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Cooking from scratch. March 4, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. After watching the documentary “Food, Inc.,” the good folks over at Not Dabbling In Normal* have declared a challenge, the Real Food Challenge, for the month of March: “Challenging ourselves and each of our readers to eat fewer processed foods and focus on eating Real Food.” If you head over to their blog (http://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/), you’ll find all sorts of informative posts and comments, giveaways, and more.

We tend to think of the ultimate processed foods as fast foods, the mega-burgers, oily fries, donuts, and hi-cal shakes and frappucinos that characterize “Fast Food Nation” and “Supersize Me.” But as the bloggers at Not Dabbling in Normal point out, processed foods aren’t limited to fast foods. High-fructose-corn syrup, trans-fat, and/or artificial sweetener-laden “convenience foods” line our grocery store shelves, from cereals and baked goods to frozen foods and deli take-out.

Fine, you say. So why are we all still buying them? Is it really about convenience? I’d say, mostly not. Product manufacturers know that consumers find foods tastier and more flavorful if they’re full of salt, sugar, and fat, the trifecta of comfort and satisfaction. So they give us what they know we want, no matter how much public outrage we proclaim against it.

Here’s what I mean: Would you rather eat a plain baked potato or a baked potato with butter, salt, chives, and sour cream? How about a head of plain lettuce versus a salad with lots of veggies, olives, shredded cheese, and salad dressing? A boiled skinless chicken breast or a piece of fried chicken? Whole-wheat spaghetti topped with fresh chopped tomatoes and steamed zucchini or lasagna with tons of gooey cheese and a rich, delicious, long-cooked tomato sauce? Fat-free whole wheat-carob brownies or housemade tiramisu? I rest my case.

So let’s get back to cooking from scratch, and let’s get over our preconceptions for a minute here. Yes, you absolutely can make wonderful, healthy, and delicious meals from scratch at home. You can eat great meals at home every night. But to do that, you have to get over three preconceptions: First, that in order to qualify as “Real Food,” homemade food has to be bland and tasteless, the horrendous “brown” health food of the ’60s. Second, that from-scratch food has to be unendingly time-consuming and involve hugely expensive exotic ingredients or it doesn’t qualify. And third, that various pseudofoods, such as Tofurkey, Tofu Pups, and texturized soy protein, must substitute for meat in recipes. Eeeewwww!!!!!!!

Please, everyone. Pseudomeat isn’t meat, never was, never will be. Just like carob isn’t chocolate and yogurt isn’t sour cream. Tofu, yogurt, and carob are foods in their own right, not pseudofoods, not equivalents to popular foods. Just say no!!! (To psuedomeat, that is, not to tofu, yogurt, and—if you like it—carob.) 

Let’s take an example of a from-scratch meal that’s so unbelievably fast, easy, and delicious. Rather than making whole-wheat spaghetti, which tastes bitter and has no possible texture resemblance to the elastic springiness that characterizes real pasta, look at your grocery, health-food store, or co-op for artichoke pasta instead. (DeBoles is one popular brand.) Made with Jerusalem artichokes, it ups the protein content while retaining the true taste and texture of conventional pasta.

While you’re boiling the water for the pasta, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a heavy sauce pan or Dutch oven. Add seasonings: Trocamare (hot seasoned herb-infused salt) or RealSalt, lemon pepper, dried oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme. Add a diced sweet onion, a diced yellow or orange bell pepper,  a box of sliced button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced black olives, and a can or jar of diced artichoke hearts.

Meanwhile, cut green beans or broccoli florets and boil in water to cover. When just done, drain and toss with butter and salt (and, for broccoli, lemon juice).

For the salad, use any combination of greens, such as arugula, Romaine, spring greens, endive, and/or radicchio, with slivered radishes, chopped scallions (green onions), diced red bell pepper, chopped paste tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes, shredded cheese (sharp white Cheddar, Gorgonzola, blue cheese, Asiago, or Parmesan), and crumbled pecans or slivered almonds. Top with a Greek-style salad dressing or a simple olive oil/balsamic vinegar combo, and add salt and fresh-ground black pepper.

Before serving, add the sauce and shredded sharp white Cheddar or Parmesan to the pasta and combine; drain the broccoli or green beans and add the butter, salt, and (for the broccoli) lemon juice, tossing to combine; and dress and serve the salad. Provide red wine, salt and pepper, and dishes of grated cheese so the guests can add the finishing touches to their meal.  

Fast and simple? You betcha. Yummy? Oh, yeah. Real food? Yes it is. Total cooking time? Probably a half-hour, maybe 45 minutes max. It would take you at least that long to order and pick up a to-go pizza (trust me, we know). And you’d pay a lot more for a lot less.

I have recipe boxes full of other “Real Food” options that don’t break the bank or take endless hours to prepare, so let me know if you want more. Meanwhile, please: As my beloved mama always said, it’s as easy to eat real food as anything else, and it’s so much better for you. Real Food is not about being holier-than-thou. Real Food is not about deprivation. Real Food is not about elitism. Instead, it’s about delicious, wholesome food simply cooked from stuff people want to eat. Get it? Then head over to Not Dabbling in Normal and get with the program!

          ‘Til next time,


* We’re still confused by this blog’s name. In our experience, nobody dabbles in normal, but rather, they dabble in not being normal. Help us understand, please!



1. Alan from Roberts Roost - March 4, 2010

Does this mean you are IN for the month? I know you live this way all the time, but the NDiN readers could sure use your BOX full of Real Food Recipes. Get linked http://notdabblinginnormal.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/lets-get-real-food-challenge-starts-today/. (click the dark green Click Here link at the bottom of the post. It’s not hard at all!) We, the readers, need to have access to your BOX.

We’s also love to have you contribute recipes, thoughts, recomend books, etc. on cooking real food. (I know you have the info, SHARE!)

To answer your question about NDiN. I’ve always taken it to mean that we are not even dabbling in normal. We walk a different path, and we don’t even pretend to be “normal”. (The other writers here might have a different interpratation of the title. None of us made it, but I wouldn’t change it. It make’s people think…)

Ha! Thanks for the explanation, Alan. I did manage to (finally) see the subhead, “Committed to Discovering Life without Adhering to ‘Normalcy’,” and that certainly helped. And you’re right, it certainly made me think! I’d love to contribute recommendations for cookbooks (and others that might be relevant), recipes, and thoughts, and (gulp) I’ll try to get brave and click on the link as soon as I can think of a good way to challenge myself (at the moment, all the challenges that are rising to mind involve poor OFB, as in, no more pecan swirls for breakfast!, and somehow that doesn’t seem fair…). But, ahem, is the challenge blogroll really supposed to say “Real Fool Challenge Participants”?!! Admittedly, OFB and I would win that challenge hands-down, without even having to think of some new way to participate…

Alan from Roberts Roost - March 4, 2010

Pretty sure we (the authors) win the REAL FOOL challenge! (I don’t even get to take credit for that one, though it is my style…) Thanks for the head’s up.

We have deliberately not set any strict rules for what participation means. So come on and share. It will inspire you to push the edge while cooking, and you might win something! OFB can survive some Real Food for a while. I’m sure he can swirl some real pecans in his breakfas porridge.

2. Frank - March 4, 2010

Chef Hymie Grande (www.chefhymiegrande.com ) is the first and only bottled BBQ sauce to carry the seal of the American Diabetes Association on the label. It has no high fructose corn syrup, no processed sugar, it is all natural and vegan friendly. It is produced by Jamie Failtelson, a.k.a. Chef Hymie Grande of Carlstadt, NJ. 5% of proceeds go to the American Diabetes Association.

Thanks for the heads up!

3. nancybond - March 4, 2010

I could certainly take this challenge…I’m on my way to sign up. It’s time we made a commitment, though we’ve made an excellent start. 🙂 Thanks for the gentle nudge!

That’s great, Nancy! Let us know how it goes!

4. Joy - March 5, 2010

Silence girl .. I am trying little by little !
The “sprouter” has been not only healthy but FUN to watch : )
Quinoa has been a great addition .. with micro greens and baby greens .. well .. even if I can’t get the boys over to my side I think I am feeling the benefits and I am HAPPY : )

Go Joy go!!! You’ve even inspired me to get out my sprouter!

5. Jen - March 5, 2010

Excellent suggestions! I recently decided to make my own granola bars and started gathering the ingredients — dried fruit, oat flower, flax seed, sunflower seeds, and corn syrup. Corn syrup? yep, that’s what the recipe called for! Somehow it doesn’t seem as evil when I put it in myself, though. But really how hard is it to grate some cheese into milk to make mac and cheese rather than use the packets of bright orange powder!?

Corn syrup isn’t the same thing as the evil high-fructose corn syrup, if that makes you feel any better about reaching for the Karo or whatever, Jen! But you should add some pepitas to those bars along with the sunflower seeds. I was just reading on RealAge how pepitas are naturally high in magnesium and help combat metabolic syndrome. (Plus, they’re so good!)

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