Thursday, December 27, 2012

Don't call it a comeback.

Even though this blog has been dark for some time, I promise that plenty has been cooking in Kenzo!  We finalized the purchase of the vacant house next door and we're working with an architect to draw up plans.  The fun surprise in all of this was that we purchased the entire block-to-block lot, which actually has two buildings - the house and a rear building, which is hopefully going to be turned into a cool modern work space for both me and the husband.  The not-so-fun surprise was a zoning issue that we have to get settled before financing can be obtained.  More to come on that.

In other news, I've dropped about 30 lbs, mostly due to an insulin resistance diagnosis which led to medication that has finally righted metabolic issues that have plagued me since high school.  Two other big factors have been my move into paleo eating and the establishment of a semi-regular yoga practice.  There is still a lot of cooking going on in our little crappy kitchen.  It's just mostly centered around meat and fresh veggies.  I'm hoping to bring you regular posts about my adventures, especially as I attempt to stay paleo while also streamlining our dinner making process so that we can eat dinner with the kiddo as many nights per week as possible.

December has been a rough month for staying on track with the whole paleo thing.  So many temptations and stresses.  So for my newest post, I am putting into writing my plan for the first 30 days of 2013, to get myself back in the groove of clean eating and regular exercise.  Don't call it a resolution, please.  We all know how those go.  I might keep this going long after January, but I'm trying to set a realistic goal that is still of a long enough duration that I'll be able to see results that might motivate me to continue.

Laura's First 30 Days of 2013

  • Eating - We're going full-throttle Paleo, people.  With a Whole30 to end all Whole30s.  I've done two of these in the past, but they've never been 100% perfect.  This time, it's on. New Year's Day = kitchen purge and restock.
  • Exercise - I'm taking on a "30 yoga sessions in 30 days" challenge.  But wait, you say, Who has money for 30 days at a yoga studio?  Not me, grasshoppers.  So I'm joining  You pay $18/month for unlimited access to online classes.  They even have mini tutorials for specific poses, which is something I was worried about since I'm still relatively new to the practice.  I have a bit of work travel in January, so it'll be awesome to to be able to take my laptop and just yoga my butt off in my hotel room.  I'll also be taking live classes at a Bikram (hot yoga) studio here in Philly and might try to hit the gym a couple times per week, too, for some weights and light cardio.
  • Sleep - This is a big one.  I've noticed that my weight loss stalls during the times that I'm most busy at work, which means I'm on the laptop after Charlie is in bed and I work until midnight, then get up at 5 am.  So my goal for January is to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.  That seems to be my minimum set point for optimum mental health and bodily function.  If it means I DVR Top Chef and watch it later, so be it.
  • Mental health - Yogaglo also has some meditation classes.  I'm thinking of trying them.  Between weight loss stress, work stress, house-building stress, and the regular family stress we all endure, I just need an outlet.  Lately, it's been the occasional cigarette and that needs to stop RIGHT. NOW.  So meditation it is.  Say om, y'all.
What do you plan to do in the first 30 days of 2013?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hey, there I am!  Chillin' on the beach in Cape May where I spent the last week with the family.  Oh, and that's also me at 14 lbs lighter than I was on July 1.  Booyah Whole 30, BOO-FREAKIN'-YAH.  I do have to make two confessions, though:

1) I can't credit all of this to Whole30.  About a week into this process, I finally had an appointment (after a six month wait) with a primary physician who specializes in Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, a condition I've had since high school.  You can consult Dr. Google for more details but the long and short of it is that I have a hormonal imbalance that messes with my ability to process insulin which leads to all sorts of issues including weight gain and ovaries that don't work quite right.  Most physicians, even OBGYNs, are less than knowledgeable about this issue and I'd lost almost all hope that I could find someone who would really help me proactively attack this.  Imagine my surprise when this doc instantly diagnosed my insulin resistance, prescribed me the medication I KNEW would help me, and even freaked out in a good way about the fact that I was already knowledgeable about paleo.  She actually recommends this way of eating to her PCOS patients.  So I'm fairly certain that the meds are helping because now I'm processing food like a normal person, but I like to see the meds and Whole30 as a dynamic duo of healthy weight loss ass-kicking.

2) Technically, my Whole30 ended at aWhole23 or so because I had a couple treats while on vacation and the official rules say that you have to start over if you have even a morsel of no-no food.  Four alcoholic drinks and two ice creams in the entire week aren't that bad, but still, the rules are the rules.  Anyway, the Whole9 crew is having an official Whole30 starting August 1, so I'm doing my best to tow the line until it's officially business time on Wednesday.

So even though this wasn't a pristine month of eating, I have to say I've learned a lot. First, coconut milk makes everything okay. I had it in my coffee (stir often, my friends), poured it over fruit and coconut flakes on the rare occasions where I craved dessert, and made lots and lots and lots of red curries with whatever leftover protein I had on hand and bunches of chopped veggies. Secondly, almost everyone I know seems to have taken my eating changes very personally. Why?  I have no idea, but they did.  I've actually given up on explaining it to people and instead have opted to just straight up lie and say I'm doing this to fight allergies or stomach issues (a partial truth).  Whenever I try to outline it any other way, people seem to explode into these furies where the food pyramid is trotted out as if I've never seen it before and I'm told about all of the circa-1980 starvation diet plans that I should try instead.  And lastly, I really do love to cook and enjoy food, which I can still do even if I make the Whole30 into the WholeRestofMyLifeWithaFewTreatsHereandThere.  And I can finally enjoy food without feeling guilty.  As long I ignore the whole grain-loving Scarsdale diet pushers out there, of course.

No recipes of my own today, but we tonight we had a beautiful piece of sirloin topped with this roasted garlic schmear from Symon's Suppers on the Cooking Channel.  It was amazeballs.  TRY. IT.

Also, after a week at the beach, my new (or re-newed?) obsession is with sea scallops.  No fancy recipe needed for these. Just get a 1/2 lb or so, heat up some butter or oil on medium heat, lightly salt and pepper those babies, and then cook for about 7 minutes on each side.  Only buy them if you know they are super fresh because the taste will be best that way.  The key is to keep the heat at medium and take your time.

I could have totally turned that last line into some sort of cheesy metaphor for eating clean and losing weight but I'd never do that to you.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Whole30 has come to roost

I totally owe you big time for reading this poor excuse for a blog considering how bad I've been about posting.  So far this summer, I've frozen or canned 20 lbs of asparagus, 8 quarts of strawberries and 12 pints of blueberries, 1/2 bushel of pickling cucumbers, and 1/2 bushel of peaches (yay, peach pickles!!!).

But the big news is that I'm on Day 6 of the Whole30 eating plan.  My grain-free wagon became seriously unhitched about a month ago when my mother-in-law passed away.  I was just trying to keep us all fed and make sure my husband could be wherever he needed to be for his family.  It meant lots of crap meals on the road, and a good deal of late night trips for ice cream as we sat on the couch and felt sad about losing her.  Whole30 is a cold turkey take-it-back-to-basics challenge that goes even further than I'd imagined I'd go - it eliminates dairy (including my beloved - cheese), all sugar, legumes, grains, and anything artificial or "unpronounceable."  It's like a huge reset button - which my bloated, crampy, unhappy gut really needed.

I already feel better, physically and mentally, even though I've suffered a bit of carb withdrawal.  I was ready to make my tasty crockpot pulled pork this evening when I learned that liquid smoke is not Whole30-compliant.  I know that this is a tragedy so don't even go there, ok?  Like, for real.  Anyway, I looked at our recently harvested herbs from the back yard garden and came up with a plan.  The recipe is below.

Oh also, we bought the piece-of-shit vacant house next door and we're going to gut it, renovate it, add a floor, move in to it, and rent our current house.  And we just found out that when we bought that house, we might have also bought the building behind it, which means I am not longer just a Kenzo Cook.  I'm also a Kenzo Land Baron.  

I'm trying to figure out if this blog is the right place to post about the house.  Should I start a new blog?  Should I reconfigure this blog to meet the needs of both projects?  Tell me, dear readers, tell me!

And for the two of you who are still reading this garbage bag of a post, here's that recipe: 

Mustard-slathered, herb-encrusted, slow-cooker pork

If you are doing this as a Whole30 meal remember to get a compassionately-raised pork shoulder or at the very least trim as much of the fat as you can off of a conventionally-raised one.  Also, make sure your chicken broth isWhole30 compliant (no sugar)!

2-3 lb pork shoulder
1/2 cup grainy mustard
1/2 cup of dijon mustard
2-3 cups of mixed FRESH herbs, finely chopped (I used basil, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano from our herb garden)
1/2 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

- Cut the shoulder up into 5 or 6 hunks.
- Mix the two mustards together and slather it on to all sides of each hunk.
- Press generous amounts of the herbs into all sides of each piece.  
- Salt and pepper each hunk.  As each piece is finished, place it in the crock.
- Pour in chicken broth.
- Cook for 10-12 hours on low.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where were we?

Shortly after this was taken, they were turned over to combat the dreaded "float."

I would first like to sing the praises of both my husband and the variety of quality playgrounds in Philadelphia which made this morning possible.  It's about 11 am and my small batch of strawberry jam is processing individually in an asparagus steamer on the stove top.  (More on that later.)  But here's what else I managed to accomplish today:

  • Baked three salmon filets (for the kid - who loves salmon - or salads during the early part of the week)
  • Roasted a bunch of beets (to make this tonight)
  • Roasted a bunch of carrots (again, for the kid)
  • Dealt with those 20 lbs of asparagus - I considered a combination of pickling, canning, and freezing but ended up just freezing all of it in 1 lb batches.  It actually ends up being about 11 lbs worth once you trim off all the ends.  I blanched for 2 minutes and plunged into an ice bath before draining well and putting into bags.  I'm in the market for a vacuum sealer for future projects like this one, but hooray for asparagus throughout the winter!
  • Packaged and froze all but one quart of the 8 quarts of strawberries from yesterday.  I trimmed and washed all of them last night and laid them out in single layers on baking sheets and in large plastic containers.  Then I put them in the freezer overnight.  This morning I just needed a tiny bit of elbow grease with a spatula to lift them up and freeze in quart batches.  This is a good measurement for batches of jam or baking, so I went with that.
Tired yet?  I am.

And then there's the jam.  I saw Pomona's Universal Pectin in the canning supply closet at Greensgrow, while I was picking up the produce haul yesterday. I wasn't thinking of making jam, but Pomona's is made for use in low-sugar recipes, so that was enough to tempt me.  I was happy to use one quarter the amount of sugar I usually use for jam and a quick taste of the mixture revealed that it was still sweet and delicious.  I took a tip from my favorite local canning guru and bought an asparagus steamer a while ago, but was waiting to use it.  Even though I have to process one jar at a time, it was way easier than hauling the camping stove outside, hooking up the propane and standing out in the heat while jars process.  Man, I can't wait until we have a kitchen with a gas stove and burners and stuff. The camp stove will make an appearance during tomato season!

So that was my morning.  I fully plan to put the kid down for a nap and do nothing but watch Real Housewives reruns, just in case you thought I was going to go make a dozen quiches or something.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

I'm back...back in a Kenzo grooooove.

What does one do with 20 lbs of asparagus and a flat of strawberries?  Well, my sweets, you'll have to keep an eye on this spot to find out.

Truth be told, I had one foot out of Kenzo for the last couple months, as a job offer came my way that seemed too good to be true...and then turned out to be just that.  I wasn't sure how long we'd be here.  I wasn't sure if Cooking in Kenzo would survive the summer.  Cooking in Suburban New Jersey just doesn't have the same ring to it. 

But we're not leaving!  At least not for now.  We've closed on the vacant house next door, which will yield endless posts with cheesy titles like "A House Grows in Kenzo."  Now that the kiddo isn't attached to me at the nipple, we're growing veggies in the yard, got a full CSA share, and I'm buying local produce (like that in the pic above) to get back to some canning and freezing.  I might even go really nuts and start knitting again! 

I probably should have gotten my knives sharpened before I bought all that produce...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The obligatory bad blogger post...

I'm too afraid to do the math and figure out how long it's been since I posted.  April - June is a crazy time for fundraisers, with the fiscal year and all, so our dinner planning has taken a real turn for the boring.  I've managed to keep our dinners, and most of our lunches, grain-free.  But breakfast has been hard because I've eaten it on the road as I rush to meetings, end of the year events, or doctor appointments - leave it to Charlie to get every bug under the sun as the weather gets warmer.  I keep imagining the Starbucks icon tapping her fingers all Mr. Burns style, saying, "Welcome back, my pretty" and then following up with a maniacal laugh.

So a typical dinner right now is broiled or grilled meat of some sort with two vegetables, one of which is usually broiled right on the same pan with the meat.  I start the protein first.  Last night it was pork chops with a quick spray of olive oil from the misto, salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of my new favorite broiler condiment Liquid Smoke.  I put them under the broiler for 8 minutes (they were thick little buggers), then pulled them out to flip them and add the veggies.  I threw some slice zucchini and leeks (I've been obsessed with the leeks from our local farmers market lately) on the pan, doused them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and then gave them a good toss before throwing the pan back under the broiler for another 10 minutes.  While that cooked, I sauteed some baby spinach in olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, on the stovetop.  My new favorite short cut is minced garlic in a jar.  Don't hate, all you foodies out there.  We all have to make our sacrifices where we can!  Fresh garlic is awesome, but taking an hour just to chop everything I need to start dinner is most definitely not awesome.

I have so many food-related goals for the summer and I doubt all of them will get done.  I'd like to start going to pick my own fruits as each one comes into season so that I can freeze bunches of them for use during the winter.  We bought a couple tomato plants and a bean plant that I hope to nurture this summer, as well as maybe another eggplant plant which always seems to be fruitful for us.  I'd like to do some canning, at least of tomatoes but also peaches and pickles.  And I would like to get back on the grain-free train for all meals because being off has been a very unpleasant experience. 

On the weight loss front, a friend has buddied up with me to work out.  We purchased a Living Social deal for a local Cross Fit operation and went to the intro class.  It's taken us two weeks to work up the courage to go back after we got our asses handed to us, but I'm psyched.  I'm a fan of tough, athletic work outs that push you to your limits and beyond.  One of my favorite feelings is walking out of a gym with sweat pouring off me feeling like an utter and total badass.  Rah rah for crazy Type A personalities.

All these goals might be tossed up in the air, as the potential for big change is on the horizon.  (And NO, it does not mean another kid is on the way.  Please.  The very thought of two sets of ear aches and fevers gives me hives right now.)  It's a change we've wanted for so so long, but we are patiently enduring the state of limbo right now.  It won't be awful if things stay the same but it will be AMAZING if they change.

To sum up - things are crazy, my eating is "meh" both in terms of variety and health, I am going to continue to put too many tasks on my plate and then lament all of them, and none of this will mean anything if just one thing goes my way in the next few weeks. 

Carry on.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A menu and what's really important

After a week of long days at work (which culminated in me getting to shake hands with Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor), I looked forward to a quiet weekend at home with the family. Then I got the devastating news that a law school friend and former work colleague had lost his 35-year-old wife tragically and suddenly. They have two little boys under the age of 4. I was devastated for him and it also made me think about my own mortality and what would happen if one of us was gone from Charlie's life. I tried to distract myself with a grain-free baking experiment, but that failed miserably. I realized I needed to worry about perfecting it later and just spend the evening watching my little guy toddle around and babble to me. That's what was really important. As much as I value the quality of food that I feed my family, what is most important to me is the time I have with them.

This morning, we awoke to the news that a five alarm fire was ripping through an abandoned warehouse just a few blocks from where we live. Community members have been begging the city to do something about the property for months, but no action was taken. As a result two firefighters have died. I'm channeling my anger into productivity, attempting to get a collection together to provide coffee and pastry to the local ladder company for a few days.

Here is this week's menu. I'm trying to keep it simple this week to accommodate a busy schedule and leave time for plenty of baby-hugging and tickling.

Monday - Sausages with braised kale & leeks

Tuesday - Roasted chicken breasts

Wednesday - Leftovers

Thursday - Crockpot pork dish of some sort

Friday - Chuck roast

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Making an oopsie into a yummy...

I tend to be very hard on myself about everything, including my cooking. When a dish I've been imagining and planning for days ends up being a dud, I always get pretty pissed at myself about it. Last night's dish was one I've been wanting to make for weeks. One of our favorite neighborhood restaurants put a picture up on their FB page, about a month ago, for a new special they were introducing: Philly cheesesteak tater tots. It was tots topped with sliced sandwich steak and cheese whiz. I knew I could make both a healthier version and one that was grain-free. I researched and planned and purchased ingredients and just waited for a Saturday when I'd have adequate time to dedicate to a meal that had a few steps.

This recipe was the guide for the grain-free, paleo "tots" made guessed it...cauliflower. I broiled a small piece of flank steak. And then created a cheese sauce (see recipe below) to go on top.

So what was the problem? The tots mixture was too wet, so I couldn't get any tots to form or brown easily. Luckily, it made a delicious mash, so we layered the steak and sauce on top of a pile of the mash and enjoyed it just the same. I cooked broccoli to go on the side and right after the photo up there was taken, the broccoli got a good ladle of cheese sauce too!

This recipe makes a LOT of sauce, so cut it in half or be prepared to store some if you are just making one meal for a few people. We ended up putting it on omelets the next morning and still have more left to eat.

Cheese Sauce
1 onion, diced
4 TBSP coconut oil
3/4 cup almond flour
3 cup milk
8 oz shredded cheddar
8 oz goat cheese
1 tsp salt plus more to taste
pepper to taste

- Melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cool until translucent.
- Mix in the almond flour, then stir in the milk, salt, and pepper. Keep stirring and adjust heat so as not to burn any of the mixture.
- When the mixture is relatively thick and warm, stir in the cheddar cheese. Break the goat cheese up into hunks and stir it in.
- Stir slowly until thick and creamy. Serve warm.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Better than plain baked chicken

A friend recently said to me, "Don't you ever just throw a chicken breast in the oven to bake, microwave some frozen vegetables, and call it a meal?" The answer is yes...sort of. I had two working parents as a kid, so I ate a lot of plain baked chicken with plain microwaved veggies. While I rarely cook anything that has no spice or flavor, I do sometimes take a recipe and change certain elements so that I can get it on the table a little faster. Tonight, I cooked took this awesome recipe for Almond Strawberry Stuffed Chicken and switched it up a little. First, as I'm trying to use up some of our older frozen meat, I used two pork chops and two chicken breasts. Instead of marinating, I just sprayed them with my misto, doused them in balsamic and lemon, and then sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and cinnamon before putting them into the oven to bake. Then, I made the stuffing into more of a topping, just throwing it on top of the protein when it was done. Tasty!

Oh, and it was accompanied by steam-in-the-bag green beans fresh out of the microwave. My mother would be proud.

This week's menu:

Monday - Almond Strawberry Chicken/Pork

Tuesday - Southwestern Chorizo Burgers

Wednesday - Salmon

Thursday - Crockpot BBQ Chicken

Friday -A special grain-free version of a comfort food that I'm trying to keep a surprise

This post is part of Menu Planning Monday and Monday Mania.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Random thoughts on a Friday

I've had a million ideas for posts swimming around in my head this week, but none of them developed into full-length items. But it's Friday, so I figured a post with a bunch of random thoughts would be appropriate pre-weekend fare.

1. That picture up there is the leftover lunch I am having today after making these ribs, but paleo-ized by substituting almond meal for the bread crumbs. I also realized that I was out of cayenne so I used some cajun seasoning - not as spicy, I bet, but pretty tasty! The cabbage was simply dressed in some olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

2. My husband has been away all week for work and I've been home alone with a nearly-one year old. I did a menu plan for this week and just assumed that I'd never actually cook all that stuff because I'd be swamped. But I did it! A steak, a lemongrass pork stirfry, stuffed chicken breasts, and ribs. I did it all on my own, made enough for lunches the next day, and prepared breakfasts/coffee to take to work too. One convenience tool that I bought for this week was a microwave omelet maker. That thing has changed my life. We had a microwave egg poacher, but it never really worked very well and almost always exploded egg gunk all over my microwave. I'm the worst omelet maker in the world, and not a huge fan of sweet breakfasts, so this thing will get used a ton. As I type this, I am noshing on a delicious omelet with spinach and mozz!

3. I'm going to save most of the mommy-related stuff about my solo week for my column at The Shopping Mama, but I'm still sort of amazed at how I kept our kitchen relatively clean and tidy this week. Usually my husband does dishes and feeds pets while I feed the kid dinner and prep our meal, but this week, I fed kid and I fed pets and I loaded the dishwasher with the day's bottles and food stuff. After kid was asleep, I put my own dinner on to cook and while it was cooking, I prepped mine and the kid's food for the next day and cleaned up a bit. I even managed to get into a habit of making the kiddo's dinner for the next day so that he didn't have to wait for it! This is a life-changing revelation, people.

4. I wore a dress this week that was skin-tight when I tried it on a couple months post-partum but fit like a dream this time around. This grain free thing is working. Like, really.

5. There's no way I could afford to get a culinary degree at this point in my life, but I'm wondering if there are ways to pick up specific skills that you learn in cooking school. I'd love to take a short course on knife skills, for example.

6. A friend asked if I've ever considered being a personal chef, specializing in grainfree cooking. I never considered it, really, because I just assumed no one would want a personal chef who's never actually been...a chef. And I've only been grainfree for a couple months now, so I'm far from being an expert although I'd have much more time to do my research and develop recipes if I was cooking for a living. I don't know, much do personal chefs make? Can you make more by cooking for more than one family? How do you do that? So many interesting little questions to consider...just for fun, for now.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


So last week was sort of nightmarish for me in the kitchen. First, I put a coffee-rubbed brisket in the crockpot and forgot to add water. The roast was delicious but sort of dry. And then there was the chicken recipe. While standing in the Whole Foods cheese section, I sampled an amazing olive tapenade and was inspired to create a chicken dish. The ingredient list for the tapenade included cream cheese and feta, so I grabbed a hunk of feta from the cheese fridge and decided to substitute mascarapone for the cream cheese.

Big mistake. HUGE.

I stuffed chicken breasts with a gloppy mix of mascarpone, feta, raw spinach, and olives. It was awful. I mean really awful.

I wanted a rematch, however, and this week I simplified the whole dish. The result is a dish that tasted delicious and probably delivered less calories and fat than the gross original version. I also peeled and chopped some black salsify, and sliced up some kale, doused them in olive oil, salt, and pepper and let them cook on the same tray as the chicken for the first 10 minutes. Then I removed the roasted kale and salsify and let the chicken continue to cook. Tasty!

Chicken stuffed with feta, spinach, and olives

2 large chicken breasts
2 tbsp crumbled feta
3 cups of fresh spinach
1/2 cup kalamata olives
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil spray or a misto
Salt and pepper

- Preheat oven to 375
- Spray a baking sheet with olive oil cooking spray or a misto
- Butterfly the two chicken breasts and salt/pepper both sides
- In a skillet, heat up a little bit of olive oil and saute the garlic before adding the spinach. Cook until all spinach is wilted.
- Stuff each chicken breast with half of the spinach and garlic, feta, and olives. Use toothpicks to keep the breasts closed.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then carefully flip and cook for another 15 minutes or until breast meat is fully-cooked.

My new eating habits in a pretty pictures

I found this info graphic today at my new favorite blog, FitChutney. While I still hate using the word paleo, it describes what I'm doing pretty well. (Although I am still eating dairy. Never been lactose intolerant so I'm not about to give up cheese!)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Single moms just need steak

No Q&A this week, although I suppose this post does answer the questions I often get about whether I'm sure that going grain free was necessary. My body is punishing me for a weekend of bad eating...and maybe some drinking, too. I was home in NJ and the naughtiness started with a sloppy joe - the kind whose praises I have sung on this blog before. And before I even took a sip of alcohol, my body rebelled. But I ignored and proceeded to have a burger (with bun) for dinner, loads of margaritas and Irish car bombs (it was St. Patty's Day, be nice), and late night pizza slices. And I might have had a bagel the next morning but I refuse to confirm or deny. My gut has been in a painful twist ever since, but seems to have relaxed a bit after a couple leafy salads and tonight's dinner of steak and veggies. I'm almost grateful for this experience because it has confirmed that going grain-free was the right choice for my digestive health.

As if my stomach wasn't tied up in enough knots, I'm spending my first full week alone with Charlie while the husband attends a conference at Brown. I was pretty nervous about how I'd manage to feed cats, feed baby, do dishes, pack bags for tomorrow (mine and his), and hopefully make some dinner for myself. I tried to pick easy meals for this week that would allow me to cook meat and veg in one pan together, either under the broiler or on the stove top. And here I am, with a sleeping baby, clean dishes, packed bags, and a tasty steak in my belly. I'm now convinced that single moms just need steak to be happy and centered.*

While at Whole Foods to pick up a NY Strip (on sale last week..woot!), I noticed a bunch of different kinds of WF brand marinades and sauces on top of the meat counter. The one that caught my eye was rosemary and mint. I looked at the ingredients and noticed they included sugar, so I figured I would go home and figure out a way to make my own that was sugar free. On my way out of WF, I added a bunch of rosemary, a bunch of mint, and a couple lemons to my cart. The WF sauce was probably meant for lamb and my version would be incredibly tasty on a nice lamb chop for sure, but tonight it went on the strip steak. I'm usually a steak purist - no sauce necessary - but this addition was light and crisp, so that the deliciousness of the steak could still shine through.

This week's menu:
Monday - Steak
Tuesday - Pork stir-fry with CSA pea shoots and lemongrass
Wednesday - Chicken with feta, olives, and spinach w/black salsify and kale gratin
Thursday - CSA beer brat with cabbage slaw
Friday - Whatever allows me to put my feet up after a week alone with my adorable munchkin

Steak with Rosemary and Mint

1 NY strip steak (or any other cut you prefer)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 sprig of rosemary
2 tbsp of mint, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon
Olive oil
Coarse salt and pepper

- Turn the broiler on high or warm up the grill
- Spray both sides of the steak with cooking spray (I use a Misto with olive oil)
- Salt and pepper both sides of the steak
- Remove rosemary leaves from sprig and place them in a food processor with the garlic, mint, lemon juice and a splash of olive oil. Pulse until well-chopped, but do not let it get completely smooth.
- Take half of the mixture and spread it across one side of steak, pressing it into the meat. Flip the steak and do the same to the other side.
- Broil or grill for 5 minutes on each side, or longer if the steak is especially thick. Mine was about 1.75 inches thick, so I cooked for almost 8 minutes per side.
- Pull off the heat and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.

*I am, of course, joking. Single moms need steak AND wine...and shots.

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Finally, a post!

This weekend's radio silence has been brought to you by "catching up at work" and "baby with the stomach bug that's going around." I started this post on a Sunday night, in a darkened living room, watching an awesome show on the Cooking Channel about a pop-up restaurant with the sound turned down fairly low so that my sick baby will stay asleep on the couch next to me. It will likely be completed before or after a trip to the pediatrician on Monday. This is the veritable definition of parenthood, I'd say.

Getting back to my Monday format of answering a question and giving the menu, even though it's Tuesday -

Do you watch cooking shows? (No. Really. Someone asked me this.)

Why yes, I do. In fact, I've gotten into the habit of watching a lot of Cooking Channel on the weekends while I'm cleaning, working, For new shows, I'm a fan of Bitchin' Kitchen (she's so corny, she's awesome), Chuck's Day Off (easy, simple dishes with gourmet touches that make them special - plus the host is hot), and Food(ography) with Mo Rocca...because he's Mo Freakin' Rocca, people. I also love the vintage offerings on the Cooking Channel. Usually I am drawn to Two Fat Ladies (it's the moped with the side car - you gotta love it!), Good Eats (it appeals to the super nerd within me), and the creme de la creme of fun shows, The Supersizers Go... If you haven't heard of that last one, it's because they only filmed one season a couple years ago, but it is one season that I could watch endlessly. The show stars a British food critic and his actress friend and they essentially immerse themselves in the culture, dress, and most importantly the food, of a particular era. For example, this past weekend I saw an episode on the French Revolution where they lived for a week in a French chateau, dressed like Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI, and ate the exact foods that were recorded on royal menus from the time. The research and effort that goes into these cultural experiments just astounds me - and the hosts are ridiculously funny, too. I want to start a movement to bring this show back.

I also like a lot of the reality-style contestant shows but my heart will always belong to Top Chef because they always keep it classy. I do enjoy a little Chopped, Sweet Genius, and Iron Chef on the side. Shows that make me change the channel? There is really only one - Hungry Girl (disgusting combinations of processed foods based solely on calorie count - this is NOT a cooking show, it's an eating disorder tutorial).

And now on to the menu, which is truncated due to my poor time management skills...

Tuesday - A chicken recipe I'm working on
Wednesday - Lemongrass pork chops
Thursday - Coffee-rubbed brisket in the slow-cooker
Friday - Scallops

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Stilton Burger Salad

I didn't do a lot of grocery shopping for this week because I knew we'd be out of town for most of it. My husband had to tend to a family emergency last night, so I was juggling baby all by myself but still wanted to cook something so I could get back on track with eating grain-free. I had some organic ground beef defrosted, a shallot, and a small hunk of Borough Market Stilton. Burgers sounded so perfect, but I didn't feel like grilling so into the broiler they went. They don't come out of the broiler looking as pretty as a grilled burger looks, but they tasted good.

A salad of spinach, pickled radishes, hearts of palm, a few craisins, balsamic vinegar, and sunflower oil provided the bed for my burger. I love the combo of savory, sweet, and sour that happened with the burger, craisins, and radishes.

Stilton Burgers
1 lb of organic ground beef
1 egg
1 small wedge of Borough Market Stilton
1 shallot diced
salt and pepper

- Preheat broiler to high
- In a bowl, combine beef, egg, stilton, and shallot and mix with hands. Season with salt and pepper.
- Spray a broiler pan with non stick cooking spray.
- Form four or five burgers, place them on the tray, and put the tray in the oven on the rack that is 3-4 inches from the heat source.
- Cook for 3 minutes, turn the tray 90 degrees, cook for three more minutes.
- Then flip the burgers and cook for another 6 minutes, turning the tray again half way through.

This post is part of Foodie Friday, Friday Food and Recipe Linky at Mom Trends, Food on Fridays, and Fresh Bites Friday

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

After an exhausting trip back from New Haven with a kiddo who was not enjoying the ride, my nerves are fried, so I'll make this post quick. Today was NOT a good day for eating grain-free. I managed to get through breakfast (can't go wrong with bacon, eggs, and fruit), but the only protein offering at lunch was chicken with some sort of breading. I tried to scrape it off. Really, I did. But it was accompanied by a perfect salad and some delicious grilled grape tomatoes, carrots, and eggplant. Dessert was very tiny petit-fours and I'll be honest - I had one.

Dinner was a disaster that involved a NJ Turnpike rest stop. That's all I'll say about that.

We came home with a hyper, cranky baby. I rushed around to bathe him, get his stuff ready for daycare tomorrow, and unpack. When all was done, I found myself hungry and wanting something comforting. I sliced a banana and topped it with some greek yogurt. Then I remembered that I'd pickled some grapes (using this fabulous recipe) before we left. I know I know - this recipe is so not paleo or primal or whatever. Just a few of these sweet and tart grapes enlivened the dessert and made it feel indulgent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A grain free dinner without even trying

So here I am at Yale University, attending a yearly conference for people in my profession who work at Ivy League schools. (Yes, I do make a snooty chortle noise every time I type that. We also say "chin chin" and wear ascots for the entire conference.)

Anyway, when I registered for the conference they did ask if I had any dietary restrictions so I put down gluten-free in the hopes that I'd at least get meals that had a good amount of protein and veg even if I had to pick around something that had grain. It ends up I didn't even have to worry about it for the kick-off dinner tonight because most of the passed hors d'oeuvres and the entire dinner menu were grain-free!

The theme of this year's conference is going green, so the added bonus of tonight's dinner was that it was locally sourced. The most amazing part was that it was prepared and served by Yale's internal catering service. I did sidle up to the catering manager and ask her to see if any of the components of the appetizers or dinner dishes contained grains or sugars. There was a minimal amount of sugar added to the vinaigrette on the salad and the demi-glaze in the main course, but otherwise I was totally in the clear.

I savored every bite of the menu below while listening to a very interesting talk by the Yale professor who oversees the Yale Project on Climate Control Communication. He spoke about his work in studying how we can effectively educate the public on global warming and how the message needs to change depending on the person's current thoughts on the subject. I skipped the after-party to the dinner, which was "flower power" themed and had a huge, sugar-laden dessert bar. I'd like to say that I did that so I could come back and write this post for all of you, but really it was so that I could get a full night's sleep for the first time in, like, forever.

This post is part of Slightly Indulgent Tuesday

Monday, March 5, 2012

Pineapple Braised Pork Ribs

It sure is hard to stay grain-free when I'm away from home. Especially when eating meals as a group with people who aren't grain free and notice that I'm passing up the pasta or rice. Yes, people, I do feel better. Why would I keep doing this if I didn't? Yes, I did read up on it. Nope, it's not the same as South Beach. Yes, I've heard of South Beach. Yes, I'm sure I don't want to just do that diet instead. The whole point is that this is not a diet. Yup, I do mean that I plan on this change being pretty much permanent. No, I didn't ask my doctor if it was okay. It's the year 2012. We're allowed to take charge of our own health in many ways, these days. Flour is a grain. Pasta is a grain. Cheerios are a grain. GRAIN IS A GRAIN.

Okay, I feel better now.

During my last trip to Whole Foods, I both got a rack of St. Louis style pork ribs and a whole pineapple on sale. I hadn't bought them with the idea of cooking them together, but as our trip to Connecticut loomed, I needed to use both of them and the idea for pineapple braised ribs came to mind.

The key to this dish is the combination of heat and sweet. I did my best to use what I had on-hand, hence the use of sriracha in the braising. I think I added too much, so I tempered the amount for this recipe. Also important - the rub. I came up with this recipe at the last minute, so I only let the ribs sit in the rub for a couple hours, but I would suggest doing that step the night before so that the meat has plenty of time to absorb all of the flavors. We ate this with cauliflower cheddar "grits" and sauteed zucchini.

Pineapple braised pork ribs

The rub

1 tbsp black pepper
1 tbsp kosher salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp paprika
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard powder

The dish

1 rack of pork ribs - I used St. Louis style but baby backs would be fine too
2 regular onions, quartered
1 pineapple, rind and core removed, chopped into 1/2 inch chunks - save the juice if you can, too
2 cups beef broth
2 tbsp worcestershire sauce
1 good squirt of sriracha
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 cup honey
4 garlic cloves, minced

- Put all of the rub ingredients in a bowl and mix well
- Lay defrosted rib slab on a large piece of foil and liberally apply the rub to both sides.
- Wrap in foil and put in the fridge overnight.
- When ribs are ready, pre-heat oven to 275.
- Remove ribs from fridge and cut each rib between the bones so that the full slab is separated into individual ribs.
- Heat oil over medium-high heat in dutch oven, add ribs in batches and cook until brown on both sides.
- Add onions, pineapple, beef broth, worcestershire sauce, sriracha, honey, and garlic
- Cover and bake for 3 hours, then remove lid and cook for another hour uncovered
- When done, take out of oven, remove and plate ribs. Bring remaining pot contents to a boil and reduce to about a cup worth of liquid. Spoon liquid, onion, and pineapple over ribs and serve.

This post is part of Monday Mania and Delicious Recipes.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Coffee-rubbed Flat Iron Steak

I'm really on a roll this week, readers. Inspiration seems to be coming from every angle and I'm concocting recipes en masse for the for the first time ever. I've never been very good at making up a recipe because I'm always so afraid of adding too much of this or not enough of that. Honestly? I think motherhood has made me sort of say, "Eff it. If I mess up, I'll change it around next time." So give a big golf clap to Charlie for giving his mama a big baby chill pill. If it weren't for him, I'd probably just be telling you about all the already-written recipes I've made. Not that following awesome recipes written by others is bad...this is just a nice creative burst that I didn't expect to have.

So as I've said in other posts, I'm a big fan of shopping sales at Whole Foods. Each week, they put a meat on sale for just the day on Friday, so that's usually when I go - to snatch up that protein as well as some of their other weekly sale items, usually in the butcher, produce, and cheese sections. A couple weeks ago, they advertised pastured Flat Iron steak at a steep discount. I'd never heard of the cut so I asked the butcher about it. He told me it just recently became a more popular cut. It is favored because it is cheaper than most fancy cuts, has an optimal thickness for cooking evenly, and yields a reasonable amount of marbling and significant tenderness. Taking all of this in, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "What the heck. I'll take that one." And into the freezer it went, while I tried to come up with some inspiration for cooking it.

I've been wanting to try a coffee rub on steak or pork for some time, but wasn't reminded of it until my trip to a local spice store, last week. I was going to get ingredients to make my own garam masala, but decided to pick up a few more items that I thought might work for a coffee rub. The spice store is so much fun. Buying spices whole and grinding them only when you need them is a great thing when you have a kitchen that tends to hold in humidity like mine does. I often open up pre-ground spice jars to find that the spice has solidified. Now, I just buy them whole and throw the ones I need into a semi-retired coffee grinder and chop chop.

So here's what went into the grinder last night and how it came out. There are a few pre-ground ingredients on the list but I threw it all in to the grinder to mix up.

Coffee Rubbed Flat Iron Steak

For the rub:
1/4 cup of whole coffee beans
1 tsp whole coriander
1 tsp whole black pepper
1 tsp all natural cocoa powder
1/4 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon or half a small cinnamon stick
5 or 6 whole cloves

For the steak:
One Flat Iron steak (usually about 1.5 lbs)
Olive oil
Sea salt

- Preheat the broiler or a grill
- Put all of the rub ingredients into a coffee or spice grinder and grind as finely as possible. You want to make sure the cloves and cinnamon are ground well because you don't want a mouthful of just those spices ever!
- Take just a bit of olive oil and spread it on both sides of the steak before laying it on a broiler pan, if you are using a broiler. I have a Misto olive oil sprayer, which I prefer to use because it coats so lightly.
- Shake salt on both sided of the steak and rub it in. I did not put the salt in with the rub mix so that the crystals would stay big and give that nice salty crunch.
- Liberally coat both sides of the steak with the rub, making sure to really massage it onto the steak so that it sticks.
- Let the steak sit with the rub for about five minutes before broiling/grilling for five minutes on each side for medium rare.
- Rest the steak for at least five minutes before slicing and serving.
- Store the remaining mixture in an airtight jar for your next meat adventure!

This post is part of Gluten Free Wednesdays, Works for Me Wednesdays, and Real Food Wednesdays.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crusted pork loin stuffed with plums and carmelized onions

Excuse the bad photo and poor butterflying/stuffing!

I think that pork is my favorite meat. Pulled pork shoulder is, in my opinion, the perfect food. Have you ever been to a pig roast? If not, get yourself to one ASAP. Bacon...well, bacon needs no explanation. The best part about the pig is that it can carry light flavors or heavy ones. I also adore the contrast of fruit flavors with the taste of pork. It basically can make any day better. Case in point - the best memory of a particularly crappy New Years, many years ago, that I spent with an awful exboyfriend, was the absolutely spectacular peach-stuffed pork loin that we made for our guests.

This recipe was inspired by that beautiful New Years platter. I bought the pork loin on sale at Whole Foods and stuck it in the freezer. Then, last week, WF had organic plums on sale. I knew they belonged inside a butterflied pork loin. A tip? Ask the butcher to butterfly the loin for you. I really hacked up this loin and most of the filling ended up as more of topping. This recipe is a heavy-handed one, so be prepared for lots of flavor. You might even want to add a touch of sugar (maybe brown?) to the stuffing to cut the tang. But I think it showcases the pork and the plums quite nicely.

Crusted pork loin stuffed with carmelized plums and onions

2lb pork loin
1 large red onion, sliced medium
4 or 5 medium sized fresh plums, pitted and cut into 1/8ths
3 tbsps olive oil, divided (see below)
2 tbsps chopped fresh rosemary, split in half
2 tbsps chopped fresh thyme, split in half
1 tbsp dried basil
4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and pushed through a garlic press
1/4 cup beef or chicken stock
3 glugs of red wine
salt and pepper to taste

- Preheat oven to 350
- On the stove, heat 2 tbsps of the olive oil in a dutch oven
- Add the red onion, reduce heat to medium or medium-high and cook - turning frequently - until they start to carmelize. Then, add the plums.
- Once plums are cooked through, add salt and pepper, 1/2 the fresh thyme and 1/2 the fresh rosemary, and deglaze with a little more than half of the stock, and the wine.
- Allow liquid to cook off a bit and then reduce heat to a simmer while getting the pork ready.
- Butterfly the pork loin and then flip it over so that the outside of the loin is facing up.
- Rub the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil on to the outer surface of the loin.
- One ingredient at a time, rub the rest of the rosemary and thyme, the basil, the smashed garlic, and some salt and pepper into the loin. Really work it in so that it sticks to the loin.
- At this point, you might want to lay out three or four pieces of kitchen twine so that you can carefully flip the loin back over and have it land on top of the twine pieces for easy tying.
- With a slotted spoon, transfer the onion/plum mixture onto the loin, but leave plenty of juices in the pan.
- Tie up the loin around the plums and onions.
- Heat up the dutch oven, with the juices in it, and then brown the pork loin on all sides before putting the top on the dutch oven and placing the whole thing in the oven.
- Bake for an hour, basting with juices every 15 minutes.

This post is part of Tasty Tuesdays, Slightly Indulgent Tuesday, Tuesdays at the Table, Tasty Tuesday, and Hearth and Soul Hop.

Getting the kid to eat and this week's menu

This week's Q&A was partially inspired by this post over at the City Share blog. I remember the days when formula and breast milk were all we had to provide for our little guy. These days, he's not only eating homemade purees, but he's also started eating finger foods!

Today's question:

How do you get that kid to eat whatever you're eating? My kid will only eat pizza/cheesy poofs/chicken nuggets/jolly ranchers/anything but what I make!

First off, as I've said in my posts over at The Shopping Mama, I am not a judgy mcjudgerson when it comes to parenting decisions. I don't care what other moms feed their kids. (I do care what other people try to feed my kid, but that's a whole other post just waiting to happen.) Deep down inside, it certainly pains me that there are tons of kids out there who eat nothing but junk food day in and day out, but I think those issues are more symptomatic of a greater societal issue than bad individual parenting.

Secondly, my kid doesn't eat everything we eat...because sometimes he lets me know he doesn't like it by throwing it on the floor for our dog to gobble it up. But like every single kid, his likes and dislikes are never consistent. Sometimes egg ends up on the floor, sometimes it ends up in his mouth. The same mixed fate has been met by salmon and broccoli. These days, he likes fish. People think it's weird that we feed it to him. It ain't sushi, people. It's cooked protein, just like chicken. If it makes you feel any better, I let him eat a girl scout cookie (a Trefoil, but still) at a dinner party last week.

Lastly, Charlie does eat chicken nuggets...we just happen to buy the organic ones at Whole Foods. And sometimes, he eats what we eat and we wish we hadn't fed it to him. We gave him some of our delicious grain-free shepherd's pie over the weekend, and it's been working its way through his system ever since in the form of gas that will knock your socks off. It isn't always pretty, people. But you never know until they try it and we'll keep offering him what we eat because we hope it will help him acquire a varied palette and an appreciation for home-cooked food. Either that or it will keep our dog pretty well-fed.

This week's menu

Breakfast for the week - Laura's Make and Freeze Breakfast Casserole

Monday - Pork Loin (recipe in development)

Tuesday - Coffee rubbed flat iron steak (also a recipe in the making...I'm on a roll, this week!)

Wednesday - Easy baked chicken over salads

Thursday - St. Louis braised ribs in the slow cooker over cauliflower cheese grits

Friday - Stilton burgers

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Eggs save the day

We eat a lot of eggs in our house. I'm not a huge fan of sweet breakfast foods, so I prefer a breakfast of eggs and meat. Since going grain-free, we've started a sort of Saturday morning ritual where I make scrambled eggs for all three of us with whatever protein and veg is left in the fridge and needs to be used up. Last week it was canadian bacon, shredded american cheese, and roasted red pepper. This week, our odds and ends were kind of random: shredded chicken, cream cheese, spinach, and some left over homemade bbq sauce. They ended up making a mighty tasty scramble!

I like to find ways to make breakfasts ahead of time for the work week so that we can just pull them out of the freezer, pop them in our lunch bags, and head off to work. After adhering pretty strictly to some recipes, I decided to wing it a bit this week and make a breakfast casserole from scratch. I built the recipe around the veggies and cheese I had on hand, but you could substitute other items for the sweet onion, broccoli, and mozz.

Laura's Make and Freeze Breakfast Casserole

The "Crust"
1.5 large sweet potatoes, shredded
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tsp finely chopped fresh oregano
1.5 tsps garlic powder
2 eggs
3/4 cup shredded mozz

The Filling
10 Eggs
1/4 cup of half and half
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 head of broccoli, steamed and chopped
3 tbsps organic butter
salt and pepper to taste

- Preheat oven to 375
- Shred the sweet potato and then steam lightly or just put it in the microwave for 2 mins or so
- In a large mixing bowl, combine potatoes, egg, herbs, spices and cheese
- Grease a 9x13 pan and press the mixture into the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides
- Bake for 20-30 minutes, until the center feels cooked through

- While crust is baking, melt butter in a large pan
- Add the onions, some salt and pepper and allow to cook until transparent
- Add the broccoli and saute until warmed
- Beat eggs and half and half until fluffy

- When crust is cooked, spread onion/broccoli mixture across the top of the crust, making sure it is distributed evenly
- Pour egg mixture over everything, also making sure it is spread all over the casserole
- Bake for another 20 minutes until eggs are cooked through.

I've cut this into 10 pieces, wrapped them individually, and frozen them for easy breakfasts to-go!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Buying more, but wasting less - a lesson in cooking at home

One of the great byproducts of going grain-free is that I cook almost all of our meals at home. I try to make large batches of one item that I can freeze in individual portions for breakfasts for the week and I plan each of our dinners, cooking enough so that we have stuff to make lunches for both of us the next day. Very often, we just have leftover meat and I slice that up and put it over a salad. The challenge of keeping salads interesting and varied has become one of my favorite parts of this grand experiment.

But what I've noticed most about this entire process is that while we buy almost twice as much food at the grocery store each week as we used to, we actually throw away less than we did before going grain-free!

I can't remember the last time I had to throw away a rotten piece of produce, a moldy piece of cheese (the bad kind of mold, of course), or toss something that had sat at the bottom of our storage freezer for way too long. I think the menu planning has been the biggest help with this. (Speaking of planning, check out this awesome post over at Paleo Parents about this exact topic!) I troll the circulars (especially the one for Whole Foods), select produce and meat that is on sale and then build the week around that. Last week, blood oranges were 10 for $10 and they were used in two of our recipes for the week. Those pickled carrots I made earlier in the week? They were from a 2 lb bag of carrots that I knew would be wasted if I didn't do something with them. Since we eat mostly meat and veggies each day, it's easier to use up leftover veggies because we always need an extra side dish. The simplest way to use up most of the produce that is currently in season? Chopped, tossed in olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted under a broiler for a few minutes.

Today's recipe was based on this one, but again I had items that I wanted to use up so I adjusted it to suit my needs. The last remaining carrots were roasted and eaten as a side, along with roasted zucchini, mushrooms, and brussel sprouts that were leftover from Wednesday's dinner. I re-used the chicken today as a salad topper with the final portions of roasted grape tomatoes (another use of an on-sale produce item that needed to be eaten before going bad), spinach, arugula, hearts of palm, a sprinkle of parmesan, balsamic, and olive oil.

One note about this recipe - I get my organic chickens at Costco, where they average about 3 lbs each. Big birds cannot be cooked safely in slow cookers, so only use this recipe for the little guys.

Slow Cooker Chicken
1 Small Organic Roasting Chicken - organs removed
1 large onion or two small - chopped
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 cup of chicken stock
1 large lemon
Any sort of poultry friendly seasoning - I actually used Penzy's Peppercorn Ranch Salad Dressing mix!
2-3 tbsps of organic butter or ghee
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter/ghee in a frying pan until hot, then add the onions and garlic.
Stir until onions are translucent and garlic is fragrant, 8-10 minutes.
Deglaze the pan with the chicken stock then add the entire contents to the slow cooker.
Dry the bird, season inside and out.
Slice the lemon into medium width rounds.
Season the chicken inside and out with seasoning, then lift up the skin to place a few lemon slices underneath.
Place the bird breast side down in the slower cooker and put the remaining lemon slices on top.
Cook on low for 4.5 hours.
The chicken should be done when a meat thermometer is stuck in the thickest part of the breast and reads at least 165 degrees.
Remove the chicken from the crockpot and slice.
You can defat the remaining contents of the crock and then use an immersion blender to make a delicious gravy. I did this and then froze the leftovers to use on other dishes in the future.

Roasted grape tomatoes
These are so easy to make and they add a lot of good flavor to dishes! Add some whole or chopped garlic for even more bite.
1 pint of organic grape tomatoes
Salt and pepper
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Chop each tomato in half length-wise.
Place on a baking sheet and toss with a bit of olive oil so that all are evenly coated. Salt and pepper to your liking.
Roast for about 30-40 minutes, but make sure to toss them at least every 15 minutes for an even cook.

This post is part of Foodie Friday, Friday Food and Recipe Linky at Mom Trends, Food on Fridays, and Fresh Bites Friday

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

An Ode to Hard Cheese

Hey you, with the package of Kraft "cheese" slices...freeze! Put it down. Just put it down, don't argue with me! Put it down and step away from the cheese food. Slowly. That's it...

So here's one reason why I would classify our new eating habits as "primal" or "grain free" rather than "paleo": we won't stop eating cheese. GOOD cheese. Like, ever. Paleo folks say no to dairy and primal folks say yes to it as long as you are lactose tolerant, which we seem to be. Cheese is just too delicious to ditch. And we love the good stuff. The fancier the better. I read this blog with a vengeance. Not only does she love cheese, but she's also local so I can actually go to the same fabulous places she goes to buy her recommendations.

Historically, the hubs and I have been soft cheese fans. We dig triple creams like the St. Andre (my personal fave), bries, crumbly and gooey blue cheeses, and anything goat's milk based. (Um, if you want a cheese experience that will rock you to the core, try the "Truffle Tremor." Your life will never be the same.)

But the problem that arises with loving soft cheese and being grain free is what do we put the cheese on? I'm not against eating it with fingers, or crumbling it on salads, but there is something very nice about spreading a good cheese on a cracker or slice of bread. I miss that. A quick google search does yield a ton of recipes for grain-free crackers, so we plan to try that route in the near future.

Another solution we've found is to get more into hard cheese. Nowadays, I enjoy a good slice of the hard stuff as a snack while I prepare dinner. Trying something new in cheeseland has exposed us to a whole slew of cheeses that we now like just as much as our tried and true favorites. One of the best parts of this adventure has been seeing the beautiful rinds that form on some of the aged cheeses. They are seriously like works of art. We get the Havilah (pictured above) fairly regularly with our CSA. Just look at the rind on that beauty! I used to just shred it over salads or melt it for cheese sauces, but I've come to appreciate it solo or with a couple of grapes. But the best hard cheese discovery of all? Aged Gouda. The popular aging time for most aged goudas is four or five years - long enough for calcium lactate crystals to form and give a satisfying crunch to each bite. It's sweet and rich, and feels like a treat. Funny enough, we didn't realize this when we bought it, but most cheese experts would say that aged gouda is meant to be eaten alone without any accoutrements. Perfect for the grain-free eater!

We buy most of our cheese at Downtown Cheese in the Reading Terminal Market, DiBruno Bros, or Claudio's. I think every city, large or small, needs to have its own specialty food shop that includes a full-time knowledgeable cheesemonger. But if that's not possible where you live, find a Whole Foods. We got our last hunk of aged gouda at Whole Foods and it's been the best cheese I've had recently.

This post is part of Gluten-Free Wednesdays, Works for Me Wednesdays, Welcome Wednesday, and Real Food Wednesdays.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Quickly pickly

We've been eating a lot of salads lately. And salads can get boring pretty quickly. I do my best to keep things interesting by making a variety of toppings each week that can add a little zing to things. This week, my salad toppings will be pickled carrots and roasted grape tomatoes. And as you can see, I do love pickled stuff. Pickled peaches are definitely on tap for this summer's canning list (they were a huge hit two years ago) as are dills and onions. But I'm also a huge fan of quick pickles for when I have a small amount of an item and I know I'm going to eat it fairly quickly.

Since I just finished off a big jar of homemade pickled onions, I decided to go for something different this week. Pickled carrots sounded good because I could throw them on a salad or eat them as a snack. They came out beautifully - salty, crunchy, and tangy.

For this recipe, I used my favorite pre-mixed pickling spice from The Spice Corner in the Italian Market. Their website is abysmal, but I find their prices to be the best of all the spice shops in the city. Some people like to mix their own spice mixes for pickling, but this one contains all the stuff I'd put in anyway - mustard seeds, chili peppers, rosemary, pepper corns, bay leaves, and cloves. If you are new to pickling, using a pre-mixed spice is a good idea and you can always adjust or mix your own as you get more adept. If you are not local to Philly, Penzey's is always a good online resource for fresh spices and they have a very good pickling mix.

One last note, this recipe did not quite fill a large canning jar, so I would suggest using two or three pints instead.

Quick Pickled Carrots

1 lb of organic carrots, peeled, cut in half and then quartered
2 cups of water
2 cups of apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp of salt
2 tbsp of sugar
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Handful of pickling spice

- Fill a pot with water, bring to a boil, and blanch the carrots for 1 minute. Put them in an ice bath to cool and return the empty pot to the burner.
- Combine water, vinegar, salt, sugar, garlic, and pickling spice and heat until it is just about to boil.
- While the brine is heating, remove the carrots from the ice bath and stuff them into the jar(s)
- Once the brine is ready, pour it over the carrots until they are covered and distribute the garlic evenly
- Allow the pickles to cool to room temperature before affixing lids and placing in refrigerator
- These can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week or so

Monday, February 20, 2012

Potluck lucky

We've become friends with some parents at our son's daycare. It started as a sort of means of survival as we were all battling daycare management over some issues, but then we all realized that we sorta liked each other! One of the other other couples invited us to their house on Sunday for a potluck dinner. This was exciting because a) I love potlucks, b) all the other guests were big food fans, too and c) we were gonna socialize!

I grew up in the suburbs of northern Jersey, where I attended the same Presbyterian Church as many of my friends, as well as my parents and grandparents. The potluck dinner was a frequent means of gathering among church members. I can remember being a little kid, standing at the end of a buffet table that seemed to run the entire length of our events hall, and just being in awe of the variety of foods that awaited me. Sure, there were multiple jello molds and green bean casseroles (we are talking about NJ suburbs in the 80s, after all) but I also got to taste at least one new dish each time and that was a treat for me.

There were five couples at Sunday's potluck including our hosts, plus our son and their twin girls. Among us there were artists, writers, lawyers, an academic, a scientist, and an engineer (I think that's what he does, at least!). So not only was it nice to sit down to some amazingly cooked grub, we also got to do it with some smart and talented people. Honestly, it was the first night in a long time where it felt like it used to when we ate with our friends back in New York. We had to leave fairly early to put our son to bed and I didn't want to go!

As I looked over the spread on the table before we sat down, I felt the same sense of adventure that my kid self must have felt at those church smorgasbords back in the day. The menu was eclectic but every single thing tasted delicious. The hostess made a beef bourguignon that was tender and rich and comforting. We had our bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed jalapenos and a blood orange and fennel salad that people really seemed to like. There was a thai slaw that had a great bite to it, some sort of garlicky kale dish that I could not devour fast enough, perfect mashed potatoes, and some amazing sausages. I feel like I'm forgetting some other delicious dinner item, too. Everything was tasty.

Dessert was made by one of the guests, who is coincidentally one of my favorite Philly food bloggers, although I tried not to gush. She is basically my go-to resource for canning. When I first found her blog, and saw that someone actually managed to do what she does in far less space than I have, I realized that I can cook well in my little crappy kitchen and I can can and preserve in my dinky backyard. At the risk of being dramatic, her blog was one of the reasons why this blog exists. Anyway, she made a delectable tart that was topped with some of her homemade orange marmalade. Even though we were only able to stay for a couple of hours, it was a long-awaited couple of hours with fun people and amazing food.

I certainly hope this becomes a habit.

This week's menu and a new answer

Wow, I didn't post anything but my menu last week. I think the week just got away from me. It happens with a kid who's teething AND learning to sooth himself to sleep. Oy.

This week's question is one I've been getting a lot, since we decided to go grain free:

How are you going to afford to eat all that fresh produce and meat if you have to eat only organic veggies and pastured/free-range protein?

The short answer: it won't be easy.

The long answer: It won't be easy, but it might still actually be cheaper than all the eating out we were doing before this. Since this is our first month, the jury is still out, but I do think we are going to end up spending a couple hundred dollars less each month. We ate out A LOT. And it was all junk. We like good food. When I cook, I rarely do anything half-assed. Yet we were ordering junky pasta, pizza, or bar food from crap restaurants in our neighborhood three or four times a week! Made no sense.

Anyway, I do what I can to save money and what that usually translates to is going to multiple grocery stores each weekend to get the best deals at each one. Once a month we go to Costco, and this month we got a bunch of their organic chicken breasts and ground beef. I like their meats because the chicken is pre-portioned (two breasts in each mini-pack) and the beef is already separated into 1 lb blocks. I stalk sale items at Whole Foods, too. I've been going there on Friday evenings because they always have some sort of sustainable meat on sale just for Friday - one week we even had lobster tails because they were so cheap! While I'm there, I'll buy almost any produce that is on sale, depending on what we are due to get in our CSA. I also shop the sales on beef and poultry. I almost never buy a full price item there. About twice a month, we travel out to Wegman's in NJ, which has an amazing selection of organic produce, meat, and pantry items at pretty good prices. We shop sales there, too. And last but not least, we have our CSA. They have a small farmer's market on pick-up day, and have been putting one meat on sale each week, so I always buy whatever it is. This week's shepard's pie, for example, will contain the ground veal that was 25% off this week.

And if all else fails, we eat non-organic vegetables and non-pastured/free-range meats, because I refuse to get crazed about these things.

On to the menu...

You will see some repeats this week. That's because I never got around to making these items last week either because we had to make something quicker, or we had a dinner out with family or friends. (More on the friends part in a later post.)

For breakfast for the week, we are having a sweet potato hash with breakfast sausages (on sale at Whole Foods!) and a poached egg (we get them with our CSA).

Yesterday, I made the hash/sausages, more bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed jalapenos and a blood orange (WF sale, yet again) and fennel salad to take to a potluck.


Leftover blood orange and fennel salad with Chicken


Cajun catfish, cauliflower rice, and asparagus


Skirt steak w/citrus marinade and brussel sprouts


Roast Chicken in the slow cooker


Shepard's Pie

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday.