Saturday, May 22, 2010

Real Food... Really.

Ever wonder how much food do we eat these days?

I mean real food. Fresh-from-the-farm (via markets or grocery stores), raw ingredients, homemade meals and treats, macaroni and cheese that doesn't involve either a vibrant orange, chalky powder or some form of "processed cheese food"? Food your mom grew up with, maybe food you grew up with, made with love and eaten as a family?

I get it - I'm just as guilty as any of us (and considering the general readership of food blogs being what they are, I'm preaching to the choir here). Yes, I use canned tomatoes and beans to make things fast sometimes. Yes, I eat ketchup and 1-minute oatmeal and I don't grind my own peanut butter or shred my own coconut. Though I have made pasta dough and stocks from scratch, more often than not you'll find dried noodles and tetra-paks of chicken broth in my cupboard. But that doesn't mean that I don't care about what I'm putting into my body or the systems of all those I care for. I may use canned tomatoes and dry pasta sheets to make lasagne for Sunday dinner, but you can bet I'll be flavouring up those tomatoes with fresh garlic, herbs and spices, layering it over the noodles and the filling of browned meat and whatever seasonal vegetables look tasty when I shop. Of course the half hour it takes to put together the pan is longer than unwrapping a frozen "homestyle lasagne" and sticking it in the oven... I'm not a machine with vats of pre-chopped, cooked, shredded and moulded ingredients! But at the same time, my family can sense that the resuled was cooked, not just re-warmed, even days later when they're eating leftovers.

I'm not a martyr - I know nobody will have the time every night to put together a 3 course meal from ground zero. We all have lives, jobs, commitments and deadlines that don't allow for unbridled hours in the kitchen. But making the choice to make real food and cooking a part of your daily routine will go a long way in re-shaping the future generations we're raising. Even if it's just in the form of using in-season vegetables and fruit for snacks, or having your kids stir a pot of pasta or make muffins with you on a weekend begins to bring back those basic elements of home life that began to die off when the microwave was invented.

I'm not alone in this belief system, either. Foodies and families from both sides of the cash register, including some of the "big guns" like Hellmann's, are beginning to take a more prominent stance in the re-acceptance of meals and ingredients made with natural, simple ingredients. While I know there are those out there who can subscibe to a 100-mile diet or organic everything in their homes (and sometimes out), I know that for me at least adopting a lifestyle focusing on fresh and seasonal produce, but not relying on an "organics" tag to make buying decisions works. I would much rather use a good-quality, no-salt-added can of tomatoes in the middle of the winter than peeling, chopping, seeding and cooking flavourless red blobs, and I'll definitely eat my fill of pencil-thin asparagus from the time I see the "Foodland Ontario" bands on them in April. As for the whole organics thing, well... they can't win 'em all. I wouldn't be able to afford to sit here typing at my computer if I bought everything certified organic. But you know what? A lot of farmers out there can't afford to certify their business as organic and keep the label every year. So when I do go out to the farmers markets around me over the summer, I ask about the produce I'm picking up, especially if it's something I wouldn't peel first. A simple "what's your preferred pest management system?" will help you choose what you're going to spend your money on, and while you're at it decide if it's worth paying $4 for a head of organic lettuce from another country when you can buy a fresh-from-the-farmer, non-certified bundle of greens for $2.

Processed foods, especially convenience food ingredients, can be trickier. For instance, this is what you get if you open up a can of Lucky Leaf brand peach filling for your next BBQ dessert:
Peach Slices, Water, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Food Starch-Modified (Corn), Sugar, Salt and Citric Acid, Ascorbic Acid to Maintain Color. Color Added.

That's ten ingredients... including the big bad-boy HFCS, and three kinds of refined sugar. And food colouring? Since when was a perfect peach not vibrantly hued on it's own? That would be why there's a shade called "peach" out there! Not to mention that aside from being gooey-sweet, the filling has no added "oomph" from any other spice. I mean really - for the 18 grams of sugar and 90 calories in every 1/3 cup portion? I'd rather make my own with ingredients you don't have to source from a company with a name like CHEMaster.

Not all of premade products are evil though, the trick is to read the labels - if you can't pronounce what you're reading... if your grandmother would believe an ingredient was a bathroom cleaner before believing it should be eaten, it's safe to say it's probably not the most wholesome choice. Times are changing too - Hellmann's Mayonnaise's latest campaign not only is promoting it's removal of Xantham Gum, Phosporic Acid and Beta Carotene from it's formula, but had introduced a whole "Real Food Grant" program. This awards program is giving away $100 000 Canadian in funding to deserving advocates of tying family and food together who want to bring their plans to bear in their community. Whether the ideas are huge or tiny in scale, if they involve bringing the awareness of true nutrition to the younger generation as a whole and involving them in keeping it alive, they're good! If you're interested, the PDF file of information is here and the official grant homepage is here.

In terms of pie-making, peach pies don't have to stay a strictly summer treat just because they're homemade! If, like me, you happen to live in an area that has both an insanely short and an insanely rich peach season, why not pick up a few extra baskets at the market when they're at their peak (and cheapest)? I've had great success with making pie and crisps with the bags of frozen filling I made last summer, including one last month for the Club staffers. As a bonus, my filling only has 5 ingredients, including Chinese 5-Spice (totally optional), six grams of sugar and 56 calories for the same amount as the pre-canned stuff. So you have to get sticky one time a year for a half hour of peach peeling? Come on! You can lick your fingers... try enjoying that while putting the can into your cart!

Easy-Freeze Peach Pie Filling
The tapioca flour here is key to the consistency in the finished pie, since it isn't affected the same way as cornstarch and flour by freezing. Makes enough for one 10" deep dish pie, or one regular 9" pie and a small peach crisp!
4 lbs ripe, fresh peaches, peeled
3/4 cup raw cane sugar
1/4 cup tapioca flour (not pearls or granules)
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Chinese 5-Spice powder (optional, use your favourite spice)

  1. Slice peaches into thin wedges, trying to preserve as much of the shape and juice as possible. Place into a large bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar, tapioca starch, salt and 5-spice.
  3. Pour over the peaches and toss to coat.
  4. Use immediately

For later pie:
  1. Line a pie plate with greased foil. Spoon filling into the foil to the rim of the pie plate.
  2. Cover with another layer of greased foil and place in the freezer.
  3. When frozen, remove the foil bundle and store in a heavy-duty freezer bag.
  4. To use, unwrap (still-frozen) filling and place into prepared pie shell. Top with crust and bake immediately at 375F for 55 minutes.

For cobbler or crisp filling:
  1. Place amount required by the recipe in heavy-duty freezer bags, gently pressing to form a single layer of fruit. Place bags on cookie sheets and freeze solid, then store as desired.
Amount Per Serving
Calories: 55.7
Total Fat: 0.1 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 48.4 mg
Total Carbs: 14.4 g
Dietary Fiber: 1.3 g
Protein: 0.5 g

You can make anything you want with the filling too, just like with the regular stuff - thawed out, they're delicious spooned over ice cream for an instant summer dessert or made into a simple, fast crisp with an oatmeal topping. To keep with the theme of Marye's blog event Real Food... Real Quick (amen to you for starting that!), I'd pop the crisp into the oven before sitting down to a dinner of grilled vegetable sandwiches.

The sandwiches are pretty dead-simple (and quick!) to put together - but their whole taste relies on the freshness of the ingredients you choose. In the height of summer, sliced zucchini, bell peppers and eggplant topped with fresh, juicy tomatoes are a sure winner, come slightly cooler days of early fall rich onion and earthy mushrooms fit the bill nicely. The tangy, herb and garlic yogurt sauce is reminiscent of Greek tzatsiki, and is delicious both on the sandwiches as well as alongside any grilled meats.

Grilled Summer Vegetable Sandwiches
Serves 4
1/4 cup non-fat Greek style yogurt (like Oikos)
1 clove garlic, crushed through a press
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp dill
1/4 tsp paprika
1 medium eggplant, peeled and sliced lengthwise
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, sliced into thick strips
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 multi-grain sandwich rolls, split
1 beefsteak tomato, sliced
  1. Preheat the grill to high heat and spray with cooking spray.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together yogurt, garlic, oregano, dill and paprika (make ahead: up to 1 day ahead - store covered in the fridge).
  3. Drizzle eggplant, zucchini, and peppers with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  4. Place on the grill and cook 3 minutes per side.
  5. In the last 2-3 minutes of cooking, place buns, cut side down, on the grill to toast.
  6. Serve grilled vegetables on the toasted buns topped with a few slices of tomato and the yogurt mixture.

Amount Per Serving
Calories: 236.5
Total Fat: 9.8 g
Cholesterol: 0.0 mg
Sodium: 210.9 mg
Total Carbs: 32.9 g
Dietary Fiber: 6.2 g
Protein: 7.6 g

So, how do you embrace real food? Drop me a comment and let me know!


  1. I am so enjoying your blog. Your posts are thoughtful and engaging, and your recipes are so fresh and appetizing. I absolutely agree about eating natural, whole foods, and I can't wait to try that pie filling.

  2. great job with your post!! thanks so much for taking the time to give us so much great information!
    thanks so much for sharing

  3. I love dessert and I'm pretty excited with Easy-Freeze Peach Pie Filling. Thanks for the info.

  4. Great post! I totally agree with you.

  5. I like your balanced, well-thought-out approach to the whole "food as ethical dilemma" issue. It's a shame that it's become such a hot-button issue, with people not really understanding what's behind it (health/nutrition), and simply believing whatever comes out of the mouth of their preferred "expert."


    Well done.

  6. Well, I have made pasta dough and stocks from scratch, more often than not you'll find dried noodles and tetra-paks of chicken broth in my cupboard.

  7. We prepared exactly as the recipe said, and it was a perfect peach pie! The filling had just the right consistency, and when prepared with a ready made, refrigerated crust, it's the easiest homemade dessert! I'm about to make a second one!

  8. This is great! Don't know why I didn't think of this. All fruit fillings are great like this. Thanks for this idea

  9. I read your blog and I really enjoy reading it. Its very informative and good issue.

  10. Made this last night and went exactly by the instuctions. Had a bit left so I threw together a very small cobbler and it tasted AWSOME! I know my pies will taste wonderful when I bake them and I am a peach finatic! Thanks so much for the recipe! I will be using it from now on.

  11. I'm so happy everyone seems to be enjoying this recipe as much as I did! I recently put together another pie for a charity auction with the same filling and it raised $55!

  12. I have made pasta dough and stocks from scratch, more often than not you'll find dried noodles and tetra-paks of chicken broth in my cupboard, thanx for sharing, keep it up.

  13. This pie is pretty yummy. I like the filling. Sounds great! Thanks for posting.

  14. I made a peach cobbler this weekend. But, it came out kind of soupy because the recipe called for peach pie filling but I used canned peaches not knowing there was a difference.

  15. WOW< I absolutely agree about eating natural, whole foods, and I can't wait to try that pie filling. anyway thanx for sharing.

  16. Love your products, thanx for sharing, keep it such kind of hard work, thanx again for the post.

  17. The recipe called for peach pie filling but I used canned peaches not knowing there was a difference, thanx for sharing.

  18. I am a peach finatic! Thanks so much for the recipe! I will be using it from now on.


Thanks for the feedback!