Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spaghetti/Pizza/Lasagna/Chili Tomato Sauce

I'm finally getting to this: my master sauce for the base of alot of meals. The seasonings change, depending on what dish I am making, but the method stays the same. Above is what I needed for lasagna. Once again, there is no "recipe", just taste as I go. I make my sauce not with tomato sauce, but with either whole or diced stewed tomatoes. Tomato sauce is so very acidic and I just find that it does not taste fresh. On the other hand, using fresh tomatoes would be cost prohibitive. So canned and stewed it is. I generally go for organic too, but didn't have any this time. The seasonings I use are oregano, basil and garlic. The basil and oregano are dried, but I usually use fresh garlic. Sea salt is also very important. It just tastes better and is better for us than table salt. Also, not pictured here is 2 lbs of ground that I had already browned with a clove of garlic.
Brown the meat with some oregano, basil, garlic (or powder--be careful with the powder) and sea salt. While it is browning, grind up the tomatoes in a food processor or blender until it is as smooth as you want it (if you have fresh garlic, it's nice to put a clove or two in so it can get ground up too). When the meat is browned, add the tomatoes and stir together. Season with more of the basil, oregano, garlic, and salt until it tastes like you want. I also add a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil for extra taste. Because you are using stewed tomatoes, this sauce will be a little watery. We've just gotten used to it, but you can cook it a little longer to boil some of that off. Noodles will soak it up after awhile, though. That's it for the sauce. If making spaghetti, just spoon it over your noodles!
To make lasagna, just layer the sauce with no-boil noodles (I like their taste and texture better than the boil-y kind) and mozzerella or Monterey Jack (my favorite).
For pizza sauce, I season the ground tomatoes much heavier (so the taste gets through all the toppings and bread), and also do not add the ground meat.
For the chili, I add 2 cans of pinto beans to the ground up tomatoes and the ground meat, only this time the seasonings are different: chili powder, cumin, sea salt and about half a carton of beef broth get added to the sauce. Serve with oyster crackers, cheddar and sour cream.

Monday, May 10, 2010

How To Cook Without a Recipe

I thought starting a series on how to cook without recipes would be useful. This is how I cook, maybe because I am extraordinarily inept at following instructions. No, we'll just say I'm "creative". lol.
Baking is not normally something one can do without a recipe, because it calls for precision, but some baked goods are open to just being thrown together, like this fruit crisp. It's simply frozen peaches and blueberries, tossed with a little sugar and flour and topped with a brown sugar crumble. For the pan, I used a 15x17 inch glass casserole dish. There really are no measurements, but for the crumble it is more of a "feel". The ingredients are flour, butter and brown sugar--maybe start with a 1/4 cup of each. Crumble this between your fingers until it feels like wet sand. If it's too dry, add more butter, if it's too buttery, add more brown sugar or flour (taste for sweetness to know which one is needed).
This is the result of cooking by feel. Sweetness, butteriness, fruitiness, deliciousness! This goes wonderfully with vanilla ice cream or homemade whipped cream (a tablespoon or two of powdered sugar whipped with as much cream as you think you'll need).

Next time I'll talk about making a great spaghetti sauce.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fresh

We like to feed our family fresh, seasonal foods. Turns out, not only is seasonal more nutritious and delicious, it's also more affordable. It's getting ready to be apricot season at our local orchard here, and I could not be more excited.
It's not blueberry season yet, but in warmer climates it is strawberry season! It's one fruit all my kids will eat, which is saying something. I think it's those, grapes and plums that are universal favorites here.
Citrus is probably getting ready to be out of season, but I got these in our weekly produce delivery and have been devouring them. In my early pregnant condition, fruit is about the only produce I can handle.
Speaking of being newly pregnant, I will confess here and now to having handed over the cooking and food shopping to my super helpful husband. It's a confession because although he is such a hero for keeping our kids alive, he admits his skills are limited in the kitchen. So my kids right now are eating on a rotating schedule:
organic mac and cheese
organic hot dogs
organic hamburgers
chicken and fetuccine (with organic jarred sauce)
organic turkey and cheese sandwiches with organic chips
organic peanut butter and jelly

Who knew you could get so much junk food with an organic label? lol. I tease, but I am SO thankful for my husband, who has such a commitment to providing, and to keeping me happy with my "no compromise" rules. What a good husband and father.

So what do you eat when things are crazy and fresher, more real food just can't be had at the moment?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Real Pizza on the Cheap

Behold, the grilled pizza. We just had the best meal we've had in a long time....including restaurant meals. I just made pizza dough from scratch using this recipe:
http://www.finecooking.com/recipes/pizza-dough.aspx?nterms=50050
I've used it several times before, but this is the first time I've grilled it because our last attempt at grilled pizza was not good. It was the dough's fault.

This pizza was the BEST we have had, maybe ever, although I have to say that California Pizza Kitchen and Sammy's Woodfired Pizza both make stiff competition. Ours was probably the best because 1) my wonderful husband grilled it for me and 2), instead of like CPK's and Sammy's, ours did not cost $10 a pizza. No, ours cost less than $10 for SEVEN pizzas. These were all large personal pizzas like you would get at Macaroni Grill and the like. That's $1.58 for our 6 people to eat (my husband did not eat and the baby does not eat pizza yet). I had two whole pizzas left over for the kids for lunch tomorrow, which means my husband could definitely have eaten had he not been on a diet.
I am sure you could substitute at least a little whole wheat flour in this recipe if you wanted. I do not find that I prefer whole wheat flour--I'd rather eat no starch at all than use whole wheat flour in pizza dough or cookies, so we use organic unbleached flour. I used unfiltered, extra virgin olive oil, organic sugar, sea salt and regular yeast in this dough. I make my own sauce from a can of organic stewed or diced tomatoes. I find that most pizza sauces are SOoooo acidic and do not sit well with my belly (probably because they use tomato paste). Plus, we find that our pizza sauce tastes so much fresher, and does not overpower the other ingredients. Finally, we use Monterey Jack cheese because I do not like the stringiness of mozzarella. Makes me gag a little. These were cheese pizzas other than mine, which had red pepper on it that I sauteed with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt before putting it on the pizza. Here is my recipe for pizza sauce:

1 28oz can organic stewed or diced tomatoes
2 cloves garlic
sea salt to taste,
dried oregano to taste
dried basil to taste

Whir all in a food processor until smooth. Seasonings truly are to taste, but remember you might want it to be a little stronger than it would be in, say, spaghetti because you will not be eating mouthfulls of it and it has to get through the cheese and bread.
There ya have it! Enough gourmet-like pizza for 7-8 people for around $9!
ETA: and important fact! I made a DOUBLE BATCH of this pizza dough. Just one batch would feed about 4 people.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Baby Steps to Delicious Food

This doesn't looks so bad, does it? In fact, it looks like something you'd order in a restaurant. I'll let you in on something--it's better than any restaurant food. It is truly delicious AND I know every ingredient in it, because I made it from scratch. Well, okay, I can't claim credit for *making* the veggies. So God and I made this salad. :)
I asked some friends what they think is important about making real food for their families. A central theme was taking baby steps. Don't feel like you will be a fast food-eating, doughnut- dunking, junk food-lover today and by tomorrow morning you must be a grain-soaking, pastured cow raising, coconut oil guru tomorrow (for explanations of these terms, see the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon). Maybe you could just say "Today we are giving up margarine and using butter", or, if you are past that basic stage, maybe saying "I will plan to acquire kefir grains and make my own kefir by _____".
Here are some suggested initial steps. These are steps I would take if I were starting all over:
*get rid of any hydrogenated fat.
*get rid of anything with any form of corn syrup
*replace the salt shaker with sea salt
*get rid of anything with these chemicals in it: monosodium glutamate (MSG), nitrites/nitrates, preservatives (there are natural preservatives, but things like sodium benzoate and calcium propionate do not qualify). Maybe just start with the assumption that you won't eat anything that requires a science degree to know what it is.

You can take any or all of those first steps and be healthier. Of course, to do any of this, you must become a label reader. I am often seen in a food aisle, mouth agape, as I read the paragraph of ingredients on the back of many "food" items. Remember, just because a company asks you to pump your body full of their food-like product, does not mean you have to. Believe me, I know the pull of convenience foods. I so wish sometimes there was a way to get real food faster and more affordably. But there's just not. And most of the time I am very thankful that because we do not use convenience foods, we have all become more appreciative of what real food is, how long it takes to make, and how much better we feel than when we eat junk. That is the promise of real food--quality of life. When your body recognizes what's going inside it, it knows what to do with it. When we do not burden our bodies with foreign food stuff, we just feel better.

So on to that salad. See that Ranch dressing on there? Most Ranch dressings in the store or in packets have MSG and a host of other bad for us things in them. This one is homemade, and it's taken a LONG time for me to get the recipe right. You, of course, could take this recipe and make what you want of it. This recipe does not use mayonnaise because, well, I hate it. :) I usually make this in individual batches for myself, but you can size this recipe up nicely.

Homemade Ranch
1/2 c sour cream
3/4-1 tsp all purpose seasoning without MSG--something like a Mrs. Dash (we use Trader Joe's everyday seasoning)
3/4-1 tsp sea salt
a teaspoon or 2 of fresh lime or lemon juice
1/4-1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/4-1/2 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp paprika
1-2 TBS milk to thin (more if you like)

mix all ingredients and adjust taste to your liking. The measurements are as close as I can get, but are still up to you a little bit. Remember, dressing needs to be a *little* intensely flavored so you can taste it on the salad, so don't be afraid of a *little* saltiness or garlicky flavor. It's kind of a trial and error thing, though. If you find it's too much, add some more sour cream. I'd like to add some fresh dill to the mix, but then my hubby would never eat it. You could also add parmesan, blue cheese, or pecorino romano for a twist. BBQ sauce is REALLY good in this for salads eaten with BBQ.
As you can see, eating real food is not about denial. It's about making real food versions of what you like, and then, lo and behold, you WILL find yourself liking the real food versions better when you do get a taste of the old stuff. My husband testifies to this all the time.
Hope you enjoy! :)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Beauty of Traditional Food

Here they are, the relatives I promised to show off. These beautiful people are in their 80s. Notice the rosiness to their skin and their relatively trim forms. I hate to say it, but our loved ones in their 80s here in wonderful America are....pasty. Most of the older people I have come across in the US, as wise and precious as they are, have skin that looks like paper, with no color whatsoever. The people pictured here in this picture still go on mountain walks. They are vital and healthy looking, not just for people their age, but they could pass for people 15 to 20 years younger in our country.
I admit to not knowing all the science behind food and why traditional foods are better than modern foods. But I am lucky enough to have proof in my very heritage that traditional food is healthier. The people above eat full fat meat--mostly pork and beef, butter, raw milk, wonderful cheese, lots and lots of veggies both cooked and raw, bone broth soups and whole grains. And lest one argue that their diet consists of mostly plant foods, let me just put that to rest right now, it doesn't. They also have a moderate amount of sweets.
So they and other relatives that live the traditional lifestyle are my main argument that fat and meat are not bad--on the contrary, they are quite beneficial. The experiments done on meat and fat and health to "prove" their un-healthiness never use grassfed meat and raw butter. EVER. It's about taking the grainfed supermarket meat, full of it's hormones and antibiotics and pesticides, conducting some experiment, and coming up with the conclusion that the human body cannot handle animal fats. This is poor control. One cannot take an inferior product, test it, and make a sweeping conclusion that includes a better quality product. Grassfed and conventional grainfed meat are not even in the same class, nor are pastured raw milk and the thin sludge that comes to us in plastic containers. Pastured raw milk (or non-homogenized, gently pasteurized milk) is on a separate planet from the milk at the grocery store. Thousands of years of tradition and healthy people consuming these superior products are proof that if God made something for food, it's good for us.

On to what our rules for food are here. It really boils down to a basic formula sort of like with educations 3 Rs. Simply put it's: no trans fats, no corn syrup, no MSG, no nitrites. Apply those rules to any food and most of the time what's left is reasonably healthy, or at least what one can call "food". I can be even simpler: no factoried versions of what's real. Factoried sugar is high fructose corn syrup. Factoried (yes! I know it's not a word!) fat is trans fat and poly-unsaturates extracted with heat (corn, and veggie oils mostly). Factoried meat is anything raised cooped up in a pen pumped full of more medicine than any one of us will probably see in a lifetime. Factoried veggies are genetically modified, also known as "franken-food". Factoried salt is table salt. Sea salt is wonderful.

Honestly, when we get rid of everything that's not real, we are left with quite an array of healthy and great tasting food. And once the chemicals are out of our bodies, we no longer crave junk. I used to be hooked on peanut M&Ms. After recently giving them up, now when I eat them all I can taste is chemicals and weak chocolate. Blech.

Anyway, enough from me, I'd love to hear from anyone who has a secret to eating healthfully with a big family. I need to admit to being in a serious rut when it comes to food. The budget can be a real killer for enthusiasm, as can picky kids and a picky husband. :)

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Slow Food, Real Food, and More Than You Want to Know About My Ancestors

Hi, my name is Stephanie. I am mom to six children whom I homeschool and parent with my wonderful husband of thirteen years. I have had an enormous interest in nutrition for ten years now, and have been concentrating on traditional foods for seven years. At the urging of a few friends who were interested in what I have to say on nutrition, but are probably loathe to hear me prattle on about it every time we get together (lol), I have started this blog to highlight just nutrition. There are several good blogs out there about traditional food already (nourishinggourmet and ninaplanck to name two), but something that I and many of my friends need is something to concentrate on real food for larger families. We are not comparable to the Duggars whatsoever, but even with just six children I do find making real food for our family to be quite the financial and mental undertaking. I am hoping to glean from others on how they cook healthy food for their larger (and not so large! recipes can be sized up!) families without breaking the bank.

My background is this:
It all starts with my grandmother. She was Austrian and owned it. Everything about her was traditional--her dress, her home, her food. She and her cousins and brothers and sisters grew up around a farm on a hill in a small tourist town in Austria. She drank raw milk, fresh butter and bread, meat from the barn's own animals, and foraged for blueberries in the clear, crisp mountain air. Idyllic? Yes, but true. As a child on Alpine hikes I would watch my grandfather lower my grandmother down a steep hill (like a proper woman raised in the 40s, she was always wearing heels) to pick what I thought were weeds. Those weeds would end up in our salads that night, along with my grandma's own lettuce from her garden. What was so normal to me back then I now see as so extraordinary--I was watching traditional-foodism at it's best. My grandmother was doing what she had always done and what generations of Austrians had done before her: eat straight from the land. Every culture since God created this earth has the same story. What a gift I have in those memories! And what a gift I have in my own upbringing, even though it was less than traditional.

Some of my earliest memories are of being in a health food store in Manhattan, Kansas. That place smelled so good! My mom had a real longing for real food and took me on her quest to find it. She told me to never eat margarine or shortening. This was in the mid-1980s when they were both considered better choices than butter (butter is still so maligned! But people seem to be waking up to the evils of margarine). No one back then had ever heard of trans fats, or bothered to find out what "partially hydrogenated" anything was, but even though my mom did not know why avoiding fake food was important, she was so wise to warn me against it. My mom was also probably the only woman in Oklahoma at the time to buy natural peanut butter. I laugh as I write this because no one at school wanted to trade lunches with me because of my weird peanut butter. My mom fed us a variety of foods, and I was never picky, and very rarely sick, a fact that holds true to this day. When we visited my grandparents in Austria I got to partake of raw milk and yellow, cheesy butter and run through the daisy fields barefooted.

As utopian as all this sounds, I do not live in a bubble. I now have six children, three of whom are picky. We sometimes eat sugar. We live in America in the 21st century and American culture, as freedom sustaining and wonderful as it is, is NOT supporting to traditional foods. Sometimes the lure of a meal in a box is quite attractive to busy moms, especially moms with many children. I wanted to use the word "traditional" in the blog title here, but could not do it with a good conscience. We do not always eat traditionally. But I always strive for real food. To me, real food is un-factoried, unadulterated, unprocessed, unboxed, nutrient dense food that does not make one buzzed or sleepy. It does not contain unprounceable ingredients and provides steady energy all day.

Next time I will post the rules for food at our house, would love to hear yours, and will post a cute picture of my beautiful 80 year old relatives from Austria.