Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aioli, Aioli...Oh How I Love Thee, Aioli...

I still remember the first time I met you, were slathered upon the bun holding the most amazing hamburger I've ever eaten in my life...the Creswick Farms Grass Fed Beef Burger at The Electric Cheetah in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You were so creamy, so was love at first taste...

No matter what you might think about the French, you can't argue with the fact that they know how to cook. Aioli is thought to have originated in Provence, France although I also came across a post at that states that the first mention of anything resembling aioli dates back to Pliny the Elder (A.D. 23-79). No matter where its origins lie, it is absolutely heavenly...providing, of course, that you like garlic. And mayonnaise.

Aioli is basically a garlic mayonnaise and can be easily transformed into many flavored varieties by adding other herbs and spices. Some recipes call for dijon mustard, which I think would kick up the spice factor...raw garlic is rather toasty on its own. There are many recipes and techniques documented out there on the web...I read several, watched a few videos, then headed to the kitchen to try out my new Christmas present...a lovely granite mortar and pestle. Which I wanted specifically to make aioli, although you can use a food processor or an immersion blender. Being a traditionalist in nature, at least when it comes to foodie type things, I of course wanted to do it the "old fashioned" way. But, a mortar and pestle are very handy for crushing spices and herbs so I'm sure I will put it to good use throughout the year.

If you've never made mayonnaise before, I must warn you that it can be kind of tricky. You have to start out adding the oil in drop by drop for the first tablespoon, then in a thin stream after that, constantly whisking (if using a whisk) or stirring the pestle in the mortar. I've made blender mayonnaise and it's really very tasty, especially when you have delicious, fresh, pastured eggs. This is the first time I've made mayo by hand, and honestly, it wasn't that hard.

FIRST...make sure your ingredients and utensils are all at room temperature. You'll need:

  • Olive oil, about half a cup (or a combination of olive and something else if you don't like a strong olive oil flavor)
  • 1egg yolk
  • 1 or more cloves of garlic
  • Lemon juice, about half to one teaspoon
  • Coarse salt (I used Pink Himalayan), about 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon
  • Mortar and pestle
Next, cut the end off the garlic cloves and peel them by whacking them with the flat side of your nice big chef's knife...or whatever method you prefer for peeling garlic. I like whacking them, myself. Mince the garlic and add it to your mortar, along with a generous pinch or two of salt.

I didn't really mince the garlic, just kind of gave it a good chopping...but in retrospect I should have taken the time to mince. You can also use a garlic press...I have one, I just didn't want to wash it. The salt, by the way, helps to break down the garlic and make it into a paste so you really don't want to omit it. If you use a healthy sea salt or mineral-rich salt such as the Pink Himalayan, it's much better for your ticker than regular old table salt.

Using the pestle, begin grinding the garlic and salt together slowly until it forms a paste. This is somewhat time consuming, but if you mince your garlic or use a press it will not take as long as it did for me. You'll have to keep brushing the garlic bits back down into the mortar at first, but then it will make a nice, smoothish paste that clings to the side of the mortar.

Next, add your egg yolk. Give it a good whirl around the mortar for about a minute.

Some people say to add the lemon juice later, some now. One video I watched said the acid in the lemon juice essentially "cooks" the egg yolk. I added it at this point, next time I will try adding it later and see if it makes a difference. As far as cooking the yolk, I don't know about that but it sounds good.

Give it a good whirl around the mortar, too. The guy in the video says until it's kind of frothy.

Now we get to the tricky part...adding the oil. I know from personal experience that you absolutely do need to add it slowly at first. One video I watched, the lady had her oil in a lovely glass jug with a teeny, tiny spout so you could pour it out drip by drip. I just have my plain old oil jar, so I added just a few drops at a time until I had about a tablespoon in there, then slowly increased how much I added. You must constantly stir the pestle (or whisk) in order to create an emulsion, which is a suspension of small globules of one liquid in a second liquid with which the first will not mix.

Continue adding oil until you have a nice, creamy sauce. Some of the videos I watched the aioli was much more stiff than what I ended up with...but I liked the consistency and the flavor so I stopped. I don't know how much oil I used, to be honest with you. I just started throwing things together, like usual, but the ingredients listed above are from an actual recipe I found at Gourmet Sleuth, minus the dijon mustard.

Here I am, whirling the pestle around the mortar vigorously. It's amazing how fast it emulsifies in this little thing. I love it!

When it's at the right consistency, taste it. Add more salt if you like. Add more lemon juice (I did, to kind of cut back on the intensity of the garlic). You can also add herbs such as basil, or to make it spicier, add horseradish, ground chilis, or other hot spices. I can't wait to experiment with this!

All that's left now is to eat this creamy, garlicky wonder. I tried it with carrots (fabulous!) and some leftover French bread chunks (amazing!). It's supposed to be great for crudités, and is traditionally served with fish, meats and vegetables, depending on what region you're in. I can tell you that in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at that lovely little Electric Cheetah, it is something akin to Nirvana on a grass fed beef burger....

So, for supper tonight, I've cut some sourdough bread in half, slathered aioli on both halves, covered them with some browned venison and piled Swiss cheese on top and thrown it in the oven for about half an hour. It smells fantastic!

Sourdough Venison Aioli Melt


While the aioli I made was quite spicy fresh out of the mortar, once it was baked into the sourdough bread it was not nearly so spicy, or garlicky, actually. I've found a recipe for Aioli Garlic Bread (which also has a link to show how to make the aioli without any fancy equipment), and he cautions that if you like a more intense garlic flavor, to add more garlic when making the garlic bread. Our Sourdough Venison Aioli Melt had a lovely, but subtle, garlic flavor. I ended up putting a bit more aioli (since that was all that was left!) on top of my piece. Very delicious!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Kicking The Can(ned Cream of Mushroom Soup): A Healthy Alternative + 2 BONUS Recipes!

Canned Cream of Mushroom soup is a staple in the cupboards of my region. It is the heart and soul of  a myriad of casseroles. We make Green Bean Casserole with it for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter Dinners. It livens up Beefy Macaroni and Cheese for a quick supper on a busy night, something known in our house as  Surprise, It's Supper.  It's one of those magical ingredients that you can just dump in with something from each food group and voila! dinner is served. You'll find it in Chicken, Rice and Broccoli Casserole, and Poor Man's Steak and in at least half of any church fundraiser cookbook's recipes. And who hasn't tossed some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a crockpot and smothered them with a can of condensed cream of mushroom soup for Sunday dinner? 

Of course, the Holy Grail of condensed cream of mushroom soups is Campbell's. I have a delicious recipe that my mother in law shared with me for Burrito Casserole that is simply to die for, and even though (when I used to buy canned soups) I would buy the cheapo creamo's for most applications, I would always buy Campbell's to make the hallowed Burrito Casserole. It just really was that much better.

Now, however, I make most of everything from scratch in order to avoid all the chemicals in most commercially prepared foods. It can be time consuming, but I absolutely love it. Sure, there are some days that I wish I could just make a box of Hamburger Helper and be done with it, but most days I love making things myself. Burrito Casserole was talked of last night, so tonight I had to make it. I didn't have taco seasoning or cream of mushroom soup, two essential ingredients. But I had the stuff to make them with.

I searched online for a cream of something soup recipe that didn't call for bouillion or powdered milk (I used to make a mix that was super easy to use, but have since quit using bouillion and powdered milk) and ended up combining a couple recipes, but since I used my cell and can't find the sites again I went to, I'm going to have to try to recreate it from memory. Wish me luck...

  • 3 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 c flour (I used Ultragrain whole wheat)
  • 1 1/2-3 c milk
  • 10 oz beef broth or stock, no msg
  • 1/2 c finely chopped mushrooms (more or less to taste, I used Organic Mini Bellas)
  • 1 tsp refined coconut oil (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • sea salt to taste
In a small sauce pan, heat beef broth and mushrooms, simmering until time to add to soup. Meanwhile, in a 2 qt sauce pan, melt butter and then whisk in flour (will be thick). Add about half of the milk slowly, whisking. Continue whisking until smooth, cook until it begins to thicken, stirring or whisking occasionally. Add beef broth and mushrooms, whisking until smooth. Add seasonings and coconut oil, combining well. Add more milk or broth, as necessary, until soup reaches desired consistency.
Really simple and very tasty! And probably very forgiving. You could use chicken broth or even vegetable or mushroom broth if you didn't have beef, but I really liked the flavor the beef broth imparted, subtle yet rich. I don't like mushrooms, really, so I whacked them pretty well into teeny, tiny pieces. If you like mushrooms and want larger chunks or even whole slices that would work too. I think simmering the mushrooms in the broth draws out the mushroom flavor, which gives the soup that classic cream of mushroom flavor and not mushrooms-in-white-sauce. The can of beef broth that I had was 14 oz...I used four ounces in the meat mixture for my Burrito Casserole, but you could use the whole can, really, if you didn't want four ounces of beef broth sitting around. Of course, switch the ingredients up a bit and you have a basic Cream of  Something soup...broccoli, chicken, celery...whatever you want to cream up. 

And now, just because I'm nice like that...I'm going to give you my Burrito Casserole recipe. We have this on a rotation for Christmas meals at my mother in law's. It's a tradition. It's amazing. It was totally love at first bite!


  • 1 lb hamburger
  • 1 pkg taco seasoning (see recipe below)
  • 1 1/2 c sour cream
  • 1 pkg small tortilla shells, or  homemade
  • 1 can mushrooms, or desired amount of sliced, fresh mushrooms
  • 1 large (or small works too) can refried beans or equivalent amount of homemade
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup (or above recipe)
  • 2-4 cups shredded cheese (sharp cheddar is terrific but any yellow cheese or blend works well)
Brown hamburger and drain if necessary. Add seasoning, mushrooms and beans and combine well. In a small bowl, combine soup and sour cream, then spread half of mixture on the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish. Fill tortillas with meat and bean mixture, roll and place in pan. Cover filled tortillas with remaining soup mixture, then cover with cheese (I just use 2 cups of cheese usually, but 4 is very, very delicious!). Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until center is bubbly and cheese is slightly browned. Can serve with salsa, and taco toppings if you want, but we just eat it like this.
I made this tonight with some fabulous homemade whole wheat tortillas (thanks Heather and Nancy!), which were made with freshly (as in from the mill to the mixing bowl fresh) ground soft whole wheat. Absolutely delicious and satisfying!

  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp garlic salt (or garlic powder and salt to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
Mix and use as one package of taco seasoning mix.

Really, there isn't much that is in the grocery store that you can't make yourself. If you like cooking and love a challenge, start making your own convenience foods and condiments. Use the freshest, healthiest ingredients you can find and afford and you will be amazed at the difference in taste...not to mention that your body will be amazed at the lack of chemicals to contend with! 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Healthy Convenience Food: Breakfast Hot Pockets

Convenience food is not necessarily known for being particularly healthy.  While it's quick and easy and yes, tastes good, in the long run the toll on one's health from subsisting mainly on pre-packaged, processed foods just may not really be worth the time you save in the kitchen at all.

Fortunately for me, I love to cook. However, I also have an extremely busy 2 1/2 year old BOY. As in I can not usually maintain any kind of productive activity for more than 30 seconds at a time because the remainder of each minute requires me to take immediate action to prevent him from destroying something or hurting himself. This makes cooking difficult some days, especially in the morning if Mister doesn't sleep late. As if 7 am is really late, but I'm just sayin'...

I have for some time now wanted to make some healthy (or at least healthier) homemade "convenience foods" to toss in the freezer but just haven't had the time/ingredients/organization/motivation lately. My youngest stepson, who is almost 16 and a football player, has inspired and motivated me to give it a whirl. So, today I whipped up some breakfast hot pockets. They're really rather easy, although as  you'll see below I do need to tweak my technique. They may look strange, but they are pretty tasty! I've always had trouble with this sort of thing...ravioli, those pizza-like things of which I can not remember the name...the dough always ends up too thin in the middle and the stuffing pokes out or leaks out, then the edges are super thick. I think with practice, though, I'll be able to nail it one of these days.

I used my favorite pizza dough recipe for these, it only takes maybe 10 minutes to first and second rise like with bread dough, and it's tasty and has nice texture too. Since my football player was headed out to a game this morning, I decided it would be a great time to try this. I added a bit of Frank's Red Hot to his, because I know he likes that on his eggs.

  • 6 EGGS
  • 1/4 C MILK


  • 1 tsp SEA SALT
  • 1 TB YEAST
  • 1 C WARM WATER (105-110 DEGREES)

 And now for some pictures of my first attempt at these delicious morning goodies:

 Dough ball, this is roughly the size of my palm
 Dough circle...I just press them out but you can roll if you want
 I take a slice of cheese and tear it in half, then put on bacon and eggs. I found putting the bacon on last ends up with bacon poking out of the dough. Not good!
 On this one, I decided to fold each side up to meet in the middle, since folding it over completely, like what commercial hot pockets look like, results in a big hole in the middle. Definitely not good!
 I pinched the dough together, this is the bottom.
 Four pockets ready to bake...notice the variegated forms LOL
 This is the first batch I did. The one in the foreground I used a fork to pinch/seal the edges. I had to do some "repairs" on that one because the filling ended up poking out of some holes.
 Second batch turned out a bit more uniform looking
 Inside...warm, cheesy breakfast goodness! I was afraid the bread-to-filling ratio might be too much, but it was ok. I'm finding it's tricky to get enough filling and be able to cover it all.

My dear friend Mary from church suggested using two circles, like making a pie. Easier to work with...I think also that if I rolled out two dough sheets in a rectangular shape and cut them in rectangles that would also work. She also suggested brushing them with melted butter after them come out of the oven. I'm going to try those suggestions next time!

This is really a a versatile recipe. You can add herbs and seasonings to the dough, use fancy cheeses. You can leave out the meat. You can add veggies or mushrooms. Salsa and jalapenos. Cream cheese flavored with herbs. Or cream cheese and fruit...that sounds great! I'm planning a "baking day" here soon and want to make some with pizza fillings or other sandwich fillings for lunches and suppers too. 

Use the freshest, healthiest ingredients you have or can procure. I know bacon isn't necessarily the healthiest food in the world, but we love it anyway. And the fact that this wasn't loaded with preservatives and other chemicals makes it far more healthy than what you can buy in the store.

So, now I have some quick and easy breakfasts in the freezer. Since I'm trying not to use my microwave these days, I figure I can get a couple out the night before to thaw and then heat them in my cast iron skillet to warm them up. I'm glad I finally got these done!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Moist Amazing (Blueberry) Banana Bread Ever

While searching for a recipe for blueberry banana bread, I came across this little gem of a recipe. The author at GreatGrub gives credit to Martha Stewart for the "secret ingredient" in this recipe...something I would never have thought of adding to a quick bread. Normally, I find Martha to be rather pretentious, especially considering her stint in prison, but I must say this recipe makes up for that and then some. The result was a delightfully moist and flavorful bread that has far exceeded the many banana breads I have whipped up in years past. I can't wait to make this again!


  • Electric mixer
  • Sieve
  • Spatula
  • 9x5x3 bread loaf pan
  • Parchment paper
  • Cooling rack
  • Preheat oven to 350°F
  • ¼ pound (1 stick) butter, unsalted and at room temperature
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup organic Sucanat sugar, or brown sugar of choice
  • 1 ½ cups organic unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup mashed banana, super ripe
  • 1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla extract
  • ½ cup sour cream (SECRET INGREDIENT)
  • 1/2 cup or more of fresh blueberries (My addition!)
Sieve together the flour, salt and baking soda, then set aside. Cream the butter in the mixer. Once the butter is fluffy, add the sugar and blend the mixture well. Then, add each egg, blending in between. Mix in one third of the dry ingredients and then one third of the banana. Repeat twice. Add the vanilla extract. Blend in the sour cream. Gently fold in blueberries. Turn the batter into the loaf pan lined with parchment paper. Letter batter stand for 15 minutes. Bake for 1 hour. To test if it is done, insert a knife and if it comes out clean, it is ready. Turn the finished loaf on to a cooling rack. Serve when you can't stand to wait any longer.

***REMEMBER to never over work your batter, unless you want a tough, cakey finish!***
I didn't make too many changes or substitutions this time...I used about half Ultragrain Whole Wheat flour and half unbleached bread flour...salted butter (I never have UNsalted butter on hand...I've never understood the purpose of unsalted butter...) and cut back just a bit on the salt (not quite a full measure).  Using the organic sucanat was a new one for me, I don't usually use it in baking, but it rendered a sweetness that was dark and rich, with a depth of flavor you just won't find with plain old brown sugar.

Many thanks to Angela at GreatGrub for this unbelievably amazing banana bread recipe! Be sure to check out her website, it's full of great cooking info! Hopefully it will last longer next time and I can take some pictures...but trust me, this is one for the recipe box for sure!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Menu? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Menu...

Well, at least that's what it seems like these last few weeks. I have gotten very lazy about menu planning. In fact, it's Wednesday night and I should have a menu planned and coupons organized by now. And, well, I don't!  The pantry and fridge are getting pretty bare, so it was a Throw-Something-In-A-Pan-And-Pray kind of night. It actually turned out very tasty! Seems like some of my best meals are forged in the adversity of a bare pantry...

Summer Garden Skillet


  • 1/2 pound bulk sausage $1
  • 2 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and diced FREE
  • 1/3 cup Vidalia onion, chopped $0.40
  • 1/2 can garlic, basil and oregano seasoned diced tomatoes, with juice $0.10 from Stetta's Discount
  • 2 large,white button mushrooms, sliced $0.26
  • 1/3 of a large zucchini, sliced into 2 inch spears FREE
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste

Brown sausage in pre-heated, medium cast iron skillet; drain if necessary. Add potatoes and onion and cook, turning occasionally, until potatoes are almost tender. Add tomatoes and juice, bring to a simmer and add mushrooms and zucchini. Cook until zucchini is crisp-tender. 

TOTAL COST: $1.76, COST PER SERVING: 59 CENTS. This served 3 adults comfortably, Miss Picky and Mister Messter didn't eat much and there were no leftovers. It could have easily stretched farther with more vegetables. I didn't figure in the cost of the biscuits, but I'm sure it was less than $1 for the batch. If I'd had the time or inclination, I would have whipped up more of a delicious cucumber salad I made recently. A crisp, green salad would have gone nicely with this as well as some fresh fruit. This would have altered the cost of the meal, but I speculate it could still stay under $3 for the total meal, assuming that you have a vegetable garden or access to free or very inexpensive vegetables.

The improvements to the highlighted items are generally the same as the last post...sausage could have been from pastured animals, veggies and fungus could have been organic. And the BPA in cans makes the tomatoes a less than desirable choice. I would much rather prefer to pick some tomatoes from my back yard. However, they are still quite green...although I did entertain the idea! I did love how the seasoned tomatoes made this very simple, I just added a little sea salt and organic black pepper. When I can tomatoes this year, I want to do some seasoned with herbs and garlic.  I served it with whole wheat biscuits made with olive oil. They turned out a little dry, I will have to work on that recipe! All in all, it was very delicious and satisfying. I love summer produce!

This dish was still far more healthy (not to mention economical) than something prepared from a box or picked up at a drive through. We went to a movie today ($1 tickets!), and ate at Wendy's before we went. I have to say that while it tasted fairly good, it was not satisfying in the least. I was still hungry for hours later...I think my body was craving real food! After our supper this evening, I am much more satisfied. I used to eat at fast-food places fairly regularly, especially when I was younger and it never phased me. Now that I have not been eating as many chemicals, preservatives and refined foods, I really notice a difference in how I feel. Even one meal at a burger joint upsets the balance. I was a crab this evening, and my daughter had a stomach ache. It just strengthens my resolve to do the best I can to serve real, whole, nourishing foods to my family.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Making Real Food on a Real Budget...

...or at least on a budget like mine!  I've been learning a lot about "real" food, food that is nutrient dense and as close to its natural state as possible and not full of chemical preservatives, colorings, and flavorings. And thanks to A Peasant's Feast eCourse through The Nourishing Gourmet, I'm also learning how to do it on a budget.

Basically, what it boils down to is making the best use of every dollar I have to purchase the most nutrient packed foods. With my current budget, every week brings choices and compromises. Being armed with information about what's really in our food (and what's not that should be) helps me to make the best choices and, when necessary, the healthiest compromises that I can.

Ideally, I would be grinding my own, organic home-grown grains for freshly baked breads every day. I would use eggs freshly gathered from free-ranging chickens in my back yard. Butter would be churned from the rich, nutrient-packed cream and cheeses made from the cows milked in the morning, and delicious, cold, whole raw milk would grace our table with every meal. Pastured meats would simmer in nourishing bone broths on cold winter days for delicious soups and stews. And we would eat an abundance of seasonally available fruits, berries and vegetables grown in our back yard. And of course, we'd have a variety of lacto-fermented and cultured things...sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, cortido, pickles, yogurt, help keep our digestive systems in balance and our immune systems strong.

Reality, however, is not nearly so quaint. The "nutritional information" provided on packaged foods in the grocery store is like a scientific abstract written by Stephen King. My general rule of thumb is If I Can't Pronounce It I Shouldn't Eat It. The food industry has conditioned us to believe that food that can stay on the shelf longer without spoiling is healthy somehow. I disagree...true, the absence of microorganisms to make you sick is definitely healthier, but if the microorganisms can't live on it, how good can it really be four our bodies? Is it actually devoid of nutrients or is it just filled with deadly chemicals? Or both?

So, I try to plan meals that will have the greatest nutritional punch and try to buy the highest quality foods that I can. Here's an example of something I made recently...

Zucchini, Sausage and Brown Rice Skillet

Disclaimer: I just threw this together, so there's the possibility that some of the measurements aren't as exact as possible...sorry...that's how I roll in my kitchen! I'm fairly sure it's pretty close though.

  • 1 c uncooked brown rice
  • 1-2 Tbs ketchup, tomato sauce or 1/4 to 1/2 c diced, fresh tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder or a clove of garlic, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1/3 to 1 pound bulk sausage
  • 1/2 c chopped onion
  • 1/2 c water (mineral or filtered water, chlorine- and fluoride-free)
  • 1/4 c cooking sherry or white wine
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder or garlic clove, pressed
  • 1/4 tsp ground marjoram
  • 1 small zucchini, quartered lengthwise and sliced


Combine 2 1/2 c water, ketchup (or sauce or tomatoes), garlic, salt and butter and bring to a boil. Add rice, simmer 35-45 minutes or until rice is cooked and water is absorbed.

Meanwhile, brown sausage and onion, add water, sherry, garlic and marjoram and simmer while rice cooks. When rice is almost done, add zucchini to sausage mixture and cook until crisp-tender. Combine with rice. Could top with cheese if desired, parmesan or romano sound good.

I highlighted the ingredients that could have been healthier. For example, I used ketchup because I didn't have any fresh, organic tomatoes or tomato sauce. It was at least free of HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) so that was a plus. Lacto-fermented ketchup would have been good as well, although I'm sure the heat would kill off the good bacteria, but it would still be healthier than commercially prepared ketchup. Fresh garlic would have been better than garlic powder, as well as the marjoram. And cultured butter made from cow's milk from pastured animals would have been ideal. The onion was not organic, but the zucchini was locally grown and organic (thanks to my mother-in-law!). The sausage was from a local butcher shop that has good quality local meat, but I doubt it was from pastured animals, so that could have healthier as well. You could always leave the meat out all together, or use grass-fed beef, free range chicken, venison, bison, etc. for healthy meat choices.

How much did this dish cost? My best calculation (figuring costs for tiny amounts of seasonings is more work than I have time for at the moment, so I guestimated it. I don't pay much for anything if I can help it, and I know I got most of these ingredients very inexpensively) is $1.78 for the WHOLE dish, which comes out to 45 cents a serving, for four servings. Using all organic vegetables and spices and high-quality pastured meats would increase this cost minimally to possibly significantly, depending on the prices in your area. I have found a local butcher that sells grass-fed ground beef for $3.29 a pound, and have seen grass-fed ground beef at a local natural foods co-op for over $6 a pound. Organic, out of season vegetables can be very expensive...I saw bell peppers at the same co-op for over $7 a pound this winter.

This dish was very tasty (although I thought it needed a bit more salt) and has a lot of room for variations, such as the types of vegetables, using nourishing bone broths instead of water (which will add even more nutritional punch), and fresh herbs from your garden. I love to have a 'base' recipe and tweak it for fun or be able to pull off a delicious, nutritious meal when there's just "nothing to eat in the house".

So, this is one example of how I'm doing "real food" with my less than "real" budget. Some weeks I have to buy things I wouldn't normally or go without some things, simply because I just don't have the money. But, I don't get myself all worked up about it if I can't buy something that I prefer. I keep in mind that we've eaten processed foods all of our lives and only recently have made the change to less processed and more healthy alternatives to the Food Industry's packaged poisons. While it's not ideal, any changes that mean we consume less of it will benefit our overall health. And in the mean time, I have a never-ending goal in front of me to provide the most nourishing and environmentally responsible foods as I can for my family.

My husband, when asked if he notices a difference in how he feels since I've been making these changes in our diet, commented that he did feel better. This is huge coming from someone who would live on frozen pizza, soda and cookies if he could get away with it! I've also noticed a difference in him and also in my children. They are still kids who like cookies and candy, but it does my heart good to see them enjoying things that are healthy, like my Li'l Man here, scarfing up this cheap, but healthy, meal!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Suppertime, You Used to be My Friend...

Recently, I realized that I am beginning to dread the hour or so immediately before suppertime at my house these days. Probably mostly due to the lack of planning on my part...but also because that time of the day has become vapid...I'm bored with food.  I don't even really want to try new foods. I don't want to bother with eating.

My family...well, they expect to be fed and fed well as I have set the bar high for myself. Now, I am bored with cooking simply because I am losing interest in food to some degree. There would be much more time in the day for snuggles and walks and splashing in the pool if I just didn't have to fool with meal preparation.

Like that's going to happen any time soon...

Today, the return of the familiar It's Five Thirty and I Have No Idea What to Make for Supper Villian came sauntering through my kitchen...well, dining room actually...that's where I was glued to the computer at the time. I finally decided to go face my arch nemesis...Suppertime.

Fortunately, I was armed to the gills with cookbooks and instant access to millions of recipes at a few strokes of the keyboard so my nemesis was doomed from the start. I also had my faithful sidekick Freezer on my side (though I wonder how well Little Freezer Over the Refrigerator will feel when Chest Freezer moves in this weekend...) who produced a bowl of chili thrown together a few weeks ago. Fire roasted tomatoes, navy beans, my secret mystery blend of spices (a mystery because I'm a "dump cook" and don't remember what I dumped in there), and some organic, free range, wild fed "forest beef" my husband bagged during deer season last year. Quite tasty. I had made it for some friends who came over to watch a race, and she (who is very finicky about chili and won't even eat her mom's) ate two bowls of mine. One bowl could be considered polite, but a second helping would indicate to me that it was good...or she was absolutely starving, perhaps.

Needing a side dish to go with the chili, I decided that corn bread sounded good. A quick perusal on the web and I realized I was woefully unprepared for making cornbread...I had forgotten to get eggs this week. And since I live in a rural town that apparently is infected with some kind of poultry bigotry, I can not have a couple of chickens in my back yard to keep me supplied with fresh, organic, free range chicken eggs. So, a change in search parameters to eggless cornbread dredged up a couple of promising recipes. Here's the one I went with (and my modifications):

courtesy of

  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.
  2. Combine the milk and vinegar and let stand.
  3. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.
  4. Add the milk mixture and the oil into dry ingredients and stir until just blended.
  5. Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9-inch square baking dish, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Kitchen Magician's Tricks...
  • I halved this recipe, just in case I didn't like it...and since my hubby doesn't like cornbread anyway I didn't want a bunch of leftovers. 

  • I was also concerned that it just wouldn't rise well. I've made a recipe called "Eggless Chocolate Cake" that used mayonnaise. Not actually eggless, since mayo is made with eggs, but if you don't have an actual egg, you can still make a delicious chocolate cake. I added a spoonful (regular eating spoon) of mayonnaise, just for good measure. 

  • I used olive oil
  • I used sea salt (I think the minerals in sea salt help give nice rise to baked goods, just a theory)
  • I sprinkled crumbled co-jack cheese, onion powder, garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper on top
  • I "baked" this in a cast iron skillet (covered),  with a couple tablespoons of melted butter,  on top of my stove over medium-high heat for around 20 minutes or so. The bottom of the cornbread got kind of, well, let's say extra done, but we just didn't eat that part.

The end result was actually very delicious. The cornbread had a nice, crispy outside, delicious cheesy, oniony, garlicky flavor with just enough pepper flavor to not be overbearing. Inside was moist and fluffy, yet with enough structure to not crumble as soon as you touch it. I think it was one of the best cornbreads I've ever made.

So, in the end, Suppertime was vanquished to the far-off realms of Stretchy Waistband Land and Mom has lived to cook another day. Will Suppertime return tomorrow, begging for a rematch? Tune in tomorrow...same batter bowl...same stove...but hopefully, something excitingly different to eat!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Recipe: Italian Herb Bread (bread maker recipe)

Most of you know I love to bake bread, and although I am a big fan of doing it the "old-fashioned" way and hand kneading, I have also been using a bread maker. For one, now that hot weather has arrived, I don't want to heat up my kitchen any more than absolutely necessary. And for two, since I am now making all of our bread it's a wonderful time saver!

Instruction manuals for kitchen appliances can come with recipes, but I have never been all that impressed with them. I have to say, though, that the recipes for the West Bend Automatic Bread and Dough Maker are actually quite tasty. And while I would love to make 100% whole grain breads here all the time, I have to kind of ease the family into this healthier eating style I have decided we all need to eat. So, I make the Country White bread and reason that even though it is white bread, I at least use unbleached flour, sneak some whole wheat in there from time to time, and can pronounce all of the ingredients I put into the bread pan so it is at the very least marginally more healthy than anything I can buy at the store.  Baby steps...

This week, to go along with our delicious spaghetti and homemade sauce with organic, free range, wild fed forest "beef" (aka's a long, gruesome story!), I made the Italian Herb bread (on page 19 in this PDF file). Ok, I'll be nice and put the recipe here, too:

Italian Herb Bread 
1 Pound Loaf...see PDF file above for 1.5 Pound Loaf instructions

2/3 cup water, 80 degrees
1 3/4 cups bread flour
2 tsp dry milk
2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1 1/2 Tbs butter or margarine
1 1/4 tsp active dry yeast or 3/4 tsp bread machine/fast rise yeast

Put ingredients into bread pan in the order given. I set this for the "dough" cycle, then let it rise a second time in a deep dish stoneware pie plate until doubled (I wanted a round loaf, not a square one with a hole in the bottom), then baked in the oven at 350 until done, probably half an hour (we had company and I didn't pay attention to the time while we were chatting). I used a homemade Italian seasoning mix and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

The result was a very flavorful, soft and delicious bread that went very well with our spaghetti. It was still very soft the next day and went great with our seasoned dipping oil, cheese and pepperoni for lunch. I will definitely make this again! Maybe next time I'll try baking it in the bread maker...especially if it's hot outside!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday Night is Pizza Night!

This household is a big, big fan of pizza. We eat pizza every week, typically on Fridays. That started when I was doing grocery shopping on Fridays and getting home late in the evening and I did not feel like looking at any more food, much less preparing I'd grab some frozen pizzas for a quick meal.

Since I'm trying to accomplish two challenging tasks...preparing and serving healthy (or at least healthier) foods and spending the very least amount of money to do it, I started making my own pizzas all the time. I've been using a very fast, easy and delicious pizza crust recipe for years and it is very adaptable. I don't think I make it exactly the same from week to week, whatever sounds good while I'm making it is what I throw together.

It's just called "Pizza Crust" in my Amish School Fundraiser cookbook, but I have renamed it...

Instant Homemade Pizza Crust

  • 1 Tbs yeast
  • 2 Tbs sugar
  • 2 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 c warm water
  • 2 Tbs oil
Mix together and let stand 5 minutes. Press into pan. Makes 1 pizza.

One thing I don't care for in some of my Amish/Mennonite/Country cookbooks is that the people who submit the recipes apparently don't think about the fact that not everyone knows how to make things from scratch. Sometimes, people need detailed instructions. But honestly, if you followed this recipe exactly as I typed it, you'd be fine. I usually mix the dry ingredients together first, then add the water and oil, but I have made it by dumping everything together and mixing it up. It's very forgiving. Sometimes, I prebake the crust a little, if it's very thick. This is delicious as a deep dish pizza in a nicely seasoned cast iron skillet...the crust gets nicely crispy on the outside and soft and yummy on the inside.

One thing I want to do, to make it more 'instant', is make several batches of the dry ingredients and freeze them in freezer bags. Then all I have to do is grab a bag and add the oil and water. Easy just became ridiculously easy!

Now, how do I make this healthy/healthier? Let's start with healthier...
  • Even if I use all white flour, I'm figuring that since I'm not putting a bunch of ingredients in it with names I can't pronounce, it's healthier. Not the healthiest, but still better.
  • I've quit using vegetable oil and only use cold first-pressed olive oil, organic when I can find it reasonably priced.
  • I make my own sauce
  • I use sea salt
  • I use minimally processed sugars when available such as sucanat (I've found it works best to dissolve chunky sugar, such as raw, demerara, etch. in the warm water first)
  • During the summer I use organic veggies from our garden
And healthy would look like...
Well, I do the best I can with what I have. Just not buying food full of chemicals and overly processed ingredients is a step in the right direction. I try to sneak as much healthy into my dishes as I can get away with. A mom's gotta do what a mom's gotta do...

Stuffed Crust Pizza tonight...mmm good!

The Instant Homemade Pizza Crust, pressed into a large cast iron skillet and stuffed with sticks of mozzarella cheese, approximately 1/2" square.

Size comparison

All mozzarella sticks are covered by the dough, which is pressed tightly to seal.

This is how I make every pizza...1/2 usually has sausage and mushrooms, sometimes it's 'supreme', 1/4 cheese, 1/4 whatever I want on it, typically one or two toppings. Tonight I went with the supreme minus the fungus.

Finished time I won't put as much dough around the edges to cover the cheese, almost too much!

Yummmy! The cheese in the crust was a nice touch!

Monday, May 31, 2010

Apple Granola Dessert

In searching for cheap, healthy recipes I came across this one in's "Dump Recipes" forum. Dump, as in dump it in a crock pot and forget about it. With homemade granola and organic fruits, this will make a healthy and delicious dessert. Can't wait to get some apples and try it!

Apple Granola Dessert

4 apples, peeled and sliced
2 cups granola cereal with fruit and nuts
1/4 cup honey
2 tbs butter or margarine, melted
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
vanilla ice cream or whipped topping, optional

Combine apples and cereal in the crockpot. In a bowl, combine honey, butter, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over apple mixture and mix well. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Serve with ice cream or whipped topping if desired. 4-6 servings