Monday, January 30, 2012

Dark Days Challenge Week 10: Italian Sausages with Red Onion Gravy

Who doesn't love sausages?

Especially when they're from a local farm that sells meat pasture-raised pigs. It's hard to tell they're sausages in this picture because of the creamy, tangy red onion gravy hiding them. Mama like these.

I made the potatoes and the Hubs made the sausages. The potatoes are from Preston County, and have a little bit of olive oil, kosher salt and dried thyme on them. The sausages are from Sandy Creek Farm in Ravenswood, WV. The onions weren't local, but were organic. The gravy was made from a little bit of flour from Reeds Mill Flours in Monroe County, the sausage grease, of course, and some turkey stock from my Thanksgiving Tom, which came from Almost Heaven Farm in Monroe County.

Dinner was that easy. And this recipe's a keeper.

Dark Days Challenge Week 9: 11th-hour breakfast and dinner

I was super-busy at work last week. The last few weeks of February and the first few weeks of March are the busiest of the year at my job. If last week was any indication of how things will go from here on out, it's going to be a long couple months.

All week, I just didn't have time to put a proper dinner on the table. But Sunday rolled around and I had all day long to do absolutely nothing. And it was delicious! I stayed in my PJs until noon and read the Sunday paper and drank coffee and watched tv with the Hubs.

I knew I was running out of time for making a Dark Days meal, so I made an effort to put something together for breakfast on Sunday morning. I made tomato gravy, which is something I make from time to time, and I used it for a Dark Days meal last year.

But this time, to make sure it was truly SOLE, I "tried" to make my own biscuits. I hate to admit it, but I usually serve the frozen Pilsbury Grands since they are exponentially better than mine. But I recently read that they have some obscene amount of trans fat in them. So I'm not buying anymore.

My biscuits weren't too bad for covering with gravy. But they weren't pretty, and they didn't really rise that much. I know my lack of biscuit making prowess is an embarrassment to West Virginia women across the state, but I'm gonna get it eventually. That and gnocchi. And homemade cheese. Three things that I just can't make. I think I need a new recipe. The one I use out of my Betty Crocker Bridal Edition is too wet, once mixed up.

If you've never had tomato gravy, don't delay any longer. It. Is. The. Bomb. Here is the link to the recipe when I used it as a Dark Days meal last year. For the gravy, I used bacon from Sandy Creek Farm in Ravenswood, WV, flour from Reeds Mill Flours in Monroe County, tomatoes that I canned last summer that were bought from Crihfield Farms in Jackson County, and milk from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA. It also had some sugar in it that was Florida Crystals Organic Cane Sugar. The biscuits had flour, milk, baking powder, and shortening in them. The shortening was just plain ol' Crisco.

When dinner time rolled around, since it was Sunday, we made fettucini alfredo. I like to do something a little decadent and hearty when we make dinner on the weekends. It's the weekend afterall. Time to enjoy your meals and be a little more leisurely than through the week.

But this wasn't any fettucini alfredo, it was "True Fettucini Alfredo" from my Spendid Table How to Eat Supper cookbook. It was so good. The Hubs clocked us. Once the plates were put on the table, they were clean in 7 minutes. I'm not even kidding.

As we were eating, I realized, I could count this as a Dark Days meal, too. The pasta is homemade from flour from Reeds Mill Flours, with an egg from Cozy Hollow Farm in Monroe County. The sauce was so simple. It was a few tablespoons of butter that was Organic Valley Pasture Butter, half and half from Homestead Creamery and a little bit of shredded parmesean cheese. I can't remember what brand it was, but it was an artisan label. It was so creamy with a little saltiness from the cheese. It was probably the best fettucini alfredo I've ever had. That's not saying much though. The ubiquitous restaurant menu offering is always a little subpar. Although, the Hubs said it was the best because "it was made with love." Har har har.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Join in the Effort for Free Advertising for Healthy Snacks

Big food corporations spend $10 to 15 BILLION annually marketing junk food to kids their products.

The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotions, the agency responsible for marketing, had a total annual budget of $6.5 million in 2010.

As one of their marketing iniatives, held a video contest to promote healthy snacks that would fall in line with the recommendations to make half your plate fruits and veggies. The plan was to use the video throughout the next couple years as a commercial of sorts for healthy snacks. But, with funding running out, it looks like this could turn into one of those great ideas that never really comes to fruition.

So, I thought it would be a great idea to get the commercial some "air time" for free via social media. I just "liked" it on my facebook account, and I tweeted it, too. I would encourage everyone to do the same. It's quick and easy, and the more people who see the ad, the better.
Below is the winning video:

Here is the story in which I first read about the video.

And here's the homepage for the video contest, where you can "like" the video on facebook and tweet it directly. It only takes a few seconds of your time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dark Days Challenge One-Pot Challenge: Borscht

Here's a disclaimer: I've never made borscht before. Nor, have I ever eaten borscht before tonight. But, what I made was actually pretty good.

Somehow, I stumbled on this show one day. It's been called the Russian "Jersey Shore." Sometimes reality tv can be so delicious and addicting. And then, I decided I needed to try to make borscht.

Borscht is a stew with beets as the star ingredient. For the record, I don't like beets that well. But, after my curiosity was piqued, I had to soldier on and make it. According to wikipedia, it grew from the scraps of cellared and winter vegetables. One of the reasons I love it now. The people who made it were feeding their families something very delicious from something that would otherwise be thrown out. Its common not just in Russian, but throughout Eastern Europe, with each country putting its own spin on the recipe.

I found a basic recipe. Since I've never made it or had it before, I figured it was best to stay simple. And this one was crazy-easy.

Classic Russian Borscht

1 cup cabbage, chopped
2 cups potatoes, diced
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
3 Tb butter
salt and pepper
2 quarts venison stock
1 1/2 cups pureed tomatoes
1/2 cup of juice from canned beets
1 cups of pickled beets, chopped roughly
1 Tbsp cider vinegar
dill and sour cream for serving

In a large pot, melt butter and lightly saute cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions until vegetables begin to get tender, approximately 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add stock, tomatoes and beet juice. Adjust seasoning. Cover and simmer over low heat until vegetables are soft, approximately 15-20 minutes. Add the chopped beets and vinegar. Taste for seasoning. Simmer a few more minutes. Remove from heat. Serve immediately and garnish with a dollup of sour cream and sprinkle with dried dill.

I added a Tb of butter/flour roux at the end to give it just a little body. It would have been great with a big hunk of crusty rustic bread. And, for someone who isn't crazy about beets, it was actually pretty good. The beet flavor wasn't overpowering. It was hearty and slightly tart from the vinegar and pickled beets. That worked really well since the stock was so rich. I would definitely make it again.

The cabbage and carrots were organic, but not local. The potatoes, were from Preston County, WV. The tomatoes were what I canned last summer, bought from Crihfield Farms at the Capitol Market. The venison stock was from bones from a deer Jeremy killed this fall. Someone canned the beets and gave them to us, although neither Jeremy or me can remember who it was. The sour cream was natural sour cream from Kroger.
The recipe called for beef stock, but in addition to the recipe itself, making venison stock was an experiment, too. A few months ago, I read about making stock by roasting venison bones on Susy's blog. I am CONSTANTLY telling the Hubs that I want to figure out how to throw away less of the deer he kills in the fall. Seems like such a waste to throw away the rest of the deer after you cut out the hams and tenderloin. He brought home the hams, and after we cut the bones away and put the meat in the freezer, I threw the ham bones in a baking pan with some water and salt and pepper. I roasted it for about an hour at 300 degrees. Then, I put them in the freezer for about 3 weeks, although this isn't necessary. I just didn't have time to do anything with them then. So, last night, I got them out and put them in my crockpot for 24 hours. With a BUNCH  of seasonings. I was afraid the stock would taste like deer meat, so I went heavy on the seasoning. But when it was done, it was mellow and surprisingly rich. Venison is so lean, but I was shocked how much fat came out in this stock. A lot. But fat is flavor, so I rolled with it. The crockpot is my favorite way to make stock since you can keep the temperature steady so easily and there's no need to really check it so often if its in the crockpot. I heard on Martha Stewart Radio on Sirius recently that the low setting on a crockpot is actually around 180 degrees, and high is around 300. So, when I make stock in the crockpot, I put some bones and water or maybe a splash of white wine on low for 24 hours with some seasonings. If the liquid is getting low, I add more water. The only problem is, my crockpot only makes about 2 quarts of stock when you put a bunch of bones in it. My mom bought a big countertop roaster this fall for Thanksgiving, and I'm thinking of trying a batch in it so I can get more.

Dark Days Challenge Week 8: Roasted Chicken and Shallots

I was so hungry last night that I started eating before I remembered to take a picture for my Dark Days post.

So here's a picture of my half-eaten dinner. But I did pretty it up a bit with Instagram effects.

I made Roasted Chicken with Shallots from Martha Stewart Living. I made this recipe a long time ago when the Hubs and I lived in the townhouse we rented when first got married before we bought our house. I don't know why that detail sticks out to me, but it does. I wasn't crazy about that townhouse at the time. It was TINY. And everything in it was dated. The oven was so old. But looking back on it now, it was a very happy time in our lives. The landlord let me paint the whole place as long as the colors I chose weren't obnoxious, and I fixed the place up quite a bit. And, we'd just gotten married, so I had lots of wedding gifts to "set up house" with. That was a lot of fun.

I remember this recipe being crazy good when I made it before. I believe I made it when my sister- and brother-in-law came over for dinner one evening. They used to live near us in a slightly larger rented townhouse before they had children and we've take turns making dinner for the four of us.

But, I guess that's the thing about really good food. The memories it can trigger always are so vivid.

I made this roasted chicken with chicken legs and thighs from Almost Heaven Farm that I bought at the Monroe Farm Market. The Shallots weren't local, but they were Melissa's brand organic. The butter was pasture butter by Organic Valley. I made mashed potatoes with the chicken. The potatoes were from the half bushel I bought earlier in the winter from a farmer I know from Preston County, WV. I used a bit of pasture butter in them with some half and half from Homestead Creamery in Wirtz, VA, and the secret ingredient to my mashed potatoes: a tbsp of sour cream, which was Kroger Brand Natural Sour Cream.

Yesterday was pick-up day for Monroe Farm Market orders. I stopped by the pick-up location on my way home from work to get my order. I always enjoy talking to the people who help with the pick-up. There is a super-nice guy that is a volunteer from here in town that has an amazing mind for detail. He couldn't remember my first name, but he remembered where I was from and where I worked just from snipets of converstation over the past six months since I've been picking up my orders at that location. And they haven't had a pick up since before Christmas. Also, two ladies who are farmers were helping put together the orders. One was a beef farmer and the other a produce farmer. At any rate, the lady who checked outr up before me inadvertantly grabbed the butternut squash I ordered that was on the counter as my order was being assembled. As they were completing my order, we realized that the lady ahead of me must've grabbed the squash with her stuff. I wasn't too phased by it though, no big deal. They refunded the cost of the squash off my order and I was on my way. However, this morning, just as I was leaving for work, there was a knock at my front door. It was the lady who grows the produce with my butternut squash. The lady who paid ahead of me must've brought it back, and before heading back to their farms this morning, they brought it by my house. I thought that was so nice! It shows you what kind of people farmers really are.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Grrr! Blogger!

I can't reply to comments. My apologies to the few of you who have left comments.

Everytime I go to the comment form, the screen locks up. And it's only on those posts that already have a comment on them. On those posts with no comment, I have no problems. Does anyone know what is going on?

I have heard for a while that Wordpress is EXPONENTIALLY better than Blogger, but I've been happy with using blogger. I do like reading blogs better on Wordpress. The layouts seem more reader-friendly. But there's nothing wrong with Blogger's layouts either. I looked into switching to Wordpress one time, but I read somewhere about the difficulty of getting all of the content transferred over. I'm not that html/webpage-creating savy to begin with. That seemed a little daunting for me. But maybe it's time? Unless there's an easy fix.

If you have knowledge, please leave a comment, but don't be offended if I don't respond...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Eating by the numbers

The Hubs and I have state employee health insurance, and once a year, we have the opportunity to have some bloodwork done as part of an annual wellness screening.
Before the holidays, I got my numbers back, and as it turns out, I'm healthier than I was last year, and then I was healthier than I was two years ago. Yay!

Jeremy had his screening last week, and he gets the prize for the most dramatic improvement. Last year, his blood pressure was super-high. Like, the lady taking it said she'd wait 20 minutes and take it again because she figured it was just high from having blood drawn. Well, she waited and took it again and decided to go with the first reading since it was better than the second. She said he might need to see a doctor about going on medication if it didn't improve soon. This year, though, it's normal. High-normal, but nonetheless, it's below the cut off for high blood pressure.

The kicker is that we're eating more bacon grease and milk fat than we ever have. Yes, you heard me right. I love me some bacon grease, and I'm not shy about using it. And I switched to pastured (pasture-raised, no to be confused with Pasteurized) full fat dairy, save for milk, and there I switched to 2%. I even buy half and half for my coffee now instead of non-dairy creamer. And I exclusively use real butter from grass-fed cows.

So, how's it possible that we're getting healthier, from year to year, as opposed to unhealthier?

I'm asking myself the same thing. But I just finished reading Nina Planck's book Real Food: What to Eat and Why, I'm thinking that my body could be responding to the real food I'm eating and an absence of processed food in my diet.

It's been about three years since I became what I call a "conscientious eater." I TRY to eat according to the seasons, locally and sustainably for the most part. It's a lifestyle change. I read Barbara Kingsolver's Animal Vegetable Miracle, which was my watershed moment. Then, I watched the movie "Food, Inc." and it changed my life forever.

First, I should tell you what my diet was like before three years ago. I wasn't hooked on twinkies or fast food or anything crazy like that. I was pretty health-conscious, but I think I just had it all wrong. I grew up in the Eighties, and rode the low fat and fat free wave through my teen years. My senior year of high school, my typical lunch was a diet coke and a snack-size bag of low fat animal crackers.

My mom is a nurse, and she cooked healthy meals, which we ate as a family at the dinner table just about every night. But back then, the conventional wisdom was to avoid saturated fat. Red meat was bad, and butter was pure evil. We did have sweet treats from time to time, but junkfood wasn't something that was a mainstay in our kitchen. My parents drank diet pop, and my mom didn't buy "the kids" regular pop. I started drinking diet pop when I was a kid since that is what was around the house.

When I moved out to go to college and started shopping for myself, my grocery cart looked a lot like what I had been eating all my life: skim milk, low-fat cheeses, frozen boneless skinless chicken breasts, canned soups and frozen "lean cuisines", and diet pop. I rarely bought red meat or full-fat dairy and never real butter. I opted for turkey bacon, turkey sausage and ground turkey burger, because I thought it was a healthier option than the real products. I also used egg beaters instead of real eggs.

After I read more and more about food policy and really took an interest in where my food comes from, I slowly started switching over. I stopped buying meat at the grocery store and started buying from the farmers market. I stopped buying processed "convenience" food at the grocery store, and started coming up with ways to make as much of my food as I can by myself. Of course I enjoy cooking, so I see it as kind of a fun challenge. I've made my own pasta, bread, granola, baked goods, and waffles. I grow plenty of vegetables in my tiny backyard garden for the two of us. I prefer my own salad dressings and sauces to the bottled varieties. The one thing I haven't been able to master is cheese (and I've tried a number of times... It turns into great ricotta cheese, I just can't get the curds to really set up).

The biggest hurdle in my diet has been breaking my diet pop habbit. It's been a little over a year, and it hasn't been easy. That's not to say that I don't have a diet pop occassionally. I do, but the thing of it is now that I don't drink them regularly, is that they just don't taste right to me. I tried to cut out artificial sweeteners (calorie free and the caloric kind) altogether, and I think it has helped me become healthier. I feel better than I used to, anyway. Even if I'm not skinnier, feeling better is good enough.

Now, The Happiness Diet, a book that came out in December, is making some buzz. It's in the same vein as Nina Planck's earlier book: eat red meat and full fat dairy, as long as they're pasture-raised. The benefits of pasture-raised animal protein far outweigh any negative effects of saturated animal fat. And now, more evidence is coming out that the flawed nutrition advice of the 1980s, such as opting for low fat dairy, basing our diets on grains, and avoiding red meat is making us more unhealthy.

Just the other day, I was having a conversation with someone who was telling me that processed food is proabably causing cancer. I agreed, and I realized that the message of the food revolution IS getting out there. Regardless, I'm gonna continue to enjoy my juicy hamburgers, bacon and butter that comes from animals raised on green grass. It tastes better than that crap you buy at the grocery store, and apparently, it's making me healthier, too.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dark Days Challenge Week 7: Asian Fusion

This is one of those really good dinners when you don't exactly follow the recipe and you just sorta wing it, and it is surprisingly delicious. Probably better than if I would have actually followed the recipe.

Said recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Simply In Season. Here's how I changed it up:

Asian Fusion Venison Broccoli Pasta (serves 2)
1/4 cup of water
1/4 cup of soy sauce
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp of sugar (I used Florida Crystals Pure Cane Sugar)
about 1 inch of ginger root, minced
a few shakes of red pepper flakes
1 tsp of cornstarch

Mix together in a bowl and set aside.

About 1 pound of venison tenderloin sliced.
1 Tb canola oil

Tenderize and salt and pepper both sides of tenderloin. Heat oil in a wok and saute venison until its browned, 4 or 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

4 oz of fresh linguini
2 cups of fresh broccoli florets
2 tsp of sesame oil

Bring some water to a boil in a big pot. Add broccoli florets and pasta. Boil until pasta floats to the top (about 3 minutes) and drain well. Add sesame oil to hot pasta. Add pasta to to wok with soy sauce mixture. Reheat until sauce thickens and serve immediately. Garnish with sesame seeds if you like.

I'm making this again. Very soon. I wondered how it would be with steamed rice. But then it wouldn't be Asian fusion, I guess...

This was my Dark Days offering for the week. The main components of the dish: pasta, venison, and broccoli were all SOLE, in addition to sugar and garlic in the sauce.

I usually keep a few batches of frozen pasta dough on hand, but I was out, so I made this pasta tonight. It's much easier to work with when its frozen, actually. I think the freezing process must dry it out a bit, because when it's really fresh like tonight it tears to easily when you're rolling it out, and it's very delicate. I used flour from Reeds Mill Flours and eggs from Cozy Hollow Farm, both in Monroe County, WV. The color of the pasta was absolutely beautiful using some of those super-yellow yolks from pasture-raised chickens.

The venison was the last package from the ones Jeremy killed in 2010, so we really needed to eat it sooner rather than later. The garlic is some of what my mom grew last summer. The broccoli wasn't local, but it was organic. I haven't been able to get any local broccoli. The sugar was organic Florida Crystals Pure Cane sugar.

I am always on the lookout for recipes that call for venison. While you can substitute it for beef in most recipes, the taste is slightly different than conventional beef. Although, I am noticing the taste of venison less and less, though, as we mostly eat grass-fed beef now. There are several recipes in Simply In Season that call for venison specifically. I especially love the recipe for venison meatballs in that cookbook, which I have a link to on the recipe index on this blog. Venison is so lean and high in iron and other essential nutrients, so I love to cook with it. That, and it's generally free for us in a sense, because Jeremy is a hunter. This was a really healthy dinner, according to my LoseIt! app, at 504 calories per serving.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Dark Days Challenge Week 6: Pork Spare Ribs

Tonight I made pork spare ribs and baked potatoes for dinner and it was wonderful!

I've never made pork spare ribs before. But that's the nice thing about eating locally and seaonally. You eat what's available. And what was available, meat-wise, at the Monroe Market was pork spare ribs. On special. And I love a bargain. Even at the farmers market.

I'm no pork expert, but I'm learning. Spare ribs are different from ribs that you get at a BBQ joint. Those are baby back ribs. Spare ribs are from lower on the pig's rib cage and on the belly side, near where bacon comes from, hence the higher fat content. Baby back ribs are from higher in the rib cage and on the back, as the name indicates. Both need very different cooking techniques. I wasn't aware of this when I bought them, and I imagined your typical BBQ rib joint kinda meal when I bought them. But I "bing-ed" (as opposed to "googled", not that I overate...) a recipe for spare ribs and found a handful that had ingredients that I had on hand sourced SOLE. We picked one by Michael Symon, and it was awesome. I, well, Jeremy and I, made them the same way we make beef short ribs, by searing them off first, then putting them in the oven for a couple hours on a slow braise. They were falling off the bone delicious.

I made them with a baked potato from Preston County and we called it done. The ribs were from Little Brown Cow Farm via the Monroe Farm Market. The ribs had a variety of spices on them with onions, which were from Spangler's Greenhouse, also via the Monroe Farm Market, and the ONLY non-SOLE thing in them that wasn't part of my exceptions were 2 Tb of tomato paste. I have some tomatoes canned, which I probably could have used in place of those, but it was just easier to open a can from my pantry that has been there who know's how long. I don't keep tomato paste stocked, but I must've bought it for something and not needed it a while back. It's been there since at least last summer. The potatoes had Kroger-brand natural sour cream and Organic Valley Pasture butter on them.

I notice that several of the pork items are still on "special" on the Monroe Farm Market website, so who knows what I'll order this month. I might learn a new dish--again.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Eating cabbage on New Year's Day

Based on my Facebook feed, a lot of you were eating cabbage and pork on New Year's Day. And writing about it.

It wasn't a tradition we regularly engaged in growing up, but the past few years, either my mom or I have made reuben loaves for New Year's Day. Of course, these are an interpretation of the sandwich, the reuben, which is traditionally corned beef, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and dressing on slices of rye or pumpernickle.

I've never been a huge fan of kraut, but I love reubens and my mom's recipe for reuben loaf, so it was a natural choice for getting that cabbage into a meal on New Year's Day.

My mom has been making this recipe for as long as I can remember. My dad used to be a wrestling coach for the junior high a long time ago. He took the team to a wrestling match and the host school had some refreshments for the teams after the match, and a lady had made these. He loved them and asked her for the recipe. She sent it to him, and my mom has been making it ever since.

2 Loaves of frozen bread dough
1/4 cup of Thousand Island Dressing
1-7 oz. can of corned beef
1/4 lb of swiss cheese (slices)
1-8 oz. can of sauerkraut
1 egg white, beaten
poppy seeds for garnish

Follow the directions to thaw the dough and let it rise. Roll it out to 14 by 10 inches. Spread dressing down the center of each and top with beef, cheese and sauerkraut. Fold the sides of the dough over the top. Cover dough with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray or a damp towel and let rest for 15 minutes. Brush with egg white and top with poppy seeds if desired. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. These can either be baked on a cookie sheet or in loaf pans.

These are probably, better than a reuben. Sometimes there's too much meat or too much kraut on a reuben, and they usually fall apart before you've eating them, making them really messy to eat. I don't promise that these aren't messy, but at least you could eat them with a fork if you wanted. And they are so good left over. Reheat them in the microwave, and the cheese gets all gooey and the meat gets all greasy again and the bread gets chewy. So tasty.

So, you must've heard that, in addition to just eating cabbage on New Year's Day, that you also place a silver dollar in the boiled cabbage. One year, I baked quarters in the reuben loaves since I couldn't find any silver dollars. That was kinda gross actually.

However, eating cabbage on New Year's Day is thought to bring specifically prosperity in the new year, because the cabbage leaves represent paper money. There are a number of food customs for New Year's Day, all with the same idea. In the South, eating black eyed peas is thought to bring good luck, and is served with greens, instead of cabbage, representing money. The Dutch believe eating doughnuts bring good luck on New Year's Day, as the shape, a ring, represents a cycle starting over, or a year coming full-circle.

I'll have to remember that one for next year.