Archive of 'Real Food'

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Tuscan Kale & Sausage Soup — A Perfect Lazy Winter Afternoon Meal

This is the perfect meal to make on a lazy winter afternoon. It is also the perfect meal to make when you have told your husband that you will make him lunch, you really do not want to go grocery shopping, and you discover that what you have in your fridge is: ground pork, chicken broth, celery, and half a jar of home-canned tomatoes from a friend.


Okay, so you don’t have to be in that exact situation, but it does help. Especially if your husband has low expectations for what lunch will be, so when you serve him this he is amazed that you created something seemingly so complicated. Except: it isn’t. Our little secret.


These are the approximate amounts that I used for each of these ingredients. I was winging it a bit, and I recommend you do the same. Bring all these flavors to the party and I guarantee it won’t go awry if you change the ratios a little bit.

  • 1 lb. Ground Pork
  • Spices: A generous shake each Parsley and Salt, 1-2 tsp. Oregano, Basil, Garlic Powder, and Paprika, and a pinch of Red Pepper Flakes. (You could also throw in some Fennel seeds for true Italian sausage flavors, but personally I hate them so I abstained.)
  • 15 oz. Whole, Canned Tomatoes
  • 4 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 bunch Celery
  • 1 bunch Tuscan Kale
  • 1/2 cup Full-Fat Coconut Milk (If dairy is not an issue you could just as easily use milk or cream.)


1. Clean and chop your kale. Grab the bunch together and slice it into broad strips. Set aside.

A note on kale: there are several different kinds of kale, but my favorite, and the one I’ve selected for this soup, is Tuscan kale. It is also sometimes known as Italian kale, Lacinato kale, and Dinosaur kale. (I am not making this up.)

It looks like this:


Keep in mind that you will receive bonus points if you harvest this kale from your own garden.

Unfortunately, you will receive negative bonus points if, while harvesting the kale, you discover that your dog has learned how to jump over the fences you placed around your garden boxes EXPRESSLY TO KEEP HIM OUT.



2. Wash your celery, snap off the little leafy bits, and chop into narrow half-rounds. Set aside.

(Regain your bonus points when you throw extra bits of celery down on the ground and your dog sneaks away with them like they’re a treat. Clearly you must be doing something right.)

3. Place your ground pork in a large skillet, and throw all the spices (listed above) on top of it. Over medium-high heat, use a wooden spoon or thick spatula to stir and chop the pork for about five minutes until the spices are thoroughly combined and the pork is somewhat browned on all sides. (It’s okay if it’s still pretty pink at this point.)

4. Add the canned tomatoes to the skillet, stir to combine, then cover, lower the heat to medium, and let steam for another five minutes.

5. While the pork is steaming, combine your chicken broth, celery, and kale, in a large soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat.

A note on chicken broth: homemade is best, not only because it is awesome for you but because, c’mon. Delicious.

6. Turn the broth down to medium heat, add the sausage/tomato mixture and the milk or coconut milk, and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour. (You may stir occasionally if you wish.)

You are looking for the liquid to reduce significantly and for the celery to be very soft; if you do it the same way I did, you’ll end up with a very large meat-and-veggies to liquid ratio.


Ta-da! Yummy. This soup should serve two people if one of them is Gil, and three to four people if none of them are. That’s just how it is.

Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about making soup. All I know is that I made this one and it was awesome. If you read this and think to yourself, “I know a way better way of making something this awesome with the same ingredients,” have at it. And by all means, let me know!

In the mean time, all I have to say is: Enjoy.

(Oh, and any advice on dog-proofing garden beds?)

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

It’s Easy to Render Your Own Lard – Holiday Baking

Today I want to share with you step Gil and I took last week to get ready for our holiday baking. As we’re making pie crusts and butter horns this week, it is important that we have quality fats to bake into those recipes. Pastured butter is one such quality fat, and we are using that liberally, but I also wanted some good quality lard. So we rendered our own.

This process was distinctly un-pretty, un-appetizing, and un-smelling good (at least you won’t be able to tell that part just from reading about it), but it is very traditional, and the end result is very good for you (definitely better than the vegetable shortening that so often replaces lard in baking recipes!).

First, we got a big ol’ slab of hog fat from our local butcher shop–about three pounds. Ideally we would have used “leaf lard” (kidney fat) for this process, but none was available so we used back fat instead. (I think this is partially why the volume of lard we ended up with was so much less than the recipe we followed.)


(Ugh. I kept having to try not to think about Fight Club while we did this. You’re welcome.)

Then, we chopped it up into cube-ish pieces and threw it in a heavy-bottomed pot with a little bit of water.


And… that was about it. We simmered it on the stove all evening, until all the fat that was going to had liquified out of those little chunks, leaving behind the “cracklings.”


(This was only part-way through the process.)

Next, we strained the liquid lard through cheesecloth into a mason jar, and by the next day it had solidified into this:


… Just like coconut oil or butter would have. Not that lovely of a process, right? But, once it’s baked into pie crusts and butter horns… very lovely indeed. You should try rendering your own lard sometime!

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Planning Our Thanksgiving Menu

When I’m planning something like a menu, I can’t help but resort to my primary means of thinking: visually, on paper. So after I’ve browsed and gathered recipes, I’ll usually end up making something silly like this (except I usually don’t scan it in and play with it in Photoshop like I did this one. But, you know, Thanksgiving’s a big deal.):


The Brussels Sprouts and Sweet Potato Apple Dressing are being made by guests, but here are the recipes we’re using for the rest:

Roast Turkey
Perfect Roast Turkey by Ina Garten

Homemade Gravy by Ina Garten

Cranberry Sauce
Sugarless Cranberry Sauce by Wellness Mama

Grandma Ena’s Butterhorns
This is actually a family recipe from Gil’s side that I am adapting to be gluten free; I will share that recipe with you soon.


Pie Crust
I’m going to start with Martha’s pie crust recipe, but I’m making it gluten free and substituting lard for half of the butter. We’ll see how it goes.

Pumpkin Pie
We’re using America’s Test Kitchen’s pumpkin pie recipe, which I can’t link to but you should definitely look up if you have access to their recipes. It involves candied yams, and is DELICIOUS.

Sour Cream Apple Crumb Pie
Recipe from Martha Stewart Living

Pecan Pie
Old-Fashioned Pecan Pie from The Kitchn

Those are our plans for now! They could certainly evolve before Thanksgiving, but it feels good to have a game plan. What foods do you traditionally have on your table for Thanksgiving?

Wednesday, November 14th, 2012

Let’s Talk About Food – Part Three: Love and the Love of Food

“Love and the Love of Food” is part three in a four part series on nutrition. Here are part one and part two.


(Photo from a Valentine’s Tea I held this year; yes, even I think there is a time for sweets.)


When I was younger, my father used to take me out for lunch. Often, we would go to Carl’s Jr. or Dairy Queen, and I loved it. I loved the food, and I loved spending time with my Dad. As a child, my favorite foods were pizza and “curly noodles” with parmesan cheese, and my parents would often put these foods on the table because they knew they pleased me. In college, friends and I would often head out for late-night conversation over Burrito Boy.

You might think, having now learned my thoughts on what is and isn’t “good” for you to eat, that I would look back on these scenarios with regret. But I don’t. Not one bit of regret. How can that be?

I’ll tell you how it can be. Too often, I think, those of us who get excited about nutrition and the effect it can have on your health forget that there is something far more important than health itself–and not just in an eternal sense, but in the here and now.

And what is that thing? Love.

I don’t mean romantic love. I mean the kind of love that’s a verb; love that is caring for another above yourself–love that can be between family, friends, acquaintances, or even strangers.

You may think it impossible that food and love are connected, but I would argue that it is impossible to unconnect them.

Food always has and always will have an intrinsically social aspect to it; and that is as it should be. We are social beings. We need each other to survive and thrive and to hash out the difficulties of this life. And so much of our interaction, for as long as history has been recorded, seems to have centered on coming together for food.

And not only is food so often the excuse we make for getting together, but there is something in food itself that is so very loving. Giving nourishment to another person; putting time and effort into making a meal to share with others–there is something inherently beautiful about these things, and I would argue that in our society, that beauty extends even to flawed means of delivery. So even though my father was buying me fast food, what he was actually giving me was love. Even though my friends and I ate giant, white-flour-tortilla-wrapped fast food burritos together, we were sharing our lives and sharing sustenance–we were loving each other.

Love puts everything in a different light, and it makes it tricky once you decide to embark on a nutritional path that is greatly different from most of society and, quite possibly, most of your friends. Except that the answer is simple, really: when love and nutrition come into conflict, choose love.

But there’s a trick to even that simple answer, of course. What, exactly, does love dictate? Does it mean that you should continue to eat exactly as your friends do, even if your health is suffering greatly? Does it mean you should cheat on your diet to eat that piece of wedding cake, even if you have serious health problems from which you’re recovering? I don’t know. I can’t know–because love’s dictates will be different in any given situation, and there very well may be more than one loving solution to each such problem.

The important thing, I think, is to keep love in mind. Keep it in mind when your friend prepares you a dinner with ingredients you don’t necessarily “approve” of. Keep it in mind when your friend is the one with the more restricted diet, and you are frustrated at what they’re unwilling to eat. Keep it in mind, and ask yourself which man is more blessed: the one who has “perfect” health, or the one who is surrounded by love?


Another kind of love factors into this whole picture, and that is the love of food. This discussion will be brief, but I think it is worth mentioning.

As I see it, there are two vastly different kinds of “love” for food.

The first is not actually love at all, but obsession or fixation, driven by unhealthy hormonal responses to over-stimulating foods like cookies and pizza. (I think they describe this phenomenon very well in the first section of It Starts with Food, on healthy psychological responses to food.) This scenario is incredibly common, and nothing to be ashamed of, because it is so easily brought upon us by the foods readily available to us today. Nothing to be ashamed of (believe me, I have experience my fair share of this obsession), but not healthy, either; this is the kind of dependence that it may be worth your while to try breaking with something like the Whole30.

The second kind of love for food, however, is what I actually want to talk about. As I mentioned above, there is something of love wrapped up into food itself, and into the act of preparing it. And there are many people who embrace food not just out of obsession, but out of love for the art of it–love for the flavors, and textures, and color palettes. Love for the produce the earth gives up, love for the animals who have eaten it, love for what we can make from all of the above. Sure, they may be using white flour and sugar and it may not be doing them any favors, but when someone is exhibiting that kind of love of life (and love of God, really, by loving His creation), how can you think it is a bad thing?

I don’t think it’s a bad thing. To the contrary, I think it is incredibly good; actually, if I were to advocate one easy first step down the road to good nutrition, it would be this one: learn to love your food. Pay attention to it; learn about it; care about its flavors–eat it intentionally. Savor it. The fruit of the earth is a great gift, and so are the culinary arts we have learned to prepare it with. Enjoy them.

There is much more we could explore on all of this, and at a later date I just may, but for now we’re moving on.

Up Next: Let’s Talk About Food — Part Four: My Story.

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Pomegranates: How to Eat Them and Why to Love Them

You’ve had pomegranate seeds before, right? Please tell me you have had a chance to enjoy this delectable, mysterious treat. It was only a couple of years ago that I tried them for the first time, and ever since then I have said that pomegranates are fall’s way of making up for all the summer fruit that’s out of season.


Look at those sparkling jewels, just ready to become a pop of flavor in your mouth!

And if you’ve ever had a pomegranate (unless you bought the seeds pre-picked, which I suppose there’s no shame in), you know that it is not only a delicious treat, it is also a (potentially time consuming) activity.

In the past, I have always just kind of hacked my way through pomegranate to get at the seeds inside, resulting in lots of “bleeding” pomegranate juice everywhere. But today I decided to seek assistance in my pomegranate cutting, just in case there was a better way. I found this video of Martha opening a pomegranate. Oh, Martha… how I do and don’t respect you at the same time. But that’s a whole different story. The point is, I decided to give Martha’s “method” a go.

First, I scored the pomegranates skin in quarters, just like she suggested.


This actually worked pretty well. I had to deepen my scores a couple of times, and to make sure to go especially deep in the tough skin at each end of the pomegranate, but after a bit of coaxing my pomegranate really did split apart with minimal damage to any of the seeds. So far, so good!


That, however, is where Martha’s method broke down. She suggests that after splitting the pomegranate into quarters, you hit the back of it with a wooden spoon to release “all the seeds!”

This, quite simply, did not work. Maybe I wasn’t hitting it hard enough. Maybe. But in any case, all that happened was the release of one or two seeds, and lots of splattered juice all over the place. Lovely.

So at this point, I resorted to what it is I always do with a pomegranate: spending 20 minutes sitting there coaxing seeds out of their sockets with my fingers. But, you know, that really isn’t so bad. It’s actually a rather soothing activity, and it has such a sweet reward. And, to give Martha credit, it seems like she may have realized this too; after I finished with my pomegranate, I also found this newer-looking video on Martha’s website where she opens it… exactly the way I did. Hmmm.

Do you like pomegranates? What are your favorite uses for their seeds? One year for Thanksgiving I made Bobby Flay’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pomegranate Seeds, and that was a delicious use of them for sure. But I think my favorite so far is the appetizer suggested by a friend of mine: hearty crackers topped with soft cheese (like triple-cream Brie–yumm!) and just two or three pomegranate seeds. So pretty, and so delicious.