Saturday, November 17, 2012

Summer Reflections

Last week I had to dig my garden up, pull the weeds out and throw my dead plants away.  It was awful.  But at the same time, it was beautiful.  I ended up digging a whole bunch of carrots up that I used in soup along with the thyme that I pulled too.  And then I started planning what I'm going to do next year.

The truth is, I let my garden die.  And I didn't can as much as I should have.  And sometimes, I even bought produce from the grocery store.  This summer was a huge learning experience for me - it was the peak of my quarter life crisis... did you know those existed?  I didn't until I was in the middle of it.  BUT, the good news is that it happened.  I had put so much pressure on myself to only eat a certain way that I sort of exploded and stopped eating food that I even liked.

The passion I have for vegetables may be absurd, but it's part of who I am and it's who I'll continue to be.  And even if I don't cook every single day, the changes that I have made in my life are substantial enough to impact the world in some small way.  I still eat local food.  I'm still eating the food I canned.  And, I'm still learning new canning and cooking techniques.  My bizarre preachy word vomit aside, what I'm trying to say is, don't be so hard on yourself when you're eating.  It can create chaos.  Do what you can do and don't freak out if you don't make the best choice every time.  I promise you'll appreciate cooking/baking/preserving/canning/eating more if you are able to keep this in mind.  At least it worked for me.

And so I leave you with these final thoughts: It's Thanksgiving time!  Make your favorite dish and throw in an extra stick of butter.  It'll be OK :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pork Belly Chaos

Most people buy their dad a practical gift for Father's Day, but I'm not so good at those.  I just can't bring myself to go get him another shirt.  This year I knew that my gift for my dad would come from Becker Lane - I assumed it would be some of their gorgeous pork chops.  But as I got to chatting with the guys there, I decided to be bold and buy a piece of pork belly.  It's always the most succulent item on the menu that you never make at home.  He was delighted and surprised by how random I went and we agreed that we would make it together.

I do believe that a piece of pork belly would be excellent smoked on the grill (Labor Day ideas, anyone?), however, we slow cooked it in the oven using Lara Calder's recipe.  It was succulent and juicy and agonizingly sweet yet savory.  It was perfect.  We served it over lentils, as Lara suggests, but you could roast beets or something similarly earthy to keep it as local as possible.  Lara Calder creates this gorgeous glaze with water and apple cider vinegar to start and then honey and mustard brushed over top of the fat as it cooks.  You could serve this for company as an alternative to burgers on the grill and most of the ingredients you can find from local people around here.  Surprise your loved ones with some pork belly.  The shock and awe factor will be excellent and the end result is delicious.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pickled Beets

It's been far too long since I posted last.  I missed it greatly and I'm glad to be back.  After working through several major changes I have found peace and happiness in my cooking projects and running and I can't wait to continue sharing them.  I have a post for you that I wrote a couple of weeks ago for The Local Beet.  In the meantime, I hope everyone is enjoying the beautiful produce and you haven't lost too many fruits and veggies in this extreme heat!  This really is the best time of the year: tomatoes are everywhere. :)

I know what you’re thinking: pickled beets are gross. But I promise you, when they’re not purchased in a mystery can where they’re hardly recognizable, they are irresistible. Beets are without a doubt one of my favorite vegetables in the world (artichokes are at the top, no question). They are earthy and complex and warm and perfect on salads. Usually I just throw a couple in foil and roast them for 30 – 45 minutes every week so I can make salads with goat cheese, arugula and walnuts, but these past couple of weeks it has just been way too hot for the oven. If you’re a city dweller I know you’re with me because AC units hardly have the capacity to cool off a bedroom let alone combat the oven. So I offer you pickled beets as an alternative to your standard roasted beets!

You will have to use your stove, but it will make several pint jars which will be enough to keep you oven free for quite some time. The recipe I used to pickle beets is from the most informative book I’ve found thus far: Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. The book calls for 10 cups of prepared beets – I just bought a bag of them at the farmers market for $5 and called it a day. Boil beets whole with the tops almost all removed in a large pot covered and cook for about 40 minutes (prepare canning jars while the beets boil; for instructions see my post on Strawberry Jam). When beets are cooked, run them under cool water, remove skins and slice them as you like.
Acquire pickling spice (or make it!) and tie 3 tablespoons in a spice bag. The Spice House is where I got my pickling spice. Combine 2 and a half cups white vinegar, 1 cup of water, 1 cup of sugar OR honey (which I used and I really recommend) and the spice bag. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat heat and stir to make sure the honey dissolves. Boil gently for 15 minutes, remove the spice bag and add beets. Return the mixture to a boil. Ladle the beets into the prepared jars within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar. Ladle the hot liquid over the beets to cover. Wipe the rim, center the lid and screw the band on; place the jars in canner and process for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and wait 5 minutes to remove the jars. Cool for 24 hours and store.
Once you have achieved this perfection, serve with homemade ricotta and sourdough (as in the picture) or on top of a lovely salad of arugula or romaine. This is such an easy “condiment” to make and it’s so healthy! I find it a delightful alternative to my roasted beets with quite the kick. Try it out – and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Porchetta Sandwich

I find it hard to stick to a routine every day, week, whatever. But I do have one thing I absolutely must do every Saturday morning and that is go to Green City Market. It has become almost a joke among friends because I must get there early in case they run out of food. But, you see, they have a better selection early. And it’s not crowded early. And now that they have moved outside, it’s peaceful and I feel all those excited feelings I get when I know summer is coming.

The point is that when the market moves outside new and glorious things happen. I am required to do a lap of the vendors before I buy anything. And let me tell you that when I did my first lap of the outdoor lot and laid my eyes on this beautiful hunka meat at 7:30 AM, I had to have one.

Becker Lane has the best pork I have ever tasted and now they have decided to sell Porchetta sandwiches at the market for all of our eating pleasure. I ask you is there anything better than a pork sandwich for breakfast? I think not. On a soft ciabatta roll, an onion relish is spread on the bottom half, and then they layer the most tender and juicy meat, with the marbled meat overtop of that and the skin on top of that. As a bonus they put a tangy homemade slaw on top to sort of cut that whole meat overload that you may be picturing in your mind.

In short, I have never been so happy at breakfast as when I tasted this succulent gift from the pork geniuses.

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Hot Tomato Quinoa Salad

This week Nicole chose an excellent recipe for The Food Matters Project: Savory Tomato Crisp.  I decided to turn it into a warm and filling but healthy dinner.  I chose to use my own canned tomatoes for this recipe.  There are some gorgeous tomatoes at the farmers market, but since it's so early in the season, they are really expensive!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Mexican Style Fruit Salad with Fish

This week Sarah W. chose the recipe for The Food Matters Project and I have to say, it was delicious.  I decided to make whole wheat fish sticks with strawberry salsa.  Not only was I able to use ingredients from the farmers market (except for the lime), but it was delicious, quick and healthy.  Strawberries are absolutely amazing right now.  They taste just like they're supposed to, bursting with flavor and super sweet!

All you have to do is cut a tilapia filet (or any type of fish you like) into pieces, coat with an egg and cover with whole wheat flour.

Saute with olive oil for a couple of minutes on each side.

For the salsa I made I used 1 1/2 pounds of chopped strawberries, a large handful of basil chopped, half of a diced habanero and a quick squeeze of lime.  I have never tried to make a fruit salsa before, but I really enjoyed the contrast of flavors.  It had quite the kick but was sweet and flavorful.

Squeeze some lime over the fish and serve with the salsa.  It really gives a lot of pizzaz to a mild fish.  I was craving fish sticks (not quite sure why), but this really satisfied my craving and took it to a whole new level!  I don't know about you, but I couldn't be more thrilled that strawberries are in season.  This was a clever way of incorporating strawberries into a savory meal.  Try it out!  Great pick Sarah!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Salsa Five Ways

Now I know that we post our Food Matters Project posts every Monday, but I am a day late - sorry!  I made an incredible salsa chosen by Alisa.  Check her website out for the recipe!  I used my homemade canned tomatoes for this one and served it over tilapia and it was delicious!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Spring Vegetable Omelette

The thing, you see, that I love about May is that Green City Market moves outside as well as so many Chicagoans, and farmers markets pop up everywhere.  It's beautiful.  We relish every minute the sun beats down and the heat threatens to make us uncomfortable.  I delight in the idea of wandering outside and stumbling upon a market I've never seen before.  But my Saturday mornings are reserved for trips to Green City to fill my bags full of greens, fruits, eggs, cheeses and anything else that I stumble upon.  It is easy to eat local in the summer and I encourage you to try it!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Roasted Asparagus and White Bean Soup

The Food Matters recipe for this week was chosen by Adrienne and I have got to say, it was absolutely incredible.  For the full version of the recipe head on over to Adrienne's website and check it out!  This challenge is seriously pushing my food horizons and I like it.  A lot.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Whole Wheat Bread

This week the recipe for the Food Matters Project was chosen by the lovely Melissa.  I actually already posted about this recipe a couple of weeks ago because it has become a staple in my house and I didn't realize it was up on the schedule - whoops!  For my post on whole wheat bread see here! 

My favorite way to munch on this loaf is with some honeycrisp apples, sharp white cheddar, and a dollop of honey.  Whole wheat bread is such a healthy snack and this is something I like to eat if I'm not quite hungry enough for a meal but don't want to eat something junky.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homemade Ricotta

I promised last night that I would post an explanation of how homemade ricotta is done... so here it is!  I must thank my wonderful friend Sara for showing me how to do this.  It's quite simple and it's so creamy and delicious you'll never want to buy it again!  I will say that it costs more to make it than it does to buy it, but it was so rich and creamy that I didn't regret it at all, and the dairy was from a local farm which made me happy too.

Combine 2 cups of whole milk, 1/2 cup half and half, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon white vinegar into a microwave safe bowl.  Heat for two minutes.  Gently stir and put back in the microwave on thirty seconds increments until the curds separate from the whey.

It will look like this when it's ready.  It will take around 5 minutes to get it like this.

Line a colander with several layers of cheese cloth and dump the whole mixture into it.  Allow it to drain for at least 30 minutes.  Squeeze out excess whey before you use it and keep the whey!  You can make some sweet bread with it!

I am just so thrilled that I made cheese.  Isn't it a weird concept?  And it's ridiculously easy to make, so next time I'm craving a soft cheese I know what I'm doing!

Ricotta Cheese
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup half and half
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Food Matters Project - Mostly Whole Wheat Pizza

Making pizza has been my favorite activity by far for The Food Matters Project.  Head to Niki's site to see the full recipe!  Excellent choice lady!  I decided to do personal pizzas because I was at my parents house over the weekend and I thought more variety would be more interesting.  I am pleased to report that all of the pizzas were very successful!

We had the ingredients to make truffle mushroom, margarita, and pesto ricotta pizzas.  All were outstanding and had incredibly different flavors which was the best part!

Ian sauteed mushrooms in white truffle oil and added some truffle goo to the mixture.  We topped the dough with the mushrooms, goat cheese, and prosciutto.  Delicious!

My parents chose a more traditional margarita pizza style and it did not disappoint.  We layered the dough with gorgeous basil leaves, slices of fresh tomato, mozzarella and prosciutto.  It was classic and elegant and the prettiest of the pizzas.

I decided to make a "local" pizza.  I used frozen pesto leftover from last summer, some beautiful asparagus fresh from Ellis Family Farms, and I made ricotta cheese (recipe to come) with milk and half and half from Kilgus Farmstead.  I am telling you that this pizza rocked my world.  It was so unique and the flavors were bold.

This week has been a great success and I feel like once again I have accomplished more food goals.  Making dough from scratch isn't hard at all and it is SO good and even a little bit healthier using the whole wheat dough.  Pizza is a favorite in my book.  Who knew that you could make three completely different styles of pizza in one kitchen?

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Ian's Old Fashioned

You may have guessed by now that I do the majority of the cooking in our house.  Ian does very specific things like whisking and squeezing lemons when my arms get tired, but he usually leaves the cooking to me.  He has very strong opinions about dessert and more recently has been getting into creating his own cocktails.  He has managed to create an Old Fashioned that isn't too sweet but also isn't too whiskeyish for my liking.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Food Matters Project: Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables

The recipe for the Food Matters Project was Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables chosen by Keely.  Check out her website for the incredible take she did as well as the original recipe.  My version of this recipe turned out really well.  I loaded it up with lots of green vegetables and quinoa for some extra protein.

Aside from the Brussels sprouts which had been in my fridge for awhile, I managed to get the rest of the ingredients from the farmers market on Saturday.  I found leeks and napa cabbage as well as lovage, which is something that I had never heard of until this weekend.  It's that gorgeous leafy stuff that tastes exactly like celery, and bonus, it's in season, so I was able to have that essential bold flavor in my cassoulet!  I also found Italian sausage at the market which I was excited about.

First I browned the Italian sausage and then I sauteed all of the vegetables until they were just softened.

The recipe called for a quart of canned tomatoes so I was able to use my canned tomatoes with their juice from last season.  I added one can of white beans, thyme, 2 bay leaves, salt and pepper, and boiled it for 20 - 25 minutes.

I served it over a bed of quinoa since I only had one can of white beans which worked really well.  Next time I make this I don't even think I'll add meat.  I finished the dish with some Parmesan cheese.  Great choice Keely!

Cassoulet with Lots of Vegetables

1 lb Italian sausage
1 quart canned tomatoes with juices
2 leeks
1 bag of Brussels sprouts
1/2 napa cabbage
4 stalks of lovage
1 can white beans
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Friday, March 30, 2012

Whole Wheat Bread

Eating locally means more than just buying fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers markets every week.  It requires thought and planning to maintain a local diet, especially in the week.  Eating local meat and eggs can be expensive, so it's worth conserving in other areas in order to get the best product.  Bread is one of those essential parts of a diet that can save a lot of money and it's better!  Bread and I have had our ups and downs.  We sometimes get along.  Don't misunderstand me.  I love bread.  I can't imagine my life without it.  But that also means that I feel obligated to make my own.  It is so much cheaper to buy a $3 bag of flour and make it from scratch.  I am hoping to find local flour as soon as I can, but for now, making it from the store bought flour will have to do.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Vegetables au Vin with Coq

This weeks Food Matters Project recipe for Vegetables au Vin with Coq was chosen by Evi and Sam.  For the original Mark Bittman recipe check their post out to see what they did!  I decided to take a localish approach on the recipe.  Eggplant and green beans aren't in season yet so I used leeks and beets in addition to the mushrooms and pearl onions (all found at Green City Market!)

If you know me and Ian, you know that we have wars about beets.  He loathes them with a fiery passion that comes from deep down, remembering only as a child who was forced to eat the mysterious, vinegary purple mushy ooze could.  I begged and begged to add them to this dish.  He finally agreed and I promised that if he didn't like them, I'd never again ask if we could include beets in a dish.  Boy did I dodge a bullet...

The way the beets melted into the wine sauce and connected with the mushrooms was incredible.  We both scarfed it down as though we may never see another beet again.  Pause for effect.

I would have been happy to eat it without the chicken and I will now that the leftovers are purely vegetable.  It was a successful recipe in more ways than one.  Excellent choice Evi and Sam!

Vegetables au Vin with Coq - see Evi and Sam for the full recipe:

My additions:
2 leeks
5 small purple beets

I made this without the green beans and eggplant but you can feel free to use whatever you have!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Scallops Wrapped in Bacon

Last year when I was considering how my life would be without meat there was a very real vacancy gnawing at me constantly: bacon.  You see, bacon is glorious.  It is wonderful.  And if it is purchased properly and consumed within reason, it is OK to eat in my book.  Your body needs some fat, and if I'm going to justify eating it, I may as well have it with these beautiful, lean, protein-rich scallops and some spinach.  Also, consider the alternatives... tofurkey... to-bacon?  I just can't justify to myself buying an artificial "piece of meat" to fill my body that is filled with chemicals when I could be eating the real thing, raised healthy on a farm nearby.

The key to this simple but delightful recipe is to pre-cook the bacon until it is just underdone.  Scallops only need a couple of minutes per side to cook, so if the bacon is raw the whole thing will just not work. Ian is in charge of the bacon in this house, so he cooked it until it was almost done.

The scallops I bought came from Dirk's Fish Shop.  I absolutely love this place.  It is a sustainable fish shop and there are labels on all of the fish explaining where they came from and which choices are more sustainable.  I know that scallops are more expensive, but we only ate a total of four for two people.  It is pure protein and you don't need a lot to fill up.  He also won't sell fish like shark or Big Eye Tuna because of how overfished they are.  I really suggest checking him out if you are in Chicago!  Everyone is friendly and it's a lot of fun to go shopping there.

All you have to do after you have washed the scallops and pulled the little muscle off is wrap them in bacon and either broil them or saute them for several minutes on each side.  Before they are done they are kind of translucent and once they are prepared they are a rich milky white.  Yum.  Serve with a side of cooked spinach or some other lovely green that you can find at the market!

Squeeze both the spinach and scallops generously with a lemon when they are done.  It brightens the flavor and brings everything together wonderfully!

I can't wait to keep posting about things that have been happening lately.  On Saturday I attended the Good Food Festival which was incredible!  I met amazing people from Peterson's Garden Project, the Local Beet, Chicago Foodies, and decided on my CSA this year, Big Head Farm.  All of the vendors there sold incredible products and I feel very inspired to continue eating locally and making my own food, despite the many challenges I am facing.  Who else is ready for spring?!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Hummus Served Hot

There are really no words to express how excited I am to tell you about this creation of mine.  This week's recipe for The Food Matters Project was Hummus Served Hot chosen by Erin from Naturally Ella.  It was a great choice!  So far I have seen some wonderful white bean hummus blends, served in all kinds of ways, including as a pasta sauce!  Very unique - and I'm planning on trying it ASAP!

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Food Matters Project: Seared Bean Sprouts with Beef and Sesame Orange Sauce

I decided to join the Food Matters Project several weeks ago and I am so so excited to be a part of this group.  I share almost the exact food philosophies with this group and I really need this challenge to help me with my creativity and originality in the kitchen.  I also love that I get to see how many different people interpret the same recipes.  I really encourage you to check it out and see all the different ways you can adapt just one recipe!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Disney Princess Half Marathon

I am very proud and excited to say that my best friend and I completed the Disney Princess Half Marathon!  It was the most fun I have ever had running - a total girl power event with everyone dressed up (next year we have vowed to get tutus!).  I just wanted to show a couple of photos before I head off and I promise I will post a real post with recipes when I get back next!

We went to the Magic Kingdom first to visit Cinderella.

This is the first thing we saw when we walked to the Expo to pick up our race packets!

4:15 AM, morning of.

We finished and received medals in the shape of a tiara!

Lookin' good boys!

The victory picture with Mickey and Minnie!

Completing this race really makes me feel amazing.  Even if you're not a competitive runner it's worth checking out next year!  Everyone is very encouraging and it's a great way to force yourself into a healthy routine while having a blast!