Day 365–A New Blog Is Born!

Happy New Year’s Eve! Thanks to all of you who have commented, emailed or texted me information about what you like in this blog! I’ve used your comments and some goals of our own to create a NEW blog SOLE Food Kitchen, http://www.solefoodkitchen.com (since the link is not apparently working) that focuses on eating Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethically-sourced food. Please check it out!

This is very much a work in progress, but I’ve posted my first entry and hope you’ll take a look! I still have a LOT to do. A GINORMOUS thank you to Heather at Sugar Dish Me, who provided a lot of information. Heather, I still have lots of questions (like why are my links not working!), but I’m starting to figure things out–thank you!

Year of Healthier Living will still be up–no worries. Eventually, I will transition some of the better recipes to the new blog and add some additional yumminess!

Happy New Year, happy new beginnings and happy eating!

Day 363–Our Year In Review

budget

What is going on with the time? It seems like the months are moving in warp speed. It is hard to believe our year experiment is almost up! I’ll be reworking the blog a bit (and hopefully not crashing everything!) and returning on January 1 to start again, this time with a new challenge and a slightly different twist.

This is the time of year when everyone is doing some kind of retrospective on the past 12 months and since we started out with a year challenge, it seems fitting that we will do this, too.

The goals of our family challenge were threefold:

  • Eat at least 75% of our food from local and/or sustainable sources
  • Spend no more than $100 per week on groceries
  • Increase our walking destinations.

How did we do?

Well, we did pretty well for our first time out! Overall, we kept our average spending to just under $100, but missed our mark of 75%. Here’s how the numbers break down for the 43 weeks that I recorded our budget and menu (I’m missing 9 weeks due to schedule craziness, vacations, and whatever else was going on, but I believe those weeks would probably even out to about the same numbers).

  • Total amount spent on groceries:          $4,199.51
  • Grocery $$ spent on local food:             $2,684.91
  • Percent of food budget that was local:  64%
  • Average spent per week:                            $97.66

That averages included our Christmas and Christmas Eve feasts, which were way over budget (but also supremely awesome). I did not include trips to Whole Foods as local, although they were organic and sustainable, because they did not reflect a direct payment to farmers. So for the year, almost $2,700 of our food budget stayed within our community. I’m pretty proud of that!

Where we have not done so well is increasing our walking to local destinations. That is definitely going to be on the agenda for next year.

I personally had some good health outcomes this year. I dropped 15 pounds, lowered my overall cholesterol by 17 points and raised my good cholesterol by several points.

More importantly, I have met some wonderful new people, reconnected to eating seasonal foods, reignited a love of cooking, learned how to can my own food and all around, just had a great time!

What’s next?

Here are some goals for next year:

  • Work on my food photography skills
  • Incorporate more plant-based dishes into our diet
  • Visit our local farms and include our experiences outside the farmer’s market

What would you like to see in this blog for next year? More recipes? Fewer recipes? More research-based information?

I’ll see you back here in 2013–just a few short days away. Have a happy and safe New Year!

Day 362–Brussels Sprouts with Apple

Brussels Sprouts

 

I know Brussels sprouts are supposed to be gross-out territory for a lot of children, but Ellie has always been a big fan of those cute, little cabbages. We typically roast them or saute them with bacon pieces, both ways are far better than the boiled-to-death treatment of frozen sprouts from the 1970s. This Christmas Eve, we featured sprouts in a new way–roasted with apples, onions, and lemon juice. They were incredibly good provided a much-needed change of pace in our sprout menu! You can adjust the amounts here depending on your family size and whether these are a main dish or side dish (this would make a fabulous vegan main dish). We served 6 as a side dish and there were barely any sprouts left over.

 

If you can find fresh Brussels sprouts, definitely go that route. The flavor and texture is far superior to frozen. Brussels Sprouts are typically found in the late fall and early winter. If you can’t find local, fresh sprouts, then use flash frozen sprouts in a bag, not the kind that come in a square box with lots of added water. Water is not a sprouts best friend. And whatever you do, don’t skimp on the lemon zest and juice. It really makes this dish special!

 

Brussels Sprouts with Apple (serves 6 as a side)

 

  • 2 lbs. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in 1/2 lengthwise
  • 2 large apples (I used Granny Smith), peeled, cored and cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste
  • Zest and juice of 1 lemon

 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (see note below).
  2. Put the prepared sprouts, apple and onion into a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  3. Pour olive oil over vegetables in bowl and toss to coat all.
  4. Pour vegetable/apple mixture onto a rimmed baking sheet (line sheet with foil for easy clean up).
  5. Roast vegetables in the oven for about 50 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprouts and onion should start to brown.
  6. Remove from oven and pour all into a serving bowl. Add zest and lemon juice and toss well.
  7. Serve immediately.

 

Note: You can roast this mix at a higher temperature (400 degrees) for a shorter period of time. Since I was roasting these while heating our seafood casserole, I roasted them longer at a lower temperature. Either works just fine.

 

Day 358–Spiced Sweet Potato Biscuits

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This is another of my favorite holiday recipes. I’m not making these this year because we are having mashed sweet potatoes, but they are always a hit when I make them. They are sweet, spicy and moist, with enough flakiness that they are a true biscuit and not a roll. These go very well with ham or would also be great with roasted vegetables!

Spiced Sweet Potato Biscuits

5 c. unbleached flour
1 c. packed light brown sugar
2 tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground allspice
1 c. solid frozen vegetable shortening
2 c. roasted, mashed and cooled sweet potato
1 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. chopped pecans

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, ginger and allspice. Combine well.
3. Cut in the shortening with two knives or with your fingers, until crumbly.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the sweet potato, cream and pecans.
5. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the potato mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
6. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll or pat dough to about 2″ thick.
7. Cut biscuits with a 2″ cutter and place biscuits about 1″ apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
8. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
9. Serve warm to happy guests!

Day 357–NC Seafood Casserole

I wanted to post this recipe yesterday, but I was pulled into the swirling vortex of holiday shopping known as “the mall”. It was exhausting, but I did finally finish up the last bits of Christmas shopping on my list. I did do a good amount of local shopping, but I couldn’t avoid the mall entirely. I need to plan better next year.

This seafood casserole is a passalong recipe from a volunteer at a previous job. I’ve made it every Christmas Eve for the past 12 years and it has become part of our Christmas tradition. It is very good, very rich and not what I would call healthy food. This year, we are using as many fresh, local ingredients as we can, including all of the seafood.

1 cup rice
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups chopped celery
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pound scallops
1 pound raw shrimp
1 pint shucked oysters (you can omit if you really don’t like them)
1 pckg. frozen fake Krab
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 1/2 c. milk
1 8 oz. pckg. cream cheese
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs or crushed butter crackers
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
Chopped fresh parsley
Lemon for serving

1. Cook rice according to directions. Stir in egg and 2 Tbsp.of the parsley. Set aside.
2. In a large skillet, melt 1 Tbsp. of the butter over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, stirring occasionally. Cook for 3-4 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
3. Stir in 1/2 tsp. of dill and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl.
4. Wipe skillet clean. Pour 2 cups of water in the skillet and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Add scallops and poach until just opaque, about 3 minutes. Remove scallops and add to the bowl.
5. Poach shrimp in the liquid for about 3 minutes or until pink. Remove shrimp to the bowl.
6. Poach the oysters in the liquid for about 2-3 minutes. Remove oysters and add to the bowl.
7. Reserve 1 cup of the poaching liquid and discard the rest. Wipe the skillet clean.
8. Chop the Krab into bite sized pieces and add to the bowl.
9. In the skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly for 2 minutes. Do not let flour brown.
10. Gradually whisk in reserved poaching liquid and milk. Cook and stir for about 5 minutes, until thickened. Whisk in cream cheese, remaining dill, salt, pepper and thyme and cook an additional 3-5 minutes until cheese has melted and sauce is smooth.
11. Stir sauce into the seafood mixture along with remaining parsley.
12. Line bottom of a greased 13 x 9 baking dish with the rice mixture.
13. Pour seafood mixture on top of rice. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate up to 2 days)
14. Mix bread crumbs or crushed crackers and 2 Tbsp. butter. Sprinkle over the casserole.
15. Bake at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes or until heated through and topping is golden and crunchy. Garnish with parsley and lemon wedges.

Day 355–A Local Holiday Menu

brussel_sprouts

 

I love cooking at Christmastime, but the rush of the holidays sure does make it hard to carve out large amounts of time to really get focused. Still, whenever I do have the time, I enjoy it so much. We have a pretty standard menu for Christmas Eve (our fancy meal) and Christmas supper (more casual), but we do like to change it up a little. This year, I am trying to cook our meals from local foods that are available at this time of year or that I froze/canned this summer. Here is what we’re having!

 

Christmas Eve

 

  • North Carolina seafood casserole (recipe to come tomorrow)
  • Mini tortieres (Canadian pork meat pies)
  • Brussel sprouts with apples
  • Local garden salad
  • Virginia rolls from Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Peppermint ice cream and chocolate pie (not local–just good)

 

Christmas Supper

 

  • Smoked mini boneless ham from Mae Farm
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Collard greens cooked with Mae Farm jowl bacon
  • Field peas
  • Virginia rolls from Great Harvest Bread Company
  • Pecan pie

 

What about you? What are your favorite holiday foods? Do you have a traditional menu or do you experiment each year?

 

Day 354–Reindeer Pancakes

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How cute is that?

We’ve been talking about the need to add a “breakfast for dinner” night to our menu and I found a way to make a pancake supper that also celebrated winter (although it’s still in the 60s here) and Christmas. Enter, the reindeer pancake. I saw this idea online somewhere and couldn’t wait to try it. The version I saw used candy for the eyes and nose, but I subbed out some of our frozen fruit instead. So easy, so cute and it put everyone in a cheery mood at the table–given the news this past week, that was really needed.

Reindeer Pancakes

  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels or a tea towel. Sit a wire cooling rack on top of the towel and put in the oven.
  3. In a frying pan, cook bacon until crisp. As bacon is done, lay strips on the cooling rack in the oven to keep warm. This will keep your bacon crispy yet let it drain as well.
  4. Clean the pan, coat with a thin layer of butter or cooking spray and heat over medium/low heat.
  5. Make one 8-9″ pancake per person and one 3-4″ pancake per person, plus extra for eating later. As pancakes cook, add them to the cooling rack in the oven to keep warm.
  6. When ready to serve, arrange a big pancake on the plate, with a smaller pancake (to be the muzzle of the reindeer) on top and toward the bottom of the larger pancake.
  7. Arrange bacon antlers on either side of the large pancake.
  8. Add blueberry eyes and raspberry/strawberry nose.
  9. Serve immediately with warm maple syrup and plenty of good cheer!

Day 353–Starting Week 51–Budget and Menu

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We’ll be harvesting some of our own Swiss chard for dinner this week!

The holidays are almost upon us and while I am not at all ready, I am sprinting to the finish line of 2012. Later this week I will post some of our traditional holiday recipes and how we are using local ingredients to improve our standard Christmas Eve and Christmas menus. As for this week, we are keeping it simple and trying to have fun in this last rush before Santa arrives.

Our budget is $77.93 for the week. Here is what we spent:

Budget

  • Walker Farm (ground bison): $8.50
  • Mae Farm (ground pork, pork tenderloin, bacon): $28.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (eggs, buttermilk): $6.00
  • The Mitchell’s pantry (sticky fig jam, strawberry jam, green beans, corn, applesauce, tomatoes): $12.00
  • Trader Joes (cheese, bread, frozen fruit, steel-cut oats): $23.43

Here is what we are having this week!

Menu

  • Sunday–Bison meatloaf, roasted cauliflower, kale
  • Monday–Angel hair pasta with roasted tomato sauce
  • Tuesday–Whole wheat reindeer pancakes and homemade applesauce
  • Wednesday–Sauteed Swiss chard topped with eggs
  • Thursday–Grilled cheese and homemade tomato soup
  • Friday–Leftover buffet
  • Saturday–Pork tenderloin with sticky fig jam, summer green beans, corn

Day 352–A Moment of Silence

It’s hard to talk food when you have just spent the morning talking your child into going to school because she is worried about her safety. But I am thankful for the fact that she is safe and praying for those parents who are enduring the unimaginable. So, rather than give a post today, I’m sharing this post as we all reflect on our children and our country.

blogging-day-remembrance

Day 348–Farmer Spotlight–Carolina Bison

English: Bison bison. Original caption: "...

While I like to think I have a creative brain, some things are difficult for me to envision. Take clowns for example. I can’t imagine them NOT being creepy. likewise, I have a hard time imagining a fall without football. Or Lindsay Lohan without drama. Add to this my difficulty imagining the western North Carolina mountains and foothills teeming with bison. Well, that’s not quite the same as Lilo without the po-po following her, but still. Bison?

Yet, it is apparently true. At one point, millions of American Bison roamed the plains of what is now the United States. I’m not sure they ever called North Carolina home, but that is changing quickly. Several farmers in North Carolina are raising bison as a healthy alternative to beef. Carolina Bison in Asheville is one such business. The business began in 1985, when founder Dr. Frank King noticed that his patients who ate a diet of grass-fed bison noticed substantial health improvements. And so, a business was born!

Why did bison offer those benefits? Well, bison has less fat than beef (almost on par with chicken) and an extremely high amount of digestible protein. So, you get the taste of grass-fed beef with the health effects of eating white meat.

Carolina Bison offers grass-fed, steroid-free and antibiotic-free bison in the form of steaks, ground meat, roasts and stew beef. Since Asheville is a good 5 hours from Cary, I’m going to try the mail order service and see how that works. In the meantime, at least one North Carolina farm is selling bison at our farmer’s market, but I don’t know much about their protocol. We did pick up a pound to try this weekend as burgers for our famished selves after the 2012 Reindeer Romp 5K this Saturday!

For information about Carolina Bison, click HERE! For anyone in NC, they will offer ranch tours in the spring and I definitely want in on that! Maybe it will help with my visualization issue!