Southern Cookbook and Good Home Cooking

Now that school’s out and I have all three girls home with me all day, every day, my time is even more valuable, especially to them. Apparently, along with all my other roles, I’m also their personal chef, activities director and event planner for the summer. They don’t know how good they have it. I try to remember this when they try to lay on the guilt with: “I’m hungry. I’m bored. Can we go somewhere?” HELL NO! I’m trying to write in my blog. Of course I didn’t actually say that.

One place we love to go is the library. It’s good, free entertainment and we get to bring home books to occupy them later. I owe my sanity to the public library (which is why I made a nice little donation when I heard my branch might shut down due to underfunding). That’s not the only reason I love it. I could spend hours in non-fiction, browsing the shelves in section 641. Food and drink. I’m a big supporter of borrowing books rather than spending money on new ones. Especially cookbooks, since I really only use them for inspiration. But every now and then, I find one I don’t want to return. I renew it until I can’t anymore. Art Smith’s Back to the Family, is one such book. The pictures are amazing and the food is good and simple. I’ve made bread pudding (twice), fennel coleslaw and a brunch dish that coincidentally called for a cheese I’d just picked up at Trader Joe’s that I’d never used before (manchego). As usual, I made a few changes to suit our taste and food choices and sometimes just to use what we had on hand. If you like southern food, I recommend this book.

I’ve made several recipes already. My favorite is the bread pudding. I strongly recommend drowning the raisins in spiced rum first. I let them marinate for about an hour in hot rum. And I served it with ice cream as suggested (homemade vanilla). It’s so easy to make, it’s scary.  Scary because it so damn good.

One night I was looking for a way to use some cabbage that I’d had in the refrigerator for a week and a half, which by the way was still crisp and quite fresh since it was freshly picked when I’d bought it from Matthews Farmers’ Market (best in the Charlotte area, hands down). Raw veggies and apple cider vinegar have great health benefits. The recipe is for Fennel Coleslaw. I substituted half the fennel with my cabbage and added a red bell pepper.  I love fennel and it has its own benefits, but I don’t think my family would love a coleslaw made entirely of fennel.

Late one morning, I was looking through the book and came across a recipe for Asparagus with Manchego Cheese. I had a smoothie very early that morning and was getting hungry. This recipe looked easy and tasty. The tomatoes, now in season and delicious, and of course the manchego caught my eye. Similar to the bread pudding recipe, it calls for bread cubes and eggs. I substituted the French bread with a very dense whole wheat sandwich bread and the asparagus with broccoli, because that’s what I had on hand. When I was a less experienced and less confident cook, I would pass on recipes unless I had (and liked) the ingredients called for, which was a big mistake. It turned out wonderfully, but I can’t wait to try it with asparagus (and a few other veggies, now that I think of it).

I encourage less confident cooks to take a chance and make changes to suit your taste or use what you already have. (America spends a lot of money and resources on wasted food.) My mom has this simple and awesome fried rice recipe that’s comforting and makes me feel like a kid again. It’s not like the fried rice you’d find in a Chinese restaurant. There is no soy sauce or eggs and aside from the Korean sticky rice she uses, it’s more like an Americanized version of fried rice. She uses rice, carrots, onions, celery, ground beef, salt and pepper (and probably some minced garlic). I made this recipe with sausage instead, again because it’s what I had on hand. The smell of the sausage with those ingredients reminded me of another one of her recipes for dirty rice, so I meshed the two and added curry powder and a little extra turmeric (because it has some great health benefits and to give it a beautiful yellow color). Don’t get me wrong, my mom’s recipes are already good and very special to me. They are my comfort foods, along with the rest of her home cooking. (Where do you think my interest in food and gardening comes from?) However, I’ll be making this mash-up of the two again and again.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

We have an icky bug floating around the house. It’s just a cold, but there are five of us. And when we have an icky bug, it can take weeks to run it’s course through our family. We still have a few sniffles, but we’re almost in the clear. The little one started it all. She missed school last Friday because of it. And of course they had something special planned that day. It breaks my heart when they’re sick. It’s worse when they miss an event they’ve been looking forward to all week because of it. This called for a little extra mommy lovin’.

So I had to re-create “warm and cozy day” at home. Especially since she was fighting a cold. We made hot chocolate from scratch. I haven’t bought that stuff in the packets in over a year.  We used to always have it around. So now when I make hot chocolate, it’s extra special.

While I prepared the hot chocolate, she picked a spot and arranged our picnic blanket and her stuffed “aminals”. She came to the kitchen several times. She’d grab my hand and lead me into the living room and ask “Is this okay?” They are unbelievably cute when they’re three.

The cookies were Trader Joe’s Highbrow Chocolate Chips. We don’t normally have this kind of thing in the house, but they were leftover from an event over the holidays. I was saving them for an emergency, and this seemed like the right time. The warm, creamy hot chocolate and those crispy cookies were perfect together. She forgot all about school.

“Uh oh. I had a little accident Mommy.” No problem. I worried that the all that chocolate would keep her from napping, but she slept soundly. The fever never came back after that. I doubt it had much to do with our warm and cozy hot chocolate, but who knows. I let her believe it was the cure.

Warm and Cozy Hot Chocolate

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups organic whole milk
  • 1/4 cup organic sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of  sea salt
  • 2 ounces good quality dark chocolate (or 1 square)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon organic virgin coconut oil
  • splash of organic heavy cream or half and half (optional)
  • marshmallows are optional

Method:

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan over low heat.
  2. Whisk in the sugar, cocoa powder, vanilla extract, coconut oil and salt until dissolved.
  3. Stir in the chocolate until melted.
  4. Remove saucepan from heat and allow to cool slightly or add a splash of cold heavy cream or half and half, or a dollop of whipped cream. Throw in a few marshmallows if desired. Makes 2 servings.

I decided to add the coconut oil not just for a little more flavor, but to make it a little extra nourishing for my feverish lil’ pumpkin. And to strengthen my immune system, just in case I was next… I was.

Coconut oil has been used for centuries to treat illnesses.

The human body converts lauric acid into monolaurin which is claimed to help in dealing with viruses and bacteria causing diseases such as herpes, influenza, cytomegalovirus, and even HIV. It helps in fighting harmful bacteria such as listeria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori, and harmful protozoa such as giardia lamblia. As a result of these various health benefits of coconut oil, though its exact mechanism of action was unknown, it has been extensively used in Ayurveda, the traditional Indian medicinal system. (from organicfacts.net)

I also had some homemade almond flavored whipped cream leftover from the a few nights before. Whipped cream is ridiculously easy to make from scratch. A cup of organic heavy cream, a few tablespoons of confectioners sugar and some almond extract, all whipped together with a stand or handheld mixer on high speed until thick and creamy. You can substitute with whatever extract you prefer. Store bought whipped cream isn’t anywhere near this good.

I doubled the recipe so I’d have enough leftover for the other two when they came from school. Friday treat!!

Molasses Cookies, Royal Icing and Natural Food Coloring

The cookie jar is full.

No wonder we put on extra pounds every year during the holiday season. Last week it was apple cobbler, and this week it’s homemade gingerbread cookies. Sheesh! What is it about this time of year and homemade goodies? And I haven’t even gotten around to the dark chocolate peppermint bark and white chocolate coated popcorn yet. Maybe if we stop saving these homemade treats for the winter months and spread them throughout the year. Who says you can’t have peppermint bark in July? Why not make a couple of batches of cookies to share in the spring? I know the answer. Tradition. The girls and I look forward to cookie decorating during the holidays. We had hours of fun and there was no fighting and bickering for the duration. We all needed a break from the quarreling.

The cookies are Molasses Sugar Cookies and not gingerbread cookies, though I’m not sure what the difference is. The molasses cookies might be a little softer. But I found that if I cooked them a few minutes longer, they darkened and hardened a little. They were good either way, but the softer ones break easily. Click here for the cookie recipe. I used 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 cups of all purpose, and instead of shortening I used 3/4 cups of leaf lard and 3/4 cups of real butter. Next time I’ll use all butter just because it tastes better. Refrigerating the dough for hours is not necessary if you just use cold butter in stead of melting it as the recipe instructs. I do refrigerate between batches and recommend it if you are planning to roll it out and use cookie cutters. The first two batches were rolled into  balls and half of those were tossed in sugar.

I refrigerated the rest of the dough overnight and we finished up the following evening. No sugar coating was necessary since we were going to cover them in icing and candy.

London’s cute little cookies were covered in globs of icing and carefully placed pieces of candy. Yummy.

Haleigh, a budding artist, let her creativity fly. She’s a neat little artist.

Linsey, a budding perfectionist, wanted to make sure icing was evenly distributed on her cookies. I have to say though, that the icing is the glue that is keeping her cookies from crumbling to pieces in the cookie jar. This cookie’s head fell off, but the rest is still intact.

Let’s talk about the icing. Royal icing is considered the best type for decorating cookies because it dries and hardens quickly. Some recipes call for meringue powder, cream of tartar or powdered egg whites – things I don’t normally have on hand. How about you? Here’s my simple and easy recipe:

Easy Royal Icing

Ingredients:

  • 2 egg whites
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or extract of whatever flavor you want to impart – lemon, peppermint, almond etc.)

Method:

  1. Beat egg whites in clean, large bowl or stand mixer at high speed until foamy.
  2. Gradually add sugar and lemon extract. Beat at high speed until thickened.

This made twice as much as we needed, so you might want to cut the recipe in half. Of course you can just use the white icing. Coloring isn’t really necessary since the candy is colored. We generally try to avoid artificial coloring. We did however have some artificially colored candy lying around so we used that, along with some mini-chocolate chips. But I don’t ever use or buy artificial food dyes. I attempted to try and color some of the icing naturally – purple, using juice from some frozen blue berries and pink, using juice from a large handful of pomegranate arils. (Who says Christmas cookies have to be red and green?) The results were not that great. I ended up with two shades of pale pink. Pretty, but not very vibrant. There are better ways, I know. But I was lazy.

And they were a little runnier, even though I added quite a bit more powdered sugar. My guess is that the acid from the fruit broke down the stiffness in the whipped egg whites.

Anyhoo, the girls loved the colors. My favorite are the ones with just chocolate chips. Chocolate chips and cookies belong together.

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.

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds and Jack O’ Lanterns

One of our favorite family traditions is selecting and carving The Pumpkin, then roasting the seeds. This year we went to Riverbend Farms. There was a $5 per person charge to enter the farm. They are making some serious dough! We’ve had more fun at other farms that don’t charge an “entry fee”. (Next year we’ll go back to Hodges Farm on Rocky River Road.) But we all had a good time. They had some fun slides (fun for adults too), some animals (turkeys, buffalo, goats and more) and some old farm equipment that has been turned into a playground of sorts. I hear they sell ice cream, but we skipped that. There’s also a hayride through the huge pumpkin patch, where we accomplished our goal of finding The One. And then some. They had several varieties of gourds so I chose a few interesting ones.

The girls do all the dirty work, literally. I cut. They scoop out the slimy pulp.

Haleigh wore gloves. Linsey scoffed, “Gloves? Really!? Pshh…”

The girls put the muck and seeds into a bowl. They can’t resist squishing the “guts”, and I let them because it makes it easier to separate the seeds from the pulp later.

This year we carved two pumpkins and had a ton of seeds, so I made them two ways – salty and sweet. Here are my recipes:

Ingredients for Traditional Pumpkin Seeds

  • 2 tbs melted butter
  • salt
  • garlic powder
  • onion powder

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spiced Pumpkin Seeds:

  • 2 tbs melted unrefined coconut oil (or butter if it’s all you have)
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • ginger
  • allspice
  • pinch of salt

Directions:

Preheat oven to 300°.  Remove large chunks of pumpkin and as much of the strings as you care to. Leaving some of them won’t hurt anything and will even enhance the flavor, if you ask me. Pour them out on a towel and dry them a little.

This will also help remove more of the strings. Combine the seeds, butter or coconut oil and spices in a bowl and mix well. Spread them out in a single layer onto a baking sheet. Roast for 45 minutes. If you can remember, stir them around once or twice. I forgot, and they turned out just fine.

Pumpkin seeds have excellent health benefits. They are rich with antioxidants, loaded with minerals and can reduce bad cholesterol and may also lower blood pressure. There’s no need to remove the outer shell. Roasting makes them crispy and edible. The hull contains lots of fiber and all the flavor. I preferred the sweet ones, of course. But the sugar content negates some of the nutritional benefits. The unrefined coconut oil imparts a very light coconut flavor on the seeds. (Great for popcorn too.) Mmm…

Store them in air tight container on the counter for about a week or in the refrigerator for up to two months. They only last a few days in our house. They are great sprinkled on salads.

And here are the Jack O’ Lanterns:

Linsey said “Uh oh! You forgot the noses!” Nope. One less thing to carve and more room for a big mouth!

Fall Food

Less than a week until Autumn. This is a bitter sweet time of year for me. I love the festivities – the new school year, Halloween and Thanksgiving, festivals or outings planned nearly every weekend, farm tours, pumpkin patches and then carvings, warm, spicy apple cider, football, slightly cooler weather… But the cold, the darkness and the lack of fresh produce are only a couple months away now. There is less variety at the farmers market and some vendors appear to be taking time off – much needed I’m sure, and well deserved. Or maybe it’s the lack of produce and the need to plant fall and winter crops.

Spaghetti squash was my “something new” for this week.

I didn’t think the two small, yellow ones from the farmers market would be enough, so I bought another one from the grocery store. There was little difference in taste.

This is a great low carb alternative to regular pasta. We were all skeptical, but once we started eating it was easy to forget that it was squash and not noodles of some sort. We topped it with a leftover meat sauce, sliced Italian sausage from Grateful Growers, Parmesan and parsley. Linsey even asked for seconds. London wouldn’t touch it (as usual).

Now that the weather is cooling off I find myself craving warm herbal teas. I had never thought to put rosemary in tea, and can’t remember where I got the idea, but I should have known. I love rosemary in everything else. And now I love it in tea. It’s so good for you. So’s mint. I made an herbal infusion of white tea with mint, rosemary and stevia. Sadly my mint isn’t doing well (which is a bit weird since it’s supposed to be so hardy, sometimes even invasive). Or maybe I just need to leave it alone for awhile. But this tea was so comforting.

I steeped the mint, stevia and rosemary first, until it cooled completely. Then I warmed it again and let the tea steep for a couple of minutes. Di-vine. I grew my own chamomile in the spring. It wasn’t very hardy and I only managed to dry enough buds for one cup of tea. I was surprised how much they smelled like apples. And that’s the flavor they impart in tea. I’m feeling inspired. There’s an herbal tea garden in my future – one with stevia, violets, lemon thyme, lemon verbena, more chamomile, mint and rosemary. Maybe jasmine and lavender.

Another highlight of fall – chestnuts! One of my favorite foods of all time. And my dear, sweet, very generous mother hooked me up! I’m feeling a bit gluttonous at the moment. Good thing they are so nutritious and low in calories compared to other nuts. Walnuts, for instance, have about four times the calories as chestnuts. There are about 170 calories in 100 grams of chestnuts. Chestnuts have more fiber, less fat and are loaded with vitamin C.  In fact, eating 3 ounces will supply you with almost half the daily recommendation. They’re also a good source of vitamin B, copper, folate, magnesium and manganese.

^^The girls sharing an after school snack – warm chestnuts.

I also find myself craving Korean food lately. I’ve been watching the Kimchi Chronicles on PBS. This show makes my mouth water. Also makes me want to visit my mother’s home land. One day…

^^Somen noodles cooked in chicken broth, garlic and green onions with turnip kimchi.

^^ Mandu soup again with chicken broth, garlic and green onions. Also fried egg and toasted seaweed.

Play with Your Food.

You probably already know I love food, but cooking from scratch… is like playing with my food. When I was a kid I loved to get in the kitchen and play. Most everyone I know (including my kids) loved it too. I remember coating a spoonful of peanut butter in crumbled Oreos as a kid and thinking it was the best creation – ever! While the combination of Oreos and peanut butter still sounds pretty tasty, I can’t imagine eating that now. When you’re a kid, you’re limited to what your parents have stocked in the kitchen and to what appliances you are capable or allowed to use.  As adults, we don’t have these limits.

And here’s the icing on the cake. You learn so much when you cook from scratch. If you’ve always eaten something out of box you may not even know what’s in it or what cooking methods are used to make it. And believe me – you can find a recipe for nearly everything you can buy in a box or bag. Brownies are so easy to make from scratch, yet I never even bothered to look at a recipe until about a year ago. There are only a few ingredients, most of which anyone would already have in their pantry. I’ll never buy boxed brownies again. You’d be surprised how quickly you learn the basics of cooking when you start cooking from scratch. It’s often cheaper to buy the ingredients than it is to buy it prepackaged, and it’s better for you. It does take a little longer than opening a box, but that’s the best part. Really! When food is too easy to prepare (or already prepared), you tend to eat it more often and over indulge. When you slow down and take the time to make it yourself, you really learn to appreciate food. You eat slowly and savor every bite. You eat less and you get to control the quantity and the quality of the ingredients (and eliminate additives, preservatives and excess sugar). Cooking from scratch is gratifying and you might even lose a few pounds – effortlessly.

If the kitchen is my play ground, then the markets are my toy stores. I used to hate going food shopping. Now that the blinders are off, I find new things all the time. Sometimes I take them home to learn more. My favorite places to shop are off the beaten path – farmers markets, specialty markets and less common markets where you find things you’ve never seen before. I’ve learned what eating seasonal and local means and I’m so inspired by it.

Growing your own food seems like a quintessential part of life. Nurturing a plant and then (hopefully) eating the fruits of your labor restores a connection to food that has been lost in America. I’m still amazed at how disconnected this nation is to food. I recently walked through a small greenhouse display and the woman ahead of me was surprised to see how bell peppers grew. I don’t presume to know how everything grows, but I know how most of what I eat grows and I am curious about the rest. And I’m not suggesting we should all know where everything we eat comes from (or am I?).

Bell Peppers

Asparagus

Broccoli

Artichokes

Pineapple

Coffee is made from the roasted seed inside this berry.

Cacao Tree - Chocolate is made from the beans found inside these pods.

And playing with food is more fun when you do it with friends, family – even strangers. Involve them as often as possible. Nothing is more enjoyable than sharing a good time and good food with other people. This summer I plan to let the kids get in on the fun a little more. It’s not like they have anything better to do. Even London (3 years old)  can help.  Our schedule will be more relaxed which means meal times will be less hurried. They can help in the garden, the kitchen and with shopping, and we’ll learn even more together. Maybe by the end of summer, they’ll be able to help with dinner every night. Hell, maybe they’ll be able to cook an entire meal themselves! I’ll just sit back and have a glass of wine while they do it all. That would be nice. And fun for them I think.

Fed Up with Food Restrictions

I’m really, really hating the food restrictions (gluten free and casein free). I know my last couple of posts sounded so positive and I’ve been trying really hard to be optimistic about the whole thing, but it’s wearing me down. It’ exhausting! Saying “no” to the kids (and myself) too often, finding gluten free substitutes for staples like bread and crackers (which so far taste horrible and are unbelievably  expensive), searching for gluten free recipes, missing warm, chewy bread… homemade ice cream and yogurt, macaroni and cheese… And you know what else? The second ingredient in soy sauce is wheat. Who knew!? (Hello? My mother is Korean… We use soy sauce at least a couple times a week.) I had no clue that gluten is in so many things – things I never would have even thought to check, like soy sauce. This gluten free thing may not go on much longer. Totally eliminating gluten doesn’t feel well balanced. This has been an eye opening experience and we’ll never go back to eating as much gluten as we were before, but my gut is telling me that a little is okay. All things in moderation…

I’ve been loosening up on the dairy a little (reintroducing it) to see if it negatively affects Linsey. A little goat cheese here. A little cottage cheese there. A little ice cream here and there. Sadly, she’s been getting stomach aches and digestive issues shortly after eating these foods. There also seems to be a slight increase in irritability and behavioral issues, but I can’t be sure.  She is so aware of the effects herself that she’s been reminding us that she should not eat dairy. She even admitted that she got a stomach ache after having a pretty small amount of ice cream. For her to admit that, is a major step on her part. I think the connection has been made for her and skipping dairy won’t be hard for her anymore. (Though I’m sure there will be occasions when she won’t be able to resist and will be willing to risk a stomach ache for something really yummy, like a little bit of ice cream. I think very small amounts every now and then are still okay.)

In light of the fact that she is most likely intolerant to casein (dairy), once we get her all better and give her a week or two to really make sure her gut has completely healed, we’re going to reintroduce some gluten and see what happens. My guess is that small amounts will be okay.

Now just some random stuff…

These came in the mail this week.

I’m looking forward to making my very own vanilla extract, vanilla sugar and having real vanilla beans to flavor foods (like ice cream)!

Here’s something else I love:

I had tons of mint growing in a container out front and I had to do something with it quick.  Having this mint infused simple syrup around is making it really difficult to drink unsweetened green tea. And do you see that wad of mint leaves that was left over? I worked really hard to fight an urge to put that in my mouth like chew (or dip, or whatever it’s called) to get the remaining sweet, minty syrup out of it before tossing it in the compost. I had a little argument in my head while I cleaned up the rest of my culinary mess: Don’t be ridiculous. If you stick that in your mouth, you’ve gone over the deep end. But wait… in the interest of frugality, using every morsel of food and not being wasteful… maybe I should. It took a couple or ten, fifteen minutes to come to my senses, but of course I couldn’t resist – and I’m not ashamed to admit it. It was unimaginably delicious and took me by surprise. I literally had to stop what I was doing, lean against the counter and savor the thing. I’d do it again (and probably will). I even pondered duplicating this in some way as candy. Maybe… candied mint leaves? This was definitely the best candy I’ve ever had! Pondering again…

This is not purple broccoli. It’s purple cauliflower. (I’ve had to repeat this several times to my family.)  I love how the farmers market broadens our view of food. Good luck finding it in the grocery store. Beautiful and yummy!

More goodies from the farmers market. I split these carrots in half, tossed them in a little olive oil, honey, salt and pepper, then threw them in a grill pan and roasted them in the oven. They were good enough to be eaten for dessert. Carrots lose their flavor quickly after being harvested and these are fresher than any you’ll find at the grocery store.

Proof my garden is organic. There are no pesticides here. I don’t mind sharing. There is plenty for everyone!

Food my kids love:

Guilt Free Banana Popsicles: Cut a banana in half, insert popsicle sticks and freeze for at least 2 hours (longer is better). My kids also love frozen grapes pierced with toothpicks. (Thanks mom!)

And of course their very favorite – kettle corn – a traditional part of our family movie nights!

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.

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