Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Revising recipes for healthier options.

In my quest to eat less meat in any given week, I've been spending my time wallowing over all my old, go-to  recipes hoping I can revise them without losing the flavor and texture of the original meat-loving counterpart.

Lately, my favorite cooking method is braising. I absolutely love the idea of slowly cooking things in liquid like stocks, cooking wines and well-seasoned water. The outcome makes any home cook feel like a rock star.

Braising mushrooms, onion and garlic in red wine.
One dish I particularly enjoy is Baked Ziti. My original version starts with searing a nice, Angus beef with oil, garlic, salt and pepper in a hot dutch oven. Next, I open a nice, dry red wine - take a huge gulp from it - and proceed to pour it over the beef until completely covered; I bring it to a boil before covering it and cooking on medium. I leave it this way for 2-3 hours until the beef is as tender as can be. This is incredibly flavorful beef, but I thought I could revise the recipe for not only a more heart-healthier version but an Eco-friendly one as well.

The Baked Ziti before it hits the oven.
It's no secret that mushrooms provide a similar texture as beef when cooking vegetarian meals so I opted to replace the beef with miniature portobello and crimini mushrooms. I sliced them up and sauteed them with garlic before adding the red wine. Once cooked down - 2 hours minimum, I added one onion, sliced; a large can of unsalted whole, peeled tomatoes I pureed in the food processor and cooked another 45 minutes. While the mushroom sauce continues to cook, I boiled my water for the whole wheat penne pasta and cooked until al la dente or firm - but not too soft. I combined the pasta and braised mushrooms and sprinkled the top with mozzarella and a sharp white cheddar and baked at 350 for 25 minutes.

The outcome was as delicious as its meatier version and a full-prove method of taste and flavor is if I can convert my husband to a meatless dish and he was sold on this new Baked Ziti recipe!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Wednesday Gathering.

It's a summer past time for my little family in Seattle: the Wallingford Farmer's Market every Wednesday. It starts in May and doesn't let up until the latter part of September and it's the best farmer's market we go to because it's small, quaint and, what seems to me, the most authentic gathering place for folks young and old. Life doesn't get any better than this and in a time when there's so much depression and recession, this helps remind me of the simple joys.
Nestled in a grassy field and surrounded by trees, this farmer's market is easy to move through because of its size and space between rows of white-topped tents. The market provokes all the senses: folk music bellowing from the trees, kids shrieking with laughter from the big, adjacent park and folks milling around each vendor picking up the harvest-of-the-week. The smell of vegetable quesadillas grilling on a stove and the grass-fed burgers smoking on the grill fills the air. It's an American past time. It's our past time and nothing brings together friends on a regular basis than a good afternoon at the market. 
Each Wednesday is a day to look forward to, not only because it's a chance to pick up some good produce, but because of the friends we meet up with. We chat, laugh, occasionally sneak in a beer and watch the kids run around the park. We wait in line for a quesadilla or a burger - worth every $8.00 spent - and gather up a peach or two to eat on the spot. We take our time watching the cooking demonstrations and hover over the dreamy, homemade Whidbey Island Ice Cream Company's hand dipped ice cream bars in a list of flavors like lavender, chocolate fudge, cardamom (my personal favorite) and Mukilteo Espresso.

But, beyond the food available, the market is a fun place to bring out-of-town guests or a great meet-up spot for the kids and their friends. There's great space for games like the old school Trac Ball, Frisbee or, if in the daring mood, trying your hand on a balance rope. This day never lets us down and before you realize it, you've created this thing called community using the simplest of jesters; food, friends and long summer days.

This Wednesday, September 26, is the last day for the year. If you're that way - at 50th and Meridian - between 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., join us to bid our farewell to the sweetest of markets and the laziest of summer Wednesdays.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Wholesome Baby Foods.

This is our newest addition. His name is Lukas or "Lu" for short. He's six-months-old and the smiliest little thing you'll ever meet. I wish I could say it was always like this, but we had a rough start when he developed a little thing called colic. After a few dozen tears (on my part) we got through it with flying colors and his charming personality shined through.

It's funny how quickly you move on from those tough times with a newborn. It's like it never happened and now the fun begins. He is a breast fed baby - which I'm happy to say has not only gave him a nice nutritional start, but also saved us A LOT of money. Recently, we started introducing solids after a recent trip to Idaho visiting my sister. We are a bossy bunch and she demanded to be around for some of his 'firsts' which included starting him on solid foods. (And this she says after being there when he was born; I would say that was some first!) So we steamed some of his 'first' carrots - added some unsalted butter - and watched him go to town. It was like he had been eating this stuff his whole life. (Yes, all six-months of it!)

I don't like to rush my kid's little lives, but I have to admit I was anticipating this stage because, with my first son, I loved preparing his food and being very specific about what he ate. It was always a family joke about my obsessive ways and the many kidney beans I gave him to snack on. "Kidney beans?" My brother would ask, convinced I was ridiculous. I was a little, but it gave me complete satisfaction to methodically prepare his food and I was really looking forward to doing it again.

The best thing about making your own baby food - besides saving you tons of money - is the fact you know exactly what you're giving them. I like choosing fresh foods and, although I don't always buy organic for my family, I do for my baby. Somewhere down the road later, much later, they'll want their candy fix and some french fries - but right now it's a time for wholesome baby foods.
Steamed, organic carrots.
Freshly pureed carrots.
Adding unsalted butter to carrots - actually makes them more nutritious.

Steamed peas ready for a spin.
Homemade baby food recipes are so ridiculously easy. It's a cinch to make enough food ahead of time to store in the refrigerator. I don't spend the time freezing mine for future use, because I make small enough batches. (I think I just like the whole process of preparing the food - so I don't mind making new batches twice weekly.) If this isn't your style, and you would rather make several weeks worth in advance, I'd definitely recommend freezing your homemade baby food.

Now the fun part: exploring homemade baby food. It's a fun process and the opportunities are endless. These could be the easiest and quickest recipes I write, so lets get started. Here are some tried and true wholesome recipes you'll have success with. These are "firsts" for baby when introducing them to solids; down the road you can add some fun stuff like wild salmon, organic chicken and legumes.

Note: you can add rice cereal to any recipe with baby's preferred milk. You can also have fun combining the recipes below for a variation like peas/carrots, avocado/carrot, apples/pears, etc..)

(Adding butter to the carrots actually adds nutritional value because it allows the beta-carotene in the carrot to be absorbed.)

Organic carrots
Unsalted, high-quality butter

Peel carrots and place in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft and place in food processor or blender. Add a dollop of unsalted butter and blend until soft; add carrot water to thin puree.

(varieties are just as nutritious as fresh.)

Bag of frozen, organic peas

Place peas in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.


Peel and cut in cubes and place in a steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.

(Note: broccoli loses half of its vitamin C content when boiled; it pays to steam it.)

Place in steamer over boiling water; steam until soft, add some reserved water or baby's preferred milk and blend each until smooth.

(No need to make in advance, these are dandy no-cook, nutritional options.)

Half, ripe banana (or avocado or papaya)
Baby's preferred milk

Smash banana in bowl until smooth; add baby's preferred milk to thin.

(The best part of making this highly nutritional seed is you can add any above fruit or veggie for added flavor.)


Cook as directed on package. Blend in food processor until smooth. (Now would be the time to add banana, steamed apples, carrots, etc...)

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Did you know Spiderman cooks?

My little Spiderman is an avid cook. He's got the spatula and apron to prove it! I love his enthusiasm as he embraces the hand mixer, the licking and, ultimately, the dipping of his licked fingers back in the batter. Nothing makes me more happy.

This kid knows his way around a kitchen and in honor of his cooking, I'd like to share some old video of him doing his thing.

Disclaimer: Although it may look like he is in danger from stirring hot, sizzling bacon, using a hand-held mixer or hovering over a hot, gas stove - you will be relieved to know he was not in any danger what-so-ever and had plenty of adult supervision. Whew.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Salad-dressing snob.

A nice and simple four-ingredient 1000 Island.
I think of myself as a fairly low-key gal. I'm not uptight about much and I tend to go with the flow with most things. However, I have been known to be an outspoken advocate about a handful of things - and homemade salad dressing is one of them.

Ah, salad. Such a versatile dish. The options are endless and the ingredients can vary. In my opinion, one of the most important things going on a salad is the dressing. Hands down. You hear it all the time how a dressing can make or break your salad in the calorie and fat content world. But I don't care about that. (Well, maybe I do a little - I do have to set SOME limits to keep this figure of mine - cough, cough, wink, wink.) What I care about is flavor, fresh ingredients and my favorite of all - the word homemade. If you were to open my refrigerator, you won't find a store-bought dressing. I am a snob; an aficionado of salad dressings - a salad-dressing extraordinaire. And I'm not afraid to show it - or flaunt it.

I honestly don't remember a time growing up when we ate salad dressing out of a bottle. Maybe I suppressed the memory because of my dislike for it, I can't say for sure. But it is a fond memory having my grandma's renowned Blue Cheese dressing and a "house" dressing my parents used in their restaurant with a base of sour cream and garlic. As I grew older and my palette became more sophisticated, I started messing around with my own homemade dressings: vinaigrette's, flavorful ranches and Caesar dressings.

There are many reasons I became a snob. First and foremost, store-bought dressings don't taste good. Subtle is key and here's a brief list on why I don't think store dressings cut the cake:
  • Too much vinegar
  • Too much sugar
  • Too much oil
  • Too many ingredients I can't pronounce
The key with homemade dressing is to tweak to your liking. For instance, my fav dressing perfect for a spinach salad calls for more sugar than I like, so I cut it from 1/2 cup to 1/4 cup and the flavor is right on. I encourage a dressing a week which, in turn, increases your salad and vegetable intake. Because, seriously, who really likes to eat boring vegetables without anything fun to dip it in. (Take that raw food eaters!)

Now for the good part: recipes from my own kitchen that frequent our weekly rotation.

(Perfect for just about any salad - or vegetable dip.)

3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup mayo
1 tsp lemon juice
1/4 small onion, grated
1 tsp fresh chives
1/2 tsp dill
1 tsp Italian parsley
Salt to taste

Stir in first three ingredients until smooth; add herbs and salt. Refrigerate.

(This is a staple and a great base for any dressing. Change up the vinegars for extra flare.)

Olive oil
Dijon mustard
Red wine vinegar
Minced garlic

We've all heard of Warm Bacon Dressing, but this is a sweet dressing perfect for your fresh spinach salad this summer.

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar (this is where you can add more if you like - or less)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Dry toast sesame seeds until brown. Cool. Combine all ingredients and shake in a jar. Add to spinach, sliced mushrooms, red onion, hard-boiled egg and butter-toasted almonds. Seriously, delicious.

(Thanks to my friend's mom who owns Mimi's Cafe in Halfway, Oregon)

2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup white vinegar
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp dill weed
1 1/2 tsp salt
Pinch of pepper
1 cup tofu (Silken)
2 cup feta
3 cups buttermilk

Combine ingredients into a food processor except buttermilk. Blend for one minute. Running processor slowly, pour in buttermilk. As soon as dressing thickens, turn off and refrigerate.

(Serve with grilled kale or grilled romaine - or just toss with romaine for a traditional Caesar salad. Don't forget homemade croutons: bread cubes tossed with olive oil, herbs and S&P and bake at 350 for 10 minutes!)

6 tbsp each mayo and olive oil
1/4 cup each Dijon mustard and grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 tsp Worcestershire
3 Garlic cloves, minced
4-6 anchovy fillets, minced

Whisk together ingredients and add 1/4 cup water.

1000 Island

Equal parts mayo and ketchup
Dill pickles, minced
Dash Worcestershire

Combine and refrigerate.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Eco-egg dying.

After feeling a little worse for wear this week when my 4-year-old son busted out his front teeth following a downhill face-plant at the zoo, we (or rather me) decided we needed some cheering up. In lieu of babying him until his face hurt again, I decided we would color eggs, instead, using foods rather than chemical dyes. These Eco-egg dyes were a fun alternative to the store-bought ones and more interesting to prepare.

First, we gathered up all our special ingredients including red cabbage, canned beets, yellow onion skins, grape juice and vinegar. The beets (pink) and the grape juice (purple) required no cooking and were the easiest to put together - although they were the best things to eat and both Elias and I ate beets and drank grape juice after putting what we needed into our bowls.
Onion skins ready for water and vinegar.

Elias separating the cabbage leaves.
Next was to peel the skins off the onions and put into a saucepan. We added water and vinegar and let it cook for about 45 minutes. In another saucepan, we cut a purple cabbage in half and separated each piece. This was Elias' favorite part because it was like undoing a puzzle. We added all the cabbage, water and vinegar and cooked it for about 45 minutes.
Straining onion skins.

The eggs marinating in the beet juice.
After cooking, we strained the juice and cooled it down. Once cooled, we started adding eggs into our natural concoction to start the coloring of the pretty, white eggs. We dumped the eggs semi-equally into our mismatched bowls and kept them soaking for what only needed to be a half hour - but we decided to keep them in throughout the afternoon.

Right to left: cabbage, onion skin, grape juice, coffee grounds, misc and beets.
What we found was the purple cabbage and yellow onion skins produced the deepest colors. The beet produced the lightest and the grape juice was somewhere in between. We even messed around with coffee grounds, but they didn't turn brown. (We used recycled coffee grounds - we're thinking next time using fresh coffee grounds and maybe boil it.) Also, the longer we let them soak didn't necessarily make them sharper colors. In fact, the dyes seemed to dissipate and the eggs would barely color.

Eating the leftover beets.

Enjoying the "grape juice dye."
We've got some good ideas for next time: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and spinach. We'll keep you posted on our findings.

Here's the gist - we cooked and soaked them longer...
  • PINK: 1 cup beet juice, 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar; combine in bowl
  • PURPLE: 1 cup grape juice, 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar; combine
  • ORANGE: Onion skins peeled from two yellow onions, 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar; combine in sauce pan and boil for 1/2 hour. Strain and cool.
  • BLUE: Half red cabbage, leaves separated (my son's favorite part - taking apart a puzzle), 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar; combine in sauce pan and boil for 1/2 hour. Strain and cool.
  • BROWN: Coffee grounds (pre-steeped), 2 cups water and 1 tablespoon vinegar; boil and cool.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Garden of (Un)Eaten.

This boring yard needs a pick-me-up.
I'm looking out in my yard and wondering where the winter went. It's a drab mess and I'm lacking the motivation and inspiration to pull it together. Maybe it's the fast pace I've felt my axis spin on since Fall. Or, maybe it's the new baby in our lives and things just got away from us. At any rate, things aren't looking so good outside my house right now and I'm hoping one, sunny weekend will bring it all back around.

"Where do we begin?" is a question I ask myself every year. By now, we're typically weeks into our indoor seed gardening; we'd probably have an inch or two of darling, green seedlings of Heirloom tomatoes - maybe even a little lettuce. But, not this year. This year we have no excuses, except a bunch of excuses. It makes no sense - but here we sit.

It's not easy mustering up some motivation. Especially when it all seems unbearable and overwhelming. I know myself all too well - when the going gets tough, I go sit back down. But I, also, know what I need to do to get the ball rolling and jump start some ambition:

A whole lot of weeding needs to go on here.
First things first: sun. I need just one sunny weekend and my yard (and my attitude) will change its tune. Seriously, in Seattle, that's a major thing! I can't complain, though, we've had a pretty decent winter - even if I spent three weeks of it in sunny Tucson and it happened to be right smack in the middle of the big "Seattle Snowmageddon," so who am I kidding. But as of right now it's pouring down rain and the forecast says to expect it for days...

Next, it's bringing in some fresh, black compost to spread over the beds. Man, does this make a big difference to those lazy beds. It sharpens and brightens the vibe of the area and I like that. That color of black will, ironically, brighten the garden more than any one thing - plus, it will enhance the growth of the seeds and plants more than anything.

Finally - and perhaps most important of all, I need to gather some motivation. All it takes is one glimpse in my memory of last year's crop and a quick dig in the dirt and I'm sold. Sign me up! I'm ready to sing some Kumbaya My Lord. Give my hands a little run through some cold dirt and it's all over.

I know this state of affairs won't last all spring. I'm hopeful things will come around. Soon enough I know I'll be bragging about the abundance of our garden. But, until then, I need a little push: sun, fresh compost and motivation!