Wednesday, January 30, 2013

my counters make me swoon

remember the sneak peek at the counters last week? well, they are in (!!!)... and i. am. in. love.

a new food crush yesterday and a counter crush all in one week? love is in the air, people. speaking of, I've got you covered with Valentine's snacks, treats and more too.  so go on and get ready to tell someone you love them.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

new food crush: cook simple's tamale pie dinner kit

When something, or someone, makes my life easier, healthier, and happier I have the tendency to develop a crush. One of my first crushes was on Rico. Oh Rico, how you still make me swoon. And then we all know that whoever "Don" is, behind Don Bars had me at the first bite... even if he did play hard to get. Sometimes my crushes are cheesy. Sometimes they're nuts. Anyway, I've developed a bunch of crushes over the years.

My latest crush started last night. I do not consider myself a "boxed food" cook. You all know that. But what busy mom isn't sometimes blinded by the bright lights and promise of a night off, hmm?

Here's the scoop: My kids had been dismissed early, due to icy road conditions. Early, as in before lunch. I'd gone to the market in the morning and spent an outrageous amount on organic carrots, packages of organic pre-sliced apples (since I wanted them to be eaten-- no freak out moments about browning apple slices), some intriguing sweet potato snack thing, and crowd-pleasing pretzel crisps as 'snack mom' for my son's "Odyssey of the Mind" team. But, at 8am, I wasn't thinking about dinner. Fast forward to mid-afternoon: the kids are home, it's gray and icy, the fire's going, carrots and apples don't really constitute dinner, and I have zero interest in going back to the market. I took inventory of the freezer, and there were a few options, but I like to keep those for nights when "I need them". (Note that I also have an issue with wearing certain things, for fear that I should save them for a special occasion....) Anyway, so I was thrilled to find this boxed dinner kit in the pantry. I'd picked it up on a whim during one of my Whole Foods runs a few months back. A skim of what other ingredients were needed?: 1 lb ground meat + diced tomatoes + honey + water and an egg. I had ground beef in the egg. Hmm, but no diced tomatoes. Throw in the towel or improvise slightly? I opted for the latter and substituted a diced onion and a can of black beans for the texture I would have gotten from the tomatoes, then added some tomato sauce for, well, the tomatoes. The whole thing took me about 15 minutes to chop, sauté, and pop into the oven. Maybe not even that? Then I went back to the fire and the nutrition lectures I was listening to... the timer buzzed 18 minutes later and voila, a dinner everyone in my family enjoyed. And that, my friends, is why this demure box has become my latest food crush. Most days, I'll still cook from scratch, or close to it. But is sure is nice to know I've got a little mealtime helper hiding in my pantry too.

So far, I've only tried the Tamale Pie version, but you can click here to learn more about all of their different dinner kits. Let me know if you try another variety and like it!

Monday, January 28, 2013

my top two Superbowl recipes

I've gotten a couple of requests for my favorite Superbowl vittles. I've said it before, and I'll say it again-- for me it's all about the food, and the ads. So, you must have good food on game day. OK, so what would I whip up?

Chili - who doesn't love a steaming bowl of chili? Put out a toppings bar of shredded cheese, sour cream, Greek yogurt, brown rice, chopped scallions, chopped onion, guacamole, corn relish (Whole Foods sells an excellent prepared one in the produce section), pickled jalapeños, hot sauce, and crumbled bacon and let people customize their bowl!

If I were asked to bring a dip along to a gathering, this Creamy Baked Goat Cheese and Salsa Dip would be my choice, served with carrot and celery spears and pita chips or tortilla chips.

Want to peek at my round-up from last year that includes a super simple baked brie (that everyone loves!) and more? Click here for lots more crowd-friendly Superbowl party ideas. Enjoy!!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

perfect Sunday

It's late morning in CT. We are still in our PJs. I just took a break from my integrative nutrition lectures to refill our teas, and couldn't help but smile at the message on my tea bag. My older son is building card houses at my feet, has made a bday list (focused largely on his love of building things), laughed out loud while he was reading, and drew two intricate mazes I'll never be able to solve... I suggested he give them to dad when he comes home exhausted from the Y Guide campout.

Friday, January 25, 2013

baby it's cold outside.... a perfect chance to cozy up and learn to cook something new

Wow, it is cold in CT!! A perfect time to cozy up and do something special inside. For my readers in CT/NY/NJ, I came across a couple of special chances to gather with friends and cook up a storm these next few weeks:

kitchen progress - counters!

Super excited to share the kitchen counters that will be the background of many a recipe pic to come!! It's ok if you find yourself swooning too. I understand. I now, officially, have a crush on my cabinets and counters. Thanks to our amazing contractor, who traipsed to many a CT stone yard with me, then spotted spoken for slabs at a fabricator and tracked down sister slabs two states away, I am the luckiest girl ever. That empty shell of a kitchen a few weeks ago is coming together even more beautifully than I could have ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

green smoothies 101

black cherry + mango + strawberry + frozen spinach + banana + water

I love green smoothies. It wasn't until we were recently on vacation, and I went 3 days without one, that I realized just how much I love them... and how much my body craves them.

Sure, I want to look as hot as the next mom in my skinny jeans, but my body is not a temple right now. I know that it should be. And, there are times in my life when I really focus on being healthy in every way. But not this month. Most days I eat well, but I'm not one to turn my nose up at a basket of nachos after skiing...

with my 6-year-old who thinks colder + wetter + steeper = better.

Add a local draft beer and a band playing Mellencamp to the basket of nachos, and I'd pretty much call that a perfect winter afternoon.

kale + clementine + banana + coconut water

Which is probably why I also crave green smoothies. They make me feel good. They keep my skin clear and glowing. They're portable. They balance out the indulgences of weekends, and start my weekdays off on the right note. As with most things I cook/whip up, there isn't a lot of precision in the "recipe". I make them with what I have on hand, and each day the results are a little bit different. Here is my basic formula for my green smoothies:

2 cups liquid + 2 cups packed greens + 2 cups fruit = 3 (2 cup) servings

baby spinach and kale + green apple + frozen blueberries, pineapple and raspberries + water

A few notes on smoothie making:
  • You do not need fancy equipment. I have an Osterizer blender I picked up at Target years ago that works just fine. 
  • Fresh or frozen fruit works perfectly, so you should be able to make green smoothies year-round! If I am using frozen fruit I let it thaw a bit though so my (non-fancy) blender can handle grinding it up though.
  • If a smoothie tastes too "green", try adding more fruit, or a bit of fresh lemon juice, and work up to the 50:50 green:fruit ratio. My kids like more of a 75:25 ratio fruit:greens. It's all a matter of taste, and any way you make them is great! I recommend starting out with a 75:25 ratio, then working up to including more leafy greens. 
  • Ideas for liquids: water, coconut water, almond milk, rice milk.
  • Ideas for dark leafy greens: fresh or frozen spinach or baby kale. 
  • Ideas for fruit: fresh or frozen banana, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, mango, papaya, pineapple, apple, grapes, melon, oranges, grapefruit. 
  • Optional add-ins: flax seeds, chia seeds, protein powder, oats, nuts, nut butter.
Cheers! I'd love to hear about your favorite green smoothie?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

chicken, wild rice and root vegetable soup

I am so glad so many of you enjoyed yesterday's post, showing the simple way to make bone broth. I love when you email me, letting me know you enjoyed the post, and that you are making your own batch! With the long weekend coming up, I wanted to also quickly share the soup I made with our bone broth. This recipe is a perfect use of root veggies that might be in your winter CSAs...

You can certainly make this soup with purchased stock, but if you have the time, bone broth is so nourishing that it's worth the extra effort. Plus, its' thick consistency makes any homemade soup that is rich and satisfying.

Chicken, Wild Rice, and Root Vegetable Soup
(makes 12 servings)

1 batch bone broth (or 2 quarts purchased stock)
3 lbs root vegetable, chopped*
1 cup chicken, shredded*
1 lb bag Lundberg wild rice
additional stock/broth (optional, if you like it thinner)

Put all ingredients in a large soup pot. Bring to a simmer, cover, and let rice and veggies cook for about 45 minutes, or until tender. Will keep in fridge for 3 days, or so, and in freezer for up to 2 months.

(You can see the goodness of the bone broth in action when the soup is chilled. It's almost solid...)

* A note on ingredients: Our local market had these 3 lb bags of assorted organic root vegetables from Harmony Valley Farm (pictured above) in the produce section. I picked a bag up on a whim one night, when I was trying to quickly get in and out of the market. The selection of veggies was wonderful, and it encouraged me to try some root veggies I don't normally purchase. If you are selecting your own root veggies, you'll simply want to pick out a 3lb combination of carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, celery root and/or sunchokes. As for the chicken, I estimated 1 cup of shredded chicken b/c that is what I had leftover from dinner the night before, but you can certainly include more in your soup if you want more meat!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

simple mineral-rich bone broth

My response to the recent flu outbreaks? Cooking, of course. Hippocrates said, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." Sure, we still fall ill, just like everyone else. But by feeding my family well, I promote our health as best I can. This week, one of my cooking projects was a batch of bone broth. Simple to make, bone broth is full of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, and gelatin, which has been proven to combat disease. Homemade broth like this can be enjoyed as is (as a sort of whole foods supplement to whatever you are eating that day), or can form the base for any number of homemade soups. Here is my go-to bone broth recipe (if you can even call it a recipe, it's so easy):

Homemade Mineral-Rich Bone Broth
(makes about 2 quarts)

large pot
4 quarts of water
bones of 2 cooked chickens*
2 Tablespoons Bragg's unfiltered cider vinegar
6-8 cloves garlic, rough chopped
1 onion, rough chopped
sea salt

Put everything in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 4 hours. Strain the liquid and store in the fridge for several days, or freeze for up to 2 months. Note that when cool, the broth will be gelatinous. This is exactly how you want it! Do not strain fat from the broth, or you will be removing the "good stuff"!

*Whenever we get a rotisserie chicken, I save the bones in the freezer. Once I have 2 sets of chicken bones stored, I make a batch of broth. You can also make bone broth with fish or beef bones, though I tend to always stick to chicken and turkey.

Here is a well-researched article about bone broth from the Weston A. Price Foundation, if you would like to read up more on the health benefits, and here is a wonderful article from Andrea Beaman about how to help heal your body, if you do get sick.

Here's to hoping all of you stay healthy this season!

Monday, January 14, 2013

re-purposing leftovers: chili as a quesadilla filling

A little birdie (a.k.a. our contractor) told me that my go-to Turkey Chili (recently featured on Walter Stewart's site) also makes an excellent filling for quesadillas. Who knew?!

It's true! My (currently soup-averse) 6-year-old proclaimed them "the best quesadillas ever!" when I tried the same tip at one of our family dinners.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

sneak peek at our construction project!

So many of you have emailed me or stopped me on the street recently asking how our construction is going that I know it's time to share a sneak peek! Just a quick one though. This (use your imagination!) will be the new site of many a delicious family dinner. And, everyone keeps asking what I am most excited about? Working appliances will be awesome (remember me cooking on one working burner for several months?! I think it was about 7 months?). But, even more exciting is the chance to face whoever is in the kitchen when I am cooking. I cannot wait for the island so I don't always have my my back to everyone when I am at the counter. That is what I am most excited about.

And this is what my kids are most excited about-- a funny alcove being transformed into a cubby area filled with all sorts of materials they can use to "create things". This project is really, really special. I feel so thankful that we've been able to embark on it, and cannot wait to whip up and share new recipes for you all in the transformed digs.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

roasted vegetable and beef pasta sauce (that also happens to be thyroid radiation diet approved)

One of our dear friends was diagnosed with thyroid cancer just before Christmas. This would be unhappy news any time of the year, but right before the holidays it seemed especially poignant to this young family. 

What do I do when I want to cheer someone up? I cook for them. So, before we left Idaho to return home to CT, I stocked their freezer with a few hearty, comforting meals for when they got back from surgery and his diet was especially restricted, due to radiation.  While this meal is thyroid radiation-approved, it's also particularly family friendly, healthy, and delicious, so I am writing it up and sharing it with the broader full plate audience as well. 

A quick note: the photo above is a little misleading b/c one of the things our friend cannot have during radiation is dairy... but after cooking and lovingly packaging everything up for him and his family, I forgot to take any photos of their stash. So, this was the evening my family enjoyed the meal out in Idaho, and you'll have to just imagine the brown rice pasta and sauce, minus the cheese. The recipe is really easy, and it's a superb way for any family to get lots of vegetables incorporated into a one-dish meal!

Roasted Vegetable and Grass-Fed Beef Pasta Sauce
makes 8 servings
(freezes well)

oil of choice
6 cups chopped vegetables and herbs of your choice*
2 lbs grass-fed beef, ground

Preheat oven to 375. Drizzle a bit of oil on a rimmed baking sheet. Place veggies in a single layer on baking sheet and roast until fork tender and slightly browned, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer veggies to Cuisinart food processor and pulse until pureed. In a large saucepan, sauté the ground beef with the pureed veggies, until cooked through. Serve over cooked pasta of your choice.

Optional additions: if you do not have any dietary restrictions, and would like additional depth of flavor (or you have red wine kicking around your counters), you may add any or all of the following:
red wine
splash of vinegar
chopped tomatoes
salt & pepper 

*Batch 1 veggies/herbs: carrots, onion, fennel bulb, garlic eggplant, fresh oregano. Batch 2 veggies: zucchini, carrots, onion, garlic, fennel bulb. The only thing to keep in mind is that if you're not adding any salt, tomatoes, wine or vinegar (b/c of any dietary restrictions), then you'll want to choose flavorful veggies and lots of fresh herbs to get your big flavor boost that way.

This was the batch I made for my friends while we were out in Idaho: carrots, oregano, garlic and onion on one baking sheet...

eggplant and fennel on the other.

Then when everything with roasted

I transferred the veggies to the Cuisinart

and pulsed it until pureed.

I did the same simple steps with the baking sheet full of eggplant and fennel: roasted it, and then popped it into the Cuisinart

and pulsed it until pureed.

Last night, I made the dish again, this time back in CT, so just for my family. (I purposefully made 8 servings so I cold tuck some into our freezer for an upcoming night when things are busy and I don't have time to cook). This time I made it with zucchini, carrots, fennel, garlic and onions.

But the veggie step is exactly the same: roast, then puree. You can really make this recipe with any vegetables you choose.

Then, in each case, I added the veggie puree to the grass-fed beef and sautéed it until cooked through. When cooking for my friends' family, I stopped there. I'd purposefully chosen flavorful herbs and veggies, and nothing else was needed to make a delicious meal.

But for my family last night, I added a splash of red wine, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkling of good salt and pepper. Once the wine and vinegar had reduced down, the sauce was even more earthy and rich.

But both ways, this is a rich, flavorful sauce that is packed with goodness.

The sauce freezes perfectly, so I recommend making double or triple what your family will enjoy for dinner the night you make it, and tucking another dinner or two in your freezer.

And, as is the case with most dinners around here, it moonlighted in a Kindergarten lunchbox today... to rave reviews. I hope your family enjoys this healthful, comforting pasta sauce as much as mine does!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

homemade peanut butter-chocolate granola bars

When my family gets to go visit Meme and Papa in Idaho, one of our favorite destinations is Galena Lodge.

And, whenever at Galena, we pick up a Don Bar or two for the trails....  I have a complete crush on Don Bars. If there's a man behind the bar, then it's safe to say I have a crush on him too. But I'll be damned if every time I try to weasel a recipe out of the cashier up at Galena I get a hands-in-the-air, "he won't tell us the recipe either!" response.

Humph. Not one to be easily dissuaded by a culinary challenge, I made it my mission on New Year's Day to recreate the Don Bar. Instead of concocting a new green smoothie, or listing off all the ways I'd like to "improve" in 2013, I headed into the kitchen and hauled out what I thought were the likely ingredients....

oats, chocolate chips, honey, peanut butter and puffed brown rice. And then I set to toasting, heating and mixing.





press... voila

The verdict? Oh my. They're different than Don Bars, but boy, are they ahhhmazing. Now we have a new special after school treat, and an energy bar worthy of our East Coast winter weekend adventures. In coming days, I'll balance this decadence with some new healthy family dinner ideas, and probably a green smoothie or two. But, this was the perfect recipe to kick off 2013. I hope that your family enjoys it as much as mine does!!

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Granola Bars
(makes one 9x11" pan, or about 24 bars)

2 cups oats, toasted
16 oz jar creamy peanut butter* (2 cups)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water (*optional)
2 cups puffed rice cereal
1 cup chocolate chips

Toast the oats on a rimmed baking sheet for a few minutes (6 minutes, or so, stirring once or twice), until golden brown. Set aside. In a saucepan large enough to hold all of the ingredients, melt the peanut butter, honey and water (if you are adding it) until combined and easy to stir. Turn off heat. Add the oats, puffed rice and chocolate chips. Stir to combine. Press batter into a parchment paper-lined 9x11" pan. Cover with parchment paper and chill in fridge for at least an hour, until firm. Slice into squares or bars. I individually wrap the bars for a simple grab-and-go snack. May be stored at room temp or in the fridge for several days (if they last that long). I am also going to try freezing them, and will report back on whether that works too...

*Ingredient-wise, you want to use peanut butter that is 100% peanut, nothing else. This type of peanut butter is really firm, so you can add a little bit of water to the saucepan to thin it a bit, as I did in the batch above.