Wednesday, December 30, 2009

So THAT's why I use the CrockPot

Don't tell The H, but I burned the chili tonight. I've been meaning to make CrockPot chili since Monday, so when the turkey was still in the fridge today I knew it had to get cooked or tossed. But I still didn't have 6 hours to devote to dinner, so I had to do it on the stove... you know, the old-fashioned way. :D Chili without a slow cooker is really just about a 20-minute meal, so I don't know why I put it of so long, but that's beside the point.

For those of you who just can't stand the suspense, it turned out fine. Delicious, even. Perhaps one of my favorite batches (since we all know I don't really measure, it's hard to duplicate things we like). The point is that when you are used to putting all your ingredients in a slow cooker and literally walking away from it for 6-8 hours, you may need to watch your pot a little more carefully if you choose to make dinner on the stovetop for a change.

But like I said, it was delicious: Ground turkey breast, two small red onions (co-op), one small Yukon Gold potato (co-op), kidney beans rinsed and drained, 1/2 diced red bell pepper, tomato puree, and canned tomatoes with garlic and onions, seasoned with sea salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, cumin, and ancho chili powder. And once I realized that after 40 minutes it has ZERO liquid left and had begun burning to the bottom of the pan, I quickly added some water and a reduced-sodium beef broth packet (Trader Joe's) to bring it back to life. Crisis (and takeout pizza) averted! We served it with some rice elbow noodles, freshly grated mild white cheddar (co-op), grapes, and gluten-free bread. Thanks to some creative thinking, my son ate nearly his entire bowl of "bean soup!" The kid goes ape over canned beans but wouldn't touch the spoon when we called it chili. Whatever works, you know?

Monday, December 28, 2009

OK, I *owned* that squash.

Acorn squash. Small, pointy-ended green skinned veg. I asked about it in my previous post. I have (had) 5lbs of it in the basement, thanks to the co-op. And up until dinner, I'd only ever eaten it buried under mounds of butter and brown sugar. Growing up, it was the one squash I could tolerate the most, but I had to eat it as described above and it had to be eaten first. Why is it that squash gets cold so fast? Anyway, childhood memories aside, this squash was awesome. I took a few (pathetic) pictures of it, but won't gross you out with them right now. Perhaps I will edit to include them later... you know, when the camera isn't several rooms away and I'm not feeling so lazy.

Here's how it went down:

I wanted to make quinoa and acorn squash and had the brilliant idea of stuffing the latter with the former. Got that? But what else should go into it? A little rummaging in the freezer and pantry brought forth 4oz of cooked ground spicy turkey sausage, a tiny delicata squash, apples, and onion. And thus, my dinner began. The quinoa (in veggie broth) simmered itself in the rice cooker while I baked the halved squashes at 350 for 40 minutes or so. I chopped the apple (Fuji) and onion (red) and sauteed them in olive oil, then added the mostly-thawed cooked sausage. When the squash was soft, I scooped out each half and added the flesh to the skillet, stirring well to combine. I threw out the delicata skins and put the acorn shells back into the baking dish.

A quick taste determined that it was good, but not really flavorful. I hadn't added any salt, pepper, or seasonings yet. What to add? Italian herbs = bad combo. Red pepper = overkill with the sausage. Nothing sounded good...until I found the curry powder. It was PERFECT. And my Curry-Stuffed Acorn Squash was born. I added 1/2 teaspoon to my skillet, scooped some quinoa into the squash, then stuffed the seasoned filling into the four cavities. I topped each one with a tiny shower of locally-made mild white cheddar and tossed them back in the oven for a few minutes to warm through and melt. The sweet, gently spicy, smoky nature of the spice complemented the flavors in the squash just right. At dinner, I was that annoying cook who kept exclaiming over her own brilliance and tasty end result. Ha! I wasn't the only one, though; The H even said I could submit it to CE Mag. It was seriously good. I was so proud of us! At The H's suggestion, next time I make this, I will attempt a red (or other colorful) reduction or sauce.

After dinner I pounded out a fast and awesome 3.25 miles on the treadmill. Endorphins may or may not be contributing to the glowing review of this meal, though even before I cranked up my iPod and broke a good sweat, we were saying how good it was. :) Yay squash!

Post-Christmas cleansing

No, I do not subscribe to a "cleanse" in the sense of chugging pepper-spiked lemonade. Gross. And no, I am not consuming only fruits and vegetables for the next 10 days. What I mean by "cleansing" is getting back onto the clean-eating and menu-planning track and refocusing on whole, clean foods again after a good solid week of holiday treats and party food.

I started this morning with a hearty bowl of steel-cut oats mixed with chopped walnuts, a few dried cherries (until my son ate them all--"Cheddies! Eat, eat!"--and some real maple syrup from the co-op. I would have loved to whip up a Green Monster smoothie, but I forgot to buy peanut butter when I went to Trader Joe's. Grr. Lunch was a salad with mixed greens, apple, and stinky cheese dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. Planned snacks are raw almonds, dried apricots, blue-corn-flax chips and salsa, and 72% dark chocolate to ease myself off the steady sugar intake of the previous week.

This morning I was thrilled to get my first 2010 issue of Clean Eating Magazine! I am so excited to flip through it and get some fresh ideas. One of my tasks tonight is to peruse the grocery store circular for some green veggies; we have plenty of squash, onion, and potato from the co-op, but eating green things in the middle of a Michigan winter requires a little more non-local shopping (or preserving, oops), I've discovered. And besides, I've become rather fond of roasted broccoli, and I used my last two heads for dinner on Saturday.

This week I will be soaking some black beans, making a big batch of brown rice, and cooking a million-and-a-half chicken breasts to I'm ready for a quick snack or lunch without too much additional prep. I've said before how important planning ahead is, but I too often forget it myself. And now I need to choose something for dinner tonight... What's on your menu this week? Got any great recipes for acorn squash?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

DDC #2: Holiday dinner #3

One of my self-chosen Dark Days Challenge rules was to make local-food items for family gatherings or potlucks as much as possible, so when our third family dinner in as many days rolled around I knew I wanted to contribute local ingredients to the table. With co-op pickup handily scheduled for last Tuesday, I was prepared to make parsnip mashed potatoes (using this recipe) and an apple crisp (using this recipe) today. Both got rave reviews, I'm happy to say. And though they are not the greatest, I took two pictures I have of the dishes--parsnips keeping warm on the stovetop, and apple crisp waiting to be baked 'til bubbly.

The parsnips were sweeter than potatoes, but very similar in texture. Even without cream or butter, they turned out so creamy and pleasant. My only change from the recipe linked above is that I doubled it and added one extra potato, so my ratio was 8 parsnips to 3 (large) Pontiac Red potatoes. Both the parsnips and taters were locally grown. I also made roasted broccoli, for the second time ever, using this recipe again. It was also very well-received, though not made with local ingredients. Does broccoli grow in west Michigan? I don't even know!

Due to The H's wheat allergy, I made the crisp with gluten-free flour. I love how the apples caramelize in the filling, and a crisp, sweet crumb topping is one of my favorite dessert components. I accidentally told my sister to add to much sugar to the apples (gotta love help in the kitchen, though!) so it was a bit sticker and sweeter than it's been other times I've made it... glad I was able to get my long run in this morning!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It's been a day of indulgence for sure, but I am looking forward to a good long run in the morning if the rain we're getting doesn't ice over too badly. Merry Christmas to all of you; I hope you have been enjoying the holiday with friends, family, and whatever makes you happy.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dark Days Challenge: Beef Stew

This was my first meal for the DDC. It's been a month since our last co-op pickup and I am not (yet) a canner/freezer/preserver so our local-food stock was running a bit low. I had one package of grass-fed stew beef in the freezer and some carrot, potatoes, and onions left, so really my first meal for the challenge kind of put itself together.

The only non-local ingredients I added were some red wine (which could've been a Michigan-made thing, but I didn't want to open a fresh bottle for one cup), beef stock, and seasonings. Yesterday I made Jell-O (with juice) for the baby with fresh-picked-and-frozen Michigan strawberries, so we had that, too.

Aaand wouldn't you know the camera battery was dead. So just picture a steaming bowl of cubed Pontiac Red and Yukon Gold potatoes, diced red and yellow onions, the cutest carrots you've ever seen, and browned stew meat (and my son stabbing cubes of red gelatin) and there you have our dinner. We did have my sister join us, which was nice.

Tonight was co-op pickup, so hopefully I'll have more creative fare for next week's DDC meal!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Why have I never roasted broccoli before?

A few days ago I was in search of a vegetable side-dish recipe that I could make for Christmas with the in laws. Several people suggested roasted broccoli to me, and I ended up using this recipe from Ina Garten. And now I don't think I will ever prepare broccoli another way (aside from the occasional broccoli-cheese soup).

I don't know why I have never attempted to roast broccoli before; roasting is my favorite preparation for so many things. It added such a different depth of flavor to it, and like kale chips, I loved the slightly-crispy browned pieces along the edges. Even my brother-in-law, who claims to despise all things green, admitted to liking it. My sister said it was like "restaurant broccoli" and has since requested it again for our family Boxing Day dinner at my mom's this week (incidentally, my sister is married to The H's brother, which is why she will be at both dinners).

Here's how I made it:

Parmesan Roasted Broccoli

2 heads organic broccoli, washed and trimmed

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Zest from one lemon

The juice of the zested lemon

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Cut the broccoli florets from the thick stalks, leaving an inch or two of stalk attached to the florets, discarding the rest of the stalks. Toss with garlic and olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper. Roast for 15-20 minutes or until the tips of some florets are beginning to brown. Remove from baking sheet and toss with a bit more olive oil, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Grate Parmesan over the top and let melt; serve hot.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Soup's on!

The other night I finally got to make the kale and sausage soup I've had my eye on for days. I used this recipe as my inspiration, which is a copycat recipe from the Olive Garden restaurant. It was a perfect soup for a snowy winter day. Leftovers turned out well; I liked that it thickened a bit when it was reheated. The original recipe is as follows, with my version below.

Toscana Soup

  • 12 links spicy pork sausage, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup diced onion
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons chicken soup base
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 potatoes, halved and sliced
  • 2 cups sliced kale
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream

  • Directions for original version:
  • 1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C).
  • 2. Place sausage links on a baking sheet and bake 25 minutes, or until cooked through. Slice into 1/2 inch slices.
  • 3. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Saute onions until translucent; add garlic and cook 1 minute.
  • 4. Stir in broth, water and potatoes; simmer 15 minutes.
  • 5. Reduce heat to low and add sausage, kale and cream; simmer until heated through and serve.

My cleaned-up version:

  • One package Jennie-O spicy Italian turkey sausage, removed from casings and browned/drained (minus 4oz once it was cooked, for another recipe)
  • About 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • One diced yellow onion (co-op)
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 packets low-sodium chicken broth packets from Trader Joe's
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 potatoes, halved and sliced (co-op)
  • 2 cups sliced kale, cram-packed full!
  • 3 small carrots, washed and sliced (co-op)
  • Half package sliced baby portobello mushrooms
  • 1 can white kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • Splash of half-and-half (if I had more time or energy, I would've pureed some of the soup after adding the beans and before adding the kale and sausage with the hope that I could cut out the cream altogether. Maybe next time!)

1. Remove sausage from casings and brown in large skillet. Drain well and set aside.
2. In large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion in oil until translucent. Stir in garlic, cook about 1 minute.
3. Stir in broth, water, mushrooms, carrots, and potatoes; cover and cook until potatoes are nearly fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to low and add sausage, kale, beans, and half-and-half. Simmer until heated through. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Another blah day

This cold is kicking my butt. Started the day with sprouted grain toast, natural peanut butter, and my beloved coffee. Lunch was sushi with coworkers. Snack was almonds and dried cherries. Had some caramel popcorn after a Christmas shopping marathon; The H bought it from the boss's kids' boyscout troop (pack? den?). Dinner was rather last-minute, as I still haven't gotten in gear enough to make that kale soup I mentioned yesterday, but I managed to pull together some decent gluten-free blueberry pancakes (Bob's Red Mill mixed with applesauce, pumpkin, cinnamon, and low-fat milk) and scrambled farm-eggs/eggwhites with lean ham and chives. Had juice to drink for a change; yesterday I bought some organic blueberry-pomegranate juice to mix with sparkling water. When my throat hurts, I like the feeling of fizzy drinks but can live without the HFCS and caffeine in soda. I couldn't even muster up enough oomph to go for a run on the treadmill tonight (it's super-slick and beyond cold outside), but whined to The H that I just wanted ice cream instead. So Ben, Jerry, and I spent the evening watching Scrubs and toodling around on the computer. Here's to a better tomorrow!

Monday, December 14, 2009

You know you're sick when...

you drink hot tea (which you normally claim to hate) all day long, blend up a green monster smoothie with extra ice for lunch, and think salty fast food fries sound good for dinner.

Sore throats and sniffly noses have hit these eating machines.

I hope to post a recipe for kale- and turkey-sausage soup later this week, if I ever find the motivation to stand in front of the stove and actually cook it.

Alas, tonight is not that night. Early bedtime beckons! Nighty night.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Dark Days Challenge

A fellow food blogger (Hi, Wendy!) suggested I participate in the Dark Days of Winter Eat Local Challenge, and after reading about it online, I've decided I have no excuse *not* to try this. What's one meal a week, when we belong to the co-op? Granted, I am no canner-preserver-freezer extraordinaire. But I do have resources. It will give me pre-determined blog fare at least once a week, too. In light of this decision, I've altered my current co-op order a bit.

Rather than just regular (fair trade, organic) coffee, I'm also ordering 2lbs of decaffeinated (also FTO) beans. Since one of my goals prior to this challenge was to eat more locally anyway, it doesn't make much sense to keep sending Gevalia money every other month when Craig at Grand Rapids Coffee Roasters is roasting it fresh practically in my own backyard every day. I'm also ordering maple syrup for the first time, since there is no way I can justify Trader Joe's organic grade B maple syrup as "local" especially since I drive two hours to get it in the first place. LOL!

Since we have plenty of non-co-op meat in the freezer for now I won't order any more this cycle, but will plan on some in future months. Eating locally may help me get out of the stock-up-for-an-army-stranded-in-a-blizzard mentality, as good local meat is much pricier than the bulk bags from the grocery store, as Wendy wrote about here.

I know the point of this blog isn't locavorism, but please bear with me during this short experiment. I will still do my best to eat clean, of course; I'm simply adding the challenge of eating clean close to home on a more official platform than before.

So here are my personalized rules:

1. Make at least one locally-sourced meal weekly, using more local ingredients than non-local
2. Blog about the meal
3. Participate in the challenge for 5 weeks before re-evaluating
4. Prepare locally-sourced food(s) for any upcoming holiday potlucks or family meals

And in the words of my son's favorite TV show, "Let...the mission...BEGIN!"

Beef stew and apple crisp

Yesterday was a snowy, blowy day here on the west side of the mitten state, a perfect day for beef stew in the slow cooker. As I was putting this together, I realized that the majority of the ingredients came from our co-op. Perfect! I'm trying to transition our household to eating more local food vs. grocery store stuff, so this meal was ideal. And it was tasty, too. I think The H had three bowls at dinner, and took leftovers for lunch today.

Co-Op Beef Stew

1lb beef stew meat, cubed (co-op!)
Red wine, for deglazing pan
6 small carrots, scrubbed and sliced (co-op!)
2 onions, peeled and diced (co-op!)
4 potatoes, washed and cubed (co-op!)
Canned tomatoes
Zucchini, diced
4oz fresh sliced mushrooms
Worcestershire sauce, about 1 Tbsp
Black pepper and sea salt, to taste
Beef stock or broth, about 2 cups

Prepare potatoes, carrots, and and place into olive-oiled slow cooker crock. Add tomatoes. Brown cubes of beef with a few cloves of minced garlic, and add to crock. Deglaze pan with about 1/2 cup red wine; bring to a boil, get all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, and add the wine to the slow cooker. Pour in beef stock. Season with salt, pepper, and Worcestershire (hot sauce, like Frank's, would probably be good in here, too). Cover the crock and cook on low for 6-8 hours or until potatoes are tender. Add the sliced mushrooms and zucchini for the last hour of cooking. Thicken with a cornstarch-water mixture if desired. We left it brothy per The H's request.

Dessert was an oatmeal apple crisp made with co-op Ida Red apples. It was delicious! I used this recipe from with very few modifications. For example, I used turbinado sugar instead of white, added nutmeg to the apples, and walnuts to the crumble topping/crust. Instead of straight butter, I used Smart Balance 50/50 blend. It was a perfectly sweet, homemade end to our chilly winter day.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I give it 8 out of 10

Tonight's dinner was a combination of quick leftovers + something The H doesn't like. He's traveling for work, just for the night, so baby duty was all on me. Whew! I can't imagine how moms of multiples ever manage to eat; getting my son and the dog fed and played with left little time for me to prep my own meal, which is why I was sitting down to it at 8:30 tonight. Yikes!

The leftover portion was frozen turkey sloppy joe filling from Clean Eating Magazine (for which I don't think I've yet posted a recipe, though this is the second time in recent weeks that I've mentioned it...). I love that I made a huge batch and am still finding them in the freezer! I had it on an Arnold sandwich thin.

My "H won't eat this, let's do it" treat was a small delicata squash from the co-op, sliced and roasted and drizzled with maple syrup and toasted almonds during the last 10 minutes of cooking. The idea came from Clean Eating Magazine, the Nov/Dec 2009 issue.

Overall, it was filling and colorful, and certainly easy to prepare. I'm detracting a point from each component because the sloppy joe got too mushy and suddenly said "Don't eat another bite of me!" (ever have food do that to you?) and the squash could have had more flavor. Perhaps the way I prepared it (sliced, rather than scooped and mashed) had something to do with that. However, I would make both parts again. Thus, 8/10.