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

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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!

Day 347–Butternut Squash and Kale Pizza

Winter squash is one of those fall vegetables that can make the transition from sweet to savory very easily. Butternut squash is one of my favorites because it has a great flavor, but it’s not overpowering, making it a nice partner with all sorts of other foods. We had stuffed squash earlier this week and it was hearty and very delicious. Since I still have one squash left from our last Produce Box delivery, I was hoping to find a good way to use it up along with some lovely fresh kale we bought at the farmer’s market.

Ta-da!! Heather at Sugar Dish Me came through again. I love her blog–it’s funny, insightful and chock full of great recipes. Which is good because this is my Christmas crunch week with something scheduled every night except Friday night and while I want to cook, I’m in need of some inspiration. I’m going to make this pizza with our homemade whole wheat pizza dough. The combination of bacon, caramelized onions, and cheese is enough to make me go for it. But it also has butternut squash and kale, two amazingly healthy foods that are in plentiful supply at our local markets!

Get the recipe HERE!

Day 345–What’s Fresh at the Market

Brussel sprouts

The weather here in central North Carolina is having a case of indecision. Although we have had some chilly days, most of December has been in the 70s. I’m not complaining, mind you, but it is a little hard to get in the holiday spirit when you’re wearing shorts and a t-shirt. And flipflops.

One of the wonderful side effects of this warm weather is that our farmers are still harvesting lots of great vegetables! Here is what’s fresh this week!

  • Apples
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Lettuce
  • Kale
  • Collards
  • Bok choi
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Pecans
  • Sweet potatoes (orange and white)
  • Greenhouse tomatoes
  • Winter squash–acorn, butternut, pattypan
  • Beets
  • Turnips
  • Rutabegas
  • Radish

Have a wonderful week and don’t forget to support your local farmers as you make your holiday meal plans!

Day 344–Stuffed Butternut Squash

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It doesn’t look all that spectacular, but this dish is flexible, easy, inexpensive and full of fall goodness!

I love winter squash and for me, stuffed squash is a great way to turn one or two squash into a family meal. Stuffed squash is one of those crazy, flexible meals that can vary depending on what you happen to have handy. For me, that’s some awesome Mae Farm sausage, onions, leftover sage, breadcrumbs and cheese. You could add sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, peppers, kale–the possibilities are endless! Here is the process: roast, saute, scoop, fill and bake.

Stuffed Butternut Squash

1butternut squash
1/2 lb. sausage
1 yellow onion
2 carrots
1/2 c. dried breadcrumbs
4 fresh sage leaves, chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper.
2. Cut squash in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Put squash cut side down on the baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes or until squash is soft, but not mushy.
3. Remove casing from sausage and cut into bite sized pieces. Brown in a saute pan over medium heat until all pink is gone.
4. Peel and dice the onion and carrots.
5. Remove sausage from pan and cook onion and carrots in pan drippings (add olive oil, if needed). Cook about 4 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent.
6. Add sage and bread crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add sausage back to pan.
Keep warm until squash is done.
7. Remove squash from oven and, using a towel to protect your hand, hold each half and scoop flesh out of skin and into the saute pan. Take care to leave the skin intact!
8. Mix the squash into the stuffing and combine. Fill each squash half with stuffing, mounding over the top. Top with parmesan cheese.
9. Put squash back in the oven for 20 minutes or until stuffing is hot and cheese is melty. Serve immediately.

Day 343–Starting Week 50–Budget and Menu

Although winter is just around the corner, we are still experiencing daily temperatures in the 60s and 70s. The farmer’s markets are still offering a wide variety of fall and winter vegetables, no doubt helped along by the unseasonable weather! This week’s budget is $63.46, far below our $100.00 limit. While I would love to say this reflects some creative frugal spending on my part, we have two evening events to attend this week, so that’s two fewer nights for me to cook dinner. On a real plus side, I found two NC farmers/ranchers who are raising bison and we will try some bison burgers as our celebratory meal after the Reindeer Romp 5K next Saturday!

Budget

Mae Farm (bacon): $8.40
Rare Earth Farm (eggs): $4.08
Farmhand Foods (small steak): $5.00
General farmers market (sweet potatoes, kale, onions, cauliflower, brussel sprouts): $13.50
Greenland Farm (bison): $8.60
Trader Joes (burger buns, spiced pecans, soy milk, cheese, sour cream): $23.88

Here is what we’re having during what I hope is our last super busy week before the holidays!

Menu

Sunday–chipotle steak and sweet potato quesadillas, kale
Monday–quiche lorraine with brussel sprouts
Tuesday–Evening event
Wednesday–leftover quiche, roasted purple cauliflower
Thursday–evening event
Friday–pasta con sarde (prep for the Reindeer Romp 5K)
Saturday–bison burgers, mashed cauliflower, kale

Day 341–SOLE Food

20120419-081249.jpgI’ve been struggling a bit with a semantics issue. We use the term “locavore” to describe how we have shifted our normal eating pattern. But sometimes that doesn’t quite capture it. If Whole Foods has a special on grass-fed bison, I may pick some up because bison is healthier than beef, tastes good and the meat is humanely raised and processed. But it may not be “local”.  Or we may purchase sugar, which is not local, but may be organic and minimally processed. So how do we describe that?

I came across another blog using the acronym SOLE to describe food choices (Sustainable, Organic, Local and/or Ethically sourced). The more I think about that, the more I like it. While our first priority is local, organic food, we also have the priority of purchasing sustainable and ethically sourced food that may or may not be local. Great to know that there are so many others thinking this through as well!

As we near the end of our Year of Healthier Living, I’ll be thinking about what to do with our blog–should we rename it and begin again? Tweak it a bit? Hmmm, lot’s of decisions to be made!

Day 339–Cinnamon and Snickerdoodles

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3 of our Snickerdoodles arranged in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head!

Did you know that cinnamon is a super food? Not only does cinnamon help decrease cholesterol levels, it also helps your body regulate its insulin production, which is weird since it pairs so well with sugar 🙂 We eat cinnamon on toast, over oatmeal, in curry sauce and on baked fruit. We are also in the throes of the holiday baking season, and even though cookies are not health food, we eat cinnamon on cookies. Here is my thinking:

If you’re going to eat a cookie, eat a homemade cookie. And eat it with cinnamon.

One of my favorite cookies is the snickerdoodle. I had never even heard of snickerdoodles until I was living in Nashville and working right across from a bakery. Oh. My. I had always been a purist chocolate chip girl, but something about the combination of butter and cinnamon spoke to me. I think if Santa had a favorite cookie, this would be it. Enough spice to be interesting, but close enough to a sugar cookie to be comforting. I think the reindeer would like them, too.

So, in the midst of what is turning out to be a very busy holiday season, Ellie and I took some mother/daughter time to bake cookies, and we made sure to have some snickerdoodles. In true holiday spirit, we shared them with our neighbors and friends to spread the joy. And the cinnamon.

Snickerdoodles

  • 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cup organic cane sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
  • 2 tsp. cream of tartar
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the 1/4 c. sugar and the ground cinnamon. Set aside.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cream of tartar, nutmeg, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  4. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  5. Add eggs and vanilla and mix until combined.
  6. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix on low or stir to combine. Your dough will be a bit stiff.
  7. Roll scoops of dough into balls the size of a walnut (I use a mini ice cream scoop for this–works great!).
  8. Place each dough ball into the cinnamon sugar and roll around until coated. Place dough on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2″ apart.
  9. Bake 8-10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool 2 minutes.
  10. Using a spatula, remove cookies from cookie sheet to a cooling rack. Cool completely, if you can stand to leave them that long!

Day 336–Starting Week 49–Budget and Menu

Those of you who have children or grandchildren know that May and December seem to be the craziest months of the year. Every recital, performance, ceremony and exam seems to be crunched into these two months, as though February weren’t sitting there, all forlorn without any major holidays except Valentine’s Day. So this week will be a busy one, with PTA meetings, a winter band concert and a major holiday event for me at work. I’m planning to cook ahead on Sunday so we can have easy, quick (but healthy and local) dinners all week!

Our food expenses this week are $46.58 although one meal will be out since I’ll be working, so that figure is not indicative of our total spending.

Budget

  • Mitchell’s freezer (roasted tomato sauce, frozen tomatoes, frozen jalapenos, frozen yellow squash): $11.00
  • Mae Farm (ground beef, Italian sausage): $20.00
  • Trader Joes (manicotti noodles, cheese, chili powder, canned organic beans): $10.58 (
  • Farmer’s Market (lettuce, cucumber, broccoli): $5.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Veggie manicotti with local cheese, salad
  • Monday–leftover manicotti and salad
  • Tuesday–Chili and yellow squash muffins
  • Wednesday–Leftover chili
  • Thursday–State Tree Lighting (dinner at a food truck)
  • Friday–Stuffed butternut squash
  • Saturday–Shrimp and roasted red peppers with Melina’s spinach fettucine

Day 335–Turkey Noodle Soup

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I stand by the anecdotal findings of Jewish mothers everywhere that chicken soup has healing properties. Same goes for turkey soup, but that is a little more unusual to find unless it’s shortly after Thanksgiving. There is something so satisfying about a bowl of homemade chicken/turkey noodle soup that even if you’re still sick, there is a little warm spot in your soul that feels better. I don’t get the same feeling from canned soup and I have no idea why. Maybe it’s because homemade soup, especially if you’re using homemade stock, has a richness and complexity that canned soup just doesn’t have. Or maybe it’s because when I make soup I can add as much of the good stuff (in my case turkey and noodles) as I want, so my soup is just the way I like it.

Last turkey post. Promise. We used up every bit of our Thanksgiving turkey and finished up with making stock from the carcass using THIS basic recipe for chicken stock. I had to break out my canning pot to make the stock because our turkey was so large. Now we have a few gallons of stock for the freezer and enough left over to make this turkey noodle soup. We’re eating a good bit of the soup this weekend and will freeze some for a day when the weather is brutal or someone is sick and we need a quick comfort fix.

This recipe is entirely flexible. You can vary the ingredients to suit your taste and what happens to be fresh at your market. You can also cut this recipe in 1/2 or by 1/4 to suit your household size and what you feel up to cooking. In our case, we made a ton (well, 2 gallons) of soup and used up our leftover Thanksgiving vegetables plus some of the summer green beans and corn from our stash in the freezer. Totally worth it.

A note about amounts. I like my soup very thick with lots of noodles and enough stock to keep everything moist. If you like a very broth-y soup, you can just cut back on some of the vegetable and noodle amounts or add more stock at the end.

Turkey Noodle Soup (makes about 2 gallons)

  • 16 c. chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 4 c. green beans
  • 2 heads of baby bok choi, washed well, trimmed and chopped
  • 2 c. corn
  • 2-4 cups leftover, cooked turkey or chicken (I didn’t measure, I just used whatever we had left)
  • 8 oz. ribbon or egg noodles
  • Fresh sage leaves
  • 2 fresh bay leaves
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  1. In a large Dutch oven, heat the stock.
  2. While stock is warming, heat olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook about 2-3 minutes, until soft.
  3. Add the carrots and celery to the pan and continue cooking another 4-5 minutes until carrots begin to soften.
  4. Add the chopped bok choi, stir and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Add cooked vegetables to the stock along with any other vegetables, herbs and seasonings. Let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  7. Add turkey/chicken and continue simmering for another 15 minutes or so.
  8. Add noodles and simmer until noodles are done. They will swell up and absorb a good deal of the stock. If you need more stock, add water or (if you have it) more poultry stock to suit your taste.
  9. Remove the bay leaves and any other large pieces of herbs you may have in the pot.
  10. Serve immediately or cool and refrigerate to reheat the next day (this is always better).

Congratulations! You are now a healer 🙂