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.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Answering some questions plus this week's menu

There's no doubt we like to eat in our house. And since cooking is something I have grown to enjoy just in the last few years, it is often the focus of my posts on Facebook and Pinterest. I've been told that I post about food too much, it's been implied to me that our weight issues are tied to the fact that I cook for us (as opposed to eating frozen diet meals), and I get lots of questions about my love for cooking. I thought I'd answer one question/comment each week, as part of my weekly menu post. This week's question:

Why do you spend so much time cooking? You could just order out or eat frozen stuff. It's so much easier.

It is, indeed, easier. It also tastes like #$%^. I grew up in a house where that sort of insta-meal stuff was the norm. A typical dinner was frozen veggies and either Hamburger Helper or some sort of plain baked (and bland) protein, and a side of Rice-a-roni or mac and cheese from a box. Enjoying food, exploring different tastes, and eating fresh healthy food were not priorities. Now, part of the problem was that we did not have a lot of money when I was a kid. Meals had to be cheap and they had to be quick because both of my parents worked and my brother and I had lots of activities. But I was never exposed to different types of food until I went to college. I'd never had sushi, falafel, or real Mexican food (not tacos made from a kit) until I went off to school. It wasn't until then that I realized food was something that could be enjoyed, even if it was in moderation. I had grown up being told that affordability and "healthiness" was all that mattered. We are determined to expose our son to as many cultures as possible, and food is part of that. We are also determined to make sure he understands the value of healthy eating - not by eating anything that is labeled "lite," but by eating fresh, simply-cooked food. I get a sense of pride in cooking good food for my little family. It does take a significant amount of time - almost two hours each night (including clean-up and getting our lunches made for the next day) and half a day on Sundays when I cook a bunch of stuff for the week. But I'd rather give up that time, and maybe spend a little more on our grocery bill than if we bought meals that come in a box or bag, to enjoy what we eat. Food can be good for you and be delicious. The time I spend cooking, in my opinion, is time well spent.

This week's menu

Breakfast for the week - Pumpkin, apple, bacon, and chive biscuits with bacon and egg. I read the comments and added some coconut milk for moisture. We also added the cheese since we are still eating dairy on our grain-free plan.

Yesterday, I also cooked a free-range turkey that's been in our freezer for a while (leftovers will show up later in the week), grain-free stuffing, and roasted brussel sprouts and carrots.

Finally, I cooked up a bunch of bacon to be used in some of this week's recipes and for breakfasts.

Monday - "Spaghetti" carbonara

Tuesday - A special meal for my valentine, re-made to be grain-free

Wednesday - Turkey thai basil

Thursday - Stuffed pork chops

Friday - Grain-free shepard's pie

This post is part of Menu Plan Monday

Monday, February 6, 2012

A week and a why


This is the panicked question that I get most often when I tell people that I'm no longer eating grains. After the panic, I usually get a series of questions about exactly which ingredients I'm eliminating. Rice? Yes. Corn?? Yes. BREAD?!?! Yes. Then, the eye roll and the shoulder shrug.

The overall attitude is usually that this is just another fad diet and I'm its latest victim. The truth is, the grain-free lifestyle has been around since long before Atkins and South Beach repackaged and marketed it. In its purest form, it is a modern reproduction of the diet that cavemen followed. Grains as a diet staple are actually a relatively new idea. Science tells us that life expectancy and overall health actually decreased when we stopped hunting and gathering and started homesteading.

But enough propoganda. The question I also get is, "Why?" The quick answer: I'm fat and I want to finally stop being fat. The longer answer: I've had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome since I was a teenager and the research says that the syndrome has the awful catch-22 of being reversed through weight loss while also making weight loss very difficult. It ties into blood sugar issues which can be leveled out with a grain-free diet. I also had gall bladder issues before pregnancy which were exacerbated by my last-minute c-section. The grain-free diet has been a way for other ladies in my situation to avoid gall bladder removal.

One thing about this decision is that it takes a lot of planning each week since I make pretty much every meal for us. I'm hoping to post the week's dinners each monday. (Lunches are usually leftovers from the night before.) Some nights I might just cook a piece of meat and throw it on a gigantic salad. I also try to pre-make breakfast foods for us, and if I do that, I'll post it as well.

A couple reminders - we are eating dairy and some tree nuts, we cook primarily with coconut and olive oils but don't require that they be absolute virgin pressings, and while we've cut out most soy I need my soy sauce.

Breakfast for the week - slices of breakfast casserole.

Monday - Gingered carrots with Mahi Mahi and sauteed tatsoi with garlic and pine nuts. (Seriously tasty!!!)

Tuesday - Lemon-baked free-range chicken cutlets over salad with homemade "house" dressing.

Wednesday - Stuffed Peppers

Thursday - Baby back ribs

Friday - Baked salmon over salad with "house" dressing.

Saturday - Red curry beef with cabbage

Sunday - Free-range roast turkey with brussel sprouts and grain-free stuffing

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Look what you made me do, look what I made for you...

Well, hello there! I hope that all three of my regular readers will pardon my absence. My slacking is due to a lot of things including my new son (now almost 10 months old!), my regular posts for the most awesome Shopping Mama blog, and a general lack of inspiration. I started this blog as a way to chronicle our first foray into the world of CSAs, but once we became veterans, I guess I just lost interest. We're still CSAing but there's rarely a week where we get things that are unfamiliar. Although, we did get some Asian greens, this week, and I'm not quite sure what those are let alone what to do with them. Any ideas are welcome.

Anyway, this blog was started as a way of exploring a new way of eating for us. Our household cuisine has taken a couple more turns which is what inspired me to make a comeback. (Plus, my buddy over at City Share made me realize that I can still do this even if life is super busy!) First, since babies are expensive, one of our New Year's resolutions was to cook the majority of our meals in our own kitchen and stop eating out so much. And for a totally separate group of reasons, we've gone grain/sugar/gluten free. You might have heard the terms "Paleo" or "Primal" used to describe this lifestyle, but I try to avoid using them because they are so gimmicky. There's real science behind this decision. I promise.

No grains/gluten/sugar means lots of meat and veggies. There's also a feeling in the paleo/primal (shiver) communities that everything we eat needs to be organic/free range/pastured/wild caught/etc. I agree. My bank account does not. So our challenge going forward will be to find the ingredients we need at reasonable prices - a post about that is forthcoming.

In the meantime, check out what this new eating plan did allow us to eat on this Super Bowl Sunday (yay Giants!!) -

- These amazing bacon-wrapped cheese-stuffed jalapenos. I used some fabulous Farmer's Cheese and Nitrate-free bacon that we got in this week's CSA. Wow. Just wow. They fell apart a bit, though, so my only tip is to use toothpicks.

- Fresh guacamole made with organic avocados (on sale at Whole Foods this week!), organic roma tomatoes (also a WF special), red onion, and fresh lime juice.

- My brand new super duper chili recipe, detailed below. It's a spicy one, but I don't really appreciate chili spice unless it comes with some smoke, so this recipe is designed to give you a more mesquite, dark, layered flavor. And yes, I know that the beer is not "paleo." Sue me.

1 poblano pepper, chopped fine
1 regular pepper (any color - I used red), diced
1 large red onion, diced
1lb or so - grass fed ground beef
1.5 to 2 lbs - grass fed stew beef
1 can of whole or crushed tomatoes (I used tomatoes I canned myself but try to find organic canned)
1 small can of diced tomatoes (again, try for organic)
1 or 2 diced fresh tomatoes (optional)
2 or 3 canned chipotle peppers, diced
6 garlic cloves, diced
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp chili pepper
1 cinnamon stick (don't use the powdered stuff unless you absolutely have to - the stick just gives a richer flavor)
12 oz of dark beer, like stout or porter (I used Flying Fish's Exit 13 Chocolate Stout - it meshed with the spice like whoa)
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil
Shredded Cheese (for topping)
Salsa Verde (for topping)

- Put olive oil in a big frying pan and heat up
- Add poblano, pepper, and onion to the pan and cook until onion is carmelized - about 10 mins.
- Put cooked peppers and onions into crock pot, add a bit more oil to the pan and return to heat
- Brown the ground beef - transfer to crock with slotted spoon
- Brown the stew meat (don't cook all the way, just brown on all sides) - transfer to crock with slotted spoon
- Add all the spices, tomatoes, and the beer
- Cook on low for 6-7 hours, stirring occasionally.
- You can add the entire can of salsa verde to the crock right before serving or just throw a dollop on individual servings. Shredded cheese cuts the heat a bit, too.