How are you doing with your meal planning and preparation? Have you tried any new foods? Have you started making a menu? What convenience foods have you stopped buying? Have any of you begun searching for local farmers? Now is the time of year when farmers begin taking orders for beef and poultry. If you think this is something you want to try, get on the web now and search for local farms, markets, etc, then contact the farmers and get some information.
When we last “talked”, I challenged you all to step out of your comfort zones and try something new. I took on the challenge also and the following week prepared fish for my family for the first time ever. I tried to start simple so as not to get overwhelmed and chose to prepare salmon cakes. That meant I didn’t have to pick out or handle any raw meat, I just had to open a couple of cans of salmon (there is canned salmon available at health food stores that does not have any bad ingredients). It did involve picking out bones and skin, as well as mixing up the mixture with my hands, but it wasn’t near as smelly or disgusting as I feared. My husband was my biggest fan. He loves fish and he has fond memories of his mother preparing salmon cakes when he was little so he gobbled up several right away, exclaiming at how good they were. My children had really good attitudes, and everyone tried some. We had lots of ketchup available. It wasn’t their favorite dish, but all I asked was that they try it and they did willingly. For me, I managed to eat one but it required a lot of ketchup. Even though I still don’t like fish, the fact that I actually prepared fish and ate some was huge. This is just what I have been telling you – making changes is a stair-step situation, not something you do all at once. You take one or two steps up the stairs at a time. Every step up is a step in the right direction. And one step down doesn’t necessarily put you back at the bottom.
Cooking at home will keep you stepping right up the staircase toward healthier eating. And having a good armory of recipes is one of your best strategies for defending your family from the processed food invasion. You can easily find any recipe you want on the web. Sometimes it may take some searching and creativity to find recipes that use whole foods rather than seasoning packets or canned soups or packaged pie crusts. But you can also easily make these things at home yourself. If you find a recipe that calls for “cream of …” soup, you can make your own cream sauce using a recipe from a basic cookbook. Following are a few recipes that can take the place of processed, pre-packaged grocery store foods.
Have you read the ingredients of taco seasoning packets lately? They are full of questionable ingredients! These questionable ingredients are there for a reason: they add “flavor” cheaply, provide shelf-life, and keep the seasoning from clumping and hardening in the packet. They are definitely not essential and you don’t want to put them in your body. Here are two taco seasoning recipes:
Taco Seasoning by Leanne Ely (author of Saving Dinner)
1 cup dried minced onion
1/3 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin (you can add more if you like)
4 teaspoons crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon oregano
4 teaspoons garlic powder
2 teaspoons onion powder
Simply combine everything, cover tightly, store in a cool, dry place. You can use however much you like at a time, but approximately 1 tablespoon is the equivalent of one seasoning packet. This is a “bulk” recipe, so it makes a lot and you use a little at a time.
I don’t know who to give credit to for this next recipe. It came from a homeschooling chat forum 4 years ago. It does not make as much as the above recipe, so I usually quadruple the recipe.
2 tablespoons chili powder
4 ½ teaspoons cumin
5 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon onion powder
2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
1/8 – ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
Again, mix everything together and cover tightly. I typically use 2 tablespoons per pound of meat. Remember that this recipe doesn’t include salt, so don’t forget to salt the meat!
Sausage is another processed food that contains a lot of unnecessary ingredients you definitely don’t want to consume. While there are a few brands of sausage available at health food stores that are probably okay, it is really easy to make your own.
Turkey Sausage from The Urban Homemaker at www.urbanhomemaker.com
1 lb ground turkey
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Mix all together and shape into 12 small patties. It is easiest to skip the spoon and use your hands to get this mixed up well. Fry til done or bake at 350 for 10 to 15 minutes in a shallow pan. Be careful not to overcook or they will become tough. You can adjust the recipe to suit your tastes.
The following pork sausage recipes came from my farmer friend Kimberlie of West Wind Farms about 4 years ago. They are designed for large amounts of meat so you will need to adjust accordingly. Just remember that you can adjust the seasonings however you like best but go easy on the salt! Since she gave me these recipes, she has begun selling her own incredibly delicious sausages so if you live nearby you can visit her at the Franklin Farmers Market on the 2nd, 4th, and 5th Saturdays each month. We especially like her sage breakfast sausage.
4 lbs ground pork
5 teaspoons salt
4 teaspoons sage
2 teaspoons pepper
½ teaspoon red pepper
½ teaspoon cloves or 1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon sugar
Mix thoroughly. Shape into patties and cook.
My copy here is a little tattered and I am not sure of the exact amount of meat – I think about 2 lbs ground pork – but I use this full recipe with just 1 lb of pork because we like more flavor.
2 ½ teaspoons sage
½ teaspoon thyme
½ teaspoon red pepper
¾ teaspoon pepper
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ bay leaf, crushed
dash celery seed (for a more Italian flavor use fennel seed instead)
We love the seasoned sausage recipe to make sausage for pizzas, calzones, etc. Instead of shaping it into patties, just brown it in a skillet and add the seasonings to it. Then you can sprinkle the sausage on your pizza. My son loves it when I make French bread and fill it with cheese and seasoned sausage, roll it up, bake it, then serve it with pizza sauce. This is a really portable meal, too. And remember, now that you have a guide for seasonings, experiment to make it tailored just for your family.
Pizza sauce is yet another simple thing you can make at home. Many of the commercially prepared sauces are loaded with preservatives and other undesirable ingredients. You can so very easily find a recipe for homemade pizza sauce on the web. All you need is a can of tomato puree or tomato sauce, and some seasonings such as garlic powder, onion powder, basil or oregano, a pinch of sugar, salt, etc. However I have discovered that Muir Glen makes a wonderful canned pizza sauce.
Switching gears a bit … here is a recipe for a breakfast favorite in our family, baked oatmeal. You partially prepare this the night before by mixing together the yogurt and oats and let it sit on the counter until you are ready to bake it. The next morning you add in the eggs and baking powder, mix, and bake. The process of letting it sit out overnight not only saves you time in the morning, but it makes the oatmeal much more digestible. If you remember my post about chicken stock, you will recall that it is really good for you when your body doesn’t have to work extra hard to digest what you’ve eaten. So this recipe is a great way to start or end the day – it is easy on your digestive system!
Baked Oatmeal from The Urban Homemaker www.urbanhomemaker.com
12-24 hours before you want to eat, mix together:
½ cup melted butter
¾ to 1 cup Sucanat (found in health food stores)
3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats)
1 ½ cups yogurt, kefir or buttermilk
1 teaspoon cinnamon – optional
Mix this together, cover with plastic wrap or dish towel, and let sit 12-24 hours in a slightly warm spot in your kitchen.
When you are ready to eat, add to the above mixture:
2 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dried raisins or 1-2 tart apples, chopped, or anything you like – optional
Bake in a greased 11×7 baking pan at 350 for 25-30 minutes. You can eat it plain or pour some milk over it, etc. This makes a great Sunday morning breakfast because it is so fast in the morning. It is also great for dinner served with eggs and sausage. The texture is a little like cake.
Oatmeal is, surprisingly, one food that most people don’t realize is super easy to make. It seems that everyone buys those little flavored oatmeal packets. Next time you’re at the store, read the ingredients, and don’t buy those again. Basic oatmeal is an extremely nutritious food, is very hearty and comforting, and is super easy to flavor yourself. On the other hand, oats are one of the more difficult grains for our bodies to digest so it is very smart to soak your oats overnight before cooking them. This also speeds things up the next morning. Here is a very delicious and very healthful way to cook oatmeal:
Per person, in a stainless steel pot with lid, combine ½ cup oats, one tablespoon plain yogurt, and a half cup of warm (not hot) water. Do this the night before (12-24 hours before you want to eat). Cover it and leave it sitting on the counter or stove top. In the morning add one cup of milk. Stir well over low or medium heat until the mixture is bubbly and thick. Add salt to taste. Now, add whatever else you want … Try some real maple syrup and cinnamon with a banana sliced up in the bowl … try just honey … try adding raisins or diced apples or nuts … Be sure to add a dollop of butter or a drizzle of cream for extra vitamin D and A to help your body assimilate all those vitamins better. This breakfast will keep you satisfied through to lunch and possibly longer. Remember, the above proportions are per person, so if you are cooking for two then you will want one cup oats, 2 tablespoons yogurt, one cup water, etc.
Finally, popcorn. Popcorn is probably one of the most “contaminated” foods available at the supermarket, yet one of the easiest snacks to make at home. It is so surprising how many people out there not only have never popped popcorn on the stove, but didn’t even know it was possible. First of all, do yourself and your family a favor and never ever buy microwave popcorn again! Not even the kind that is supposedly healthy. All you need to pop your own popcorn is a large, heavy pot with a lid and handle (one long handle, not the two little handles on either side). Start with good quality popcorn. If you can get it, use organic popcorn to insure that it is not genetically modified. Use good quality salt; unrefined salt such as RealSalt or Celtic Sea Salt. Pop the corn in coconut oil for great flavor (coconut oil is great for your thyroid) and then top it off with plenty of melted butter. Yes, you read that correctly, I am giving you permission to put butter on your popcorn! Butter has vitamin D and A, which work together, and are much needed by your body. Popcorn is a nutritious snack when prepared naturally on the stove. It is high calorie so just remember keep it as a snack – don’t overdo it! So here is how to pop popcorn on the stove:
In a large, heavy pot with a lid and handle, plop a generous dollop of coconut oil and 3 kernels of organic popcorn. Set the pot on high heat and cover with lid. Listen carefully for the kernels to pop. When at least 2 have popped, then quickly lift the lid and pour in 1/3 to ½ cup of popcorn. Quickly cover and, holding the lid tight with one hand, shake the pot constantly until popcorn begins to pop rapidly. Very slightly lower the heat and continue shaking occasionally until popping slows. At this point you can lift the pot from the heat by about one inch, holding it there until the popping completely stops. This will help keep the popcorn from burning. Once popping is complete, then immediately pour the popcorn into a big bowl. Add salt. Repeat this process until you have enough popcorn for everyone who is going to have some. When you’ve made enough, turn off the heat and plop in several big dollops of butter. The pot will be hot enough to quickly melt the butter. When melted, pour over your popcorn and stir it with a big spoon. Then quickly enjoy it while it’s warm! Some fun variations include mixing ¼ to ½ cup parmesan cheese (fresh grated, not the stuff in the green can) in with the butter, or, you could add ½ cup of maple syrup (real syrup, not the other junk) to the butter for sweet popcorn.
There is not room or time for me to type in all the recipes for things you can make at home instead of buying processed at the store. My purpose here is to give you a few simple and very practical recipes that will help you see how easy it is to prepare your own seasonings and mixes rather than to buy them at the store. Now you can see that you DON’T need those little seasoning packets, or those prepared foods from the store. You can do it yourself at home! It isn’t just easy, it is so much better!