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!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Get your Pretty On!

Spicy chicken over squash/veggie medley salsa with Citrus Salad
One of the lessons from culinary school that seems to be swirling around in my head is how you should make food not just good and good for you but also pretty.  The first thing we do is see the food on our plate, and if it is plated in an attractive and pleasing manner you are already at an advantage before you even get to the first bite.

So instead of tonight's same old, same old chicken, I had the idea to get some pretty on instead.  Now I also had a problem to solve which was what to do with all the summer squash sitting on my counter.  Since I'm kind of a low carb gal lately, I was thinking if I chopped up the summer squash in a nice small dice and then added some of my other veggies and made them into a small dice as well, I could make a kind of veggie "non-pasta" pasta that would make a nice base to go under my chicken.  So dice, dice away I went knocking down the zucchini, onions, dandelion greens, squash, garlic, green peppers and probably a few other veggies that I am now forgetting.  I also thought if I diced up some dates that I had that I could put a little sweet into the mix and inspired by one of my cooking instructors, I took it up a notch and put some cumin, cinnamon, paprika, salt/pepper, and tumeric into the mix.  Then I got the idea to pop some coconut milk in which made a nice sauce and then I just let that all simmer while the chicken was cooking in the oven.

For the chicken I put some lime juice over the top, then took those babies up a notch too with the same cumin, paprika, tumeric, salt/pepper, cilantro spice mix.

Finally for the salad I had some fabulous arugula and mixed greens and also chopped up some fresh radishes, peppers and put mandarin oranges on top to keep the citrus theme.  A quick dressing of lime and lemon juice, honey, olive oil, flax seeds, sea salt, pepper and olive oil finished the dish.

Then at the end I just took a few extra minutes to try to make a nice balance on the plate to serve up to my family.  Take that, boring chicken night! 

Also posted at Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday

Monday, September 26, 2011

Super Immunity Hijiki-Shiitake Wraps

The immune boosting ingredients are just popping out to jump start your immune system!

In my cooking class we spent some time this week talking about menu planning for specific health reasons.  I decided to look into immune boosting foods since cold and flu season are right around the corner and I thought this would be something with broad interest.

So off I went to the library to do some research on immune boosting foods and I found some good inspiration in the book Super Immunity Foods.   One of the recipes in the book called attention to the combination of Shiitake mushrooms, which are a good source of an immunity building compound called lentian, and apparently this becomes even more powerful when paired with the sea vegetable Hijiki.  So using these two ingredients as a starting point, I tweaked one of their recipes and started to add even more immune boosting foods to create a wrap so darn healthy that I don't even know where to begin.

Another chart that I found useful in looking for immune boosting foods came from a chart I found on the internet from the World's Healthiest Foods and if you scroll down a bit on this link you'll find a chart that lists some super healthy foods for the immune system along with a mention of what immune boosting compounds they contain.

Donna's Super Immunity Hijiki-Shiitake Wraps

1/4 cup dried Hijiki  (a type of seaweed)
6 - 8 oz Shiitake mushrooms
2 tbs coconut oil
2 carrots diced small
1 squash diced small
1 onion diced
3 cloves garlic diced finely
1 Tbs grated ginger
1 cup diced Tempeh (a fermented soybean) * (If you prefer, you could use diced chicken or fish instead)
1/4 cup Tamari sauce
Homemade Sauerkraut if available (optional but worth it!)
Sea Salt/Pepper to taste
Lacinto Kale (several big leaves)

Soak Hijiki in cold water for ten minutes to hydrate and soak Shiitake mushrooms in warm water also for 10 minutes.  Rinse Hijiki and discard water.  Put coconut oil in hot saute' pan and then add onions, carrots, squash and then garlic and ginger.  When nice and soft then add the Tempeh, mushrooms and hijiki and Tamari sauce and also salt/pepper to taste.  

In a pot of boiling water quickly blanch large Kale leaves and then put in an ice bath to stop the cooking process.  Place the wrap on a plate and then add a dollop of homemade sauerkraut and then put a larger amount of the Hijiki-Shiitake mushroom mix on the wrap as well and then roll up the kale to make a wrap.

Here's a photo of just the Hijiki-Shiitake mix:

This is so tasty and full of immune boosters!  The Kale has Vitamin A, E and K to enhance the function of white blood cells, increase the responses to antigens and provide antiviral protection.  The homemade sauerkraut if you have it is a great source of probiotics that will boost immunity and has so many phytonutrients that you get from all the colors used in making the kraut.  Onions and garlic contain sulfur and flavenoid phytonutrients to provide antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties and the Shitake mushrooms contain lentian to strengthen the immune system.  According to fats expert Dr. Mary Enig, "coconut oil has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties of the medium chain fatty acids/triglycerides (MCTs) found in coconut oil and have been known to researchers since the 1960s."  Ginger is beneficial for the digestive tract and has anti inflammatory properties.  Tamari, which is a fermented soy sauce, is a good source of Vitamin B3 and B2 as well as minerals such as iron, phosphorous and manganese and also has free amino acids.  Tempeh, which is fermented soy and in my opinion healthy only because the fermentation process, is a source of Vitamin B12 and also B2, B3, and B6.  Unfermented soy products such as Tofu can be dangerous when eaten in large amounts.  I don't want to get off topic here, but for the dangers of unfermented soy I recommend The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla Daniel.

Now the best news about all of this is that my youngest daughter actually ATE this mixture tonight for her dinner!  I felt like Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams... if you build it, they will come!  You have to just keep on letting your kids try these new combinations of foods and when you least expect it, your child will eat some of this stuff!  I honestly did not think my daughter would eat mushrooms or Tempeh or any of this stuff but she DID and SHE ENJOYED IT!  So never give up on trying to introduce these kinds of foods to your kids.  Her little body got such an immune boost and that in turn, gives me a giant smile and probably an immune boost myself!

Also posted at

And Kelly the Kitchen Kop's Real Food Wednesday

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Change your mood, change your kraut!

A light and clean kraut!
I'm feeling light and clean right now and so when it was time to make my latest batch of kraut, I knew I wanted to keep it all green and light this time.  A lot of times I like to add beets or red cabbage and you end up with a red looking kraut, but not this time!

Today I stuck with organic green cabbages, organic granny smith apples, organic onions, organic and biodynamic garlic, organic ginger root, organic dill spices and Celtic salt to make a light, lean kraut.

It never ceases to amaze me how many options there are in kraut making land.  There is never a need to make the exact same kraut twice and really with the differences in temperatures at different times of the year, the fermentation process is always going to be a little different each time.  Somehow the notion, however, that you can change your kraut to suit your mood, almost like making a fashion statement of deciding which scarf or accessory to wear each day is one of endless amusement for me.  Feeling like you need to bulk up?  then make a heavy kraut with beets and richer spices... feeling spicy?  then add extra peppers! 

Perhaps because I have recently been learning about the wisdom of some Ayurvedic principles of understanding that there is a time and place for different foods depending on how your feeling, that using your mood to help you decide what to ferment is an intriguing notion.

Making a tasty and pleasing kraut is as much of an artistic undertaking as painting the perfect picture or penning a powerful poem.  There is an endless palate of flavor, texture, color and olfactory choices.   I'd like to live in a world where people make fashion statements by the kind of kraut they create... perhaps if I plant the seed in your mind you will join me in the quest for the perfect kraut to suit your mood!  Let me know what you decide to make.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Apples Elevated to High Art

Our Baked Apple with Molasses Cookie
In my Natural Healthy Chef Cooking classes, I've been getting all kinds of great ideas about how to take ordinary foods and elevate them to a new level.  This baked apple dessert that we prepared for last week's Farm to Table Dinner is a great example!

We started with Granny Smith apples and cut them in half, cored out the seeds with a melon ball tool and used a paring knife to trim the edges.  We then put a pat of butter in the middle of each apple, added some nut based strudel (which really could be a mix of anything you like), added some cinnamon, maple syrup and  just let them bake in the oven.  After about 40 minutes, the apples just melt in your mouth and the toppings mix together to make a fabulous sauce.  

When you carefully plate the apple and add a molasses cookie, you've created a work of art!  A little whipped cream wouldn't hurt if you have some handy too.

You could even start this just before you start to serve dinner and chances are good that you'll have an impressive fall dessert that will wow your dinner companions.  It could work on a weekday or be elevated to even higher levels if you plan it with a fancy dinner as well.  If you stick to nuts and the maple syrup for the topping, you can have a gluten free dessert if you ditch the cookie or make a gluten free cookie instead.  Switching the butter to coconut oil will make it a vegan dessert if you are looking for that option.  

Go ahead and play with all the options as you find the perfect masterpiece to end your fall dinners!

Also posted at Kelly the Kitchen Kop

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Homemade Biscuits with Sausage, Egg and Cheese

Hot out of the oven biscuits!
I keep trying to dance the dance of making "good for you" food that my kids WILL EAT!  It doesn't help to make a fabulously healthy meal but then not have my kids eat it....

So while I'm not a huge fan of the  carbs in homemade biscuits for myself, I am happy to treat them every now and then!  And if you can use this as a delivery system to get in pasture raised eggs, cheddar cheese and sausage from healthy animals, you are starting your day with some good protein.  This made from scratch biscuit actually does have some pretty good things in it and I have a way to make the biscuit that makes it even healthier for you when you soak your flour in buttermilk overnight.

I got my inspiration for this recipe from this month's Bon Appetit' (September 2011) magazine where chef John Currance, owner of Big Bad Breakfast in Oxford, MS shared his biscuit recipe.  I've never been there but it sounds like my kind of place to eat!  I see that the chef spent some time in Chapel Hill working at Bill Neal's Crooks Corner so he comes from cooking royalty as far as this town is concerned.  I'd put Big Bad Breakfast on my list of places to visit should I find myself in Oxford, Mississippi!  

For my adaptation, I used coconut oil instead of vegetable oil because vegetable oil has too many Omega 6 essential fatty acids in a world where we already have too many of them.  I say just nix the vegetable oil out of all your recipes and use coconut oil instead.  He also says you can use lard, and that is fine with me-- I like animal fats if they are from healthy animals but I didn't have any lard handy and I also am a big coconut oil fan so I used that.  I changed the sugar to coconut crystals because they have a lower glycemic index and actually still have some trace nutrients so for a sweetener it is one of the better choices.  I also reduced the amount of baking powder and soda and am going to give you an adaptation that shows you how to soak the grains first as that helps to make the grains more digestible.  I didn't do that for this time just because I didn't think of it the night before but I will show you both ways so you'll have the information should you decide to try it!  

Donna's a little "better for you" Biscuits!

6 Tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 coconut oil or lard
4 cups all purpose flour (non bleached)
2 Tbsp Coconut Crystals
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 Tbsp baking soda
1 tsp Celtic sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper (or to your taste)
1 3/4 cups buttermilk

If you were soaking the grains, you would mix the flour with room temp buttermilk and set out on the counter overnight covered with wrap.  In the morning you would just add the rest of the ingredients in the food processor and proceed as the recipe states here.  I know the concept of soaking grains seems so foreign to most of us that you never see it in a recipe but soaking grains overnight in an acidic medium helps to break the grains down and makes more of the nutrients available for your body to digest so it is something to consider doing, especially if you have a hard time digesting grains.

Otherwise, you start by turning oven to 400 degrees F to preheat.  Then blend flour and butter, coconut oil, coconut crystals, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper in food processor.  Pulse until you get a course meal.  If you have not soaked, here is where you add the buttermilk as in the photo below:

Adding buttermilk

Then you fluff with a fork and knead lightly to have a doughy mixture which will be about 3 turns of the mix.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and pat dough out to about 1 inch thick and fold over repeating process about five times.  Then roll out the dough and cut biscuits as you will see here:

Getting kids to help makes them more likely to eat it later!

Then put the biscuits on a cookie sheet greased either with coconut oil or on parchment paper and put in the oven for 12 - 15 minutes.  You'll be rewarded with "heaven in a bun" as my daughter said!  And then put some nice butter inside with eggs, cheese and sausage and you've got a filling breakfast that will hold your kids full all morning!

So then on the next day if you have the biscuits already made, you can put the biscuits in the oven on warm and put cheese and precooked bacon and eggs inside and you will have these fabulous biscuits ready whatever time your kids need to have breakfast!  I am usually up about an hour before they come down for breakfast so I just have them all ready to take out of the oven warm and serve to whichever child is ready to head out the door!

Also posted at Kelly the Kitchen Kop