Simple, Seasonal Food

Carrots are in season. My kids like them raw mostly, but for dinner we like them roasted with just olive oil, salt and pepper. I roast most veggies at 450 degrees, but how long depends on the size. The carrots I get from the farmers market are small-ish, but still I split them in half so they cook even faster. I roasted these maybe… 20  minutes? I used to think that there was an exact science to using the oven. I wouldn’t dare use it without the instructions from a recipe telling me exactly what temperature and how long. I’m finally comfortable with guesstimating a temperature and cook time.  For most things, precision is not necessary. You can just tell when it’s done, or – use a thermometer. Not done yet? Okay. Back you go. Occasionally I wait too long. But usually overcooked or “charred” food is still edible and tasty… usually.

Carrots from the farmers market are never as uniform as the ones they sell in grocery stores.

Thank goodness, because I like a little fun in the kitchen. Put some clothes on those lady legs!

I split them in half, but kept the “legs” together for a little funny on my girls’ plates. They didn’t even notice.

Carrots and roasted chicken… mmm…. I got this sample seasoning packet from the farmers’ market at Atherton Mills. A Savory Spice Shop is opening in the shopping center next door and they were giving these away to spread the word. Good blend. Can’t wait to visit this spice shop. Roasted chicken was so simple. Rub olive oil or butter, salt and whatever seasoning you like on the chicken and roast it at 375 degrees until temp reaches 180 degrees . Unless you got yourself a pastured chicken like this one. They only need to get around 170 to 175 degrees. A four pound chicken takes around an hour and fifteen minutes. (A meat thermometer is inexpensive and doesn’t take up much space. Totally worth it, especially if you tend to to overcook things like I do (in fear of under cooking). I start taking it’s temperature after an hour. Here’s a tip I’ve picked up somewhere. Stick the thermometer between the breast and thigh so that you don’t actually puncture the meat and allow all those juices to escape. And make sure the thermometer doesn’t touch any bones or the bottom of the pan.)

Oh wow. This is the second time I’ve purchased a pastured chicken from Laughing Owl Farm. So moist and yummy.

Ever heard of Cushaw Pie? Not me. I found the cushaw at a pumpkin patch. I bought it mostly to decorate the front porch along with a few other uncommon varieties of winter squash.

The cushaw is the one that looks like a duck. It’s green and white, kind of like a watermelon.

But then thought I’d see if any of them were good for anything else, like eating. Turns out cushaws makes a good pie. It’s especially good with homemade whipped cream infused with nutmeg and orange zest. However, the pie crust was the best part. I used a basic recipe, but substituted 1/2 unrefined coconut oil and 1/2 butter instead of all butter or shortening (leaf lard works well, but I wanted to impart the flavor of coconut and butter). I also added a tablespoon of sugar and maybe a 1/4 teaspoon of  cinnamon. Simple as that.

I made heart shaped pumpkin pancakes for the girls on Friday. They were out of school for Veteran’s Day. I just added a couple extra tablespoons of flour, about a cup of pumpkin puree and some pumpkin pie spices to my usual pancake batter and cut the milk down just a little. If you’ve made pancakes a few times, you know the consistency. We ate them with a little real butter, 100% pure maple syrup and fresh apples. Simple enough.

I found this brand new heart-shaped pancake mold at my favorite thrift store for only $0.49! According to the tag, it came with a partner. Two would have been better for. sure. Double the pancakes in half the time. Took me like 30 minutes to make 6 pancakes! I sure do heart my girls…

Also found this cute cookie jar for a whopping $1.99. No cookies yet. The girls check every few days.

Sometime this week I’m going to surprise them and actually fill it with homemade cookies. I’m thinking I might even restart a fairly new family tradition: “Friday treats”. Just not every Friday. Last school year we did this and the girls really loved it. In fact so much that they actually drove me insane about it all. week. long. “What’cha makin’ this week? What? That’s not a good treat!? Why can’t you make blah, blah, blah? You didn’t have time to make our Friday treat!? Well then you owe us…” Wait, what?  So, no. Not every Friday.

Pomegranates and Smurphat Family Recipes

I bought two pomegranates a week ago. I looked at them nearly every day and asked myself, “When are you going to crack those things open? What exactly are you waiting for?” My kids asked the same sorts of questions. Truth is I haven’t bought one in years. When I was growing up, my mom would buy them. But she lovingly did all the hard work and all we had to do was pick off the arils. I’ve bought them a few times since then, but was always disappointed and never felt they were worth the trouble. The seeds inside were hard and difficult to chew, making the little burst of juice hardly worth the messy, cutting, peeling, prying, plucking and seed spitting. Now, why did I buy these again? Oh yeah. They are good for you and yummy (even if they are a lot of work). They are rich in vitamin C, B5, potassium and polyphenols (like tannins and flavonoids).

Finally, I decided to open this baby up. But first I had to consult YouTube. Not because it’s all that difficult, but because I figured there was a trick to it and YouTube is my favorite site for how-to demonstrations. I found two ways to do it. Since I had two of them, I tried both ways. Yeah. I’m a nerd like that. The first method involves cutting the thing into manageable pieces then working the arils out by hand in a bowl of water. The peel and membrane floated to the top and the kernels sank to the bottom. Of course when you cut the thing open, just know that it has the potential to look like a scene from some gory horror flick. The juices splatter. In fact, I didn’t even notice they had splattered all the way up the wall and under my cabinets. Also found some on the the paper towel roll the next day. And on the canisters. And toaster. Meh… I prefer the second way, which involves “scalping” the top to reveal the sections and then slicing through the skin and prying the sections apart. It was definitely less messy. And the spoon tapping to release the arils worked okay. Though it didn’t really knock them off, the arils were loosened and easy to pry off after the spoon smacking. (I know, I know. I’m a food nerd.)

As it turns out, the seeds aren’t as bad as I remember. I wasn’t going to mention the seed spitting option to the kids unless they had a problem with it. I didn’t have to. The seeds didn’t bother them. One of them even liked the crunch. Huh. Me too. Go figure. And eating the pomegranate with the seeds is better for you. They contain healthy oils, micronutrients and fiber. Pomegranates are high in sugar. In fact, most of it’s calories come from this sugar. But the fiber helps keep blood sugar levels from spiking by slowing the breakdown of sugar in the body.

They make a great healthy snack all by themselves (I ate quite a few while writing this post), but they were also great on our salads last night:

Speaking of salads, this Sweet and Sour Slaw is what led me to the collection of Smurphat family recipes. Of course the recipe is good as is, but you know me – I added fennel, apples and carrots to give it my seasonal, nutrient dense twist.

The slaw recipe is my mother’s. I had misplaced my handwritten recipe and after searching everywhere, I suddenly remembered that she had submitted the recipe for the Smurphat Family Recipes. No she is not technically a Smurphat (that would be my late grandmother on my Dad’s side), and this recipe actually comes from my childhood neighbor. The recipes were gathered at a family reunion and the “Sweet and Sour Slaw” recipe was my mother’s contribution.  So I dug around and found the family recipe book in a closet upstairs. (Upstairs!?)

Even before I’d found this cookbook, I had been thinking a lot about family recipes. Since I’m cooking more traditionally now, I am always in search of old recipes. I love how naturally good for you they are and I’m fascinated that science is now proving that these tried and true methods and ingredients (a.k.a. slow food) are more beneficial to our health than we realized. Good, simple, unprocessed ingredients, food preparations and cooking methods that have been fine-tuned over centuries and handed down for generations – the culture, the tradition. I’ve been wondering how and what recipes I want to pass on to my daughters. And as I was preparing the slaw, I began thinking about my grandmother. She passed away a few months ago. I wondered which recipes she had contributed. So after dinner I finished my glass of Syrah while perusing family recipes.

As it turns out, quite a few of these recipes called for processed food ingredients like cream of mushroom soup and rolls of refrigerated dough, marshmallow creme, shortening and margarine. I was a little disappointed that these recipes weren’t very traditional, and in fact seem to come from the 50′s era of condensed soup and prepackaged convenience foods.

There were a few gems though. Even some traditional Italian and German Recipes. My grandmother’s recipe for “Number 1 Perfect Apple Cobbler” was included and it just so happens that apples are in season. In fact, Saturday is the last day for apples at my favorite farmers market. Other than the “oleo” (margarine) that she calls for, the rest of the ingredients are pretty traditional. I’m excited to try it.

All this has me wanting to put together a collection of family recipes that use traditional ingredients and methods. You’ll probably be hearing more about this and more about traditional recipes and methods in future posts. I’d love to hear about your family food culture, traditions and recipes. Please feel free to comment below.

Time Change, Halloween, Thrift Stores and More Seasonal Food

I’m in a sort of ‘zen’ mood this week. Last week was rough. I was ready to throw in the towel. But toward the end of the week I found my center. The chaos seems to be running in slow motion at the moment. Slow enough for me to handle. Slow enough for me to step back and see what’s really important.

The crape myrtle in my back yard is one of my favorite things. It’s my calendar. In the fall it looks like this. Green, yellow and red and pink all at once. Even though it’s leaves are dropping, the flowers are still hanging on. Normally, the time change bothers me. But this year, the early darkness seems calming. Evenings feel slightly less hectic. The rest of the world disappears. Only the center of my universe, my family, this house, is visible… at least until morning.

Halloween was fun, but lasted longer than usual. After a full night of trick-or-treating we decided to take the kids to see both sets of grandparents. We ate too much candy. We went to bed too late. We did not hand out boxes of raisins, apples or home made goodies as I wished we could.  Instead we gave out tattoos, lollipops and fruit snacks (organic, with no artificial colors or flavors – except for a few recycled handouts from other places). I also managed to find some decent, individually wrapped dark chocolate that was ethically produced. Expensive chocolate, unrecognized by most, that will probably be left in candy bowls and jars, until all the other favorites are long gone.

The girls were so darn cute. Especially our sweet little Dorothy. I’ll always remember Haleigh the year she dressed as Raggedy Ann, Linsey the year she was Dora the Explorer and now London as Dorothy, with her white stockinged legs and little feet shuffling in a sparkly ruby red blur from porch to porch.

This is the most delicious chicken salad I’ve made yet. I used seasonal ingredients: crisp fresh apples and dried cranberries. And I added a little curry powder. Hey, don’t knock the curry. I found it in this recipe from allrecipes, where it got rave reviews. I thought it sounded interesting. Why not try it? All I have to say is this: curry powder is now a staple ingredient in my chicken salad. Just a tiny bit – 1/2 tsp or so.

This was the best fish I’ve eaten in while. My picture doesn’t do it justice. (I’ll explain it in a minute.) My parents went on a fishing trip recently and came back with a nice sized catch, which they skinned, gutted and filleted themselves in freezing cold weather. And I am so lucky (and thankful) that they shared. Flounder is very delicate, apparently. Too delicate for a clumsy home cook like me. I ended up with a few fairly large chunks and a lot of bits and pieces. But it was a delicious mess – seasoned with salt, pepper, a little garlic and chopped fresh rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Every single one of the kids devoured it and begged for more. I reluctantly doled out the remaining “flakes” I thought I might have for lunch the next day, in second and third helpings. How can I say no when they plead for something so good for them?

This oven “fried” coconut and almond crusted flounder turned out much better. Sounds fancy, but I really just substituted regular flour with a mix of coconut flour and almond flour. You could also just use toasted coconut and ground almonds (food processor). Cook it in the oven at 475 deg. for about 8 to 10 minutes. I turned the broiler on at the last minute to get the tops nice and golden brown. The kids love this one too. You get the fried fish taste, without so much oil and again if you are looking for a gluten free alternative to fried fish, here ya’ go. (Also works for chicken, though you’d have to cook it longer. Here’s a recipe for Eating Well’s Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers.) I cut the fish into smaller, more manageable pieces and it turned out a great.  I made enough to freeze for another night.

Here’s another delicious mess of a meal. I found a recipe for carnitas on smittenkitchen.com. I didn’t have any orange juice or lime. I considered running out to get some, but knowing apples and pork go well together, I used some spiced apple cider and lemons that I had in the fridge instead. I also added about a teaspoon of some orange zest I have stored in the freezer. (I keep a stock of lemon, lime and orange zest in the freezer. Before peeling or juicing citrus I wash and grate the peel and store it in the freezer. It’s frugal and I love how this zest can brighten up a dish. I use it all the time.) The recipe is so great by the way, even though I burned it (because I stepped away from the kitchen). All the liquid evaporated out more quickly than I expected and it stuck HARD to the cast iron skillet, which – by the way – you should avoid cooking acidic foods in. I had hoped the lemon juice wouldn’t be too much. Between the burning and the damage from the acidic lemon juice, the “season” on the bottom of my cast iron dutch oven is gone. About a quarter of the pork had to be scraped into the garbage. The carnitas were yummy with the queso fresco and cauliflower I bought at the farmers market. I topped mine with avocado, yogurt, red onion, green onions, cilantro and a few drops of sriracha (hot chilli sauce). Mmm-mmm-mmm…

I had planned to split the pork into two meals. Luckily enough pork remained, even after I burned it. The following night I served the leftover pork with sauerkraut and smashed red potatoes and cauliflower (also leftover from the night before). If you are watching carbs, you should consider mixing potatoes with cauliflower (or even substituting completely). My family didn’t even notice it the first time I mixed our mashed potatoes half and half with cauliflower. Now that they know they like it, I don’t bother trying to disguise it. If you have a picky eater, you might want to try it that way. I don’t bother peeling my potatoes either.

This was last weeks “macaroni and cheese”. To my kids, anything with a white, cheesy sauce is macaroni and cheese. And they’ve grown to expect a few veggies mixed in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually a little spoiled by our macaroni and cheese. The plain stuff just might not be good enough anymore.

The one above has a little bit of ground pork, arugula, peppers, onions, garlic, chives and thyme. The one below from last night’s dinner has a slightly less cheesy, garlic, butter and sage cream sauce. I threw in a few chopped kalamata olives and anchovies to add richness to the sauce. (A few anchovies added to a dish won’t make it taste fishy. It’s like adding any other salty meat, like a little bacon or sausage, to a meal. A little bit goes a long way.) There’s also some Italian sausage, onions, peppers, fresh parsley and chives in there somewhere.

I’ve mentioned that I love shopping at thrift stores. But did I mention it’s a great place to find cool cheap props! I’ve been finding some of the cutest dishes, place mats and other table decorations and kitchen stuff. I’m going to try to take some family photos soon and I’m thinking this is where I’ll find some interesting props.

I love these Italian and French glass canisters that I’ve been collecting from thrift stores. I found the set of four vintage French jars with garden vegetables on them and paid only $0.99 cents a piece. I found a set of three online for $30.00. The cheapest set was $13.00. I got a set of four for $3.96. Woo hoo!

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