Real Food Dinner Party

Jared and I had a couple over for dinner last night, and I thought I would share my “real food” menu. Everyone seemed to really like the meal– especially the dessert! Recipe links included.

Appetizer:

Homemade kale pesto (http://theglitterguide.com/2013/03/01/recipe-file-kale-pesto/) over cream cheese block, served with triscuits (Ak-Mak crackers would also be great).

Entree:

Braised short ribs (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/beef-short-ribs-recipe/index.html), creamy polenta (no recipe for this– just boiled half milk and half water to make the polenta and then added grated Parmesan), and lightly dressed greens (just whipped up a white wine lemon vinaigrette).

Dessert:

Whole wheat applesauce cake (http://www.eatliverun.com/whole-wheat-applesauce-loaf-cake/but I didn’t make the frosting) served with homemade caramel sauce (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/easy-caramel-sauce-recipe/index.html)

While this meal wasn’t exactly low fat, it was really delicious and made with all organic, real food ingredients. And most importantly, my guests and my husband liked everything!

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It’s Been a While…Lessons Learned

I started up this blog and real-food transition at the same time, but then I stopped blogging. Jared and I moved, I got really busy with work/friends/church and so I just stopped blogging period. But I didn’t stop eating real food! In fact, “eating real” has become so much a regular part of my life now that my first posts seem really funny to me. Since it has been 7 months since my last post, I thought I would share the lessons that I have learned while adopting a mostly organic, non-processed diet.

Lesson 1: I eat real food 100% of the time Monday – Friday. On the weekends, I’m much more relaxed.

I prepare all of my meals Monday – Friday at home with fresh, organic, non-processed ingredients. I eat breakfast at home, bring my lunch to work, and cook dinner every night (or heat up leftovers!). Friday  – Sunday, I like to go out. I love trying new restaurants, going to boozy brunches with girlfriends, and having a beer with friends. While I am still very conscious of what I put in my body on the weekends (it’s not like I adopt a cheese-its and coke diet), I’m also not crazy about whether the orange juice in my brunch mimosa has been freshly squeezed from organic oranges or the champagne was made with pesticide-free grapes (probably just wondering that makes me crazy enough). However, when I do eat out, I mostly eat vegetarian if I don’t know where the meat came from (although it is getting easier and easier to find hormone and antibiotic free meat at restaurants). Also, if we have a dinner out during the week (we eat dinner with a church group every other Wednesday night and occasionally attend work dinners), I just eat what is served and don’t fret about it too much. I’m also pretty relaxed on vacation. I try my best to eat real foods, but sometimes, you just have to be flexible.

Lesson 2: I joined a local, organic produce co-op and it has helped me a ton.

Every other week, I pick up 15 lbs. of fresh, local, organic produce. This has been amazing for me. I eat WAY more vegetables than I used to and have gotten to try some things that I have never heard of before (kohlrabi, daikon radishes, tatsoi, blue majesty potatoes). Eating lots of fruits and vegetables was definitely a goal of mine when I started this transition, and although this co-op is a little pricey, it is worth every penny if it gets me to eat more veggies!

Lesson 3: Speaking of price, this diet is a lot more expensive.

Originally I had said that I wasn’t going to break the bank by changing the way that I eat. Well, I haven’t “broken the bank” but food like this simply costs more, and I do now spend more on food now than I used to. But because of this, I am much better about not wasting food, and I do try to make at least one vegetarian meal a week (Jared doesn’t love this, but he manages). I’m just not a coupon person, and I don’t have the time to go around to various grocery stores and farmers markets and compare prices. But to me, this change is worth the extra cash.

Lesson 4: Sometimes, convenience wins.

While I would love to say that whip up a batch of fresh tortillas and granola and hummus every weekend, most of the time I don’t want to spend my whole weekend in the kitchen. But I have found items at Whole Food, Sprouts and Trader Joe’s that fit my criteria (including tortillas!). It’s all about reading labels, knowing brands and being consistent.

Lesson 5: My husband has been great, but there are some things he just won’t eat.

I am so happy with Jared for being open about trying my new recipes and for being such a good sport about this whole transition. But there are a few times I have taken it too far. The other night I made a collard green quesadilla (with fresh grated cheddar cheese on whole-wheat tortillas-yum!) and a side of roasted winter veggies, but it was just too weird for him. He was a trooper though, and just piled his with lots of sour cream and salsa. But he told me not to repeat that recipe (darn!). It is sometimes fun for me though to figure out what recipes he actually likes that he never in a million years would have had on his own (whole-spelt and kale lasagna roll ups are a good example!).

Anyways, I have a lot of recipes that I plan on uploading soon and more topics to cover. Stay tuned!

Overacheiver?

Pretty sure I was a big overachiever this past weekend. I made whole-wheat banana pecan muffins, corn tortillas from scratch, slow-cooker re-fried beans and homemade ricotta. But I seriously had so much fun– and it didn’t even feel like I spent that much time in the kitchen.

Last night I made fish tacos on homemade tortillas with lime/cilantro crema with a side of the slow-cooker re-fried beans…oh man was it good! Tonight I’m making whole-wheat linguini (regular for Jared) with zucchini, cherry tomatoes and fresh ricotta. And so far this week for breakfast I have had a banana nut muffin alongside a homemade vanilla latte (made with my new espresso machine and milk frother– more on that later) and I feel like I am completely spoiling myself. But everything is super healthy– just also super delicious. With a little weekend preparation, cutting out processed foods has been surprisingly easy!

All of my new recipes have been posted (expect for the ricotta– it’s good, but I’m not sure I have perfected it yet. It has more of a lemon-y taste than I was hoping for). I’m not sure if I will continue to be an “overachiever” or if this is just my new normal. To be honest I have been so excited about trying new recipes and have had so much fun with it that I think I will continue to make things from scratch. Or at least I hope so! Because making more things at home is really the key to eating clean.

 

To Buy or Not to Buy: Organic

I didn’t exactly go into this thinking that I was going to switch over to organic foods completely. When I first noticed the ingredients in my store-bought bread, I was mainly thinking about cutting out artificial additives and preservatives. But after a while, it didn’t seem to make much sense to cut out artificial ingredients in my food without also wanting to cut out unneeded hormones and antibiotics administered to the animals I eat and pesticides on my fruit and vegetables.

But my biggest concern was cost. While I have always liked buying organic, most of the time I opted for price instead. Not to mention that the fruits and vegetables in the organic section many times look wimpy compared to their pesticide-laden counterparts. In my research of real food, I came across this website: http://www.ewg.org/foodnews/summary/, the EWG’s 2012 Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce. After testing fruits and vegetables, they tell you which ones contain the most pesticides and which ones are the “cleanest.” See the chart below from their website.

As you can see, apples, celery and sweet bell peppers rank the worst while onions, corn and pineapples contain the fewest pesticides. You can view the methodology on their website. But I think this gives me a really great starting point. I have decided to buy the “dirty dozen” list organic, and stick to non-organic produce for the clean list. This past weekend I bought organic strawberries and the taste is far superior. Sure they are smaller, but much sweeter!

Onto dairy. I have always bought organic milk wanting to avoid rBHT, but I never bought other organic dairy products.  But I’m going to start. On of my favorite real food blogs, 100daysofrealfood.com, Lisa writes “you can’t wash off chemicals in your dairy.” I have decided I would like my cheese and eggs to come from cows and chickens that haven’t been injected with hormones or antibiotics. I have also been surprised at how much better the organic dairy tastes. We had chicken tacos last night (on homemade whole wheat tortillas!) and the organic sour cream was so rich and creamy compared to the Daisy brand that I normally buy. And the cheese had so much more flavor than the bland Kraft shredded variety. Less of it went further.

Finally, meat. Here I’ve done my research, and it’s enough to convince me to only eat organically or naturally raised meat. Here are just a few facts about the benefits of eating organic meat:

*According to a Princeton University study, organic, grass-fed beef tends to have less total fat and higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef.

*Organic farming bans the use of purported cancer-promoting growth hormones and antibiotics in animals, leading to fewer health risks and minimizing the evolution of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.

*Organic, grass-fed meat poses a low risk of harboring E. coli and may also have lower levels of campylobacter bacteria when compared to cows raised in non-organic feedlots.

*Because organically raised cows don’t consume animal byproducts, they also have a low risk of contracting bovine spongiform encephalopathy–or mad cow disease–which can cause the potentially lethal Creutzfelt-Jakob disease in humans.

But let’s be honest, organic meat is difficult to find in restaurants. So I will reduce my meat consumption by eating meat only when I bought it and know where it came from. It would probably be good for me to eat less meat anyway, so instead of making more vegetarian meals at home (which Jared would most certainly not approve of) I will simply eat vegetarian when I’m out unless I know the meat that a restaurant uses is organic 🙂

Bread Crumbs?!

I continue to be amazed by what is in our food. Perfect example two nights ago. I was making spaghetti and meatballs. Something I have always made, but this time I used whole-wheat pasta for myself (Jared isn’t there yet) and organic tomato sauce with all natural ingredients. When it came time to make the meatballs, I grabbed my Progresso Italian seasoned bread crumbs. Once again, you really don’t want to know what’s in them. So I quickly googled homemade breadcrumbs. Turns out, they are the easiest thing in the world to make. You grab a few slices of bread (whole wheat and not store bought!) grind them in a food processor, and bake them for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. Then throw them back in your food processor and add some dried Italian herbs, and viola, Italian seasoned bread crumbs. SO easy. And they actually taste like bread! (Unlike the powered mystery stuff in the blue container.)

I steamed some broccoli and we had a great, easy meal. I will add the recipe to the recipe section. I will also add my recipe for turkey and brown rice stuffed peppers. Yum!

Grocery Shopping 101

Let’s just say I am having to re-learn how to grocery shop. My first grocery shopping experience with this new plan was, well, interesting. It wasn’t as successful as I hoped it would be, but I did learn some valuable lessons. First of all, in order to really commit to this new lifestyle, I’m going to have to devote more time to grocery shopping. I’m hoping that when Trader Joe’s finally gets to Dallas (opening in early 2013!!), it will solve some of my problems. But until then, I just won’t be able to find everything I need or want at a “normal” grocery store (aka not a Whole Foods or Central Market). I was able to easily stock up on fruits and vegetables, dairy items, and they even sold some organic meat. But certain items were impossible to find. These were the items that I had the most trouble with:

*Tortillas. I was planning on making chicken tacos for dinner one night this week, but after mulling over tortilla packages for about 20 minutes, I gave up on that dinner idea. There was not a single tortilla in the entire store that fit my criteria. Even the “artisan” tortillas had a plethora of unfamiliar additives and preservatives. This made me realize that I am going to have to shop elsewhere for all of my bread products, or make them myself. I was able to find a great bakery last week where I will now buy my bread, Empire Baking Company (they don’t use any fillers, conditioners, dough enhancers, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors period), but unfortunately they do not sell tortillas. Luckily I found a great recipe for homemade whole wheat tortillas that I will post in the recipe section.

*Cereal. It looks like I am going to have to change up my favorite breakfast staple. As with the tortillas, I spent entirely way too much time picking up cereal boxes and examining their ingredient lists. I was able to find one box of Kashi Strawberry Fields cereal that didn’t have too many ingredients, but surprisingly most of the Kashi and other “health” brands of cereal did not fit my rules. I think next weekend I will make some healthy granola to eat for breakfast instead. Or switch it up and have yogurt with honey and fruit. I will need to get a little more creative with my breakfasts, but I guess that is part of the fun of this new challenge!

*Snack Foods. I think a health grocery store will have many more options for snack foods than Tom Thumb did. But Kettle Brand reduced fat potato chips turned out to be the best thing I could find. If I had more time, I would venture into making my own baked potato chips or homemade crackers, but with a full time job I’m not sure that is realistic at this point in my life. Surprisingly, Triscuits only have 3 ingredients, one of which is whole wheat! But I was able to stock up on dried fruits and nuts which will serve as my new snack food staple. I have also heard that Larabars are considered a whole food, but I haven’t tried them. Next time I’m at Whole Foods I will pick some up!

*Lunch Meat. I love turkey sandwiches. If I had to eat a turkey sandwich for lunch every day for the rest of my life, I would be okay with that. But lunch meat is highly processed, so I was worried I would have to give up the turkey sandwich on this new diet. Luckily, I have discovered Applegate Farms. They specialize in making what are normally highly processed meat products un-scary (lunch meats, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, etc). They never used antibiotics or hormones, they don’t use any artificial ingredients and their animals are humanely raised. Check out there standards here http://www.applegate.com/about-us/our-standard. Yey!

The most interesting thing about my first shopping experience was that different brands of the same item can vary drastically. I picked up a container of Daisy 2% cottage cheese that only had 4 ingredients. I then picked up another brand (Lucerne) of the same item, and it probably had over 20 ingredients. This happened quite frequently. As I go, I’m sure I will learn which brands are the best. But for now I will just have to read every label!

Looking at the ingredients of the things I normally buy has also been eye-opening. I never knew that my favorite tomato sauce contained high fructose corn syrup or that grated cheese contains cellulose (made from wood pulp) to keep it from clumping. I’ll just shred my own cheese, thank you very much.

I stocked up on sugar in the raw and agave syrup to replace my artificial sweeteners. This morning I had my first cup of coffee with 1 teaspoon of agave syrup. It will take some time getting used to since I’m used to my super sweet stuff, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

If any readers have any suggestions for clean grocery shopping or brands of products that they like please let me know!

Sugar High

My entire adult life has been spent avoiding sugar. I’m pretty sure up until last week I thought Splenda was the best invention since sliced bread. I probably consume 3-4 packets a day, if not more. I love my coffee and tea extra sweet, so being able to enjoy my beverages calorie-free with as much sweetness as I pleased was nothing short of a miracle.

But then Diane happened. Diane is my mom’s yoga teacher, and she is awesome. I have only taken one class with her when she did a private session for me and my bridesmaids the day before my wedding, but from the way my mom talks about her, she is pretty much the coolest person ever. At the beginning of every class, she instructs her students to make one clean-living change to their lives that week. One of her suggestions looks like it is going to change my life in a non-trivial way. A few weeks ago my mom and I were chatting on the phone, and she told me her challenge for the week: look at the ingredients in your food, and make small changes to eat cleaner. I didn’t think too much of it during our conversation. But the next week, while I was making a turkey sandwich, I glanced at the ingredients in what I thought were my super-healthy 100-calorie sandwich bread thins. I wish I could list them all, but that would probably take me an hour. Here are some of the more disturbing ones:

* Distilled monoglycerides (a glyceride consisting of one fatty acid chain covalently bonded to a glycerol molecule through an ester linkage. They are formed biochemically via release of a fatty acid from diacylglycerol by diacylglycerol lipase.)

* Sodium stearoyl lactylate (a versatile, FDA approved food additive manufactured using biorenewable feedstocks.)

* Azodicarbonamide (a synthetic chemical with the molecular formula C2H4O2N4. It is a yellow to orange red, odorless, crystalline powder. As a food additive, it is known by the E number E927.)

Um. Gross. And here I was thinking I was making a healthy sandwich. I had an epiphany right then and there. If my sandwich bread had all of those ingredients, I bet everything else in my pantry did too (and they did). I have always prided myself on being a healthy eater, but I had never once looked at an ingredient list. I have always checked the nutrition information, but what does that tell you if there are monoglycerides and aodicarbonamides lurking in your food? Why are we literally polluting our bodies with chemicals and additives and preservatives?

So, I have decided to make a major life change about the way I eat, while trying to stay realistic. I’m not going to throw away everything in my pantry or boycott restaurants that use these ingredients. But I will never again buy anything without first checking the ingredient list. If I don’t recognize it, I won’t buy it. Period.

I have several challenges ahead of me. My biggest one is probably my husband, Jared. I think it is fair to describe him as a good ‘ol American boy. Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Oreos rank highly on his list of favorite foods. I mentioned my epiphany to him over dinner one night, and he thought I was out of my mind. He pretty much already thinks I’m a crazy health nut, so I tried to play down my new eating philosophy a little. “But why do you care,” he asked, “if it tastes good?” I actually don’t have a very good answer to that question. I haven’t done a lot of research on these food additives or know of any studies that prove they have adverse health effects (although I’m sure they’re out there). I just think that putting man-made preservatives into our bodies is unnatural. I’m pretty sure we are not designed to process them. The good news is that if I can continue to make food for him that tastes just as good as it did before this change, I think he will at least find that this won’t negatively affect him. And I’m hoping that over the long-haul, he will start to actually prefer real foods over processed foods.

Cost will also be a issue. I refuse to break the bank by shopping exclusively at Whole Foods. I will do my best to shop at regular grocery stores, and watch for sales for items that can’t be found outside of whole foods or central market. I will try to use our farmers market more regularly and search for retailers in Dallas that provide natural foods. I also hope to make more food items at home. Just wait until Jared tries a homemade Oreo!

My last foreseen challenge brings me back to Splenda. I just love that stuff. But I’m going to give it up. Cold turkey. I will need to learn to enjoy beverages less sweet, and use real sugar or other natural sweeteners instead. But this means no more diet coke, skinny vanilla lattes at Starbucks or insanely sweetened coffee in the morning. It will be a challenge, but I think I’m up for it. I will now eat real sugar, in moderation.

I’ve made up a list of rules that I am going to try my best to follow. Here they are:

1. Whole foods will be defined as more a product of nature than a product of industry.

2. Lots of fruits and vegetables.

3. Dairy products (milk, unsweetened yogurt– or naturally sweetened, eggs and cheese)

4. 85% Whole wheat and whole grains (100% at home)

5. Seafood– wild caught whenever possible

5. Organic meat (naturally raised is fine with me too)

6. Beverages are limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea and alcohol

7. Only real sweeteners are allowed. Honey, raw sugar, agave syrup, molasses, and 100% maple syrup

8. Grocery store products must contain only ingredients I recognize. I will try to purchase things that have only 5 ingredients or less.

I am fundamentally changing the way I think about food. This blog will document my progress, address challenges that come up along the way, and provide suggestions to others looking to eat cleaner. Comments/suggestions are welcome. Thanks for reading!