Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Your Family Recipe

I just finished reading "The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken".  Laura Schenone, the author, introduces us to her family and her desire to recapture a food tradition that has all but been lost by the passage of time -- and the passing of grandparents -- Ravioli.

Are you lucky enough to have a traditional dish passed down for generations?  One that isn't plagued by the convenience (questionably real) foods that only resemble the real thing?  Have you made it lately?  Why not?

Through several trips to Italy to retrace her family's roots, Laura discovered a lifestyle filled with family tradition, great hand-made food, and a slow appreciation of life.  A food artisan in Genoa or Recco, Italy, actually has a name and face!  In the end, her family downsized to a smaller home, got more involved in cooking and developed closer relationships with their family.

Yes, there are great ravioli making tips and a handful of recipes to consider, but perhaps the real gem in this book is the questions it begs us to consider.

Food is central to our lives.  Why not invite friends and family into the experience of making quality food, slowly enjoying God's bounty?  When was the last time your family made a complete meal from scratch?  When was the last time your dinner lasted three hours because of great conversation, food and wine?  What's your family recipe?

Thursday, April 15, 2010


I just finished reading "slow life in a tuscan town" by Douglas Gayeton that strengthened my resolve to try to slow down and enjoy the real things (the four f's) in life -- family, friends, food and faith.

Douglas traveled to Italy in search of what made their lives so meaningful and came up with the word "slow".  His photography is beautiful and the text meaningful.  While many things are important in the life of a rural Italian, slow food (organic and raw) plays the central role.  I highly recommend you spend an evening or two with this book.

While he admits that some will seek the Italian lifestyle by moving to Italy, he ultimately encourages readers to develop that lifestyle in their own communities.  And he followed his own advice, purchasing a farm in Northern California where he and his wife and daughter now reside.

He writes the last sentence of his opening page saying, "We can begin by simply breaking bread around the table, inviting our children into the kitchen to help prepare the family meal, and planting a few herbs in a window box.  Your life will be richer for it."

I agree.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What's in a Name?

Have you ever realized while perusing your pantry and refrigerator that the best tasting foods -- and those best for your body -- tend to always have an individuals name attached to it.  For example, my pantry/refrigerator includes:
  • One of my dozen free-range organic eggs is from "Pat & Ginny Rakowski" and the other a bit more genric "Willowcrest Eggs", but both provide their local address and phone.
  • Our 1/2 gallon of maple syrup is from "Ned and Heidi Stoller".
  • Our ground beef, ground sausage, beef roast, hot dogs and turkey drumsticks are from "Nathan Creswick".
  • Our lamb bratwursts and ground lamb say "Pierre & Sharon Schierbeek" or "Jill & Mary".
  • Our vegetables are organically grown by "Anja Mast and Michael VanderBrug".
  • Our apples are from "Kurt, Tom and Scott Wells".
  • Any bread we purchase is from "Casey Lubbers".
  • Our raw Michigan honey is from "Al Haarsma".
  • The fair-traded Peru coffee is hand roasted by Craig Patterson to my specificiations.
  • Even our hand soap is from "Betty".
The better products we buy from national organizations carry the founder's name too such as "Gary Hirshberg" of Stonyfield Farm, "Bob & Charlee Moore" of Bob's Red Mill, and "Drew & Myra Goodman" of Earthbound Farm.

So what's in a name?

First, for us, we purchase directly from the people named above and can get to know them.  This provides a great opportunity to ask questions about how our food was cared for, cultivated and prepared.

Second, there is no "trash" in their food in the form of fillers, additives, preservatives, junk oils, artificial sweeteners, extra sodium, extra flavorings, added water, etc.  And, because they love what they do, they take extra effort to ensure the best nutritional product for our bodies in the form of 100% grass-fed animals and organic growing.

Third, their system of producing is significantly less damaging to the environment and in most cases enhances the environment.

To borrow from a credit card company, "What names are in your pantry/refrigerator?"  If you find a myriad of store brands and the big food companies, you're missing out.  Kudos if you know who made your food and how!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Coconut Cookies

Okay. The requests for these coconut cookies continue and when I make a batch intended for long-term freezer storage they seem to go quicker than intended.

One of my favorite cookbooks is "Super Natural Cooking" by Heidi Swanson. That is where this version of the recipe was inspired -- page 182 for those who own it.

Here is the recipe:

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup mesquite flour (I substitute with coconut flour as mesquite flour is not available in our area).
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. aluminum-free baking powder
3/4 tsp/ fine grain sea salt
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups natural cane sugar (I use "Sugar in the Raw")
3 large organic eggs
1 tbs. pure (real) vanilla extract
2 cups rolled oats (I use Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and position racks in upper half of oven. I use non-stick pans and give a quick spray of Pam to release the cookies after baking.

Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until light and fluffy, then beat in the sugar. Beat in each egg one at a time until each one is well blended. Stir in the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients in three stages, stirring between each addition. Stir in the oats and chocolate chips by hand only until evenly distributed.

Drop 2 tbs. dough for each cookie on the bake sheet about 2 inches apart and bake for about two minutes -- or until golden on top and bottom. Cool on wire racks.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

English Muffin Attempt

My success at bagel-making the other day received great praise and are officially eaten! With my wife at a Christmas party, and the kids fast asleep, I tried another of my favorites tonight -- the English Muffin.

I used my bread machine's "dough" setting and the recipe from Beth Hensperger's book, "The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook".

I rolled the dough out to about 1/2 inch thickness over plenty of cornmeal. And not being able to locate a round biscuit cutter, I flipped one of our glass drinking cups over and used the top to make perfect 3" circles of dough. I was doing great...

The recipe suggested using a cast iron pan. I used one square and one round one from our options. The recipe said to let the formed dough set in the pan on medium heat for ten minutes on each side. I set mine on low heat for the full ten minutes and was unpleasantly surprised to find them more black than brown when I flipped them! Needless to say, the flipped side was watched more carefully and I ended their heat exposure at 5 minutes with a nice brown top (the only tops I will show in the picture -- smile).

Things of value I learned from my first attempt:

1. Cast iron rocks and the square pan was easier to arrange than the round.
2. I will only lightly spray the pans with butter/oil ahead of the first side browning.
3. I will spread the dough thinner than 1/2 inch (I like my English muffins thinner than how these finished).
4. Every gas oven range burner cranks out a different level of BTU's. My english muffins will not require the entire 10 minutes. I will watch closely until nicely browned on each side.
5. I will not be afraid of using too much cornmeal.

The recipe, from pg. 90 (*The batch below will make about one dozen English muffins):
1. 1/2 cups fat free milk
2. 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3. 1 large egg (I use organic, free-range chicken eggs)
4. 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I use a whole wheat blend)
5. 2 teaspoons sea salt
6. 2 1/4 teaspoons SAF yeast
7. 2/3 cup yellow corn meal for rolling out and covering when cutting and baking

I had one of my English muffins, toasted, with unsalted sweet cream butter and homemade strawberry jam while I wrote this post. I have to say, both sides, brown and black, were delicious!

I hope these posts encourage/inspire you to try making something from scratch. It's better for you and a lot of fun. As long as you try, I've succeeded!

P.S. One of our friends has started making her own breads for their family. I mentioned my success at bagels the other day and she made fresh homemade cinnamon bagels for her family this morning! How cool is that!? Be inspired and create in your kitchen!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Banana Ketchup

Every once in a while, I am reminded of certain comments mentioned to me in my past that I have held onto for any number of reasons. These comments return to me by "triggers" in my life.

Today, the trigger was seeing my bottle of Banana Ketchup I acquired on the island of St. Lucia when I visited several years ago with my wife. Bananas are one of the largest sources of exports (income) for the island residents.

On a tour of the stunningly beautiful island, the tour guide stopped at a banana farm and spoke about the importance of the industry to the people. I asked the question, "Are any of these bananas exported to the United States?" The response, "No. Our bananas are exported to various parts of Europe. Americans will only eat perfect bananas that have no imperfections, requiring the use of pesticides and fertilizers that we won't use."

I've discovered in my preparation of homemade foods that it just isn't going to look like a perfect store-purchased (fill in the blank) -- and why should it? After all, I made it, not a nameless faceless machine. But, the finished product will have great wholesome ingredients, often taste better, and be finished with a whole lot of love.

As often as possible, I will be looking for things a little messier, cared for (or prepared by) those who tended the earth and respected it, and with a bit more character (flaws). I will be looking for what is authentic and real.

Perfect has many hidden problems -- not to mention it's just boring.