What Are Processed Foods?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a recipe for Steak Tartare, partly because it was delicious, but partly to make a point about processed foods – you can’t get much less processed than raw meat.

It seems someone took exception to that, because I got an anonymous comment about it – particularly, the condiments mixed in and served with the raw meat.

Beef: salted and aged
mustard: processed almost exactly like grains, then stored in a fermented substance (wine or vinegar)
Worcestershire sauce: nobody knows how it’s made, but it’s pretty certain that it involves several decades and at least five different cooking methods, to say nothing of the anchovies and brown sugar
capers: pickled
gherkins: pickled in both salt and vinegar
anchovies: cooked, pickled, canned
salt: purified from rocks or sea water to make sure no algae remains
black pepper: hulled (to remove fruit), washed, and ground, like a grain

Nope, no processing here at all.

Then, earlier this week I read a review of a children’s book, Paleo Pals: Jimmy and the Carrot Rocket Ship, by Diana Hsieh at Modern Paleo. Now, Diana does not have children (and yes, I think that has a bearing on her review) and she didn’t like the book, calling it propaganda.  That’s fine – she gave a glowing review to Eat Like a Dinosaur, which I’ll review next week (and be a tad more critical), and that’s fine, too.  But I do take exception to these statements:

Farms can and do produce unhealthy SAD foods, and factories can produce healthy paleo foods. Similarly, “processed” foods are not inherently bad, as some people seem to think. All fermented foods — like kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut — are “processed” foods. Anything cooked is “processed.” That some food is processed — or even processed in large batches under strict conditions (i.e. industrially) — reveals little about its nutritional value.

Oh, come off it – you’re arguing semantics here, people.

While there’s no doubt whatsoever that fermenting, pickling and cooking are processing methods, no one really refers to food which undergo such procedures as “processed.”  All of the methods mentioned here help make the nutrients in food become more easily available to our bodies.  What we call processed foods – foods that are chemically extracted, refined, extruded and denatured – suffer exactly the opposite fate:  they strip foods of their nutrients, filling us, but not really nourishing us.  In the cases of some industrially processed foods, such as so-called “vegetable” oils, they even do us harm.

To my anonymous guest, our meat for our tartare may have been aged, but it was not salted.  The anchovies I used in the dish were smoked.  Worcestershire sauce is no big mystery.  Salt is an essential nutrient for our bodies; since I purchase Real Salt almost exclusively, algae isn’t a problem – but I really do prefer my salt without sand.  And there are so many differences between the harvesting and end products of black peppercorns, mustard seeds and wheat flour, I hesitate to even dignify your claim with a response.  You can pop a mustard seed in your mouth and eat it – you can not do so with a wheat berry.  It must be ground, then cooked with other ingredients, before it can be eaten (to say nothing of palatable).  And while just about any food can cause an allergic reaction, mustard included, the damage done to our bodies – AND the environment – by grains are unparalleled.  Whoever you are, you’re nit-picking.  Arguing for the sake of argument.

As for Ms. Hsieh, whose libertarian and objectivist sensibilities I admire, I agree:  farms can and do produce unhealthy foods.  And thanks to government subsidies, they produce a LOT of them.  These unhealthy foods – wheat, corn, and soy top the list – are the cornerstone of the products most of us are referring to when we speak of “processed.”  Products in brightly colored packages with a long shelf life, containing large amounts of sugar, salt and industrial seed oils to make them appealing, but with no real value as food.  Not only that, but because of those very government subsidies, these nutritionally void foodstuffs have been made artificially cheap, making them even more appealing.

Yes, factories can produce healthy foods; I, personally, would rather buy my organic, free trade coconut milk in BPA-free cans than take the time and effort to make it myself (it can be done).  When I run out of home-canned foods, I am appreciative of the fact that I can bop down to the grocery store and buy canned tomato sauce or green beans.  I like that, if the mood strikes me, I can buy frozen brussels sprouts out of season.  But those healthy foods produced in factories are incredibly outnumbered by the industrially processed non-foods we should all avoid.

And when was the last time you saw a massive marketing campaign attempting to convince you that a frozen brussels sprout is healthy?

For what it’s worth, I’d be very interested in hearing just how both of you feel we should differentiate between whole foods that have been pickled, fermented and cooked and those brightly colored packages containing industrially denatured non-foods.  For now, we refer to those non-foods as “processed”; until someone comes up with something more descriptive and manages to make it common lexicon, that’s what I’ll stick with.  Commonly accepted terms matter.

After all, do you tell people you’re “gay” when you’re happy?

Posted in participation of Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday

Braised Barbecue Round Steak

There are a lot of recipes in my Real SAD section – all those dishes of a bygone era, at least for us.

Or most of them; while the majority are simply hopeless (I’m looking at you, Peanut Butter Fudge and Monkey Bread), there are a few that can be modified to fit our lifestyle now.

This is one of those recipes.  It personified “comfort food” when I was growing up, but when I look at the original recipe now, I just cringe.  Vegetable oil?  Canned cream of tomato soup?  Brown sugar?  No.  And no.  And no.

Fortunately, barbecue sauces are one of the easiest things to conform to “real food” parameters, and it was no problem at all to slightly tweak my Maple Barbecue Sauce recipe for this recipe (i.e. reduce the amount of maple syrup a little).  The addition of the beef bone broth (you DO have some homemade beef bone broth in your freezer or pantry, right?) not only punches up the nutritional value, but adds a depth of flavor that was entirely missing from the dish of my childhood.  And while it may not be as inexpensive or easy to make as the old recipe, it still is inexpensive and easy.

And comforting and delicious.

Note:  Bottom round is preferable for this recipe; top round tends to get a little tough and chewy when braised.

Braised Barbecue Round Steak
Braised Barbecue Round Steak
Serves: 8
  • 1 tablespoon tallow or other cooking fat
  • 2 pounds round steak, cut into 8 equal pieces
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lard or butter
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup tamari or gluten-free soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 cups beef stock, preferably homemade
  1. Melt the tallow in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the steak with the salt and pepper; place in the skillet and cook until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and set aside.
  2. Melt the lard in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Stir in the tomato sauce, maple syrup, soy sauce, red pepper flakes and apple cider vinegar, then the beef stock.
  4. Return the steaks, along with any juices that collected on the plate, to the skillet. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the steak is tender,uncovering for the last 20 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.
  5. Serve over mashed cauliflower, mashed potatoes or steamed rice.
Calories: 289; Fat: 10.6 g; Saturated fat: 4.02 g; Carbohydrates: 19.93 g; Sugar: 15.8 g; Fiber: 1.32 g; Protein: 27.86 g; Cholesterol: 80.76 g


Onion Rings

It’s Wednesday, y’all – so Happy Hump Day!  I am just so busy I’m about out of my mind, but the recipe I have today is simply wonderful – gluten free, dairy free onion rings.


Sometimes I get a little angry with myself for coming up with recipes like this, because we love the dish so much that we want to eat it far more often than we should.  Not because it’s bad for us, but just because of the sheer number of calories and carbohydrates.

And I have to tell you – these are absolutely delicious.

I’ve become very fond of tapioca flour as coating for fried foods – the texture is much lighter and crisper than all-purpose flour.  The flavor is more neutral, as well, allowing the food it is coating to shine.  I also prefer almond milk for dishes like this, but if you have a nut allergy diluted coconut milk should work just fine; if you have no issue with dairy, use whole milk.

Serve them up with some homemade ketchup and I promise you won’t be sorry!

Onion Rings
Onion Rings
Serves: 4
  • 1 medium onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup almond milk or other milk substitute
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 2 cups tallow or other fat suitable for frying
  1. Separate the onion slices into individual rings.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the egg and milk substitute until well blended. Mix the tapioca flour, salt and cayenne together in a pie plate or other wide, shallow dish. Dip the onion rings into the egg mixture, then toss with the tapioca flour until well-coated. Use additional seasoned tapioca flour if necessary.
  3. Melt the tallow in a large, heavy skillet over high heat until it reaches 350 F. Carefully place the onion rings in the skillet in a single layer and fry until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes, turning once. Drain on paper towel.
  4. Repeat until all of the onion rings have been fried, and serve immediately.
  5. Nutrition (per serving): 244 calories, 18.6g total fat, 64.9mg cholesterol, 332.4mg sodium, 82.9mg potassium, 17g carbohydrates, 1.2g fiber, 1.2g sugar, 2.1g protein.



Random Tuesday Diabetes, Scrambled Eggs, and Nutritional Crisis

Good morning, y’all.

Yes, it is a good morning – I, once again, have exercised GREAT restraint and allowed a teenager live.

That’s number 5.  Where’s my damn medal?


Remember my young diabetic friend?  He’s started a blog, where he writes about how he manages his condition. (Hint:  it’s NOT by doing what the ADA, AMA, FDA or USDA recommends.  That anecdotal evidence is beginning to pile up, isn’t it?)  Go pay him a visit – he’s a walking, talking, living testament to what a low carb, high fat version of the paleo diet can do to help control diabetes.


Speaking of not doing what your doctor or some some government agency represented by a three-or-four letter acronym advises, Tom Naughton was recently invited to speak at a conference of the Office of Research Integrity on why more and more people are ignoring doctors, nutritionists and government health agencies and turning to blogs and social media for health and nutrition advice.

The speech, while only 21 minutes long, is informative, amusing and a great big slap in the face of an establishment that still would have us believe that a diet consisting of 45% to 65% carbohydrate (half of them refined), along with increasing doses of medication, is the optimal treatment for diabetics.  Please take time to watch it.


Either later this week or early next week I’ll be reviewing a new paleo cookbook for kids, titled Eat Like A Dinosaur.  While I’m waiting to review the book fully (The G Man is coming over this evening and I’m going to cook 2 or 3 recipes from the book), one of the things that impresses me about it is that it encourages parents and kids to get them involved in the preparation of their food.  I forget where I read it (or perhaps I saw it in one of the many “real food” documentaries we’ve watched over the last few months), but kids are much more likely to eat a wider variety of foods if they are involved in the preparation of them.

But don’t take my word for it – listen to Nico.  He’ll tell – and show! – you that He Likes Cooking.


That’s about all I have for you today, so go – visit Stacy and the other RTT bloggers while I drink another vat of coffee.  *yawn*

Grilled Spare Ribs with Fig-Orange Glaze

I’ve decided to make Make Ahead Monday a monthly carnival, so it will now appear on the first Monday of every month.  Hopefully, this will keep me from driving myself crazy, attempting to make at least one thing a week that can be cooked in advance, or assembled out of things that have already been prepared (in other words:  leftovers).  And perhaps garner a little more participation, as well, although I have to say I really appreciate the people who have been participating (I’m looking at YOU, Andrea 🙂 ).  Which is not to say you couldn’t make this recipe ahead – you could, most definitely, pre-cook the ribs and make the glaze ahead of time if you wanted to, then finish them on the grill at a later point.

Beloved has been on a dried fig kick.  He won’t admit it, but he has something of a sweet tooth and dried figs have become his sweet crack of choice over the last couple of weeks – he’s particularly fond of black mission figs (I prefer Turkish figs).  The first week he decided to give them a try, he bought 3 different kinds; I don’t recall the kind he bought along with the black mission and Turkish, but we weren’t as fond of them as we are the others so I decided to cook with them.

Like most of the country, it was unseasonably warm here all week long – so warm that Beloved brought his grill/smoker out of winter hibernation and the ever-present (in warm weather, at least) bags of charcoal and wood chips are again in place by the patio door.  We’d left work early one day last week and agreed we’d make some spare ribs from our most recent hog.  Instead of making my usual barbecue sauce, I thought I’d try a glaze made of the figs we weren’t eating as snacks.

It was marvelous.  Yes, it even received The Young One’s Seal Of Approval.

Note:  I’ve come to the conclusion that I prefer spare ribs to baby backs – they are meatier and more flavorful, and if you braise or slow roast them prior to grilling, they are every bit as tender.  However, if you use baby backs, cut the slow-roasting time significantly, to perhaps 30 to 45 minutes or they will fall completely apart or just be overcooked.

If you don’t eat pork, this glaze would be absolutely stunning on grilled chicken leg quarters.  Also, you won’t use all the glaze, so the carb counts in the recipe are a bit overstated.

Grilled Spare Ribs with Fig-Orange Glaze
Grilled Spare Ribs with Fig-Orange Glaze
Serves: 8
  • 3 pounds pork spareribs
  • Rub
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • Glaze
  • 2/3 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • dash white pepper
  • dash cinnamon
  • 1 large orange, juiced
  • 10 dried figs, chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
  2. Combine the rub ingredients in a small bowl. Rinse the ribs and pat dry; sprinkle liberally with the rub on all sides. Rub the spices into the meat and wrap with aluminum foil. Place on a shallow, rimmed baking sheet. Bake the
  3. foil-wrapped ribs for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. or until tender but not falling off the bone.
  4. While the ribs are baking, combine the glaze ingredients in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until the figs have softened, about 10 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly; pour into a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Pour into a container and cool completely.
  6. Grill the ribs over [url =”http://www.bbq-fyi.com/what-is-indirect-grilling.html”]indirect heat[/url], basting with the fig glaze, until the ribs are crusty, brown and almost falling-off-the-bone tender.
  7. Nutrition (per serving): 498 calories, 38.8g total fat, 119.7mg cholesterol, 308.9mg sodium, 432.5mg potassium, 13.7g carbohydrates, 1.3g fiber, 10.6g sugar, 24.8g protein.