Friday, October 24, 2014

Mad Gourmet goes Unprocessed

October Unprocessed 2014

A little change of pace on this post…

I tried the October Unprocessed Challenge this month. I was intrigued with the challenge and decided to give it a try. I thought it would be relatively easy since I eat pretty clean, eat at home, have a lot of veggies, whole grain, and really wholesome treats… most of the time.

For those not familiar with the October challenge, the challenge is going for an entire month without eating any processed foods. According to eating, unprocessed food is any food that passes the Kitchen Test, i.e. “food that could be made by a person with reasonable skill in a home kitchen with whole-food ingredients.” ”It does not mean that you have to cook it yourself; it just means you could do it.”

Deliberate Exceptions

In the challenge, you get Deliberate Exceptions. These would be “cases” where the unprocessed rule will  not apply. This was a lifesaver for me, since this was my first time.

Morning Chai. I added chai to my exception list because I need it to wake up in the morning. I tried to switch to coffee once, but coffee on an empty stomach gave me issues. It was not good. Choosing chai over coffee was the lesser of two evils.

I guess technically this can be considered as unprocessed. Although I can probably make my own chai mix, I have not found the ultimate flavor mix. I really like one of the packaged chai mix, but the only drawback is that it is full of sugar. For next year, I will try to cut down on the sugar by combining it with regular chai tea.

Exploration Weekends. When we dine out or exploring, I would bend the unprocessed rules a bit since I love exploring new foods and flavors. Admittedly, I am not sure how these are made. I will still try to make better choices whenever I can.

Setting My Intention: Goals

As part of the challenge, you do need to set what your intention or what you want to accomplish. I did not really have clear goals since this is my first Unprocessed challenge, but here’s the direction that I set.
  • Know where my weak points are, so I can further improve my diet.
  • Make better selections during snack time.
  • Be gentle with myself. This is my first unprocessed challenge.

My other goal was not to waste food, not just for October, but all the time. There is so much hunger in this country that throwing away good food is unacceptable. I kept my processed foods in our pantry and save them for “emergencies” or after the challenge.

Challenges within the Challenge
Veggie Burgers. Veggie burgers are usually my go-to lunch when I am working from home. So easy to make especially when you have a really busy work day: pop in the pan, put it between bread, add lettuce and tomatoes.

Unfortunately, veggie burgers are considered processed. I decided that in this case: turkey burgers would probably be better. I try not to have too much meat during the day, so I switched to egg salad sandwiches, salads, or veggie bowls.  Occasionally, I would have a tuna salad sandwich. These options seem to be gentler to my system.

Although I can make my tofu patties (plain, with kale and quinoa, or butternut squash), I am not sure how tofu stands on the unprocessed list and really did not have time to make fresh patties (Work has been taking over my life lately).

Chips. One of the things that I really craved was chips!!! I really need/want that savory (or is it unami?) snack mid-afternoon. I almost broke down and dug into the Lay’s chips my husband bought. That was really tough. I was able to resist, but I knew I realized that this is one of my weak spots.

During the first week, I was finishing off the remaining snappea crisps and I read an article that Snap Pea Crisps are considered processed (WHAT!!!). So disappointed…

I went to Whole Foods and looked for alternatives. The best one that I thought of was the Terra Chips. I figured root vegetables would be able to pass the kitchen test. Looking at the label, there are some ingredients that I cannot pronounce. So I do not think it will pass the kitchen test. I had a handful… and that was the last one since. Since then, I’ve satisfied my savory craving with nuts… pistachios mostly. Added bonus: it fills me up unlike the chips. Pair it with some apple slices, I get a sweet and salty combination and can last through dinner.

Chocolate. Oh, the rules for Chocolate are extensive. As expected, this would be the biggest challenge. I do cheat on this, but I try to choose bars where I can recognize most of the ingredients. My savior has been chocolate-covered almonds – the only ingredient I could not recognize was gum acacia, which in my limited reading, seems to be natural ingredient. During my first week, I was having my chocolate chips, but I ran out. I should remember that for next year.


This was challenge was really tough, even for one who eats pretty clean. You find certain habits that can have been so ingrained, but should be slightly modified. Veggie burgers and chips were difficult to break, but I found alternatives.

I guess my weakness is unami snacks and convenience.  Other than the chai or the chocolate, I really did not have an issue with sugar.

Another surprise (with sugar) is how it appears unexpectedly in foods. Sweet relish has high fructose corn syrup (REALLY?). I got to find another brand.

This really gives me an opportunity to refine my diet. Although I plan to do the challenge again next year, I’ll start these changes now… and we’ll see what other refinements we can do next year.

One more week then I can have chips… maybe.

For more details on October Unprocessed... look here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Potage Cultivateur (or Farmer's Soup)

Blogger's Note: I was going to feature this post last weekend but it was Oktoberfest weekend and I did not feel right posting a French dish on a German food weekend. It gave me more time to write this, after I enjoyed the spaetzle and sweinebraten.

Fall is here and here in Northern California, it is slowly becoming soup weather.

I found this recipe in my backlog as I was looking for one of my muffin recipes. I thought this was a great candidate for my hubby to cook. His criteria: no more than 10 ingredients, simple instructions. I can't blame him; cooking during the week can be tricky. This was actually had 11 ingredients, but I think "salt and pepper" in one line threw him off.

That's why Michael Symon's 5 in 5 book is perfect for us. #unsolicitedplug

According to Wikipedia, "Potage (from Old French pottage or potted dish) is a category of thick soups, stews, or porridges, in some of which meat and vegetables are boiled together with water until they form into a thick mush."

Potage has its origins in the medieval cuisine of Northern France and increased in popularity from High Middle Ages onward. A course in a medieval feast often began with one or two potages, which would be followed by roasted meats.

Anyway, this recipe appealed to me because it was simple and involved economical ingredients. I believe the most expensive ingredient was the bacon. The most challenging part of this was prep (and explaining to my husband what a Haricot Vert is and what are acceptable substitutes).

I was intrigued so I volunteered to make it. I not Maddify this recipe too much. I was not too familiar with this recipe, so I wanted to try it as is. The only change that I made was added one more strip of bacon. It seemed appropriate.

Here's the slightly modified recipe. Bon Appetit!

Farmer's Soup (Potage Cultivateur)
From Pascal Rigo, "La Boulange: Cafe Cooking at Home"
As published in The Contra Costa County Times

  • 2 leeks, rinsed
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 waxy potatoes, such as red or Yukon Gold, diced
  • 1 turnip, diced 
  • 2 celery ribs
  • 3/4 cup haricot verts (if you can't find haricot verts, just use green beans)
  • 1/4 head of Savoy cabbage (I actually messed up and bought Napa cabbage, I think it worked out)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 slices of bacon (yes, I added an extra one - Pascal Rigo used only 3)
  • Salt and pepper to taste 


  1. Trim the leek ends and halve the leeks lengthwise. Thinly alive the white and green parts discard the rest.
  2. Peel and dice the carrots, potatoes, and turnip. (I try to get it the same size so it cooks evenly)
  3. Chop the celery.
  4. Cut the haricot verts into 1/2 inch lengths.
  5. Core cabbage and cut the leaves into thin shreds.
  1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat.
  2. Add bacon; cook until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Add leeks and stir to coat with bacon fat.
  4. Add carrots, potatoes, turnip, and celery to the pot. Add salt and pepper (I added about a pinch of salt and pepper because the bacon has enough salt).
  5. Add enough water to cover. Cook for about 5-10 minutes.
  6. Add cabbage to the pot. Add more water to cover the cabbage; bring to a boil.
  7. Cover, and reduce heat to medium-low.
  8. Simmer gently for 1 hour or until vegetables are tender.
  9. Add haricot verts; cook 5 minutes or until tender.


Potage Cultivateur with Pork chops
I really enjoy this recipe and we will make it part of our winter rotation. It's very hearty and filling. The bacon added a beautiful smokiness to the soup and for me was completely unexpected. It was a good balance. I got to remember that when I am experimenting....uh, creating recipes. It may be already at the border and using 5 slices may be too much.

Since I made it for dinner, I thought serving it with pork chop and rustic bread (with butter) would be appropriate. I even used Herbes de Provance on my pork chops. Perfect match... Even though this was probably the first evening when I used almost a stick of butter when cooking.

Warning... Prep can take a while. My knife skills are not that great, and it did take me a while to chop all of the veggies. Fortunately, chopping veggies can be my R&R time. I call it my meditation or chill time.

Anyways, now I am intrigued by Potage and looking up different varieties of it. I think this fall maybe full of experiments with French soups.

... and Sweinebraten.