Casarecce Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Butter, Peas, Broccoli and Kale

Casarecce

I had some mascarpone cheese that I’d bought a couple of weeks ago and have been trying to figure out what to do with it. Most recipes that call for mascarpone are desserts or sweet dishes and I knew I didn’t want to go that route. So I found this recipe (which actually came from A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen by Jack Bishop) and made it more nutrient dense by adding a ton of vegetables: fresh English peas, kale, chard and broccoli. I also used brown rice casarecce pasta (which I had never heard of before finding it at Healthy Home Market last weekend) instead of fettuccine to make it gluten free… and I substituted half the butter with bacon drippings leftover from breakfast. You can either use all butter or half butter and half bacon drippings, but I don’t recommend using olive oil, lard or anything like that. You’ll be sacrificing flavor. I doubled the sauce and cheese to make sure there was enough to coat the added vegetables.

Haleigh (my picky eater) loved it and asked for seconds. She didn’t mind that there was more veg than pasta and cheese or that there wasn’t any meat. Or maybe she didn’t notice because it all tasted so darn good. She loved the peas. She remarked that the pasta with the sage-walnut butter was good enough to eat by itself. But we all agreed that the mascarpone-Parmesan cheese mixture is what pushed this dish over the top. We’ll be making this again for sure. Here’s my seasonal, nutrient dense version:

Casarecce Pasta with Mascarpone and Sage-Walnut Brown Butter, Peas, Broccoli and Kale

  • 1 cup Mascarpone Cheese
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 to 3 cloves of Garlic
  • 1 cup Kale (cooked) – I used a mixture of kale and chard from our garden, but you could substitute any greens.
  • 1 cup fresh Peas (or frozen) – I used fresh English peas from the farmers market and a handful from our garden.
  • Parsley, optional (from our garden)
  • 12 ounces Pasta – I used organic brown rice casarecce, but you can use whatever you have on hand.
  • 6 tablespoons Butter – I used 3 tbs salted Kerrygold butter and 3 tbs bacon drippings.*
  • 1 cup chopped Walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh Sage leaves
  • 1 bunch Broccoli

Method:

  1. Combine mascarpone, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt and pepper in small bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork until smooth. Set aside and allow it to come to room temperature.
  2. Prep veg: Cut up broccoli and kale; mince garlic, sage; and rough cut parsley.
  3. Start pasta water. I recommend adding a tablespoon of salt to the water.
  4. Steam broccoli, kale and peas separately (because they don’t cook at the same rate and to keep their flavors separate). You can do this anyway you like. I’m all about short cuts, so I used the microwave. Put a small amount of water (1/4 cup or less) in the bottom of glass dish with lid (like Pyrex). Preferably a vented lid, but you can just leave one corner open if you don’t have vented lids. I also like to add a little salt to the water for broccoli. The broccoli took 3 or 4 minutes (start with 2 minutes, then turn, stir or shake gently and add a minute at a time until it’s crisp tender and beautifully green). The peas and kale only took about 2 minutes each. Make sure you run the vegetables in cold water when they are done, to stop them from over cooking. Squeeze the excess water from the kale. Set aside.
  5. Once the water starts boiling and the pasta goes in, melt the butter (and bacon drippings, if you’re using) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, walnuts and sage and cook for 2 to 3 minutes.
  6. Drain pasta when done, then add it and the vegetables to the pan with sage-walnut butter. Toss and cook gently over low heat for a minute or two.
  7. Serve pasta with a dollop of the mascarpone-Parmesan cheese mixture and a sprinkle of parsley. Yeah, you could just mix the cheese and parsley in with the pasta, but hey – a little presentation goes a long way!

This dish is versatile, as most pasta dishes are. You can use any pasta and just about any vegetable in any amount (though you may need to increase or decrease the cheese mixture and butter sauce to account for the change). There was enough left over for Brian and I to have for lunch today.

I  tried really hard to get the kids involved, but in the end the only cooperation I got was from London. She helped me wash the vegetables.

Meal Planning Saves Money and Time

Meal planning is a great way to save time and money. It’s nice to know “what’s for dinner” on those busy evenings when the house is buzzing with activity. Hungry kids doing homework and me running around the kitchen from the fridge, to the stove, to the sink to help a kid with homework or whatever the current crisis is and then back to the stove… and here we go again. Before I started meal planning, I would frequently forget a component or an entire dish at least once with every meal. We’re also more likely to eat a balanced healthy meal, especially over the course of week. And there’s less waste. The kids also seem to like the menu. They eagerly wait for me to post in on the fridge and then reference it nearly every day.

I usually go to the farmers market on Saturday. I’ll buy whatever produce is in season, some free range chicken (usually a whole chicken) and pastured pork (maybe pork chops, bacon, sausage, a roast or ground pork), maybe some pastured beef (rarely), some free range eggs, goat cheese, mushrooms, and what ever else I can find that looks yummy. I build my weekly menus from this trip and whatever is left from last week. I’ll plan four or five dinners, knowing I’ll probably improvise at last one additional meal during the week and we’ll probably have leftovers one night or eat with friends or family or occasionally eat out. I try to plan on using the oldest ingredients first. I start with the protein: meat at least twice, fish once, beans at least once (we eat vegetarian meals once or twice a week). Then I’ll just spread the produce out over the week. This usually inspires the flavors and cuisine of each meal and I start filling in with things I’ll need to pick up from at a grocery or specialty store. I start making a list of these items to the right of the page. I also make notes about how I’m going to cook something and whether it’s something I’ll need to get from the garden. This just helps me be more organized when I’m actually preparing the meal. I’ll attach any recipes I have and then I’ll clip it to the fridge. Voila!

Inevitably something will spoil or I’ll need to rearrange something, but at least I have an idea and “menu” (inventory, really) of foods to choose from each day.

Making gluten and dairy free dinners are easy enough, since we are already eating a healthy, varied diet. We just had to eliminate or find substitutes for things like bread, noodles and cheese. Surprisingly, eliminating dairy is a little tougher than eliminating gluten. Why gluten and dairy free, you ask? Click here to read my previous post and find out why.

So the pork chop dinner and the beans and rice dinner went as planned.

Pork chops with braised fennel, smashed potatoes and kale

However, I had a hard time making the corn tortillas on chicken taco night and was running out of time, so instead I pan fried the breasts, and we had carrots, greens, broccoli and brown rice instead. Another night I improvised with the some gluten free brown rice spaghetti noodles I found at Healthy Home Market. I fried some chunky bacon pieces and roughly cut huge chunks of green house tomatoes from the farmers market, onions and asparagus (which is the freshest, most tasty, in season produce I’ve ever bought from Trader’s Joes). I had fava beans leftover from the farmers market which I had shelled and blanched (to remove the waxy skin) earlier in the week and some leftover chickpeas from homemade hummus (yum – one of Linsey’s favorite lunches now that she’s gluten free). Of course there was some chopped garlic and fresh basil from the garden.

After I cooked the bacon and set it aside, I very, very, very lightly sauteed the veg in the bacon fat. I really just wanted them warmed, not cooked. I did reserved about half of the bacon fat for the sauce. So after I took the veg out, I added the rest of the bacon fat back in the empty pan and sauteed some chopped garlic for just about 30 seconds and then added some white wine, reduced it down for maybe five minutes then added some chicken stock. I thickened the sauce with goat cheese from the farmers market.  (We fudged on the dairy free dinner here.) Then I added the veg back in and poured it all over the noodles (which I had boiled and drained somewhere in there). I cooked it for another five minutes so that the veg and noodles could soak up some of that yummy sauce. I sprinkled a good bit of bacon (the only meat in the dish) over every plate. Oh my, was it good! This is a great example of a seasonal meal. (Oh, and no one even noticed that they were brown rice noodles.)

We never got around to “fish night” and “taco night” was a bust, so I added fish tacos to the menu for this week. Brian offered to cook this meal. It was delicious, healthy and not cooked by me! He cooked the fish in the cast iron skillet (don’t do that by the way – the fishiness seeps into cast iron and taints the next meal or two), but the fish itself was tasty. He seasoned it with some lime juice, tequila and chili powder (you go boy)! He made some guacamole (with help from Haleigh, his sous-chef for the evening) and sauteed some peppers and onions. We had some leftover brown rice in the fridge.  I chopped up some tomatoes and lettuce, and we used the corn tortilla shells I made yesterday morning. (I had fixed the dough from the night before by adding more masa harina and cooked them the next morning. My new tortilla press is awesome, by the way! Some people suggest using plastic wrap to line the press, but I suggest wax paper. Much easier to work with.) My taco was too stuffed to be eaten by hand so I just added generous dollops of guacamole and plain Green yogurt and ate it with a fork. YUM! I’m so impressed with his cooking skills!

The rest of this week’s meal plan looks like this:

Today

  • Korean Style Pastured Pork Chops (pastured pork from farmers market)
  • 1/2 Sticky & 1/2 Brown Rice
  • Broccoli (from farmers market)
  • Korean Style Greens (using beet greens from farmers market)
  • Kimchi
  • Lettuce (wraps, from garden)
  • Seaweed (wraps)

Wednesday

  • Brown Rice Pasta with Mascarpone (garlic, olive oil, chicken broth sauce for Linsey)
  • Greens (chard and/or kale from the garden)
  • Broccoli (from the farmers market)
  • English Peas (from the farmers market)
  • Salad (lettuce from the garden, green house tomatoes and onions from farmers market, homemade dressing)

Thursday

  • Whole Roasted Chicken (free range, pastured chicken from farmers market)
  • Roasted Beet Salad w/goat cheese (from farmers market), walnuts and homemade dressing
  • Roasted Carrots and New Potatoes (farmers market)
  • Salad (lettuce from the garden, green house tomatoes and onions from farmers market, homemade dressing)

Friday we’ll eat leftover or sandwiches.

Bored with Vegetables?

It’s no wonder “dieting” never worked for me. Even to this day I associate “dieting” with carrots and celery sticks and salads at every meal. The very word evokes images of bunnies munching on lettuce and carrots. Plain, crunchy, bland, boring vegetables. And don’t forget fruit… Apple slices, pears, bananas, grapes… B.O.R.I.N.G. Then, when I started exploring new foods and new cooking methods I realized that the food wasn’t boring. I was just stuck in a food rut.

So what changed? I started shopping at the farmers market and learning about local and seasonal eating. My eyes were opened to a new world of food that I had either never bothered to pay attention to, or I had never bothered to try, or had thought was to complicated to prepare or too extravagant for my taste. The blinders were off and I even noticed and purchased new foods from the grocery store. A year and a half later, I’m still tasting new foods weekly, sometimes even daily and there’s no end in sight. Here’s Linsey taking her first bite of red corn:


Yeah. Red corn. That you eat, not a Thanksgiving table decoration. How was it? Meh. Tasted like corn that’s not quite in season yet – and corn isn’t in season yet around here. So if I can find it again when it is in season, maybe I’ll give it another taste. But it was fun to try. I also found multicolored popping corn in a bulk bin at Healthy Home Market. Can’t wait to try that. I especially love to see the confusion on my family’s faces when I bring home something that doesn’t look like the standard variety.

I’ve heard people say that they don’t like to cook. But I can’t help but wonder how that’s possible if you like to eat. I mean, most of us eat at least three or four times a day. Cooking takes some talent, but mostly it just takes practice, patience and a good cookbook or recipe website like allrecipes.com or epicurious.com. Don’t be afraid to try. Tell your guinea pigs (aka family) to be patient, open minded and supportive. (And if they aren’t, then tell them to shut up and eat.) They’ll learn to like these new foods and so will you. It’s normal human behavior to be skeptical of trying new foods. It’s what has kept us alive for thousands of years. You might have to attempt a recipe two or even three times to get it right, but it’s worth it. I strongly urge you to pay attention to ratings and reviews in the recipe websites. They’ll give you great hints and tell you how to avoid mistakes or make them better. It’s like free cooking school. Just get in there and do it. Eventually, you’ll gain confidence and learn which flavors and cooking methods work and which don’t.

Here’s a list of some veggie dishes we’ve had this week. Some of the recipes are new for me.

-Braised Fennel

We had this tonight and it was delicious and easy. Skip the water and just use broth. Fennel is so good for you. Click here to read about it’s health benefits. By the way braised simply means to cook (meat, vegetables, etc) by lightly browning in fat and then cooking slowly in a closed pan with a small amount of liquid (from dictionary.com).

Tonight's dinner: Ossabaw pork chops, roasted smashed potatoes, kale and swiss chard, and that's the braised fennel there in the front.

-Smashed Potatoes

I got the idea for this on Easy Entertaining with Michael Chiarello. He boiled the potatoes (I used the microwave) and then gently smashed them once with a spoon on a cookie sheet, drizzled with olive oil and seasoned them and then popped them in the oven. I used salt, pepper and chopped garlic. I put them under the broiler until the top starting turning golden brown and then sprinkled them with spring onions after I pulled them out of the oven. It’s so easy and good. You have to try this.

-Greens

Do not put vinegar on my greens. A squeeze of fresh lemon or lime, maybe. But no vinegar please. I like to saute them with onions and garlic in olive oil and then season with salt and pepper. Can’t get any simpler than that. Okay maybe you could add some shredded parm or goat cheese or you could cook them in a little chicken broth or add some soy sauce. Kale and swiss chard are in season now. Early spinach is here or just around the corner.

From my garden - kale and rainbow chard, along with some oregano and spring onions that I used for tonight's dinner.

And that was all from tonight’s dinner. Last night I made zucchini. I sliced it lengthwise about 1/4 inch thick and then soaked it in homemade dressing (balsamic vinegar, olive oil, honey, shallots, salt and pepper) for about 15 minutes. Then I grilled it (in a grill pan). Linsey raved about it. Brian and I both ended up giving her a few of slices from our plates because what parent says no to a child when they want more vegetables? We also had avocado and mango salad. I roughly cut them into one inch pieces and then squeezed a lime over it and threw in some chopped cilantro from the garden.

Salads don’t have to contain mostly lettuce or any at all for that matter. Use your imagination. I like a little fruit (dried or fresh) and nuts in my salads. Adding fresh herbs can transform a salad to something extraordinary. Quality dressing is a must. I strongly suggest you try making your own. It’s so easy and the taste is superior, so why not? My favorite is one part olive oil, one part balsamic, a little honey (more if you like it sweet, but try to cut back on the sweet stuff), salt and pepper. I put the ingredients in a mason jar and give it a shake. Make enough for the week (or more). Sometimes I add garlic, shallots or fresh herbs. You can use any oil, any vinegar or even fresh squeezed citrus. Use cheeses, buttermilk, mayo, sour cream or yogurt to make creamy dressings. Find healthier homemade recipes for your favorites online. The Joy of Cooking has tons of recipes and ideas for homemade dressings. The best part is that you can tailor dressings to suit your taste and standards.

Make fresh produce the norm at home. Save a few frozen bags for emergencies, and don’t even bother with the canned (maybe some tomatoes, occasionally). To keep things interesting, try new fruits and vegetables every week. Find out what’s in season right now, and start there. Produce that’s not in season will be low on quality and taste. Dig a little deeper in the produce department, but also try to find a farmers market that sells organically grown, local produce. The taste of produce this fresh and clean might surprise you. You should also try growing your own. It’s never too late to start a garden. Produce grows year round. Just search the web to find out what you should plant this time of year in your area. Start with container gardening if you are short on experience, time or space. Again the web has all kinds of info on container gardening. Harvesting food from your own garden then preparing it in your own kitchen and sitting down with your family to eat it feels so innately human and satisfying.

Try new cooking methods and recipes too. Before this journey I used recipes for the main dish and usually steamed veg then added oil or butter, salt and pepper. Steamed veggies are classic, but you can spruce them up with new flavors (pretty much the way you would a salad – vinegar, oil, herbs, etc.). Give roasting a try. Simply toss vegetables in olive or coconut oil, salt and pepper and roast at 400 degrees until they start to brown. Mmmm…

And that is just the tip of the iceberg. Vegetables are not boring.

Food Myths and Slow Food Shortcuts

Ever heard the term “slow food”? The movement was basically created in opposition to fast food. We have a local chapter, Slow Food Charlotte. The idea is that food should be clean (free of artificial preservatives, coloring, irradiation, synthetic pesticides, fungicides, ripening agents, fumigants, drug residues and growth hormones), ethically produced and not overly processed. Food should be prepared from scratch, at home, using local and minimally processed ingredients – most of the time. (Notice I didn’t say something vague like “whenever possible” or “as often as possible”.) But we eat three meals a day and if we don’t use some shortcuts, we’d likely spend all day thinking about and preparing food. We have to find ways to simplify food preparation, without sacrificing quality, our health and the environment. But first, we have to change our thinking a bit. We need a reality check and we need to recognize some food myths for what they are.

MYTH: RECOMMENDED PORTION SIZES ARE UNREALISTICALLY SMALL

This is the biggest problem facing America’s health today. The amount of food Americans typically eat borders on and sometimes clearly crosses over to gluttony. It’s no wonder we’re a nation of obesity. And when a normal portion of food is placed before us, what do we do? We balk. We feel ripped off. We make jokes. We double or triple the recommended serving or go for seconds. Portion control is out of control. If anything, more often they are unrealistically large (like super sized drinks and fries). We need to eat less food.

MYTH: IT COSTS TOO MUCH TO EAT HEALTHY

Over and over and over again, I hear that organic, free range, pastured, grass fed and local food is too expensive, bla, bla, bla(sigh). It’s not. The truth is that most of what you find at regular grocery stores is junk and it costs too little.  We should be suspicious of it’s low cost and expect to pay more. Americans spend smaller percentages of our income on food than most other countries in the world. We are getting what we pay for –  low quality food. And thanks to the low costs, we’re also consuming too much food. If we add over consumption to the equation, I’m not convinced that it really does cost that much more up front. And you’re paying more for it in other ways – in the form of quality of life,  healthcare and environmental clean up. And, The sooner everyone lays this myth to rest, the sooner we can move on to the next problem.

MYTH: SWITCHING TO “HEALTHIER” VERSIONS OF FOODS WILL HELP WITH WEIGHT LOSS

Don’t expect switching to healthier versions of bad food to noticeably improve your health or help with weight loss. Better for you doesn’t mean good for you. Here are some foods that some might consider “better” for you: baked chips, pretzels, whole grain cereal, whole grain bread without high fructose corn syrup, low fat foods, foods with sugar substitutes (like diet soda), flavored low or no fat yogurt, flavored low sugar oatmeal, margarine, reduced calorie foods. And here are some brands that people automatically regard as healthy, even though they aren’t  – Kashi, Lean Cuisine, Weight Watchers, Stonyfield… I know there are many more and I wish I had time to list them all.

I’m not saying some of these foods aren’t slightly better. A few of them are. What I am saying is that you will not notice improved health or weight loss if you consume these “healthier” versions regularly. If you want noticeably better health and weight loss, omit them completely. It does not matter how few calories or how little fat it contains. Especially when it comes to prepackaged processed food, the fewer fat and calories a food contains, the less nutrients you are probably getting. The nutrients  are most likely replaced with air and/or water. So stop looking at nutrition labels and health claims like “low fat” or “low sugar” and look at the ingredient list. Even foods  labeled “organic” aren’t necessarily good for you. Read the ingredient list. Ignore everything else.

Whole foods that only have one ingredient (for example, carrots only contain carrots) are good for you. If the ingredient list doesn’t contain items you can easily find in you pantry or refrigerator, then it’s probably not good for you. Eat a wide variety of fresh, organic produce. Eat plain yogurt or oatmeal and add fresh fruit, nuts and if you still need a little sweetness, add a touch of honey or pure maple syrup. Instead of soda, have water, milk, unsweetened tea or coffee. Instead of bread or pasta, eat quinoa or brown rice. Eat meat, but only a little. The fewer the ingredients the better. Ideally anything with more than five ingredients is junk. Foods your grandma (or grandpa) remember eating as a kid are probably okay. Fat and sugar are okay in moderation (sugary foods should especially only be consumed in moderation) as long as they are naturally occurring and easily recognized by your grandmother (lard, butter, fruits, honey, maple syrup). Exotic foods eaten for generations by other cultures are also okay (olive oil, coconut oil, bananas, coffee). They would be recognized by grandparents in other countries.

MYTH: I DON’T HAVE TIME

Sure you do, but striking a balance means something different for everyone.

For me it means being more flexible – preparing simple, healthy meals that taste great, but without taking too many shortcuts.  Before this journey and for many Americans, shortcuts in the kitchen too frequently lead to a pantry (and freezer) filled with boxes of prepackaged processed food. That’s not something I’m willing to do anymore. I’m not going to abandon my general slow food philosophy for convenience. Doing so would lead me right back to that unhealthy Standard American Diet. Here are some shortcuts I use:

  • Scale down recipes to around 5 ingredients
  • Keep dinner preparation under an hour
  • Double up recipes for leftovers (I make my own “microwave dinners” or lunches by dividing leftovers into small individual sized Pyrex containers with lids.)
  • Doubling up on prep work (washing and chopping enough veg, herb, garlic, etc.  for this meal and the next one or two)
  • Dinner planning (Once a week I jot down around five meals. I use this to create my grocery list, which cuts down on costs and waste. My goals are to include one protein (a small amount of meat, fish or beans), at least two or three vegetables and fruits (preferably seasonal and at least one raw) and occasionally one rice, pasta, grain or quinoa dish. We aren’t eating like birds around here.)

Beans! Beans! They’re Good for Your Heart.

The more you eat them, the more you f…ight disease and signs of aging. Beans are one of nature’s most perfect foods. They are a rich with antioxidants and a good source of folic acid, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron and protein. They can replace meat in a vegetarian or vegan meal. (But be sure to add “good fat” to a meatless meal. Either by cooking drizzling with healthy fats or oils  – coconut oil, avocado oil, walnut oil, olive oil, butter or lard – or incorporate oily foods like avocado, olives or nuts into the meal. Good fats are friends and help the body absorb nutrients. Fats are also good for your brain, skin and hair.) It’s also a good idea to pair beans with brown rice or corn. Each lack one or more proteins, but together they are more complete.  Different types of beans have different health benefits. Oh and if you want to reduce flatulence, soak them over night, sprout them or get yourself some Beano.

brown rice and heritage mixed beans (cooked in homemade chicken stock, onion and garlic) with broccoli and pineapple-mango fruit salad (dressed with fresh squeezed orange juice, cilantro and chive blossoms and topped with avocado)

Beans are versatile and should not be overlooked or considered boring. For me at least, it’s just a matter of (1) taking the plunge and learning to cook them and (2) experimenting with recipes and combinations. Learning to cook with beans is like learning to cook with any other protein – chicken, fish, beef, etc. The possibilities are endless. I’m not sure why so many people turn their noses up to beans and only associate them with vegetarian or vegan eating. They should just be associated with healthy eating. And of course, you don’t have to substitute meat with beans. You can eat them together. I strongly suggest doing that. Yum!!

Here’s another reason to eat more beans – you get more bang for your buck. If the upfront costs of eating healthy is one of the things preventing you from doing so, then eat more beans. If you buy dried beans you can save a ton of money – especially if you buy from bulk bins. I also prefer dried over canned for a few reasons: (1) it’s cheaper (2) the lining in cans frequently contains BPA, a dangerous chemical with more evidence mounting against it every day; (3) canned beans are usually high in sodium; and (4) the texture (more bite, less mush) and taste is superior. That said, I do keep a couple cans of low sodium, organic beans in the pantry for last minute meal ideas. Dried beans take a little more planning.

Once you learn the basics, the rest is just experimental. I suggest soaking for at least 6 hours. They don’t have to soak overnight. Many times I forgot to soak the beans and changed my entire dinner plans before I realized this. As a matter of fact, they don’t have to be soaked at all. But they will have to cook longer and remember, soaking will reduce flatulence later. Your gut will thank you. Cook them in broth (for about an hour if you soaked them, 2 to 2 1/2 hours if you forgot). Tasting one or two beans at different times during cooking can help you get the texture you want. Once they are cooked, you can add whatever you want. As I said the possibilities are endless.  You can even take them out of the cooking stock just before they’re done and finish them in a saute pan with… anything. Use your imagination. I think I’ll try it sauteed with onions, garlic, tomato and basil next time (Italian style). Maybe even some red pepper flake…

The rest of this post is completely unrelated to beans. Just random pictures and words.

For Cinco de Mayo:

Pulled Pork and Goat Cheese Quesadilla (with brown rice and vegetables) - Click on the photo for the recipe.

Chorizo Fajitas with peppers, onions, tomatoes, cheese and plain yogurt.

Suggestion: Buy good quality blocks of cheese and shred or grate it yourself. You'll be amazed at the difference. If you only use prepackaged shredded or grated cheese, you don't know what you're missing. Try it! It's also more cost effective. I give the job of grating and shredding cheese to my kids, who love it. Then I store the excess in a container instead of a bag to prevent sticking. In case you didn't know, cellulose is used in prepackaged shredded cheese to prevent caking.

Mmmm. Refreshing Mojito with fresh mint from my garden.

Grossly malformed strawberries thanks to TruGreen. We won't be eating these. Click on the photo to find out what happened.

African Basil, Red Russian Kale, Spring Onions - All from my garden, used to make an "international omelet" this morning.

African Basil - Pretty enough to be used (and is used) as an ornamental. Heartier in colder weather than other basil, which is why it is sometimes considered a perennial. Taste is described as less minty and more clove like.

Blueberries! Fingers crossed that I get to eat the ripe berries before the birds this year.

Healthy Home Market, Rooster’s and Other New Places

On Friday we ate at Roosters Wood-Fired Kitchen on Morrison Boulevard, across from Southpark. We chose this restaurant because it was casual, kid friendly and reasonably priced. They use local and organic ingredients when possible. The menu is a la carte, but not super expensive like you’d find in a fine dining restaurant. They bring bread out before the meal and the “kid food” was really good. Good enough for an adult. Mac and cheese was definitely made with real cheese and the chicken fingers were delicious. Haleigh ordered a burger which she and Brian liked. I didn’t try it, but it looked yummy. I had gnocchi and a salad. The portions were just right – more than enough for one person. Most restaurants give you enough for two or three. I don’t eat that much… neither does Brian. He ordered the pasta special and salad. I was hoping for more veg in our meals, but it was a la carte. Next time we’ll order another side vegetable. Linsey wanted to sit outside (which would have been nice – it was beautiful and comfortable outside), but when we walked in and saw the open kitchen we changed our mind. The atmosphere was cool. We’ll definitely go back for the food and the ambiance.

Oh and I just purchased a Groupon for Table 274 in Cotswold ($12 for $25). They have local menu selections. Can’t wait to try it. Yay Groupon for offering a discount for a restaurant that supports local agriculture! You can click on this link if you want the Groupon.

I was going to do some shopping Sunday morning and decided to check out Healthy Home Market on South Boulevard. I usually go to the one on Independence, which is smaller. After reading some reviews on yelp.com (to make sure it was worth the trip) I figured I check with Brian to see if he’d want to go. I’d read quite a few good things about their beer selection and I knew that would spark some interest for him. (He loves to try new brew and he’s rubbed off on me.) The beer selection was nice. They had some local brews and some organic ones. I even found a local one to try – Carolina Strawberry Ale. Pretty good. It’s not sweet or anything, but you can smell the strawberry. The bottle is cool and girlie. It’s girlie beer. I like it, but to be honest I don’t see Brian standing around holding one.

The girls were not happy that they had to tag along, but once we got there they were glad they came. They got a few treats and some chicken wings from the deli while I poked around and shopped. They have a meat counter – with local and grass fed beef and pastured chicken (and it’s way cheaper than the stuff I buy from the farmers market). They are at least twice the size of the Independence store. They had more deli selections and prepared food. More bulk items. (The selection and process of buying in bulk was intimidating the first couple times, but now I’m hooked. I’ll probably only rarely buy prepackaged flour, sugar, beans, salt, etc. It’s much cheaper and the quality is way better when you buy from bulk bins. Even cheaper than Trader Joe’s. Plus you can decide how much or how little to buy.)

Most of the produce is organic and some of it is local, or at least regional. And they have all the specialty items I use. I have a feeling Teeter and TJ’s will be seeing less of me. And they have these great classes, talks and community events. We’re looking forward to Customer Appreciation Day (Saturday, May 21, 1-4pm). Love this store.

I’m looking forward to exploring South End (downright excited about it actually). I am not familiar with the area at all, but that is going to change. They have the kind of natural and local food stores and restaurants that I like – all clustered together. I’m going to check out Atherton Market, right down the street from HHM and Berrybrook Farm, on East Boulevard next time I’m in the area.

Brian visited the Peach Stand in Fort Mill and discovered that they sell the milk we like. It’s just as far as my every-other-week-milk-pickup location, but (like HHE on South Boulevard) they have other local products that I’m interested in. Plus, I can make the trip on my own schedule. I can’t wait until we run out of milk so I can go check it out!

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