28 March 2014

Elegance with ease!

After falling off the wagon a bit,  as far as sugar and grains go, it feels great to get back to more home cooking and less settling for things that make us feel a little blah, and for no good reason. Here are a couple of incredibly simple recipes for anyone who wants an easy, but hearty, meal complete with a rich, scrumptious dessert!

These recipes are both ideal for the whole family, and while the soup is a little more time consuming (about an hour total, with prep and cooking times) the ingredients are few and the effort needed is minimal, and the flavors develop beautifully giving the illusion of you slaving over a hot stove for hours. This divine dessert, on the other, quicker hand, is especially perfect for last minute guests, or a late night treat to share with your love! It looks and tastes as if it took all day to prepare, so no one has to know it takes mere minutes to prep and make!

Butternut Squash Soup with Ham

In a large pot (8 quart is good, but bigger is fine, too.) sauté:
1 small yellow onion, diced small
½ stick unsalted butter
until the onions start to become translucent.

While the onions are cooking, rough chop:
2 cups ham
and add to the onions. 

Season with pinch of sea salt (not too much because the ham adds a nice amount of salt) and a few pinches of fresh cracked pepper.

Let the ham and onion mixture cook for a few minutes, then add:
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed then chopped into about 1" cubes
4 cups low sodium chicken stock
2 tsp garlic powder 
2 tsp dry dill 
2 tsp cracked black pepper

Let this mixture simmer about 15-20 minutes on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until squash is softened. Once softened, use an immersion blender to blend the soup for a couple of minutes, keeping in mind it doesn't need to be completely smooth. Just blend to your personally desired consistency. If you don't have an immersion blender, just use a potato masher to break up the big chunks of squash. I like to keep the texture of the squash while the little bit of blending gives a creamy texture as well. 

Once you've blended/mashed the squash, add:
1 small bag of frozen peas and carrots, or just peas if you prefer.

Let the mixture cook on medium-high for 15 minutes or until the peas are cooked through, but not overdone. Taste to ensure your seasoning is all set, add salt or pepper if needed and enjoy! This recipe will serve 4-6.

This is a very filling meal for those nights when you've been out on the soccer field on a cold night, perfect after that long evening commute. This would also be a great starter, or lovely served in a lunch portion with a salad on the side. 

And for the easiest dessert, that is completely from scratch, ever!

Microwave Dark Chocolate Cake

Grease and flour a microwave-safe 8" square dish

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together:
1 cup almond flour
1 ½ tbsp coconut flour 
1 ½ tbsp tapioca flour
⅔ cup coconut sugar or granulated honey
⅓ cup cocoa powder
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt

After whisking the dry ingredients together, add and mix well:
2 eggs
3 tbsp olive oil
½ cup full fat plain yogurt

Mix well, making sure all the dry ingredients are completely incorporated. Pour into the greased pan and sprinkle on top:
¼ cup mini or regular dark chocolate chips

Cook in microwave for 5 minutes. 
Done. Really! It's that easy! You can serve warm as is, or add fresh whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream. For a little extra indulgence, add a little warm caramel or some fresh berries. 
This recipe makes 4 servings. 

A couple of notes about the recipes: 
For the ham in the soup, I used a great find which was a package of cut ends from spiral ham, found right along with the other ham in the grocery store meat case. You could use regular chopped ham, turkey ham, thick cut bacon or pancetta in place. Also, I used butternut squash that was in my freezer. I bought a few when they were a great deal, peeled, seeded and cubed them and put them in the freezer for things like this!

With the dessert, if you have nut allergies, or prefer to use regular flour, you can sub 1 cup regular baking flour for all the flours listed in my recipe. Also, you can replace the coconut sugar with brown sugar, and the yogurt can be replaced with ⅓ cup of buttermilk.

I hope you enjoy trying these tasty recipes! I certainly enjoy creating and trying them out, and my family loves that part too as they're my best taste-testers. 

Hopefully, I'll get around to that sharing that chili recipe next post!

08 February 2014

Paleo? Primal? Protein, oh my!

Hello friends!

Yes, once again I've had a long absence but I'm back with some fantastic new information and a few great recipes for you!

My family has, for the past couple of months, gone "Paleo" with our food choices. What's that mean, you ask? Well, the simple explanation is that a paleo "diet" (we call it a lifestyle since we are sticking with it and it does affect our daily lives) is heavy on animal proteins, seafood, nuts, fruits and vegetables. That also means there are no grains, dairy, sugars or legumes. The thing is this is something that, for any trying it, can be customized to fit into your needs and your tastes. Many of friends who eat the same way do what we call 80/20. 80% of what they eat is strictly meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts. The other 20% can be a little more free. I won't get too into the specifics and origins of the current diet. I will say that some people are calling this a fad, but it's one of those things has had many incarnations over the past 30-40 years even. There have been a number of high protein low/no carb diets that all go by different names and are hyped by different companies, celebrities, chefs, but they essentially all have the same guiding principals; low carbohydrate intake with high protein intake makes for leaner, heart-heathier living.

We did not go into this because it's a popular thing to do. We read up, spoke to friends who've been doing it for years, and really investigated how and why we might go about this new way of life. If this idea, this way of eating intrigues you, I recommend doing a lot (A LOT) of research on the benefits and things that may be of concern, as well as how this choice can be varied to suit and your family. So far, having been eating this way about 80/20 since Sept. 1st, we've noticed a number of changes. My husband and I have both lost weight, he has a lot more energy, we're breathing easier, and we are enjoying food more than ever because almost everything we eat is incredibly fresh. I've also notice my joints, especially my knees, have not been inflamed or in pain since we started. I have dealt with knee pain since my freshman year of high school. That was 24 years ago. It's nearly gone now. Seriously.

So did we cut out everything called for by the strictest of paleo plans? No. But we did change some things up. We do include dairy in our diet, but we drink organic pastured whole milk, aged cheeses and goat's milk yogurt and softer cheeses. We buy canned tuna, but only if it's canned in olive oil. Do we stick to it when we eat out? Mostly, but we'll go for a burger on a bun now and then, or pizza with regular crust. We might go out for frozen yogurt and go crazy with toppings! We do notice a difference in how we feel when we have the grains and breads, so it's nothing we do on a regular basis. Have we cut all sugars out? No, but we don't use white refined sugar! There are some incredible substitutions out there nowadays like granulated honey and coconut sugar, but you're going to pay more for them. We're okay with that because we know they are so much better than the over-processed stuff. I still use butter but it's grass fed Kerrygold brand butter (unsalted, from Trader Joe's) or organic butter, at least, and for other fat options there are oils like coconut and avocado, and of course olive oils. One thing to note is that when we do treat ourselves, especially when it comes to breads and pastas, we do…pay for it, shall we say. My knees may ache a bit and my tummy is less happy. This is why it's rare to do a wheat-laden treat. The treat has to be well worth the suffering.

More than a few people have asked "What do you eat all the time? Chicken and Kale?" Heck no! You all know I love experimenting and I've been lucky enough to know how to sub out nut flours for traditional whole wheat or a.p. flour, but when I hit a roadblock and am not sure how to sub something, or what ratio to use, the internet comes to my rescue with loads of paleo-friendly websites and recipes that have been well tested. It's definitely worth doing a little e-hunting to see what treasures you can find! And if you have specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to help you out. Baking has been my biggest challenge by far. I'm still learning what works and what doesn't, and accepted long ago that there's zero chance of paleo recipe tasting anything like a "traditional" recipe for cookies, cake, muffins. But different can be good. Very good!

If you decide to give paleo a try, get ready for a lot of prep work. It makes an incredible difference in your cooking and meal planning overall. I try to start the week prepping veggies for munching (peppers, carrots, celery) and hard-boiling a dozen eggs to go with our muffins for breakfast. You can roast a pot roast or turkey breast and cut it up for lunches. You'll want to make sure you are especially well stocked with things that you can grab-and-go, so the temptation for a quick easy bite out is one you can avoid. I'll include a list of my new favorite pantry items at the end of the post, to give you an idea of what we always keep around. I'm including my stock "recipe" as well since it is a wonderful, ridiculously easy thing to make yourself, and it's very easy to store right in your fridge and freezer! If you have stock at the ready, chop some veggies and throw in a handful of rice, boil it for 20 minutes or so and you have a wonderful, healthy homemade meal you can feel fabulous about eating!

One more thing about the specifics is that if you aren't a label reader now, you must become one if you go paleo. Because soy is not part of this diet and something we have, for the most part, kept out of our home for quite some time for a number of reasons, you will want to check everything from vegetable soup to mayonnaise to canned tuna. Mayo is a big culprit that I was surprised by. Vegetable oil is often soybean oil re-named. Same for vegetable broth in canned tuna. Again, it's all about research and knowing that there are amazing recipes to DIY your beloved mayo and homemade stocks and broths are ridiculously simple to make on your own. (If you're on it, Pinterest is a great resource and you can follow my "Paleo" board for well-tested recipes and recommendations! The link to my Pinterest page is here with the rest of the Swinging good links! at the top left of the page.

I want to share these couple of recipes with you all because whether or not you are eating like a caveman, so to speak, you and your family are sure to love them. I am also including some great breakfast ideas and make-ahead tips seriously helpful for any busy person or family! Enjoy!

Good Morning Muffins 
(Makes 12 muffins)
Oven at 350º

Whisk together:
2 cups almond flour
⅓ cup coconut flour
2 tbsp tapioca flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
2 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (can sub cinnamon) 
½ tsp sea salt

In another bowl, mix well:
⅓ cup Olive oil or melted coconut oil
1 large egg
1 ¼ cup unsweetened applesauce (can sub pumpkin puree)
⅔ cup coconut sugar or granulated honey

Incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet until mixed well. At this point, you can add a handful  of frozen blueberries, or dried cranberries/raisins/currants, and a handful of chopped pecans or walnuts.

Once everything is well mixed, scoop into prepared muffin tin (greased or lined with paper liners) and bake for 23-25 minutes until firm, test with a toothpick for doneness. Add another couple of minutes if needed. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container in the fridge. Heat up in the microwave for 30 seconds or so for a warm treat in the morning! Perfect with a hard-boiled egg and some goat's milk yogurt flavored with some raw honey or pure maple syrup and fresh fruit. 

Yogurt Marinated Chicken
Oven at 375º
Ready for the oven!

For the marinade, combine in a large bowl:
1 cup plain full fat yogurt
1 ½ tbsp Kashmiri Masala (can sub Garam Masala)
1 tbsp each: sea salt, smoked paprika, ground ginger
1 tsp each: white pepper, dried cilantro

add 10-12 boneless and skinless chicken thighs, making sure they're all coated well, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
Ready for the dinner table!

Bake on an over safe rack over a sheet pan for 20 minutes, turn chicken over and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until done (will depend on size of pieces, best cut to check) and serve with steamed or roasted, buttered veggies and basmati rice. NOTE: You can also use this marinade for bone-in chicken like legs, as I've shown in the pictures, but you'll need to increase your cooking time to 50-60 minutes total, still turning pieces halfway through cooking. 


Easy Stock

This will start with you freezing chicken bones, turkey bones, beef and hame bones. Decide on which stock you want to make and put the frozen bones into a large stock pot (8 quart or larger is best, with a lid that fits) I tend to throw the bones in freezer bags and usually use about 2 bags worth of bones for around 4-5 quarts of stock which is what this recipe would make. You can cut this down if you have less bones, or just make it more veggie rich by using less bones and these same quantities of veg.

Add to the pot the following:
4 large carrots, rough-chopped
8 celery ribs, rough-chopped
2 yellow onions quartered with peel on
8 garlic cloves, smashed with peel on

You can also throw in some tomatoes and bell peppers if you have some that need to be used up

Throw in some fresh herbs if you have them (parsley, basil, oregano, whatever you like)
season generously with sea salt, a few peppercorns

Fill with water making sure the bones and veggies are just covered. Put on high heat and bring to boil for a few minutes and then turn to medium-low heat, cover and let simmer for a couple of hours. Yes, hours. The flavors that will develop are incredible. If you do this with turkey bones from your Thanksgiving bird, the stock will taste "just like Thanksgiving soup" as my husband said. 

Once you've cooked it down for a few hours and you have that beautiful golden color developed, you'll want to strain the liquid off of all the bones and veggie pieces. I remove all the big pieces with a large slotted spoon and toss them, then strain with a ladle directly into clean freezer-safe jars with a small sieve right over the wide-mout jar opening. You can also put a large sieve over a smaller pot and strain into that, then ladle into jars, or freezer bags. Cool before freezing. Oh, and I don't skim the fat off of my stock, but you can do that, once it's cooled and separated, if you prefer. 

You can use this as you would any other stock or broth, in soups and stews, you can cook rice or potatoes in it. Just put your desired quantity in the fridge the day before you want to use it. Enjoy alone, too! Makes a wonderful cold and flu reliever, warms you on those frosty winter nights. It's just good! 

My Paleo Pantry and Fridge Additions:
(Remember, we do our best to have these at all times, but get as close as we can when we have budget restrictions or trouble locating a specific item)

Tuna canned in olive oil (Read those labels! Not all oil canned tuna is created equal! Skip any that list vegetable oil) 
Almond, coconut and tapioca flours
Coconut sugar
Canned coconut milk
Lots of eggs (we buy the 5-dozen package)
Organic whole milk
Goat's milk yogurt and/or Greek yogurt (not non-fat)
Uncured Bacon
Pastured and/or Organic Butter
Dried cranberries and banana chips (try to find with little or no added sugar if possible)
Extra dark chocolate
Pure maple syrup
Quinoa
GF Bread since it's never easy to give up toast and, for the man and our boy, sandwiches
GF Rice and nut crackers (perfect for lunches with roasted meat or tuna, and some aged cheese)
As always, tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, meats in the freezer, raw honey…

Main things we cut out:
Legumes (Beans and peanuts)
Grains (mainly wheat breads, pastas)
Processed/pre-pacakged foods (exceptions are made, but very carefully!)
Refined sugars
Canola/Vegetable oils
Soy anything

I hope you've enjoyed this little, crazy peek into what has been going on in my keen kitchen, and as soon as I get myself organized again, I will post more recipes and tips for staying on track. Most important things to remember are to start slow if you need to, and do a lot of research, experimentation with recipes and don't be afraid to try new things! I have a great chili recipe (actual chili, with no beans!) and a chocolate chip cookie recipe I look forward to sharing next time. Thanks for following along!

08 July 2013

No need to buy when you can DIY (Part 2)

Well, it's taken forever, and I still haven't gotten around to making my own ketchup, but I do have a few wonderful things to share with my few, but mighty, followers!

After doing a little research on the whole DIY ketchup experience, I honestly decided hold off because A) We don't use a lot of ketchup in our house so my Simply Heinz made with no HFCS lasts quite some time, and B) A lot of the recipes I checked out noted that the homemade ketchup may not last very long in the fridge, which makes sense as it's usually full of fresh ingredients and not riddled with preservatives. Same goes for the mayo, though we use a lot more mayo than ketchup in our household. I will still be giving that one a go very soon.

So what am I posting now then? Well, today is about the comfort food DIY goodies I've been trying to focus on lately. I was walking the condiment aisle in the grocery store grabbing things like Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, and grabbed a packet of the country's favorite ranch dressing powder mix. I was about to toss it into my cart, but I looked down and saw the other groceries I was picking up, like buttermilk, smoked paprika, onions, and greek yogurt. Now, I had made my own ranch dressing before and it was very well received by both husband and son, but it's another one of those little convenience things that we don't pick up too often, but when we do, we go the package route a lot of the time. There is zero reason for this! It's not only easier and less messy to make your own my way, but you can customize it, you control the salt content and it takes all of 5 minutes to make. Again, there is no reason to skip making your own wonderfully creamy, flavorful ranch dressing to go on salads, sandwiches, burgers, used as veggie and chip dip or mixed with sour cream to go on a bagel!

In addition to the dressing recipe, and there will be more of those to come as I explore vinaigrettes, I am going to share my new favorite discovery: The one-pot pasta dish! I found my first, one done with chicken, mushrooms, chard, etc. on Pinterest and decided to see what I could come up with for my own take. Similar to what we often do in a slow cooker, these types of complete meals can be done and on the table in 20-30 minutes.

There are very few people in the country who have never eaten Hamburger Helper. Am I right? Well, I never had until I was about 19, about the same time I first tasted Velveeta. Yikes. While it did have a strange appeal among the flavors that first bite, because it was oddly sweet and tasted like something that could survive an atomic explosion, after reading the label, I immediately understood why it was something we never ate in my childhood. But there again was that convenience factor, and whispering "I'm so darn easy, and I'm yummy once in a while, right? Come on. You know you want to take me home..." Sure, it is incredibly tempting to grab some box-o-meals walking those aisles, and that there is another reason to stick to shopping the perimeter of your grocery store and mostly stay out of the evil, creamy, sodium, processed food center. The worst thing about so many of the boxed meals is not just the extreme sodium level, it is the fact that so many of them are full of hidden sugars!

Yes, there are days in all our shopping and cooking lives when we just need something we can make quickly on the stove top, that is hearty and comforting and won't make the kitchen look like the aforementioned atomic explosion did in fact happen. So now, I give you my interpretation of the classic boxed meal, which is great served with a salad of fresh greens, tomato, cucumber, carrot, radish, any other veg you like and topped with what will be your new favorite creamy buttermilk ranch dressing!

One Pot Super Supper!

In a large sauce pan or stock pot, brown:
1 pound lean or extra lean ground turkey, seasoning with a few dashes of worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper

Once turkey is browned, do not drain. Add in:
1 pound pkg. short noodles of your choice (I used tri-color rotini, or spaghetti noodles broken in half
2 cans diced tomatoes with the liquid
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock (have another 1-2 cups on hand to add in case you need more liquid to finish the pasta to al dente)
1 tablespoon dry italian herb seasoning (or your favorite combination of rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley) 
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Bring everything to a boil and cover for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little more liquid as needed to ensure properly cooked pasta.

Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, you're done! That's it! And the best part is you can really customize this. Add a cup of diced cremini mushrooms, a couple handfuls of spinach or any of your family's favorite veggies! Add some fresh parmesan just before serving, and enjoy! Makes 4-6 servings. 

(Could also be a great camping meal!)

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

In a large mason jar, one that has a tight-fitting lid, combine:

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup light mayonnaise
2 dashes worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 level teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 level teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, dill
2-4 dashes of white wine vinegar, start with 2 and add more to taste

Put the lid on the jar, make sure it's tight, and shake what your mama gave you! 
For an extra fresh touch, take out the onion and garlic powders, and replace with one large clove of garlic, smashed, and a tablespoon of finely chopped scallions. Taste, and add salt or pepper as needed, and if you want a little spice, throw in a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce! 

For super ease, put all the dry ingredients together in small snack bags and all to milk, mayo and worcestershire when you're ready to make the dressing, or triple the dry ingredients, mix well in a small jar, and use about 2 tablespoons of the mix per batch. 

If you find your mix is a little too thick for dressing, you can add a bit of regular low-fat milk to thin for desired consistency. 

As always, I hope the loved ones you take time to feed enjoy these homemade classics as much as we do around my house! Back soon with some summer favorites, and my adventures in baking for those living gluten-free!

12 March 2013

Quickie Quinoa Dinner!

Not to worry, friends! The DIY condiment post is in the works, but must post tonight's dinner recipe now because I can't stop thinking about how wonderful it was, especially while eating with a table surrounded with family, and lots of laughter.

I've been looking at all the ways to use quinoa lately, and have noticed a lot of recipes for quinoa "mac and cheese" dishes. We love homemade mac and cheese in our house, but it's not something I make often due to the fat and carbohydrate content, so finding I could use quinoa and possibly achieve a great, healthy dish with all the goodness and comfort of the traditional baked pasta dish was wonderful news! Granted, I didn't really eliminate too much fat from this, but as the quinoa can create a sort of soft, creamy texture, the addition of excessive amounts of butter and cream were unnecessary. I looked at a lot of recipes and while some appeared very saucy and soupy, I decided to try for a creamy, cheesy, but not mushy, texture and was thrilled to accomplish exactly that. Better still, our entire meal which is perfect for MFM (Meat-free Mondays) was happily carnivore-approved! In addition to the quinoa mac, we enjoyed some sautéed red chard with garlic, salt and pepper, as well as roasted cauliflower.

Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Preheat oven to 350º

Bring to a gentle boil:
3 cups vegetable stock
and stir in
2 cups quinoa (found at any grocery store these days, and of course in the bulk foods at WinCo!)
Lower temperature to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed which takes about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and gently fold in:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (used medium cheddar tonight, but prefer sharp anytime)
1/4 cup cream 
1 large egg
1 tsp smoked paprika
a few dashes hot sauce
sea salt and pepper to taste

Pour mixture into greased 9x13 baking dish

Top with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and a light layer of bread crumbs, plain or seasoned, to give it a nice bit of texture in the form of a thin, crispy crust!

Bake for 25 minutes

This recipe can easily be made vegan using dairy-free subs for the cream, butter, etc. and the egg can be eliminated, but makes for a good binder so maybe an egg substitute can be used there. Another note on the recipe is that I kept it quite simple this time as it was a first go with the recipe, but in the future I will definitely try adding in some other cheeses and will very likely get some veggies in there as well. I'm thinking mushrooms! Feel free to mix in some diced bell peppers, jalapeño, spinach, broccoli, tomato, whatever your family's favorite veggies, they'll make the recipe your own!

If you haven't used quinoa before, it's a great thing to have around. Aside from being very healthful and affordable, it's incredibly versatile like rice or pasta. It's a high-protein grain, very easy to find, comes in a few varieties and has endless possibilities for preparation that will please any tastebuds!

Well, that's it for this spur of the moment post, but please enjoy this recipe! I know we did!

16 January 2013

No need to buy when you can DIY! (Part 1)

Hello friends! My, oh my. It has been quite some time since our last post! I won't bore you with the details of the crazy goings on the past 6 months, but it's good to be back in the start of a fresh, new year and I look forward to providing you a crazy good lot of information, recipes, new exciting ingredients and ways to brighten up your menus, your health, and your keen kitchens!


You've seen mentions of WinCo in previous posts, and I would like to focus on WinCo and other grocery stores like it, which make it possible for all of us to take charge of what we feed our loved ones by offering amazing selections of bulk items that we can turn into condiments, sauces, breakfast meals, we would normally purchase ready made.

What comes to mind when you think of "Buying in Bulk?" What is considered "bulk" shopping? Most of us think Costco, Sam's Club and other warehouse or big box stores. However, if you were fortunate enough to grow up near a WinCo (formerly known in many areas as Waremart) you have experienced the bounty of a true bulk-purchasing department that doesn't require a yearly membership, or the strength of ten men to unload your shopping cart at the end of your trip. To buy in bulk, for many, means purchasing large quantities of merchandise for (hopefully) lower prices. WinCo, a 100% employee-owned company, has mastered the art and ideals of the bulk-buying patron, without putting a vibe of "bigger is better" out there. It's not about buying the most of something. It's about only buying what you need in quantities individualized for you and the needs of those for whom you are cooking and baking.

When you walk into a store like WinCo, you will notice a few things right off the bat. First of all, you WILL want to grab a cart. Next, you'll enter what they call "The Wall of Values" which is a huge floor to giant ceiling aisle of specially priced goods that are priced at extra savings above and beyond the everyday price. Then, depending on the layout of your local store, you will discover along the way a wonderfully stocked produce department, though they are usually lacking in organics, as well as many aisles of canned and dry goods, snacks, a fully stocked deli, meat and seafood department, dairy and freezer departments, a lovely bakery which produces fabulous doughnuts and pastries. The crown jewel of these stores, though, normally sits in a back quarter of the store on one side or the other and as you approach you'll notice bins of candies, wrapped treats, a honey dispenser and peanut butter/almond butter grinder and you'll know you've arrived in Bulk Foods. As you walk through the 2, 3 or 4 small aisles of bulk foods with big bins at waist level and many more above, you'll find everything from nuts to chocolates to every kind of bean, lentil or grain you can dream of and then you get to the dry goods. Whether you are gluten-free, sugar-free, all about whole-wheat or just looking for traditional bread flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips or rainbow sprinkles, you needn't look any further. Does your family go through cereal as if it were air? Guess what? You will now come to cereal in a number of varieties, granolas as far as the eye can see. Is there a spice you've been curious about, but aren't quite ready to hit your local specialty shop yet? WinCo has your back. They make it possible to make, create, combine, experiment, blend, challenge, taste, explore not only with our handed down cookbooks and favorite recipe websites, but our own palettes and tastebuds. And we can do this in a way that won't destroy to grocery budget or make it so we're stuck with a load of something that isn't very enjoyable, or something that our family just isn't loving.

Now that you have a glimpse of why I so enjoy, and discuss, WinCo and all its glorious savings and selections, it's time to put some of those wonderful ingredients and discoveries to use!

There are a few things we eat almost every day, or at least every week in our home. We do a lot of nut butter, and almost every Sunday we have homemade waffles with warm syrup. Peanut butter is something, like syrup, that we as american shoppers tend to purchase quite often, especially with kids in the house, or if we're on a ramen and pb&j budget for whatever reason. We grab the cheapest jar, we toss that bottle of corn syrup laden "maple" goo into the basket, and that pancake and waffle mix is just so handy, we can't resist grabbing the box or bag there, also. With the recipes I'm going to share with you today for these items, recipes that can be enhanced in a number of ways, not only will you potentially save a little coin, you will know exactly what is in your food, and can feel wonderful about sharing these homemade, simple delights with your loved ones who deserve the very best. One of the greatest things about these recipes is that they take very little time, which is so important because the less time we have to spend preparing healthful, tasty foods, the more time we have to share them with the people we enjoy the most! Here goes...

Peanut Butter

In the bowl of a food processor (at least 7 cup, fitted with standard chopping blade):
4 cups unsalted roasted peanuts 
(OR any combination of peanuts, almonds, cashews making sure they're unsalted, preferably roasted)
1/2 cup shelled and salted sunflower seeds (yep, salted is okay here)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
** Amended this recipe since the past few times I've made this, I have not added oil. I just let the food processor run longer and the smooth texture is achieved with very little fussing! 

Start processing the nuts and salt, slowly drizzling in the oil through the lid while running. (Every processor is different so mine has the hole where the pusher piece sits in the tube. Yours might be different.) You will have to stop and scrape the sides and blade every couple of minutes, and this is a loud process for sure, just to be prepared. 

Once you've finished processing you have the option to customize your nut butter! You can, to the whole batch, stir in some melted chocolate, some cinnamon, or honey. Or you can split the batch and play with a few different things! Once your butters are finished, put them in airtight containers and keep in the fridge. Not sure how long they last since we go through about a pound a week in our house, but they should last quite a while. Now, my favorite thing aside from the awesome taste and texture of this nut butter is that unlike other natural peanut butters, there is no separation of oil! You ill not need to stir before spreading because the processor emulsifies the oil so it won't be drawn out letting the nuts settle. It's great!

Sunday Breakfast Syrup

In a medium sauce pan on medium heat:
1 packed cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
Dash of sea salt

That's it! Just whisk and simmer this mixture until it's reached your desired consistency, and if you like it a bit thinner, just add a touch more water at a time until it's just right for you. Now, obviously there's no maple in the recipe and that's because I'm not a maple fan at all, but again, you can customize! I've given you the base, but I also add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and a 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon to my own. So what else can you add? Play around! Try maple flavoring if you are a fan, or go for hazelnut, almond, chocolate, or even try orange oil or something a little more fresh and light. All you need to remember when adding these extracts is that a little goes a very long way, so start with just a couple of drops (yes, drops) and go from there. 

Store this syrup in a glass jar in your fridge and when it's time for breakfast, just put the jar in a bowl of hot water to warm it up (don't microwave!) and it's ready for waffles, pancakes, bacon or sausage dipping, or for anything where you'd normally use a store bought maple syrup.

Weekender Waffles 
(I make these in a classic round waffle iron (makes 6), this recipe wouldn't work for belgians, but can be used for pancakes!)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:
2 cups all purpose flour (whole wheat pastry or regular unbleached)
1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt 

Add to the whisked dry mixture:
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Fold the wet ingredients in, careful not to over-mix. Just fold and stir until wet and dry are incorporated.

And now we play! This is the point where you make the recipe your own again! You can add your choice of flavor extracts, crumbled bacon, a handful of blueberries, a teaspoon or two of lemon or orange zest, some ground cinnamon, mini chocolate chips, etc. You can even try mixing a little nut butter into your batter! I did this last weekend and it was fantastic, and the idea of my nearly 6 year-old!

To make your waffles, just follow the instructions on your waffle iron, or make pancakes with this batter, then top with a little homemade nut butter and some warm syrup for a wonderful weekend fueled by homemade goodness! To keep warm and toasty while your waffles are being made, place finished ones directly on the rack of a warm oven. I heat mine to 170º while I'm prepping. Also, if you have any leftover waffles, just store them layered with wax paper in a Tupperware round container, or freezer bag, and heat in the toaster for a quick breakfast during the week! (Amendment! Do not put vintage Tupperware in your freezer! Sadly, this container cracked in half and the lid into a few pieces, when I was closing it after getting out a waffle. I think it just became too rigid in the cold of the freezer.) 

Now, you have the tools to explore your local bulk foods department, find your closest WinCo and give your family a few staples that are made with love, the family's favorite flavors and created in your very own keen kitchen!

Be on the lookout for the next post which will focus on homemade condiments! No need to buy ketchup and mayo, when you can DIY!

11 July 2012

Veggielicious!

Hello, friends and followers! I know it's been a while. We've had a crazy "summer" around here! Between the rain that was fairly constant until July 4th, and catching up on lots of projects around home, my theatre group and much more, I haven't had a moment to provide you all with a new, fabulous post. For that, I do apologize! I'm hoping to get back on schedule with weekly posts, especially because Summer is such an amazing season for all things food, bountiful and rich with fresh and local ingredients, and my favorite sunny weather activity, outdoor cooking!

This post I want to concentrate on our scrumptious, delightful friends (with benefits!), fresh vegetables! We try to eat a vegetarian, if not completely vegan, meal in our home a few times a week. Why? Well, why not! We love veggies around our house, and to create a hearty, flavorful meal for my family that focuses on veggies, beans, grains is a great adventure. It can be challenging to find something that will satisfy the average meat and potatoes people in our lives, but as long as you can encourage everyone at your table to have an open mind, and be thankful that you are working so hard to create a wonderful, healthful meal to share with your loved ones, it's definitely worth the time and energy. We'll get to a couple of recipes in a moment, but first, some general notes on veggie preparation.

For the side...
My absolute favorite ways to prepare vegetables, if we're not just chowing down on them in the raw, are roasting and grilling. A few days ago I decided I finally need to try roasted cauliflower, and at the same time, realizes my son hadn't tried brussell sprouts yet, so I threw those in too! While summer isn't normally the optimal time of year for having the oven on to roast its contents as well as the entire house, the flavors that roasting can bring out are incredible, sweet, rich and come with great depth. As Washington didn't see a summer until last week, as previously mentioned, warm comfort food was in order, and in my eyes, that equals roasting. You can roast any and all veggies and as far as seasoning, I have found, the simpler the better.

My roasting method (may have already shared, so this can serve as a little refresher!)
1. Start by preheating your oven to 400, and get out a sheet pan or two, depending on how many veggies you're working with. You want to have a nice even layer and don't want to crowd the pan
2. Cube your veggies into about 1" cubes. With sprouts, I cut them in half, beets I usually quarter, or cut into 6 if they're a little bigger.
3. Drizzle your veggies with a light coating of olive oil, and then add whatever seasoning you would prefer. I always use fine sea salt and cracked black pepper, but also love to add smoked paprika, dry mustard, dill, lemon pepper, parsley, basil, etc. After the s&p go on, customize your seasonings however you'd like.
4. After drizzled and seasoned, toss with your most perfect kitchen tools, your hands, to make sure everything is coated, then make sure you have a nice even layer, and again, make sure you don't overcrowd your pan.
5.Roast for 20 minutes, take out pan and toss with tongs or a metal utensil of some kind, and return to the over for another 10-15 minuted depending on what you are roasting. Cauliflower, zucchini, sprouts, anything that has a softer texture, a higher water content will take less time. Carrots, beets, etc. might take closer to 40 minutes, but I like them with a bit of a bite, a little crunch left so 30-35 might do it. If you are roasting veggies for the first time, just take your time, watch the clock and experiment to find out what works for you for your desired texture and doneness level.

For another meal made with roasted veggies, great for cooler weather, put your cooled previously roasted veggies and some warm (not hot) vegetable stock, add until your desired soup consistency is reached, and always use low-sodium stock so you can more easily control the flavor and salt content) in a blender or food processor, and heat in a sauce pan for a few minutes to warm it through. As you can see, it's a beautiful soup, and perfect company to nice grilled sharp cheddar or mozzarella sandwich on some locally made, crusty sourdough bread! I reserved about a cup of my roasted veggies to add into the pureed mixture for some nice texture.

And now for the main event!
Here are two fantastic vegetarian recipes that can be entire meals on their own, or sit proudly beside a nice main dish of your favorite meat or seafood! I have been making the enchiladas for years and just love them, as do my husband, son and everyone else who's had them, thankfully! As for the corn salad/relish, in the past I've made a different version of this, made heartier or more meal-like with the addition of black beans, but as you'll se it here, it's a fantastic, light, refreshing side dish and would actually pair very nicely with the enchiladas! Enjoy!

Black Bean Enchiladas
Preheat oven to 350º
1 pkg of your favorite flour-based tortillas ( I use whole wheat soft taco size)
1 can (about 14 oz) favorite enchilada sauce (if you want them a little more wet, get 2 cans and use as much as you'd like)
3-4 cups Mexican cheese blend (cheddar, colby jack, or your favorite other cheese, finely grated)
1 sliced scallion (not included in what's listed below)
1 small can sliced olives, drained

Mix together:
2 cans low sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can corn, drained (or 1 cob roasted and cut off the core) 
1/3 red bell pepper, diced small
2 scallions finely sliced
1 big clove garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
A few dashes of each: Hot Sauce (your favorite brand), Smoked Paprika, Cumin, Fenugreek (if you have it) 
Pinch of each: Sea Salt and Pepper

In a 9x13 pan that you have greased with butter:
Pour just enough sauce on the bottom of the pan to coat it evenly, a thin coating. 
Start building your enchiladas by filling each tortilla with a couple tablespoons of the bean mixture, the a hearty sprinkling of the cheese. Roll and place seam side down in the pan and keep repeating that process until all are done. Once the pan is full, pour the remaining sauce over the entire pan of enchiladas, sprinkle more cheese all over the top along with the sliced scallions and olives. 

Cover pan with foil and bake for 20 minutes covered. Remove foil and bake for another 15 minutes until the top is golden and bubbly. Makes about 10 good sized enchiladas! 

Cilantro Corn Salad (pictured on the side of my cilantro citrus chicken, recipe to come in another post!)
3 ears roasted corn (*see below my indoor method when the grill isn't a possibility)
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced small 
3 scallions sliced thin
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco (if you can't find this in your local market, you can use Feta) 
Juice of half a lemon
3 tbsp olive oil (or grapeseed)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp dried cilantro (can use fresh if you have it, but I always keep dry around, too!) 
1 tsp fine sea salt 
pinch of smoked lava salt (if you have it, adds a wonderful smokey flavor!)

Cut corn off the cobs into a medium bowl, discard cobs.
Add all other ingredients and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours before serving, if possible, so all the flavors have time to marry and develop. Makes 6-8 servings! To make this a meal in and of itself, add a drained can of your favorite beans (or about 2 cups cooked), an handful grape tomatoes cut in half and serve with some crostini with roasted garlic and maybe a nice creamy brie! It's a perfect lunch on a warm, summer day!

(*To roast corn in your oven, shuck the husk and silks off the cobs, place cobs on 2 layers of foil big enough to wrap and seal around completely. Sprinkle with pinch of dried cilantro, pinch of sea salt and fold up the sides of the foil, then pour about 2 tablespoons water over the cobs. Wrap the foil around completely and seal up tight. Roast in a 400º oven for 15-20 minutes) 

We are so lucky to live in a land where the possibilities for veggies and alternative protiens are endless with the variety available in stores, open farmers markets and our own backyards. From simply grilling and roasting with simple seasonings, to putting any veggies you love into your slow cooker with some low-sodium vegetable stock, a lot of seasonings, maybe some beans for protein, or making some amazing "burgers" with quinoa, tofu, beans, nuts and mushrooms, the possibilities to get your family eating flavorful, hearty meat-free meals once or twice a week are endless. I will be doing a lot more experimenting with MFM (Meat Free Monday) meals this summer, and will post more recipes for you to share with your families.

A tip for your veggie, seafood and meat dishes alike: If you feel like your meal is lacking a little freshness, take a wedge of lemon or lime and squeeze a little fresh juice onto whatever you're serving. The little bit of acid will give a great lightness to just about any dish, and will brighten up the other flavors in your food!

If you have any questions about veggie prep, how to buy, where to buy, etc. please feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll get right back to you!

Now... go get your VEG on!
See you next time!

26 May 2012

Adventures in flavor!

Happy Springtime, Friends! I hope our sunnier days and blooming blossoms find you well!

Like many of your children, my son is wrapping his school year (Pre-K) and we've been so fortunate to spend this time at an amazing cooperative preschool. What an adventurous experience it has been for our entire family! We have made some life long friends and gotten to know some truly sensational children. Among other fascinating things the class got to do, Miss Marilyn, our lovely and incredibly dedicated teacher, conducted imaginary trips to far off lands! We traveled to Australia, Asia, Mexico, Arabia, England and France (my favorites!) and most recently South America.

Not only did these wonderful adventure-and activity-filled days make a huge impression on all the great kids in our class while we learned about the cultures of these beautiful places, we had a very special snack time where we explored the "local" cuisine! By doing so, these kids have been so lucky to be exposed to some very interesting and unusual (at least for 4-5 year olds) foods!

Most recently on our trip to South America I signed up to bring something made with Rice, Quinoa or another type of grain. I decided to look for a dessert recipe authentic to Columbia, Brazil or thereabouts. Soon after my search began, I discovered Arroz con Leche! It is basically a very sweet version of Rice Pudding made with milk, sweetened condensed milk and cinnamon. I decided to mix it up a bit and add extra cinnamon and orange zest for some freshness, and also chose to cut a lot of the sweetness. I was really happy with my changes, and it was a hit on our South American adventure, along with papaya and mango (both fresh and dried), jicama, Brigadeiro (Brazilian chocolate bon bons rolled in sprinkles!). By presenting these kids with such a great variety of treats and eats, they have all become more open minded and have, at the very least, tasted, and in some cases really enjoyed, a few new foods that we are so lucky find in our wide array of local cultural market places.

These trips and experiences made our Pre-K school time so much more full and educational, but there is no reason we can't continue these special days at home for years to come! There is a whole wide world to explore, not only through food, but through clothing, climate, ecology and beyond! Take time with your family, whether you have young children, teens, or are kid-free to explore our world. There's no better place to start than your own keen kitchen! And in the meantime, while you are playing travel agent, give this recipe a try! Enjoy your explorations, and don't be afraid to try something new yourself! You just might find a new favorite food...


Courtney’s Coconut Cinnamon Rice Pudding
1 1/4 cup long-grain white rice, washed 
4 cinnamon sticks
2  cups water
2 1/2 cups milk
Pinch salt
2 tablespoon butter
1 1⁄2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 (about 13.5-14 oz) can coconut milk
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons orange zest
DIRECTIONS
1. In a large saucepan, add water and cinnamon sticks, bring to a boil and cook for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon sticks.
2. Add the rice and to the water and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. 
3. Add salt, butter, vanilla extract, 2  1/2 cups milk. Stir well to mix and cook uncovered for approximately 15 minutes.
4. Reduce heat to medium low. Add the coconut milk and condensed milk. Stir frequently while cooking for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the rice pudding thickens to desire consistency and rice is cooked completely. If the pudding seems to be too thick before the rice is fully cooked through to your desired consistency, add another 1/2 to 1 cup milk or coconut milk until desired texture and thickness is reached. 
5. Stir in the ground cinnamon and orange zest, and let it cool at room temperature. The consistency should be very creamy. Refrigerate for a least 2 hours or overnight. If you wish the pudding a bit sweeter, add 1/4 cup of honey or agave nectar. Serve cold or at room temp.