When Two Seasons Collide on a Plate

August might just be the best month for food (at least here in my region). There are still some tomatoes and summer squash on the vines. Some herbs and leafy greens are perking up again thanks to cooler temperatures. A few peaches and cantaloupes are left.  And now the first of the winter squash is being harvested. You can never really get bored when eating seasonally. Something new is always cropping up at the farmers market (or in the garden). And when two seasons collide on a plate, it’s a culinary dream. This week I have been successfully keeping things seasonal and simple. I don’t think I spent more than an hour on a single meal this week. (Well maybe the gnocchi, but that was my fault. Keep reading.) I cooked in bulk, made use of leftovers and kept recipes simple.

On Sunday we had chilli made with browned ground pork and cooked beans straight out of the freezer and tomatoes that had already been pureed and canned. (Why do they call it canning, if you put it in a jar?) All I had to do was chop some onions, peppers and herbs and throw it in a pot with my precooked beans and ground pork and a little seasoning. I did make cornbread from scratch (adding jalapenos and frozen corn for more yum).

“Meatless Monday” consisted of a stir-fry with seasonal veggies and shiitakes served with brown rice (cooked a double batch) and the best thing I’ve eaten in awhile: grilled okra. The simple recipe came from a friend. (Thanks Nisa!) I washed and dried the whole okra then tossed it in olive oil, salt and pepper. I skewered it, then grilled it on medium high heat for about 2 minutes on each side. So simple and delicious – it blew my mind. I thought I hated slimy okra. Now I can’t wait to get some more at the farmers market tomorrow! Revisiting foods you thought you hated, only to discover that you really love them… priceless.

Porkchops were on the menu Tuesday. I could eat vegetarian nearly every day, but after a Meatless Monday the rest of the family was ready for something meaty. I used my favorite pork chop recipe. I browned them, then let them braise in their own juices and some red wine, garlic and rosemary. They braised for two hours, but I wasn’t in the kitchen for that! I also made one of my kids favorite sides, potato wedges (olive oil, rosemary, salt and pepper – 25 minutes in a 400 degree oven), and their not-so-favorite sauteed swiss chard (onions, garlic and olive oil). We also had a salad with homemade mustard vinaigrette (olive oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard, honey, rosemary, salt and pepper).

Wednesday we had Baked Delicata Squash with Lime Butter. Delicata is a winter squash that looks kind of like a mini watermelon. I served it with leftover brown rice, lima beans (cooked in a broth made with leftover juices from Monday’s pork chops). We had salad again with homemade avocado mojito dressing (avocado, olive oil, a few tablespoons of Greek yogurt, mint, lime juice and zest, salt and pepper and a little milk to thin it out a bit). I also toasted the seeds from the squash (seasoned with olive oil and chilli powder). We sprinkled them on our salad to add a zesty crunch. The salad dressing was so refreshing and complimented the squash with it’s chilli-lime-butter.

Yesterday we had ricotta gnocchi. I always thought gnocchi was some fancy, technical Italian dish. It was so easy. Well… it should have been. I made it hard by trying to use a piping bag (which was way too small) instead of just rolling it into a thick rope and cutting it like the recipe instructed.  This was the most time consuming recipe of the week, but it can be done quickly if you don’t get in your own way. I used this recipe as a template for the gnocci, but replaced the nutritionally deficient and refined all purpose flour (bleh!) with 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 brown rice flour. This made a dense, yummy gnocchi. But the sauce is what really made it tasty. I chopped and browned half a package of bacon, then removed the bacon bits and added  a couple tablespoons of chopped sage, about two ounces of gorgonzola and aji dulce peppers to the bacon drippings. I let that cook for a minute, then turned off the heat and added some broccoli I had steamed in the microwave and some thawed chopped spinach. When the gnocchi floated to the top of the boiling pasta water, I just tossed them straight into the spinach and broccoli mixture. I topped each plate with the reserved bacon bits. Oh, and I’m giving myself a pat on the back for remembering to double the gnocchi recipe so that I could freeze a batch for later.

Aji Dulce Peppers - Sweet and fruity like habeneros, minus the heat!

Tonight we’ll be finishing off the avocado dressing with our fish tacos (cod seasoned with lime, tequila and chilli powder, served with lettuce, tomato and green onions). And as for lunch, we’ve been enjoying leftovers and sandwiches. We had baked potatoes for lunch one day, which was a big hit with the girls. For breakfast we’ve had Greek yogurt which we flavor ourselves, cereal (not the junky, sugary ones), burritos (eggs, cheese and veggies) and stone ground grits with bacon, goat cheese, kale, tomatoes and onions (not those quick cooking southern style grits – mine are more like risotto and could easily be served for dinner). I’ve been snacking on another one of my seasonal favorites – goat cheese stuffed figs. They don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, but I’ve found that marinating them in a little bit of balsamic vinegar for just few minutes really brings out their flavor. I add a tiny bit of goat cheese and some walnuts then drizzle them with a little honey. Yum. So sad that fig season seems to be winding down. The balsamic marinated figs are also a great addition to salad.

Whatcha Eatin?

Some of you may remember my post “Whatcha Drinkin?” People seem interested in what we’re eating. We rarely eat processed foods, which probably accounts for at least 70% of the food found in grocery stores. I buy whole, real foods, local and/or organic when possible, pastured meats and dairy and use the grocery store for things that aren’t available locally like oils, flour, spices, some produce, etc. We’ve cut way down on our consumption of refined carbs.

What we’re eating is… whatever is in season, mostly. So far so good. Except that the kids are already tired of sweet potatoes, and we aren’t even halfway through November. Right now sweet potatoes are definitely in season. I bought some from the farmers market and my mom gave me just a few more… but they’re the size of footballs. I made soup with one of them. I had a small package of free range organic chicken legs in the freezer. (This is the last of the “grocery store” meat left in my freezer. They’ve been in there for over a month, and I’m glad its all gone! Free range is better than conventional, but pastured is best.) If I presented my family with one drumstick each, they’d look at me like I was crazy and think they were going to starve. So… I had to get creative. I boiled them for a couple hours to make a stock, removed the drumsticks to let them cool. I pulled the chicken from the bone and mixed it with some chopped garlic, salt and pepper to add flavor and let that marinate while I tossed the chopped sweet potatoes, garlic, onion, celery into the stock. I also threw in some kale and a splash of apple cider vinegar toward the end. Served it up in bowls with generous portions (wink-wink) of chicken on top. Delicious and hearty.

I’ve included lots of links for recipes and health benefits of particular foods. If the ingredient is highlighted and underlined, it will link you to a web page regarding health benefits.

BREAKFAST:

  • Pumpkin pancakes and waffles – Click here for the recipe. I used whole wheat flour, instead of all purpose, and buttermilk, instead of plain.
  • Stone ground grits using Grateful Growers pastured pork sausage, fresh veg from the farmers market (usually sauteed leafy greens of some sort, mushrooms, onion and sometimes tomatoes) and a combination of whatever cheeses we have in the refrigerator
  • Sausage gravy – Click here for the recipe (I don’t use maple flavored sausage. We were in a hurry and I didn’t have time to make biscuits, so I just served it on toast.)
  • Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey and sometimes granola. I miss my summer berries, so I decided to try it with pumpkin. I mixed in some pumpkin puree, cinnamon, allspice and a little ground clove. Pretty good! The flavor reminded me of Pumpkin Cheesecake, but it was a little thin. I’ll be having that for breakfast for awhile.
  • Breakfast burritos – using pastured eggs, cheese, chili powder and sometimes pastured bacon, sausage or even deli meat (ugh… in moderation and without, or at least as few chemical additives as possible – Dietz & Watson’s turkey is what we have at the moment) all wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla
  • French toast or scrambled eggs – using local pastured eggs (not conventional free range or organic or “vegetable fed” – a term I dislike for chicken and eggs, since chickens are not vegetarians by nature. They like to eat bugs and it’s good for them.)
  • Cold cereal – in moderation
  • Fresh Fruit – always, one serving with breakfast.

LUNCH:

  • Leftovers
  • Sandwiches
  • Whatever odds and ends we can find, like granola bars, fruit, veggies, yogurt, etc.
  • The older girls eat from the school cafeteria, which I’m not a fan of, but we’ve worked out a deal. They have to make healthy choices. They can choose the main entree, but they have to eat it with two whole fruits or vegetables on the menu. No yogurt parfaits, canned fruit or those jello-fruit thingys. They have to drink plain milk and can only buy dessert once a week. I occasionally check online (Paypams) to make sure they are holding up their end of the bargain. Other than a few mishaps, they’re doing great. The biggest problem with school lunches is that most kids usually choose the junk on the menu (of which there is plenty). Luckily in our case, the kids are making good choices – and they’re learning a great lesson to boot.

DINNER:

  • Roasted pork chops on a bed of chard, topped with balsamic braised leeks and served with… sweet potatoes and green beans; or Korean style pork chops with white sticky rice (a treat) and kimchi.
  • Roasted chicken (at least once a week) with whatever veg we have in the refrigerator
  • Soup – using whatever ingredients and broth I have on hand
  • Vegetable stir fry with brown rice
  • Delicious homemade ravioli stuffed with leftover roasted chicken, spinach, ricotta, aji dulce peppers and parmesan cheese (served with homemade marinara)
  • Veggie pizza with homemade dough

Meals I’ll be making: roasted chicken, chilli, halibut and more ravioli, using leftover filling that I froze.

Our menu changes every week, which is fun for me. It’s so easy to find a good recipe these days. I use allrecipes, epicurious and the food network all the time. I usually change it a little to fit my taste or use what I have on hand. I also substitute healthier ingredients whenever I can. I use whole wheat flour in place of all purpose and always substitute bad fats like canola, vegetable, corn, etc. for good ones like coconut oil (my favorite, great moisturizer too), butter, olive oil and lard (yes, lard). Sugar can sometimes be cut out completely, or can usually be reduced by a 1/4 to 1/3 without sacrificing flavor (especially if you’re palate is used to less sugar). I try to use “super foods” whenever possible, instead of nutritionally average ones. For instance I prefer a salad made with spinach rather than lettuce. Asian sweet potato instead of the usual orange ones. Greek yogurt in place of regular yogurt. Honey, maple syrup, sweet fruit instead of refined sugar. Full fat dairy (more on this in my next post) instead of low fat. Whole wheat pasta, brown rice, quinoa, etc.

We learn as we go and it’s taken about 9 months to get here. And we’re still learning, so our food philosophy is constantly evolving. I’m always  looking for a new recipe, a new food, a new technique to try. I’m inspired by the food itself and the many bloggers, authors, media, food shows, new paper articles… the farmer’s market. It’s the best way to ease into and keep up this lifestyle without getting bored or complacent. Some may say ignorance is bliss. I disagree. Especially when it comes to food. I’ve been there – and I can tell you with certainty that this is so much better!

An 8 Year Old’s Perspective

Linsey wrote her “story” about a week ago, but I’m just getting a chance to post it. I was going to do a little editing to cut down on the repetition and correct obvious errors, but I’m going to fight the urge to change anything, and post it “as is” so that you can get the full scope of it’s 8 year old charm! I apologize in advance if it’s too difficult to read.

Linsey’s Perspective:

I like to go to the farmars market with my mom. I see lots of food at the farmars market. There are lots of vegetables at the farmermersmarket We go to farmarsmarket on Saturdays evry week. There are not a lot of furts at the farmer. The first day I went to the farmersmarket I thout the farmersmarket was boring but I was wong now I bon’t thinnk that the farmersmarket is boring eny more. I amso Excted evrytime I go to the farmersmarket I went. one time I went I stayed to wach a chef cook I was so happy when the chef was done I got to try the food that the chef cooked. I was so good that I wanted more but I couldn’t have more. I tasted a pear at the farmersmarket the pear was so good. Evry time I go I can get a treat. I can get eny treat that I want. I am so happy that I can get a treat. The treats I get are so good that I want more Love Linsey the End

In case you were unable to decipher: “There are not a lot of furts at the farmer,” she was not talking about flatulent or grouchy old farmers. She meant: There are not a lot of fruits at the farmers market. She was blown away when I told her that tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and pumpkins were all fruit. It was not easy for me to ignore all those red squiggly lines as I typed, as well as her misuse of punctuation and lowercase and capital letters. But there it is.

Last night for dinner I had planned on putting some leftover ingredients together with some new ones to save time and also because I didn’t want to waste any of our treasured fare. I chopped two cloves of fresh garlic, stemmed and chopped some shiitakes from Clover Mushroom Farm and rough chopped about two handfuls of fresh sweet basil from my garden. I started my pasta water, then heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and threw in the garlic, mushrooms, leftover Grateful Growers pork sausage (about half a cup), sea salt and freshly ground pepper. I had planned on adding leftover tomato sauce from our Italian sausage dinner to these ingredients, but after being hit with the wonderful aroma of mushrooms, garlic and sausage sauteing in olive oil, I decided not to drown them in the heavy sauce. Instead, I added about a half a cup of Chardonnay that I had in the fridge. While the alcohol was cooking out, I diced a tomato, thinly sliced about a quarter cup of sweet onion (very thin, I mean almost shaved) and grated about a half a cup of fresh parmesan. I also tossed fresh handmade pasta (by Pasta a Mano) into the boiling pot of water. It only takes about 3 minutes to get fresh pasta cooked al dente. I drained the pasta, then tossed it, along with the tomatoes, onions, basil and parmesan, into the the mushroom and sausage mixture. It was delicious and the pasta was perfect.

I now know that fresh, al dente pasta does not compare in any way to the bland, dry pasta sold in a box at my local grocery store. I would love to learn how to make it from scratch myself. Then I could spend time making pasta with my kids, the way Italian mothers do. I know we’re not Italian, but what a lovely tradition to share between generations.

After dinner I cut two acorn squash in half, seeded and then microwaved them, cut side down, for about 5 minutes (shortcut to reduce baking time). Then I turned them over and wished I had remembered to slice a tiny bit of the end off so they would sit flat. It was much more difficult to do this while they were hot. I put about a half a teaspoon of butter and about two tablespoons of chopped walnuts in each half, drizzled them with a small amount of maple syrup, and then VERY lightly sprinkled some brown sugar on top. I put them in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes. When they were done, I set them out on the stove to cool while I got the girls ready for bed. The smell in the house was amazing, but still they had no interest in eating a “vegetable” for desert.

In the mean time, Brian finally got home and came straight upstairs, grinning and inquiring about what was sitting on the stove. Once the kids were in bed, we ate our desert. Brian commented that he wanted to eat them again and, lucky for him, it’s squash season! I’m already inventing new recipes in my head. Maybe I’ll try it with some fresh squeezed orange juice and zest, or cinnamon, maybe even diced with apples. Mmmmm, endless possibilities. Seasonal eating is so yummy!