Real Food Mama

Musings about cooking, eating and everything in between.

Spring has Sprung! May 16, 2011

Filed under: Eating local,Garden Fresh,Recipe,Uncategorized — realfoodmama @ 5:50 pm
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There is nothing quite like finally have warm days after a long winter. The rise of spring and the desire to spend days outside always seems to be accompanied by certain cravings. I can’t eat salad when it is snowing, but as soon as April and May roll around all I can think about is spinach and lettuce and arugula. And don’t get me started on things like asparagus and rhubarb! I’m making myself hungry just writing about it…

According to Chinese Medicine, spring is the time for cleansing and for renewing. The liver, the organ responsible for the smooth flow of qi, loves spring and can be both nourished and frustrated during this time of year. Wind, another spring favorite especially here in Santa Fe, is another symbol of the liver. As a result, many of those spring cravings can be linked to the bodies desire to naturally detoxify and move all that rising energy!

Great spring foods can also be found in the oddest of places. Dandelions, those pesky weeds, are a great spring tonic. Pick the greens (making sure they haven’t been sprayed!!) and add them to your salad for a nice change. As previously mentioned asparagus can act as a diuretic, pulling toxins out of the body with the excess water. Rhubarb, another favorite of mine, also has cleansing actions and can be a great addition to spring treats – like a fabulous rhubarb pie, for example!

There are lots of great greens and other things that I have missed over the winter and I encourage everyone to get out to your local farmer’s market to get some. One of my favorite ways to get all the spring veggies together is to make a nice pasta primavera (remember, primavera means spring!). Here is my version of the classic dish.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb home made pasta, or dried pasta of your choice
1 C asparagus, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 c onion, diced (approx 1/2 medium)
1 tsp minced garlic
1/2 c summer squash or zucchini, julienned (approx 1 small)
1/2 c red or orange bell pepper, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/4 c carrot, julienned (approx 1 medium)
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1/2 c heavy cream
2 TBSP olive oil

Begin by placing the pasta water on to boil. While you wait, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat until aromatic. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent. Add the asparagus and carrots and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the carrots soften and the asparagus starts to change color. Add the peppers and the summer squash and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are done. Add the heavy cream and the cheese and stir to mix and turn the heat to very low. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When the past water has boiled add your pasta and cook until al dente. Fresh past should only take a minute or two, but dried pasta usually takes between 7 and 10 depending on the style. Strain the pasta and add the noodles to the pan of sauce. Toss several times to coat the noodles and serve!

Happy Eating!


Congee – A great way to wake up February 17, 2010

Filed under: Real Food Wednesday — realfoodmama @ 9:17 am
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Rice and Millet congeeThis week I haven’t been feeling very well. I don’t have cold symptoms; I don’t really have any symptoms to be honest. I just feel not quite right.

I have some theories about this. The family was hit by a pretty nasty stomach flu about a month ago and frankly, I’m not sure I’ve fully recovered. My appetite is off and my energy level is incredibly low. Given the severity of the flu, I’m pretty sure any good flora in my digestive system was totally wiped out. Follow this with a week of eating out, two birthdays, a week of PMS-ing (I crave chocolate cake when I PMS – and typically give in) and Valentine’s day, and I have pretty much destroyed my gut.

So what is a girl to do?

I have a couple of tactics. First I will be using my home made raw milk kefir as a tonic to restore all those good bacteria that may or may not be absent. Even though my goat is nearly dried off, she is giving me enough milk still to make a few cups of tea a day and about 1 cup of kefir with each milking.

The other big gun I have? Congee. Now a good many of you may not be familiar with congee. It is something I was introduced to during my training in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) and again when I traveled to China. It is, in my opinion, a delicious porridge made of long cooked rice and sometimes a combination of rice and millet. The grains are cooked for upwards of twelve hours (basically overnight) until they develop a gelatinous consistency. Typically the ration of rice to water is somewhere between 1:6 and 1:8, but sometimes I go up to 1:10 in order to get a soupy quality. It is occaisionally amended with protein in the form of eggs or pork, and even has veggies mixed in from time to time. I generally prefer it with a fried egg and this is how I ate it this morning.

The idea of congee is best understood as part of the TCM theory about the digestive system in general. Chinese Medicine envisions the digestive system as akin to a campfire. The idea is that at night, while asleep, you allow the fire to burn down to embers due to lack of fuel. When you wake up in the morning, you want to put the right kind of fuel on your fire to keep it going, i.e. something that won’t put the embers out! If you think of food as fuel, you can imagine that the type of fuel you’d want to put on low embers would be kindling…something that will catch quickly and bring the fire up to flame. Think of congee as kindling. If you’ve ever eaten a bowl of oatmeal only to be hungry a few hours later, you can understand the analogy. It is easily digested and turns efficiently into energy.

Basically what I am attempting to do is stoke my digestive fire. I am hoping that the combination of congee and pro-biotics will jump start my system and will allow me to fully recover from the combination of stomach flu and overindulgence! It also tastes delicious…especially with an egg.

The recipe I used is very basic, but I have included it anyway. I have experimented with different grains such as amaranth or barley, and have even added beans just to mix it up but to be honest, I like the basic the best.

Basic Congee

3/4 c rice, rinsed
1/4 c millet
8 cups water

Combine the grains and the water in a crock pot and put on your lowest setting overnight. Serve warm with a fried egg or anything else you might think tastes good!

This post has been my contribution to Real Food Wednesday, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.


Real Food Remedies? January 15, 2010

This week our whole family was downed by a terrible stomach flu and it had me thinking: What kind of home remedies do people create using real food?

During my studies in Chinese Medicine, we had a whole semester course dedicated to healing with food. Chinese Medicine utilizes nutrition to help people bring themselves into balance and recover from illness. As a result my reliance on food as medicine is somewhat ingrained at this point. However, aside from understanding the energetics of certain ingredients, my recipe box is somewhat limited in terms of “healing foods”.

One of my standbys is certainly chicken noodle soup – there is nothing better than a really rich chicken broth loaded with carrots and celery and chicken fat to really make you feel like you’re healing yourself. Another thing I have only just recently added to my repertoire is home made pro-biotic foods such as kefir and yogurt using the goat milk from my girls. This has come in handy recently due to the bout of stomach flu. I have also been known to make congee – a traditional Chinese porridge made of rice or a combination of rice and millet that is cooked until the grains become gelatinous. Typically done in my crockpot overnight, this can be a great way to get nutrition in a person recovering from an illness or even to wake up the digestion in the mornings the way a bowl of nice oatmeal or hot cereal does. The Chinese frequently add protein to their congee in the form of fried or scrambled eggs and pork, as well as vegetables.

However, aside from the above list, my “healing food” recipe box is empty. Bone marrow soup, for example, is something I have learned is a great tonic, but I’ve never made. I’d be curious what other healing recipes people out there have in their cupboards. This winter has seen some pretty virulent diseases, including H1N1 and as a person who does not vaccinate, I must seek out other defenses against these things. Please feel free to add your favorite healing dishes! I would love to see what other people have up their sleeves 😉

Chicken Noodle Soup

1/2 chicken (approx 2 lbs – bone in and skin on! very important!)
4 c water
1 large carrot or 2 medium carrots
2 stalks of celery (or 1 stalk + 1 tsp celery seed)
1/2 onion, skin on
2 inch fresh rosemary (1/2 tsp dried, crushed)
4 inch fresh thyme (1 tsp dried, crushed)
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb noodles (home made or otherwise)

To begin, make your chicken stock. Place the chicken in a large stock pot and add the water, half the carrot cut into large pieces, 1 celery stalk cut into four pieces OR 1 tsp celery seed, and the onion, quartered. Also add the fresh herbs and salt and pepper, to taste. I prefer a more salty stock, so I typically add about 2 – 3 tsp of sea salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour.

The key to this stock is to use chicken that has skin and bone. Typically I buy my birds whole and butcher them at home. I like to cut them right down the middle, unless I am making something that calls specifically for breast meat. That way when I make my stock I have a nice bony, fatty carcass to boil up. The real secret to good chicken stock is the fat. Many recipes call for skimming after the stock has been made. I never do this – why get rid of all that fat?

Once the chicken is cooked through and you have a nice oil slick of fat on the surface of your stock, go ahead and remove your chicken, placing it to cool on a cutting board nearby. Then strain the stock in order to remove the now overcooked veggies. I use a colander for this and simply pour the stock from one pot to another rather than trying to strain it into a jar.

Once your chicken has cooled enough so that you can handle it without burning yourself, remove all the meat and set this aside in another bowl. You can dice the meat if you’d like, but I tend to just leave it in it’s shredded state.

At this point you can reconstruct your soup. Go ahead and put the chicken back in the stock, along with the second celery rib, diced, and the rest of your carrot, sliced thinly. In a separate pot, boil the water for the pasta. You don’t want to try to cook the pasta in the soup as this will result in a loss of too much stock and will lead to soggy noodles.

Once the noodles have reached al dente consistency, strain them and toss them in the chicken soup. Let everything cook at a low simmer for a few more minutes and you are ready to serve!

Look for my experiments with raw goat kefir at a later date. Until then, Happy Eating!

This blog has been my weekly contribution to Real Food Wednesday’s, hosted this week by Cheeseslave.


Molasses – A Much Maligned Sweetener August 14, 2009

Filed under: Fight Back Fridays,Recipe — realfoodmama @ 2:21 pm
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I love Molasses. I have since I realized it was the reason Gingerbread tasted so amazing. It makes things a lovely shade of amber and it ads a “sticks to your ribs” quality to anything containing it. It also isn’t all that sweet, one of the reasons many people don’t like molasses. Unsulfured molasses is generally preferred not only for it’s flavor, but also for it’s purity. Sulfur is added to the refining process in some cases, however most organic molasses is unsulfured. If you use blackstrap molasses it can even have a slightly bitter flavor, even though it is made up of almost entirely sugar.

Molasses is also incredibly good for you. Although it is a by-product of sugar production, and therefor not an entirely un-processed food, it contains all the nutrients of the sugar cane which didn’t make it into the refined sugar. Blackstrap molasses tends to be touted as the most nutritious of molasses types. Molasses can be primary, secondary or tertiary (blackstrap), meaning it is from the first, second or third refining of the sugar cane. While each type of molasses contains vitamins and minerals, blackstrap is shown to have the highest iron content of any type. Here is the nutrition content of blackstrap molasses, taken from

Molasses Nutrition

Molasses Nutrition

In addition to providing vitamins and minerals, molasses can also be used to induce microbial activity in soil, as a chelating agent to remove rust and turned into ethanol in order to run vehicles. I suppose this information may not help people develop a palate for molasses, but I found it fascinating. While learning the ins and outs of Chinese Medical Nutrition while in TCM school, we were taught that the addition of Molasses to congee, or rice porridge cooked so long it became nearly gelatinous, provide a tonifying and warming energetic and women especially were encouraged to add it to their recipe.

Molasses has also been responsible for explosions, such as the one which occurred January 15, 1919. Information can be found here.

All in all, Molasses is one of my favorite ingredients, both for baking and for savory cooking. Nothing makes a barbecue sauce better than molasses, and my recent bread experiment yielded fabulous results! I hope you all give this this versatile ingredient an honored place in your kitchen. Happy Eating!

    Barbecue Sauce:

1/4 c Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TBSP Molasses
2 TBSP Brown Sugar
2 tsp Tomato Paste
2 tsp Dijon Mustard
Dash Worcestershire Sauce

This post has been my contribution to Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays.


Nourishing Traditions – a book review. August 7, 2009

Filed under: Fight Back Fridays — realfoodmama @ 8:38 am
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Nourishing Traditions

Nourishing Traditions

Technically I have not finished this book, but as it is a cook book and I have finished the intro I feel qualified to write a review none the less!

This book is a veritable tome of information. The introduction is a detailed and relatively well researched explanation of current nutrition doctrine and why it is flawed. Obviously the author has an agenda, but in this case I don’t see it as a bad thing. The only lament I have about the introduction section of this text is that I wondered on a few occasions where she got her sources, as there are several things which are not referenced. That being said, so much of her information does have a footnote reference, I can’t help but taking her at her word for those things which are not referenced. This is due as much to my faith in her as it is to my unwillingness to do reference checks on my own.

There are several things about this book that I really loved. First, she provides basic recipes for things which are at the foundation of home cooking – how to make buttermilk and how to sprout your own grains are examples of this. I also enjoyed her focus on Asian cooking methods – like how to make fish sauce. And lastly, my favorite part of the whole book, are the insets containing information on each page – such as the “Name this product” game wherein you are provided a list of scary ingredients (such as cellulose gel and sodium hexametaphosphate) and asked to guess which processed food product the list represents; answers are in the index in the back.

Of all of her advice, the only thing I take issue with is her absolute condemnation of all things caffeinnated. As a hardened tea drinker, a beverage which, I might add, has been consumed for thousands of years, I am inclined to believe that it is a traditional food…and even a real food. And in my humble opinion, this argument could also be made for coffee, however this is merely me being contrary and certainly has no bearing on the validity of the rest of her points.

All in all, I have thoroughly enjoyed the portion of this book which I have completed, and can’t wait to try some of the recipes. I highly suggest that if you have not read this book that you give it a try. For those of you who already have, I suggest you dust it off and take a second look. Who knows what you might learn!

This review has been included in Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday’s blog carnival. Happy Eating!


A delicious summer salad August 3, 2009

Filed under: Recipe — realfoodmama @ 2:58 pm
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I love summer – there are so many fresh fruits and vegetables to cook with and so many new recipes to try. The only bad thing about summer cooking is the heat! There is nothing worse than trying to make bread on a ninety-five degree day, or slaving over a hot stove for 45 minutes while creating a dinner for four.

And while fresh salad greens are great, I don’t always like a raw dish. As someone who was trained in Chinese Medical nutrition, I was taught that raw, cold foods are difficult to digest and as a result can put too much stress on your health! So in order to eat them in moderation, I frequently make warm salads containing cooked ingredients. They provide the same light, refreshing flavors as fresh greens, but without the added pressure on your digestive health. Here is my new favorite combination –

    6-8 oz Crimini mushrooms, thickly sliced
    1 Tbsp olive oil
    4 – 6 oz pepperoni or other italian dry sausage like salami, sliced and diced
    marinated artichoke hearts – 6 quarters diced coarsely
    approx. 1/4 c cooked kidney beans, drained and rinsed (garbanzo beans would make a great substitution)

Saute the mushrooms in the olive oil until they soften and start to brown
Move to the serving bowl and add the pepperoni and artichoke hearts
Warm the beans in the same skillet and add to the other ingredients

Happy Eating!