Revelations

Six years ago, I loved watching cooking shows like Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee and often tried to copy their dishes. The food looked beautiful and while the cooking ladies on TV raved about how great it tasted, mine never tasted all that special – even when I followed the recipe to a T. At the time, I was over 350 lbs, and lived off of fast food, TV dinners, and the semi-homemade meal of the moment.

A lot changed when I became pregnant with my son, and (surprise surprise) there was drama. The what and how and who aren’t important but circumstances forced me to change my eating habits and I started buying fresh food and stopped eating fast food and take out. I still didn’t exactly know what to do with it all, so I relied on the tricks I’d learned from Food Network to cheat, and make things ALMOST from scratch. It was better than McDonald’s but there were a lot of cans, packets, boxes and jars in my life. During my pregnancy I lost 60 lbs and had a beautiful, healthy baby boy and life was good.

After he was born, I wasn’t “eating for the baby” anymore and was able to work and had a little money so I went back to the old habits of fast food and take out. I lived at home with my parents and ate dinner with them most nights, but lunch and breakfast were often eaten with one hand in the car, headed from the drive-thru back to work. I put back the weight that I had lost, plus more.

Something had to be done. My son was two and a wild child. I had nightmares of him running into the street my fat ass being too slow to catch him. I tried every fad diet, joined three different gyms (never went to any of them) and basically considered myself a failure. I thought that if I couldn’t lose weight for myself, then surely I could do it for this little boy that I loved more than life itself – and if I couldn’t lose it for him, what kind of mother was I???

Eventually, my beautiful friend Hilary told me she was having gastric bypass surgery. I’d heard of the surgery, of course, and had contemplated it, but it wasn’t until I knew someone in “real life” that I was brave enough to really explore it. Once I was open about it, I found that the nurse at my doctor’s office had had the surgery and lost 100 lbs (and a crappy husband) and she recommended her surgeon. I called him that afternoon and made an appointment, and 3 short months later, I had my guts rearranged and changed my life.

I knew that I had to change EVERYTHING about my eating habits and my thoughts about food if I was going to make this work. Due to complications with my surgery, I wasn’t able to eat “real food” for about 6 months, I lived on protein shakes and soup (and diet coke..shh.) and that time really reset my brain.

I realized that if I was only going to be able to eat small meals for the rest of my life, I wanted those meals to be AWESOME. I didn’t want to waste my 5-6 bites of food on a Big Mac, I wanted it to be the best burger ever. I began reading about food, and watching cooking documentaries, hosted by chefs instead of celebrities with big boobs, and reading recipes. I had inherited my grandmothers cookbooks when she passed away and I pulled them out and began reading them like novels.

I ended up losing 180 lbs, and actually got to down to 140 lbs, which, for my frame, is too thin. People began asking me if I was ill. I added butter to my diet and got up to 165 which is really my ideal weight. I’m a full figured gal and enjoy my curves.

People say that you can never really CURE an addiction – you can fight it, or you can replace it. Alcoholics quit drinking and start smoking, smokers quit smoking and gain 50 pounds. I replaced my food addiction with… a food addiction. But instead of eating, and eating, and eating food, I read about food, think about food, study food, talk about food, cook food, and, when I’m hungry, eat food.

The knowledge that I’ve gained in all this reading has helped me keep the weight off, more than anything else. I truly believe that real food, as close to the way God made it as possible, is so much more satisfying than any fat-free, sugar-free mess you could come up with. A few bites of cheesecake, full of cream and butter and sugar, will satisfy and delight you, where a whole hunk of some fat-free, sugar free cheese-product-type cake-thing will fill your belly but not your soul.

We’ve stretched our bellies out with all this unsatisfying crap, and taught our brains not to be satisfied until we’ve eaten three bowlfuls. A single bowl of soup, made with fresh ingredients, and a big hunk of homemade bread with real butter should be more than enough to satisfy a person for one meal. But with all the processed crap we’ve fed our bodies, it never works, because once our bodies process out all the sodium, sugar, chemicals, additives and gets down to the tiny bit of nutrition left, it wants more!!

This rant was brought to you this morning by my breakfast. I was staring at the fridge wondering what to eat, and I was tired of my usual eggs, and I really REALLY wanted fettucini alfredo. I thought, well, why the hell not. 6 years ago I’d have run to the store to get either a TV dinner or a jar of alfredo sauce. (Or, honestly, I’d have run to Whataburger for 2 potato,egg and cheese tacos, 2 hashbrowns and a diet coke)Instead, I melted a little butter in a pan, added flour and made a roux. Then I added the last of the cream to make a bechamel sauce, seasoned it well with salt, pepper and a little garlic, added some parmesean, and added some cooked bowtie pasta (all out of fettucini). That’s really not a lot of anything – a little butter, a little flour, a little cheese.. .and you’ve got one of the most satisfying dishes on the planet. I ate less than a bowlful and I’m totally content. My 1 year old loved it too!

Cooking is about so much more than putting hot food on the table. It’s about providing nutrition for your body, and for the bodies of the people you love, and about satisfying the soul as well. Good food isn’t a luxury – it’s a neccesity and we should ALL enjoy it.

Best Biscuits Ever. EV.ER.

biscuitsPW

We’re southern, and so we like biscuits. They’re great at breakfast and when I forget to make rolls for supper, I’ll throw together some biscuits and everybody is happy. I was a Bisquick/Pioneer Baking Mix girl for a long time, and then I ran out. I made biscuits from scratch, and like (almost) everything else made from scratch, they were 1,000 times better!! I’ve tried tons of recipes and had quite a few failures but I believe that I’ve created the PERFECT biscuit recipe. A lot of it is method, too, so I’m going to go step by step for you.

The Recipe

2 1/4 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup milk
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 450.
In a bowl, mix up all the dry ingredients, combine.
Cut the butter into small pieces, then, using a fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients. When the butter/flour combo is dry crumbles, set it aside.
In a bowl, combine the egg and the milk until the egg is well beaten.
Add the wet to the dry and mix until just barely wet.
Move the dough to a floured board and knead the dough together 5-6 times.
Roll out to about half an inch thick rectangle .
Using a sharp knife, cut into 2 in squares and place on a ungreased baking sheet.
Bake 10-14 minutes.

Makes 8-10 biscuits.

Biscuit Tips:

1. Make sure that your baking powder is fresh. To test it, put about 1 tsp baking powder into a glass and add about 1/4 cup hot water. It should bubble like crazy. If it doesn’t, or just bubbles a little, toss it and buy fresh. If you’re trapped and need it immediately, you can substitute 1/4 tsp baking soda & 1/2 tsp cream of tartar for 1 tsp baking powder.

2. There is a tool called a pastry cutter that’ll make life easier when cutting the butter into the flour mixture. It’s cheap and won’t take up much room. However, if you have a food processor, it’ll do the job super quick and will quickly mix in the milk/egg mixture, too – that’s what I use.

3. Don’t manhandle the dough too much. I grew up with round biscuits and I’m used to rolling out, cutting w/ a biscuit cutter, re-rolling the scraps, cutting… By cutting them into squares you save time and saves the dough some bother. The less you work the dough, the more tender and fluffy the biscuits will be.

4. If you like biscuits with a crispy top, simply roll them out and bake them. You can butter them before you bake them and the tops will brown but the tops won’t have that crisp crunch.

These are truly delicious biscuits. They bake up big and tall with crispy, crusty tops and are tender and fluffy inside. They’re great just with butter or jelly, and outstanding under gravy. They hold up well and don’t turn to mush.

Give these a try this weekend, they’re fast and easy and so yummy!

Refried beans….

pintos

Let’s talk refried beans.

I’ve always made them from a can, basically open the can, dump into a pot, heat and stir. I’m a purist, I never buy the vegetarian or fat free kind – without lard, why bother?

In my mission to switch over to totally homemade, I’ve failed at several specifics. Tortillas, baby wipes, wine (what a disaster) and refried beans. I’ve made bean mush, bean paste, bean patties but a true refried bean was out of reach.

Last 4th of July, we went to our Steven’s friend Horry’s house to celebrate. Horry’s wife Mirelda is super cool and way hotter than me. They’re from California and are hispanic, and regularly eat homemade Mexican food. While the guys were down at the lake fishing and grilling fajitas, Mirelda and I hung out at the house and watched Hoarders, played with the babies, and fixed the sides.

Well, in all honesty, Mirelda fixed the sides and I sat, watching in awe, as she whipped up Mexican rice, guacamole, salsa and refried beans, all without opening a package, a box or a can. I was particularly impressed by her beans, and she taught me how. I will never buy another can of refried beans.

Some thoughts, before we begin the tutorial.

First – you can’t decide at 4pm that you’re going to serve these beans at 6 the same night. There are some cheats that I’ll discuss at the end but for truly homemade, it takes three days.

Second – these do not fall under the modern, trendy definition of healthy. They are REAL FOOD. All natural, homemade from scratch, without preservatives or chemicals, but they have salt and fat in them.

Third – Salt and fat are yummy.

How to make refried beans:

1.Make beans. I’m not going to tell you how to do that, that’s a blog post in and of itself. There are tons of great bean recipes out there – but most will have you soak the beans overnight and then cook the beans all day. That’s two days of the three day process.
Here is my favorite bean recipe (from my favorite food blog!) http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/2007/08/beans_and_cornb/

2.After you eat your beans and cornbread, put the leftover beans in a covered container in the fridge, They need to sit in the fridge at least over night.

3.The day you want the refried beans, make some bacon. You can do whatever you want with the bacon, we just want the bacon grease.

4.Heat the bacon grease in a skillet and saute some onions and garlic in the grease until soft and clear but not brown.

5.Using a slotted spoon, scoop up some cold beans and put them into the hot grease. Gently fry the beans in the grease – you want them soft and warm but not crispy or burnt.

6.When the beans are hot and soft, mash them with a potato masher or the back of a large spoon. Season with cumin and hot sauce and whatever else you like – just remember, your beans should be pretty tasty from the first time you made them.

7.As the beans cook, they’ll get thicker and thicker – use bean water from your bean container to thin them to the consistency you like. We like ours on the thicker side, but I know a lot of folks like them kind of runny.

That’s it! It’s surprisingly simple if you know what you’re doing. It’s not really a recipe, more of a method, that you need to know. These beans are truly yummy and authentic.

Now.. the cheats. If it’s 4 pm and you HAVE to have refried beans that night and don’t happen to have a tupperware dish full of cooked pintos in your fridge, all is not lost. Get a few cans of ranch style beans, drain them and reserve the liquid. Follow the steps above – if you need more liquid than you were able to get from the can, you can use chicken stock or even water. Do NOT use any sweet bean, like baked beans or barbeque beans. They would just be gross.

If you’re one of those “on top of things” moms that hides veggie purees in food to sneak nutrients into her kids (I wanna be one of those moms when I grow up) these beans are a great place to hide purees. They have a strong flavor, an already-mushy texture, and kids love them. I’ve added canned pumpkin without my kids noticing, and wrapped in a tortilla with some shredded cheese, they think they’re getting an awesome treat.

Let’s make cheese!!

Huh? What did she just say? Yep, let’s make cheese. And I’m not being euphemistic, either. A few months ago, I had 3 gallons of milk in my fridge, one of which was a day away from it’s expiration date. I knew we wouldn’t drink it and being the cheapskate that I am, I didn’t want to toss it. After much research, I decided to make cheese with it. It was so fun and SO YUMMY that I do it a lot now, on purpose!

Here is a step-by-step method for making your own cheese, and some ideas for what to do with it afterward!

What you’ll need:

A big pot (at least a gallon and a half, maybe two) but not so huge that you can’t manhandle it.
1 gallon milk
1/4 cup white vinegar
colander or sieve
clean, thin cloth (grab one of your husbands old t-shirts, they work great and he’ll never notice. Just make sure it’s not his Metallica shirt from that concert he went to in ’93)

Pour the milk into the pot and set it on the stove. Warm it over medium heat until just BEFORE it boils. How do you know? Look for little bubbles around the edges – or be a pansy and use a thermometer – boiling is 212 degrees so when it gets to 200 or so, you’re good.

Add the vinegar to the milk and stir it like mad, then remove it from the heat.

Throw a lid on the pot (or cover with a dishtowel if all your pot lids are being used as shields in a mighty battle in the front yard where you’ve sent your kids to get out of the way while you make cheese) and let it sit for about 15 or 20 minutes. More time won’t hurt, but less time will cause problems. While it’s sitting, it’ll get all clumpy and gross looking. This is good. These are curds and that’s what we want.

Get a big bowl and set it in the sink. Put your colander in the bowl, and then line the colander with the shirt or cloth. Pour the clumpy gross stuff into the colander. The liquid that comes off is whey, and the clumps are curds. It’s like Little Miss Muffet right there in your sink. The whey should be mostly clear at this point*. The whey is GOOD STUFF! Save it… we’ll get back to it.

Now at this point you can wrap the cloth around your ball of curds and squeeze it as best you can, add a little salt, and you’ve got ricotta. Go make lasagna!

What I like to do is squeeze it, then wrap it up in the t-shirt and go hang the t-shirt in my shower, with the ball of cheese at the bottom, squeezing it every once in a while for a couple hours. This results in a dryer cheese. Add a little salt and it’s awesome just spread on crackers or toast.

*If the whey is still cloudy at this point, return it to your pot, bring it back up to 200 degrees, and add another 1/4 cup vinegar. Remove from heat and let that sit another 15 minutes, then add it to the curd in the colander. Don’t worry, you didn’t mess up, it just happens sometimes.

What to do with your cheese:

Veggie cheese spread
1 ball fresh homemade cheese (room temp)
1 tsp salt
1/2tsp black pepper
1-2 tsp garlic powder (to taste)

Using a hand mixer or electric mixer, blend the above ingredients.

In a food processor, finely chop the following:
2 carrots
2 stalks celery
1 bunch radishes
1 bunch green onions

(you can sub whatever veggies you like, really, these are just my favorites)

Set up your cloth/colander again and put the chopped veggies in it – press the veggies and squeeze as much liquid out as you can.

Fold the veggies into the cheese/spice mixture. At this point you can wrap it all in saran wrap, shape it into a ball and roll the ball in herb or nuts for an AWESOME cheese ball.

I’m not really a cheese ball girl though, so I like to get the giant tortillas (burrito size) , smear about half a cup of the cheese and veggie mixture on a tortilla, roll it up and repeat until I’m out of spread. Then chill the rolls for about an hour, slice into pinwheels and serve. Requests for these pinwheels have actually become demands. Like, I’m not invited unless I bring the pinwheels.

Any recipe that calls for a soft cheese, especially expensive cheeses like chevre, etc, you can substitute with this! It won’t cost you more than a gallon of milk.

Back to the whey:

Substitute your whey for water when you make bread or biscuits, use the whey to cook rice or pasta. Any time you might use chicken stock, you can use whey. Add a little to your pet’s dry food to moisten it – it’s super healthy and will make his coat shiny. If you have little ones, make their oatmeal with whey, they’ll never know how healthy it is.

Rumor has it that you can drink it – I’m not that brave. If you try it, let me know – I hear it’s amazing in a smoothie.

My tips:

Please, for the love of all things holy, use whole milk.

If you have access to raw milk, USE IT. And thank your lucky stars. Just be sure to keep your cheese well refrigerated.

Play around with flavors – add honey and fruit or preserves, add chiles, really experiment! Let me know what you come up with – what works and what doesn’t!

After you’ve had your cheese hanging in the shower and you take it down, rinse your shower. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

This is one of those things that you can do and tell people “I made this cheese” and they’re going to FREAK OUT. They’ll think you’re Martha Stewart on meth, but all it takes is a gallon of milk and a little time. It’s super simple but so cool and so impressive. And really, watching the milk curdle and get all gross is really awesome, especially when you tell yourself you’re going to eat it later!

Please, be brave, try it, and let me know what you think! If you have questions or just need encouragement, leave me a comment and I’ll get you started!