Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Countdown to the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid: my method behind the madness

Last year, I failed miserably at keeping my Pantry Raid budget. This year I am determined to redeem myself.

I'm a list maker by nature. I love making to-do lists and marking things off them. (I once heard someone say that when I was growing up and thought it was the dumbest thing ever. Funny how the shoe's on the other foot now...) I love making grocery lists, lists of plants I wanted to grow this year, and of course the list of prioritized home improvement projects I keep in my head.

That, and I had a pretty slow weekend.

A few months ago, in an effort to cut down on my grocery spending, I tried making a list of meals (total shocker...) for the whole month and making my grocery list off that. I figured it would mean fewer trips to the store, thus fewer impluse buys. I always shopped from a list anyway, but I don't care how many times I tell myself to stick to the list, I would get in the store and see an "amazing" deal on something, and buy it. Over and over again. Not that that is always a bad thing, since I was getting a really good deal in most cases, but that's how I ended up with 4 bottles of wing sauce and 4 bottles of hot sauce. It'll probably take me 2 years to use all that. If you're not careful, you can end up with way too much of a good thing.

So, I eventually took it a step further, and started printing out a monthly calendar and penciling in the meals I picked out for the month. This helped hugely, because now, I can pretty much go the store once a month, save for a mid-month run for a few perishable items like milk and bread, AND now we're eating out A LOT less since it's pretty much scheduled. I always leave open either 1 or 2 days on the weekend because I know we will either go out to eat or visit our parents (where we usually mooch a meal). Plus, if you can look at what nights you'll be busy, it makes it super-easy to plan to have leftovers, something quick or in the crockpot for those nights. It cuts down on my stress through the week since I already know what I'm going to be making every night.

This level of detail in meal planning isn't for everyone. Though, if you do have a couple hours' free time at the beginning of the month, it'll more than pay off later on with the time you save--at least that's been my experience.

For the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid, I did basically the same thing I always do, but I started out with my list of what I have in the freezer/pantry and wrote down a few meals based on what I have, that I won't need to buy any items to make. Then, I went through my usual rotation of cookbooks and recipes, and found a few meals that I only needed to get maybe 1 item to make. I generally shoot for around 20 meals, but this month, because I know I'll be throwing stuff together at the end of the month that I have on hand, I only wrote down 14. Some meals, I knew I wanted something specific, too. For example, our anniversary is the 15th, so I knew we wanted to grill steaks that day. Here's my list:

biscuits and deer gravy (I have everything I need to make this)
steaks with balsalmic mushrooms - anniversary dinner
hamburgers, jambalaya, cupcakes, margaritas -- Jeremy's birthday dinner. More on that later.
squash casserole (need 1 item)
chili (need 1 item)
Ribs (I have everything)
zucchini carbonara (need 1 item)
bitokes a la russe -- or french hamburgers (I have everything)
Wanchai Ferry dinner with egg drop soup
French onion soup
grilled pizza
fish poached in white wine
roast chicken with bacon and onions
tomato salad and grilled shrimp

Now, for Jeremy's birthday, I'm having a cookout for the fam. This is part of the $25 for special occassions that I set aside in the first Penny Pinching Pantry Raid post. He picked out the menu, now the challenge is to get it in under $25. That should be interresting, and will take some savy shopping.

As I was putting together my store list for the menus I selected, I tried to estimate what I would expect to pay for each item. That way I could make sure I would come in under $100. If I spend less for an item than I estimated, I'll consider that a windfall, and put it back in the budget. Here's my grocery list:

mushrooms $3
pearl onions $3
fruit for lunch $5
onions $4
steaks $10
whole chicken $10
bacon $3.50
beef bones $2
eggs $6
mozzarella $4
provolone $3
yogart $7
Italian bread $2
bread for lunch sandwiches $2
frozen breakfast items $4
tuna $1
mayonaise $3
flour $3
stuffing mix $1.50
cereal $5
oats $2
yellow cake mix $1.50
Spicy V8 $3
drinks for lunch $4
granola bars for lunch $3
chips for lunch $3
peanut butter $3
TOTAL $96.50

Some of the prices might seem a bit high, like the steaks for $10 and whole chicken for $10. I buy all my meat from the farmer's market. Sure, you pay more, but I'm my opinion, it's worth it. But it's a personal choice. I could buy my whole chicken for 69 or 99 cents a pound at the grocery store, or $3.00 a pound at the Monroe Farm Market. That's a big difference, but I just have to cut back on something else. I'd rather skip meat this month than buy the cheap meat grocery store, but like I said, it's my personal choice. 

That doesn't leave much breathing room at all. And, that's only 14 meals. Since the sales tax on food is 4% in West Virginia now, that puts me 50 cents over the limit. I'll need some good deals and coupons to get me through a trip to the grocery store next month.

Speaking of coupons and deals, I rely heavily on sites like The Coupon Mom to help me find grocery deals. I especially like (and highly recommend) the link for "Grocery Deals By State." It gives almost every item that is on sale at the particular store for the week, plus any promotions the store is running and any published coupons for the item. The other site I really like is The Krazy Koupon Lady.

This month I'm planning to do my major grocery shopping in two trips. I'll buy what I need for the first two weeks of meals in one trip and then go back for the rest later on in the month. Hopefully, I'll be able to get some rock-bottom prices for items that I might not have on my list with the money I hopefully save with deals and coupons below my estimated price. That is how I'll come up with the rest of my meals, by adding a few items I buy to what I already have on hand. And, I am heavily relying on what is growing in my backyard or in my father-in-law's garden to get my through the month. Anything could go wrong with that--rainy weather, deer and rabbits eating the garden, you name it. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed.

The other wrinkle with the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid is that I have a conference for work this month. I'll get a per diem to cover meals, but Jeremy is going with me. So, we'll both need to eat on my per diem (it's not too shabby, actually). If we go over the per diem, it counts toward the $100. Thankfully, many of the breakfasts and lunches are provided by the conference. And, I paid extra to register Jeremy as a guest spouse for the conference, so he'll have access to the meals the conference provides, too.

Having looked at my grocery list and thought this through, I know it is still going to be WAY harder than I expect, but it's supposed to be a challenge, right? At the end of the month, we'll have a big chunk of money (around $225) we would have spent on eating out and at the grocery store to put toward something... most likely the lengthy and expensive home improvement project I mentioned in the first Penny Pinching Pantry Raid post--new hardwood floors.

Count down to the Penny Pinching Pantry Raid: Inventory

For reasons I'll explain next week, I'm going to run the Pantry Raid at my house from July 4th to July 31st. That's 4 complete weeks.

Here's what I'm starting with:

2 cans cream soup (one mushroom, one celery)
chow mein noodles
1 can kidney beans
1 can pineapple chunks
1 can kraut
1 bag coconut flakes
1/2 bag of chocolate chips
1 box of crystal light individual packets
2 boxes of vanilla pudding
2 packets of Wyler's lemonade
red lentils
raw sugar
baking soda
corn syrup
dried chilis
corn starch
white sugar
self-rising flour
powdered sugar
wheat bran
beignet mix
1 pkg of onion soup mix
4 pkg of active dry yeast
1 full + 1 partial canister of cocoa
a jar of fish sauce
bread crumbs
lasagna noodles
baking powder
1 box of fusilli
assorted tea bags
masa harina
soba noodles
2 whole + a partial chocolate bar
brown sugar
corn meal
2 cans of hot dog chili
3 whole + a half a bag of assorted beans
assorted spices, oils and vinegars
2 bottles of wine (1 red, 1 white)
3 lbs new potatoes

1 cucumber
1 garlic clove
2 G2 drinks
partial bottle of tomato juice
partial bottle of heavy cream
bread and butter pickles
2 partial bottles of coffee cream + 1 whole
club soda
ricotta cheese
1 canister of cresent rolls
blueberry syrup
sour cream
cool whip
4 beers
1 pint pickled carrots
1 pint pickled green tomatoes
corn meal
whole wheat flour
all purpose flour
3 1/2 sticks of butter
1 pkg cream cheese
partial parmesean cheese wedge
2 cups of mint simple syrup
about 1/3 a jar of minced garlic
a 5-oz container of feta cheese
3 slices of American cheese
a partial bag of shredded cheddar cheese
2 1/2 onions
iceberg lettuce
assorted condiments

6 cups of shrimp stock
1 Wanchai Ferry frozen dinner for 2
pine nuts
shrimp shells (for making stock)
1 lb. of shrimp
a 12 oz. bag of pollack filets
2 lb pkg of ribs
a partial bag of frozen biscuits
4 egg whites
phyllo dough
a 1 gallon bag of veg scraps (for making stock)
2 cups of vegetable stock
1/2 pint of black raspberry freezer jam
1/2 gallon bag of jalepenos
1 pkg shredded cheddar
1 pkg of shredded mozzarella
1 pkg peas
1 pkg diced bell peppers
1 pkg corn
2 pkg broccoli cuts
1 deer loin
3 loaves of bread dough
apple sauce
old bread (I use it for stuffing, in case you're wondering)
4 cups of roasted pureed pumpkin
2 cups of sliced yellow squash

2 bags of frozen biscuits
1 lb. of yellow squash
3 lb of beef short ribs
1 quart of blackberries
2/3 a loaf of old bread
19 2-lb pkgs of deer burger
3 lb of sausage
3 pkg shredded cheese
2 lb of roasted winter squash

1 pint tomatoes
4 bottles of hot sauce
4 bottles of wing sauce
2 bottles of ketchup
5 quarts of dill pickles
1 quart of bread and butter pickles
1 pint of Polish dill pickles
1 + 1/4 pint of carrot cake jam
2 pints pickled carrots
1 pint gingered pears
2 pints of rosemary citrus
1 pint apples
1/2 pint of blackberry jam
4 pints of hot weiners
5 quarts of hot weiners
2 quarts of green beans
1 quart pork
6 quarts of deer meat
2 bottles of BBQ sauce
2 pints blueberry syrup

And, last but not least, I can't forget what I've got growing in the backyard: tomatoes, peppers, carrots, radishes, salad greens, swiss chard, beans, squash, and cucumbers.

Friday, June 25, 2010

It's the 2nd Annual Penny Pinching Pantry Raid!!!

I am BEYOND excited to announce the 2nd Annual Penny Pinching Pantry Raid!

"What's that?" you ask. Well, you might remember more than a passing mention of it last year here on my other blog. Or, you might have heard of my girl, Susan, from She's Becoming Doughmesstic.

It was actually an idea she had for a food blogger challenge last summer. Her goal: A shiny new digital camera. Her plan: Spend less than $100 on food for the entire month of July and use the savings for the camera.

Susan got a gaggle of other food bloggers to join her in the challenge, including me. Y'all know how I am a sucker for a good food challenge to mix it up a little in my kitchen. It WAS truly a challenge, but it was so much fun, too. So much fun, in fact, I emailed Susan a couple weeks ago and asked if she was doing it again.

I am definitely feeling the pinch these days after having just celebrated three close family members' birthdays, taken a long weekend trip, and started a lenghty and expensive home improvement project. My wallet could use a break.

So, here's the deal. The rules are:
  • Set any dollar-amount limit for yourself or your family to spend on food for the month (or for 4  weeks). This includes grocery shopping AND eating out. Anything in your freezer or pantry, or growing in your backyard (i.e. already at your home) at the beginning of the month is fair game. Hence, the name.
  • Don't change your ususal habits to do the challenge. As in, don't start mooching meals just to come in under $100. But, hey, if you already do that ... by all means, don't stop. You could just modify your dollar amount. Take it down to $50 or whatever. It is supposed to be a challenge, after all.
That being said, you can make some exceptions, as long as you keep in the spirit of the challenge. The other participants (hopefully there are others...) and myself are not going to come flog you for breaking the rules above. For example, Jeremy says he's in as long as beer doesn't count toward the $100. And, I know that we are having a family cookout for his birthday on July 17th. So, for me, I'm going to set a limit for beer for the month in addition to the $100, and set aside some money for food for the cookout, outside of the $100. In addition to spending less than $100 on food, we're going to try to spend $25 on beer and $25 on food for the cookout. Trust me, even with those two caveats, it's still going to be a challenge.

The best thing that came out of the challenge for me last year was not the savings. No, I blew the budget, but still came in less than I would have had I not done the challenge. It was forcing me to go through my pantry and freezer and throw out what was outdated, old or just plain gross. I was one of those people who threw something in the deep freezer in the garage and sometimes forgot about it. For months and years... Yikes.

At the beginning of the month, you need to inventory what you have on hand. It takes the fun out of the challenge if you stockpile food all next week in anticipation of the challenge. Just carry on with your grocery shopping cycle as normal for the next few days, and the day before you start the challenge, make a list of what you have. Also, the inventory helps you to know what you have on hand that you can use when planning meals. You might not even realize you have 3 cans of cream of chicken soup and some egg noodles in the depths of your pantry that you could use with that bag of frozen broccoli from last month to throw together a quick meal in a pinch.

So, who's in? Tweet it. Facebook it. Blog about it. Get the word out. Comment below, email me or hit me up on facebook if you're in. Don't forget to let us know what limit you're working with, any special exceptions, and just for fun, what you're going to do with the money you save. Susan designed the graphic at the top of the post for participants to use last year on their blogs. It's there to use again this year, if you so desire. Susan and I are co-hosting the challenge, so we'll compile a list of everyone participating and links to their blogs (if he or she has one) so we can encourage each other/commiserate/swap ideas and recipes.

Good luck!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June Can Jam: Blueberry Syrup

This month's Can Jam ingredient was _erries. As in berries or cherries. I am so excited, because the possibilities are endless.

Blueberry syrup. One of those things my mom made when I was little that I didn't care for. It wasn't that I didn't like it, but why would you put anything on pancakes/waffles/french toast besides mayple syrup? To a kid, that one just didn't add up.

So now I'm a grown-up and I like to mix it up. Especially when the berries are in season, local and I picked and canned them myself. I'm kinda proud of that.

Well, these berries weren't exactly in season. My mom has several blueberry bushes and they never get ripe until late August. As far as I can tell, there are a couple different varieties around here. There is a smaller one that comes in now. And whatever kind my mom has come in a couple months from now. These berries are from last year and were frozen. They pretty much aren't good for anything except cooking at this point because they'd been in the freezer too long. But, they made delicious syrup. And muffins.

Blueberry Syrup from The Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving

2 quarts blueberries
6 cups water, divided
1 Tbsp. grated lemon peel (I substituted 2 tbsp. lemon juice)
3 cups sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Wash berries and drain. Crush berries. Combine blueberries, 2 cups of water and lemon peel in a medium saucepan. Simmer 5 minutes. Strain through a damp jelly bag or several layers of cheese cloth. Combine sugar and 4 cups of water in a medium saucepan, boil to 230 degrees. Add blueberry juice to sugar syrup. Boil 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice. Ladle hot syrup into hot jars, leaving 1/4 headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 10 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

NOTE: Fruit syrup is typically thin. If a thicker syrup is desired for serving, combine 1 cup syrup and 1 tablespoon cornstarch in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, cooking until syrup thickens. Do not add cornstarch before canning.
Boiling blueberries

There you have it. Easy as pie and the whole thing took me less than 1 hour, including the prep. I can't wait to see what everyone else makes this month.

Crushing the blueberries.


Friday, June 18, 2010

On being a "locavore": one year later.

At the end of June, 2009, I was reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle. I was flying to Boston for a trip with my mom, and I read a big chunk of the book on the plane. I remember thinking "I should try to do a little more of that." Not that I ever entertained the idea that I could do it 100% like she did, but I had recently signed up with the Monroe Farm Market, receiving deliveries of fresh vegetables weekly. I made up my mind to give it a try, and while I didn't really sit down and write out some goals, I had a rough idea where I wanted to go with this undertaking.

As somewhat of a habitual dieter and the daughter of a school nurse, I felt like I knew more than the average person about eating healthy: eat salads with low fat dressing, boneless kinless chicken breasts and brown rice, etc.

I also had become a bit of a foodie over the past few years. It started when I was a second-year law student. My aunt bought me an Italian cookbook (no idea why. I had never really expressed a great love of cooking, just eating!) and I lived with my boyfriend (now husband) in a one-bedroom apartment. The apartment had the tiniest kitchen ever, but I had so much fun making those recipes and eating them. Before long, I started to branch out, and over the years, here I am, a self-proclaimed bona fide "food snob."

So, anyway, late June, 2009, on a trip to Boston... Luckily, Boston has one of the best local seafood scenes of anyplace I've ever been. I began looking at menus closer and asking servers if the seafood was local. I would say 90% of it was. It was nice to sit down to a delicious meal in a lovely environment and think of some crusy old fisherman hauling in lobsters or whatever earlier that morning that I was eating right then. Yeah, I know. A little naive and cheesy, but oh well.

So, I come back to good 'ol West Virginia, where the local food scene is a little more, well, boring. What I knew about eating local was canning tomatoes and greenbeans and picking berries.

A lot of what I knew about eating local was influenced by my grandparents. My Pawpaw raised a huge garden of tomatoes, corn, green beans, gourds, squash, cucumbers and tons of other stuff. They had a cherry tree and blueberry bushes in their yard and a neighbor had a mulberry tree and apple trees. My Pawpaw hunted squirrel and they would buy a pig in the fall to last them through the winter. They didn't buy much at the grocery store--and they couldn't. The closest medium-sized grocery store was an hour and half away.

When I was little, I kinda thought all this canning and eating what you grew was kinda "hokey" and made me want to scrunch up my nose in disgust. "Mom, why can't we just eat out today?!?" or "The stuff at the store is sooo much better!" It's crazy how as I've gotten older, I have the complete opposite perspective.

Over the past year, I've learned VOLUMES about food policy. It was perfect timing, too. The Food Revolution was just beginning to take root. I challenged myself to do better at the grocery store, in restaurants and at home. I feel like I've met my goals 90%, and I'm chalking that up as a huge success!

1. No more CAFO animal products.

This idea resonated with me more than any other. I'm not a PETA follower or anything, but I've always had a soft spot for animals. I vowed to stop buying eggs and meat from CAFO animals, and for the most part, I haven't, save for a few times.

It has been frustrating in ways I didn't expect. I realize how lacking my grocery store, and my community is, for that matter, when it comes to alternatives to CAFO products. I haven't found a reliable source for cheese, cottage cheese, or stick butter yet. Sometimes my grocery store carries Horizon-brand products, sometimes not. And, Horizon is not completely without issues either. Sure it's organic, but it's still industrial agriculture.

And, when you're eating out, some restaurants simply have very few or no options for "conscientious omnivores." Now I understand how hard a time vegetarians have. Bob Evans, you need to step it up. Pizza Hut, too. You can only eat so many veggie lovers pizzas. I like to frequent non-chain restaurants, but when you're in a crowd, chain restaurants usually win because they have something (almost) everyone likes.

Here's what I learned: grass-fed beef is MONEY. And pasture raised eggs are far superior in taste to what you can buy at your local Krogers. Granted you pay more, but in the category of taste, I'll take the stuff from the farmer's market.

2. Cut back on commodity crop consumption and processed foods.

This one is tough. I don't think you could cut back 100%, just because they're everywhere, and most of the time you don't even know it. Anytime you eat CAFO meat certainly, and sometime when you pick alternatively-raised meats, you're eating something that ate a commodity crop. Just watch Food, Inc. and get an idea how many common food items have corn in them that you'd never expect. (And, by the way, if you haven't watched that movie yet, you need to STAT!) I wasn't a big fast food eater to begin with, and I can't recall a single time in the past year I've eaten at a "traditional fast food joint" (I'm not counting Taco Bell or Subway because they make it relatively easy to avoid CAFO products). In November, I set out to give up artificial sweeteners. I stopped drinking diet soda, because supposedly it would help me loose weight if I cut out aspartame. I haven't noticed a difference on that front, but life without soda is definitely CHEAPER and I think I feel better. Now, it tastes weird to me (chemicals???) and I don't even miss it. I still get a little HFCS from the balsalmic vinegar salad dressing I keep in the fridge at work and some corn syrup from coffee creamer. At home I have fallen in love with homemade oil and vinegar dressing for salads, and I'm still trying to figure out what to do about the coffee creamer. I 'm not ready to give it up.

In most situations, giving up processed food is easy. Processed foods are all about convenience. Planning menus and a shopping list make it easy for the most part. But, one thing I have had trouble with, is packing lunches for me and Jeremy. Particuarly Jeremy, because he doesn't always have access to a fridge if he is on the road at work, and that's a challenge. He likes bananas and PB&J, but what else can you throw in a lunch that's not perishable and isn't processed for someone who's a bit of a picky eater? Cut vegetables? He says "ehhh." I'm open for any suggestions. I usually put a granola bar and a piece of Cabot snack cheese and some chips in there. As for me, I like to take leftovers from dinner for lunch. I have a fridge at my office. But when I don't have any leftovers or don't have time to pack something, it SUCKS. The cafeteria here is crap. I usually get a salad off the salad bar when I eat down there. They offer absolutely ZERO healthy options other than the salad bar. And it's exorbitantly priced. But that's another issue for later. We have a Wendy's close by my office, and two mom and pop lunch joints, that actually serve local, free-range meats. Woo hoo!

3. Eat Seasonally (if not, at least, buy organic) .

As in, don't buy bell peppers in January. I actually enjoyed doing this because I'm a big "food around occassions" person. I like to celebrate with food. Many of the celebrations we take part in today are tied to food seasons. The easiest example is Thanksgiving. It was a celebration of the harvest of the pilgrims, although the first Thanksgiving table would have been vastly different than what we're used to. This year, I set out to have a mostly local Thanksgiving meal with things that were in season: potatoes, chestnuts, pumpkin, sweet potatoes. There's a reason these foods are part of the traditional Thanksgiving meal. In October I did the Eat Local Challenge, and beginning in November, I participated in the Dark Days Challenge. Both were a lot of fun, and I look forward to continuing the pattern on my own. I will admit though, by late winter, if I would have eating one more winter squash or sweet potato, I might have snapped!

But, being an "eater," I like associating seasons with food, and I look forward to dishes that I'll make and enjoy certain times of year. Early fall is apples, pears and peppers. July means blackberries to me. And I CANNOT WAIT for the first batch of fresh caprese this summer. It isn't even worth eating if it's not made from garden-fresh tomatoes.

There probably was a couple times in late winter that I bought produce at the grocery store. I couldn't stand it about March or so, and bought some salad greens a few times. But now, if I need to, which isn't that often, I buy the organic version. Sometimes it costs a lot more, sometimes only a little more. Either way, you just get used to it and it doesn't bother you. It's not a matter of health for me as much as it is environment. Pesticides fertilizer are made from fossil fuels, and their runoff is hugely detrimental, not only to the surrounding land, but on a large scale, such as the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of runoff.

4. Convince other people how important the food revoultion is.

Well, Jeremy's drinkin' the Kool-Aid now. I thought he'd be hard to win over, but he really wasn't. He's a hunter and stocked the freezer with enough ground deer burger to feed a small army last fall, so he's happy I'm using more of it, and it in creative ways. But not just that, he loves the steaks I buy from the farmer's market and agrees wholeheartedly with Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution about the unhealthy food that kids eat today. He has even started to work on his parents and sister to join the Food Revoultion a little bit. I convinced my mom to switch over a few things, but somethings she's just not going to give up. She's a pretty healthy eater to begin with, and doesn't each much red meat or fast food, so it's not too bad.

The hardest thing is to not lecture people about what they're doing wrong. That often has the opposite effect of convincing someone to change. I just have to lead by example and learn as much as I can in the mean time, so that I am armed with information if someone wants to engage me in conversation about food policy. It has become "my" cause, and I'm always ready to spread the word any chance I get.  Ofcourse, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution brought the message into Main Street when it aired on ABC. That alone was huge. I think people are more aware of the issue now, and more receptive to changing our old ways.

So, what's next?

I guess I'm just impatient. I was telling Jeremy the other day, that everyone says what we can do for the Food Revolution is to "vote with our forks." Well, I've been voting with my fork for a year now, and I wanna see some results. Why doesn't my grocery store offer more dairy products from pastured cows? Maybe there aren't any producers? Who knows? Why do I HAVE to buy meat and eggs from the Monroe Farm Market (not that I mind)? My local farmer's market only occassionally offers local meat and eggs. And why don't restaurants use more local producers? Sure, it would take a bit of logistics and some effort, but I think it would boost their sales. People like me don't like to eat at chain restaurants because it seems so standardized (exactly what chain restaurants are aiming for). If they offered more local meats and produce on their menus and took part in supporting the local farming community, I think people would appreciate that.

I think the Food Revolution is still gaining steam. Blogs like Mrs. Q's Fed Up with School Lunch and Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign are bringing these issues to light for parents. Hopefully, the next generation will be more acclimated to this idea like my generation is with computers. It's just something that's a part of your life. But, I think everyone can agree, we still have a long, long way to go.

Here's my first swiss chard harvest, June, 2010.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Broccoli Parmesean Pasta

As I was making dinner last night, I kept thinking I should take pictures.

It was everything that I love about cooking and eating, and thoroughly enjoyable.

I was planning on making fresh tagliatelle with spouting broccoli and oozy cheese sauce from my Jamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life cookbook. But I forgot to get fontina at the grocery store last weekend, so I improvised.

I had some fresh pasta dough frozen from the last time I made a batch. I froze it in 4 ounce-portions, which is perfect for two people. I think it was the best batch I've ever made, so I'm looking forward to using the rest of it. I actually prefer to use fresh frozen dough because I think it dries the dough out just enough when it is frozen so that it is much easier to work with. I always make a basic egg pasta. The recipe came with my KitchenAid KPRA Pasta Roller Attachment for Stand Mixers, which I cannot say enough good things about... but that's another post.

Broccoli and Parmesean Fettuccini (for 2 people)

4 oz. fresh fettuccini pasta
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot
1 garlic clove (or 1 tsp. minced garlic)
2 cups of fresh broccoli tops (cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 cup white wine
2 or 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 oz. of fresh parmesean, shredded

Heat 1 Tbsp. oil in a skillet. Add shallots and garlic, and saute until shallots soften a bit, but before garlic begins to burn. Add broccoli and saute about 1 minute longer. Add wine and cover. Cook until broccoli turns bright green and softens a bit, about 10 mintues. Meanwhile, cook pasta in boiling water until al dente (with fresh pasta, about 3 minutes). When pasta is done, it will float to the top. Drain well, and immediately add to skillet with broccoli mixutre. Add 2 or 3 more Tbsp. of olive oil to coat pasta. Cook on low heat for about 1 minute to give the pasta time to absorb the mixture a bit. Top with shredded parmesean and serve.

This happy accident of a dinner was a recipe to write down and keep. Delicious! And, it was much healthier than the fontina-laced version in the cookbook. It's just a shame I don't have any eye candy to share...