This blog is a place to share my passion for cooking and inspire people to cook more from scratch. With six people in the family, cooking is something that is always on my mind. I want to share some of my favorite foods and recipes and share more about traditional diets (like the kind of food our great, great, great grandmothers would have made). Right now I am fascinated with fermented vegetables, coconuts, seafood with a cerviche twist and organ meats... although maybe not all in the same meal!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

When Grok indulges

Brownie with whipped cream
   I'm not sure the photo does this yummy treat justice, but I made the Walnut Meal Brownies from Mark Sisson and Jennifer Meier's Primal Blueprint Cookbook and they were a big hit with the family for a dessert treat.
   Sisson's recipe calls for 1 3/4 cup walnut meal (I just put properly soaked and roasted walnuts in the food processor and made a meal from that), 3/4 cup Dutch process cocoa, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1 1/2 tsp baking soda and 1/2 tsp salt, 2 large eggs, 1 cup coconut milk, 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup, 2 tsp vanilla extract and 1/3 cup melted virgin coconut oil and any additional walnuts for topping.  He has you mixing all the dry ingredients together and then mixing the eggs, coconut milk, maple syrup or honey and then adding the melted coconut oil and mixing wet and dry ingredients together.  You pour into a greased pan and bake at 350 degrees until done which is about 35 or 40 minutes. 
  After making them and adding the whipped cream because I thought it would taste better that way (and they did :), I have a few tweaks that I will make for the next time.  I personally don't like the taste of the baking soda and powder in the brownie mix and so I would be willing to make it more like a brownie pudding and serve it in a bowl to get rid of the baking powder and soda.  Then you've got a wonderful chocolate, gooey treat that has really just the coconut milk and oil, nuts, eggs, maple syrup and a few other items.  I might even try cutting down the maple syrup a bit... I am not a fan of baking with honey as raw honey is such a special food I don't like to heat it.  But even if the brownies don't pop out of the pan picture perfect, they are great in a bowl with the whipped cream on top!  While I admit cave man probably never ate quite like this, you are having a treat made from real food and is a treat with some redeeming value.  Cave man never had it so good!   
Note:  My children saw this post and I thought I should mention that they say they loved the brownies with the original recipe and that they don't want to eat "brownie puddin".... so take that under advisement.  I myself plan to try it next time with at least less baking soda/powder to see what happens.  Let me know your results if you go "off recipe" and experiment like me!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Rock like Grok

Backwards writing...modern man take notice!
   Let me just say I love my "food friends!"  They are always telling me something fascinating.  Recently, food friend Nancy told me about the book The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson.  Sisson writes about the primal man calling him Grok, and compares him to modern man, Korg (Grok spelled backwards).  He uses the comparison between the two to show how far modern man has drifted from the ways of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. 
  While most of his message of eating more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors was not much of a surprise to me, he has an engaging way of telling the story that I think will reach many people.  He's a fan of pasture-raised healthy meat, healthy fats, vegetables and other nuts and berries that our ancestors would have foraged.  We all know cave man was not sitting around eating chips and pizza so on some level I think we can all agree that there is value in looking at how man nourished himself before the advent of industrial food.
  The message that resonated the most to me was his insight about exercise.  As I slowly and steadily work on New Year's resolution number one to tone up more and lose some of the excess Donna, Sisson has some important messages to heed.  Cave man did not run marathon after marathon nor did he spend hours and hours a day "working out."  He spent a lot of time walking as he hunted his prey.  Every now and then he had to run for his life when he became the hunted.  And sometimes he had to lift heavy things.  So he's inspired me to lift some weights, which is not something that I've really done a lot in my life.  I found a "body pump" class at my local gym that has an hour of lifting weights set to music.  While I think Sisson would say maybe an hour is too much, I like that someone else is telling me what to do and so the time moves very fast for me.  If I tried to do this on my own, I wouldn't try as hard.  I am also trying to sprint a little every now and then.  Yesterday I found myself in downtown Raleigh for a chess tournament for my kids and I decided to take a half hour to go for a jog outside.  I may have been a sight to see on the Fayetteville Mall, but this middle-aged momma was running bursts of big sprints in between my nice leisurely jogging pace.  I think several of the street vendors found it to be an amusing side show.  Sisson also talks about other very important keys to health that I think we often overlook such as something as simple as getting enough sleep.  We don't do our bodies any favors when we work out when we are tired and steal exercise from getting a full night's sleep.  If I have any early workouts, I make sure I am in bed early enough to still get 8 or more hours of sleep.  Our bodies cannot repair and heal if we deprive ourselves of basic rest.  He also talks about staying at 100 carbs/day or less if you want to lose weight and that up to 150 carbs/day will give you good weight maintenance.  Anything over 150 carbs/day is a recipe for weight gain and an express path to poor health.  And he also talks about the importance of play, which is something we adults sometimes forget to do.  You can follow some of Mark's advice and see some of his delicious recipes at his web site
After you read more about his point of view, maybe you'll want to rock like Grok too!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Nothin' says Lovin' like meatloaf from the heart

   Since Valentine's Day falls on a Monday this year, it is hard to think about going out to dinner when there are after school clubs, basketball practice and homework to juggle as well. My husband asked if I wanted to go out to dinner, but honestly I'd rather avoid the crowds and just have a nice family meal together at home.  My husband is a man of ritual and routine and he likes meatloaf once a week so I decided to make it "meatloaf Monday" since I have a thing for alliteration.
  While my husband likes rules and routine, I tend to be more of a creative spirit.  One of the ways I express this is by always making up new recipes.  In my mind, meatloaf needs meat, an egg for a binder, salt/pepper, and some diced vegetables mixed in.  The exact amounts and type of meat varies from week to week as do the vegetable mix ins.  Truth be told, I doubt I have ever made the same exact meatloaf twice.  I think it makes life a little more exciting... sometimes you hit a big winner and sometimes you fall a little flat but at least you can't say that it is boring.  The other thing I like to do with my meatloaf is sneak in various organ meats as this adds a great deal of nutrition to the final meal.  Sometimes I add a small bit of ground liver to the meatloaf mixture. I find that if I keep the amount of liver to under 1/5 or 1/6 of the total meat content, it will fly under the radar undetected and still be tolerated by the masses without revolt during dinner.  While some think organ meats are unsavory or full of cholesterol or toxic substances, it is interesting to note that people have eaten organ meats throughout the ages.  They are an excellent source of vitamins A and D as well as essential fatty acids and minerals. It is important to purchase only organs from grass-fed animals so you can avoid the toxic waste found in organs of unhealthy animals.  If you are healthy yourself, your own liver should also be able to eject any residual toxins leftover from our polluted world.  It is good to make friends with the local farmers in your community so that you can have access to pasture-raised healthy livestock.
A thawed chunk of beef heart
  Since it is Valentine's Day, I thought what better organ meat to add in but HEART itself.  My friend Claire taught me a great trick about how to fit a little heart into ground meat.  When you buy the big 'ol honkin' heart from a farmer (trust me it is a massive thing to see a beef heart all in one piece), you can thaw just enough to be able to cut the heart into several smaller chunks of about 1/2 pound each.  I then keep each of these smaller heart parts in baggies in the freezer and when I need a little heart, I just take out one of the baggies and let it thaw while I make the rest of the meatloaf. One extra bonus of using heart instead of liver is that it does not have a strong taste so it is virtually undetectable in small amounts when mixed into a larger amount of ground meat.
Meatloaf right before entering the oven
  So tonight's meatloaf has about 6 - 8 oz of ground beef heart, 1 1/2 lbs of grass fed ground beef, 1 lb of ground turkey and 1 lb of ground pork sausage.  I seasoned with salt/pepper and added some vodka tomato sauce, sauteed turnips, kale, carrots, basil and garlic with dashes of paprika and tumeric and added an egg to bind everything together.  I greased my heart-shaped pan with coconut oil and put the mixture in the oven to bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.  The tomato sauce gave the meatloaf a nice valentine's red hue.  It warms my heart to know we can sit down for a healthy meal and enjoy family time together.  Happy Valentine's Day to all!  

Friday, February 11, 2011

Salt of the Earth

Shining a light on... Sea Salt and Cabbage
It's been on my mind all week.  Ever since last Sunday when I was in church and the priest was talking about last week's reading in Matthew (chapter 5, verse 13-16) about our being asked to be "salt of the earth" and "light of the world."  The fact that this reading would send me to sauerkraut thoughts shows how far my fermentation fascination has taken hold!  To me this was a clarion call to get busy on New Year's Resolution #5.... to make kraut more often!
     To me, the connection between this reading and kraut is that we are being asked to reach out to bring God's goodness to others.  Sauerkraut, a healing food that has been around through the ages, can bring digestive ease yet few of us in the modern era know much about how to make it anymore.  In Kevin Brown's book The Liberation Diet, he mentions enzyme enhancement, elimination of anti-nutrients, reduced carbohydrate content and synthesis of important nutrients as additional benefits of fermented foods.  It is a wonder how something as mundane and pedestrian as cabbage can be elevated, through the magic of salt, pulsing hands and time into a life force that gains power and strength with each passing day.  While some may see a stinky jar of vegetables past their prime, I see vibrancy, rejuvenation and vitality.  In the days before refrigeration, sailors would take large barrels of sauerkraut with them on their voyages because the high concentrations of vitamin C, lactobacilli and other nutrients prevented them from getting scurvy during their long journeys.  
  And I don't just love the kraut.  I find the process of making it to be therapeutic.  I love the visceral feeling of the cabbage in my hands as I feel the salt and vegetables and pound them into submission. I also like the fact that it is a bit out of the mainstream and gives conventional wisdom a twist.  In the days of flu season when the masses are sanitizing everything in sight and yet still getting sick, it catches my attention that this kraut thing is all about letting bacteria run rampant.  The trick is that we are harnessing the power of good bacteria.  There's a lesson in there for those willing to ponder such things.  We need to find a way to live in harmony with the bacteria in our world as we cannot clorox our way out of every bad situation.   
    There are many sources out there that can teach you better than I about how to make the kraut itself.  There is a book by Sandor Katz called Wild Fermentation that has great information about fermenting all kinds of things.  Also a good place to buy fermented foods is Zukay's fermented vegetables if you are still a bit squeamish about trying this at home.  My aim today is to inspire you to WANT to actually give this a try.  It really is not as difficult as it sounds.  If you are willing to be brave and give this a try, I have a simple recipe to get you started with just a mason jar.  Sally Fallon's Ginger Carrots recipe is a good place to start.  Simply grate 4 cups of carrots in a food processor and add a tablespoon of grated fresh ginger and a tablespoon of sea salt (Fallon's recipe calls for two tbs but I found this way too salty).  Either use your (very clean) hands (make sure to take off any metal rings) or use a wooden pounder or meat hammer to pound this mixture to watery submission.  Be patient as this is hard work and takes some time.  You can also use some plastic gloves if you feel called to do so.  You can also add 4 tablespoons of whey (which is the clear dripping that comes from yogurt).  If you don't want to add the whey, you can add a tablespoon more of salt but you may find the mixture to be too salty.  You'll have to experiment a bit to find the right balance of salt but you do need enough salt to make sure you get a good fermentation.  The whey helps make sure you get the good bacteria off to a jump start.  You can also buy starter cultures from places like Common Culture.  Once you have all the ingredients in the mason jar (which should be very clean) you have to push it down, down, down to cram it in there.  Then you have to make sure you have enough liquid (which should just appear after pounding down the veggies) to cover ALL the veggies in the jar.  If you have a smaller jar or rock or something to keep the veggies submerged, that is good.  Make sure you have about an inch on the top clear and then put the lid on.  You leave this at room temperature for about 3 - 5 days and then transfer to cold storage.  I find this process works well but if you see slimy, moldy stuff.... use your common sense and don't eat it.  Now you are going to get a stinky smell... which I actually like... but some people may not.  This process is actually much safer than canning as you have the good bacteria working with you.  But again, as a disclaimer, I say that you may have to do some further research to gain skills in this area and I take no responsibility if your batch goes awry.  Life is full of risks and each person has to assume their own.  But for those willing to take a ride on the wild side, there is great reward.  Life is more fun when you take a walk on the wild side!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chicken Stock for a world in need of healing

Chicken Stock as it is starting to come up to boil
We had a roasted chicken tonight for dinner which means it is time to make stock.  Bar none I think making stock on a regular basis is the most important healthy transition you can make in moving to eating real food.  From this real stock you will have the foundation to make life-giving soups and stews.  But no wonder so few do it; our cookbooks and our world tell us that we always have to find the "easiest" way.  And of course it is easier to just buy canned stock or bouillon cubes.  But in the swoop of convenience we also lose the major nutrients of real stock.  I was looking at some of my cookbooks as I write this and was shocked to see that my copy of The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook published by Hearst Corp. in 1989 actually has this to say about stock:  "Cans and cubes have virtually done away with the need for regular stock making in today's kitchen, and it would be hard to go back to the days when a stock pot bubbled permanently on the stove." Thanks to Sally Fallon and her landmark book Nourishing Traditions, I know we have to go back to our stove tops if we want to reclaim healthy food for our families.

It is not as hard as Good Housekeeping makes it sound.  And shame on them for setting the bar so low; I thought they were supposed to be helping women improve hearth and home.  There are several tweaks you can add or subtract but I generally follow Sally Fallon's recipe for chicken stock.  I take the carcass from a roasted chicken and add cold filtered water to fill up the pot.  If you want you can also use a whole or cut up raw chicken instead and then you will have lots of meat for chicken soup later.  To the chicken I add 1 onion or onion scraps, 2 carrots or some carrot scraps, and three celery sticks all chopped in large chunks and throw them in the pot.  I also add two generous tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and when I have them I throw in several chicken feet as they add gelatin (lots of nutrients) to the stock and will help your stock jiggle at the end. You let the chicken stand in the cold water for 30 or so minutes and then bring to a boil.  Right before the boil, you have to watch closely to get the scum or foam that rises to the top and then let the full boil happen.  You can let this simmer for hours... and hours...somewhere between 6 and 18 hours or so, and then add a little fresh parsley at the very end just before you are done.  You strain the stock once it has cooled enough and you can separate the chicken from the bones and put the strained stock in the fridge once it is cool enough.  The next day you can remove the fat layer at the top; however you might want to save it for use in sauteing veggies for another time.  The clear broth will jiggle if you are lucky.  You can save some in the fridge for up to 5 days for drinking warm or making soup.  It is also good to freeze some so you will always have stock at the ready.

A few of you have asked about this broth recipe which is the same thing I made for my friend Michelle Mayer, who died in 2008 after a long battle with scleroderma.  During the last several months of her illness she called me the "soup lady" as I brought her this basic broth and also several soups made from this broth on a regular basis.  While the broth and soup was not enough to save her as much as I wish it could have, it did bring some comfort to some of her last, very difficult days.  From that experience I realized the power of whole healing foods for not just the body but the soul as well.  It was a great honor for me to make soup for my friend and I grew in spirituality just making it for her.  Michelle had a wonderful blog which I still sometimes look at when I miss her and I remembered that she wrote about this soup and what it meant to her in last months here.  You can still read on the web here:  (she also has a great post on roasting a chicken that you can find on her July 26 post).  I can't make this broth and not think of her fondly.  I want to pass along the ability to help us all learn how to make real stock to help heal ourselves and our world.  Michelle, as the stock brews tonight, know that it simmers in memory of you.  The aroma of love wafts in the air and it is like your spirit has swooped down from heaven to help me write these last words tonight.  God Bless you Michelle and peace to all.