Monday, February 28, 2011

Menu for 2/27/2011 -- Porterhouse steaks with smashed beet salad (Dude2)

* We posted this recipe over at Hunger and Thirst for Life This is a great blog on traditional foods and foraging. *

Today I decided it was time for some primal cuisine.  Beefy grass fed porterhouse steaks, brazenly seared over open flame then slow roasted in the smoke of a downed pecan limb, served with charred, smashed beets and greens and a robust malbec wine.  It was delicious.  Here's what to do:

Homemade Chicken Stock - So Easy it Should be Priority

I swear my wife and I have fended off colds this winter by making our own chicken stock.  Whenever we feel something coming on, we take out a jar of this chicken stock, boil it a couple minutes with minced garlic, and chug it down.  Mmmm... garlic cocktails! This is not your average stock from the store.  Slow cooking the bones, organs, and even feet, make this a gelatinous, nutrient packed addition to soups, sauces, rice, and more.  If you're wanting to get into eating real food, I recommend this as one of the first things you make routine.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

On Creating Recipes (and Menu for 2/27/11 for Dude2)

I decided to make a new recipe today -- a salmon and coconut milk timbale wrapped in a wilted collard green leaf, with Thai-style seasoning.  I had some leftover salmon from a while back, and I was feeling the creative bug.  The flavor was good, but the timbale part didn't work out  so well.  I'll post a recipe when I get that part figured out.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Bleak Midwinter Pizza Festival (and Sourdough Pizza Crust)

** We linked to this post over at The Healthy Home Economist.  You should be sure to check out Sarah's great blog! **

Every year, in the middle of the winter (or early spring, if we're busy like this year) we hold the Bleak Midwinter Pizza Festival here in Cape Girardeau.  A few families get together, and we make pizza and play games to fight off the chill.  I always try something a little unusual -- this year it was a pizza with a pesto base sauce, spinach, goat cheese, basil, and little dollops of red sauce.  It came out great!  I always make my pizzas on whole wheat sourdough crust, which for me is what turns regular pizza into the sort of transcendental experience that real food demands.

Straw Bale Gardening - Part 1: The Setup

I'm attempting a vegetable garden for the first time ever this year.  Gardening has never really been my idea of fun in the past (ask my parents who were always trying to get me to help out in the garden as a kid), but it's time to suck it up.  Buying organic produce can get expensive and there no reason why I can't grow some of my staple vegetables.  I elected to try straw bale gardening when I heard about it because of its pure simplicity.  Before straw bale gardening and I became acquainted, I was stressing out about the lack of space in my backyard and the lack of quality soil.  Problem solved (I hope).

5 Minute Breakfast - Real Food Style

This is my breakfast of choice (at least for now).  I'm usually in a rush to get out the door for work, so this is about the tastiest and quickest way I know of to pack in a bunch of nutrients before heading out the door.  Eggs can be one of the most deceiving items and you should not rely on the organic, cage-free, and other labels.  Since we are eating beyond organic here be sure to find those "real" eggs.

Chicken Fat

Here in Missouri, I'm lucky enough to have a farmer nearby who raises great pastured chicken.  I buy all of my chicken from him at one time each year, and I also get a couple of other specialty things from him:  organ meats and FAT.  We real foodies tend to share a love of good fats, and the rendered fat from a chicken raised on green pasture is a thing of beauty.  It adds a uniquely rich and savory flavor to anything from Spanish rice to the morning's fried eggs, not to mention various nutritional benefits arising from the pasture diet (B-vitamins, Omega-3 fatty acids, etc.).  This is how I render it:

Friday, February 25, 2011

Menu for 2/25/2011 - Chicken Sauce Piquant (Dude2)

I cracked open one of my favorite cookbooks tonight for this one: Donald Link's Real Cajun. That guy knows how to use fats and spices! Here's my version of his Chicken Sauce Piquant (made significantly milder for the benefit of my 19 month old):

Sourdough Whole Wheat English Muffins

I posted this recipe over at Food Renegade, an excellent real food blog. You should check it out!

Having just moved to a new house that I'm having to remodel extensively, I don't yet have an oven. I saw Dude1's post about his sourdough bread last night and decided I needed some myself. What kind of bread can you make without an oven? English muffins. Read on:

Menu for 02/24/2011 - Grilled Whole Chicken, Green Beans, & Basil Garlic Butter (Dude1)

It was time for some white meat after all the red meat earlier this week : )  I almost always buy a whole chicken now instead of the pieces.  I get more for my money this way and use the leftover carcass to make homemade chicken stock.  This particular bird was a 4 lbs grain fed chicken from my local meat market that uses no preservatives, artificial flavoring, or antibiotics.  I served it with my wife's favorite green beans, and homemade basil garlic butter on homemade sourdough bread.  Keep reading for all the recipes.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Menu for 2/24/2011 - Poached Salmon with cliantro lime sauce (Dude2)

I thought I'd do a little experimenting in the kitchen today, so I made some poached salmon with a creamy cilantro lime sauce, and broccoli and rice for the sides. All in all I'd say it was pretty good. The cheese sauce was a little strange (mozzarella makes a very stretchy "sauce") but it was well-received.

How to Catch Wild Sourdough

You'll probably note that both Dude1 and I are big sourdough fans. In fact, I went to the trouble of carrying a sample of my wild-caught sourdough starter to him all the way from Missouri (TSA: "What's that?" Me: "Just my sourdough" TSA: "...") so he could give it a shot. I think he's caught his own since then, but we are both hooked.

Sourdough cultures are actually a mix of at least two (and more likely a large number) of microorganisms. At a very minimum, you will catch a yeast and a bacterium. The yeast is typically attached to the flour when you buy it, so that part is easy. The bacterium will be a species of lactobacillus (the lactic acid bacteria responsible for the tang of other fermented foods, like yogurt). The yeast is responsible for the leavening action of the starter, and the bacterium gives it the sour flavor. Fortunately for us, both of these organisms are so ubiquitous in our world that we would be hard pressed not to catch them under the conditions of our little operation.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Menu for 02/23/2011 - Reheating My Grassfed Beef (Dude1)

Tonight was leftovers using the red meat we cooked while Dude2 was out here visiting.  By the way, I obviously need to take more time with my food photography because the above picture does not look all that appetizing.  Believe me, it was quite good.  Anyhow, the trick for me was to reheat the rare ribeye that Dude2 cooked without making it tough and turning it into a medium cooked streak.  Obviously, microwaves are a big no, no and I don't usually have luck reheating in a toaster oven either.  Continue reading for how I successfuly reheated the rare steak, tips on homemade sourdough bread, and my sauteed zucchini.   

Dude2's Favorite Cookbooks

I have an enormous collection of cookbooks. Of that pile, a few rise to the top that I turn to over and over for either inspiration or as a reference to remember how to make certain things. These are those books:

Dude2 -- Dinner in 20 Minutes Flat (2/23/2011)

I had to work late today, so I ended up only having about 20 minutes to get something made for dinner. Time to improvise! On the drive home, cream of spinach soup sounded pretty good, so I went for it. I'm sure I have recipes in some of my cookbooks for this, but they are all currently packed so I had to wing it. I'd say it came out pretty good, but it could have been a bit thicker. If you try it, maybe cut down on the stock by about a cup, or add extra spinach.

News Flash: GMO Crops and Roundup are Dangerous

This just in from the wider Internet: GMO crops and the Roundup weed killer that they are designed to withstand may be breeding a new class of pathogen. This organism is capable of causing disease in both plants and animals, and has been implicated in livestock miscarriages, infertility, and several corn and soybean diseases. There is reason to believe that it could affect humans as well.

This, of course, is not a surprise. The notion that we could bypass eons of evolution and make a shortcut crop that would be able to thrive in a biological vacuum devoid of soil life and organic nutrients is pure folly. It was destined to fail, because it fails to account for the fact that all plant and animal life is interdependent, and even tiny changes in the relationships may have vast and unknowable consequences. The hubris exhibited by directly installing a new feature via genetic manipulation instead of allowing it to develop through a selection process (as in traditional plant breeding) is mind boggling. All other organisms on Earth have developed as a part of their environment -- even highly bred garden vegetables. There are a nearly infinite number of variables involved with how a plant or animal interacts with its environment; everything from co-adapted bacteria and fungi to the size, shape, and growth rate of roots has to work together properly. What GMO crops have done is completely ignore all of the other interrelated properties necessary for life to exist, placing foreign genetic material and toxic chemicals directly into the mix with no natural selection process. It is only natural that this left a vast, echoing void of ecological niches. The natural process of selection makes minor changes to genomes, or crosses ecologically viable genomes, over the course of eons. Genetic manipulation can make huge changes in a single generation, and can make changes that would never occur naturally (such as adding genetic material from an animal to a plant's genome). The new plant has so many new properties that were unknown in the past that it practically represents a new and empty ecosystem for other organisms to adapt into. That one of those niches was filled with a new class of pathogenic organism is unfortunate but not surprising.

Hopefully it's not too late, and we can turn it around with our real food revolution. We certainly can't depend on the authorities or the industrial agriculture world to do it for us. The solution to such problems is here now, and always has been. Real food is the answer.

Grilling Steaks, Dude2 style

I just returned to Missouri from a quick trip to New Mexico, where I had the opportunity to demonstrate the way I grill grass fed meat for Dude1. I can't really claim credit for the method, as I learned it from The Farmer and The Grill (another good cookbook), but I did have to adapt my style a little for different equipment.

I generally grill exclusively on hardwood lump charcoal, but Dude1 doesn't have such a grill yet. He does have a fancy gas grill though, so we did a little experiment to recreate the smoky, fiery atmosphere that my steaks usually cook in on his gas grill.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Menu for 2/20/2011 - Gypsy Pot Roast (Dude1)

Dude2 and I actually have an opportunity to dine together the next couple of nights.  Tonight was my night to cook.  I decided to use up a grassfed chuck roast I bought and froze from the Santa Fe Farmer's Market 3 months back. 

I decided to take a recipe from the book Tender Grassfed Meat authored by Stanley A. Fishman. Stanley calls it Gypsy Pot Roast - Bohemian Style.  Paprika (sweat and spicy varieties) and allspice make this a roast with a bit of a bite...  Actually, I just returned from the Google and discovered I made a poor choice of a substitution.  In the store I could not find two types of paprika like the recipe calls for.  I figured maybe hot paprika was the same thing as cayenne.  Nope!  Cayenne is much hotter and that is why my dish had such a bite.  My 1 year old needless to say did not eat it.  Oops!

Who is Real Food Dude1?

I am not a cook, farmer, or gardener.  I eat my food too fast and never stop to think and savor flavors or textures.  I eat because I have to, and rarely care how I relieve the pain of hunger.  This probably makes me extraordinarily ordinary.  Does this sound like you?

Of course, these are all things that I have set out to accomplish or correct because of my new-found appreciation for real food.  I wish to be ordinary no more!  If you are reading this blog perhaps you sympathize with my story.  Perhaps, like me, you are subscribed to more real food blogs than you can keep track of or possibly have time to read.  But for once you are fired up to make real significant changes in your  life.  Your passion for health, family, social relationships, and local markets has empowered you to change everything about you

I am not very far along in this new journey of diet and life style, but find the significance of it as empowering motivation to write about it; to share it; to connect with others regarding it.  I am extremely excited for what my future holds in store for me as I learn about nutrition, flavor, gardening, cooking, my community, and more.  Do you feel this same kind of excitement?  Do you agree it is not something to be felt alone?

Menu for 2/18/2011 - Leftovers! (Dude2)

Yes, that's right. Leftovers tonight! We moved to our new house on 20 acres yesterday, and the kitchen looks like it just landed after being in a tornado. Fortunately, I had plenty of extra green chile cheeseburgers and some leftover calabacitas guisadas to fill the gap. I also enjoyed some treats from Juan and Tammy's Puerto Rican Carryouts. They make a lot of great stuff, and it's all bona fide real food, done according to the guidance in Nourishing Traditions.

The move to the new house went smoothly, and let me tell you it was great sleeping in the silence of the country at night. It was also dark. Truly dark. I love it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Menu for 2/17/2011 - Green Chile Cheeseburgers (Dude2)

I had to rush it tonight, so I made green chile cheeseburgers. "Rush" might be a bit of an exaggeration, because I still made the onion buns from scratch. I just did it with instant yeast instead of my sourdough culture so I could have them done in four hours instead of 24. I took pictures, but they're on a different camera so I'll post them when I figure out how to get them off of the fancy camera. For now, here are my recipes for dinner in a pinch:

Menu for 02/16/2011 - Minestrone Soup (Dude1)

I'm falling behind on getting my dinner menus posted and Dude 2 has also stepped up the game by adding photos. I'll be sure to start adding photos to my future menus.

Dinner the other night was minestrone soup. This is a great meal to load up on veggies! I'll post the ingredient amounts I ended up using, but just a warning that it did end up making enough for a small army. No worries, as this will freeze great since I did not add the noodles directly to the soup.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Bare Essentials

You can spend all the money you have, and most of what you will never have, on kitchen gadgets and still end up wanting. It's the nature of the art -- everybody has a slightly different style, and until you land on a style it's easy to shoot off into outer space with kitchen gear. Cooking well is truly an art, and as such it's best to become skilled before you get the high-powered (and expensive) tools. Unfortunately, this sort of advice almost always comes too late, but I'm going to forge ahead anyway on the off chance that it will help someone out there.

Cooking real food in general requires more gear than cooking processed food, simply because you generally have to start with the most basic materials. You'll be doing it all, because very few products you can buy currently qualify as real food. Hopefully our little movement will change that as more artisan level cooks join the game, but for now your choice is generally either to make it yourself or settle for an inferior product. So, if this list of "bare essentials" looks kind of extravagant to you, that's probably why. Enough disclaimer, on to the list!

Menu for 2/17/2011 - French Onion Soup (Dude2)

Tonight, I made French onion soup, gratineed with a whole wheat sourdough crouton and Swedish Fontina cheese. Vegetables arrived in the form of a simple side salad with Ume Plum vinaigrette. I modded the French onion soup recipe according to my own tastes, and the result was awesome if you ask me.

Menu for 02/15/2011 - Pasta Carbonara with Prosciutto (Dude1)

Pasta Carbonara with Prosciutto
This is one of the wife's favorites and now we can eat it without guilt now that we use real food and have been de-indoctrinated regarding fat. There's nothing like raw heavy cream from a grass fed cow : ) This is also an extremely fast and easy meal to throw together.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Menu for 2/16/2011 - Ground Beef Tacos (Dude2)

Cooking tonight was a challenge -- my entire family has the flu, and we're in the middle of moving so we have nothing in the kitchen (two pans, a knife, and a cutting board). On top of that, I was supposed to go pick up a new water heater to install in the new house tomorrow, but when I got there they said that they had shipped it to the wrong store! Despite that though, I managed to make some decent tacos and calabacitas guisadas. Serve it with a nice cold Mexican beer for maximal effect. Total prep time was about an hour:

Menu for 2/15/2011 - Beef and Potato Pie (Dude2)

Beef and Potato Pie, from Seven Fires. Sweet peas braised in butter for the veggies, and some local red wine for the refreshments. I substituted organic canned tomatoes for the fresh tomatoes in the recipe, and forgot to put in the boiled eggs (they made a nice side dish though, c'est la vie). Overall I'd say the recipe was very tasty, and it was amenable to being made in a kitchen with almost no gear -- we are moving right now so we are "house camping." It makes cooking good food that much more interesting.

The potatoes were thickened with egg yolks, which is something I hadn't seen before. After spreading them over the top of the filling in the cast iron skillet and decorating the top with some lines and grooves, you toss the whole mess in the oven for a while to brown and further dry the potatoes on top to form a nice firm layer. All in all, it was very good and I'll have to record it as a useful technique.

The little one liked the pie, but was not too keen on peas this time. She's not feeling well though, so that might explain it. I'd add this recipe to my list of things to do again, especially during cold weather. Thumbs up.

About and hour and a half total cooking time:

The Power of Food

Hello readers! A little background about this blog is probably in order -- there are two of us who write here. I live in Missouri and will be writing about my experiences attempting to make good food for my family (wife and young daughter) while also having an extremely busy life. The other real food dude lives in New Mexico, and has a remarkably similar situation. We have very different cooking styles and approaches to food which I think are complementary and hopefully will have a little something for everyone. I call my cooking style "Elaborate Seat-Of-The-Pants-ism" or elsopism for short. Basically, I make fairly elaborate dishes, but I tend to do it without exactly following the recipes. I do this mostly because I tend to not have everything I need on hand and I have a 19 month old who is keenly interested in helping. Anyway, that's enough introduction, on to something more interesting. Dude1 wrote a post entitled "Why Real Food" so I thought I'd throw my ideas in there too.

For me, real food kind of snuck up behind me and nabbed me in the dark. I had been learning to make whole wheat bread, and cooking stuff out of the Moosewood Cookbook (which I still think is excellent, so long as you are willing to do some mods for nutrition), when I stumbled across the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. That book led to a whole series of other related books (links below), culminating in my realization that I really love food and want to be more involved with it. Descriptions of the agritourism in Italy or the open air markets in Paris make me green with envy, and I want to create that here. This reading about real food occurred almost simultaneously with a deep philosophical transformation in my understanding of politics and related topics that I'm sure we'll have a chance to discuss at length in the future, but which I'll spare you from for now. As a result of the combination of those two things, I bought a 20 acre farm and I'm going see about remaking my life so that it is centered on food and family. I'll also keep you updated about that progress as time wears on, because one of my hopes is that I end up being successful and others might do the same thing, which leads me to the real topic of this post (finally, I know) -- food is powerful.

For all of human history with the exception of the last 50 or so years, food has been the center of life's activities. It was either the purpose or one of the main attractions at almost every social gathering. It brought people together for planting, growing, harvesting, preparation, and enjoyment. Certain cultures (the French, for example) have developed the appreciation of food to a level that requires a book of several hundred pages to describe sufficiently. It is an art form in which anyone can be a master or a connoisseur with a little investment of time, and which almost all people enjoy. When you sit down to a great meal with close friends and family, you are rewarded with a social experience that really has no analogue in modern life. It is truly a feast for the senses and an antidote to the day's stresses. For all of those reasons, I believe that food has the power to transform our lives, our relationships, and even our culture. So I pursue a mastery of food not just to satisfy my tooth, but as a means to a greater end of reacquainting those around me with real pleasure.

Many of the ills that people observe every day in themselves and in society I believe stem from the lack of a centering passion. I have observed that most people do not truly savor any part of their lives. They proceed from day to day, from distraction to distraction, punching the timeclock of life as if they just want to get it over with. Without a passion that can be refined and shared over a lifetime, people turn to consumerism, entertainment, and generally to things that take them away from reality and into some short term fantasy for a while so that they can relieve the boredom of day to day life. Learning to truly savor and appreciate food and all of its intricacies can stop that spiral. It is a passion that I think almost anyone can adopt and become deeply involved with, to the benefit of their health, bank account, and the strength of their relationships with friends and loved ones. Instead of wolfing down a can of chili and sitting in front of the tube for a two or three hour evening of tuning each other out, you can use that time instead to make a fantastic meal together, savor it slowly, and think of ways that it could be different or better. During this process, you can have a real conversation over the table. If you make a habit of this, your life will be transformed. You will discover that you can become healthy, fit, and happy, while at the same time spending lots of quality time with your loved ones and saving lots of money that would otherwise be spent on things that preclude those benefits. So food has power far beyond being the fuel that drives your daily activities. Cultivate a passion for food and you will find yourself in better condition in nearly every aspect of life. You will become part of a revolution that has the potential to completely upend the consumptive, destructive patterns of today's world.

I am what I'd describe as an activist, but in an unusual way. My goal is to use the power of food to bring people together and away from most of the damaging distractions of today's world (TV, politics, etc.). If that can be achieved, our society and culture will transform to one of sustainability, creativity, and local production. That is the power of a passion, and a passion for food can make it happen.

Book Links:

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Why Real Food?

Greetings from the Real Food Dude in New Mexico. I want to take this opportunity to defend my major life style change from the standard American diet (which is the SAD diet indeed-- pun intended) to a "real food" diet. I'm not trying to defend myself from those that may just call it another diet fad or a food yuppie endeavor. Rather, I wish to defend any major life style change I make partake on for my own personal system of self checking. It's important that I can fully articulate my convictions and base any life style change on core values that I wish to guide my life by. If I fall short of this, I'm surely doomed to make any kind of everlasting change. It just so happens that a lot of my different values intersect with the actions of eating real food. I wish to describe those values below. I will start with the most obvious and move into maybe the not so obvious ones.

I wish to value health more. Really, this has to be the reason for anyone wishing to make a change in their diet. However, I now realize that the focus on health has to be looked at in the long term and not just in the short term. It's about more than just trying to lose the 40 lbs. I need to lose. It's about avoiding all the nasty chronic diseases that have become an epidemic in our Western culture (diabetes, heart disease, cancer, depression, auto-immune, chronic fatigue, IBS, etc.). There's a reason why all these things continue to increase in our culture despite all the indoctrination we receive from the USDA and FDA.

Now that I'm a husband and Daddy of a soon-to-be two year old, I'm always seeking ways of making our family stronger. Being the head chef of the house, I see tremendous potential of a real food diet strengthening the bonds of my family. It's important to realize that eating real food is way more than just seeking out the organic label at the health food store. Real food is beyond organic in that it aims to avoid pre-packaged food all together. Real food will take more time, but this is good time that can be spent with the family. I'm still very much a newbie at real food and will be attempting to garden for the first time. I imagine tending to the garden with my little toddler and to have her help with the harvest. An exciting family outing will involve a trip to local farmer's market. I wish for the whole family to partake in the cooking of the meal and to continue the quality time together to sit down and share the meal together. If food is respected in this manner I see no reason why all meals should not be enjoyed together as a family.

Reminder to Slow Down
We are often too concerned with finding the most efficient and economical ways to do things. This unhealthy principle is often used to make more time for things such as work, sports, TV, Facebook, and other consumerist activities. But time for our food should not be sacrificed for things that do nothing but distract us from abiding to our values or achieving our goals. The time spent on real food will have a good return on investment when looked at from a health, relationship and overall happiness stand point.

Self-Reliance and Resisting Conformity
Let's face it. Eating and other health guidelines change at extremely frustrating rate if all we do is listen to our Government, the media, corporate interests, and other so-called experts in the field. It's time to take a step back, clear our minds from all the indoctrination, and apply common sense. With a little common sense, ability to reason, and history we will realize that eating real food is not so radical. What is truly radical is the consumption of "fake" food which is constantly being invented to keep our consumer minds happy and to keep up with the always-changing guidelines. In reality, the human species and real food has been pretty consistent over the course our our existence. Doesn't it make sense that we can continue to eat like our ancestors (who didn't suffer from such chronic illnesses) and quit relying on the food pundits to tell us what to eat?

Grow food as a family and work on the relationships with your loved ones. Buy quality food in season from your local farmers and work on the relationship with the hard workers who are responsible for feeding you. Be proud of your own hard work in preparing and cooking a meal. It will taste better and deserves to be shared with others. Work on those relationships with friends around the dining table. They will soon recognize their appreciation for real food too.