Over the years I’ve been cleaning up my act with what I eat and what I cook.
I even thought of writing a cookbook with a clean concept in mind, using “clean” in the title. Then, I discovered several websites already using my favorite cooking word and a wonderful cookbook, Clean Food by Terry Walters. Since Terry lives and cooks in my home state of Connecticut, I invited her as a guest on Bloom Talk and we dished out several delicious recipes from Clean Food and her new cookbook, Clean Start.
What does “clean” cooking, food and eating mean anyway? I think it means different things to different people as we try to learn more about our food, where it comes from, how to cook and prepare it and what’s healthy. For me, it’s about cooking with natural, fresh and unprocessed ingredients. I’ve been letting go of bleached flours opting for less processed grains such as spelt, teff and fava bean flours, and using more maple syrup and honey to sweeten things up instead of refined sugars. I also seek out grass fed meats, free range poultry and organic produce whenever I can because how our livestock eats and how we fertilize our crops is an important part of clean food.
So here’s my dilemma. How to bake and cook old traditional recipes with a “clean” spin? Take one of my favorites - pecan pie. The oohy-gooey yummy-ness comes from lots of sugars and syrups like molasses, brown sugar and corn syrup. I’m not a trained chef so I started to experiment with a step by step approach. Since unsulphured blackstrap molasses is the most natural variety found at many grocery stores, I didn’t go for change there. Even brown sugar comes organic (try Hain’s brand), so I decided to keep it in the recipe ~ for now. But corn syrup had to go and I felt butter should be reduced or altered a bit. Keeping my fingers crossed, I decided to substitute organic maple syrup for corn syrup and ghee - clarified butter rid of the mild solids and casein - in place of traditional butter. The filling tasted even better!
The crust was another hurdle as a butter and white flour Pate Brisee was my traditional crust although my grandma ~ the best pie baker in the world ~ used shortening. Then I remembered Terry’s nut crust when her Blueberry Tart was debuted on Bloom Talk in the summer. The crust is made from almond meal and coconut oil instead of butter or shortening and is pressed into a tart pan (rather than rolling out dough). Can almond and pecan go together? Why not? But, drats! I didn’t have enough almond meal in the pantry (or almonds to grind up) so I used half almond meal and half spelt flour. It worked! It made a great nutty crust that held together well with the slightest hint of coconut.
So my sinfully delicious pean pie was changed a bit this season into a pecan tart trying to use more natural and organic sweeteners and a shortening (ghee) that many claim to be healthier. It made a hit at several holiday gatherings and was the main event at my dessert buffet on Christmas day. Although it’s not totally cleaned up, hey it’s a start! I’ll keep experimenting and let you know if I can clean it up even more.
Now what am I going to do about my old scallop potatoe recipe my daughter requested for a holiday dinner? It’s loaded with buttter, cheese and gruyere cheese! Oh well, I guess eating clean is for most of the time but a once-a-year dish that I can’t figure out how to begin to clean up will just have to be that - a once-a-year dish.
Happy clean holiday cooking!