Thursday, December 16, 2010

Please, Make Your Own...Pie Crust

From what I've observed, it appears to me that a lot of people, maybe even most people, buy pie crust in a box or preformed in an aluminum foil pie plate, but for the life of me I've never been able to figure out why. 

I grew up eating my Grandma's home made pie crust; that is to say it was my Grandma's recipe that both my Mom and Grandma used, so if there was a pie around, whether for a dessert at home or at a family gathering, it always had the same incredible crust that I have always liked better than whatever was filling it.  I learned to make it when I was maybe fourteen years old, and have been making it ever since.

Home made pie crust, whether my Grandma's recipe or any of the many versions of pie pastry (also known as short crust pastry), is a beautiful thing.  It should never be dismissed as just a platform for a filling.  If the crust doesn't taste good, the pie doesn't taste good.  With packaged pie crust, not only does it taste barely average at best, but as with most processed food, contains undesirable and unnecessary ingredients such as food coloring, and has little nutritional value.  While obviously not a nutritional powerhouse, home made pie crust can easily be made with healthier ingredients, and it certainly tastes better. 

The best part is that home made pie crust is incredibly easy to make, taking as few as four ingredients for the most basic version, and taking as little as under ten minutes from gathering the ingredients to sitting in the pie plate ready to be filled.

To see my Grandma's recipe and how simple the process really is, click "read more"!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

For Flavorful Veg, Roast, Don't Boil!

We all know that veggies are good for us, but many people don't like the taste of veggies...or at least they don't think they do.  I believe that the reason so many people dislike veggies is because so often veggies are prepared by boiling.  Not only does boiling reduce the nutritional benefits of vegetables, it does nothing to improve their flavor.  Whenever someone tells me they don't like beets or brussels sprouts, I tell them that it's probably because they've always had them boiled. 

A great way to prepare many different vegetables is roasting.  I've already talked about roasting pumpkin and other winter squash, but it's important to note that many root vegetables and green vegetables develop incredible flavor by roasting, while still retaining nutrients, texture, and vibrant color. 

Some great vegetables for roasting include:
Brussels Sprouts
Green Beans

The process for most veggies almost couldn't be more simple.  Preheat your oven to 425 F (you can use a cooler oven if you wish, it will just take longer).  In a shallow pan, such as a sheet pan or a 9 x 13 pan (covered with aluminum foil for ease of cleaning if you wish), spray a light coating of cooking spray, then drizzle in one to two tablespoons of olive oil.  Put your prepared veggies in the pan.  For asparagus, prepared means cut off the woody ends.  For brussels sprouts, cut in half.  For broccoli or cauliflower, cut into florets of the size you like.  For green beans, parsnips, etc., cut into pieces of a size you like.  Toss the prepared veggies in the pan until they are nicely coated with the olive oil.  Toss on just a little salt and pepper if you'd like.  Put the pan in the oven and roast, taking them out occasionally to toss them around, until they are tender and a bit browned. 

I said "almost" couldn't be more simple because there is at least one thing that is more simple:  beets.  For beets, rinse them a bit, cut off the greens, cut off the root, wrap them in foil to make packets (unless they're huge I usually put three in a packet), and toss them in a preheated 425 F. oven.  Be careful the foil packets are sealed so the sugary juice from the beets doesn't drip in your oven.  Leave them alone until they're done, about an hour and fifteen minutes for medium to medium-large beets.  Then just put the packets somewhere to cool.  When cool, open the packets, peel off the skin, and cut into wedges.  They're as sweet as candy!

All of these veggies are fantastic just roasted with oil, salt, and pepper, but don't forget, you can still be creative with seasonings and sauces for your roasted veggies.  For example, sometimes it's nice to drizzle on a little more olive oil, sauteed garlic, and lemon zest.  Some roasted veggies are great with toasted hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts and maybe a little butter.  Green beans and halved or quartered mushrooms are great together, with a bit of thyme.  Brussels sprouts are fantastic with a splash (about one tablespoon) of balsamic vinegar added in the last couple minutes of cooking.

So don't settle for boring, unappetizing, and often stinky boiled vegetables, and give the complex flavors of roasted veggies a try!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Please, Make Your Own...Cake and Frosting

The other day, my husband brought home a piece of cake from a local chain grocery store's bakery.  Most people probably think the same thing I did:  Since the cake was made in a local bakery, it's probably a lot like a cake made from scratch in somebody's home.  After all, this cake didn't come from a factory, and didn't come from a box that came from a factory.  It turns out that I couldn't have been more wrong.

I should mention that this happens to me a lot these days.  Everyone buys certain packaged foods at the grocery store that maybe they've been buying for their whole life, without giving it a lot of thought.  They seem familiar, they seem like food, and they seem like something that could've been made in their own kitchen.  Well, I strongly suggest that everyone take the time to read not just the fat and calories on the label, but the actual ingredients.  I can guarantee you that you will be surprised, and maybe even shocked, at the crazy things that food processors use and then tell us it's food.  (Milk protein concentrate?  What on earth is that anyway?  Really, Velveeta?  I mean, really?!!)

Back to the cake, I wasn't really intentionally reading the ingredients list, I was just opening the clamshell package.  The ingredients label was over the opening, like a piece of tape, so I had to look at it to open it.  Then I realized the ingredients list started on the top of the package, ran down the front, and then wrapped down to the bottom of the package.  In a tiny 6 point font, the ingredients list is almost 2 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide of solid print.  And what are "propylene glycol mono and diesters of fats and fatty acids" anyway?  Do you have that in your kitchen?  Would you want that in your kitchen?  Most boxed cake mixes aren't any better, and don't even get me started on the trans fat bonanza that is canned frosting.

So I'm here to ask you to please, make your own cake and frosting.  From scratch.  Without a box.  I can't subscribe to the belief that it's okay for a food ingredients list to read like a science experiment.  We already have food that can be turned into a very nice cake without a test tube anywhere in sight.  I promise you, to make a nice, simple cake that your family will enjoy from scratch is not any harder or even more time consuming than using a box.  And you will know and control exactly what is in it.  And your ingredient list, even in a 12 point font still probably won't be 2 1/2 inches long and 2 inches wide!

To see just one example of an incredibly easy, low fat cake that takes about 5 minutes to make, and delicious frosting that also only takes a few minutes, using only these ingredients:



just click on "read more"!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Simple Make-Ahead Creamy Oatmeal

Oatmeal is well known as a wonder food, offering many health benefits including reducing cholesterol.  It is a whole grain food, full of minerals, fiber, and a good source of protein.  And not only is oatmeal good for us, it is also absolutely delicious! 

The really unfortunate thing is that instead of real oatmeal, many people are eating those pouches of  overly refined, super-sweetened "instant" oatmeal.  If you look at the nutrition panel on a simple flavor of a popular brand of pouch oatmeal such as maple and brown sugar, you will find that one tiny pouch contains about two teaspoons of sugar, along with a few chemical additives.  If you really want a wake-up call about the kind of fooling around food companies are doing with our food, look at the nutrition panel on a popular brand of "peaches 'n cream" flavored instant oatmeal.  What is all that stuff?  Why does it need to have so many chemicals?  It doesn't even have anything vaguely resembling peaches in it! 

What makes this even more sad is that it is so incredibly simple to make quick to heat, portable oatmeal where you have total control over what goes into it. 

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmm!  For my easy way to ditch the pouch and take control of your oatmeal, click "read more"!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bountiful Butternuts!

At the risk of appearing to be an "all squash, all the time" blog....

Well, after all, it is Fall, and squash are in season!  Part of the idea behind "slow" food is eating locally and seasonally when possible.  That's not always an easy task in some climates, like here in Wisconsin, but even in this chilly weather we do have a few really delicious foods, such as today's feature, the butternut squash.

To check out my simple, quick, and practical way to prepare butternut squash, click "read more"!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Food, Inc.

No time to cook anything for the blog tonight, but I wanted to talk a little bit about one of my favorite movies, Food, Inc., as well as the related book of essays also called Food, Inc.

Food, Inc. is an Oscar-nominated documentary about the modern food industry, and I highly recommend it.  Please don't get the impression that this movie sets out to make us all vegans, or to make us sick with depictions of animal cruelty.  The contributors to this film aren't vegans or even vegetarians as far as I know.  Animal cruelty is shown, but not with PETA-like motives, and without beating the point into the ground.  Food manufacturers would have us believe that the meat and eggs we get at the grocery store come from farms full of happy animals.  Many even depict barns and farm scenes in their logos.  Most of us (including myself, until fairly recently) take their word for it and put the products in our shopping carts.  Food, Inc. simply depicts the food industry as it really is, and, most importantly, offers viable real-world alternatives that do not involve giving up eating meat.  Remember, I'm a pragmatist...I know there is no chance of a mass movement to vegetarianism!  Besides, bacon (in moderation) is yummy!

The idea is that we should all know where our food comes from, what's in it, and the politically motivated (but non-partisan...both sides are similar on this issue) reasons behind the ingredients that go into our food.  We should all know how the foods at the grocery store are made, and know what our options are to avoid undesireable ingredients and practices. 

Some of my food heroes appear in this movie, including Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, and a farmer named Joel Salatin, who is just incredible.

I've seen this movie probably three times now, and I get re-inspired each time.  Despite the difficult topic, Food, Inc. is absolutely uplifting and inspiring!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

What do I do with all these seeds?!!

Okay, so you've butchered your pumpkins and you have all these seeds.  Now what?

Home made roasted pumpkin seeds, that's what!  They're delicious, nutritious, and highly addictive.  They are loaded with minerals, fiber, and protein.  They can be enjoyed as a savory or a sweet snack.  And they don't even have to be sugar pumpkin seeds.  Seeds from any type of pumpkin or hard winter squash will work!  I mix in acorn squash seeds, butternut squash seeds, whatever I have on hand.  Roasted pumpkin seeds can be used to top salads, mixed into cereal, incorporated into home made trail mix, or just eaten by the handful. 

To see how they get from here:

to crunchy and delicious, click "read more"!

Fall Fun...Preparing Sugar (a/k/a Pie) Pumpkins!

Fall is here, so I thought it would be appropriate to start with a post about pumpkins!  Pumpkin may not seem like the most exciting thing in the world, but the fact is that it is incredibly nutritious and delicious.  One cup of prepared pumpkin only has about 50 fat free calories, is packed with Potassium and Vitamin A, and is a good source of fiber.

Pumpkin puree is not only for pumpkin pie!  It can be used in fantastic muffins, quick bread, pancakes, waffles, soup, and oatmeal, just to name a few things.  Another thing many people use it for is to replace up to half the fat in recipes for baked goods.  Its relatively mild flavor means that, for example, 1/2 cup mixed into a batch of chocolate chip cookies that calls for 1 cup butter, will not much affect the taste, but will add nutrients and enough moisture that you can reduce the butter to 1/2 cup. 

Of course you can buy the canned pumpkin puree, which isn't a bad product because it does not typically contain lots of additives and chemicals like some packaged foods.  But preparing your own pumpkin puree is incredibly easy and fun, and can be done without fancy gadgets, with kitchen essentials almost everyone already has.  It also comes with an added benefit you can't get from canned pumpkin--seeds to roast!  Yum!  More information on roasting the seeds will follow in a separate post.

I will typically prepare several pumpkins using the method below, then measure the puree into either 1/2 cup or 1 cup portions, put the portions in baggies, put the baggies into a zipper freezer bag, and freeze them for use whenever I need pumpkin.

I believe everybody who is interested in healthy, minimally processed food should try preparing their own pumpkin at least once.  I started doing it last year and am completely hooked!

This is my bounty of sugar pumpkins and butternut squash given to me last weekend by a friend who grows them.

To see my practical, fun, and easy method to prepare the pumpkins (squash coming soon in a separate post), click on the "read more" button!