My fellow food blogger Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules is posing a challenge to us this month that he calls October Unprocessed, asking us to really think about not just what's in our food, but how the ingredients get there, and what they, in turn, are made of. It's kind of like Corn-Free July, but even more annoying.
The word "deconstructionism" comes to mind a lot when I'm making my grocery lists during these challenges. To know whether or not something counts as "unprocessed," you have to know what goes on at every level of making it. And that knowledge in itself makes you a more responsible consumer. It empowers you to make informed choices about your priorities when it comes to your own health. What could be more important?
Sometimes the deconstruction is simple. Has this apple been processed? No. Has this Pop-Tart been processed? Yes.
But it doesn't take long to arrive at something whose answer doesn't come so quickly. Something for which you have to strip away some layers before you can find the truth. But once you do, you understand that dish better than you did before, and you can put back together again in a way that makes it just a little bit different than it was before. Hopefully for the better.
Take cheesecake, for example. Before I got into any of this health food stuff and I just wanted as few steps as possible standing between me and a delicious dessert, I found a quick, simple, cheesecake recipe in a cookbook that my roommate had, and that recipe is still the basis for all the cheesecakes I make. It has just four ingredients: cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and graham cracker crusts.
The first three ingredients should be pretty easily obtainable at your local health food store. Pasture-raised cream cheese (I like Organic Valley brand) and free range eggs are fairly straightforward. As for sugar, I usually settle for organic cane sugar, but if even that's too processed for you, try maple sugar. (I've experimented with liquid-based sweeteners, but then consistency starts to become an issue. Let me know if you have any success.)
The real fun comes with the graham cracker crust, though. When I set out to make my first corn-free cheesecake, I realized I couldn't use the standard pre-baked crust that you buy at the supermarket already in a conveniently disposable pie tin anymore. So what to do?
Luckily, a recipe for pretty much anything is just a Google search away, and it was mere seconds before I found instructions for a graham cracker crust at AllRecipes.com. The first time I made that one I accidentally used way too much butter, a mistake I've been duplicating on purpose ever since. The rich flavor, the crunch...it's OK to indulge every once in awhile. With the cost of these crazy hippy ingredients, it's definitely not something you'll have every day, and besides, at least there are no trans fats. (Trans fats are still bad for you, right? I haven't heard anything about them recently.)
But of course, the number one ingredient in a graham cracker crust is, well, graham crackers. Which leads me to an overwhelming question: what the hell is a graham cracker?
Seriously. They come in a box. They have a distinctive taste, but I couldn't tell exactly what that taste is, beyond "graham cracker." I guess it's akin to "animal cracker," but those probably don't exactly grow on a tree either. So it was back to Google again. This time searching for "graham cracker recipe." I was pleased to find one on a food blog I already knew and loved, Smitten Kitchen.
So that's three. THREE! recipes and a ridiculous amount of prep time for one simple dessert. But let me tell you, it's worth it. Going the extra mile will result in the most delicious cheesecake you've ever had. You'll find yourself getting invited to parties just because people are hoping you'll bring it. And the best part? The reconstruction isn't done! I make a cheesecake every couple of months and I've never made the same one twice. Add chocolate to the graham cracker crust, put strawberries on top, make your own whipped cream as a topping. This is one dish that will never get old.
|I can't believe the only cheesecake picture I have is from the 4th of July.|
What other foods do you find yourself over-analyzing when you try to make them at home in a healthier-than-usual form? Is there anything else you'd like to be able to make in a minimally processed way? Give me a challenge!