Day 121–Salads and Salad Dressings

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Our Saladpalooza nights feature whatever ingredients are fresh and handy (and sometimes some leftovers, too!).

 

Our Produce Box last week and this week feature lots of salad greens, so salads are BIG on our menu. We’re trying things like our Saladpalooza night (basically an at-home salad bar), mixing up our salad toppings, and having theme salads (Mexican salad featuring black beans, corn and avocado, etc.). What really makes salads a happy thing in my house, though, is the salad dressing. After reading the ingredients in most grocery store dressings, I decided to try making my own so I can control the ingredients and eliminate unnecessary sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Here is what I have learned about making salad dressing:

  1. It is much easier than I thought.
  2. I have most of the ingredients in my pantry already.
  3. My stick blender (immersion blender) is my greatest ally.

With a few handy ingredients and my little, easy-to-clean stick blender, we have been able to create very delicious dressings in about 5 minutes. On the topic of dressings, I have to give a shout out to another blogger who has given me a lot of inspiration to seek fresh salad ideas. A fellow blogger at Creative Noshing has been a great inspiration to me as we explore making different dressings. She has wonderful, fresh, recipes for dressings that have become our staples. Our favorites are homemade ranch dressing and a spicy Asian peanut dressing (which is also amazing on stir fry vegetables).

Salads are a great way to get your vegetables in and this time of year, when lettuce is king, you can get impeccably fresh greens as well as sugar snap peas, carrots, radish and other yummy salad staples. After a winter of cooked greens (not that I mind collards), it’s nice to fill up on salad that does not come from a bag!

Visit Creative Noshing for some superb dressing recipes. Whether you like ranch, Russian dressing, poppy seed or spicy peanut, she probably has a recipe that will have your family happily eating their greens!

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Day 120–Starting Week 17–Budget and Menu

I thought I had my menu for the week worked out and then the temperatures dropped back into the upper 50s. Yes, I could still grill outside, but I’m wimping out. Week 16 was supposed to end with grilled beef and vegetable kabobs, but in the end, I made beef stew. It seemed to fit the weather conditions better and (since it was made in the crock pot) it was easier as well. And it made good use of my carrots from the Produce Box last week. And, thanks to someone who signed up for The Produce Box and listed me as their referral, I got a nice $12.00 discount on this week’s box of veggies (THANK YOU whoever you are!!!). This week’s budget looks great at $84.54!!! Here is our budget for this week:

  • The Produce Box (all organic this week! double lettuce, peas, onions, swiss chard, kale, garlic, rutabega): $14
  • Fickle Creek Farms (Boston butt): $20
  • Coon Rock Farm (smoked bacon): $10
  • Farmer’s Market, misc. (cucumbers, tomatoes): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (red wine vinegar, gruyere cheese, mozzerella cheese, frozen fruit, yogurt, organic half and half): $32.54
  • Great Harvest Bread Co. (honey whole wheat sandwich bread): FREE!
  • La Farm Bakery (Italian bread): $3.00

What’s on the menu of eats this week? Here it is! I’m still trying to figure out what to do with rutabegas…

  • Sunday–Roasted beet salad, bread
  • Monday–Crock pot pulled pork barbeque, salad
  • Tuesday–Asparagus and gruyere quiche, salad
  • Wednesday–Swiss chard and mushrooms with eggs
  • Thursday–BLT sandwiches, salad, carrots
  • Friday–Leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–Family pizza challenge, salad

Here’s hoping for warmer temperatures and some sunshine!! Have a terrific and healthy week!

Day 119–What’s Fresh at the Market?

Our spring weather in central North Carolina has been downright odd. Most of the winter we were in the 70s and now that it’s spring, we’re in the 50s and 60s. Or mid 80s. The weather for the weekend farmer’s markets was chilly, cloudy and windy, with temperatures in the 50s. Blech. If the weather is confusing to us humans, it has absolutely stunned most of our vegetable plants. As a result, we have more greens at the market, but the diversity of vegetables for most of the organic farmers isn’t all that great yet. But still, it is spring, and there is much to celebrate. Here’s what I found today:

  • Strawberries–still plentiful!
  • Lettuce–red, green and romaine
  • Greens–swiss chard, kale, spinach, tatsoi and bok choi
  • Spring onions
  • Spring garlic
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Beets and rutabegas

If you love salads, this is a great time to get your lettuce and other greens before the summer heat hits us (which, given our weather extremes, could be any minute now). Get out to your markets this weekend and let me know what you’re finding in your area!!

Day 118–This Week’s Produce Box

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This week, our veggie fairy named Terri delivered a beautiful box of vegetables plus organic strawberries PLUS cheese. Right to my doorstep. Yes she did. We are set to go with another week’s worth of fresh vegetables, including two kinds of lettuce, two pounds of carrots, beets, an herb bouquet, two quarts of strawberries and a local cheese that is similar to asiago. YUM!

So, what to do with two pounds of carrots? I’m thinking of…pickling! But of course! Pickled carrots sound yummy and will be a continuation of my learning all things pickle. These are supposed to be spicy pickles, which sound pretty good to me. I’m NOT posting this idea on Facebook 🙂 If that doesn’t work out for some reason, I’m thinking carrot soup.

What would YOU do with 2 pounds of carrots???

Day 117–A Locavore’s Lunch–Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company

We love buying our fresh, locally produced vegetables, meats, cheeses, etc. and cooking at home, but sometimes the drive to cook just isn’t there. And sometimes dinner is so good that we don’t have leftovers for lunch the next day. I found myself hungry and bereft of lunch options yesterday while also visiting the newly reopened Downtown Farmer’s Market in Raleigh. I considered buying enough basic ingredients to make my own lunch, but then I came across the Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company Booth and decided to let someone make my lunch for me! I have seen the Sarah Cecilia booth at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market, but usually I’ve just finished breakfast and am not feeling up to buying prepared food. This day, however, was different. I was hungry!

The Sarah Cecilia Good Food Company is a small business run by Kim Hunter and Kelly Hatch. The name of their company comes from their two moms–Sarah and Cecilia. Sweet, no? Their dedication to preparing locally sourced, sustainably produced foods in healthy and nutritious ways drives their budding catering and food delivery business. They are present at many of the local farmer’s markets in the Triangle area and they also deliver meals to your home or office! I understand that Kim and Kelly are also interested in opening a cafe in Raleigh–I’m looking forward to that!

For lunch, I had the Asian noodles with greens, cilantro, chicken and onion. Wow, was it good. Flavorful and healthy and bursting with all kinds of fresh flavors. A nice portion for lunch, too and at $6, it didn’t break the piggy bank. The other option today was shrimp rolls, which sounded good also.

I’m glad I had the opportunity to find a healthy, local lunch while shopping for vegetables and that I could support a local, woman-owned business. And I felt virtuous enough with my super healthy lunch to have some strawberry cobbler later 🙂

Day 116–Controversial Pickled Asparagus

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Fresh, local asparagus was the start of our pickled asparagus with mustard seed!

I’m adding asparagus to my list of controversial subjects. So far, they include politics, religion, college basketball and cobbler. And now asparagus.

If you’ve been reading along with us for a while, you know that Ellie and I took a canning class so we can continue to eat some of our favorite local foods all year. Actually, we now have a three-pronged approach to food preservation–canning, freezing and drying. We’re looking at what is available at the market each week and considering whether or not we enjoy it enough to try preserving it for the bleak winter months. It’s fun to seek out new recipes to try–dried fruit leather was a big hit. One of the recipes that piqued our interest is pickled asparagus with mustard seed. We love asparagus. We love pickles. So, what’s not to love about pickled asparagus? And our local grocery sells pickled asparagus for $7 a jar, so I’m all about trying the DIY version.

I couldn’t decide whether this sounded really good or just really odd, so I posted an inquiry to my Facebook page asking the question: “Pickled asparagus. Good? Gross?” The overwhelming judgement was “gross.” Or at least “why?” as in “why would do that to a perfectly good asparagus?” A few people commented on texture issues with asparagus–would they be mushy? Ellie The Brave was all about it though, so we forged ahead. I picked up asparagus at the farmer’s market and apple cider vinegar at the grocery store and we got started. This recipe uses quite a bit of garlic, which made the kitchen smell great. I managed to get over my fear of canning garlic, which seems to be strongly connected to botulism if not done properly.

The end result was some semi-attractive jars, although not as perfect looking as the grocery store variety. I was concerned about stuffing too much asparagus in the pint jars, but in hindsight, the hot water bath cooked them slightly and they shrunk up a bit, so next time I will pack the jars pretty full.

How do they taste? Actually, very good! The asparagus are tender and not crisp like a true pickle, but also not mushy like asparagus from a can. The brine is good–tart, but with good seasoning from the mustard, garlic and pepper. They will be good with salad or even with deviled eggs. The garlic  helps to balance the vinegar and give the pickles a nice savory flavor. If you like asparagus and want to keep it around past asparagus season, this might be something to try (you can also blanch them and freeze them). This recipe is from “Put ‘Em Up” by Sherri Brooks Vinton.

Pickled Asparagus with Mustard Seed (makes about 3 pints)

  • 4 lbs. asparagus, washed and dried
  • 4 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 tablespoon mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorn
  1. Trim the asparagus to lengths 1 inch shorter than your pint jars and pack vertically into the clean, hot jars.
  2. Combine the vinegar, water, salt and sugar in a medium nonreactive saucepan. Bring the brine to a low boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar, and then remove from the heat. Divide the garlic, celery seed, mustard seed, and peppercorns among the jars. Pour the hot brine over the asparagus to cover by 1/2 inch. Leave 1/2 inch of head space between the top of the liquid and the lid.
  3. Use the boiling water method. Release the trapped air from the jars. Wipe the rims clean; center lids on the jars and screw on jar bands. Process for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, remove canner lid and let jars rest in the water for 5 minutes. Remove jars and set aside for 24 hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Day 115–Go Play Outside!

My back yard would make Martha Stewart hurl.

I mean, we’re not all Sanford and Son or anything (I realize I am dating myself with that reference), but my back yard is a mash-up of a swing set that is almost never used for swinging, two Adirondack chairs and two painted children’s chairs. In addition, there are yards of tulle from some long forgotten project, a volleyball, a pink playground ball, a few leftover Halloween decorations and some pots full of Japanese maple seedlings that Ellie and the neighborhood children have “rescued”. Last weekend, the gang on our street managed to start an amateur worm farm and they somehow caught a vole that lived for a while in an empty strawberry bucket. His name was Doug (dug).

Martha Stewart it ain’t. I was feeling twinges of suburban guilt that my back yard is not picture perfect and sometimes I sense that other parents aren’t so thrilled with the freedom I give children in our yard. I mean, we have rules of a sort–it’s not Lord of the Flies. But parents want their kids to play organized games. They want them to swing nicely on the swing set. They don’t want them to get dirty. They need to get a grip.

So in my ever swirling realm of mommy-guilt, it is a relief to find that other people actually advocate for children to get outside and explore. And exploring can be messy. I don’t let Ellie roam the neighborhood by herself because today’s world is just too weird. But our backyard is ours–it is a place where she can explore. Where a swing set can be an animal hospital or a train or a fort. Adirondack chairs turned sideways can be a doghouse or a cave for Katniss Everdeen or a fairy house. Sometimes the dog has a role in these games, sometimes not. Does Ellie get filthy? Yes. Does she learn the hard way that sliding down the slide in our winter sled is not a good idea? Yes. Do I care if she is dirty? No.

Today, I opened up Twitter to find a new blog resource for getting our children outside and fostering their creativity in fun and inexpensive ways. It’s called Play Outside! Of course, this is an Australian blog–they seem to do the coolest things with outdoor education and children. They are compiling ideas in outdoor education from around the blogosphere and the database of ideas is searchable. So cool and such great timing for spring and summer! I think I’m going to try hanging a clothesline and a sheet for a curtain and see what kind of drama comes about!

You know, my daughter is 11 and I have just a few more years with her where she wants to play outside. There’s time for a Martha Stewart yard. But not yet.

Day 114–Strawberry Cobbler

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Our experiment with strawberry cobbler was a great hit!

A ripe strawberry is a magnificent thing.

We could eat strawberries all day long–in smoothies, in jam, as a shortcake, as fruit leather and just plain straight up. And then, there is cobbler.

Cobblers are one of those regional dishes that spark great discussion and debate. Some are very cakey and light, some are juicy and topped with some crispy strudel topping and others are full of cinnamon and oats. I grew up with cobblers of sweetened fruit and cinnamon topped with a brown sugar/oat topping that was a bit crispy. I still love that, especially with apples. The cobbler I make these days, however–the one that produces an eager twinkle in my husband’s eye–is total creamy comfort food. Our cobbler is a simple, southern cobbler of fresh fruit and a custardy filling that is very easy, but also impossibly delicious. I’ve always made this with peaches, but this year I wondered if it could make the transition to strawberries. Could it? As it turns out, yes it can! This cobbler is wonderful warm from the oven and served with a scoop of good vanilla ice cream (butter pecan is good, too!). This also reheats well, so you can have dessert for several nights after just one night of baking.

Strawberry Cobbler

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup self rising flour
  • 1 stick butter
  • 1 quart fresh strawberries, hulled and sliced into halves (you can substitute 1 quart of your favorite fruit here)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a bowl, mix together milk, sugar and flour. Set aside.
  3. Melt butter in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking pan. Add strawberries.
  4. Slowly pour the flour mixture on top of the berries and melted butter.
  5. Sprinkle additional sugar over the top (optional).
  6. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.
  7. Serve with fresh whipped cream or good quality ice cream.

Day 113–Starting Week 16–Budget and Menu

This week, the farmer’s markets were just teeming with people and chock full of wonderful strawberries and spring vegetables. I didn’t buy as much at the market as last week because we now have our weekly Produce Box delivery. Still, it was great to be out seeing the farmers so busy after a quiet winter. Our total for the week was $101.65–just $1.65 over our weekly goal. Not too bad!!

  • The Produce Box (sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, lettuce, strawberries, cucumbers): $22.00
  • Rainbow Farms (roasting chicken): $13.00
  • Farmhand Foods (kabob beef): $15.00
  • Farmer’s Market–various (onions, sugar snap peas, asparagus, cucumbers, tomatoes): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (organic soy milk, rice, frozen fruit, bananas, mushrooms, Ezekiel bread, cous cous): $33.65

What are we having this week for $101.65? Here is our weekly menu:

  • Sunday–Roast fresh chicken, sweet potato wedges, roasted asparagus spears, buttermilk biscuits, strawberry cobbler
  • Monday–Curry chicken and spinach over whole wheat cous cous
  • Tuesday–Pasta salad with roasted vegetables
  • Wednesday–Sandwiches with leftover pasta salad
  • Thursday–Veggie stir fry over rice
  • Friday–Leftover cleanup night
  • Saturday–Grilled beef and vegetable kabob with whole wheat cous cous

Have a terrific and delicious week!

Day 112–A Strawberry Workday and Strawberry Fruit Leather

Saturday was all about strawberries at our house. We managed to get up and out of the house early and meet some of our fellow scouts at a local strawberry patch. The morning was beautiful and the berries were plentiful. It’s fun to watch everyone’s strawberry picking strategies. I pick the closest spot and start picking. Tom checks out the field and picks the spot where he thinks most people won’t have picked and Ellie gets as far away from us with her friends as she can. I’m thinking this mirrors our personalities fairly well 🙂

There is something about an entire field of ripe strawberries that makes me tend toward hoarding. I want to pick them all! In the end, we had four large buckets of beautiful, ripe berries and two pints of locally produced Maple View Farm ice cream. Two excellent treats! Once we got home with our bounty, the work began. We rinsed and checked our berries and immediately started hulling them for jam.

We made eight half pints of strawberry jam in all. The jam started out as old fashioned, slow cook jam with no pectin. After 90 minutes of cooking the berries, lemon juice and sugar, I couldn’t really tell if the jam had jelled, but I canned it using a hot water bath thinking that surely 90 minutes was enough time. The next morning, I re-cooked it and canned it a second time because it was too soupy. A lot of extra work, but I think I’ll be happier with the results this winter. And in the future, I may just use pectin with strawberries. They seem to have a lot of juice in them and it doesn’t cook down very well. Maybe blueberries are better?

After making the jam, we made strawberry fruit leather, based on a recipe in Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ‘Em Up cookbook. I was interested in this because fruit leather is a nice snack, but we don’t buy fruit rollups–they’re pretty full of junk and very low on actual fruit. The fruit leather drying process took longer than the recipe called for (about 4 hours instead of 2), but the end result was totally worth it. Our strawberry leather is chewy, tart and bursting with strawberry flavor. Soooooo good. Apparently, the fruit leather will keep in an air tight container for up to one month, but it will not last that long in our house! The recipe is below.

While we were canning and drying, I also froze 6 quarts of berries. I rinsed them, hulled them, then put them on parchment lined baking sheets, which I popped into the freezer for about an hour. When the berries were frozen, I put them in quart sized freezer bags. This way, they don’t get mushed and frozen in a big block.

After all that, you would think I’d collapse, but no, I decided to make a strawberry cobbler (recipe to come). Inspired by a similar recipe from Creative Noshing, I took our peach cobbler recipe and substituted strawberries as a test. It was amazing–especially when served hot with our Maple View Farm ice cream. Wow!

So our final total was 8 half pints of jam, 6 quarts of frozen berries, one batch of fruit leather and one strawberry cobbler. For good measure, I pickled 4 pints of asparagus spears (more on that this week). Needless to say, my house smelled great all day and at the end of the day, I slept very well. It was nice to take a day to devote just to cooking, canning and enjoying the literal fruits of our labor!

Berry Fruit Leather

  • 4 cups of berries (any will do!)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  1. Wash and dry the berries. Combine them with water in a large skillet and bring to a boil. Simmer until the berries begin to break down, about 5 minutes. Puree the fruit by mashing it with a potato masher or using a stick blender (my personal choice).
  2. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees. Line a rimmed backing sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
  3. Return the berry puree to the pan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently until it thickens to the consistency of baby food. Add the sugar and still to dissolve.
  4. Spread the sweetened puree onto the baking sheet, tilting the pan or using an offset spatula to create an even layer about 1/8″ thick.
  5. Dry in the oven until tacky to the touch, about 2 hours (for me this was 4 hours).
  6. Cool to room temperature. Side the parchment onto a cutting board and roll the leather into a tube. Slice the fruit into 2″ strips and store in an airtight container for up to 1 month.