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.

 

Advertisements

Day 75–Toxic Free Pest Control

Ok, my house is finally clean and I’m ready to take on pest control without the use toxic chemicals. Most commercially available pest sprays are neurotoxins that work by destroying the central nervous system of bugs–and pretty much all other living things. Although I don’t have a toddler anymore, it still doesn’t seem like a great idea to spray neurotoxins throughout my house.

Thanks to Toxic Free NC, we have some recipes for neurotoxin-free pest control. We will give these a try this spring and summer and report back on our experience. With our exceptionally warm winter and early spring, I expect we will have a bumper crop of bugs this year, so good to get prepared now!

NOTE: Most of these recipes use borax or boric acid. This powder is safe to handle, but inhaling it in large amounts can irritate the respiratory tract, so keep open containers of powder away from pets and children.

Ant Bait

  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 4 tsp borax
  • 3-6 small screw-top jars (baby food jars would work well)
  • Cotton balls
  1. Mix all ingredients together and divide the mixture evenly among the jars.
  2. Loosely pack the jars with cotton balls.
  3. Screw the jar lids on and seal with tape.
  4. Poke holes in the jar lids and place jars on their sides near where ants are entering the house.

Roach Balls (this elicited much laughter from my daughter–always good to know body humor is still in fashion)

  • 1 cup borax
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup minced onion
  • 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 Tbsp. water
  1. Make a paste of all ingredients and roll into little balls.
  2. Place 2-3 balls in a sandwich bag and leave open.
  3. Put the bags wherever you have a problem with roaches. They will eat the balls and carry them to their nests where they will die.

Herbal Insect Repellent (Do not use if you are pregnant)

  • 15 drops lavender oil
  • 15 drops tea tree oil
  • 10 drops citronella oil
  • 10 drops eucalyptus oil
  • 10 drops cedarwood oil
  1. In a small bottle, mix the essential oils with about one ounce of unscented skin oil (you could use almond oil, olive oil or a massage oil).
  2. Apply to skin as needed.

For more information and recipes, go to http://www.toxicfreenc.org

Day 68–Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp a la Jerry

20120307-200329.jpg

Roasted Broccoli, Peppers and Shrimp--Easy and Healthy!

My friend Jerry sent me this recipe (thanks, Jerry!) and I finally had a chance to add it to our weekly menu. Fresh, local, organic broccoli and NC shrimp–a simple, and amazingly good combination. Although it wasn’t in the original recipe, I added some sliced red bell pepper since I had it handy. This recipe is light, but satisfying and quite tasty. Don’t skimp on the coriander seeds or hot pepper–they infuse the entire dish and make it something special. Healthy, quick and easy to make, this recipe hits all the marks for a succesful, weeknight dinner. And even better, it only uses one bowl, a cutting board and one baking sheet, making cleanup super quick.

A note about shrimp. I bought large-sized shrimp and 10 minutes was just right for roasting. If you buy medium or small shrimp, you may want to back off on the roasting time. If you don’t have access to local or U.S. shrimp (or you just don’t like shrimp), you could probably try this with a thick, locally available fish (here that would be tuna or swordfish) cut into chunks. Scallops might be good also!

You could also play around with what vegetables to include, and make this a truly seasonal dish. I can’t wait to see how we can work our Produce Box veggies into this dish over the spring and summer!

Roasted Broccoli and Shrimp a la Jerry

This makes 3 servings or 2 servings for hungry seafood lovers!

  • 2 lbs. broccoli
  • 1 lb. fresh shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • One red bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 4 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp. whole cumin seeds (or 1/2 tsp. of ground)
  • 1/8 tsp. hot chili powder (I used red pepper flakes)
  • 1 lemon, zested with lemon reserved for serving
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
  • Rice, quinoa or other cooked grains
    1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
    2. Cut the broccoli into large florets with some stem remaining.
    3. Cut the red bell pepper into strips and cut each strip in half crosswise.
    4. In a bowl, toss the broccoli florets and bell pepper with 2 Tbsp. olive oil, coriander, cumin, hot chili pepper, and salt and pepper to taste.
    5. Put broccoli and pepper mix on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes.
    6. In the bowl, toss shrimp with remaining 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste.
    7. Add to the broccoli mix and pop back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until the shrimp is pink and opaque, but not overcooked.
    8. Serve over rice with lemon wedges and you are done!

      The broccoli and peppers before roasting--so pretty!

20120307-200731.jpg

The final product just before the feast!

Day 65–Roast Chicken

20120305-081755.jpg

Roast chicken is a great way to make the most of a whole chicken!

I love roasting foods, especially when it’s cold outside. There’s just nothing like coming inside from the cold and smelling the aroma of roast chicken wafting through the air. It’s like a big food hug. All winter vegetables seem to benefit from roasting as well–broccoli, carrots, turnips, beets, Brussel sprouts–as the roasting process brings out the inner sweetness of the vegetables. I’ve been reading about roasting whole fish and I may try that soon as well.

This week I scored not one, but two fresh, pasture-raised chickens at the farmers market. This is a big deal for me because fresh birds (chicken, turkey, duck) have a better texture when they haven’t been frozen. And pasture raised chickens just plain ol’ taste better than what you find in the grocery. Our chickens were tasty and beautiful and with two chickens, I have enough for leftovers and chicken soup later in the week.

Roasting a chicken is an easy and forgiving process. I like to roast mine at a higher temperature (400-450) because the skin gets nice and crispy. But you can roast a chicken at 350, too, it will just take a little longer. I use Herbes de Provence on my chickens, but you can use whatever you like–just salt and pepper, a fancy homemade spice blend, rosemary from your garden, etc. I don’t typically stuff my chickens with anything, but you can put some cut up onion or a lemon half if that makes you happy.

A note about washing chickens. I’ve seen people wash chickens in the sink before they prep them for cooking, but this actually doesn’t stop any possible salmonella issues. I have also read that washing the chicken could possibly contaminate other parts of your kitchen, including your faucet,¬†as the water sprays around. So, I do not wash my chicken, but I do make sure it is cooked to a safe (but not overdone) temperature of 160 degrees.

After roasting chickens for about 20 years, I learned two new things last night. First, cooking two chickens takes a lot longer than cooking one. Not sure why I hadn’t computed that, but the longer cooking time meant I had some kitchen chaos going on for a while. I also learned that meat thermometers can apparently take on a life of their own. Mine decided to go all HAL on me, telling me the chicken was cooked, when it was clearly still mostly raw (and yes, I made sure it was not touching bone).

All was well in the end, but I do not recommend trying to cook two chickens, a pan of biscuits and a lemon pound cake simultaneously. Oi. Kudos to my loving spouse who did not gripe about the dishes and the chaos. He is awesome. Even more awesome than a fresh, roasted chicken ūüôā

Roast Chicken

  • 1 whole roasting chicken (thawed if purchased frozen); giblets and neck removed
  • 1 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Herbes de Provence
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare chicken by putting it breast side up in a shallow roasting pan.
  3. Rub the chicken with butter or olive oil.
  4. Sprinkle salt, pepper, garlic and herbs over the entire chicken.
  5. Put in the preheated oven and cook until the internal temperature is 160 degrees. I’ve found with most chickens, this is about 1.5-2 hours, depending on the weight of the chicken.
  6. When chicken reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees, remove the roasting pan from the oven, cover the chicken with a piece of foil and let it sit for 15-20 minutes. This will allow the meat to relax and the juices will return to the bird, ensuring a more tender and juicy chicken.
  7. Carve and serve to you amazed and loving family. Or, tuck in and enjoy on your own!

Day 45–Roasted Vegetable Pasta

Ricotta cheese.

In case you missed it, Monday was national Eat Italian Food Day. I have no idea why this isn’t an entire month–I know I could do it. In spite of the Americanized version of Italian food, which tends to be very heavy on the cheese and meat, most Italian food in Italy is locally-based, impossibly fresh and creatively resourceful. I know this because I once tried to eat my way¬†across Tuscany (I am an expert–don’t try this at home).

So in honor of Meatless Monday and Eat Italian Food Day, we celebrated with a vegetarian pasta dish that is delicious, healthy and easy to make. This recipe is actually based on a dish made by The Cake Boss (go figure!) and its simple beauty comes from using whatever fresh, seasonal vegetables are available. Roasting the vegetables brings out their natural flavor and sweetness without any additives other than olive oil and salt. That is truly Italian cooking!

You can vary this dish throughout the seasons by using what is ripe and delicious at the time. You can also vary the pasta you use. I like orecchiete (little ears) pasta because it holds the sauce well. As a mom, I think this is one of those healthy, versatile recipes that could be a regular (and by changing it up, maybe no one will notice I am basically recycling the same dish). Score!

  • 1 lb. fresh pasta (we used orecchiete pasta)
  • 1 organic onion
  • 2 organic tomatoes
  • 2 c. organic broccoli florets
  • 3 organic carrots, peeled and cut into 2-3″ planks
  • 2 c. cubed organic butternut squash
  • 2 handfuls of kale (from our garden!) or other greens–arugula is good, too!
  • About 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese (we used Hillsborough Cheese Co. garlic and chive ricotta)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan cheese (optional)
  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet.
  2. Put a stock pot of salted water on the stove to boil.
  3. Cut all vegetables except kale into bite sized chunks and toss with olive oil and a little kosher salt and pepper.
  4. Chop kale into little bite sized pieces and reserve.
  5. Put all vegetables except kale in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add kale to pan during last 5 minutes.
  6. While vegetables roast, add pasta to the boiling water and cook to al dente. When pasta is done, reserve 1 c. pasta water for sauce and drain pasta.
  7. In a large bowl, add cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, kale, ricotta and pasta water and mix together. The cheese should melt and make a light sauce. The pasta water is essential and will thicken the sauce and help it stick to the pasta.
  8. Serve with pignolis (pine nuts), parmesan or whatever makes you happy!

Buon appetito!

Day 38–Fresh Fish Tacos

Fish taco stand

It took me years to wrap my brain around the concept of a fish taco. First, the control freak in me despises crunchy taco shells–they shatter and make a mess. In my mind, if I’m going to eat a taco with a fork, it may as well be a salad. Second, the tacos of my childhood were pretty typical 70s fare: seasoned ground beef in an El Paso taco shell topped with Kraft cheese and maybe some baked beans on the side. Yes, Boston baked beans. Hey, don’t judge–that was “ethnic” food in 1970s suburbia. So in my mind, taco = ground beef. NOT fish. That was just unnatural.

Then, on one particularly inspired day, I visited a local restaurant and threw caution to the wind. I ordered the fish tacos. They were amazing. Warm, soft (soft!) tortillas filled with grilled catfish and a spicy cabbage slaw, they were delicious and (at least for me) revolutionary. I have been hooked ever since.

Armed with a pound of freshly caught NC catfish, I¬†took the next culinary step this week and made fish tacos for my family. I had a recipe for a great sounding marinade that involved a lot of spices, but arrived home too late and too tired to put a great deal of effort into it. So, I ditched the recipe and made a few substitutions. In the end, it was still delicious, although I wish I had taken the time to make a chipotle¬†cabbage slaw. The ‘tween in my house loved¬†the tacos¬†and I liked it a lot. My husband, who is way too nice to criticize my cooking, probably would have preferred more stuff in the taco than just fish (not a fan of avocado), but said it was good. Note to self: pack more yummy stuff in the tacos.

Here is my after-work-get-dinner-on-the-table-quick version of fish tacos. I’m including the chipotle slaw recipe, too. Next time, I’ll make this the night before so it’s ready quickly, because I think it would really be delicious.

Chipotle Cabbage Slaw

  • 3 c. chopped or shredded red cabbage
  • 1/2 c. organic mayonnaise
  • 1 Tbsp. (or more to taste) of chipotle¬†adobo sauce

Mix all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Quick Fish Tacos

  • 12 small corn tortillas (about 3 per person)
  • 1 lb. locally caught mild white fish (cod, tilapia, catfish)
  • 1/4 cup olive or canola oil
  • 1 packet taco seasoning mix (we used Trader Joe’s taco seasoning packet)
  • 1 lime
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup queso fresco or organic sour cream
  1. In a glass bowl, mix canola oil and taco seasoning together. Add fish, turn several times to coat, and let marinade for about 20 minutes.
  2. While fish is marinading, cube avocado and reserve in a bowl.
  3. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Put some olive oil on a paper towel and wipe the pan with oil. Add tortillas, one at a time, and warm them in the pan, turning once. Keep the tortillas warm in a piece of foil or wrapped in a warm tea towel. You could also microwave them, but I think they taste better warmed in a pan.
  4. When tortillas are warmed, increase the heat to the pan a bit. When pan is hot, add fish fillets to the pan. The marinade on the fish will serve as the oil, so you will not need to add more.
  5. Pan sear  fish until browned, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Fish is done when it flakes easily. Flake fish in the pan with the remaining marinade.
  6. Plate the dish by filling each tortilla with a few pieces of fish and cabbage slaw. Serve with avocado and queso fresco.

Day 23–Beautiful Braised Beef Shanks

20120122-150744.jpg

Our January meat box from Farmhand Foods (www.farmhandfoods.org ) included two large and meaty beef shanks from one of our local farmers in Efland (about 40 minutes away). I have to say, I have never even considered buying beef shanks, let alone how to cook them. So, this was another learning experience in our journey–not only buying locally produced meat and vegetables, but also being open to new ways of cooking. As it turns out (and you may know this already), beef shanks are a braising cut. That is, they are a bit tough and need long, slow cooking to break down the meat and produce a tender result. Since this was one of our chilliest weekends, it was perfect timing for slow cooking (and it also meant that I had more time to watch the NFL playoff games :-).

I found a recipe that sounded promising on epicurious (LOVE this website and app) at www.epicurious.com for a beef and sausage ragu. I tweaked it a bit and am including my version below. Mainly, I reduced the amount of meat, upped the level of vegetables in the ragu and reduced the overall liquids to make a thicker sauce for pasta and polenta. It is AMAZING. Not only did the final product taste delicious and tender, but my entire house smelled like I had Super Chef visiting. Yum, yum and YUM. I could actually eat this out of a bowl by itself.

So, if you’re in the mood to try something new and make the most out of a less expensive cut of beef (especially if it is locally produced and hormone/antibiotic free!), give this a try!

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu (12 servings)

  • 3 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Mae Farm Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef shanks with bone
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cups of chopped organic carrots
  • 2 cups of organic mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of organic kale or other greens
  • 2 28 oz. cans organic whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small can organic tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry, red wine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. organic dried Italian spices
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an oven proof pot and add sausage. Brown in pot for about 10 minutes, breaking up chunks with the spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pot and put aside in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to bowl with sausage.
  5. Add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and greens to the pot and sautee until brown and tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return beef shanks and sausage to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, fennel seeds, spices to pot. Bring to simmer.
  7. Cover pot and put in oven. Braise 2 1/2 hours until beef is very tender and falling off the bone.
  8. Transfer shanks to a cutting board and remove meat and dice. Return diced meat to the pot and simmer on stove for about 10-15 minutes to thicken and reduce the sauce.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce (I actually cooled the sauce, put it in the fridge and skimmed the fat off the next day.)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve over pasta, polenta or bread.

Day 6–The Winter Farmer’s Market, Part 1

The winter farmer's market still has plenty to offer!

Assumptions. I know better than to make them, yet I still do. In my mind, the winter farmer’s market was a place of leftover collard greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes. Sad. Lonely. Bereft of good eats. I should just give up and head to the grocery store, right? Wrong!

I decided to check my assumptions at the door and visit the State Farmer’s Market on my lunch hour yesterday. I am so glad I did!

Not only was the State Farmer’s Market busy, but I was really amazed at the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit (apples) that were still available. Thanks to a very mild winter (at least in NC), farmers are still growing and harvesting white potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (mostly locally grown hothouse), salad greens, turnips, kale, spinach, green peppers, apples, fresh beans, broccoli, collard greens, beets and more. And the prices were definitely lower than the grocery stores on just about everything.

Wilmington-based Scott Smith of Heaven On Earth Organics

I was glad to find Scott Smith of Heaven On Earth organic farm at the market. He was awesome! He and his wife have a farm outside of Wilmington and they love organic farming. Farmer Scott let me taste test my way though his vegetable stand so I could discover the difference between dino kale and curly kale (dino kale is thicker and spicier), how turnip greens with a little bit of yellow (from frost) are sweeter than the bright green leaves (the frost brings the sugar to the tips of the leaves) and more.

In the end, I did buy vegetables, including the dino kale (the name alone makes it interesting). Scott suggested that the dino kale makes terrific kale chips, something I had heard of, but hadn’t tried before. OH. MY. GOODNESS. They were devoured by my family and my pre-teen daughter (who eats vegetables grudgingly) decided they were amazing. Light, crispy and salty, these are the perfect antitode to potato chips. The recipe is below.

Kale Chips! Crunchy little antioxidant chips--howgreatisthat?

  • 1 bunch fresh kale (we used dino kale, but any kind would work)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (we used balsamic)
  • Kosher salt to taste (we used about 1 Tbsp.)
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the kale.
  3. Cut off the lower woody stems and compost.
  4. Cut the kale into pieces about the size of potato chips (2-4″ or so).
  5. In a bowl (or a plastic bag, if you don’t want your hands oily) put the chopped kale and add 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.
  6. Toss the greens with the oil until leaves are covered. (If you use the bag, massage the bag until the leaves are covered).
  7. Add the vinegar and toss again to coat.
  8. If needed, add the remaining Tbsp. olive oil (depending on the thickness of the leaves, you might not need this).
  9. Carefull place leaves on an oven safe baking rack or on a cookie sheet (I used a rack). Don’t overlap leaves.
  10. Sprinkle leaves with salt.
  11. Put rack/baking sheet in the oven and roast leaves for 20-30 minutes (this will depend on how thick your leaves are, so check on them after 20 min.)
  12. Remove from oven and enjoy immediately!

Next post, local meat producers at the farmer’s market!