the other green

I was reading a story in Edible Piedmont this morning about a kale recipe, which could also be made with collards. The author made this substitution because she said she knew how popular collards are in eastern North Carolina, so much so that the region has been referred to as “The Collard Belt.” I’ll take it. But I’ll also take kale. Any day of the week. I think it’s actually a bit more palatable to the general population than collards and is usually cooked in more various ways.

I know it’s sort of cliche to have a food blog and regale the benefits of kale. Everyone gets it, I know. Kale is great, it’s good for you, it’s a super food, put it in your smoothies, bake it into cookies, blah blah blah. But seriously. It’s great. So great that I highlighted one of my favorite kale recipes in my January column in Tidewater WomenThe column this month is about resolving to “Live Locally” and what that means, how it benefits not only you personally, but your community as a whole. I also put it in there to remind people that local food isn’t in hibernation during the winter months. It’s readily available, if you’re willing to look for it, and to try something you might not otherwise try (ie – kale. or chard. or other things that are green and look like dinosaur food.) Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I went out yesterday, tracked down some kale and made this recipe, which I share with you below. It really is a great recipe, especially for the new year, if (like me) you are trying to drop a few “party pounds” from the holidays….this meal is so packed with protein that after only half a bowl you’ll feel completely full. It’s also so lo-cal and healthy that even if you down all four servings in one night, there’s really nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the amount of flatulence you will inevitably plague your family with if you decide to do that. ANYWAYS.

I found this kale at a little roadside stand out in front of somebody’s house. These are my favorite places to shop because it’s fresh, you’re helping support someone’s backyard gardening habit, and the produce is usually dirt cheap. I got a pound of kale and a dozen fresh, free-range eggs for $4. I could also have scored 4 lbs of sweet potatoes for a dollar if I’d liked. Keep an eye out for these stands in your neighborhood or town. And don’t feel shy or weird about driving up to them. The people who set them out are usually so nice and happy to have a customer. The chicken came from a Crock Pot Chicken I’d made earlier in the week. This was one of three meals I got out of one five pound chicken. The only change I make in this recipe is that I use dried lentils that I cook and season myself. I’ve never been able to find canned lentils in my grocery stores, but if your store has them – more power to you. If you go this route, use half the bag (1/2 lb) – not two whole cups of dried beans, as they will expand as they cook. 1/2 lb will give you just over two cups once cooked.

Shredded Chicken with Kale and Lentils

kale cooking

CAST IRON LOVE.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 bunches kale, tough stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups lentils (from a 15.5-ounce can), drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups shredded cooked skinless chicken breasts
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onion and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil and lentils to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl with kale, toss to combine, and divide among four bowls. Top with chicken and squeeze lemon over top. Serves 4.
Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

I agree with what you’re thinking – this looks like a recipe you see in those magazines all about getting fit with advertisements for muscle milk supplements. But honestly, it doesn’t taste like that. It tastes yummy AND healthy, which is possible, I promise. Jeremy even got seconds. Flatulence be damned!

 

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The root of it all

I just gave myself an award for the most clever blog title ever.

i ❤ beets

It is a shame, I realized, that this blog’s namesake has never really been examined thoroughly. I think in my very first blog post I may have posted a picture of a beet dish I had done, but I’ve never really delved into this amazing little root that inspired me to make this blog. There are a few reasons that beets are the thing I happen to heart. They are available locally, they are available at several times throughout the year and many people don’t like them. Why is that a reason to make beets the central theme of a blog? Because I think I can change people’s minds. I think a lot of foods out there that deserve our attention but suffer general distaste have just been presented wrong all this time. Like the poor Brussels sprout, which I will post about later . . .

Take, for instance, my husband who insisted he hated beets. So I asked in what format he had experienced beets in the past and he said either canned, pickled or boiled to death. Well, no wonder. He also hated Brussels sprouts for similar reasons. But there is a simple answer to both of these food fears and it is this: roasting. Roasting, which uses dry, indirect and diffused heat (such as an oven) increases flavor by caramelization and the Maillard browning reaction. Essentially, roasting enhances the sugars in foods through a process called pyrolysis, which I will not get into, because I barely passed chemistry. But here is what I do know: it makes food delicious. Especially foods like beets, which already have a high natural sugar content, just waiting to be released.

Beets are also so nutritious. Here are some facts from Nutrition and You about beets:

  • Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the  property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • They are also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • The root has very good levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root has 325 mg of potassium or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

And while us die-hard beet fans can eat a beet canned, pickled, boiled, grilled or anything else, for those skeptics out here, this is my GO-TO beet recipe. I’m not sure where it originated from…I think a friend may have suggested this method and I’ve just sort of made it my own over time, I’m not really sure. My hope is that you will love it enough to make it your own, adding, subtracting and substituting to your liking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Beets in vinaigrette

  • One bunch beets (as seen above)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs vinegar of your choice (balsamiq, red wine, champagne, whatever you like)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tbs dried herbs (Italian, Herbs de Provence, fresh or powdered garlic or whatever else you’d like)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Cut the beets off their stems and trim off the tops and the “tails” of each beet. Clean each beet so they are free of dirt. Wrap each beet in individually in tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven, directly on the center rack. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until each beet is easily pierced with a knife. 
  2. While the beets are roasting, create your vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember here is the a vinaigrette dressing always 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can use any combination or any measurement (tsp, tbs, cup, etc), as long as you keep that ratio the same. Pour your oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper into a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are emulsified. Set aside until beets have finished roasting.
  3. When beets are easily pierced with a knife, unwrap from tinfoil and allow to cool. Take an old dishtowel and peel the beet’s skin off with the towel – if it’s roasted to completion, the skin should slide off easily. Do this with each beet.
  4. Cut each beet in half or in quarters, if large, and cut into thin slices. Re-whisk your vinaigrette so it is well blended, then add your beets to the bowl and toss to coat. Plate, then top each serving with a spoonful of feta cheese.
Trim and wash beets

Trim and wash beets

A well emulsified vinaigrette

A well emulsified vinaigrette

Beets

After roasting, remove skin with a dish towel

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

If you don’t like beets like this, then I grant you the right to dislike beets. But before you file them away in things that are gross and that you refuse to eat, please try this recipe. Please. Give beets a chance.

Note: these beets were purchased from Westside Produce and Provisions where they were sourced from New Earth Farms in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, where they use sustainable and organic growing methods. 

Local Beef Three Ways

I’m excited to share with you all three different ways to approach one ingredient: local, pasture-raised beef. This will be the first time I’ve featured beef on the blog, so hold on to your steak knives! Actually, don’t. I’m not going to be discussing steaks. Sorry, you’re on your own there. The beef used in all of these recipes came from Windhaven Farm in Windsor, VA. They raise “Natural, Angus Beef” and here is how they describe it (from their website):

“Natural beef is a healthy and safe choice of quality beef.  The cattle are birthed on our farm.  We do not receive feed stock from unknown sources.  Our farm does not mass produce cattle.  The cattle are antibiotic free and do not receive growth hormones. The cattle are fed 100% grass, hay, and grain.  Therefore the cattle are healthier and leaner resulting in lean, healthy beef. Natural means: No antibiotics, hormones, ionophores, or medicated feeds No feeding of animal by-products. Grass fed, grain finished – grain is used to help “finish” and marble the beef. All natural from birth. Parasiticides are not used within 30 days of slaughter date.”

You can also purchase completely grass-fed beef from them in 1/4, 1/2 or whole packages. Yes, that means 1/4, 1/2 or a WHOLE COW. I know lots of cross-fitters (paleo dieters) that go in on entire cows together, and it actually works out to be a great deal, if you have the room to store even a small portion of an entire cow. I do not. So I usually order their beef in completely reasonable increments, like you know, a pound of ground beef. Their beef is available for pick up at their farm, or through Coastal Farms Co-op and at a few retail stores in Hampton Roads like Heritage Natural Market.  They also do occasional deliveries around the area.

The weather is really cooling down around here and a lot of the farmers markets have stopped for the season and while there is still lots of produce to be found if you’re willing to look for it, it is definitely starting to feel like hearty-food weather. So here are three great options to satisfy your cool-weather cravings:

Beef and rice skillet with late-summer veggies

Meat Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in a blender

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy pot, heat oil over high. Add meat and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook until meat is browned and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add tomato puree, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Casserole:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 oz)
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil, divided
  • meat sauce (recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 zucchini or yellow squash, very thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 (Fahrenheit). Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan and 1 tblsp olive oil.
  2. In a large cast-iron skillet, bring meat sauce to a rapid simmer over high. Stir in rice and remove from heat.
  3. Top with onion, then carefully arrange zucchini/squash in a single, slightly overlapping layer. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with remaining tbs. olive oil and top with breadcrumb mixture. Return to heat and bring to simmer.
  4. Cover with foil and bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake until rice is cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden, about 10 minutes more. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

*This recipe is adapted from Everyday Food

The meat sauce part of this recipe can be adapted and used for anything – on top of pasta, as sloppy-Joe filling, mixed with cheese and stuffed into pasta shells – whatever you want! This is a really perfect recipe for right now because squash and zucchini are still available locally, but it’s still hearty and warm and filling for fall.

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 beef chuck roast (2-4 lbs is fine)
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 1 tbs red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Season roast with salt and pepper and place on top of onion mixture.
  2. Add 2 cups of water, cover and cook on high until meat is tender and can easily be pulled apart with a fork, 4 1/2 hours (or 9 hours on low).
  3. Let cool 10 minutes, then shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and stir in vinegar to taste.

This recipe was also adapted from Everyday Food

You could serve the ragu over whatever you liked – rice, pasta, polenta, mashed potatoes. I had originally planned on serving it over spiced and grilled polenta, but then the grocery store by our house decided stocking polenta (and anything else I’m ever specifically looking for) is stupid. So for whatever reason I opted for no-yolk egg noodles instead. Big mistake. I’ve never liked these things and I still don’t. There’s not enough salt in the Dead Sea to make them taste like anything at all, and the texture is slippery and slimy. The ragu was great, but my suggestion is to go to a better grocery store than mine and find some good polenta, or make your own, or make some stiff grits or something besides egg noodles. Seriously, maybe even some wood shavings from the pet store might work better. Just go with your gut.

Taco Bowls

Ingredients:

  • Burrito-sized soft tortillas
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Taco seasoning
  • Refried Beans
  • Taco toppings of choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and turn 4 ramekins upside down on the rack. Microwave your tortillas for 15 seconds to make them soft. spray each ramekin with olive oil. Mold tortillas over each ramekin, making them into the shape of a wide bowl. Spray outside of tortillas with additional olive oil.
  2. Place baking sheet with tortillas into the pre-heated oven very carefully (the ramekins will want to slide around on the rack). Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crispy. Remove from oven and let cool on the ramekins. Wait until they have cooled to the touch to remove them from their molds. This will ensure they keep their shape.
  3. Meanwhile, brown your ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain off fat. Return meat to the burner and add 1/4 cup of water and taco seasoning to taste. Keep on low until tortillas are finished baking.
  4. In a small saucepan, warm your refried beans until smooth and heated through.
  5. Once the tortillas have cooled to touch, fill them with your taco accouterments: I like to make the base with refried beans, topped with the beef, then topped with shredded jack or cheddar cheese, taco sauce, diced tomatoes, lettuce, some mashed and seasoned avocado and a dollop of plain, nonfat Greek  yogurt (I use this in place of sour cream in everything. The taste is exactly the same, but without the fat and it’s easier on my stomach).

You can make more than 4 bowls at a time, if you need them. I just only needed four and conveniently I only have 4 ramekins. Jeremy and I each ate two bowls (they are smaller than the ones you get at Mexican restaurants, so put your judgey face away). And we had chips and salsa on the side. This is a fun update on taco night.

Taco salads are great until you decide to start eating the shell. The idea seems great and starts out totally civilized. Something like this:

Oh yes, I’ll just take this one little bite of the shell.

Then all of a sudden all hell breaks loose, a tornado sweeps through your taco salad and you’re left with this tragedy:

The horror! The horrooooorrr!

Which is fine, really – it all tastes the same anyways. But if aesthetics is your thing, then just eat the salad portion with tortilla chips or something and save your bowl for decoration or to hold your keys or a hat for a small child or large dog – your call.

So there you have it – local beef three ways. Certainly you could do all of these recipes with beef you buy at the grocery store, that came from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), where cows are fed nothing but grain, which makes them sick, which requires them to take antibiotics, which remains in the meat, which over-dosed the entire population with antibiotics so that we all have reduced good bacteria in our bodies so that we are all more prone to sickness so that we all end up having to take more antibiotics like the poor cows before us, which in the long run makes us even more sick, needing more medication and so on and so forth. Again – your call.
Besides that, grass-fed beef has higher omega-3’s, is leaner, often has more protein, and is generally ethically raised. There’s no doubt red meat is not the most healthy thing we can all eat, but if you’re going to eat it (and we all are – the average American eats 110 lbs of red meat every year), then make it the healthiest, most environmentally friendly, ethical meat that you can eat. Cost? Please. Let’s not get into that – just eat your taco bowl and enjoy the grass-fed goodness.

Crock pot chicken

I am about to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time. Why is it one of my favorites? There are a few reasons:

1. It is easy

2. It cooks in the crock pot

3. It uses lots of fresh, local ingredients

4. You do not have to remember to THAW the food in advance, which I am terrible at

5. It saves you MONEY

I can’t take credit for this recipe – it came from a local farmer who raises chickens and was interviewed in the local paper last year about how she likes to prepare her own local, pasture-raised poultry. This recipe is a very slight variation on her original, but I give all the credit to Alison Wilson of Full Quiver Farms. I knew I had to make this recipe when Julia Child’s 100th birthday came around a few weeks ago, and the infamous taping of her roasting a chicken was inescapable. She was a completely lovable spaz, and I feel certain, based on that footage, that she got salmonella more times than she could remember. But, despite all that, I wanted to make a chicken.

First, you SLAP the chicken!

This is a basic crock-pot chicken. But when done right, it is flavorful, can be used for several meals, and will provide you with nearly 10 cups of fresh, delicious chicken stock. Let’s get started.

As I mentioned above, you do not have to thaw your chicken first, which is possibly my favorite thing about this recipe. It’s so hard to remember to take something out of the freezer in the first place, and then when you get into the realm of poultry, trying to figure out how many hours it needs to thaw based on the pounds….well, that’s called Math, my friends, and I don’t ride that train. But because you can put the chicken into the pot frozen, it will take a full 8-10 hours to cook to completion, so keep that in mind – get up a little early to get this one in the pot, OR do it overnight and wake up to a house that smells like the inside of your grandmother’s kitchen on Sunday afternoon – both good options.

I used a 5lb pasture-raised chicken from G-square farms in Isle of Wight County, VA. I bought and received this chicken within a week of it being processed. It does come to me frozen, but it is still tender and delicious when cooked. I paid $16 for a 5lb chicken, which I realize is more expensive than a chicken from the grocery store, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain to you all at this point why it is better to pay a little more for a quality, ethically raised chicken. Plus, you’ll see how $16 is going to make 2-3 meals.

In the bottom of your pot, dump your mirepoix (a combination of sliced and diced celery, carrots and onions). I use one onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. Cover the bottom with this mixture and season with salt/pepper and then toss in a few cloves of garlic (or if you’re me – an entire head of garlic), crushed.

On top of that mixture, place your frozen chicken. Make sure, if it has gizzards, that those are removed. Then, this is where my recipe varies – I top the chicken with as many fresh herbs as I have on hand from my garden. In this case, a tiny bit of oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. I also season the chicken with poultry seasoning, more salt and pepper. Then cover the whole things with water. Ideally, you want the water to come up over the top of the chicken, but just put in as much as you can without overflowing. Finally, the secret ingredient – add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. According to Wilson, the vinegar helps draw out the flavor and nutrients from the chicken bones.

Mirepoix, pasture-raised poultry, fresh herbs, crock pot chicken!

Then….walk away. Just walk away. 8-10 hours later you’ll have something that looks like this:

Your final product(s).

Remove the chicken from the pot carefully with tongs – it will fall apart a bit, so just go fishing for the drumstick, which inevitably is the first thing to go. Set the chicken out on a rimmed baking dish and let it cool. While it’s cooling you can deal with the broth, but for the sake of explaining this picture – once it’s cooled, debone the chicken (this is the most time consuming part of this recipe). I separate out the dark and white meat, but do whatever you like here. Then I take out what I need for whatever I’m making that night and refrigerate or freeze the rest. I only needed about one breast and a bit of dark meat for that evening, the rest went in to tupperware and supplied TWO more dinners!

When you’ve removed your chicken from the crock pot, you’ll have broth and a whole lot of bits and pieces left. To separate the broth from the solids, place a sieve over a large measuring cup or container and use a ladle to strain the broth:

Look at you with your homemade broth!

Once the broth has cooled, I store it in different sized containers. I feel like recipes are always calling for just a 1/4 cup or a few tablespoons of broth, so I freeze an ice cube tray of broth, which I then pop out and store in a zip lop bag once they are completely solid – each cube is about 1 oz of liquid, so just pull out a cube at a time as needed for recipes. I also freeze 1 cup servings and then a large 4 cup container. The broth is naturally pretty low fat since we didn’t add any oil and pasture-raised animals are pretty lean, but if you’d like you can use a fat separator OR just store the broth in the fridge for several hours and skim the fat off the top once it’s congealed.

SO, now you have 10 cups of broth and an entire deboned chicken (I had about 8 cups of meat, but that will depend on the size of your chicken). What to do next? Well, I’m sort of a sucker for chicken wings, but let’s face it those deep fried, smothered in sauce, then dipped in another sauce appetizers are not doing anyone any favors. So here is my health(ier) take on buffalo wings.

Take one breast and tender and 1/2 cup of your dark meat and chop it up or shred it. Place it in a bowl and add 1/4-1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce (depending on how saucy you want it). I use the Texas Pete brand because I think it’s spicier than others, and I’m not playing around when I want buffalo, but you can buy a milder brand. Then add 1/2 packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Mix well. From here, you can do whatever you want with this – put it on sandwiches, make a salad, whatever. I did lettuce wraps with iceberg lettuce, home made ranch dressing, shredded carrots, diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Buffalo chicken and accouterments.

Served along side some local corn on the cob and home made potato chips made from local potatoes, oh and of course a Corona with lime . . . whoa.

There isn’t a bar in town with buffalo chicken this good.

This recipe used about 1/3 of the whole chicken and served two people for dinner and then two people for lunch the next day. Another 1/3 got used in a chicken pot pie, which three very hungry people consumed in one meal, and then the other 1/3 is in my freezer – just waiting to become something else delicious. I use the chicken stock in everything, and barely ever have to buy it from the grocery store because I make a crock pot chicken once or twice a month, keeping me stocked with . . . stock.

Recipes like this just make me happy – they are a breeze to do, they work on so many different levels, they give you two products for the price of one and will feed you for a week.

What are your favorite dual purpose recipes? 

Saucy

Remember how I mentioned that I’m not exactly into measuring and precision? Principles that are important in things like baking, rocket science and canning. Can something without following all the right steps and BAM, everyone has botulism. That is why when I want to preserve something, I usually freeze it. I wish I could can, I really do. But I know how that science experiment would end up and it is with a trip to the hospital.

So every year, near the end of the summer (*weep*) I freeze a big batch of tomato sauce that I make from local tomatoes. This year a large basket of tomatoes was donated to me via my great uncle and aunt, Joe and Carol, who are pretty amazing gardeners. Free food is the best food, just ask the freegans! (I’m kidding. That movement is gross. Talk about botulism. . .)

Making tomato sauce is kind of an ordeal, but worth it in the long run. I usually have to block out several hours of my day to get this done. This tomato sauce is a little looser than pasta sauce and can be used in place of canned tomato sauce. Basically, it can become the building blocks of spaghetti, marinara, pizza sauce, tomato soups – whatever you want.

So let’s get started. First, you wash and dry your tomatoes. I was working with 3 1/2 lbs here. I usually do a batch twice this large, but this is what I had to work with in this case. On the bottom of each tomato, cut a small ‘x’ with a paring knife.

cut a small ‘x’ into the bottom of each tomato

Then get a large pot of boiling water going. You are going to blanch the tomatoes, which means they will bathe in boiling water for just 2 minutes or so, until you start to see the skin around the X peel back. When you see that start to happen, get the tomatoes out of the water with a slotted spoon and deposit into a colander where they can drain and cool. There is a serious system to this and you need to get your “mise en place!” (A fancy French term meaning ‘get your $h*t together before you start working’)

Mise en place!!

 

blanch and peel the tomatoes

Once you’ve done this in small batches to all of your tomatoes (don’t put more than 4 or 5 small tomatoes into your water at once), and once they’ve cooled to the touch, peel the tomatoes starting at the X in the bottom, pulling the skin away up to the top. Do this to all of your tomatoes. Once they are all peeled, start chopping and you’ll want to remove the hard area of the tomato where the stem was. Everything else gets chopped and thrown into your pot.

dump chopped tomatoes into your pot

Then you add your other ingredients (these measurements are based on using 3 1/2lbs of tomatoes):

  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 3/4 tbs black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tbs minced onion
  • 1/2 tbs dried oregano
  • 1/2 tbs garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • a few dashes of crushed red pepper flakes

You can use fresh herbs rather than dried herbs, but you don’t need too much. Remember, this is tomato sauce – a base, not your finished product that goes on your spaghetti. Also, if you don’t care for spice AT ALL, omit the chili powder and red pepper, but those two ingredients don’t really make this that spicy, so if you’re OK with a little spice, no worries.

Then the fun part. You probably don’t want your tomato sauce this chunky. If you do, awesome, move on to the next step, but if you’re like most people, you want a smooth sauce and you can accomplish this one of two ways: with a stick blender right in the pot, or with a regular blender in batches. I use a stick blender, because I feel bad ass when I open this thing up.

The 007 theme music starts playing

Seriously, it looks like a weapon custom designed for James Bond. But if you don’t have one of these, then just use your standard blender, blending in batches and returning the mixture to your pot. Do this before the sauce gets hot so nobody gets hurt.

After it’s been blended, simmer your sauce for at least an hour, or longer. It should look something like this:

droooool

If you’re using it right away, then do whatever you need to do, but if you’re freezing it, let it cool, off the heat for 15 minutes or so. Then dole out 1 cup portions into tupperware containers that are freezer-safe. Make sure you leave enough head room in each container – this stuff will expand, according to the laws of science. I buy tupperwares that have measurements right on the side of the container so I don’t actually have to measure, because we all know how I feel about that. I just ladle it in until it hits the mark.

Ready to chill out

Stash them in your freezer and pull them out whenever needed. To thaw, either put in the fridge overnight or let them float around in some cool water in the sink for an hour or so. Or if you’re super impatient like me, just dump the frozen sauce right into your pan and heat it up until it’s thawed. Look guys, I just need my tomato sauce RIGHT NOW.

You may be thinking that this is a lot of work, and so be it. It is. But the taste is amazing, you’re preserving a little piece of summer and perhaps you are not aware of the health implications of most canned food? Did you know that Bisphenol A (BPA) is widely used as a lining for cans holding canned food? BPA is thought to be harmful because it mimics human hormones and has been classified as an endocrine disruptor. BPA has been associated with a variety of health problems in laboratory animals, including cancers, early puberty, and developmental problems. Canned products are also laden with sodium (hello high blood pressure, blood clots, heart disease, etc etc etc) and other preservation chemicals. So avoiding canned products could be a life saver. There are a few small organic companies making canned beans and some veggies that are in BPA-free cans, but they are difficult to find and can be expensive. In the meantime, spend a little extra time to know and make what you’re eating. And if you’re NOT like me, and you are capable of following intense directions, start thinking about canning – which of course, is actually “jarring” and so avoids the BPA, sodium and chemicals in store-bought products. The Ball Jar website has great recipes and tutorials on how to do this. If I can ever get my brain to function on a linear plane, I may just try it myself.

Salmon: not just a horrible beach-house color

I try my hardest to eat salmon every week. Not because it’s my favorite fish, or because I think the Alaskan fishing industry needs my patronage (even though they do – do you hear me, Alaska? You NEED me!), but because it is super super super good for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so we are all always looking for ways to prevent it. Recently, the link between omega-3 fatty acids and Alzheimer’s prevention has become clear. According to the Rush University Medical Center, people who eat fish one or more times a week are approximately 60 percent less likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely eat fish. The important thing about fish here being the omega-3’s, which salmon has a particularly high amount of. And omega-3’s in fish are of a particular kind called DHA and EPA, which appear to have the strongest health benefits. So what is it exactly that omega-3’s in fish oil are doing that are so beneficial besides making you smell like fish all the time? What, you don’t think of that as a benefit? Trust me, if you ever want to get out of a conversation, or need to rid yourself of a “close talker,” or are trying to attract stray cats, or just generally need the public to leave you alone, fish oil is a HUGE benefit. But in addition to that, these fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of those things that can lead to myriad diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, dementia (Alzheimer’s), arthritis and much more. Another interesting potential benefit of omega-3’s? They may help fight depression. Although the studies are mixed, it is clear that in countries with higher levels of omega-3 in the typical diet have lower levels of depression. Eat fish; be happy.

Our bodies do not naturally produce omega-3’s – we must consume them through our diets. And while you can do this through a supplement, why wouldn’t you just do it through delicious food? Enter: salmon. Enter: my long speech about the right kind of salmon to buy at the fish counter. If you would like to skip this wild vs. farmed fish debate, skip to the last sentence of this paragraph. At just about any fish counter of any grocery store you will see 2-3 different varieties of Salmon. Some will say “wild caught” some will say “farmed” some will even say “organic”, but here are a few differences: farmed fish are raised in feedlots and at feedlots fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Additionally, farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color. And regarding the all-important omega3’s? FDA statistics on the nutritional content (protein and fat-ratios) of farm versus wild salmon show that the fat content of farmed salmon is excessively high–30-35% by weight, wild salmon have a 20% higher protein content and a 20% lower fat content than farm-raised salmon, farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats than wild fish. IE – the opposite of what omega-3’s do for you. In studies by the FDA wild fish were not only much lower in overall fat content, but also were found to have 33% more omega-3 fatty acids than their farm-raised counterparts. Omega-3s accounted for 29% of the fats in wild coho versus 19% of the fats in cultivated coho. Bottom line: buy wild-caught fish.

I’m so sorry. Here are some pictures of food.


This was one of those recipes that came to me during this thing that happens in my mind where whatever fresh produce I picked up at the farmers market that week inserts itself into some recipe I’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. In this case, it was a tomato pasta recipe from Martha Stewart. But because I had zucchini and squash on hand and because I needed my weekly salmon, I mixed it up a little. I pan sauteed two small tomatoes, a small squash and small zucchini in olive oil with a teaspoon of minced garlic and some Italian seasoning. In the meantime, I rubbed the salmon down with lemon infused olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic. I heated some oil in a pan and laid several slices of lemon down into the oil, then placed the salmon on top, covered with a lid and let cook over medium-high heat while the pasta was boiling (about 8 minutes, or until it can be flaked with a fork). I have started using this Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti – it is much more palatable to me than whole wheat pasta and still better for you than regular pasta, but you can use any kind you’d like. (Disclaimer: I did not get paid to promote Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti, but I totally would if they offered. That goes for you too, Pacific Salmon Fishers of America, Sunkist lemon farms, and the people who make the ridiculously expensive lemon infused olive oil I use. )

I saved about a half a cup of the pasta water and made a sauce from the vegetables with some additional olive oil, Parmesan cheese, some freshly chopped basil from my garden, and a bit of the starchy pasta water, then mixed the pasta into it and topped with the salmon, a sprinkle of cheese and basil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

feed your brain!

And before you go off thinking I’m Martha Stewart, or Barefoot Contessa or something (although I think we can all agree that Jeffrey would just ADORE this meal), let me quickly correct you. I’m more like Julia Child’s slow second cousin. If Julia was forever dropping chickens or spilling this or that in some hilariously charming way, all the while making the most delicious French food you’ve ever seen, I am the slow second cousin who is nearly cutting off a finger or giving herself third degree burns while she tries to make toast. Case in point:

I need adult supervision.

I don’t know how well it comes through in that picture – but my middle finger has a pretty significant burn/blister right under the knuckle. This is because, as it turns out, metal skillets that have just come out of 400 degree ovens are HOT! This is my primary mistake in the kitchen – forgetting that things are hot and grabbing them with my bare hands. Also, over-salting things. So, Food Network, if you are looking for a new cooking show that appeals to those S&M loving, 50 Shades of Grey reading freaks, I am your girl. Get in line behind Ronzini and those stinky fishermen.

Sweet Meat

I promised I wasn’t a vegetarian and I’m here to deliver. Also, my friend Robyn threatened to stop reading the blog unless I posted a meat recipe she could make for her seriously carnivorous husband. Fine.

But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about meat, the consumption and environmental effects of it, and healthy options and portions. Wait….where are you going? No, really – it’s important! Fine, I won’t TALK about it, I’ll just show you this:

Get the point? Meat should be a SMALL percentage of your daily food intake. It should be used as a side dish, not a main course, and should be chosen wisely. I can’t say that this particular recipe was the “wisest” one, but it did serve up about 8 small servings over the course of three days, so it had that going for it.

This recipe was adapted from one I found via Pinterest, and was originally posted here. I changed it up a little, but all in all it’s pretty similar.

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin

Ingredients:
1 (2 pound) boneless pork tenderloin (or regular pork loin)
1 bunch of fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
3 clove garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 cup water
Glaze
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Directions:
Rub roast with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup water, sage, crushed garlic and onion slices. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About 1 hour before roast is done, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Heat and stir until mixture thickens. Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.
I sort of sliced, sort of shredded the pork loin when it came out of the pot, removing the fat as I cut. I used a regular pork loin, not a tenderloin, so there’s some different meat textures going on in there. Once I had sliced/shredded it onto a platter, I drizzled the glaze over top of it.

I served it with a squash and corn casserole and a light tomato and cucumber salad. You’ll notice the portions here look similar to the diagram at the beginning of the post:

The meat only takes up 1/4 of the plate.

So, see – I DO eat meat. I just think we have to start thinking about it and preparing it and eating it a little different. Meat can be a great source of protein, but it can also be a great source of saturated fats, unnecessary hormones and antibiotics. Not to even mention or get into the kind of cruelty that goes in to most mass-bred cattle, pork and chicken. Under normal circumstances I purchase all of our meat through local farms who use ethical animal raising and slaughtering methods. This was a rare exception, although the meat is still technically local (Smithfield, VA).  Yes, locally raised meats are more expensive, but when you eat less of it, the cost works itself out. Not to mention the long-term health benefits of eating less meat and more sustainable meat are a huge cost savings (would you rather spend money on healthier food or on blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes medications and treatments?). Pasture raised meats have less saturated fats, are generally not fed antibiotics (because they are outside eating grass, not shoved in a cage with 1,000 heads, chowing on grain which inherently makes cows sick), and are leaner because of the natural exercise they get. The same is true of pigs and chickens. If you’d like to learn more about the environmental and health effects that meat has in America, I would encourage you to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This is the book that the documentary, Food Inc. was based on, but if you’re like me and can’t stomach movies like that, try the book instead. He traces the steps of three meals from beginning to end: a fast food meal, a “locally sourced” meal, and a meal that was 100% hunted and gathered by him. It’s fascinating and you will never look at the food the same way again, I promise.

Ok, so I ended up talking about it anyways. I’ll get off my meat soapbox now. Honestly, I do love it and I do eat it, and when the summer ends and we get into fall and winter, you will see me use it as an ingredient in a lot more dishes.

What is your favorite meat? Where do you get your meat from and what is important to you when purchasing it? What kind of questions do you ask your farmer, butcher or grocer when purchasing meat?

Get to crackin’

Let’s talk crabs. Of the crustacean sort, of course.

Blue crabs fresh from the Currituck Sound

Blue crabs are a way of life here. They are how many people, my uncle included, have made a living on the local waters. Growing up around bays where blue crabs thrive means that you learn how to crack a crab claw open before you learn how to use a fork, and I’m not kidding. Which brings me to one of my food obsession: food that takes a lot of work for a little bit of food. Crabs, shrimp, oysters, even pistachios – I LOVE eating food that is a challenge. There’s a sense of accomplishment, for one thing. It also extends the meal itself. Ever eaten a bushel of crabs with a small group of people? Two hours later and you’re wondering why there is still half a bushel of crabs left.  It forces you to relax, take your time, enjoy the company, the food, and everything else that entails.  Which is good, because for nearly $100/bushel, you should really, really enjoy them.

These crabs were caught by my (2nd? once removed? who knows) cousin, Mason who learned to crab from my uncle Wayne – his grandfather. They were delicious (both times) and I never take for granted the amount of work, from the crab pot to plate, that this kind of meal requires. Of course, you can’t have crabs without beer . . .

Crab claws make great beer-tab openers

I can eat crabs all by themselves….without stopping….for days on end….but I did decide to make a little cucumber and tomato salad with some local produce I’d gotten at the farmers market. One cucumber, halved, seeded, and cut into half moons, with halved cherry tomatoes in a sauce of Greek yogurt, dill from my garden, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper.

Tomato and cucumber salad in Greek yogurt dressing

It’s a fun table to set: crabs, beer, fruit salad (local watermelon and peaches) and tomato and cucumber salad.

Crab dinner

And of course, we eat our crabs Carolina style – dipped in apple cider vinegar with salt and pepper. Another thing about growing up around here is learning to stomach, then appreciate apple cider vinegar. It goes on everything: BBQ, crabs, vegetables, collard greens – you name it. But did you know that it’s has some pretty serious health benefits? From WebMD.com “The effect of vinegar on blood sugar levels is perhaps the best-researched and the most promising of apple cider vinegar’s possible health benefits. Several studies have found that vinegar may help lower glucose levels. For instance, one 2007 study of 11 people with type 2 diabetes found that taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by 4%-6%.” Blue crab meat is also a great source of protein and is low in fat. It’s also a pretty amazing source of vitamin B-12, zinc, calcium and other nutrients. It’s also a good local “Sensible Seafood” decision, according to the Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood guide. But it’s important to note that what is a “sensible seafood” can vary by region, so while it’s sustainable here, it may not be in other parts of the country or world. Check out the original Sensible Seafood program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Site.

What are your favorite foods that you have to work for? 

BERKFERST NOT MAH FAVRIT MERLS

If you need context for that title, check this out.

Breakfast is hard. Mostly because I don’t get hungry until about 11, but they tell you you’re supposed to eat within 30 minutes of waking up to boost your metabolism. I’ll be perfectly honest here and say that sometimes 11 and “within 30 minutes of waking up” are not always that far apart….but that aside, sometimes I just want a cup of coffee and for everything else to somehow make itself. Also, since I don’t really care for breakfast (on the weekdays – weekends are another story full of bacon and cheesy scrambled eggs and toast with strawberry jam), I try to make it as healthy as possible since my taste buds haven’t always totally woken up.

Last week I had gotten a few local peaches from my co-op and when I got up that morning, somehow all the cereal, bread, jam, and milk had magically disappeared. So I opted for oatmeal with peaches. I told you when I started this blog, there would be some major fails. This one wasn’t major, but it was a misstep – the directions on the oatmeal said to add a 1/4 tsp of salt to the oats while they were cooking. I cut the recipe in half, since it was just me and just threw in a “dash” of salt. Well, either these instructions are bobo to begin with, or my brain is so dysfunctional in the morning that my “dash” was actually a giant pour and this was the saltiest oatmeal I’ve ever had in my life. I tried to add some cream and honey to it to tone it down, but to no real avail. I ended up just mostly eating the peaches with a little bit of the oats. My advice: just don’t put salt in oatmeal. Seriously, whose idea was that anyways?

In any case, I think it turned out “pretty” which is sometimes all I can ask of my food:

BERKFERST

Local honey and peaches with rolled oats

So despite the salt-lick fiasco, let’s talk about the benefits of this meal while pretending it didn’t taste gross. First off, oats are a whole grain, and rolled oats are a less processed version of a whole grain. I’d like to say I can stomach steel cut, as-little-processing-as-possible oats, but I can’t. They’re just gross and should be reserved for horses. Thick rolled oats are my in-between healthy option. I get this brand from the organic/natural aisle of the grocery store. They take 10-20 minutes to cook. Word to the wise – if your “whole grains” take less than 5 minutes to cook, they aren’t really doing you any good. Whole grains are good for your heart, cholesterol, blood pressure (reducing the likelihood of having blood clots, stroke and heart attack), and provide you with folic acid, fiber, b vitamins, iron and more. You can find out more about the benefits of whole grains on the whole grain council website.

Honey is full of antioxidants, is a great way of sweetening food without giving you a sugar rush because of its quick glucose and slow fructose release and if you suffer from seasonal outdoor allergies, locally produced honey can help curb some of those issues because it gives you a healthy, low-dose of the pollen you are allergic to, sort of like a vaccine or an allergy shot would. Find more fun honey info here.
Locally produced honey is the best kind to get (of course) because it will provide your system with the local allergens and pollen, because it helps keep your local honey bee population thriving (which is incredibly important for agriculture overall) and because it taste better because it has to go through less processing. I buy mine from Bee’s Knee’s apiary here in Chesapeake, VA.

Finally, peaches. Ah, peaches. The epitome of July. The highlight of summer. Who would even care if they had health benefits or not, they are so good? But, luckily, they are full of potassium (low potassium is the source of MANY health issues including hypertension, fatigue, muscle weakness and more), beta-carotene (which your body turns in to Vitamin A), lycopene and lutein. They are also high in fiber and vitamin C. It’s important to note that while almost all vegetables and many fruits are “high in fiber” – the fiber usually resides in the skin of the product. Some fiber is contained in the flesh, but when it comes to things like peaches, cucumbers, apples, etc – if you are peeling them before eating them, you are losing out on a lot of fiber and nutrients. Whole food is the best food.

Alright, that’s enough for today’s nutrition lesson. Just remember – skip the salt, use a minimally processed whole grain, leave your fruit’s skin on and skip the sugar and replace it with locally produced honey. And coffee….don’t forget the coffee…..

To meat or not to meat

I realize that all my posts so far have probably given the impression that I am a vegetarian, which I’m not.  I was for several years in college and then I got married and this is how that story goes: We got back from our honeymoon and the next morning Jeremy fried bacon in our newly-shared apartment. End of story. If you can resist the smell of bacon after 7 days of eating Jamaican food, you should probably see a doctor, cause something is wrong with your olfactory system.

Although I do eat meat now, I still try to reduce my meat consumption as much as possible for several reasons including health, cost and the impact meat has on the environment. This is nothing new – there’s a whole “Meatless Monday” movement, in fact.
Most of the meat we do eat is locally raised – Hampton Roads has several wonderful farms producing high-quality, ethically-raised, pastured and free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats including beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat, rabbit, and turkeys. Seriously. Although none of that matters much for this post, which is yet another vegetarian meal. One day, I promise, I will share a meat recipe.

This recipe came from a Rachael Ray inspiration. I don’t generally watch her show (or any daytime television) and I have a huge grudge against her for making the whole world think that ALL RACHELS spell their name RACHAEL – which just isn’t true. But I was at the dentist one day, confined to a chair with a TV in front of it and her show was on. She was making a pasta dish where instead of a traditional sauce, she roasted an eggplant and used the eggplant-meat as a sauce. Then she slapped some real meat on top of it, but that seemed unnecessary, so a few nights ago with an over-abundance of vegetables from my co-op, including a beautiful eggplant, I decided to riff on this idea.

eggplant Rotini

roasted vegetable rotini with eggplant sauce

There is one thing I share in common with Rachael Ray, and that is a tendency to not really have a “recipe” but instead to use kind of general directions and measurements. I once saw her instruct in a recipe to use a “palm-full” of something, and that is definitely how I cook. Measuring and following directions takes precision and patience – two things that I do not possess. It’s why you’ll never see a baking recipe on this blog.
So below is my best re-construction of what I did here.

Eggplant Rotini with Roasted Vegetables

Serves: 2 hungry people. Double for your fam.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Eggplant
  • 1 small/medium zucchini
  • 1 smell/medium yellow squash
  • 1 large portobello cap
  • 1 small onion – red, yellow or white is fine
  • a handful of snap beans
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • a handful of fresh basil
  • olive oil
  • 8 oz (half a box) of whole wheat rotini or other curly pasta
  • Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Cut the eggplant in half, lengthwise, brush the cut sides with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay, cut side down, on a rimmed baking sheet and put in the oven at 375 F for about 30 mins.
  2. Take all of your veggies that you are putting in the pasta (I listed what I used above, but feel free to improvise or substitute here with whatever you have on hand), cut into pieces, mince one clove of garlic and dump it all into a bowl and coat with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little Italian seasoning, if you’d like. Pour onto a rimmed baking sheet. Stick in the oven with the eggplant for 25-30 mins of until they are done to your liking (I like mine to still have some bite, without tasting raw)
  3. When the veggies only have a few minutes left, start the pasta – cook according to package directions. Save half a cup of pasta water before draining.
  4. Take the eggplant out of the oven and let cool for a few minutes. The halves should look “deflated” and the inside should be runny and almost liquefied. Once they are cool enough to handle, scrape the insides of the eggplants out into a medium sized bowl and with the flat end of a wooden spoon, mash the eggplant. Stir in the other minced garlic clove, salt and pepper to taste, and Parmesan (a palm-full??), then stir in freshly torn or cut basil, stir until you have a nice paste going. (You can see a picture of this in the collage above, upper left-hand corner).
  5. Add the drained pasta to your eggplant paste and stir – adding in the reserved pasta water until the noodles are coated in a starchy sauce (you probably won’t need the whole half cup). Take the roasted veggies out of the oven and toss them into the pasta as well. Grate in some more Parmesan and mix. Top with fresh basil and little extra Parmesan.

We had this with some locally made hummus and whole wheat pita chips. This roasting and mixing method really takes the bitterness out of the eggplant that keeps a lot of people from eating this super-nutritious veggie. Eggplants are low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol; they’re also a good source of Vitamin K, Thiamin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Potassium and Manganese, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber. The fiber in the eggplant, the other veggies and also in the whole-wheat pasta (about 6 grams per cup) make this a super filling meal. Fiber is known for keeping you full for longer, so you don’t have to eat as much of it in the first place, and then you’ll be less tempted to have a midnight snack later.

So don’t get me wrong – meat is great. But when it’s mid-July and I’m looking at all those beautiful vegetables, I can’t help but go back to those pre-bacon days and let the produce steal the show.

What is your favorite meatless meal? Are you reducing your meat consumption or are you a vegetarian? If so, what are your tricks for making filling meatless meals?