Planning a Family Style October Unprocessed

October Unprocessed 2012

Maybe you still remember that we tried to do October Unprocessed for a week last year, and by the end of the week were having such sugar fits that we fell off the wagon big time.  Well, this year we’re up for a new challenge.  We’re trying for the week again, and this time I’m making some good plans to keep our sweet tooth satisfied without sacrificing real food eating.

Here’s our menu plan for the week.  Yes, it is a three-meals-a-day at home meal plan, and I’m hoping to have leftovers for Daddy to take to work.

Monday:  bulgur as hot cereal with honey and  butter (this is a common breakfast around here, no big change), egg salad with homemade mayo on homemade wheat bread (I often make homemade mayo, and the bread is left over from Lucy’s last breadmaking project.)  Dinner will be a challenge, because we will be out of the house most of the day.  I’m thinking some roasted tomato sauce from the freezer with whole wheat pasta and baked delicata squash.

Tuesday:  baked oatmeal with apples using honey as sweetener, egg quesadillas on corn tortillas.  Dinner:  Eden is in charge of dinner, and she will be making a riff on chicken pot pie using fresh vegetables, leftover roast chicken, and topping the mixture with homemade whole wheat biscuits– Yum!

Wednesday:  Polenta as hot cereal and maple syrup for sweetener (another common breakfast, although we usually use sugar syrup made with mapleine — real maple syrup is a splurge for our family.)  Lunch will be leftovers from Monday and Tuesday dinners, and during the day on Wednesday I will be making whole wheat hamburger buns for our meal on Thursday.  Dinner on Wednesday will be Indian spiced lentils and rice with naan.  I need to investigate our yogurt and decide if I can use the kind of yogurt I usually buy, or if I need to make my own for this meal.

Thursday:  Eggs and toast (are you noticing an egg theme?  This is an easily available real food for us. Ours are even local and organic!)  I will grind some peanut butter when I go to the natural foods store today so that we can have our favorite pb&j for lunch tomorrow.  Thursday’s lunch will be leftover lentils and rice.  Brett is making hamburgers for dinner on Thursday, with homemade buns and mayo.  I also think we will be having baked sweet potato fries.

Friday:  Bulgur or cracked wheat cereal again today.  We usually eat more oatmeal than bulgur, but none of us like oatmeal without brown sugar, so we’re skipping it this week.  For lunch we will have a pb&j without the j, using a banana instead for our real foods week.  Dinner will be roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and roasted beets fresh from our garden.

Saturday:  Chicken in a basket for breakfast after my long run (eggs cooked in a hole in the toast, in case you wondered!)  We’ll probably have leftovers or pb& banana again for a quick lunch, because Saturday and Sunday are usually big evening meal days.  I will make pitas in the afternoon, and Shandy and I will work together to make falafel for dinner.

Sunday:  Apple pan dowdy made with honey sweetened apples and whole wheat dough.  Only one main meal on Sunday, probably roasted pumpkin garlic lasagna or butternut squash ravioli.  It will be a ton of work, but so delicious.

Some compromises I’ve decided to make:

  • What happens away from home doesn’t count.  Our family usually eats 3 meals together 7 days a week at home.  If a teenager escapes for a soda, I am going to look the other direction.
  • Coffee is probably processed, and it will have to escape the ban.  Shandy can’t live without it.  However, he has totally weaned himself off of powdered creamer since last year, so that’s one thing we don’t have to worry about — and he says he’ll drink coffee with honey for the duration.
  • Remembering that this is only a week, but the lessons learned can last much longer than that, I will be looking for small changes we can make continuing toward a less processed normal diet.

Are your plans made for October Unprocessed?  Are you excited and a little scared?  Let me know in your comments below.


Fruit Pizza and a Rant about Public School

I know, you’re dying to ask.  What possible  connection could there be between this lovely, delicious dessert and a rant against public school? Well, I’m dying to tell you.

Eden has taken several on-line courses through the state electronic high school system.  This started out as a way for her to supplement her English learning.  My own fifth grade teacher was teaching ninth grade English — and remembering her as a fantastic teacher, I let Eden sign up for the course.  It turned out well, although there was not as much teacher/student interaction as I would have liked.  Eden is like me, though.  She thinks she would like to try this course, and that one, and that one . . .  so she signed up for several.  The one she is just completing is Foods and Nutrition.

The Foods and Nutrition course teaches basic nutritional facts about carbs, proteins, milk, vitamins and minerals, etc., and then allows the student to do either an experiment (like cooking broccoli for 20 minutes and describing its texture, color and flavor) or prepare a recipe.  Here’s my rant:  throughout the course, no recipes were assigned.  The student was assigned to make “a milk-based recipe” or “a quick bread.”  I lied.  One recipe was assigned.  In the fruits and vegetables section, the student was assigned to make a fruit pizza.

Here was the perfect opportunity for a teacher to introduce nutritious recipes with a variety that would allow students to become acquainted with real food.  Eden completed her tomato-corn bisque for the milk-based recipe, and learned to make garlic-parmesan biscuit roll-ups for the quick breads.  This innovation was only because I found interesting recipes, though.  No ideas were even suggested by the teacher.  Why, a peanut butter sandwich would have qualified for a protein recipe!  But the fruit pizza was the last straw.  With millions or billions of recipes available which make innovative and nutritious use of fruits and vegetables, why ask students to make a sugar cookie (shortening based so it doesn’t even taste good) topped with Cool Whip (not even real food!) and fruit?

Eden complained.  She asked if we could just “say” we had tried it?  After all, we could imagine what it would taste like!  We ended up subbing real whipping cream for the Cool Whip, and everyone (included the little kids) threw away the sugar cookie and ate the fruit.  (And this was not coercion — it tasted bad!)

Just one more reason to homeschool, folks . . .

Have you had a similar experience?  Please leave me a comment below.

Delicious Veggie Sandwiches for Summer Picnics

Ready for summer picnics?  I am!  I love to picnic.  This is one of my family’s favorite recipe for a sandwich to take along for a picnic lunch before or during a hike, at the swimming pool, or one of any other million places we might want to take food.  (After all, homemade is always better than fast food, right?)

My lettuce is in full swing in my garden right now, and just looking at it makes me want to make this sandwich.  The basis of the sandwich is a delicious cream cheese spread.  Top that with whatever veggies you have on hand (I like plenty of spinach and lettuce, cucumber and red onion.  Red bell pepper is nice, as is some shaved carrot.)  Use a little meat if you want.  I prefer it without, but you notice a little bacon snuck into this sandwich for someone’s lunch.  The best bread for this sandwich is a lovely sourdough made by Eden, toasted, but if you don’t have that — any good hearty bread will do.

Cream Cheese Spread for Sandwiches

1 8 ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sour cream

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs (I use oregano, thyme and parsley from my garden) or 2 tsp. dried Italian seasoning

Put all ingredients in bowl of mixer and mix thoroughly, or use a hand mixer until completely combined.  Use as a sandwich spread in place of mayonnaise on toasted bread.

Remember, just like the spring weather, lovely lettuce is short lived.  It doesn’t like heat!  Enjoy it now while it is still delicious.

Hope you are taking full advantage of the spring weather to get outside.  Do you enjoy picnics?  What is your favorite recipe?  Please leave me a comment.

First Fruit of Spring: Rhubarb

Suddenly, rhubarb season is upon us.  After a winter of canned, frozen, or sad imported fruit, rhubarb gives our taste buds the jolt they need to know that spring is really here.  My darling husband was able to go pick rhubarb from his mom’s large patch this morning.  Rhubarb is a huge, beautiful plant.  The leaves are inedible, and the stalks look like celery.  They are very sour, but mixed into sugary desserts they are delicious.

We like to cut up and freeze rhubarb to have during the winter as the main fruit in our Breakfast Cake, to make rhubarb muffins, and even to throw into smoothies.  We also love stewed rhubarb with strawberries as a special breakfast treat with Greek Yogurt.

To freeze rhubarb, rinse well and cut into 1/2 to 1 inch thick slices.  We put it into freezer bags in 2 cup measures, because that is how much our favorite recipes call for.  Later, it can be used without thawing in many recipes, including the Breakfast cake.

Today, though, I made a batch of stewed rhubarb with strawberries.  I will serve this for breakfast with vanilla Greek yogurt, and it will be like dessert for breakfast with a secret batch of healthiness thrown in!

Stewed Rhubarb

Makes about 4  cups

Clean and chop enough rhubarb to make 2 cups chopped

Clean and quarter one pound strawberries

Place in saucepan together with 1/4 cup water.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and simmer until the rhubarb has completely come apart to make a sauce with chunks of strawberries floating in the sauce.  Add honey or sugar to taste (you will need 1/4 to 1/2 cup.)  Sprinkle with nutmeg.  Serve hot or cold.

I hope you can try this recipe and enjoy the first fruit of spring.  I would love to hear about your favorite rhubarb recipe in your comment.  Have a great day!

A Mexican Feast: Molotes and Tres Leches Cake

Inspired by a desire to try the Pioneer Woman’s Tres Leches Cake recipe, I planned a Mexican feast for last weekend. As a sort of side note to this post, I want to refer you to an excellent post I just read about kid’s cookbooks.   I absolutely agree with this article, that kids can learn to cook from any book that inspires them to work toward making good food an important part of their lives.  I think the Pioneer Woman cookbooks do this, and are especially excellent for kids to use because the photos show how each step should “turn out.”  In addition, every recipe I have tried from these two cookbooks has turned out wonderfully.  As you can see, we added a fruit salad to the side of our Tres Leches cake to make it more authentic.  It was a big hit, and I strongly recommend you try it today!  Eden followed the recipe step by step.  It was her first time making a sponge cake, and it turned out wonderfully.

To accompany the cake I made a wonderful deep fried concoction called in Spanish Molotes but which my family calls affectionately, “salsa cars.”

Originally inspired by the Rick Bayless cookbook, I attempted this recipe without having eaten them before, but soon thereafter was describing the dish to a friend from Oaxaca.  She couldn’t believe that I knew the dish, saying they were a “plato tipico” from her country.  She soon invited us to eat them at her home, and sure enough, I had made molotes myself!  In fact, I still use the Rick Bayless recipe with some alterations, because her recipe did not include the mashed potatoes and the dough was not as tender.

If you have not tried patting out corn tortillas before, this is a good recipe on which to make the attempt, as it doesn’t matter at all if you leave them quite thick, or if they do not turn out round.  Also, the dough is a little more forgiving than regular corn tortilla dough.

This recipe makes 14 molotes, enough for a hungry family of 4, but stretched to fit our family of 6 with beans, lettuce and vegetables on the side.


makes 14

2 potatoes, boiled until tender and then mashed.

2 cups masa harina


1 teaspoon salt

1 pound queso fresco

Oil for Frying

Boil and mash the potatoes, and then put them in a mixer bowl with the masa harina, salt and start with about 2 cups water.  Add enough warm water as you beat the ingredients together to make a very soft dough — like a soft cookie dough.  As the ingredients mix together, take an old plastic grocery bag and cut out two circles about 8 inches in diameter and wash with soapy warm water.  Dry thoroughly.

Take a big spoonful of the dough, roll into a ball, and pat out into a circle on the plastic bag circle.  You should make about a 6 inch diameter circle.  Cut a 1/2 inch by 3 inch rectangle of queso fresco and place in the center of the dough circle.  Fold the circle in half and pinch the edges together.  Using wet hands, pat it into a torpedo shape and place on a plate covered with plastic wrap to wait while you make the rest of the molotes.

Heat the oil at a depth of about one inch to 350 degrees (I don’t use a thermometer, I just test for sizzle by dipping the edge of one of the molotes into the oil.)  Fry the molotes a few at a time, turning after about 2 minutes.   Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel.

Serve as shown in the photo, with refried or pot beans, sliced lettuce and salsa.

I consider trying new cuisines an important part of our homeschool.  We love getting to know a little about peoples and cultures by trying new foods.  Is that something you enjoy?  Please leave me a comment.


Kids in the Kitchen: Lulu’s Homemade Sandwich Bread

The weather was too beautiful to do regular school today.  I have been wanting to introduce Lulu to yeast bread making, and we decided today was the perfect day for this.  We started early this morning.  This easy bread recipe is successful every time, smells delicious while it is baking, and is easy to knead and form.

The first step is heating the buttermilk and butter just to the point where the butter is starting to melt, but not hot.  That way you don’t have to cool it before using it in your bread.  (If you do get it too hot, just set it aside to cool to lukewarm.)

Next, mix water and yeast in the bowl of your mixer.  After watching that your yeast has started to work (it starts melting out of its little balls and forming a brownish scum in the water,) put in dry ingredients.  Pour milk and butter mixture on top of the flour, and begin mixing with the dough hook of your mixer or with a spoon.

A smooth dough should begin to form.  Slowly add about one-half cup more flour to make a stiffer dough before turning it out onto the counter to knead.

Flour the counter well, especially if this is your first experience with yeast dough.  Kneading is basically four movements stretch, fold, press and turn.  Grab your ball of dough at the side farthest from your body, stretch it out and fold it over onto itself and press down hard and away from your body.  Give the dough a half turn, and repeat.  As you gain experience your hands will become less sticky because you know how to touch the dough lightly but firmly.  Try to use mainly your fingers instead of your whole hand.

When the dough forms a nice ball but is not too stiff, put it in a greased bowl to rise.

After about one hour, the dough should be kneaded again, divided in half and formed into loaves.  These loaves can be baked on a greased cookie sheet, but I love this kind of bread for loaf pans.

Allow to rise another 30-45 minutes, until the loaves are approximately doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 350 and bake about 30 minutes.  Try to restrain yourself from eating it until it cools enough to cut nicely!  We went on a nature walk, and then had our bread with honey for lunch!

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

Makes 2 loaves (try not to eat them all at one sitting)

2 cups buttermilk

4 Tablespoons butter

1/4 cup lukewarm water

1 Tablespoon active dry yeast

4 cups flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

In a small saucepan, heat buttermilk and butter over low heat just until butter begins to melt.  In a large mixing bowl, proof yeast in lukewarm water.  Add dry ingredients, then pour buttermilk mixture into the mixing bowl.  Stir with a large spoon or the dough hook of your mixer until a soft dough forms, adding up to 1 cup of flour to make the dough.  Knead until smooth, then allow to rise in a greased bowl for 1 hour.  Form into loaves, and place in greased loaf pans.  Allow to rise again for 30 to 45 minutes.  Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Remove from oven and pans, cool on cooling rack until ready to eat.

Hope you’re enjoying this beautiful spring day.  There’s nothing a little homemade bread won’t make better.  As Max says, “It smells like heaven!”  Eden was glad to know that heaven smelled like our house!

Healthy and Delicious: Orange Julius Smoothie

We like big breakfasts.  Although we nearly always have some kind of hot cereal for breakfast, somehow that doesn’t seem like quite enough to start the day off right.  Maybe that’s because we’re coming in from a five or six mile run, and going to work hard all day.  Often we have grapefruit with our cereal, but sometimes we have a smoothie.  This is one of our favorite recipes.

Orange Julius Smoothie

1 can frozen orange juice concentrate

2 cans water

1 16 ounce container cottage cheese, frozen (just throw it in the freezer the night before) or plain yogurt

2 bananas

1/3 cup sugar

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

The cottage cheese stays a little grainy, so if this will bother you, use the plain yogurt.  You may need a little more sugar if you use plain yogurt.  Throw everything in the blender and blend away.  We share this amount amongst the 6 of us, but it’s a go-with not a main dish.   This tastes best served in pretty glasses.

Try it out.  I bet you’ll love this smoothie breakfast.  Hope you’re having a great weekend!


Kids in the Kitchen: Chickpea-Couscous Salad

With spring time starting, and summer just around the corner, we are beginning to leave our winter lunches of soup behind and turn to our summer fare of salads, wraps and sandwiches.  Last summer, I discovered many new salad recipes that incorporated grains and legumes along with the vegetables.  These help make a cool but filling lunch that also packs well for picnics.

This week, we are eating Chickpea-Couscous Salad.  This was a great recipe for Max to help make.  Adapting a recipe from The Splendid Table, and using their idea of microwaved couscous, this came together really quickly. Note:  please think of the above picture as a still life, not as an ingredient list.  After I snapped it, I realized how many of the ingredients I had left out of the picture.

To microwave couscous, just measure the couscous and water into a covered bowl, microwave on high for 2 minutes, and allow to stand for 5 minutes to finish absorbing the water.  For this recipe, I used 1 1/2 cups couscous and 3 cups of water.

Max did some of the chopping.

And just a reminder, when you have kids stirring, get a much larger bowl than necessary. Two seconds after this picture was taken, there were chickpeas all over my kitchen floor.

Chickpea Couscous Salad

Makes 12 Large Servings

1 1/2 cups couscous

3 cups warm water

1 large bell pepper, diced

1 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 large cucumber, chopped small

1  cup green olives, halved

1/2 cup raisins

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 Tablespoon salt

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4  cup olive oil

Prepare couscous in the microwave according to method described above.  Mix all ingredients in a large bowl.  Allow to stand 1 hour or longer to allow flavors to blend.  Refrigerate, but bring to room temperature before serving.

Remember — I warned you about the big bowl!  This salad tastes great with pitas.  Happy Thursday!

Kitchen How-To: “Healthy-fying” a Recipe

I often make substitutions in recipes to make them healthier.  Instead of butter, I will substitute some applesauce.  Instead of all white flour, I substitute half whole wheat, or a combination of other whole grain flours.  A few days ago, however, I did a major reworking of a favorite breakfast recipe, and thought that the results would be worth describing to you.

The recipe I was reworking came originally from a Rachel Ray magazine, Cherry Breakfast Cake.  I have made the recipe for several years, using cherry or rhubarb for a fruit layer between a cake layer and a very buttery streusel topping.  The original recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups butter and 2 cups sugar, making it very rich and delicious.  I guess the real problem with it is that we like to eat it for breakfast, and the original recipe had nearly 1000 calories per serving.  Not only that, but none of us could eat just one serving, so we ended up with a 1500 calorie breakfast that left us starving by 10:00.  I guess we could have tried will power and self control, but I decided to try lightening the recipe instead.  The resulting recipe was about 750 calories per serving, and the oatmeal made it more filling, making it a little more reasonable breakfast treat.

Here are some of the substitutions I made:

  • whole wheat flour and oatmeal for white flour
  • decreased sugar substantially (1/2  cup)
  • substituted applesauce for melted butter, and then mixed them together before using them

I was able to use home canned cherries for this cake, so they were very lightly sweetened.  I would not use cherry pie filling for this recipe.  Instead, substitute frozen sweet cherries, blackberries or blueberries, thawed.  I also like to use frozen rhubarb (I freeze this myself every spring.)  Rhubarb requires some sugar to make it palatable.

Here is the adjusted recipe:

Cherry Breakfast Cake

For streusel topping:

3/4 cup butter, melted

3/4 cup smooth applesauce

1 1/4 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup oatmeal

1/2 cup white flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix together butter and applesauce, remove 2 Tablespoons to a medium bowl for making the cake batter.  To the remaining butter mixture add sugar, flours, and oatmeal mixing with your fingers to make a crumbly topping.  This forms very large crumbs, much stickier than a standard streusel.

For the  cake batter:

Reserved 2 Tablespoons butter/applesauce mixture

1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup white flour

1/4 cup white sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients to make a smooth batter.  Fold about a third of the crumb mixture into the batter.  Spray or butter a 9×13 baking dish and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Spread the batter into the bottom of the baking dish.  Thoroughly drain 1 quart sour cherries and spread on top of the batter.  With your fingers, sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture on top of the cherries, breaking up large clumps.  Bake the cake until golden brown, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool a few minutes before serving.  We like this in a bowl with a little milk or cream.

This reworking of the recipe was a success, although I made the mistake of telling my family that I had done it, and some of them complained that it wasn’t as good as the “real thing.”  I think they’ll forget what the “real thing” tasted like when I make this next and don’t remind them!  It made me feel a lot better to serve a healthier treat breakfast.

Do you make substitutions in recipes to make them healthier?  What is your most common change?  Please leave me a comment.

Kids in the Kitchen: Potato Quesadillas

Glancing through vegetarian blogs this week, I spotted a recipe for potato quesadillas with homemade whole wheat tortillas.  I honestly didn’t follow this recipe, because the idea appealed to me, and I just went with it.  We enjoy mashed potato taquitos and a special Hispanic dish called molotes, which are a homemade corn tortillas dough, wrapped around mashed potatoes and queso fresco and deep fried.  We also love thinly sliced potatoes with rosemary, sea salt and olive oil on pizza and potato strudel made with puff pastry.  All these dishes have in common a very special way the potatoes melt into the dough, creating a unique texture which is very delicious.  This recipe would have been better with uncooked flour tortillas, but I just bought whole wheat flour tortillas and made the quesadillas with them as a quick lunch time treat.  This was an excellent dish for Max to help with.  I baked the potatoes in the microwave for about 10 minutes, and then peeled them with a knife.  Then he grated the potatoes.  This wasn’t his first experience with a grater, but it still takes real concentration to avoid grating his fingers.

Then we filled half of each tortilla with grated potato, and topped with grated cheese.  I got a great deal on some pre-grated cheese this week, and so we used a “Hispanic blend.”  Max was a little timid with the cheese.  Next time, I will make sure there is more cheese on each quesadilla.

Fold the tortillas in half.  Many quesadilla recipes stack two tortillas on top of each other, but they are easier to flip if they are made from a single tortilla.

While assembling the quesadillas, heat a griddle over medium high heat.  Generously butter the skillet, and lay the tortillas on the hot butter, pressing down with a spatula to help them cook evenly and melt the cheese.  Flip after about 3 minutes to grill other side.

Cut in half to serve.

To make 7 quesadillas:

8 small potatoes, scrubbed and poked with a fork

7 whole wheat tortillas

1 1/2 cups grated cheese (I used an Hispanic blend with asadero and cotija)

butter for the skillet

Bake potatoes in the microwave until just soft.  Peel (or not, if your potato skins look fine.  Mine were ugly.) Grated on the large holes of a box grater.  On one half of each tortilla, layer potato and grated cheese.  Fold in half and cook on griddle over medium high heat with plenty of butter.  Serve with salsa and pot beans (if you have them.)

Do you have a special potato dish that is your family’s favorite?  Leave me a recipe or a link in your comments!