Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Southern Fried Goodness

Being a Californian I sort of consider southern food to be ethnic. While not as exotic as Thai or Indian cuisine, food from America's south is uniquely crispy.

Of course, as a child, I ate fried chicken many times, my grandmother is from Texas after all. How many times have I heard the story of her mother (my great-grandmother) going out to the hen house, killing a chicken (yes, she did that herself), plucking out its feathers (and that too) and cooking it (that I can handle!). Although I am quite sure my life is nothing like the life led by my great-grandmother I find that I get a lot of inspiration from my ancestors, especially when it comes to food. I won't be wringing the necks of any chickens but I admire the way they ate and fed their children. Real food. Real ingredients. Time and preparation. I never met her but I am quite certain my great-grandmother never microwaved a T.V. dinner or made Top Ramen for her kids.

That brings me to this: A Recipe. It is not Nam's recipe nor her mother's, this is one I did on my own and I am quite pleased with it. I don't call it fried chicken, rather it is homemade chicken strips. It doesn't call for anything fancy and requires no special equipment, oh yes, and you don't have to kill your own chicken, unless of course you want to.

Here you go, readers. I love this one, Kyle loves this one, my mom and dad love this one. Freya is lukewarm on it, apparently no one told her that, as an American, she is required to love all things deep fried.

Joan's Homemade Chicken Strips:

1 pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders (Preferably organic and pasture raised - this is the only kind of meat I buy, please don't spend your food dollar on factory farm chicken!)
1 egg (again, pastured raised - I get mine from a neighbor down the street, hands down the best eggs I have ever had)
1 Tbsp of organic, whole milk yogurt (Strauss, can't say enough good stuff about them, or make your own!)
Whole wheat flour (enough to cover the chicken pieces)
Coconut oil
Spices - sea salt, pepper, paprika to taste

Okay, when I do this I like a stations. First I set the chicken out and open it up so it is ready. Next to that I crack my egg in a medium sized bowl and add the yogurt. Mix them together. Next to that I use a regular sized dinner plate and put about four small handfuls of flour.

Once you have that set up you will need a large skillet (cast iron or any large skillet). I have used a large pot before since I don't have a deep frier since it kind of simulates one. Turn the heat on your stove to medium high. Spoon out large spoonfuls of the coconut oil into the pan allowing it to melt. It should be about one quarter inch deep.

Next, place the chicken in the pan. You may have to do this in several batches depending on how big the pieces are and how big your pan is. Sprinkle with the spices while cooking. It takes about seven minutes per side to be cooked. I always end up cutting a piece to check. The meat should be white and any juices should be clear.

That is it, people! These things are amaze. You can dip them in BBQ sauce, homemade ranch sauce, or even raw honey. You can make a bunch and put them in freezer bags so they are ready for an afternoon snack or a quick meal. Just turn your oven to 400 degrees and put them on a cookie sheet for 15-20 minutes.

I don't even have to tell you that coconut oil is a healthy fat and that these babies are vastly superior to anything created at the Golden Arches. I honestly don't believe McDonald's is fit for human consumption, especially for children!

I hope you try this recipe. It is truly my own creation and one I am very proud of. Serve it up with sourdough biscuits, steamed greens, potatoes, and a beaming smile!

Monday, April 8, 2013

A recipe - a family favorite at that!

As an apology for my peanut butter rant I promise to keep my mouth shut and simply share a recipe that I turn to quite often. Tuna Noodle Casserole. Now, this is not you momma's tuna, unless your name is Kelli Andel, in which case I totally adapted this recipe from your mom.

Anyway, there is no cans of anything used in this recipe. Actually, once you master a simple homemade cream of mushroom soup you can use it as the base in anything you want. My family goes bonkers over my green bean casserole every Thanksgiving. Why? Because I make my own base from scratch and use fresh green beans. Amazingly, when you use fresh wholesome ingredients people really like your cooking. Go figure.

Okay, enough of me. Now here is the recipe for the soup base.

Basic Cream of Mushroom Soup:

1/2 Cup of Mushrooms (give or take, I can stretch em' if I need to)
2 Tbsp of Olive Oil
2 Tbsp of Flour
2 Cups of Milk (I use whole, non homogenized organic milk. You can use whatever milk you have, this just happens to be the milk I have.)
1/4 Cup of Fresh Parsley
Salt and Pepper to taste

Chop up your mushrooms. Place them into a large skillet that has been greased with the olive oil over medium heat. Saute until the mushrooms are soft and coated in the oil. Next, add the flour. At this point you are making a roux. If you don't know what that is get off my blog...Kidding! It is when the flour mixes with the olive oil (or whatever fat you are using) and creates lumps. You may need more oil or more flour, depending on how your roux looks. The flour should bind around the bits of mushrooms. If you aren't sure, it is probably fine but I found this video. It is a lot more technical than I will get but it gives you an idea if you have never made a roux before. Think gravy.

Once your roux is set (about 5 minutes of cooking) add the milk slowly one cup at a time while you stir. From there you are basically going to stir and simmer. Your base will thicken as it cooks. As it is simmering I chop up my parsley and throw it in, plus I season with salt and pepper. Viola!

Tuna Noodle Casserole:

1 12oz. Box of Whole Wheat Penne (you can use white, gluten free, whatever strikes your fancy)
2 2.5oz. Cans or tetra packs of Tuna in water (I use the tetra packs because there is oftentimes BPA in the lining of cans. Check it out! Actually, due to concerns of BPA and GMO's, I recently ordered my first flat of tuna online. I will keep you updated but here is what I got.)
Cheese, whatever kind you want. (whether you like a little or a lot, it is up to you, I would say about two cups though. Also, I like a sharp, grass-fed cheddar. Bomb! Get it at Trader Joe's)

Boil the box of whole wheat penne. I use Hodgson's Mill. It is certified non GMO, grown in the United States, and available for a low price at Winco. Cook according to package directions. Drain and return it to the pot. Add all of the soup base you just made, the tuna, and a cup and a half of the cheese. Feel free to taste test and add more salt or pepper if desired. Stir until everything is incorporated. Next, place in a casserole dish and top with the remaining cheese and little bit more fresh parsley. Bake! For about 15 minutes until all the cheese is melted and it is hot throughout.

Enjoy! My family loves this recipe. It is totally kids friendly and they eat the mushrooms without a blink. I always serve with steamed peas and carrots and red chard on the side. Delish!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Sad State of Food

I was grocery shopping on Friday (as I often am) at Winco. While I was there I decided I would pick up some cheap peanut butter because my mother has left a ten pound bag of birdseed at my house that has been here since Christmas and she refuses to remove it. So I figure, heck, I will save some toilet paper rolls, buy some cheap peanut butter, and Freya and I will make bird feeders. Okay, so I am in the peanut butter area. I glance around looking for whatever is the cheapest. $2.45. Perfect! I usually spend about twice that much for peanut butter and three times as much for almond butter, which is our preference at my house.

Out of curiosity I check the ingredients. Roasted peanuts, sugar, fully hydrogenated vegetable oil (rapeseed, cottonseed, soybean) salt, molasses. Okay, to recap those - sugar - okay, added sugar is bad and it is something I avoid, especially in foods I am going to be feeding my daughter, but it is just sugar. Of course, there is no indication whether it is real cane sugar or genetically modified beet sugar but that is the subject of another post. Salt, yeah, molasses, okay, more sugar but whatever...

It is the oil people! That is the scary ingredient here! If you are consuming hydrogenated oils then stop! If you want to know why click here or here or here. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats, except the nutritional label says zero trans fats. Again, that is the subject of another post, but for now know this: companies can say that a product contains zero trans fats as long as there is less than half a gram per serving, so please read your labels!

Anyway, I am not here to rag on hydrogenated oil. What I am about to rag on is how the least expensive peanut butter contains it. The day after all of this happened I ran across a blog post by liberal talk show host, Bill Maher. Now, love him or hate him he has been telling us that the food we eat is killing us since I was a freshman in high school, at least that is when I started to remember hearing it. The blog was called "Food Racism" and you can read it here. Basically, it talks about how, in response to a food supply that was decreasing in quality, specialty markets for rich people cropped up. Organics, grass-fed meats, etc - all available if you have the dough (organic, of course!) Meanwhile, food for the vast majority of Americans keeps getting worse.

When I saw this I knew I had to write about it! The least expensive peanut butter has an ingredient in that is literally like one molecule away from plastic! Not only is this the cheapest available peanut butter, it is WIC approved! WIC is supposed to provide lower income families, and their children, with quality nutritious foods. I don't remember seeing trans fat on the "my pyramid" chart! Now, to be fair, WIC also authorizes you to buy the "natural" peanut butter, which was also available at Winco that day. This natural peanut butter was the kind with the oil on top. Now, maybe you don't like that, maybe your kids don't (oh how long it took to get Kyle to be okay with it), so you pass it up and purchase the peanut butter with the hydrogenated oils because you are using WIC, don't have a lot to spend,  are unemployed, on a fixed income, or you simply are trying to save a buck! It doesn't matter, it shouldn't be there!

Now, I completely agree that people should educate themselves, they should take the time to read labels and be aware of what they are putting in their bodies. Maybe if you weren't buying Starbucks or Rockstars or cigarettes you could afford the better peanut butter for your kids and yourself. This is all true; however, why is it there in the first place? Upon comparing the ingredients of this peanut butter to the peanut butter I had at home I noticed two things. The first, the only ingredient in my peanut butter was dry roasted peanuts and the second, mine requires refrigeration. Ah ha! The hydrogenated fat makes the peanut butter shelf stable after it has been opened.

I know this blog post contains no recipes and no practical tips on saving money. I will say this though, the peanut butter at Trader Joe's is tasty and doesn't contain anything weird, it has no added sugar, and maybe it is a a dollar more than the stuff I got at Winco on Friday. That is not really the point, the point is food discrimination. I have to go to Trader Joe's, Winco, farmer's market, S&S, plan what I will buy and every dollar I spend, and know ahead of time which brands are okay and which product are okay in order to purchase food that doesn't have chemicals in it. Because I operate on a modest food budget this takes a lot of time and effort and planning (at least sometimes), where if I was rich and money wasn't an object I could do a lot less planning and my shopping would take a lot less time, because honestly, if money was no object, I would just go to Holiday Market and the farmer's market and be done with it.

Peanut butter should be a simple food, a food you can feel good about as you make your kid a sandwich (at this point I am starting to feel guilty about giving it to the birds). It shouldn't be a poison laced with chemically processed oils that line your arteries and force your heart to work harder within minutes of consuming it. Not only that, it should be affordable for everyone. Nutrition, not simply calories, should be affordable for everyone. It doesn't matter if you are rolling in benny's, purchasing food using foodstamps, or using WIC, you deserve access to clean, safe, nutritious food.

What can you do? Well, consider every dollar you spend to be a vote. Don't purchase foods laced with chemicals. Second, write your congressman. Tell them to introduce legislation which ends subsidies to companies who produce food with chemicals and additives (part of the reason it is so cheap is because it is subsidized by the government). Tell them to provide subsidies to producers who produce quality, nutrient rich foods and to local farmers who provide wonderful, fresh food at farmer's market - this would make these types of foods more affordable and available to everyone. Here, if you reside in California's First District you can click here to email your congressman! And, since I know some wonderful people in California's Twelfth, you can click here. I may be going out on a limb here, but if you are not in either of those districts then click here and find your representative! I may be over estimating my readership a little...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Whoa, where did the time go? And other stuff

Hey readers! You may have noticed that I have taken a brief break from writing.

It is a new year and I have got some new stuff for you! Including my granola bar recipe. People, my family has been raving about these things! They are so delicious and the best part about homemade granola bars (beside the fact that they are way cheap compared to what you get at the store) is there are no questionable ingredients. Plus they are good for you! Full of whole grains and nuts. Make a double batch and freeze some. Hand them to your kids after school or while at the farmer's market, I promise it will be just like that chewy granola bar commercial where the kids can't talk because they are chewing granola bars - except these granola bars are waaay tastier! Here it is (Please note, these bars do not contain preservatives, please keep them in the fridge for optimal freshness):

4 cups of rolled or quick oats
1/2 cup of nut butter (use your favorite kind, I use raw almond butter)
1 Tbsp of coconut oil (if you don't have coconut oil you should, JK, but you can use butter or olive oil)
1/2-1 cup of honey (Depends on how sweet you want them, and use raw honey with the pollen in it)
1 heaping cup of walnuts (to keep costs down I buy them in shells and crack them, plus I like them to be raw - Famer's Market!)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp vanilla extract (please use the real stuff, not the imitation!)
1 Tbsp ground flax (I buy whole in bulk and grind it myself with the bullet)
1/2 cup extra dark chocolate (optional) 

Okay, first take your oats and put them in a casserole disk and bake them for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring once. Leave your oven at 350. Next, take you nut butter, honey, and coconut oil in a saucepan and heat slowly over medium heat. Once it is melted and liquified pour it into a large mixing bowl. Then add you cinnamon, salt, vanilla, and flax. Stir. Add the oats and walnuts (you can add anything else you may want in there now too - such as dried fruit, etc). Stir until all the oats are coated and a little bit sticky. Next, press the oat mixture into the casserole dish. Make sure it is even. Place in the 350 degree oven for about ten minutes.

This is where you would add the dark chocolate, if you choose. Just sprinkle on top and press gently into the granola. Allow it to cool for about two hours (if you can wait that long! Seriously, this stuff smells like childhood, mom's hair, and love all at once). You should refrigerate it over night for best results.

Once it is completely cooled and stiff remove it from the casserole dish by turning it upside down and hitting it. Once it is out cut it into bars. Store in a sealed container in the fridge.

This is my recipe. I got inspiration from a few sources but I basically made up the way it is here. So enjoy! Let me know how it turns out. Until next time!