made. Hence this little project.

Now, I have no idea what color my thumb is, but I did do a little research, and apparently, the herbs that I’ve chosen suite my particular plant hardiness zone pretty well. So, at the very least, I am giving myself a fighting chance at keeping these babies alive, and I like those odds.

I’m a novice gardener but with the help of my trusty sidekicks (my sister, daughter, and nieces), I’ve potted my new plants fairly attractively and that makes me feel very much like the Rocky Balboa of the herb gardening world. Gosh, with all this hype, I sure hope my herbs survive!

So, anyway, here’s the skinny on my initial foray into herb gardening:

1. Choosing the Herbs:

I chose German thyme, flat-leaf italian parsley, sweet basil, lavender, and rosemary plants (also called starts), and chives from seed.

I chose German thyme, flat-leaf italian parsley, sweet basil, lavender, and rosemary plants (also called starts), and chives from seed.

Again, using the USDA plant hardiness zone guide (link above), which basically measures how well certain plants will thrive in certain geographic regions based on average, annual minimum winter temperatures, I chose herbs that are projected to thrive well in my area, which happens to be in a 9b zone (25-30 degrees, F).

I’m sure as time progresses I will learn how to pick the best starts, but this time around, I looked at all of my available options in my local Home Depot Gardening Center and picked the healthiest looking German thyme, rosemary, lavender, sweet basil, and Italian flat-leaf parsley plants. I really wanted to buy a chive plant too, but, alas, there was none to be found. So, I am braving the seedling process and hoping I won’t muck it up too badly. Only time will tell.

2. Choosing the Pots:

I chose medium-sized, well-holed, clay pots and appropriately sized saucers - one for each of the herbs I purchased.

I chose medium-sized, well-holed, clay pots and appropriately sized saucers – one for each of the herbs I purchased.

There’s really no big secret to this. Herbs need to be potted in pots with excellent draining systems. Since I chose medium-sized pots, I figured four holes was sufficient. Then, I just chose saucers that corresponded with the diameter of the bottom of my pot, and ta-da! I just didn’t want the water to drip directly onto the cabinet or floor. Otherwise, I’m sure I could have done without the saucers.

3. Potting, Step One: Laying the Foundation

Step one: Fill the pots without about and inch of potting mix and water it until the potting mix is generously hydrated.

Step one: Fill the pots without about and inch of potting mix and water it until the potting mix is generously hydrated.

These are the instructions right off the root bulb packaging. Super concise and super helpful!

The first step is to lay the foundation for your plants. Fill the bottom of the pots with about an inch of potting mix and add water until the potting mix is generously hydrated. Go ahead and plan on getting your hands dirty at this point. You want to make sure that all the planting mix is hydrated, so you’re just going to have to let your fingers get down and dirty.

4. Potting, Step Two: Potting the Root Bulbs

I didn’t get a picture of the root bulbs in their containers, but the gist is: remove the root bulbs from their containers gently, making sure to rip as few roots as possible in the process.

Then, gently situate the root bulbs in the center of the pot, above the potting mix foundation that you have already laid. Add as much potting mix as is necessary to fill in the remaining gaps, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant. Water generously, making sure all of the potting mix is hydrated sufficiently. The pictures below show what my first two pottings looked like, and what all of my potted herbs looked like once I was completely done potting them. 

Potting parsley: center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

Potting Italian flat-leaf parsley: center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

Potting German thyme: Same instructions as the parsley. Center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

Potting German thyme: Same instructions as the Italian flat-leaf parsley. Center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

Potting sweet basil: Same instructions as the Italian flat-leaf parsley and German thyme. Center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

Potting sweet basil: Same instructions as the Italian flat-leaf parsley and German thyme. Center the root bulb atop the potting mix foundation and fill in all the empty space with more potting mix, including the top of the root bulb, just under the sprouted leaves of the plant.

All of my herbs potted and lookin' pretty!

All of my herbs potted and lookin’ pretty – pretty messy!

A quick note: If you plan to pot your herbs instead of plant them in a bed, you should use potting mix. I chose a small-ish bag because I knew I wasn’t going to be potting a large number of pots and that my pots were going to be medium-sized, not large or extra large. I can’t give you any advice on which potting mix to choose – I just went with an organic, herb-specific mix that looked like it would do the job. So far, no complaints!

Organic potting mix for fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

Organic potting mix for fruits, vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

5. Potting, Step Three: Clean Up (For the Messy Impaired, Otherwise Known as The Nearly Obsessive Compulsive)

Yeah, you can totally skip this step if you want to, but I couldn’t. I’m a neat-ish type person, so I needed to make sure my balcony garden looked tidy. By the time I was done potting, there was potting mix, water, and discarded potting containers everywhere. No bueno. A quick bit of clean up and, poof! My urban garden went from this:

Cleaning up!

Cleaning up!

To this:

So fresh and so clean!

So fresh and so clean!

6. Proper Care for Herbs:

One article I read said that potted plants should be watered daily, as opposed to other household plants which only need to be watered weekly. The trick is to find a good balance between over and under watering. If the potting mix in each pot is dry, you need to water generously. If the potting mix in each pot is damp, water just a tad. If the potting mix in each pot is soaking wet, don’t water. A little bit of water each day seems to do the trick. Make allowances in either direction (more or less water) based on how hot/wet/cold it is in your area.

As far as sunlight goes, hearty herbs (rosemary, thyme, chives, lavender) need lots of full sunlight each day, so make sure they are in a place where the sun shines on them directly much of the time. Softer herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro) still need a lot of sun, but could fry to death in the full heat of a summer’s day in a desert area like the one I live in. To keep them alive, I put them on the lower levels of my herb rack to make sure they still get sun, but that it is mostly indirect sunlight, as opposed to direct.

7. Harvesting the Herbs (Yum!):

Each herb wants to be harvested in its own special way. I’m no expert, but the research I’ve done breaks it down like this:

Basil:

To harvest basil, cut the leaves just above (not below) two sprouted leaves on a stem. This cut will then sprout off into a v-shape, producing two new leaves. This cutting system will ensure your plant just keeps on growin’. Be sure to leave the large leaves at the bottom alone, as they collect and transform sunlight into all the photosynthesy goodness that keeps the plant alive and thriving.

Our sweet basil harvest.

Our sweet basil harvest. And, yes, those tiny, helping hands are my favorite part of the entire shot!

Parsley:

The key to harvesting parsley is to harvest from the outside in. The leaves will continue to shoot up in the center and grow long, outward stems. Since the leaves are what are used in cooking, you want to cut the stems relatively close to the base of the plant to allow new stems to grow from the center outward.

One of my littles helping with the harvest.

Prettiest little parsley picker ever!

Thyme:

No special harvesting instructions here. We generally use the thyme leaves in cooking, so cutting your stems then removing the leaves is the most common way to use this herb. But thyme is also used in bouquet form in stews and soups, so feel free to tie them up, add them to your bouquet, and toss them when you’re done!

Rosemary:

Rosemary is a hearty herb that grows straight up. To harvest, cut a full stem close-ish to the base (leave about an inch or two still sticking out of the potting mix), and it will keep on a growin’ right where it left off. I gotta tell ya, this is one of my favorite herbs ever! Rosemary butter and rosemary baguettes are some of my favorite things on the planet!

7. Storing the Herbs:

Preparing my herbs for refrigeration.

Preparing my herbs for refrigeration.

Herbs can be refrigerated, frozen, and dried. It’s up to you how you’d like to use them. The picture above is what my herbs look like when I am going to be using them within a few days to a week from the time I cut them. I put them in labeled zip-lock bags and store them in a lower shelf in my refrigerator so they don’t freeze.

You can also wrap them tightly in saran wrap, making sure to gently squeeze out all the oxygen, and freeze them for 3-6 months (depending on the herb).

Finally, for long-term use, you can sun dry your herbs, or bake them in a medium-temperatured oven so that you can use them some time down the road.

I like to use them fresh, but, hey, it’s your plant, get the most out of it in ways that are best suited to your needs.

So that’s it! Combined, my start-up garden cost me less than $70, and I didn’t even go about it the most cost effective way. I’m sure you can find all of these supplies at thrift stores for significantly less than I did, and then you’d really be upping your savings game.

The point is: have fun, don’t give up, and enjoy the fruits (or herbs) of your labor!

A good lookin' bunch, if I do say so myself!

A good lookin’ bunch, if I do say so myself!

Until next time, my friends!

S. Taylor, The Taylor of all Trades