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On the Menu Hiatus

I realize I haven’t posted it in a few weeks anyway, but OTM is on hiatus for the holidays. It’s not that we don’t have a meal plan. We do. It’s just that it’s sometimes a surprise for folks we’re entertaining, or people are part of it for other reasons and don’t necessarily want everything that goes into their mouth posted on the internet.

Since you don’t get a menu, I thought I would share some of the things we will be having over the next few weeks. It’s a good time to revisit things I loved in pictures!

Above: Vegetarian Dolmas, with golden raisins, almonds, and lots of exotic spices. Below: my favorite mac & cheese.

Above: Roasted orange cranberry sauce. Below: Crab & artichoke filo rolls.

Above: Kale, Grapefruit, and Quinoa Salad. Below: Cheese tortes.

Yep, it’s a time for favorite foods. And, for fiddly foods that require time and attention. But, that’s what the holidays are for me, and its’ a huge part of why I enjoy them!

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On the Menu, A Missed Week’s Ketchup..Er, Catch-Up

The Cooler Challenge series was awesome, and a lot of fun. I hope you enjoyed it as much as Gaylin and I did, and let us know if you try any of the recipes. Or, maybe you’ll take the challenge yourself, and share what you came up with! Either way, it did means some of my regularly-scheduled stuff got put off, including last week’s On the Menu. So, here is what we were eating last week:

DINNERS

Sunday: Leftovers. We each had plans that meant we wouldn’t be home to cook or eat together, so we cleaned out the refrigerator.

Monday: Grilled Indian  tofu and vegetable kebobs, with grilled salt & olive oil porgi, over brown rice in stock. Twin Oaks tofu is hand-made from local, non-GMO soybeans, and it’s spoiled me for other tofu. It’s got an amazing texture and a really meaty, nutty taste (I realize those two things sound weird together, but trust me). The veggies & tofu are rubbed in an Indian BBQ rub, and the chicken is cooked in homemade chicken stock. Now, here’s the weird part, I guess. We had some porgi, which is a fish, in the freezer. It’s kind of a long story as to why, but it needed to be eaten. There wasn’t enough for a meal in and of itself, so we decided to put it with another light main course.  I brushed it in olive oil, sprinkled it with black sea salt and fresh-crushed pepper, and tossed it on the grill. It was great!

Tuesday: Homemade multi-cheese mac & cheese, with fresh vegetables and smoked sausage. Served with salad. It was a week to clean out the refrigerator, apparently. Turns out we had a bazillion small bits of cheese, from smoked mozzarella to cream cheese, all local, that needed to be used up ASAP.  I tossed in some squash from our awesome neighbor, who has a garden the size of Toledo I think, some spinach, and a few other bits of veggies that I had lying around. I also put in some smoked sausage, though it wasn’t (unfortunately) local. We really need to buy a quarter hog. Anyway, the whole meal was rounded out with a fresh greens salad.

Wednesday: Cauliflower and Potato burritos. Vegetarian night. This recipe was originally from Vegetarian Times, but since their server is apparently having issues I can’t link it right now. It’s hefty and spicy and wonderful! It was also made with potatoes from that same awesome neighbor who gave us the squash.

Thursday: Grilled Chicken and Potatoes, with grilled balsamic squash. Thadd’s night to cook, and I am on the go. We’re using up potatoes and squash here, too! We did “hobo potatoes,” which is essentially a foil packet with olive oil, butter, pepper, sea salt, onions, and potatoes tossed on the grill. The squash were sliced lengthwise, the salted and allowed to set for about 15 minutes to remove some of the water. The salt was wiped off, and they were coated with a blended mix of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and basil.

Friday: Jambalaya. I have no idea why, but I have been craving this for a while now. It’s a great way to stretch meat, though I leave the chicken out most of the time.

Saturday: We had some friends over for Ethiopian!

Luches:  Leftovers for the most part, though I’m doing a lot of raw milk smoothies because I don’t get hungry in the heat. Breakfasts: Greek yogurt, fruit, homemade bread for toast, lots of pastured eggs, raw milk. Snacks: raw milk yogurt cheese (made from our milk), edamame and walnut mint pate, boiled eggs, fruit, other cheeses, nuts.

What’s your plan for the week?


Weekend Cooler Challenge Recipes: Booze Smoothies!

I promised you the last recipe today. I also promised you a wrap-up. One of those promises is going to be fulfilled, the other is going to have to wait until my writer’s block goes away, hopefully Monday. I have to say, though, that while I love all these recipes, these two are my favorite. Not because they’re the most gourmet or anything, but because damnit, I want some fruit and booze (hey, it’s been a long week)!  So, take it away, Gaylin!  (As a note, if you guys haven’t been checking out the recipes and comments on her blog, go there now–there’s all kinds of extra goodies over there from this series, as well as bunches of yums otherwise unrelated!)

Frozen Fruit Booze Smoothies
I had originally meant these smoothies to serve as an alternative to breakfast, but when it came right down to it, the bottle of local rum was staring me in the face when I started the whole process and before I knew it, we had what we like to call in our house “booze smoothies.”
The recipe starts with fruit we freeze during the harvest time, when they’re in season. Strawberries typically come from Maple Creek Farm, our CSA, but we occasionally get them from other farms that sell at the farmer’s market near our house. One of them isn’t on the web. Burda’s Berry Farm, located in Three River’s, Michigan. Their berries are always great quality and when they feel the fruit has passed its prime for eating out of hand, it’s picked and turned into other things, like jams and jellies. In addition to strawberries from them we also get blue berries. Another berry farm we get fruit from is Bigelow’s Berry Farm.
Most of the berries we get from our farmers are super ripe when we get them, so we process them the same day they land in our kitchen, for maximum freshness. What we can’t use that day or the next, we’ll clean or hull, and then spread out in a single layer on cookie sheets that fit in our freezer. Once completely frozen, the individual fruits go into freezer bags and await whatever insanity we have planned for them in the middle of the cold months when we’re craving the fresh fruit that’s never available except from far flung places off the American continent.
So, to make our fruit smoothies, I put an extremely generous cup full of mixed, frozen berries, into the blender, and to that I added an equal amount of frozen peaches. I topped this with the last two scoops of homemade peach ice cream that had magically survived my husband’s assault (ok, I confess, I hid it so I could have some and then I promptly forgot about it). To top all this off, I added a good cup full of a locally made Pinot Gris called “Gris Gris” made by Vintner’s Cellars, a custom wine maker just down the street from my house (how cool is that for local!). This didn’t produce quite enough liquid for the processing, so we topped it all off with about half a bottle of our newest local spirits find, Freshwater Amber Rum from New Holland Brewery in my hometown of Holland, Michigan.
Whir the dickens out of all of this, and poof, booze smoothies, without ever having to resort to adding water from ice cubes. “Sheer genius!” was my favorite compliment from sharing these. They traveled in the cooler quite nicely in our large thermos (the one that’s never seen coffee in it) and were gone in the blink of an eye when people got wind of their yummy factor.

Weeked Cooler Challenge: Zucchini Galettes

Because I am a total moron, I forgot to put this fabulous picture of Gaylin’s Clean-the-Cupboards Granola on the first blog post:
Now I have to go back and edit it, but I wanted folks who may not necessarily re-read all my blog posts (though you should, they’re more fun the second time around when you can really take the time to pick apart all my grammar and spelling errors!) to see how yummy this looks!
Once I realized I’d done this, of course, I took more care making sure all the hard work Gaylin did snapping pics didn’t go to waste. So, there’s food porn with your next recipe!For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, my guest blogger this week and next is Gaylin from “More Than Just the Food.” If you read me regularly because you like my food paradigms, you need to check out her blog–you’re going to love her. And now it’s time for me to shut up and let her share her next recipe…
Zucchini Galettes
I love this recipe. It uses up a huge amount of shredded zucchini and it freezes really well. The crust comes together with 2 cups wheat flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 cup unsalted butter, 3 to 4 tablespoons ice cold vodka (come on! of course we have this in the fridge!), and another 3 to 4 tablespoons ice cold water. This got cooled for while I made the filling and then rolled out into two equal portions on a floured surface. 

Now the filling is a little troubling. It had about 5 cups of zucchini that I’d had sitting in a strainer salted and draining.
I squeezed the crap out of it to get it as dry as possible. Added an egg to this and about 1 cup (lightly packed) of two cheeses. I confess I splurged here. You can use any good cheese you like, honestly. I used a haertkase (mild white) and a Spanish mahon (cheese is one of the few food items I get at the grocery). Mixed up quickly to moisten, spiced with some of the smoked sea salt (still blame you), and plopped half each in the middle of each dough circle. I folded the edges over in the style of a rustic tart and then baked until everything was golden and bubbly, about 25-35 minutes at 375F.

In retrospect, I should have split this recipe into 4-6 much smaller galettes. It would have been much easier to portion out. Cutting these into servings was really kind of a pain in the middle of a hotel room.
This is a perfect summer recipe all around, since most of the folks I know end up swimming in zucchini by mid-July. I can’t wait to make up a batch of these for the freezer.
Swing back by tomorrow  for Gnocchi with Asparagus and Peppered Bacon!

Preserving Summer: Time to Get Started

Aren’t these gorgeous? I am going to flatter myself and say they are, because little is so lovely to me as the site of something tasty that I’ll get to eat later, in the colder months, that will make me remember summer. In this case, it’s pickled garlicscapes. These are only available for a few weeks each year, and we love them. They’re amazing in salads, casseroles, with fish or chicken…really, anywhere you’d use garlic, but would like a milder taste. This is my first shot at pickling them, and I used a basic recipe for green beans, but changed out the spices. There’s no dill here. Instead I did a brine and then added spring onions, fresh garden basil, and peppercorns to the jar. I’ll let you know how they turn out. I’m dehydrating the green, “floppier” bits of the onions and scapes to use as spices later, too!

Tomorrow, I’ll be doing either fermented carrots or canned hot-and-sweet carrots, I haven’t decided yet. Our greens are coming in fast, and I’m going to can some mustard greens hopefully next week.  Are you preserving yet?


How is That Frugal?

I get a lot of surprise when people read my posts about food, from what we eat overall to what we eat specifically, because I say it’s frugal. They see things like “London Broil,” or “Grass-fed local” and say, “But that’s so expensive.”  And they are right, it is expensive. Which is why you don’t sit down and eat a huge slab of it.

How is it frugal to eat this way? Let me break it down:

1. My definition of frugal is not: as much consumable calories as I can get for as little money as I can spend. My definition is: as much quality nutrition as I can get in as ecologically sustainable manner as I can mange, within a budget. This means making choices. For example, we eat a lot of vegetarian meals, which are cheaper than meat, so we can afford to buy quality meats.

2. At some point, this country is going to have to start paying the real cost of food. That is not what you are paying when you purchase many items at the store. The government is paying a large portion of the actual cost for you, in the form of subsidies, which go to large companies for the most part. I believe it is more cost-effective to buy food locally, to keep the money within the community rather than send it to some corporate honcho somewhere. This is a long-term outlook, of course, but buying “cheap” food just contributes to a larger problem that is going to come back to bite us in the butt.

3. Being sick and/or fat is not frugal. The saying goes “you can pay now, or you can pay later.” I’ll pay now, thanks. Staying at a healthy weight and keeping as many crappy chemicals as I reasonably can out of my body is a worthwhile expenditure to me. If that means eating less so I ca afford better food, so be it.

As Thadd says, “Good, Fast, Cheap: Pick Two.” We choose Good and Cheap, which means it’s definitely not fast. There’s lots of planning involved, and I’ve learned to be a Master Food Organizer (hey, I think I’ll trademark that and start giving classes on how to become one!). It takes a very strong commitment, and it sometimes means giving up other things.  We all have decisions to make regarding food, and this is what works for us. We don’t eat like typical Americans by a long shot.  Our average food expenditure each week is about $70-80 for the two of us, but it takes a LOT of work to keep it that way. Mostly, that work is cooking, and finding good recipes that use less expensive ingredients. We go through a lot of lentils and beans, but we don’t do it grudgingly.  We have learned great recipe for these ingredients so that it is something we look forward to.

And, we enjoy the size of our grocery bill while we enjoy the food!


Back to Basics, Nutrition Rule #10

Rule 10: COOK

This is probably the most important rule of nutrition, at least in my opinion. To be clear, my definition of cooking does not include opening a box of Kraft “Dinner.” That’s not cooking. That’s boiling and stirring. Cooking means taking whole ingredients and making them into something edible.

WHY:

-You control what goes into your food. You can choose to leave out the preservatives, use healthier oils and fats, reduce the sodium, or add more vegetables.  You are no longer a “Zombie eater,” which is what I call folks who mindlessly eat whatever they happen to be driving by at the time they decide they’re hungry.

-Almost anything you make at home is healthier than fast food, and even most restaurant food. It’s actually difficult to replicate the number of calories in a McDonald’s sandwich. You actually have to work hard to get that many calories in there, not to mention all the crap you can’t pronounce .  Making a burger with all the fixin’s at home will not only save you potentially hundreds of calories per meal, but the calories you do eat are far more likely to contain something resembling vitamins or minerals.

-You appreciate food more when you cook it yourself. So do children, so have them help in the kitchen. One of the easiest ways to get kids to eat healthy is to have them help select food items and put them together into something edible. It helps build a healthier relationship with food, making it a more integral part of life than just the act of consuming. And, this can lead to healthier choices and food preferences.

HOW

-If you’ve never cooked anything in your life, take a basic cooking class if you can. It’s worth the money, which you’ll save in short order once you stop eating out.

-If you have the basic skills of picking out food (what produce is ripe, what meat is lean, etc.), cutting and chopping, simmering, sauteeing, etc., then invest some time in reading cookbooks (you can get them from the library, and either just photocopy or write down what you want to try–if you like enough of the recipes, buy the book). Or, use quality sites like epicurious.com,  VegetarianTimes.com, or others that fit your lifestyle. Work on a collection of recipes you and your family will eat, and put them in a binder.

-Start small. Cook a few nights a week, and add nights as you find recipes. Start with easy, quicker recipes. As your skill develops, you can add more complicated recipes. Unless you love doing dishes, start with some good one-pot meals or crockpot meals. Start with inexpensive ingredients, like legumes, whole wheat pastas, or in-season vegetables. That way, if you totally muck it up (and we all do sometimes), it won’t be as big a deal. Work your way to more expensive ingredients as you gain confidence in your skills

-Plan for it. Each night, look at what you’re going to eat the next day. See, this is where the Meal Planning rule come  in! Take a moment each evening to get things out of the freezer, set up the crockpot, or anything else that requires a little preparation.

-Just do it. Like most things in life, getting good at cooking requires practice. The more you do it, the better you’ll become at things like determining how long a particular recipe will take to make, or what time you should put the rice on so it is done when your chicken comes out of the oven.

And, that’s the end of the series. There are a lot of smaller “rules,” and there are a lot of paths to a healthier lifestyle. Start simply, and see what works for you. Educate yourself, make your health a priority, and enjoy your food. The rest will follow.