3: Super Natural Cooking

Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

I’ve been reading Heidi’s blog, 101 Cookbooks, for a few years now. I must be particular when it comes to food blogs, because I’ve got a pretty short list of ones that I love and that I’ve stuck with for any length of time (in addition to 101 Cookbooks, there’s Rasa Malaysia, Simply Recipes, Smitten Kitchen, and Steamy Kitchen).

101 Cookbooks appeals because of Heidi’s photography, the way she puts each recipe in context (what inspired it or how it came about or who it was made for), as well as her recipes, which are frequented by salads, soups, bowls of grains and veggies—and baked goods, esp. cookies! (sounds familiar…)

She’s more granola than I am (not really going for the whole canola oil = evil thing), but in general, I’m on board with the fresh/unprocessed/whole foods approach. And why not? I grew up eating fruit and vegetables grown in our yard (my parents always had a garden), so this is all SOP for me. It’s why I can’t help but be amused that growing one’s own food is now trendy. It’s green! It’s organic! It’s zen! Uh, okay. Y’all know people used to grow their own food because it was cheap, right? A few packets of seeds (+ a lot of labor) and your freezer and cold room were full for a year.

We’ve been watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution the past few weeks, and it’s got me thinking a lot about the current tendency to frame people who grow their own food (or buy from farmer’s markets, etc.) as yupsters while framing people who eat fast and/or processed food as poor/rural, when not so long ago, it was reversed: people with money got to indulge in modern convenience foods, while people without had to grow & cook their own food.

The “revolution” in Food Revolution is essentially the attempt to get people cooking from scratch instead of relying on packaged convenience foods for every. single. meal. Not exactly radical—and yet, many people are upset/offended by the program. It’s gobsmacking imo, the lengths people will go to defend egregious food choices. My “favorite” was the commenter who posited that maybe the woman featured in episode 1 was deep-frying donuts and dipping them in chocolate and serving them to her kids for breakfast because that was the most budget-friendly choice available to her. Are you kidding me, person-who-actually-said-this? Ever heard of oatmeal? Neither do I buy that the woman was making donuts because it was “convenient,” as she claimed on the show. Let’s be serious. No one is deep-frying breakfast because it’s more convenient than eating cereal or toast. They’re doing it because Yum! Donuts!

It doesn’t matter how obvious or simple the suggested change is, someone always has an excuse why the bad choice has to be chosen. A good example is plain milk vs. flavored milk in the Food Revolution schools. None of the standard defenses of unhealthy eating make sense. No one can argue that flavored milk is cheaper than plain. Or easier to access. Or more convenient. But wait! They have to serve flavored milk because (drum roll) kids will drink more sugary milk than plain! As Jamie said, duh. And also: not if you don’t give them the sugary option.

It’s a bit ironic, because I think the target audience for Super Natural Cooking would be people who are already cooking, but who want to incorporate a wider variety of ingredients into their repertoire. But maybe the lesson is that you need to learn the basics of healthy eating before you can go on adventures.

It seems appropriate, given that 101 Cookbooks is built on the idea of recipes inspired by other recipes, that rather than making one of Heidi’s recipes, I share an inspired-by-Super Natural Cooking recipe. First, my basic muffin recipe (from ye olde flour cookbook):

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 egg

I always use this basic recipe, but every time I make it I add different stuff (spices, fruit, etc.), so it’s never the same muffin twice. With that in mind, I give you:

Blueberry Muffins inspired by Super Natural Cooking / 101 Cookbooks:
Blueberry Muffin

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 6 tbsp dry demerara sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups blueberries (frozen, bought at farmer’s market last summer)
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1/4 cup walnut oil
  • 1 free-run egg
  • 1 tsp organic vanilla

To make: mix dry ingredients together. Add in berries. Mix wet ingredients together. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir just till everything is mixed. Spoon into muffin tin. Bake at 400°F for 18-20 min. Makes 6 big muffins.

Notes: The things that were different than usual were the types of flour, sugar, and oil used.  Our regular grocery store has started to carry more variety in such staples (nice side effect of the whole green/organic trend). I decided to try whole wheat pastry flour because Heidi said it was less-heavy than regular whole wheat (it was). The walnut oil I had, but I’d mostly been using it for salad dressing.

Typically I’d use: unbleached all-purpose flour, white sugar, and canola in muffins (I know, gasp, right? ;-)). Since I was trying out the new flour/sugar, I decided to use a different oil as well. The other ingredients are all what I normally  use.

The extra half-cup of berries I threw in because it didn’t seem worth it to stick them back in the freezer made them very-berry. I think next time I’ll try 1 c. whole wheat pastry + 1 c. unbleached all-purpose to experiment with texture.

Tip 1: Freezing berries is easy. (And also cheap, if you buy in season.) Wash berries. Place in single layer on cookie sheet. Freeze. Once berries are frozen, scoop them into a plastic container, and stick them back in the freezer. Done.

Tip 2: The Himalayan blackberry may be an invasive pest, but it’s also an excellent source of free fruit—as long as you’re willing to get a few scratches.