Saturday, April 27, 2013

A journey to whole wheat

When I first started baking, I followed every recipe exactly...most breads and all cookies/muffins/etc relying exclusively on unbleached all-purpose flour. Some of my bread recipes during my various challenges called for other types: whole wheat, rye, pumpernickel, corn. My cabinets filled with different types of flour, but it was still the all-purpose that we purchased in twenty pound sacks and cycled through at unbelievable speed.

Eventually I heard enough/read enough to realize the benefits of whole grain and, following many recommendations, I started subbing in whole wheat - and then white whole wheat - for a quarter of my all-purpose flour. Gradually I started adding more and more, until finally, with this unprocessed challenge, I wondered, "What would happen if I used all white whole wheat...would anyone even notice?" The simple answer is: No.

Burger buns: I used KAF's best beautiful buns, but subbed in 400 g white whole wheat and 20 g vital wheat gluten. Made twice - gorgeous, fluffy, buttery buns both times.

Crackers: I used this buttermilk whole grain cracker recipe, subbing in a combination of white whole wheat and ground flax seeds. Yum!

Muffins: I've been subbing in increasing amounts of white whole wheat flour for the all-purpose in our muffins: garden harvest, banana chocolate chip. Scones, too, starting with Smitten Kitchen whole wheat berry scones. Sometimes I put in a scoopful of all-purpose, but the majority is always white whole wheat. Everyone gobbles them up just as quickly as before.

Pizza crust: I tried my first 100% whole wheat pizza crust this past week, and it was amazingly delicious. I used this recipe from KAF, omitting the sunflower seeds.

Spaghetti noodles: I've already written about these; we love them!

Tortillas: My biggest unprocessed/whole wheat success story may be these tortillas. We've had them with fajitas three times in the past two weeks, and they are so good. The kids aren't big fans, but they've tried them every time, in the hopes that eventually the taste will become more acceptable. Hubby and I love them, though, and I am getting so much better at making them. Last time, it took me only 20 minutes to roll and cook the whole batch!

Cookies: While this unprocessed challenge has helped us cut down on sweets a lot, every once in a while you need a little something, and I was intrigued by these 100% whole wheat chocolate chip cookies from KAF. It's true that they have a fair amount of processed sugars, but we tried them anyway. The little girl and I had fun baking them together this afternoon. We made tiny teaspoon-sized cookies, which baked perfectly in eight minutes, and hit the spot as a little after-dinner treat!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The biggest unprocessed challenge: Snack time!

We knew going in to this month of unprocessed eating that snacks would be the hardest part. We are accustomed to having snacks when we get home from school, after the kids go to bed, all day long on the weekends. :) But all of these snack foods: crackers, pretzels, chips, nachos, candy are now forbidden. The only one of our usual snacks that we could still have is nuts - almonds, pistachios - and dried fruits.

Because of this, hubby and I have both been snacking a lot less, which I know is good for us. But still, there are those afternoons when lunch was too small or too long ago, or it's just been one of those days, and you need a little something.

I have experimented with several different crackers:
Wheat thins - they were okay, better with cheese. We ate them all, but I wouldn't make the recipe again.

Then I tried homemade ritz crackers. Hubby thought the flavor was spot on; I thought they were okay. After a night in a covered container, they were really soft, which I didn't like. Again, we finished them, but I wouldn't make them again.

Finally, today, I had homemade cracker success. I made whole wheat calzones last night using one of KAF's whole wheat pizza dough recipes. The calzones were delicious: leftover spinach-homemade ricotta mixture from the cannelloni, plus organic chicken sausage sauteed with onion and sweet peppers, and fresh mozzarella.

I made 9 or 10 calzones, but still had a little pizza dough left. So following this KAF recipe for pizza crackers, I rolled the leftover pizza dough really thin and let it rest while I preheated the oven. While that was happening, I heated up some olive oil with garlic and salt and pepper (since I was already making garlic bread for tonight's dinner). I brushed the garlic olive oil on the pizza crust and baked the crackers for 12 minutes. Unfortunately, that was too long, and most of the sheet got too dark. However, the pieces that didn't burn were absolutely delicious. I will definitely make these again!

I also tried this recipe for buttermilk-whole wheat crackers (can you tell that I've been in a cracker mood?). I did vary the ingredients a bit, based on what I had on hand: 250 g white whole wheat flour, 70 g ground golden flax seed, 1 tbsp sugar, 3/4 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 5 tbsp EVOO, 3/4 c buttermilk. I followed the same process as in the recipe, but again I brushed the crackers with the garlic olive oil and then sprinkled sesame seeds over the top.

The other winning after-school snack is popcorn - either regular, with butter and garlic salt, or this recipe for kettle corn. The recipe is absolutely delicious and really quite easy, although it does contain some regular granulated sugar; I'm curious to try one of the honey or maple syrup-sweetened popcorn recipes that's floating around out there.

The kids, unfortunately, don't really like to snack on dried fruits or nuts much. The little guy's favorite food is a giant sugar-laden blueberry muffin from the grocery store. A while before we went on this challenge, I banned those muffins, and we've gone back to mommy-made muffins. His favorite when he was a toddler were muffins based off of this garden harvest cake from Cooking Light. I use all white whole wheat flour, reduce the sugar by a bit, and eliminate the nuts (he hates them); I bake them in a muffin tin for 24 minutes. He loves these muffins: for breakfast, for lunch, for snack.

I also made mini-whole wheat banana mini-chocolate chip muffins for a breakfast snack this past weekend; they were a huge hit. I used my favorite banana bread recipe, subbing in all white whole wheat flour, reducing the sugar, eliminating the bourbon and the nuts, and adding a few mini-chocolate chips.

We also tried these healthy cookies, disbelieving that a cookie with no sweetener and no flour could really be good. With the exception of grinding up the almonds, the kids did it all. The cookies were...okay. We ended up eating them all, but no one could eat more than one in a sitting. We won't make the recipe again, but it was fun.

Lastly, we bought these smoothie pops and are experimenting with them. Our first try was vanilla yogurt plus a little orange juice concentrate: a big success!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Totally unprocessed dinner: Donna Hay's cannelloni

Every Wednesday, I am struck by how delicious my friends Kayte and Margaret's Donna Hay meals look. Every Wednesday, I think, "I really need to try that." But I never have. Until two weeks ago, when they posted these cannelloni and I knew that I really had to try these.

Being in the middle of our unprocessed month, I decided to see if I could make the whole thing from scratch, using all whole and unprocessed ingredients.

I think I did pretty well. I used: whole milk, lemons, vinegar, salt, pepper, spinach, whole wheat flour, eggs, tomatoes, onion, garlic, fresh basil, parsley, oats (ground into oat flour to replace the bread crumbs), Parmesan, olive oil...oh, and I guess I did use a pinch of white sugar.

I used my new DIY cookbook from ATK to make my first ever ricotta. It was amazing. And not very hard or even very time consuming. I can see why people say they'll never go back to store-bought again.

Then I used Donna Hay's recipe for tomato sauce.

I made my usual whole wheat egg pasta, rolling it out into long sheets for my lasagna noodles.

And then I assembled and baked it. It was amazing: the ricotta was lemony and bright, the basil and spinach were so fresh, the noodles were flavorful and perfectly was one of the best meals I've ever had, and one of the first times I can remember where I could taste each individual ingredient. And, in addition to the whole family gobbling it up (once the kiddos had scraped out some of the ricotta), I was so proud of myself for the meal I created. :-)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Chicken stock & chicken noodle soup

We used to have a favorite chicken noodle soup (a recipe from Cooking Light that used canned chicken broth, boneless chicken thighs, and dumplings instead of noodles), until the day I happened upon Deb's recipe for homemade chicken soup...and then we had a new favorite. I posted the recipe I used here.

I make this soup at least once per week, no longer following a recipe, varying the amounts depending on whether or not I want ingredients to freeze or if I have another recipe during the week ahead that needs broth or chicken. And now that we've gone unprocessed, I've incorporated homemade whole wheat noodles, too.

Chicken stock
2 T oil (safflower or olive)
6 pounds chicken pieces (3 breasts, 3 leg pieces)
1 onion, cut into four or six large pieces
1 carrot, cut into three or four chunks
1 celery stalk, cut into three or four chunks
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp salt
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
12 cups water

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add half of the chicken and cook for a few minutes until browned; then flip. Remove to a plate. Repeat with remaining oil and chicken.
2. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the veggies. Cook for a few minutes until browned.
3. Add chicken back into the pot.
4. Add spices and water, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer the stock, for 60 - 90 minutes, skimming off the yucky stuff that appears on the surface.
5. Remove the chicken. Let it cool, and then pull the meat off the bones.
6. Strain the stock over a large glass measuring cup or a pitcher. Press on the vegetables to get out all of the flavor.

Egg pasta
4 eggs
3 c flour (2 c white whole wheat, 1 c all-purpose) ~ 14 ounces

1. Combine eggs and flour in a food processor until they form a ball.
2. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
3. Roll the pasta thinly, dust with flour, roll up, and use a pizza cutter to slice into 1/4 inch strips.

Chicken noodle soup
2 tsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 - 4 carrots, chopped
3 - 4 stalks of celery, chopped
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp salt
a few turns of freshly ground pepper
8 c homemade chicken stock
2 - 3 c cooked chicken
5 - 6 ounces fresh pasta
1 cup frozen vegetables (1/2 c corn, 1/2 c peas)

1. Heat the oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Sauté the veggies until softened, five minutes or so.
2. Add the broth, thyme, and salt and pepper, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 or 15 minutes.
3. About four minutes before you want to eat, add the chicken and pasta; two minutes later, add the frozen veggies.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A new way to grocery shop

Although I made a meal plan and went grocery shopping before we began this challenge a week and a half ago, I feel like I had my first *real* unprocessed grocery trip this past weekend. During the week, I did a lot more research on this whole real food/unprocessed thing (shocking, I know), and I discovered that many things that I assumed were fine, really weren't: dairy products, oils, canned beans.

This week's grocery trip took the same amount of time and we spent about the same amount of money, but we bought less food and were so much more thoughtful about what we put in the cart.

In the dairy section, I read the labels of every mini-yogurt container for the kiddos, finally choosing Stonyfield baby (the little girl likes vanilla best) and a Chobani for the little guy (he likes strawberry). I checked out all of the cream cheeses, realizing that I couldn't buy any. I made sure that our cheddar only included milk and cheese culture (and annato for coloring, which stresses some people out, but it's a spice that I have in my cupboard and use so I have no problem with cheeses that use it). Hubby's usual half-and-half has some added stuff, but I found an organic brand with nothing but milk and cream; same thing with sour cream.

Unfortunately, there were no unrefined oils in the baking aisle, but I did find cold pressed EVOO. After my discovery that the canned beans have added crap, I bypassed them and picked up a couple of bags of dried.

The meats I chose (ground chicken, ground turkey, and boneless chicken breast) were minimally processed and had no added preservatives, the best I could do at the grocery store.

We spent the most amount of time in the produce aisles, and it's nice to put all of those fruits and veggies in the cart without reading ingredient labels; we bought organic where we could.
There wasn't a thing in the cart that didn't meet the kitchen test, and it was nice to feel good about the conveyer belt full of healthy food for my family. I'm looking forward to an improved weather forecast so we can go to the Farmer's Market and see what they have to offer.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Unprocessed parenting, week one reflections

We decided to tackle the unprocessed/real food challenge to improve our family's health, but to be honest, it was mainly about refocusing our (the grownups') crappy eating habits. But the more I read, the more I become convinced that eating this way is better for all of us. We are not being super strict with the kids: obviously their dinners are unprocessed because they're eating with us (with the exception of their mini-yogurts), and they're eating more unprocessed snacks and breakfasts at home. The little guy's lunch box has been mostly unprocessed, with the exception of an occasional "jammy sammy" to round out his lunch. But during the week, when they're at their grandpa's or at preschool or kindergarten, they're still eating the way they always have. It has been interesting to watch their response to these conversations.

My friend Rebecca pointed out this article to me; in it, Mark Bittman writes about the excessively over-processed nature of most of the foods we eat. One of the biggest processed foods is store-bought cereal; it made me feel guilty that my kids eat so much of it. We use cereal for breakfast, for after-school snacks, and even for after-dinner snacks. I mentioned it at dinner the other day, and my kids both got a panicked look on their faces: Was I going to take away their cereal?! But I reminded them that their daddy and I were not going to *make* them do anything...I just wanted them to be aware of what they were eating. I'm trying to figure out other, more "real," snacks that I can offer instead of cereal.

Another of the kids' favorite foods, mini Yoplait or Dannon yogurts, were on a list of the least healthy/most added crap children's food. Again, the kids looked panicked when I brought it up. Instead of replacing their mini-yogurts with the suggested plain yogurt flavored with fruit syrup (we've tried in the past, and it hasn't gone over well), we purchased a couple of the "best" versions (most healthy/least added crap) for them to try: they both responded positively to the new brands.

Some of the unprocessed versions of food are taking some getting used to. My little girl, whose favorite dinner food in the whole world is noodles, decided that she didn't like Mommy-made noodles the first time we had them. I explained that that was fine, but that those were the only noodles we were going to have this month. She finally started to eat them. The next time they were on the menu, she pitched a complete fit; then she headed to the table, where she took one bite and said, "I LOVE these!" and has since requested Mommy-made noodles twice. The same could not be said of Mommy-made tortillas, which neither kid liked, although they both did give it a good try.

At the grocery store, the kids asked for their usual kids'-cookie that many stores now give out to make the shopping experience more pleasant for kids and parents. When I explained that the store-bought cookies weren't unprocessed, we had two very upset kiddos on our hands. I comforted them with the idea of a mommy-made treat when we got home, and they were super excited to have some of the birthday cake and whipped cream that I was making for a friend. Not exactly a healthy treat, but at least one where I knew what all of the ingredients were.

Even after a week, eating real, unprocessed foods has definitely become the norm. On Sunday night, we had chili, and the little guy asked if there were any tortilla chips. I explained that no, store-bought chips were some of the worst foods for our bodies. Without skipping a beat, he said, "Well, Mom, can't you go make us some tortilla chips?!" I'm working on it.....

A final sign that this has become the new norm for the kids: While walking to the car after kindergarten the other day, the little guy said, "Let's catch rain drops on our tongues...they're unprocessed!" :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Unprocessed: Week one reflections

We made it through week one! Here are some reflections, challenges and positives:

  • Illness: A stomach virus hit our house last Monday (the second day of our unprocessed challenge)...of course that throws a wrench in everything. Meal plans had to get adjusted, the little guy wasn't eating anything, everyone was exhausted. But we still stuck to it, rearranging our meal plan, but not falling back on any processed foods.
  • Snacks: This was an expected challenge: lunches for school when we ran out of leftovers, lunches for the weekends, after-school snacks, dinners when I had parent-teacher conferences late at school. I've come to rely on egg salad on homemade bread with fruit and veggies. The hubby's lunch on Friday was pretty scant: homemade wheat thins with cheese and fruit. We've been doing well with skipping our after school snacks, and when we were desperate, I've made kettle corn. We definitely need to continue to work on this area.
  • Related to my egg salad sandwiches...I used my homemade mayo, but wasn't a huge fan, so by the end of the week, I did use a tiny bit of store-bought mayo and mustard. I need to try another mayo recipe this week.
  • Canned foods: Wow, I really had not realized all of the crap they put into canned foods. I think of our meals as healthy when they use canned beans. Checking out the can this weekend, I saw corn syrup (why?!), salt, chemical preservatives, and other stuff. Ew. Luckily, my canned tomatoes, while including salt, don't include anything else except tomatoes.
  • Weekend events: We had some fun activities planned for this weekend, and weren't sure how we'd handle the whole unprocessed thing. On Friday night, the little guy's school hosted a family pizza/popcorn/movie night in the gym. We weren't sure what to do about dinner. In the end, the hubby decided to "cheat," and he and the kids ate the pizza; I brought some plain yogurt, fruit, and homemade granola. Worked pretty well. On Saturday, we went to a pow wow. We all ate a little lunch before we left so we wouldn't be starving when we got there. But we couldn't pass up the fry bread food truck, so hubby and I hoped/pretended that the fry bread was made with all unprocessed ingredients. ;-)
  • Snow! We timed this challenge with the spring so we would have more energy and also could rely on grilling. Instead, winter came back with a vengeance. So much for our meal plans of grilling chicken (Wednesday) and chef salad (Tuesday). These were replaced by pancakes and a spaghetti freezer meal. This upcoming week, too, is going to be too cold and snowy for grilling or spring-time food.
Happy news:
  • In many ways, this hasn't been nearly as challenging as I feared. I've realized that our dinners were already pretty unprocessed, so there haven't been that many adjustments. In our soup dinner, the only thing I had to make that I haven't always made was the noodles; in our spaghetti meal, it was the noodles and the salad dressing. But I'm in the habit of making so many other things from scratch, so it wasn't that bad.
  • I am so glad that I keep back-ups and make extras for the freezer. Some things have really caught me off-guard: on Sunday, I was making chili. I had already purchased dried beans to replace the canned, but had completely forgotten that the recipe calls for two cups of chicken broth. I always use the jarred stuff. Luckily I had a baggie with two cups of stock in the freezer!
  • I have been so impressed by my hubby's commitment. This has been my project from the beginning: my idea, my planning, my organization. But on Monday morning when the little guy was sick, and I was staying home, and no one was really up for making a meal, my hubby could have easily decided to cheat and grab a bowl of processed cereal; instead, I looked up, and there he was, pulling out the frying pan and making some scrambled eggs for himself.
  • So far, I've had two Sundays of being at home, which I think is completely necessary to working full-time and being successful at this challenge. Yesterday, after grocery shopping, I made a huge batch of noodles and whole wheat rolls for the week, in addition to our chili dinner and a birthday cake for my friend. I was in the kitchen for most of the day. Not sure I could do this otherwise.
  • My first several experiences making homemade pasta were not good, and I kind of regretted asking the hubby to buy me a pasta maker for Christmas several years ago; it felt like a waste of money. But happily, I have found a great egg noodle recipe, easily adapted to whole wheat flour, and it only took me 50 minutes to roll out, cut, and freeze a pound and a half of pasta for the week (not including the 5 minutes to mix up the dough and the 30 minute rest time).
  • Giving up candy has not been nearly as traumatic as I expected. I actually started a week early, so I wouldn't be trying to keep the family on track while battling my own food demon. But I haven't really had any cravings.
  • My hubby seems to have had an easy transition to giving up pop, too; he's been having a cup of coffee during his normal afternoon pop time, and he hasn't complained at all or been crabby.
  • I was worried about losing desserts because we're accustomed to having it almost every night, but we've just kind of naturally drifted out of the habit.
  • I'm glad that we're having conversations about food as a family: where food comes from, what companies do to it, what's healthy for our bodies, why companies use things that aren't good for us to make food taste "better." More about the kids in tomorrow's post.
  • Finally, I have found a lot of resources to give me ideas about adapting recipes and making things from scratch. In addition to Eating Rules, I have found 100 days of real food, and I've also found that just searching for a recipe plus "unprocessed October" gives me a lot of links to other people who have tried to do this same thing.
Well, there you have it: far more happy things than challenges. In general, week one went really well, and hubby and I are already talking about which changes we want to make permanent....On to week two!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wordlessish Wednesday: Unprocessed freezer to the rescue

Too tired to cook = homemade pasta, homemade marinara, and homemade garlic bread from the freezer. Plus a quick homemade ranch dressing made with my first ever homemade mayo. Wahoo!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Day one and plans for the week

Phew, day one of going unprocessed draws to a close.

This morning, as I contemplated getting out of bed, I thought about the meals we had planned for the day when suddenly I realized that our normal Sunday morning breakfast contained one of those secret processed foods! Eeek! We usually have steel cut oatmeal on the weekends, made with milk and water, combined with raisins and apples cooked with brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter. Milk...seemingly innocuous, is (when you think about it) actually quite processed between it's raw stage and what we buy at the grocery store. I came downstairs and told my hubby what I'd realized. He looked at me with one eyebrow arched and said, "Abby, that is not why we're doing this. Maybe we should say 'minimally processed.' We are not eliminating milk from our oatmeal; we're eliminating chemicals and other bad stuff from our lives." Oh, yeah, that's right.

So for breakfast, we had our normal steel cut oatmeal. I even left the brown sugar coated apples (at hubby's request), although I will continue to use maple syrup when I'm just making oatmeal for me.

For lunch, I had leftovers from last night's tater tot hot dish - the unprocessed part, covered with mashed potatoes instead of tater tots. It was delicious.

Then I got busy in the kitchen. This unprocessed thing takes a lot of planning and a lot of time. :) I started by making these wheat thins from KAF, as written up on Smitten Kitchen. Hubby and I are both concerned about having some unprocessed snacks in the house, so that we don't cave in to a craving in a weak moment. They were relatively easy to throw together, using my food processor to mix everything together and my pasta roller to roll out the dough. As Deb suggested, I made a double batch. And they were...okay. I'm hoping that they're better tomorrow, and I'm positive that they'd be better with cheese than just plain. I bookmarked this list from the Kitchn of other homemade crackers to try.

For snacks, I had part of a banana and some almonds. Hubby had leftover garlic bread with eggs.

For dinner, we had chicken noodle soup with fresh pasta, with grilled cheese sandwiches. This is where the mega-planning comes in.

I made this oatmeal wheat bread from KAF, subbing in white whole wheat flour for most of the all-purpose, and multiplying all of the ingredients by 150% to fit in my large pullman pan. This bread is mostly whole grain (oats and whole wheat flour) and uses honey instead of sugar, and it was completely delicious. We used a little less than half of the loaf for our grilled cheese sandwiches tonight. I'll use some for the little guy's lunches this week. The rest of the loaf will be used for eggs-in-a-nest on Thursday for hubby and the kids when I'm at parent-teacher conferences.

I made a large batch of chicken stock (recipe tomorrow), with three pounds of chicken. I used 8 cups of the stock for tonight's soup, and froze the other 5 cups. I used half of the chicken for tonight's soup, and saved the other half ~ part for tomorrow night's fried rice, and part for Wednesday night's chef salad.

I made 4 eggs worth of fresh pasta, subbing in white whole wheat flour for most of the all-purpose. I used 6 ounces in tonight's soup, and froze two other batches of 6 ounces for future batches of soup.

It was a busy day, but makes me feel better about the week ahead. It also makes me feel like I can make it through this month, as long as I have a full day in the kitchen each weekend. :)

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bridging the gap: Homemade tater tot hot dish

Apparently (according to my mom's recipe book) one of my most-requested meals when I was a child was my mom's tater tot hot dish. My hubby had never had the experience, and when I finally made it for him four or five years ago, he was furious (not really): How could I have kept such goodness from him?!? Needless to say, it became a household favorite. But with the ingredient list: fatty ground beef, three cans of condensed soup, and something called "browning and seasoning sauce," I would only make it once or twice a year.

One night a few months ago, I was thinking that tater tot hot dish sounded good, but we didn't have any of the ingredients (except tater tots). I wondered...could I make it from scratch, without all of the soups? I looked on line, and was surprised that I couldn't really find any recipe that didn't contain the condensed soups or some other processed ingredient.

Hm...what if I started with a homemade cream of mushroom soup? What if I used fresh veggies in addition to frozen? What if...the what ifs multiplied, and I made a small pan, warning my family that it might be totally yucky. Guess what? It wasn't! It was way too soupy and a little bland, but I kept working on the recipe. And then, two weeks ago, tater tot hotdish was on the menu again...and I couldn't find the recipe anywhere. I looked everywhere. Finally, when we were down to the wire, I said, "Well, let me try writing it down from memory..." and it was the best it's ever been. It is so much more flavorful than the original (sorry, Mom!) :), with bright flavor from the fresh veggies, and a richness from the mushroom soup. It does have a lot of butter and a bit of cream, and I could probably try reducing them some, but it is just. so. good.

Homemade tater tot hot dish
by Abby :)

for the mushroom soup:
3 tbsp butter
1/2 onion, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 8-ounce package mushrooms, thinly sliced
1/4 c flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 1/2 c chicken stock
1/2 c cream

for hot dish
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 16 or 20 oz package ground turkey
1 c frozen vegetables (I use peas and corn)
1 2-lb package tater tots (I don't use the whole package)

1. Preheat oven to 350º.
2. Melt the butter over medium heat in a saucepan. Add onion, carrot, celery, and mushrooms and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Add flour, salt, and pepper, and stir for 1 minute.
4. Whisk in chicken stock and cream and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and set aside.
5. Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Cook the onion, carrot, and celery for 2 minutes. Add the turkey, salt, and pepper, and cook until turkey is brown.
6. Pour the meat mixture into the bottom of a 9x13 glass baking dish. Sprinkle the frozen veggies over the meat. Pour the soup over the meat and veggies. Place the tater tots on top.
7. Bake for 60 minutes at 350º.

In light of the fact that we're starting our unprocessed journey tomorrow, I have been thinking about how to make this favorite dish unprocessed. The only ingredient that doesn't fit the kitchen test is the tater tots. So tonight, I decided to cover a corner of the hot dish with some leftover mashed potatoes to see if it would be a workable substitution for the next month. Kind of a cross between tater tot hot dish and shepherd's pie.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Practicing unprocessed

Even though our official start date isn't until this weekend, I have started making a few changes in the past week or so. Separate from our other motivations, I have felt pretty crappy lately, and I know that one of the main things to blame is my eating habits. Way too much candy, too much snacking, too many "Oh, what the heck; what's one more?"s.

To be truly unprocessed, you need to eliminate sugars, both white and brown. I looooooove sugar. My favorite breakfast is oatmeal ~ either with white sugar, banana, almonds, and plain yogurt, or with brown sugar, apples, raisins, and milk. I was nervous about losing my sugar, but a few days ago, I took a deep breath and tried maple syrup, one of the unprocessed sugars (pure maple syrup, of course). And guess what? I loved it!

I've also been checking our dinners each night, to see how they'd do against unprocessed expectations. (In part just to reassure myself that this is possible and won't be that challenging.)

Here, we have this slow cooker honey chicken via Tracey's site (processed ingredients: sriracha, corn starch, canned tomato paste) over brown rice, roasted asparagus with this recipe from Cooking Light, and grapes. I remember trying brown rice some time years ago, and we thought it was really gross, so I was nervous about trying it again. But I know how much healthier it is and that we need to give up white rice, so I tried it in this recipe where I knew it would be buried under flavorful chicken. And it was delicious! I'm not sure what I did wrong last time, but no one could tell the difference; the little girl who loves white rice more than just about anything gobbled up her plateful just as quickly as usual. What a relief!

Last night, we had homemade chicken noodle soup (ingredients: safflower oil, chicken breasts and thighs, onions, celery, carrots, peas, corn, thyme, salt, and pepper; processed ingredient: egg noodles), homemade breadsticks (an ATK roll recipe with white whole wheat flour), grapes, pear, homemade applesauce (ingredients: apples, water, cinnamon; processed ingredient: sprinkling of white sugar), and cheddar cheese.

All of the processed ingredients from these meals are things we probably won't be giving up anyway, although I'll probably try to make my own noodles and I may try subbing in honey for the sugar in the applesauce. I've got a notebook with a lot of notes, and I've started recording meal and snack ideas. Both of these dinners will go on the list.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Unprocessed: Setting goals

As I said the other day, to truly go unprocessed, you need to cut out more than we bargained for. Most meats and dairy foods have some sort of stabilizer or preservative or something added. You can't use any sugar (brown or white) in baking. Technically no vital wheat gluten in bread-making. No corn starch to help thicken ice cream or stews. No wines to flavor cooking.

After discussion, hubby and I agreed that this wasn't really what we had in mind when we decided to attempt this challenge. And, even if it was, there is no way I can devote that much time to this project in the middle of the school year. Our primary goals are to reset: to eat more healthfully, be more conscious of what we put in our bodies, read ingredient labels, cut out our demon-foods, fix our snack habits, and try to cut out as many chemicals as possible. Here is the list of goals we came up with, in order of importance:

  1. Completely eliminate our demon foods: candy for me, pop and chips for hubby.

  2. Cut down or eliminate snacking and desserts (especially the unhealthy ones).

  3. Bake all of our bread products (buns, loaves, crackers, pizza crusts, etc.).

  4. Switch back to lean meats; attempt to buy some from the farmer's market. (Although, I know we'll probably still use mostly grocery store meats, even with their added ingredients.)

  5. Focus more on fruits and veggies; more salads.

  6. Make all cookies, crackers, etc, from scratch with real ingredients.

  7. Use more whole grains (sub brown rice for white; whole wheat flour for white flour).

  8. Grate cheeses ourselves to avoid stablizers added to shredded cheeses.

  9. Cut back on eating out (not that we do that much anyway); be more conscious and careful when we eat out.

  10. Cut back on our reliance on meat; one vegetarian dinner per week?

Some other thoughts, ideas, and plans:

  1. We'd initially talked about doing only two weeks, but after reflecting, we realized that it needs to be longer to actually have a chance of changing our patterns. So we're going to do a month.

  2. We wanted to wait until after the Easter candy was out of the house, and I know you're not supposed to start changing things on a Monday, so we agreed to start on April 7.

  3. I am willing to cut back, but not totally eliminate sugars.

  4. I am going to attempt to make all of our sauces: ketchup, mustard, salad dressings, mayo, but I'm not going to beat myself up if I don't have time. If we have to purchase, I will read the labels carefully and select the most unprocessed I can find.

  5. I will attempt to make all pasta from scratch, but if necessary, will buy the most unprocessed I can.

  6. I did not realize the extent of added ingredients to our canned beans and tomatoes; I will try to start using more dried beans and frozen veggies.

  7. I would love to go back to making my own yogurt, but I'm not sure I'll have the time. If I don't, my usual plain yogurt already fits the kitchen test.

  8. For the most part, our cheeses, butters, milk, cream, peanut butter, maple syrup, and honey already pass the kitchen test.

  9. We will continue to use/cook with vital wheat gluten, wine, table salt, olive oil, safflower oil, corn starch, and some seasonings (sriacha, soy sauce, etc.).

So...let's see what happens!