Why eat “healthy food” if it tastes bad?

You ever order something “healthy” and taste it and think, what were they thinking when they put this on a menu?  I forgot my lunch the other day and ordered the “healthy option” and it was seriously terrible.  It was LOADED with salt and had little other flavor.  It was supposed to be Cashew Chicken with Brown Rice and Snap Peas.  I expected at least one discernible spice.  I’ll tell you the snap peas were cooked to brownish-grey death, the Chicken and Cashews had so much salt that the sauce could have been sea water and the rice was like mush.  You always see these shows where doctors and nutritionists are so concerned about the food choices people make.  Everyone likes to talk the talk of choose the healthy option, but,  if the healthy option tastes bad then what’s the point?

I have a habit of checking the nutrition labels on supermarket foods and I have to say, some of the substitutions some of the companies make to label foods fat free or sugar free or even low fat are ridiculous when you actually do a label comparison.  What’s the point of getting the low fat version if it has three times the sodium of the  full fat version?  How about you don’t give me a lot of low fat cream cheese that tastes like grit and give me a smidge of full fat cream cheese that tastes amazing.  Or, you know what… I’ll pass on your cream cheese and spread some avocado instead and we’ll call it even.  Seriously… And while I’m on the subject.  What kind of idiots do packaging people think we are when they put “FAT FREE” in bold letters on a package of hard sugar candy?  Really?!

So, I forgot my lunch today and instead of the “healthy option” I went for a sandwich.  At least the veggies are fresh there.

Presto Pesto – One Hand Tied Behind My Back

In the days of pre-parenthood, I watched the Top Chef challenges that had the chefs cooking with one hand tied behind their backs and cooking in pairs tied together so each chef only had one hand available.  I remember thinking, “That would be fun to try…”  They brought back that challenge for a recent episode and all I could think was, “Big deal, that’s a regular Tuesday night for me.” Lol… oh how things change.  Last weekend, I went out to do some grocery & produce shopping and left the hubs and the kid at home.  When I came back, I took the kid so the hubs could go for a run.  We didn’t have anything in the house for dinner so I figured I’d put the kid to play on the floor with some toys and get something going.  Thanks to the Easter Bunny bringing him teeth #7 and #8 (which were somehow worse than all 6 teeth before these), the kid was feeling crummy and wanted to be held.  So, it was “cook with one hand and hold the kid with the other” night.  I don’t recommend trying this recipe with one hand tied behind your back… I’m just saying it’s possible.  The funny thing is, I should have expected it since when I was at the store, I was thinking, I should pick up one of those one-hand choppers in case I need to cut up something while the kid is having a hold on to mom night.  Next time I’m listening to my instinct.  Thankfully, I was able to cut the onion before the hubs was out the door and the hubs was back in time for me to cut the tomatoes.

I defrosted some sausage, but since I was not going to handle uncooked meat while holding the kid, I didn’t add it.  I do, however think it would be a great addition to this or even roasted chicken or fish.

 

Spinach Pesto with Garbanzos & Tomato Salad

13 oz whole grain penne
1 cup pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1 lb baby spinach
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp olive oil
3 cups garbanzo beans
1 spanish onion (cut lengthwise, pole to pole)
3 cloves garlic

Tomato Salad:
12 Campari Tomatoes, quartered
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 Long Hot chili pepper, minced
1 4″ sprig fresh tarragon, minced
3 Tbsp white wine vinegar
2 Tbsp olive oil

Pesto Pasta:

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions, but undercook it by 1 minute.  Heat up a large skillet over medium heat.  When the pan is hot, toast the pine nuts until they are lightly browned and you can smell them.  Add the olive oil, onions and garbanzos and leave to caramelize in the pan for 5-8 minutes.  Meanwhile, mince two cloves of garlic in a food processor.  Add the baby spinach slowly until it is almost all chopped.  Add the toasted pine nuts, and black pepper and let the processor run while you add the olive oil.  The mixture should be thick like a paste.

Move the garbanzos and onions around the pan.  You should see some caramelization.  Let caramelize for another 5-8 minutes.  Add the garlic and when you can smell it, add the pasta and the pesto.  Coat all the pasta with the pesto.  Then, add two (large) to four (small) ladles  of the pasta water to the skillet to loosen up the pesto and to allow the pasta enough liquid to make up for the minute you undercooked it.  Aff more water as needed.

Tomato Salad:

Toss quartered tomatoes with the salt, pepper, chili pepper and tarragon.  Let sit until you are just about to serve.  Shortly before serving, add white wine vinegar and olive oil.

 

Top the Pesto & Garbanzo Bean Pasta with the Tomato Salad and serve topped with parmesan cheese.

 

The Secret of a Green Thumb…

I’ve been growing plants for a long time thanks to my mom’s influence.  When I was little, she told me, “We’re Jamaican. We grow things.”  I had a strawberry patch (which was eaten by squirrels, to my infuriation) when I was little and I’ve grown something almost every year since then.  My list of plantings includes so many things on the continuum of everyday vegetables to exotic flowers in my mom’s and then my garden.  The total plants over my lifetime could probably fill a huge farm.  So, believe me when I say that there really is no such thing as a “green thumb.”  While I’ve had decades of experience with growing, I’ve also killed more things that could fill a farm.  My list of failures far exceeds my list of successes.  The difference with people who think they have a “black thumb” is they don’t hide their mistakes.  The secret of a “green thumb” gardener is a compost heap filled with things that didn’t go right the first or first few hundred times.  They use their old mistakes (buried in the compost heap) to feed their future successes (which is all you see).

So, here’s the thing… I’m a huge fan of compost for several reasons.  One is, that it takes all the stuff you have and want to get rid of and gives you free fertilizer that works a lot better than the chemical crap.  (Oh and less on the garbage bill) Early warning… I stick to all organic plant food and fertilizer in my garden.  I have a serious issue with chemical herbicides and fertilizers since there are so many easier, cheaper, and healthier ways to do the same thing with organic treatments and garden gadgets.  There are tons of studies out that show that chemical herbicides act as endocrine disruptors and can affect human and animal fertility.  To be fair, there are studies that dispute this… but why chance it if you can just use something natural (and did I mention compost is free)?  As my mom says, “Why bother growing your own food if you’re just going to use the same chemicals as the ones you’re buying in the store?  Your home produce should be special.”

There are tons of ways to make compost and most of them involve things you’re paying someone else to haul away.  There are compost purists who closely regulate what goes into the pile.  Our bins are more of a little bit of this, little bit of that balancing act.  I toss in just about everything in the yard and most things from the kitchen.  I added some composting redworms to my piles when I started them and they’re in charge of eating most of the kitchen scraps.  If you’re squeamish about worms.  I can tell you that I never see them.  There have been a few times over the years when I had to ask the hubs if I needed to buy some more to put in there because I didn’t see any.  They hate light so unless you’re really digging around, they’ll hide from you, but they can eat their weight in food scraps and weeds so I think they’re a good addition to the pile.   Pretty much anything in the kitchen that isn’t fat/animal can go in (well, it can go in, but the smell will likely attract scavenging animals which is why I avoid it).  Here are some of the kitchen things that go into mine:

  • veggie scraps (carrot shavings, cucumber skins, the hard end of the celery, onion skins, garlic skins, etc.)
  • dead veggies (the mixed salad greens that never seem to last more than 2 days in the fridge, the cucumber you forgot you bought, etc.)
  • tea bags
  • coffee grounds and the filter (coffee grounds from Starbucks are a good way to get extra [they’re more than happy to give it to you so they don’t have to pay the garbage company to take it away])
  • leftover coffee without any cream in it (sugar is fine)
  • egg shells (rinse them in really hot water before you put them in)
  • vegetarian meals that have no cheese

There are some things that I put in that some compost purists do not agree with (clearly… I don’t care).  My pile… my rules:

  • shredded paper/newspaper (if junk mail has my name/info on it, I drop it in the “secure disposal” pile [I figure if someone wants to dig through rotten veggies and worms and then piece the cross cut shreds together, they probably earned the information])
  • little pieces of cardboard
  • old bread (anything with yeast in it isn’t technically supposed to go in…)

You can also throw just about anything from the garden in there:

  • Shredded leaves (and I’ve been known to take the shredded leaves my neighbors put out on the street for the township to pick up)
  • Cuttings and trimmings from plants throughout the season
  • End of season plants without disease
  • Weeds without flowers/seeds showing

About the weeds: I weed selectively.  I either do it in separate rounds or use separate containers for the weeds that have seeds or flowers showing vs. the ones that don’t.   It’s possible for seeds to hibernate in a compost pile so I apply some unkind treatment to the ones with seeds and seal them in a 5 gallon bucket with some comfrey and a little water and stick it where it can heat up in the sun.  The purpose is to get these seeds to either cook and die or germinate in a closed environment and then kill the resulting plants with extreme heat before I add them to hibernate in my compost pile.  It may be possible for this method to kill the disease in some plants, but I wouldn’t risk it so I throw those in the garbage.

The thing most people ask about compost is… Does it smell?  If it smells, then something is wrong, but it’s easily fixed.  The balance of compost is brown material and green material.  Brown material is dry.  Green material is wet.  If it smells, it’s probably too wet, add some dried leaves or shredded newspaper or pieces of cardboard (Brown material).  If it looks kind of dry, more food or fresh weeds or clippings from plants go in (Green material).  If it doesn’t look like it’s breaking down, add some grass clippings or comfrey to heat it up.

You can also get a compost thermometer and check the heat of the pile.  I haven’t gone there yet.  The pile is best between 135 and 160 degrees and so I figure that if there’s steam coming off of it, then it’s hot enough.  If it’s not moving quickly enough, I add a layer of freshly cut grass or comfrey (more about comfrey in another post) or compost accelerator to heat it up.  There is a garden gadget out there for every task you can think of.  I love gadgets and when I’ve bought all the rest of them, I will probably end up with a compost thermometer.

Now, before I go any further (and I warn you this will not be my last post on compost [lol]), I should let you know that there seems to be a strange phenomenon when it comes to compost.  While I was the one who went out to the store and bought the three massive compost bins on a Sunday morning so long ago, it is now my husband who has claimed the compost as his.  I started it because when we moved in, the previous owners were “kind enough” to leave us all the unraked leaves and weeds from several seasons.  I will never forget one day when we were out getting the outrageous cleanup job started, one of the neighbors came out to give us some background about the previous owners… “He never was one for the yard…  He’d come out at the beginning of the season and pick up a stick or two, but that’s about it.”  And from the state of the yard, I believe it.  But my husband is now the one who turns the pile and adds all the different ingredients.  It seems that the idea of crap turning into garden gold was what did it for him.  I’ve also heard from other gardening wives that this is not uncommon.  Something about making dirt brings out the kid in husbands and one day you hear, “Are you sure that should go in my compost?”

Bean of the Week – Garbanzos

I think part of the reason I fell in love with cooking is that it’s not nearly as hard as it seems.  While I love trying new things, I’ve found that many of the things that sound complicated are actually pretty easy.  But, if you buy the finished product you get charged A LOT for it.  One of my favorite cheap eats is beans.   I used to stock up on canned beans for quick meals, and unless I got a really good sale, it was not cheap and the selection was mediocre at best.  Thanks to the dried beans, I’ve tried beans that I didn’t even know existed like Peruvian Beans/Yellow Canary beans.  I’ve found beans that I have never seen in a can like Mung beans.  I even found Adzuki beans at Whole Foods which apparently are really high in protein (and BTW: the bean paste that is used in many Asian pastries) and gave them to the kid who LOVED them.  Now, I buy dried beans for quite a savings in comparison and less need for storage space.  I gave up on the canned beans when I realized that even though the cost is pretty similar for a can of beans and a pound of dried beans, the resulting amount is VERY different.  A 1-pound pack of dried beans makes up to 6 cups of beans.  The canned beans only give you a little less than 2 cups of beans.  If you get the dried beans, you can infuse them with flavor.  Canned beans… not as much.  Depending on the dried beans you buy, they can cost less than $1.00 a pound and bulk buying can be even better priced.  And carrying tons of cans out of a supermarket will test even the best of reusable bags.

It’s surprisingly easy to make beans from a dried state and it requires very little actual cooking time.  Garbanzo beans take the most time of all of the beans I’ve tried so far, but it’s still not actual standing over the stove time so it’s still worth it.  Once I realized how easy this was, I haven’t gone back.

BTW: If you’re looking for cheap garden seed, you can use some of the dried beans to grow in your garden.  It’s worth a try and if it doesn’t work, you don’t lose a lot of money for the effort.

Part 1: Soaking

  • Get a big glass measuring cup/bowl that can hold at least two quarts.  If you bought the 1 pound pack of beans, just dump the whole bag into the cup/bowl.  If you bought in bulk, put the bowl on a kitchen scale and measure out 1 pound.  You can spread the beans out on a sheet pan to look for stones or you can just look through them in the bowl.
  • Fill up the bowl with water and put the bowl in a corner of the kitchen.  (Go do anything else.)
  • Check the beans after about 4-8 hours (Small beans like mung beans soak faster than large beans).  I leave garbanzos for 12 hours or more if i’m busy (I’ve left them up to a day and they turn out fine).
  • If the beans have soaked up the water and look plump, pour out the beans into a sieve and rinse the beans.  Do a double check for any dark or funky looking beans or anything that isn’t a bean.  (If a bean doesn’t look good, toss it)

Part 2: Cooking

  • Get a pot big enough to boil pasta.  Toss in the beans.  Fill it up with water.  (DO NOT ADD SALT!!!) Now, add the flavorings of your choice.  I like to add a bay leaf, a garlic clove, a quarter or a half of a yellow onion, half of a large carrot, half of a celery stalk, and whole peppercorns.  You can add any fresh herbs you want here.  Savory & Thyme are generally my favorites.  [If you want to use dried herbs or don’t want to fish the peppercorns out when you’re done, I recommend getting one of the large tea balls made with tiny mesh and putting your herbs in there and wrapping it around the pot handle or hanging it on the side of the pot.] (See, your beans are already going to taste better than canned beans)
  • When I’m doing this in small batches for the kid, I don’t add a lot of flavorings.  At most, I’ll add half of a carrot, but I’m working him up to adding everything else slowly.  For now, I’m just letting him taste all the different beans on their own.  And most importantly, I cook the beans much softer for the kid than I do for the adults.  This way the beans crack open and are easily smashed so he doesn’t choke on them, even though he has top and bottom teeth that he likes trying out on various foods.
  • Turn the heat on a back burner up to high to bring the pot up to a boil.  There will be some white foam on the top of the water.  Skim it off and turn the heat down to medium to let the beans simmer.  This can take about an hour depending on the bean.  Set a timer to go back and check it at regular intervals after 30 minutes.  If you’re doing garbanzos, save the effort and start checking after an hour.  They take a long time to cook through.  Test a few beans to see if they’re soft enough.  If they’re not soft enough and the water has fallen below the beans, add more water and let it keep cooking.  When they’re done, turn off the burner and let the beans cool down in the water.

Part 3: Packaging

  • For The Kid: I haven’t given the kid garbanzos yet.  I stick to the softer, smushable beans.  I fill up his food containers with the beans and add enough of the water the beans cooked in to cover the beans.  I rinse the beans to remove the cooking water before giving the beans to the kid.  I rinse them off before I send them to daycare so they don’t have to.  He likes to eat the beans as finger food.  For the larger beans, I smush them a little so their soft, but he can still grab them.  It’s hilarious to watch him gobble them up.
  • For the Adults: Grab a container or containers, fill it up with the beans, add enough of the water the beans cooked in to cover the beans.  I add a pinch of salt for the sake of preservation.  Toss it in the fridge.  After about a day in the fridge, I rinse the beans in a sieve and they’re fine to store in the fridge without the water.

I rinse off the water I store the beans in before I cook with them or toss them in salads just like I would if they were canned, but storing them in water just seems to work better.  I keep the beans in the fridge for about a week or two.  If I don’t end up using them in the Meatless Monday dinner, then I just use them to toss in salads.  I try to do a different bean each time.  When I do garbanzo beans and it’s getting close to the end of the week or second week, I just roast them.  I just adjust the recipe according to how many beans I actually have left and eat the roasted garbanzo beans as snack food or for tossing in salads for crunch.

 

Roasted Garbanzo Beans

1 cup Garbanzo Beans
1 Tablespoon Flavoring of choice (dried herbs, ground spices, crushed red pepper flakes)
1 Tablespoons Olive Oil (or garlic oil)
salt to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Toss the garbanzo beans, oil and your flavoring of choice in a bowl.   Toss everything around until the garbanzo beans are coated with the oil and flavorings and spread out on a sheet pan.  Every 15 minutes or so, shake the pan to help the beans brown evenly.  Roast for about 45 minutes or until the beans are crunchy and brown (not burnt).

BTW: This works great in a toaster oven.  If I’m doing it in the toaster oven, I turn down the heat to 325 degrees.

 

Vegetable Spaghetti

I have a tendency to make a lot of food and I don’t like eating the same thing twice. So, in order to avoid wasting a ton of food, I had to develop my own system of planning meals ahead in stages. I never feel like I’m eating leftovers, because the entire meal isn’t the same two times in a row. And since I don’t have a ton of time (see aforementioned motherhood), it’s easier to make quick meals if I’m really only making part of the meal. And more importantly… less cleanup.

Thanks to last week’s vegetable run, I had some zucchini, yellow squash and peppers in the fridge and had an idea of making sausage pasta. I started with the sausage by making Spicy Sausage & Pepper Sandwiches for dinner. Then, a couple days later, I made my dad’s vegetable spaghetti and added the whole grain pasta as an easy way to stretch it (the hubs likes to eat… and he’s training for a 10-mile race). It tastes great either way. So, if you’re leaving out the pasta, then just double the veggies. I paired this with the remaining sausage & pepper, which I cut up into large diagonal slices and nestled in the center of a huge nest of the pasta. If you have extra bread leftover, you can always add some garlic bread too.

The best thing about this recipe is that you can cook it in the same time it would take to boil pasta. The brand of pasta I used took 7 minutes to cook. So, if the brand you use has different timing then adjust accordingly. If you have superior knife skills like my dad, you can julienne all the veggies with a knife. If you have limited time like me, then a mandolin or a julienne peeler are the fast and easy option for everything. Just make sure you’re julienning along the full length of the vegetables so the strips look like pasta strands. For the zucchini and yellow squash stop cutting when you see the seeds. The core doesn’t hold up to cooking as well as the flesh and skin. To make it easier when julienning the carrots, I recommend grabbing twice the amount of carrots you need and julienning only as much as will not cause you injury from your slicer of choice and get the equivalent of 2 large carrots. Just cut up the remainder (doesn’t have to be pretty) and save it for your next salad. The red pepper works best if you julienne it with a knife. Try to get close to the size of everything else. Cut slowly and don’t stress. It’s going to get mixed up with everything else so no one will notice if they’re not perfect. When I make this without meat, I generally add a little more than a cup of defrosted French-style cut green beans.

Vegetable Spaghetti

Vegetable Pasta

13 oz whole grain thin spaghetti
1 tbsp olive oil
2 large carrots, julienned along the full length
1 large red pepper, core removed and julienned along the full length
1 generous cup of french style cut green beans (optional)
1 tbsp herbes de provence
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 zucchini, julienned along the full length
2 yellow squash, julienned along the full length
1 tsp kosher salt or handful of parmesan cheese

Set pasta pot on high heat and skillet on medium heat. When the pasta water comes to a boil, add a handful of salt, the pasta and set your timer. At 7 minutes, add the olive oil to your skillet along with the carrots, red pepper (green beans, if you’re using them) and herbs. At 4 minutes to go, add the garlic. When you can smell the garlic (about a minute) add the zucchini and yellow squash and move it around the pan. When the pasta is done, add it to the pot and toss to combine. You can add salt, but you really won’t need much if you added a good amount of salt to the pasta water and add parmesan cheese. So, try it before you salt it. Drizzle with olive oil and serve.

Odd Food Cravings aren’t just for the Preggers

When I was pregnant, I craved two things: Vegetables and Steak. I thought all chicken smelled rotten for the first 6 months (except for the AMAZING fried chicken one of my friends made) and the only thing that left me truly nauseated was sugar. There was one incident while I was pregnant that illustrated the full madness: I was craving something all day at work, but couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I drove almost all the way home when I realized I was craving eggplant and crossed two lanes of traffic to turn into the supermarket at the last possible second. While I was there, (and I should preface this story by saying I was not showing at the time) I was trying to find a whole grain baguette for dinner. All they had was regular white flour baguettes. Unfortunately, regular white flour baguettes weren’t an option because they produced the same nausea as anything sugar related. So, I was circling the bread display trying to find a reasonable alternative when the smell of the cake frosting on the cakes in the bakery display started wafting toward me. I started gagging with a vengeance. The woman at the bakery counter started glaring at me, HARD! I’m guessing she thought I was saying her cakes smelled terrible, because that’s how hard she was glaring at me. Of course I was gagging so I couldn’t give the “It’s not you, I’m pregnant” speech, which suddenly struck me as funny and just made the gagging worse. Needless to say I just left the bakery area and gave up on the idea of bread for dinner.

Despite all the promises of “you can eat anything you want when you’re pregnant”, the closest I could get to sugary desserts was fruit. At my shower there were all kinds of cookies and cake and chocolate covered Oreos and I passed them all up for huge cupfuls of the fruit salad that the Bestie (my best friend and food companion) made so I could have something for dessert.

So, I didn’t have any crazy food combo cravings like ice cream and pickles that I had to have while I was pregnant or at least I should say none of the combos were new. I think everyone has weird food combo cravings that they may not eat in public (or admit to eating), but still love to eat at home. And I love finding out what everyone’s secret food combos loves are. One of my main combo loves is hot rice on salad. I love lettuce and other veggies barely wilted under the heat of the hot rice and salad dressing on the whole thing. I cannot understand cold rice salad. I tried it and hated it. During good salad season, I keep rice in the fridge so i can heat it up to add to the salads. My other odd one is grain chips crumbled on fried rice. By grain chips, I mean something like corn tortilla or brown rice chips. Potato chips or any of the other root vegetable chips don’t work for this. I still love regular salads and fried rice on it’s own, but somehow my crazy cravings make them taste even better to me.

Chinese Food Addiction & Foolproof Brown Rice

I have a serious Chinese food addiction.  If I am too tired to cook and there aren’t enough leftovers for two, I will almost always suggest Chinese food.  It’s almost a shame how predictable I am.  This recipe was born of simple desperation.  The first time I made it, the hubs was out doing grad school stuff.  I had already started feeding the kid before I realized I didn’t have anything already ready to eat.  The kid was really little at the time and I was too tired to pack him up to go pick up Chinese and I didn’t have any cash on me so… no delivery.  I had Japanese eggplant in the house and that’s about it.  So, I figured I’d try and make my favorite Chinese food dish. If it didn’t work… no harm, no foul. No one had to know but me. BTW: This also works with any other kind of eggplant, just cut in pieces about 1.5″ x 1.5″ and if you are so inclined, peel the eggplant.

The rice is another story. I have searched the internet for directions on how to cook brown rice. I’ve tried just about every method I’ve seen. The rice has almost always been either underdone and crunchy or overdone and mushy. As it turns out, my dad’s foolproof method for making white rice works wonders on brown rice as long as you the change the rice:water ratio to work with brown rice.

Eggplant in Garlic Sauce w/ Foolproof Brown Rice

Brown Rice:
1 tbsp oil
1 tsp salt
2 cups brown rice
4-1/2 cups water

Heat 1-quart sauce pan over medium heat. When water droplets curl into a ball and skate over the surface of the pan, add the oil and the rice.  Toss the rice in the oil to coat.  Add the salt.  Add the water.  Let the water come to a boil. Let it keep boiling until the top of the water is about 1/8″ below the rice layer. Stir the rice once and put the cover on the pan. Turn off the heat under the rice and let it sit for at least 15 minutes.

Eggplant:
2 tbsp olive oil
2 pounds Japanese eggplant (slice in half and cut in half moons)
3 large cloves garlic, minced or grated fine
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tbsp chinese five spice powder
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp sweet chili sauce
1 tbsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

In a medium hot skillet, add olive oil, eggplant, garlic, hoisin sauce, chinese five spice powder, soy sauce, black pepper, sweet chili sauce, and red pepper flakes. Move the eggplant around the pan until it is coated with hoisin sauce. After about 5-8 minutes or when the eggplant looks like it’s starting to wilt, cover the pan and turn the heat down to low. It will be ready when the rice is ready.

Duck Confit & Mushroom Pasta

This isn’t actually a recipe from today, but the hubs requested that I save this one since he really liked it. I made it last Saturday after a trip to my local produce place. I can’t resist buying when I see piles and piles of fresh fruit and veggies so, needless to say, when I walked in the house with two big boxes of fruit and veggies there wasn’t enough room in the fridge. (Okay, so the hubs carried the big boxes in the house, but you get the idea.) Fortunately, it was lunchtime and I had to put something together before the hubs left to meet with his grad school group and my parents came over to see the kid. Spinach and mushrooms don’t seem to like to sit in a refrigerator so I try and make meals with them as soon as I get them home, so they went to the top of the list. I checked the pantry for pasta, but I finished the last of the whole grain short pastas and just had tri-color rotini. If I make this again, I’m definitely using the whole grain pasta. Then, I figured I’d empty the fridge to make room for the new stuff. I found goat cheese and duck confit in the fridge and started experimenting. (I will explain how I ended up with duck confit in the fridge in another post.) Leftover Roasted Chicken or Rotisserie Chicken works just as well in the recipe, but I had duck so that’s what I used. BTW: The hubs recommended eating this with a good glass of wine (my parents agreed). He actually said it felt wrong to eat it without a glass of wine.

FYI: The Poinsettia Chile Pepper looks like an ornamental, but is actually edible. They grow fairly easily and when they ripen up, you can dry them (either in a dehydrator or spread out in a layer in a dry spot in the kitchen). Then, just throw them in the food processor to break them up. Be careful, it’s a hot pepper so you’ll want to make sure you do this with either the windows open or the ventilation on. Then you can fill up your spice jar with it. It’s a bit hotter than the regular crushed red pepper flakes but I grew up with Jamaican food and I like things a little hotter. Adjust the red pepper flakes to your taste.


Duck Confit, Mushroom & Spinach Pasta

Duck Confit Pasta

8 oz portabella mushrooms, ribs scraped off & sliced
1 spanish onion, diced
1 large long hot chili pepper, cut into rings
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried tarragon or 1 tbsp fresh tarragon
1 tsp dried thyme or 2 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup dry sherry
1 lb baby spinach
12 oz. tricolor rotini
1-1/2 cup duck confit
4 oz chevre/goat cheese
1 tsp crushed poinsettia pepper flakes (or crushed red pepper flakes)

Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. In a medium hot large skillet, add olive oil and butter. When the butter melts, add the mushrooms. Don’t move them around the pan. The mushrooms need time to develop some color. If you’re not sure, turn over one of the mushrooms and if it looks caramel colored or seared on one side, then you’re ready for the next step. Start moving the mushrooms around the pan and add the onions, chili pepper, tarragon and thyme. Leave the mushroom-onion mixture to sweat in the pan for about 5 -8 minutes or until the onions are soft. When you start to see the liquid evaporating, add the garlic and move around the pan until you start to smell the garlic (about 1 minute). Add the dry sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan to release the fond (the caramelized bits stuck to the pan). When the liquid has reduced by half, cover the pan and turn the heat to low for about 5-8 more minutes. Turn the heat back up to medium and add the spinach. Add the hot pasta on top of the spinach and stir to mix everything together. Add two ladles of the pasta cooking water to the pan to moisten everything. Add the duck confit and cover the pan to allow the duck confit to warm through. It should take about a minute to get ready. Add the goat cheese and stir the pasta. Top with 1 tsp of crushed red pepper flakes and serve.

Cereal Envy

I make steel cut oats cereal for myself pretty much every morning.  I was eating my cereal this morning and realized I need to draw a line in the sand on this one.  Every couple days, I make food for the kid and package it up in 4 ounce jelly jars.  Back Story: I searched high and low for food containers for the kid and the jelly jars were FAR less expensive than the other glass baby food containers I found on the market.   At any given time, I can have up to 20 containers on rotation with food since he goes through 4-5 containers a day and I couldn’t fathom paying $10 and up for one container so I ended up with the standard jelly jars with the plastic freezer covers and when he’s done with them, I can force myself to figure out how to make jelly.  Back to the cereal envy: I make cereal as one of the kid’s 4 meals a day.  Somehow, my cereal needs serious help with dried cranberries and honey and a pinch of salt and milk to make it taste palatable.  The kid’s cereal on the other hand has two basic ingredients and still tastes better than mine.  I think I’m going to have to start making his cereal for myself.

His cereal is just any grain I have in the cupboards (I’ve done: oats, millet, barley, buckwheat, quinoa flour, amaranth  & brown rice) ground fine in the blender (I’ll go into my VitaMix obsession another time) and any mix of fresh cookable fruit (apples, bananas, nectarines, peaches, pears, mango, etc.) or frozen blueberries.  I just put 1 cup of water and about 2 cups of chopped (skinless) fruit on the stove on medium to start boiling.  Then, when it is at a boil, I whisk the fruit and water in the pan while sprinkling in the cereal so there aren’t any clumps.  I cover it, turn off the burner underneath the pan and leave it to cook through.  I usually start doing other stuff and just get back to it when I remember it, so that probably takes about 10-15 minutes.  When it looks done, I get out the potato masher and mash all the fruit so the pieces are small enough for the kid and if I need to stretch it a little, I’ll add coconut milk.  If I add too much coconut milk, I just stir it until the liquid evaporates and the whole thing tightens up a bit.  I package them up into his little jars and toss them in the fridge.  His cereal tastes amazing, so I have been known to stand at the stove cleaning out any remainder from the pot.

Why have I been adding all the stuff to mine all this time?

Black Quinoa… where it all started

The idea of this blog came about because of Black Quinoa.  I was leaving work and trying to think of something interesting to make for Meatless Monday.  Back Story: I started participating in Meatless Monday because it seemed like a good challenge.  Could I make vegetarian food for the hubs without hearing the old Wendy’s tag-line: “Where’s the beef?”  I ran the idea by the husband and he was all for it.  He’s a runner and he was up for the challenge of finding vegetarian food that he liked.  I’m not a fan of the meat substitutes so I generally avoid them.  I tend to use a lot of beans and whole grains and veggies for the Meatless Monday fair.  I’m not fanatical about it which helps me check if I’ve accomplished the goal.  There have been occasions when we’ve finished the entire meal and the hubs said, “Wait, there wasn’t any meat in there!  Nice!”  So, when I sent the recipe to a friend, she suggested I start a food blog.  Blogging seemed unlikely for me, since I was just messing around and trying to make quick and healthy for the hubs.  Then in the next two days I was talking to people about the meals I make for the kid and two more people suggested I write a blog ‘cos they wanted to know what else I was giving the kid to eat.

So, back to the quinoa, I remembered that I purchased Black Quinoa a couple weeks ago, but hadn’t made anything with it yet.  I had regular quinoa and red quinoa already, but the black quinoa provided some visual benefits since it looks pretty similar to ground beef.  By some truly odd coincidence, I decided I was going to try to make Southwestern wraps with the Black Quinoa substituting ground beef then I was looking at the hubs’ Facebook post where one of his friends said he should eat quinoa.  I stopped in the supermarket on the way home and all they had was the small wraps so the plan was amended to Southwestern Black Quinoa Quesadillas.

I’ve been putting quinoa flour in some of the kid’s food to add protein and figured the whole quinoa was small enough that he should be able to eat it now without issue so I made the quinoa without any salt so I could set some aside for his food.  I’ve incorporated the Black Quinoa in two different things of food for him since that time: Butternut Squash, Kale & Black Quinoa and then Butternut Squash, Chayote Squash & Black Quinoa.  I steamed about two cups of the Butternut Squash and Chayote Squash in his baby food cooker and mixed it in with about 1 cup of the quinoa.  I didn’t cook the kale since it was already blanched and just mixed it in with everything and covered the pan to let it all warm through before packaging it up.

The kale was actually from my mom’s garden last year.  She grew massive (almost 3 foot tall) kale plants and we had so much that we were giving away whole plants to friends just so her other plants didn’t get crowded out.  At the end of the season when we figured we’d eaten and juiced it and given so much away that people were just accepting it to be polite, my parents started pulling up the whole plants and blanching and freezing the leaves.  My dad minced some and left some cut larger.  I packaged them in 8 oz. portions in freezer bags (yes, I weighed them) and threw them in my freezer and my parents freezer for the winter.  Oddly enough, my parents and I still  have kale left over despite eating it through the winter.  Needless to say there was a ton of it.  My mom grew it in her front yard in between her ornamental plants and apparently it was the talk of the neighborhood since most people didn’t realize she was growing food.  They were sure it was an ornamental plant, but no one could find it in the garden centers.

So, for the adults, the Quesadilla was surprisingly good and went something like this.  (Early warning, this makes a lot of filling so you can throw it in the fridge and save it for later.  I actually added it to a brothy chicken soup for lunch one day in the week.):

Southwestern Black Quinoa Quesadilla


1 cup black quinoa
2 cups water/chicken stock
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 red onion, minced
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
½ large red chili, minced
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp chipotle powder
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 ½ cup minced blanched kale
1 ½ cup salsa
1 cup arugula leaves
Tortillas
Mozzarella (or any melting cheese)

Make quinoa according to package instructions.  (If you buy it in bulk, then rinse it first until the water runs clear to make sure you get rid of the soapy coating.)

In a medium-hot pan, add olive oil and the whole cumin, coriander and mustard seeds.  When the spices start dancing in the pan, add the red onion, beans and chili pepper.  While they are heating up, add the rest of the spices.  Stir the bean and spice mixture then add the garlic.  When you can smell the garlic, add the frozen corn kernels and kale and cover the pan and turn down to medium-low.  When the quinoa is ready, add it to the pan and stir to combine.  Add the salsa (more if needed) to ensure the mixture is moist and turn up the heat to medium for a short time to make sure everything is heated through, then turn back down to low.

In a medium hot frying pan, toast the tortillas individually without oil.  When it begins to bubble slightly, flip the tortilla and add just enough cheese to cover the tortilla leaving a 1-inch border.  Add a few arugula leaves and about a ½ cup of the quinoa mixture then fold the tortilla in half and press to toast.