Since last October’s unprocessed challenge, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to labels. And after reading Food Rules by Michael Pollan, I’ve been thinking more about what actually constitutes food. I know what flour is. But is it really still flour after it’s been stripped of all its nutrients and then “enriched” to add those nutrients back in? I have my doubts.
As a result, I’ve been looking at my staples and trying to find ways to make them healthier. For example, instead of all-purpose flour I use white whole wheat flour, which is less dense than a whole wheat but still has all the nutrients… naturally. Instead of white sugar, it’s raw sugar or organic evaporated cane. Table salt won’t be found on my table, it’s sea salt or bust.
In other words, my budget is stretched.
For a long time I was buying organic peanut butter. Spendy stuff. And when we consume a lot of PB&J, it was starting to break the bank at $5 a jar. Then I discovered how ridiculously easy it is to make peanut butter. The ingredients consist of peanuts. That’s it. Just peanuts. Unless you want to make something fancy, like cinnamon or chili peanut butter, in which case you add cinnamon or chili (who would’ve thought?). Drop them in a food processor. Turn it on. Walk away and come back in five minutes or so and you’ll have peanut butter. Yep, it’s really that easy. Kudos, Averie Cooks, for sharing this recipe. Is it still a recipe with just one ingredient?
Another thing I’ve been making is brown sugar. It had never even occurred to me that it could be homemade! For one cup of white sugar, add one tablespoon of unsulfured molasses. Mix with a fork until it comes together. Takes all of 3 minutes. And you can make any amount you need. My new favorite dressing calls for just 1 T of brown sugar. I eyeball the molasses and add more if it doesn’t look dark enough. Crazy simple. Thank you, Joy the Baker, for showing me the way.
Speaking of dressing, I’ve tried a bunch of organic whole foods dressings. I’ve hated them all. Save your money and make your own vinaigrette. Three parts quality oil, 1 part vinegar or acid (red wine vinegar, rice wine vinegar, or some freshly squeezed lemon juice), and a little salt, sugar, or minced herbs to taste. Put it all in a small container with a lid and shake it up, baby. Base your ingredients on your salad, your entree, or your mood. I love red wine vinegar with a little oregano. My absolute favorite is a blueberry vinegar on spinach with fresh strawberries. With a flavorful, quality vinegar, you can get away with less oil — use just enough to make the vinegar stick a little! My good friend Mandy, pantry chef turned food design queen, taught me the way to remember the vinaigrette ratio: vinaigrette is three parts oil, and oil had three letters. It was much prettier when she said it, but at least the concept stuck.
One of the hardest parts of going unprocessed is no ketchup. I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like ketchup, and I am certainly no exception. Nearly a year later I still miss the stuff like crazy, so I tried a couple of recipes. I served this one to Will’s cousin recently, and he exclaimed “This is the BEST ketchup I’ve EVER had!!” I agreed. It’s not quite as easy as the previous items, but it is by no means difficult. Credit to Skinny Taste for coming up with this deliciously easy recipe.
Last but not least, my latest discovery: almond milk. Oh man. This takes a little more effort. I don’t care. It’s worth every minute. Especially after you look at the ingredient list on store-bought almond milk. After much internet research, I tried this recipe. Bingo! My only complaint is that it disappears so much more quickly than the stuff in a box. The solution, I think, is to make two batches: one for everyday use, and one with a little extra honey for making chai tea or, now that the weather is cooling, a creamy hot chocolate.
So there you have it. A handful of ways to lessen your intake of processed foods, save some money in your wallet, and give your taste buds a new reason to thank you.