Category Archives: October Unprocessed

Kat’s 2012 Goals for the Kitchen

Kat's score from Sprouts

Happy New Year!

Setting goals is a powerful thing. Eleven years ago I sat at my dining room table and thoughtfully planned out goals for 5 areas of my life. Amazingly (and somewhat unknowingly) within three years I had accomplished much of what was on that list including moving across the country, landing a better job, fostering my passion for wine and visiting Europe for the first time.

I had a category for food goals which included focusing on balanced eating, consuming four to five smaller meals a day and cooking often. This year is no different. I have goals for 2012 and I will share them with you. I would love you to comment below on your goals, too.

Creating balanced meal plans is first and foremost. I aim for roughly 1500 calories a day with a nice mix of different fruits, veggies, grains and animal protein. See my “garanimal” style menu planning post for more details on this. Having a steady supply of pre-cooked meals in my freezer means I won’t be eating microwave popcorn for dinner every night.

Plant herbs and vegetables. Inspired by La Mama’s very successful backyard garden, last summer I planted an herb garden in one of my raised beds. I loved being able to snip fresh herbs to season my food. This year I intend to replant the herb garden and add a small vegetable garden on the other side of my yard.

Cook with seasonal food. This was a big breakthrough for me in 2011. Instead of picking menu items and spending a fortune on the necessary ingredients, I started buying produce in season and creating my meal plans around produce that was abundant and cheap. Changing up my menu with seasonal foods provided a noticeable dent in my grocery bill.

Focus on unprocessed. This past October I participated in Andrew Wilder’s October Unprocessed challenge. In keeping with another one of my overriding life goals not to be too obsessive about things, I took the challenge at my own pace. So, while I didn’t follow the challenge to the letter I did focus on bringing more and more unprocessed food into my daily meal plans.

Share the love. I smile now as I recall some of the great meals from 2011. The best memories have one thing in common; sharing great food with great people. From my Table for Six dinner to the Southwest Food Fiesta to wine and cheese with awesome appetizers, I enjoy food more when I’m sharing the experience.

Enough about me. What about you? What are your goals for 2012 and is there a way I can help?? Please use the comments section to share your goals with me.



Chicken Soup for the Soul (and for Flu Season)

Chicken soup simmering on the stove

I think autumn has finally (really and truly) arrived in Phoenix. Anyone reading this outside of Arizona who thinks I’m nuts should keep in mind our day time highs are only just now holding steady at about 80°. And, true to form, my toes are cold. I can see you smirking. Just remember, temperatures are relative. That which makes us Phoenicians able to survive 115° in July (albeit murderously hot, loudly complaining and basically miserable), means some of us are cold at 80ish…or at least our toes are.

The other thing changing temperatures mean is the onslaught of cold and flu season. I’ve been to two large networking events in the last week where I shook hands with scads of people who were potentially incubating something. I hugged a client last night only to find out she’s on something like 17 different meds for the worst sinus infection the ER doctor had ever seen. Great! Hours later, I wake myself up coughing in the middle of the night. Super great!

So, all day long I wanted soup. As you might imagine, I’m a soup snob…nothing out of a box or can for me. Its GOTTA be homemade. To quote my long time friend, “why would you pay $3.00 for a box of broth when you can buy a whole chicken for slightly more than that? That way you get the broth and the chicken.” Amen, sister.

Chicken soup is known for its healing powers. They don’t call it Polish penicillin for nothing. Google it and you’ll see. Plus, chicken broth is a just good, clean food. You can pretty much add anything you want to the broth and still have a filling, low calorie, high protein meal. I feel practically virtuous eating soup.

Just knowing the chicken was simmering on the stove made me feel better. So, if you’re cold (or you have a cold or you feel like you’re getting a cold), I encourage you to make your own broth. The prep time is minimal, the ingredients are few and the cooking is basically unattended. From there, the sky is the limit. Homemade broth is a great backdrop for a bazillion other soup recipes. Stay tuned because I’m going to be posting my favorites this month!


  • One whole chicken
  • One yellow onion – quartered with skin left on (this deepens the color of the stock)
  • 3 stalks celery cut into large pieces
  • 2 carrots cut into large pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper (avoids black flecks in your broth)
  • 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 2 bay leaves


Stock pot with strainer

Large stock pot with metal strainer

Clean out the chicken and discard the innards. Rinse the cavity until the water runs clear. Place the chicken in a large stock pot (bonus points if yours has a strainer like mine in the picture). Add vegetables and seasonings. Cover with water leaving at least two inches below the rim of the pot so it doesn’t boil over. Heat on medium high heat until boiling. Reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for at least 2 hours.

When the broth is done, carefully remove the cooked chicken. Once it cools, debone the chicken. Package the chicken separately for use in other recipes. Discard the veggies. Allow the broth to cool and skim the fat from top. Store in plastic containers; I find 4-cup containers to be handy size. Freezes well.

Kat’s tip: I usually toss the veggies that cook in the broth since I find their texture unappealing. Plus, after they’ve been simmering for 2 plus hours all of their nutrients have surely leached out. I add fresh (or frozen) veggies and any combination of cooked rice, pasta or beans to bulk up the broth.

Nutritional information:

There are barely any calories in homemade broth, WAY less sodium that store-bought and no fat if you cool the soup and skim it. I would estimate about 10 calories a cup and 230 mgs of sodium.


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October Unprocessed 2011 – recap

October Unprocessed is coming to a close. All in all, I’m happy with my personal results (well, once the birthday festivities were over). I managed to totally overhaul my eating plan. Technically it was more a jump start than an actual overhaul since overhauling implies that there was an eating plan in place to begin with. Regardless, I have a lot of healthy, fresh food in the house. I’m cooking and I’m eating three to five small meals a day.

True to the pledge, I concentrated on as getting as much processed food out of my diet as possible. The main exceptions were some canned food (tomatoes, salmon and pumpkin) and soy milk. Seriously, why did I not think to check the label on my soy milk until this morning? Gotta rethink the whole smoothie thing now.

Even though I got a late start, I’m not going to beat myself up for picking and choosing the rules that I followed. My benchmark for processed food is typically anything that comes in a box or from a can with more than one ingredient. Canned tomatoes, while probably not meeting the unprocessed challenge, certainly don’t compare with cream of mushroom soup which is so far off the real food band wagon it probably doesn’t even have any real mushrooms in it.

I took on soaking and cooking my own beans but drew the line at roasting my own pumpkin. While I may consider the extra effort in the future, I see the move to more and more natural foods as a building process.

Just making a commitment to cook (again) was big. Putting a food plan in place was big. Starting to exercise was big. The last three weeks of October represent a vast improvement over the last 3 months or then some.

The thing is, I actually enjoyed it. I took the pledge on my terms and in the process I expanded my culinary boundaries. Among the food projects I tackled:

  • Ricotta in the microwave from scratch
  • Slow roasted tomatoes in the oven
  • Hummus
  • Black beans, white beans and chick peas from a bag
  • Lots of barley
  • Roasted winter vegetable chili
  • Making fresh sausage from scratch (this was someone else’s project; I was just along for the ride)

I’m pretty pleased with myself. I plan on continuing my new eating habits at least through the end of November. There is Thanksgiving to consider and an upcoming company event in Chicago the first weekend of December. I may not always be in control of what I’m eating so I choose to control what I can, when I can.

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Posted by on October 28, 2011 in October Unprocessed, Scratch cooking



Roasted Vegetable Soup

Top the soup with crumbled feta or goat cheese

Oven cooking vegetables is perfect for fall. It brings out the fullest flavor of vegetables; reduces any bitterness and enhances their natural sweetness. The combination of vegetables in this recipes imparts a nice earthly flavor when roasted.

I’ve been making this soup for years and have streamlined the directions. The vegetables can be cut and/or roasted ahead of time to cut down the cooking time. This recipe also freezes and re-heats well too. Garnish just before serving.


  • 2 medium red bell peppers, cut into large strips
  • 1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and cubed
  • 3 large plum tomatoes,* quartered
  • 1 medium onion, quartered
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth (low sodium or homemade)
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1/2 teaspoon rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Crumbled Feta
  • Goat cheese
  • Sour cream


  • Pre-heat oven to 400°
  • Cut veggies into similar size pieces. Place them in a large bowl. Drizzle with olive oil to coat.
  • Pour the coated vegetables in a shallow roasting pan and cook for 15 to 20 minutes or until they are moderately soft. Stir the mixture once or twice. during the cooking process to make sure everything cooks evenly.
  • Transfer the cooked veggies to a stock pot. Add the broth and seasonings.
  • Bring the broth to a boil and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes until the vegetables are very tender.
  • Using a slotted spoon, transfer the vegetables to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.  Add a little broth, if necessary.
  • Return back to stock pot and stir to combine with remaining broth.
  • Gently warm the soup over medium heat until heated throughout.
  • Ladle the soup into a bowl and garnish to your fancy.

Kat’s Tip: Recipes frequently call for deseeding tomatoes. More often than not, I don’t because I’m usually in too much of a hurry to painstakingly separate the seeds from the juicy pulpy part. Plus this soup is blended. There may be a few seeds that escape getting pulverized but I think they add character.

Kat’s Second Tip: If you have an immersion blender, you can purée everything right in the pan. Just be careful not to get splattered because everything will be hot.

Serves four

Nutritional information – values are approximate per serving:

Calories 150 Total Fat 8 g Cholesterol 5 mg Sodium 547 mg Total Carbohydrate 18 g Protein 5 g

Inspiration: Weight Watchers Smart Choice Recipe Collection – 1994

Photo credit: SaijaLehto on Flickr. CC Licensed. A perfect picture for the time-crunched recipe-sharer.

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Posted by on October 26, 2011 in Feta cheese, October Unprocessed, Weight Watchers


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Creamy Salmon and Double Mushroom Casserole

Salmon, broccoli, mushrooms and pasta come together in a creamy casserole

Oh, the wonders of fall. The temperatures in Phoenix are finally starting to taper off a bit and I’m hankering for some healthy casseroles. I have some standby recipes that I’ve been making for years (and some, for decades). This recipe is one of them.

The basis for this casserole, a rich homemade sauce that mimics cream of mushroom soup from a can, comes together in minutes. Low fat and tasty, you’ll never believe it was made with skim milk; you’ll definitely never miss canned “cream-o whatever.” Since I’m participating in “October Unprocessed” I’m purposely avoiding foods with added preservatives.

The ingredients are heart healthy and provide an ample amount of calcium from the salmon, broccoli and milk. Score again that broccoli is a seasonal fall food and is found abundantly (read cheaper than normal) in grocery stores today. Two different types of mushrooms lend a somewhat exotic taste to this dish making this a nice option if you’re having company too.

Although this recipe calls for pasta, I’m forever on a mushroom/barley kick so I used two cups of cooked pearl barley in place of the pasta. I may make this a permanent substitution.


  • 1/4 cup dried mushrooms (porcini or shiitake)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups cooked broccoli florets
  • 6 oz orzo, elbows, petite shells or other small pasta
  • 1 cup nonfat or lowfat milk
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper (I prefer white pepper in this recipe)
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1.5 cups fresh mushrooms (I use baby bellas)
  • 7 ounce can salmon, drained
  • Grated Parmesan cheese for topping
  • Dried or finely chopped fresh parsley


  1. Measure out 1/2 cup water in a 1 or 2 cup glass or plastic measuring cup. Microwave for about a minute until boiling. Add dried mushroom and let them sit for about 15 minutes until they reconstitute. Remove the mushrooms with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. (The liquid will have some grit in it from the mushrooms. I strain mine through a paper coffee filter.)
  2. In a medium to large saucepan, heat water until boiling and cook pasta according to package directions. The pasta should be al dente so it holds up to the sauce so cook for the minimum amount of time (or even a minute or two less). Drain when done.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, add the milk, cornstarch, sage, salt and pepper to a small bowl. Whisk together. Cornstarch clumps together in liquid so keep the whisk handy.
  4. In the same saucepan you previously cooked the pasta, heat the oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking.
  5. Add the fresh mushroom and cook for about a minute. Add the reconstituted dried mushrooms and cook for another minute. The mushrooms will soak up the small amount of oil that was in the pan so add *one or two tablespoons* of the reserved mushroom liquid to the pan.
  6. Pour the remaining mushroom liquid into the milk mixture and whisk again until the cornstarch is evenly distributed.
  7. Pour this mixture into the saucepan with the mushrooms. Increase the heat to medium high. Stir constantly as the mixture thickens considerably. This will happen quickly so be careful not to let it burn.
  8. Remove from heat and add the broccoli, salmon and pasta to the pot. Stir everything together and pour it into a 8″ x 8″ baking dish sprayed with non stick spray.
  9. Sprinkle the top with cheese and parsley. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until hot and bubbly.
  10. Optional: Place pan under broiler for 3 to 5 minutes so the top turns nice and brown. Watch this closely so it doesn’t burn.

Kat’s Tip:

Salmon from a can is a clean, safe, sustainable option to tuna. And its high on Omega-3s. Be warned that it does come with a small amount of skin and bones. These are totally edible and will disappear once you mix the salmon into the recipe.

Kat’s Second Tip:

In this recipe the milk and mushroom liquid come together with the mushrooms to make a rich sauce. If you are like me and want an easy substitution for “cream-o whatever” soup for other recipes; check out these easy to follow directions from the Once A Month Mom website.

Serves four

Nutritional information – values are approximate per serving:

Calories 308 Total Fat 5 g Cholesterol 27 mg Sodium 570 mg Total Carbohydrate 45 g Protein 20 g

Inspiration: Weight Watchers Smart Choice Recipe Collection – 1995


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(4 or) 5-Minute Microwave Ricotta

Light and fluffy homemade cheese. Yum!

If I had to retrace my steps, I could never tell you how I found this article and accompanying recipe on how to make ricotta cheese in the microwave. Once I did, however, I couldn’t wait to try this at home. I won’t bore you with the details about how the following is not *really* ricotta (which is authentically made from the by-products of actual cheese making) but I will tell you that from my first taste test, I was hooked.

This blog is about my take on recipes I find and ways that I tweak them. Being an average cook, it’s also about sharing what happens in MY kitchen while I’m experimenting. The title of the original blog suggests you could be eating the fruits of your labor within 5 minutes. My experience wasn’t like that and it got a little messy in the process. So, here goes…

On my first attempt I followed the directions (below) exactly. Pretty simple, right? Pour milk into measuring cup, add vinegar and salt. Stick in the microwave for four minutes. Right off the bat the mixture smelled reminiscent of store bough ricotta so I knew I couldn’t be that far off.

The next part is where its gets messy. Straight out of the microwave the curds (milk solids) were already separating from the whey.

Curds and whey - fresh out of the microwave

Stirring as the original directions indicated, in my experience, slowed the whole process down and just mixed everything back together. This left me with two options:

  1. Wait it out while the curds separated *again* in the measuring cup and scoop them out with a slotted spoon
  2. Dump the whole thing in the colander lined with flour sack cloth and wait out draining process that way

If you know me at all, you’re already guessing that I opted for the colander route. In the future I might try scooping the curds out with a fine mesh strainer. Regardless, I can’t see how the draining process will ever be 5 minutes. 

Starting the draining process in a colander lined with a flour sack dish towel

 Eventually I just twisted the flour sack over a wooden spoon which I propped up over a deep strainer and stuck the whole thing in the fridge for a few hours.

Hanging the bundle to finish draining

Be warned, though, that 2 cups of milk will result in a scant 1/3 cup of finished cheese. I ended up double the recipe and pouring 4 cups of milk into my 8-cup Pampered Chef batter bowl (shown in the pictures). I repeated this process 3 times, adding each subsequent batch to the same colander as the first.

The good news is that if you’re not in a hurry, the results are totally worth it. My homemade ricotta was all natural, fresh-tasting, light and fluffy. I smeared it on crackers, I slathered it on bread, I added it to wraps and I ate it straight out of the container. I also froze some to avoid eating the rest of it in one sitting lest I make myself sick because I’m lactose intolerant. Sadly for me, because Lactaid® milk is ultra-pasteurized, it is unsuitable for this recipe.


  • 2 cups whole milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
  • 1 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Line a colander with either cheese cloth, a flour sack dish towel or paper coffee filters
  2. Combine all ingredients into a large measuring cup
  3. Microwave for four minutes on high
  4. Let drain until you achieve the consistency you like. The longer it drains, the firmer the cheese will be.

Kat’s other tips – gleaned from reading dozens of recipes and hundreds of comments:

  • Terry cloth dish towels are not optimal for draining. They didn’t have cheese cloth at the store I was at, so I purchased flour sack dish towels. The surface is smoother so the curds are more easily scraped off. After patiently waiting for the curds to drain, I don’t want to leave any behind stuck in terry cloth fibers. Nor do I want any fibers gracing my cheese.
  • Avoid the urge to squeeze the curds dry. From what I read this makes them squeaky and not stick together in a cheese-like fashion.
  • Using whole milk is highly recommended. I haven’t tried it with 2% or skim milk but have read comments where it has worked for others.
  • If you collect the whey, it can be used in other recipes or *specifically* to make pancakes. I’m not a pancake kind of girl so if you’re interested in this, Google it.

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