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!

Monday, January 31, 2011

My favorite breakfast

Warm greens, onions, mushrooms and grapefruit
Before I move on to a new food topic, I want to share one of my favorite breakfasts with you.  I heated some onions and garlic in virgin coconut oil and then added mushrooms, chopped spinach and kale.  At the table I added sliced fresh grapefruit.  To be an "ideal" breakfast, I should have added a little protein.  I could have easily added some canned oysters or salmon or even grated some cheese on top but I think I was just too much in a hurry to eat it.  After all, I was breaking the fast having not eaten since dinner the night before.  I think I may have had a small piece of cheese on the side as I ate the meal.  My point, simply, is that there is much room for creativity in breakfast and that these non-cereal breakfasts don't have to take a long time to prepare.  I whipped this up in about 10 minutes.  Now technically, yes, it would be quicker to just pour the flakes into a bowl, but then you are squelching your inner artist as you are spoon-fed some company's plan for your breakfast.  Is that really what you waited twelve hours for?  Go play in the kitchen and let me know what you created!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gettin' it down before you go out.

Strawberry blueberry banana smoothie...to go!

I don’t know about your house, but for us the elementary school bus shows up too darn early! Most days the bus is out there by 7:03 am (don’t get me started how annoying this is since the posted route time says 7:08 am). My fourth grader usually gets up at 6:40 am so you can see there is not much time to make sure he eats something to keep him going all morning before he heads out the door.
    How does mom the magician do it? One of my favorite quickie breakfasts is some variation of this simple smoothie. I can whip it up and serve it in less than 3 minutes. I start with a banana and then add whatever frozen fruit we have on hand, usually blueberries and strawberries. Sometimes we use frozen mangoes or peaches instead.  I add a cup of yogurt or kefir, which is a fermented milk drink somewhat similar to yogurt but just not as firm as yogurt. We go for full fat, which I realize sounds like heresy to some. You can put in whatever type of yogurt you like. If you are open to a contrarian perspective on the fat debate, check out Sally Fallon’s Eat Fat Lose Fat ( http://www.eatfatlosefat.com/ ) or even the New Atkins diet, ( http://www.atkins.com/atkinsbook.aspx ). I put in a light drizzle of raw honey and then I melt a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil (yes, more glorious fat!) and put all that in the food processor and sometimes add a little milk if I need to thin things out a bit. Even if just 4 -6 ounces go down, at least they’re filled with protein, some healthy fat and fruit.  All real food ingredients that will put a pep in your step as you board the school bus or however you start your day.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Got a Minute? Get a Pancake.

    My friend Claire, a wonderful cook and a tremendous food mentor to me over the past few years, first told me about this simple “pancake” recipe that she heard about through GAPS http://www.gapsdiet.com/   Even if one is not fully doing the GAPS diet, there are some wonderful recipes from this site that give your stomach a break from the hard work of digesting grains.
    What I love about this recipe is that my five year old says she hates eggs....but yet she loves these pancakes!  Some day when she’s older she may be mad at me for sneaking eggs into her diet, but since eggs pack such a nutritional punch I just can’t resist!  I think she just doesn’t like the texture of eggs, but this pancake recipe changes the texture to something completely different.  You take a banana and a dash of cinnamon and two eggs, push the “on” button of the food processor, and wha-la... pancake batter.  You then just pour onto a griddle greased with your oil of choice.  I like butter or virgin coconut oil.  And there’s your pancake.  The first pancake is sometimes harder to get off the griddle so I make that pancake small to give the griddle time to get its groove on.  This recipe usually makes about 4 pancakes which is enough for two kids in my house.  We serve it with a little butter and either real maple syrup or raw honey on top.  You can also eat these cold later in the day rolled up with anything you like... we like cream cheese or peanut butter.    And so here’s a twist on eggs and banana for breakfast!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rethinking the Breakfast of Champions

 Why do we Americans eat cereal for breakfast?  Have you ever thought about the millions of dollars advertisers spend to enter your subliminal mind and maybe that’s why you think a “healthy breakfast” must include cereal, milk, juice and toast?  Did you know that breakfast cereal is one of the most heavily advertised products on the planet?  According to the website Cereal F.A.C.T.S. (http://www.cerealfacts.org/cereal_facts_in_brief.aspx), cereal companies spend more than $156 millon each year just targeting children and that cereals marketed to children are the least healthy of all.  I would not be surprised if the marketing expenses outweigh the costs of the cereal product itself.
    Are you feeling like a rebel?  How about NOT doing as you were told...step outside of the (cereal) box and think of something else to eat for breakfast.  There are so many wonderful foods that deliver greater nutritional punch than cereal.  Yes, the box might tell you that you are getting a full day of (synthetic) vitamins, but the process of taking grains and heating them to very high temperatures and then molding them into little flakes or circles is not a natural process.  When was the last time you went to a farm and saw Fruit Loops popping up from the ground?
    So I challenge you to another small step forward in breaking free from the industrial food model.  How about laying off the cereal for a week and seeing what other things you can eat for breakfast.  And that brings me back to soup.  If the thought of soup for breakfast makes you go, “eeeww,” then that only serves to show you how powerful the forces of advertising are in that they have created our cultural norms.  There is absolutely no reason not to have soup for breakfast.  If you make the soup yourself from homemade broth, this simple meal will give you real vitamins and minerals, protein and a little fat that will hold you through the morning and let you be able to do champion-level work! 
    I don’t want to leave you alone on your journey so I will list some other ideas beyond soup to get you started and will post several “outside the box” breakfast recipes this coming week to inspire you.  Another simple breakfast would be to take a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil and saute’ some onions, a little garlic, sea salt, pepper and then put in something green like spinach, chard or kale and then eat once the kale has softened.  You could drink some plain warm beef or chicken broth (see Bag ‘o Bones Jan 6th post for directions) for a different breakfast.  Later this week I’ll tell you how to make pancakes from just eggs and bananas and share some of my favorite smoothie recipes with you.  So forget what you’ve heard on TV, break free from the crowd and try something NEW for breakfast!  

Monday, January 17, 2011

Go Green

Raw Greens
Hit the Pan


And there's Lunch
  I’ve been thinking I need to eat more greens and don’t think I’ve been hitting my two servings per day so I hope today will help.  I’m a big fan of making the best of what I find in the fridge and going from there.  So today I found I had some onions (not in photo as they were already in the saute’ pan), swiss chard, baby spinach, turnips, garlic, shallots, celery and parsley calling out from the crisper... “pick me!”  I took about a tablespoon of Tropical Traditions virgin coconut oil and started to saute’ the thinly sliced onions and then added the chopped shallots and garlic.  After that the diced turnips and celery jumped in and finally after a light salt and pepper shower I added the thinly sliced chard and spinach just long enough to turn a bright green.  The parsley was last to pop in.  As I spooned out the mixture onto my serving plate, I thought a dollop of my homemade sauerkraut, some diced avocado, a handful of Tropical Traditions coconut flakes and a few smoked oysters would make a nice lunch!  So that’s what I had.
    Funny that the kids are all out at camps today except for Bridget who is perhaps on the way to getting a little something as she was napping (unusual to all who know her), so I had my feast alone.  I keep working on my kids but at the moment I don’t think they’d actually eat this.  But  I still keep trying to set the example and hope they’ll one day join me.  To me it was a delicious lunch!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

History in my Hands

Menu (50's or early 60's) from NYC's Luchow's
Here’s a shout out to my friend Boykin who says she wants to see what I am going to do with organ meats.  Well, before we go forward, it is always good to learn from the past.  I am fascinated by all the wonderful books my in-laws have in their home and usually read several  when I visit.  A few years ago, a cookbook about a famous German restaurant in New York City called Luchow’s caught my eye.  As I read the book written by Jan Mitchell, who bought the famous Luchow’s restaurant in the 1950’s, I was taken back in time.     
    It appears that the menu hardly changed in all 100 years of operation so the items on this menu from the 50‘s or 60‘s were the same dishes that people like Andrew Carnegie,  J.P. Morgan, Helen Hayes, Cole Porter and John Barrymore ate when they visited the restaurant.  (Mitchell’s book says all these people ate here often)  In addition to some of the specialties in the photo, I saw things like Chopped Chicken Livers ($1.00) and Sliced Tenderloin of Beef and Kidneys ($4.75).  The cookbook even has a recipe for Pickled Beef Head Salad where fresh boned beef heads and veal knuckles marinate in water, salt and saltpeter for one week on their way to being prepared.  If these fine folks considered this to be THE place for great German food, why do current generations shudder at the thought of any organ meats?  It seems to me another example of how we’ve lost our way on our quest to make everything faster, better and “new.”  Can you imagine any restaurant today taking a week to prepare anything before it was served?  I don’t know if these people took the time to think about it, but by regularly eating organ meats past populations were getting a steady supply of nutrients that people nowadays often get from a synthetic vitamin... things like vitamin D, vitamin C, riboflavin, thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin B12, pantothenic acid, phosphorus and selenium, vitamin A, iron, zinc, copper and manganese.  Care, of course, must be taken to eat only the organs of healthy animals that were raised on pasture as nature intended.
    But let’s take baby steps.  I doubt I’ve got anyone who will be hitting me up for the calves’ brain recipe but the LEBER KLOSSE MIT SAUERKRAUT (Liver Dumplings and Sauerkraut) looks like something of interest.  Ingredients include 1 lb beef, 1 lb pork loin, 1/2 pound veal, 1/2 lb pork or calves’ liver, 2 tbs chopped shallots, 2 cloves garlic chopped, 2 eggs beaten, 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, Boiling water, 3 lbs heated sauerkraut, 6 onions sliced thin, fried in, and 2 tbs butter.
    Grind the beef, pork, veal and liver together twice.  Combine the shallots, garlic, eggs and seasonings.  Stir until mixture is well blended.  Form into small balls.  Cook in salted boiling water 10 minutes.  (water must be boiling rapidly, add 1 tsp salt to each quart of water).  Lift liver balls out on a slotted spoon.  Serve on hot sauerkraut garnished with fried onions. Serves 6 or more.  Enjoy!   

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Resolutions in Action

   The ice hit last night and around 4:00 this afternoon we got the “call” from the school district saying that the roads were still too icy so we’ll be home again on Wednesday...arghhh!  We’ve been cooped up since Monday afternoon and in addition to my regular kitchen time I have also been putting in extra kettle duty to make fresh chicken stock to get my oldest son back to health.  So knowing I’ve got another day of trying to make sure all four kids are making at least somewhat productive choices, I knew I could use an energy boost to be ready for all the action.
    I took advantage of the late afternoon warming to get over to the  gym.  It is amazing how refreshed and energized a person can feel after 60 minutes of music and spinning class!  When I went to my first spinning class this summer while on vacation in Colorado, I felt like I’d been hit by a tornado afterwards (the altitude probably didn’t help either).  In any case, tonight I cycled with ease and to me a small sign of progress in my fitness.
    It may seem odd to include the occasional fitness update with a food blog, but not if you consider the goal to be overall health.  I’ve come to realize that you need to do both in order to be “fit.”  You need the good food to have the internal fuel to push your body in exercise and you need the exercise to get the energy to take on making good food.  So get moving and then go make some magic in the kitchen.
   

Monday, January 10, 2011

Empty crisper...we've just about got Borscht!

A hearty soup for a cold day
They say we’ll be getting snow tonight and I wanted to be ready with a hearty soup.  And I’ve got that beef broth from a few days ago that needs a permanent home.  So what’s a gal to do but empty the fridge crisper and see what we can do to make some soup.
    I almost always start my soup recipes by sauteing my mirepoix base (the classic combo of chopped up onion, celery and carrots) in an oil base, usually butter but today I was in a coconut mood so I used virgin coconut oil from Tropical Traditions.  Once the veggies are translucent I’m ready to see what else I can add.  Turns out I had some mushrooms, beets, garlic cloves, tomatoes and parsley plus a few collard greens and I got to thinking this could be pretty close to a Borscht soup.  I didn’t have any potatoes or cabbage but luckily I did have some homemade sauerkraut that I knew would be good to add at the end since cabbage is such an important part of Borscht.  So I added my vegetables and when they had softened nicely I took out my liquid gold (aka homemade stock) and just added it to the mix.  I had some red wine on hand so I put a bit of that in too.  Right before the boil point I skimmed off any foam rising to the top and then just let everything simmer together so the flavors could get acquainted with each other.  The beauty of having great stock on hand is that you are never more than a half an hour from fabulous soup.
    After the simmering and adding of seasonings (salt and pepper), I was able to blend everything together before adding a dollop of creme fraiche, some parsley and the sauerkraut to make a pretty close approximation to Borscht.  Now instead of looking at a medley of veggies in my crisper, I’ve got a half gallon and then some of fabulous soup just ready to go as the family curls up with blankets and waits for winter to bring its best.
   

Oyster Madness!

Friday Night Oyster Bar Happy Hour at Squid's
I made good on one of my New Year’s resolutions already and took a pit stop over to Squid’s for Oyster Bar Happy Hour this past Friday night.  Nestled between a few afternoon errands, I was able to come in stealth-like, down my Oysters and be done in less than 20 minutes.  A dozen Oysters for $6.95, what a deal!
    A friend of mine from Louisiana says that if you want to eat raw Oysters, the best months are the ones that end in “r”, probably because those are the colder months and there is higher risk of bacterial contamination if the Oysters were in waters with a temperature higher than 86 degrees F.  I figure January is very close to December and I’m looking to make this an exciting year so I was up for the risk.  I noticed that the woman next to me had hers lightly steamed so everyone is free to make their own Oyster-fest choices.  I like to get a side of lime, which didn’t make it in the photo, and squeeze a little lime juice on each to make an impromptu Oyster cerviche dish.  If I hadn’t been pressed for time, I would have lingered to let my Oysters marinate in the lime juice a little longer.
    In addition to finding the sliminess of Oysters oddly appealing, I am mostly excited about all the nutritional benefits.  Oysters provide whopper doses of zinc, iron, B12 and phosphorous as well as provide almost 6 grams protein in 6 raw medium Oysters.  For many women it can be hard to keep high enough stores of long term iron (ferritin), and Oysters are a tasty way to get a little iron and mineral boost.  Enjoy!  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Just a Bag 'O Bones...

Roasted Bones

swim to make stock 12 hrs later

Meet Chuck Roast the next day

And finally become beef stew!
   But what those bones can do for you!  For the past two days I have been making homemade beef stock by starting with a bunch of bones from grass fed animals.  I usually buy mine direct from a farmer but this time I went to Whole Foods and bought the bones from Baldwin Family Farms, about an hour up the road near Yanceyville.  I have been making my own stock for several years now...mostly chicken and beef.  I sometimes make fish stock, which is also excellent, just take care to avoid fish with high mercury levels.
    What these bones can do for you is nothing short of amazing.  Properly prepared broth has all kinds of minerals that the body can use such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and trace minerals.  It even contains chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine, so instead of buying pricey supplements, you can just make some broth.  To me, this is what the world needs and has been missing from our lives since the advent of industrial food.  Yes, the food scientists can make a broth that may taste like real, but MSG and all those laboratory food flavors won’t keep your bones strong.  Maybe that’s why kids today break their bones at the slightest bump these days.  For a beautiful treatise on the benefits of broth and further details on how to make it, check out this article from 2000 called “Broth is Beautiful.”  http://www.westonaprice.org/food-features/515-broth-is-beautiful.html
    The short version of making beef broth... my project this week, is to get those big ol’ bones-- some meaty and some marrow bones and as many kinds as you can get and roast the bones for an hour at 350 degrees.  Then put the bones into a stock pot and fill with filtered cold water.  You can add kitchen scraps such as onion shavings, celery and carrots and also add something acidic to draw the minerals out of the bones.  I like to use  Bragg’s Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (it says “with the Mother” on the jar) and put about a 1/4 cup into a full stockpot.  I have seen some people say this is optional or put in about 2 tbs... I don’t know that there is consensus on this so experiment and add how much you want.  I do think it is good to add at least some vinegar or lemon juice.  I let all the ingredients sit in the cold water pot for about 1/2 an hour before putting it on the heat to get to a boil.  Make sure you watch to get the scum that rises to the top just before boiling and scoop that out with a spoon to remove the off flavoring of the scum.  Once you hit the full rolling boil, put it down to simmer and let the simmering go on for 12 hours or even more if you are game.  When I am ready to “harvest,” I follow Sally Fallon’s advice from Nourishing Traditions and add parsley for the last ten minutes to add additional nutrients at the end.  Then let the stock cool and separate the broth from the rest of the “gunk.”  When it is cool enough, store the jars of stock in the fridge overnight to let the fat rise to the top.  When it has settled to the top, you can take that fat layer and save it to use for cooking vegetables.  
    If you have used enough good bones, your stock should “jiggle” when it is in the fridge.  It won’t just be a clear liquid although if you do just get that it is still fine to use.  This is my cooking nirvana moment... when I see that my broth has achieved jiggle status.  Now this broth is the base for soups, rice, stew meat and even just drunk warm like a tea and this is food that will fill you not only with warmth and fill your house with a wonderful aroma, it will feed your body the nutrients you need!  The broth will keep in the fridge for a few days but it is also good to freeze some for later use so that you can banish canned stock from your home.  Remember the saying “a chicken in every pot?”  Well, we need to become a nation of “broth simmering on every stove top.”  Imagine if we drank as much broth as we do soda in this country... not scientific but I’d venture that we’d have a much healthier nation.
 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Fitness Beckons

    So apparently they have these places where the masses gather to sweat, gyrate, pump and jiggle... they are called gyms!  Despite an active childhood in tennis, I have managed to avoid these gym gathering places for most of my adult life with the usual excuses... too expensive, don’t have the time, don’t want to put my kids in the childcare etc... Sure, I did regular walking and have still played tennis at various times so I wasn’t inactive.  But this year I feel compelled to make regular cardiovascular exercise... the kind where you drip with sweat and feel like you will just collapse if you have to do one more push up... a part of my life!
    I started going to the gym this past summer and have been attending weekly Pilates classes as well as doing the occasional spinning class or boot camp class etc.  I must say I kind of feel like Rip Van Winkle in that there are these “superfit” people, shall we say... apparently while I was on fitness holiday for several DECADES they have been crunchin’ it out!  I feel like a big blob compared to them.  Some of the people in my Pilates class can get into shapes more complicated than pretzel twists. 
    After a holiday detour that included stops at the egg nog pitcher and cookie jar, I am trying to get back on the wagon.  I must toil on!  Today I took a total body conditioning class.  Every 30 seconds or so this guy named Charles was yelling out to us to switch stations...medicine ball lifting, jumping over balls, push ups, crawling on the floor, running in place.  How come when I did the exercises like he said they were so much harder?  Overall, I felt like I was in the middle... not the worst one but certainly many were better than me.  But it feels good to try and so I hope I will keep jumping and gyrating even when I don’t feel like it and hopefully actually see some results if I stick with it!  If I had to make a totally honest assessment, even with the coolest workout pants I still just don’t quite look like I am ready for the pages of “Shape” magazine.  Probably more realistic to try for “Middle Aged Women’s Workout” if there was such a read out there!  Welcome back to my life sweat... hope to be seeing lots more of you this year!
 

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Me!

Welcome to a New Year... full of hope and new chances.  Just like many of you, I have resolutions for the coming year.  And like many of you, some of these are the same ones I had last year...and the year before that.... that went unfulfilled.....
    An article about goal setting suggests writing these down to be more accountable.  Plastering them all over the web just ups the ante a bit, but maybe I need some fire under my seat to make change really happen.  Here are some of my food-related goals for this year:
    Number 1:  Eat less to weigh less!  I’d like to lose 10 pounds.  (I am within the BMI range for my height at 5’ 4”  BMI of 18.5 (108 pounds) to 24.9 ( 145 pounds), but I could be closer to the middle range. While I disagree with our culture’s pressure to have middle aged women looking like teenagers and know that gaining a small bit of weight is part of a healthy aging process, I do think I should be fitter than I am right now. I am going to strive for three sessions per week of active cardiovascular exercise and two sessions per week of strengthening/toning exercise.
    Number 2:  Keep learning about traditional food preparation.  Past health issues sent me on a journey that I am now somewhat thankful for in that I actually started reading food labels and realizing that we as consumers have been bamboozled into accepting food-like substances instead of demanding real food. Some of the foods I want to make this year include kombucha, more effervescent home-brewed sodas, coconut water kefir and to master several organ dishes and make them tasty.
   Number 3:  Eat more greens. I know they are good for me, I just need to make myself eat them.  I want to eat something green two times a day.  I am hoping to add a Vita-Mix to my life this year as I think it will help me reach this goal!  Until then, my juicer and eating the greens themselves, whether cooked or raw, will suffice.
    Number 4:  Eat more Oysters...and other iron rich food!  I discovered the Oyster Bar happy hour at a local restaurant called Squid’s this year and at $6.95 for 12 Oysters during weekday happy hour from 4 - 6 pm, I want to become a regular!  I know to some this will seem so odd...I’m not so interested in the beer or wine, just the Oysters...with a twist of Lime!
   Number 5:  Keep the crock crankin’!  I want to make my sauerkraut more regularly and not allow the crock to sit idle.  It should always be making the next batch and I’d like to experiment more with herbs and ingredients to develop several distinctive products that develop a following.
       
So that’s it... five is a nice round number and this list should keep me busy for some time.  Better get off the computer and make some progress on the list!