Thoughts on Food, Inc. and a carrot massacre.

Yesterday we made carrots for Linnea- and boy, was it ever a mess! Our pediatrician warned us about this… but of course, the messier the feeding process, the CUTER the baby! It was simply amazing. Here's a video:

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We used a nifty little baby food steamer and processor that my father-in-law and stepmother dearest gave to us- it's fantastic! It's called the Beaba Babycook Baby Food Maker and although we steamed the carrots seperately (I jumped the gun- we'll try it with the next round of food!) it worked wonders as a processor. I got the recipe from Top 100 Baby Purees: 100 Quick and Easy Meals for a Healthy and Happy Baby and it was so simple. Next on the menu: sweet potatoes!

We watched Food, Inc. last night, and it was fascinating. I read The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals a couple of years ago, and this movie sums up a lot of the ideas in the book. It definitely made me re-think the way our family eats and especially what we eat and where our food comes from.

One of the things we plan to do in our backyard is start a garden, but
we need to learn what we are doing first. There is a community garden
at Agritopia that I may look into to get a handle on what I'm doing-
and what a great way to learn! My dear friend Vanessa gave us some
zucchini, a red onion and parsley from her garden plot there and they were simply
delicious. I must say- any time we make anything from scratch with
home-grown or organic, locally-grown produce,it tastes amazing in comparison to the regular produce at the store! For now, we're starting small- we have some potted basil, yellow bell pepper and cherry tomatoes sitting on our front porch:

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We've already managed to kill a strawberry plant. The pot didn't have a hole for drainage… oops. It's a learning process!

I would love to hear from you about your family's eating habits. It seems as if healthy, whole food is not interchangable with a tight budget. Saving money is top on our list of priorities, but not at the cost of our family's long-term health. It's sad that a healthy lifestyle seems to come at a steep price in our society. So if you are feeding your family organic fruits and veggies, whole grains, and grass-fed meats, how do you make it work? Do you have any tips on how to save money while doing so? Do you grow your own fruits and veggies?

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Peach Festival.

Last night, I saw on Twitter that there was going to be a Peach Festival this weekend at Schnepf Farms. Since peaches are Cody's absolute favorite food of all time, we decided that it was a must that we go- especially since you can pick your own peaches from their orchard. 

I tweeted and FB'd that we would be there, and our friends Sarah and Jeff saw my posts and decided to meet us there. It was so fun to see them- especially since we haven't seen them since Linnea was two weeks old! We watched a pit-spitting and pie-eating contest, rode the hay ride, ate some amazing peach pie, lusted after the peach cinnamon rolls they had in their bakery, and headed out to the orchard to pick our peaches! Our day in photos:

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Our driver:
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All of us on the hayride:
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Found a little friend on my peach… I wasn't willing to share:
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Yes, I realize it looks like I'm not wearing pants in this photo:
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Hanging out with Sarah:
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We brought home several pounds of delicious, pesticide-free peaches, and now we just need to figure out what to do with them. Now I need some recipes from YOU! Peach pie? Peach preserves? Other ideas? Shoot 'em my way!

Mac and Cheese with a kick.

On Monday, my parents and Amma came down to Gilbert for a change and we went to lunch at Famous Dave's at San Tan Village. I ordered their mac and cheese as the side for my sandwich on the recommendation of our server, and boy, he wasn't joking: it was The Best Mac and Cheese That Ever Existed.

A side simply wasn't enough to satisfy my new found love for this mac and cheese. So when I got home, I decided to attempt to recreate it for dinner that night in the form of a bake. I mostly made it up as I went along, and I am going to do my best to estimate what I did here, but it is a work in progress and I'll keep refining it as I go if necessary. But here it is for now:

1 box Kraft Mac and Cheese (and butter, milk and cheese mix that's required per package directions)
1 cup whole wheat spiral pasta
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup frozen sweet corn, thawed
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3 tablespoons chopped jalapeños (from a jar, stored in water)
2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley or 1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 tablespoons cream or half and half
1 tablespoon dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon chili powder

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray an 8×8 glass baking dish with cooking spray.

Cook Mac and Cheese and pasta according to package directions. In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese and stir until thoroughly mixed. Transfer to the baking dish and top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese (or however much you want). Pop in the oven for 20 minutes, or as long as it takes for the dish to turn bubbly and golden brown.

This recipe can be altered according to how mild or spicy you prefer it- just adjust the amount of jalapeños you add to the mix. It was super easy and I can't wait to make it again! Thank you Famous Dave's for the inspiration!

As promised: Peanut Butter Brownies.

This is the peanut butter brownie post I promised you yesterday- I wrote it on my former blog back on 6/23/08. The title? A delicious disaster. How appropriate for the novice baker that I (still) am!

I really wish that, when I steam-burned myself and in my reactionary
shock of pain dropped the large glass bowl into a pot and sprayed
molten chocolate all over the walls, cabinets, our fresh fruit in the
banana hammock, and the dog's food bowl, I had thought to take a
picture of the damage. But alas, I was too busy swearing and chucking
my wooden spoon across the room and into the sink to think about such
nonsense. Let me assure you that it was quite an impressive mess, and
there was dark, buttery chocolate that ended up in places I'm sure I
have yet to discover. How none ended up on me is a mystery. But I did
manage to spy a rogue chocolate dot on the cabinet about an hour after
cleanup:

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Disaster aside, I set out today to make peanut butter swirl brownies a la Martha Stewart,
and they are baking in the oven as we speak, and they smell heavenly.
Cody is out picking up some Baja Fresh for dinner which will make for
an interesting smell combo when he gets back, but I digress. Alls I can
tell you is that I can hardly wait to get my paws on one of these
peanut-chocolatey squares, and don't you worry, if I were you I'd
totally be jealous too.

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And here we have zee fineeshed product…

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Delicioso!

Ingredients

Makes 9 large or 16 small squares

FOR THE BATTER

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for pan
  • 2 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 4 ounces good-quality semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

FOR THE FILLING

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 3/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan
    and line with parchment, allowing a 2-inch overhang. Butter lining (not
    overhang).
  2. Make batter: Put butter and chocolates in a heatproof medium bowl
    set over a pan of simmering water; stir until melted. Let cool
    slightly. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.
  3. Whisk granulated sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs, and
    whisk until mixture is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Add flour mixture; stir
    until well incorporated.
  4. Make filling: Stir together butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter, salt, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.
  5. Pour one-third of batter into prepared pan; spread evenly with a
    rubber spatula. Drop dollops of peanut butter filling (about 1
    tablespoon each) on top of batter, spacing about 1 inch apart. Drizzle
    remaining batter on top, and gently spread to fill pan. Drop dollops of
    remaining filling on top. Gently swirl peanut butter filling into
    batter with a butter knife, running the knife lengthwise and crosswise
    through layers.
  6. Bake until a cake tester inserted into brownies (avoid center and
    edges) comes out with a few crumbs but is not wet, about 45 minutes.
    Let cool slightly in pan, about 15 minutes. Lift out; let cool
    completely on a wire rack before cutting into squares. Brownies can be
    stored in an airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days.

Helpful Hint

To swirl brownies, work quickly so that batter and filling don't
set. Use two large spoons to drop dollops of filling on the first layer
of batter about one inch apart. Repeat with next layer of batter and
remaining filling. Drag a butter knife back and forth through the
layers with the tip touching the bottom of the pan.

Food and memories.

After Mum Mum passed, my family and I spent a lot of time sharing some of our favorite memories of our time with Mum Mum. There was a common theme running through many of those memories: food. I had this epiphany that so many favorite times- anyone's, not just our family's- are centered around food and delicious food traditions. Sometimes you spend an evening with family or with friends, and you share conversation over an amazing meal that is simply unforgettable. My mom is so good at this, and so is my Amma! When it came to Mum Mum, our family- especially my nephew, David- always looked forward to her amazing baked beans every Christmas. This is a tradition that I am sure will carry on, and I would share the recipe with you except my mom wants to keep it a family secret 😉

In light of this, I am going to be more intentional about not only sharing my own favorite recipes that are beloved by my family and friends, but actually getting my butt in the kitchen on a regular basis to COOK those recipes!

Before this blog, I had another one that documented many things- my political opinions, buying a house, getting a second dog, and also my journey as a new vegetarian (I'm not gonna try to fool you into thinking that lasted long- I succumbed to the amazingness that is Liberty Market after only six months. But it was good while it lasted). In the months after Cody and I got married, I was obsessed with all things kitchen gadget-y and learning to cook was at the top of my list of things to do. Take, for example, this post, dated 6/23/08:

I swear to you, I can't surf around 101 Cookbooks or Smitten Kitchen
without uttering the words, "ExCUSE me?!" at least seven times per
visit when I look at their recipes. Because who wants to eat Amazing Black Bean Brownies
really? I should be offended by this. And then I totally want to eat
them. Why this is appetizing is beyond me. But I am sure that blogs
like this inspire me to spend as much time in my kitchen as is humanly
possible.

Also, when I walk into stores like Williams Sonoma or
Sur La Table I can't help but get a thrill at the thought of a huge
kitchen filled with every cooking gadget under the sun, and me
inventing culinary delights so ethereal that the heavens open wide and
the angels sing upon my creations.

I think the world might
actually be coming to an end. I want to do things like sew, cook, and
plant a garden. When did I become a vegetarian, chocolate-obsessed,
weird brownie-baking, lentil-consuming, Martha Stewart wannabe who
actually wants to eat the aforementioned ingredients… all in the same
recipe?

On another note, I made Cody
eat a whole steamed artichoke the other night, and it was *nearly*
disastrous. Not quite cooked all the way through, but not entirely a
loss for a first-timer. All in all, a thoroughly weird experience. When
he got to the part where he had to slice and dice his way through the
furry mess to the heart, he sat there with a very concerned look on his
face, staring at what was left of the artichoke, and said, "I think I
just ate a wombat."

Thank God my poor husband was adventurous and patient enough with me to live through my experiments… fuzz and all.

The health of my family and my own health is very important to me, and I want to be sure that Linnea is raised not only with wonderful memories of delicious food, but also with good eating habits. I wasn't off to the greatest start considering that all I ate when I was pregnant was Nesquick and hot fudge sundaes from McDonalds (that's like the epitome of processed AND sugar! What!) but we're gonna work to turn this train around. This doesn't mean that I am going to be The Food Nazi and never let her have any treats- for goodness' sake, the peanut butter brownie recipe I found and made a couple of years ago was a little slice of HEAVEN!- but we'll simply have to do things in moderation.

So… since you're probably dying to have that recipe yourself, I'll post it tomorrow for you to try over the weekend. It's an old post but a fun one, and the brownies are simply divine!

Wish me luck with that whole health thing- clearly I'll need it (see above picture).

Two lasagnas.

I've been known to get the randomest cravings- just ask my husband. He doesn't even try to make decisions about what we eat anymore because he knows that I'll only want what I want when I want it. So one day, he asked me what I wanted… and I was having a craving for vegetable lasagna. Not just any vegetable lasagna, mind you- but something similar to a kind I had once that I distinctly remember tasting sweet. (My cravings are obnoxiously specific.) I scoured the interwebs for the perfect vegetable lasagna and found this first recipe I'm sharing with you. And it was SO GOOD! I added some brown sugar and cinnamon to the sauce and it tasted exactly like what I had been craving. It was super easy to make and fed us for three days straight! You can find the recipe here.

Luscious Vegetarian Lasagna

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

8 ounces lasagna noodles

1 can (14-1/2 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and coarsely chopped

1 can (12 ounces) tomato sauce

1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1 teaspoon dried basil

Dash black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

2 small zucchini, diced

1 large carrot, diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

2 cups 1% milk-fat cottage cheese

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Parsley sprigs for garnish

Preparation:
1. Cook lasagna according to package directions; drain.

2. Place
tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, oregano, basil and black pepper in
medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low.
Simmer, uncovered, 6 to 10 minutes.

3. Heat
oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir onion and
garlic until onion is golden. Add zucchini, carrot, bell pepper and
mushrooms. Cook and stir 5 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are
tender. Stir vegetables into tomato mixture; bring to a boil. (This is where I added the brown sugar and cinnamon. I just eyeballed it, but I would say about 2 tsps of brown sugar and 1/2 tsp of cinnamon.) Reduce
heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine cottage, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses in large bowl; blend well.

5. Spoon
about 1 cup sauce in bottom of 12X8-inch baking pan. Place a layer of
noodles over sauce, then half the cheese mixture and half the remaining
sauce. Repeat layers of noodles, cheese mixture and sauce.

6. Bake lasagna 30 to 45 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes. Garnish with parsley.

(Other vegetables can be added or substituted for the ones listed above)

Tex Mex Lasagna

The other lasagna recipe that's been a hit around the house is one I make often for guests and every time they have requested the recipe. Plus, it's vegetarian-friendly and VERY budget-friendly! I love me some green onions, so I pile those on the top for garnish- enough to have some in every bite. I found this in The Best of Cooking Light: Superfast Weeknight Dinners.

Ingredients:

3/4 cup bottled salsa (any kind and any temperature you prefer)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 (14.5 oz.) can no salt-added diced tomatoes
1 (8 oz.) can no salt-added tomato sauce
Cooking spray
6 pre-cooked lasagna noodles (I cut them to fit the pan and use the leftover to fill in the extra spaces)
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
1 (15 oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups (8 oz.) pre-shredded reduced-fat 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Combine first 4 ingredients; spread 2/3 cup sauce in bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. Arrange 2 noodles over sauce; top with 1/2 cup corn and half of the beans. Sprinkle with 1/2 cup cheese; top with 2/3 cup sauce. Repeat layers once; top with remaining 2 noodles. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover and bake at 450 degrees for 30 minutes or until noodles are tender and sauce is bubbly. Let stand 15 minutes. Sprinkle with onions.

Makes 4 servings.

Let me know if you try these and how they turn out! We like them so much around here I usually buy the fixings to make them each time I go to the grocery store. Enjoy!

Favorite meal of September… so far.

Cody and I have been strictly adhering to the meal plan we put together at the beginning of the month in an effort to save as much money as possible while I work on seeking out alternative sources of income. Last night, we made Fruity Turkey-Rice Pilaf from one of our favorite cookbooks, Betty Crocker's Healthy New Choices: A Fresh Approach to Eating Well. It's loaded with lean protein, fiber- and antioxidant-rich dried fruit, and yummy wild rice pilaf with herbs. The recipe is so easy, and the leftovers are delicious! I ended up with some extra rice pilaf, so I added more turkey and fruit and we were fed well two nights in a row. Since I didn't have green onions on hand, I used chopped white onion and it was a great substitute. I wish I had a picture to share, but take my word for it- it looks as good as it tastes!

1/2 lb. ground turkey breast
4 medium green onions
2 cups water
1 package (6 3/4 oz.) quick-cooking long grain and wild rice mix seasoned with herbs
1/2 cup dried cherries or cranberries (I used cherry-flavored cranberries- yum!)
1/2 cup chopped dried peaches or apricots
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon (I used both)

Spray 3-qt. saucepan with cooking spray; heat over medium heat. Cook turkey and onions in saucepan about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until turkey is no longer pink. Stir in water and seasoning packet from rice mix. Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally; reduce heat to low.

Stir in rice, cherries, peaches and nutmeg. Cover and simmer about 5 minutes or until rice is tender and fruits are heated through.

Makes 4 servings.

Side note: If you buy a less-expensive but non-quick cooking rice box like we did (the kind that takes 25 minutes or so to cook), you have to alter the cooking process a bit, otherwise you may end up with mushy fruit and overcooked turkey. It's a good idea to start making the rice separately while the turkey and onions are cooking. After the turkey is browned and the onions are cooked, I added the fruit and nutmeg/cinnamon and let that heat through while the rice finished. Then I added the rice to the turkey/fruit mixture and let it cook an additional five minutes.

Voila! Super easy, uber healthy, and mega delicious!

This meal is complete enough to serve on its own, or pre-game it with a mixed-green or cucumber salad!