Monday, September 1, 2014

Clean Eating, Part Deux!

My inner fat girl tries to take over and become my outer self pretty much every single day of my life. It's not that hard for me to go to yoga and to the gym to lift, but it is a big struggle for me to not undo all that hard work through a lousy diet. (See my post on food addiction here.) I'm having to retrain my brain a bit that healthy eating is not all about deprivation and discomfort. It's about loving myself and getting smarter about my love for food.

This Labor Day weekend, the challenge is to hang out at the lake house and still eat clean. This will be a bit easier because it will just be me, girl child and mom rather than the entire crew. Let's see how it goes. Call it practice for the next trip or two.

I knew that Mom was planning a spaghetti dinner for Friday night. Challenge accepted.
My mom makes the best meat sauce. Ever. Her secret is to mix ground beef and ground sausage and to add minced garlic at the beginning, middle, and end of cooking. She also adds minced garlic, garlic salt, and butter or oil to the pasta as soon as it is drained. Sometimes I make the pasta fresh. However, in the spirit of getting lean and heart healthy, I just couldn't do it this time. I've been murdering myself at the gym, and it's painful to throw that away on a plate of pasta. So, I got a spaghetti squash, microwaved it, and replaced the buttery pasta with squash. A basic substitution that I am certainly not the first to do, but one that made me feel good and allowed me to have Mom's awesome sauce. Because my mom is awesome sauce.
Another difficultly I have at family gatherings is the snacking. At the lake, we snack and snack and snack, and there's a giant pantry full of all things #badformyass. Clearly, processed chips are a poor choice. However, these quick refrigerator pickles are fantastic for satisfying that craving with minimal calories and as much or as little salt as you choose to put in the brine. I made some fresh ones Friday morning just for this trip and hauled them down with me to share.

I don't water bath or pressure can these because I go through them pretty quickly, and I can't abide a soggy pickle. To make your own pickled okra, cucumbers (get the long English cucumbers individually wrapped in plastic or the short little pickling cucumbers. Regular cucumbers don't hold up as well), or carrots, you just need to make a brine and have some glass jars handy. In a non-reactive pot, combine water, vinegar, pickling or kosher salt (the anti-caking agent in table salt is not so good for pickling) and whatever seasoning you like. You can choose between white or apple cider vinegar (I like white for dill pickling and apple cider for other variations). I like some dill, red pepper flakes, and bay leaves in my standard pickle. You can play around and see what you like: juniper berries, rosemary/thyme, etc.... Heat your brine and stir until the salt dissolves. I like to make a big batch, so in my pot, I combine 6 cups filtered water, 3 cups vinegar, 1/2 cup (or less) pickling salt, and my spices. Heat the brine until the salt is all dissolved and remove from heat.

Your brine can cook your pickles. For a hard veggie like carrots, I add hot brine to soften them a bit. I like a crispy cucumber pickle, so I wait until the brine is room temperature to pour it over the cukes. You can also tuck onion, garlic cloves (they may turn funky colors, but are fine), and hot peppers in with your veggies. You can also use this recipe, minus spices, for jalapeños.

While you wait for your brine to cool, pack your jars. Pack 'em tight so your pickles don't float to the surface. Use glass jars. When your brine is at the desired temp, pour it over the veggies. I let mine sit on the counter, lid off, until they reach room temp before I put the lid on and refrigerate. If you have left over brine, put it in a jar and save it for when you have some veggies that need saving. You can also reuse the brine a few times. When it starts getting cloudy (usually after about three rotations of veggies), throw it out and start over. The point here is that you can make yourself a really fantastic, healthy snack that is super inexpensive and made to your own preferences. I love to keep brine ready to go in the fridge so I can just toss in some veggies and have a brilliant snack or something tart to add to a meal (they're best after they've sat for at least two days).

On to the Saturday night challenge: burgers. Dammit. I love a good burger, and I know there would be big, fluffy buns (don't make rude comments here), tons of cheese, and four varieties of chips. Damn. What to do?

So I made carrot fries. They're actually good! I cut carrots into match sticks, tossed them with 1/2 T. olive oil, two minced garlic cloves, and a pinch of garlic salt. I baked them at 350 for about 15-20 minutes until they were tender. Very garlicky. Yum. 
As for the burger, I went bunless and cheeseless, but I added avocado, pesto, and some mustard with some of my pickles. I didn't even miss the other stuff!
Instead of chips, I went with the carrot fries and some cabbage (I sauteed the cabbage with smoked paprika, garlic salt, white pepper, and apple cider vinegar--lots of flavor!).

Sunday morning breakfast is a serious thing at the lake house, regardless of the holiday. Usually, my dad makes omelets filled with ham, buttery cooked mushrooms, sour cream and cheese served with bacon and/or sausage and English muffins and/or orange rolls. Plus mimosas if we're good girls! Sigh. So here's my take. I fried some eggs with just a light spray of olive oil based non stick spray and tossed some shrimp into the pan as my treat (I pre-seasoned the shrimp with garlic salt and pepper).
I was really hungry, so I had the pan heat a bit high and my eggs got a little browned, but I didn't even care. I ate my shrimp and eggs with last night's carrot fries. YUM.
Beach snacks are always tricky. Usually we raid the pantry and pack all manner of processed salty and sweet things, processed lunch meat sandwiches, soda and booze (on the weekends that girl child is elsewhere). For this trip, Mom and I hard boiled some eggs and took a bottle of Tabasco for seasoning. I mixed some Fage plain, non-fat yogurt with a packet of stevia and a small palmful of chopped mango. It was fantastically crisp and refreshing when we'd been under the sun for a bit. We also made some peanut butter sandwiches on Ezekial bread and took some local honey to drizzle on top. Water and tea instead of soda and one alcoholic drink instead of five. Who knew the beach doesn't really wobble at the end of each trip?
My reward for all my good efforts? On Monday morning, I made my Mom a special breakfast that her mom used to make. Homemade biscuits, sausage and gravy, and eggs scrambled with a bit of bacon grease. This is the cooking that goes back to my roots, and a girl can't live on protein and veggies all the time (85-90% of the time, yes). So here was my Monday yum I shared with my mom and girl child.
I hope that you and yours had a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Gardening, Watermelon Lemon Mint Jelly, and Pickled Watermelon Rind

So, now that I've finished this crazy degree, it seemed like the time to put in a garden. I've half-heartedly yearned for one for years, especially since I started canning. Yearning in earnest this year, and egged on by my apartment-bound best friend who also loves to garden, I finally did it!

This year, the timing really worked out because we had this giant live oak that shaded the whole backyard, and half of it fell over, leaving the bare patch you see below. There was some (minimal) landscaping back here, but between the enormous fallen tree, the guys who cleaned the tree up and the guys who rebuilt the fence, there wasn't much of anything green left. So we decided raised beds were the way to go. We stripped the remaining landscaping and tilled up half the backyard. (Much to my husband's amusement, he came home one day to both of us in cammo cargo short and sports bras, tilling like mad.)
Then we built a compost pile and six 4x8 beds. This may have been overly ambitious, having never had a garden, but whatever. I'm lucky that there wasn't a bunch of grass to kill off, and the soil was in pretty good shape, as the previous owners were organic gardeners.
My best friend took on the task of starting our seedlings at her apartment. While this began as a highly organized endeavor, it didn't end up that way. Between having to restart some seedlings that died and her boyfriend sort of rearranging them, we wound up planting four beds of we-don't-really-know-what-we're-planting-so-SURPRISE! Always an adventure around here. It's been sort of like Christmas around here seeing what's going to sprout up next. I saw a green bell pepper yesterday poking up amongst a bunch of cucumber vine. I didn't even know we had planted bell peppers.
Above is the start of some baby plants: a squash plant  (top left), a stevia plant (top right), and what I later discovered to be watermelon (bottom left). Little did I know that the squash and watermelon would try to take over the WORLD. The below shot is about three weeks later.
Oddly, my squash has approximately one million blossoms on it, I have SEEN bees on it, and yet there was no actual squash happening for the first few months. We needed squash marriage counseling. I watched some You Tubes on how to hand pollinate the squash, but I couldn't find any girl flowers to use the boy flowers on! We have a gay squash. While I'm totally okay with that, I may need to plant a straight one so I can get some squash. However, all the boy flowers have made for some lovely stuffed, fried squash blossoms. UPDATE: 7/10-I found ONE round, green squash growing! And some girl flowers!! 
I also found my first watermelon! It's about the size of a grapefruit, but I'm pretty excited even though it's getting harder and harder to contain the watermelon vine. I've gotten several tomato cages to try to tame the squash and watermelon vines, but they're barely making a dent in all this crazy growth.
This funny fellow is a black Hungarian jalapeno. We have about four of these plants scattered about the beds, and they're very mild. Plus, they look cool. I'm not sure yet what I'll do with these. 

We also planted cherry and heirloom tomatoes (see my post on pickled fried green tomatoes here) and LOTS of rosemary to keep the bugs away. I think I have a cucumber vine (we'll see), AND I discovered a green jalapeno plant (I think). When I graduated last November, my lovely colleagues gave me a pot with rosemary, sage, and thyme, all of which are happily thriving, along with sunflowers (for my honey--he loves to have sunflowers in the house. He has an affinity with Van Gogh, but I'm hoping we can skip the whole ear situation), stevia, three kinds of mint, some purple speckled lima beans, dinosaur kale, strawberries, regular jalapenos, and chives. So kind of a motley collection now that I can identify most of it. 

Good Lord. Some of what we'd planted has withered away (the green beans in particular seemed unable to withstand the full sun). Some is barely limping along (poor basil), and some is going NUTS. However, I'm learning a lot for next year.
Here's a pic of yesterday's harvest. I just went out to clip a few things, no big deal. Then I cut into this watermelon. Holy Moses. If you haven't had juicy watermelon still warm from the sun, you must endeavor to have this experience soon. So I went out and got two more. Then I had a lot of watermelon to deal with. So guess what? Watermelon-Lemon Mint Jelly and Watermelon Rind Pickles happened.

I've seen recipes for watermelon rind pickles in my canning books for a while, but generally, grocery-store bought watermelons don't have enough rind to really work with. You're looking for the green flesh in between the outer skin and the pink part. One of the watermelons I picked was not quite ripe yet and still had quite a lot of rind, so I decided to check out this whole rind pickle situation. Most recipes advise to trim off all the pink, but the pink bit I left on was very firm. 
Cut the rind into whatever size/shape makes you happy.
While this recipe is very loosely based on Liana Krissoff's recipe in Canning for a New Generation, a great cookbook I talked about in this post.  I decided to make refrigerator pickles because I can't abide a soggy pickle. To avoid soggy pickles when processing, you have to use pickling lime and rinse and rinse and rinse it, and I just wasn't that gung-ho today. So I mixed up a brine of three cups white vinegar, three cups filtered water, one course chopped lemon, 1 3/4 cups sugar, a half a handful of whole allspice, one star anise, and one tablespoon of candied ginger. I brought this to a boil until the sugar was melted and added my rind to the mix, stirring the pot off the heat. I covered the pot and left the pickles to marinate overnight.  
The next morning, I removed the anise and allspice, brought the whole thing back up to a boil, and turned off the heat.
Before the second cooking. 
When the mix cooled, I funneled it into a quart jar and popped it in the fridge. These pickles are a really interesting sweet-tart treat! I think they would be great chopped into a salad, served along side something rich that needs some acid to cut it, or with a sandwich. 
On to the jelly. After I had filled a sizable container of watermelon to eat (I'm the only one at home who will), I decided some jelly was in order. I had about 4-5 cups of watermelon that I chopped and put in a sauce pan with two cups of sugar. Let this simmer until the sugar melts and the watermelon starts breaking down. I used a potato masher to help break up the flesh, and that also released a few yellow seeds I had missed so I could fish them out. When the fruit was quite tender, I ran the whole pot of liquid and fruit through the blender (I probably should have let it cool a bit first. I'll be cleaning sticky watermelon goodness off the ceiling for a bit). I added two tablespoons of lemon juice to ensure acidity and 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla to the mix.

Because I am total crap about sticking to recipes, I ordered some ph paper. To make sure a product is safe for water-bath canning, it needs to be at a ph of 4.6 or less. Any higher, and whatever you're canning needs to be pressure canned. Most canning recipes are carefully tested to determine what method needs to be used in the canning process. Because I like to fiddle, I wanted to ensure I wasn't going to poison anyone, especially because I'm fond of giving my canned goods as gifts. So now I go all mad scientist and test any recipes that I don't strictly follow (which is basically never).
When my jelly mix passed the test, I added in three tablespoons of standard pectin, brought it to a boil, reduce the heat, and added in two tablespoons of lemon mint from the garden. I processed this in a water bath for ten minutes. Yum! I'm always a bit tense to see if my jelly will actually set up, but this one did beautifully!

The last part that I saved from my watermelons were the seeds so I don't have to re-buy them next year. You can't plant hybrid watermelon seeds (which is usually what you get with store-bought melons), but mine aren't a hybrid variety. So I saved all the good, plump, black seeds (no cracked or yellow ones), washed them, and let them dry on paper towels. When they were dried, I put them in envelopes and in an airtight jar in the pantry. They're supposed to be viable for up to five years.
I'm really in love with my silly garden, and I'm excited to start planning for next year! Do you garden? What do you grow? What's your favorite thing to grow, whether it's on a patio, in a garden, or in pots in the kitchen window?

Up next, adventures in stevia. My stevia plant is gigantic, and I need to prune it and start preserving it soon!

Recipes follow...

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Pork Belly Smack Down--Happy July 4th!

Happy, happy July 4th! I hope you all had a safe holiday. I'm currently rubbing refrigerated aloe all over myself while I try to rehabilitate my liver, so ours was clearly a good time.

But about the cooking competition: this holiday, my sister and I chose pork belly as our cook-to-the-death ingredient, much to my husband's delight. Up to this point, I'd never cooked pork belly (which is basically a big slab of bacon before it's cured and cut). I went to the Asian market the Wednesday before the lake trip to get a small portion of pork belly to experiment on (again to my husband's delight). It was a total, epic disaster. I tried a couple of different variations of marinating it and scoring the skin and then proceeded to cook them all beyond recognition (poor husband was not so delighted). Charred crackling, anyone? So I was good and truly nervous. I sat down and looked through all my cookbooks, trying to find a different method of preparation. Sadly, all my favorite cookbooks let me down. Is everyone but me just born knowing how to cook a damn pork belly?!?

I was also thinking about the balance of the overall dish. Everyone likes a good mix of creamy, crunchy, sweet, salty, and acidic in a composed dish. I wandered out on Wednesday to water my silly garden while I was thinking this over, and then I spied several green heirloom tomatoes. Aha! I knew then that I wanted to do a fried green tomato, but with a kick.
So I made up a brine of water, apple cider vinegar, rice wine, brown sugar, sea salt, peppercorns, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper, mustard seeds, and fennel seeds. I put everything in a large saucepan and stirred it until the salt and brown sugar melted. I let it cool almost completely before I poured it over my sliced tomatoes so as to not cook them. They still needed to be fairly firm on Friday so I could bread and fry them. I had no idea if this whole pickled fried green tomato thing would work.
But it did! When the rest of the meal was nearly ready, I drained the tomatoes, coated them in flour, dipped them in milk, and then dredged them in a breadcrumb/cornmeal/flour combination before frying them in clarified butter.

But back to the pork belly. After Wednesday's abysmal failure, I had no clue what to do. Thursday rolled around, and it was time to get my groceries, get packed, and head to the lake. I still had no clue how to fix (don't laugh at my vernacular here) a good pork belly! The girl child and I went to Hirsch's Meat Market (a great local butcher shop near Parker and Alma in Plano, if you're a Dallas-ite), along with every other person in DFW who was looking to stock up on meat for the holiday. However, while I stood around for half an hour, waiting for my number to be called, I saw it! The perfect glaze (confirmed by the gentleman in front of me who purchased 25 pounds of ribs, three pounds of liver, and six pounds of tongue. I decided he was a legit source).
Right on. We were in business. So here's how the belly went down. I didn't score the tough skin layered over the fat because that just made a mess, but I did puncture it several times with a sharp knife after I seasoned it with salt and pepper so some of the fat could render out. I heated the biggest pan I could find (as I had a five-pound slab of pork belly) to about medium high, and hefted it, skin side down, into the hot pan to sear and render. Into another deep pan (oven safe with a lid), I poured one quart of chicken stock and added some pepper as well as a handful of fresh thyme and rosemary from the herb garden. While the broth warmed on a medium-low heat, I pulled off the belly when it was dark golden brown. With a great show of strength (see me flexing as I had to use two giant grill forks to move this ridiculous piece of meat?), I wrestled the giant belly into the broth, skin side up, and put it in a 325 degree oven to cook for a little over an hour. When both the fat and meat below were nice and soft, I glazed the skin side with my glaze and took it out to the grill for a last good sear to crisp up the skin. (You could also do this under the broiler). Let it rest for about 10 minutes or so before serving.
While the pork belly was cooking, I made some cheesy mashed potatoes. Nothing fancy. I just peeled and cut five baking potatoes, put them in a big pot of cold water, and brought it to a gentle boil until I could easily pierce them with a fork. Drain and put them back over the heat, shaking the pot, to burn off any excess water that will make your potatoes watery. I added about 4 T. of butter, 1T of sea salt, 2/3 cup heavy cream, 1/3 cup milk, and 1/2 cup chunked up cheddar cheese. As I added these ingredients, I tasted a lot to see if I liked the level of creamy/salty/cheesy. Keep in mind that the pork belly and tomato will have an element of salt as well, so don't over salt.

To really appreciate the final product, you had to get a bite with potatoes, pork belly, and tomato all together. It actually worked out really well, much my shock.

My fabulous competitor, my sister, made pulled pork belly tacos (with an agave nectar glaze) served with grilled pineapple and poblano peppers. YUM! Her dish was way prettier than mine.
By a very narrow margin, I won our fourth of July competition, which was a delightful mess. We (my spouse, sister and BIL, mom, daughter, and about ten friends) all spent the day at the lake (on the beach, not the boat. I hate taking the boat out on holiday weekends) eating bratwursts, drinking beer, and floating. We trooped into the house crazy hungry, sunburnt to a crisp, with sand in all our crevices, and proceeded to cook for two hours. Madness. But fun madness. I'm very grateful to live in a place where I can spend the day on the water with friends and family. Happy birthday, America! Or, as my friend Bloody Gaga says, 'Murica. And she says it while wearing a trucker hat with 'Murica airbrushed on it, gold hot pants, and while embracing an Elvis impersonator who smells of Axe, but that is another story....

Recipes follow the break here...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Clean Eating, OhFeelYa Style...

Hello there! I've missed you all dreadfully, but it's been a crazy May/June. I'm teaching a ton right now, drowning in the grading, and gearing up to start as chair of my department at school in July. Also, I've retired from derby and needed a new hobby. My best friend and I started lifting weights about five days a week six weeks ago. It really seemed like a waste to eat a lot of crap and then go sweat for hours at the gym, so I had to revise my food plan a little bit. None of this is really revolutionary, but I thought I'd post about it anyway because it's pretty revolutionary for me. And it's all nice and light for summer.
Courtesy of my sweet sister. Swoon, Leonardo.
First off is sautéed shrimp and broccoli with sriracha. I love the ease of this one. I got a giant bag of cooked, frozen shrimp at Trader Joe's. In the morning, I put a handful of shrimp in a bowl in the fridge to thaw for the evening. I also usually get two heads of organic broccoli and steam it all at once and eat on it for the week. So I get a skillet hot (about medium), drizzle a tiny bit of sesame oil in it, and then add the shrimp, broccoli, garlic salt, Mrs. Dash, and some sesame seeds. Just toss it around until everything is hot, drizzle with sriracha, and serve with a side of cottage cheese. Yum!
Here's a variation with carrots and cauliflower with some kalamata olives on the side. 
I love any kind of lean red meat. And to be honest, not-so-lean red meat. This is some filet from a local ranch. I marinated it in red wine, crushed garlic cloves, rosemary, salt and pepper. To cook, I just seared it off on a high heat on both sides, turned the heat down, and put a lid on it for a few minutes. Season and let it rest before you cut it up. I layered it over fresh spinach, alfalfa sprouts a friend grew for me, avocado, and drizzled it with balsamic vinegar. Served with black-eyed peas and green beans. 
This is one of my favorites. It's a turkey loin from Trader Joe's. I marinated it in crushed garlic, white wine, salt, pepper, sage, and thyme. I seared it off all the way around on a med-high heat, covered it in turkey broth I made and canned from the Thanksgiving turkey, and let it simmer until cooked through. You really don't want to overcook the turkey loin. While it rested, I chopped some garlic, olives (green and kalamata), and sun-dried tomatoes and sautéed them in a little olive oil. Served with steamed asparagus. I love the salty tomatoes and olives with this mild-flavored meat. Turkey loin is surprisingly moist if not overcooked. I apologize for my fancy china; I frequently just help both mine and the girl child's dinner onto her plastic ware.  

Below are some of my favorite snacks. Tuna fish with Tabasco sauce and edamame. Yum! 

Steamed broccoli and cottage cheese. I'm sort of obsessed with cottage cheese right now. Large curd. Small curd is weird.
I saved my favorite for further down this list. Below is turkey (I know processed lunch meat sucks, but I did get the organic, nitrate-free kind, so cut me some slack, okay? Eating right is really hard) spread with some homemade sriracha humus (you can easily make this with store-bought plain hummus mixed with as much sriracha as you like if you don't want to really make humus all the way from scratch), avocado, and alfalfa sprouts. Roll it up, and you will be the envy of your office break room. Served with strawberries from my garden! 
I love fish. A lot. I should eat more of it. Below is cod with a tiny sprinkle of breadcrumbs, seared quickly in a little coconut oil with lots of lemon juice. Steamed broccoli and summer squash with Mrs. Dash as a side.

I have also discovered the joy that is ground bison. I get it at the Natural Grocer's, and it's really good mixed with anything. This is not a pretty picture below, I will warn you. When I'm less tired, I make bison meatballs, and they're prettier. However, tonight I was starving, so I just chunked it up in the pan and ate it with black quinoa and steamed carrots and edamame. I mix the bison with some chopped garlic, garlic salt, and Worcestershire sauce before I make it into meatballs or cook it. Btw, if you have a rice cooker (I couldn't live without mine--all this on the blog, and I CANNOT COOK RICE), it will steam quinoa perfectly for you.  

I'm surprised at how much I'm enjoying both the weight lifting and the clean eating. I usually eat a piece of Ezekial bread with organic peanut butter on it from the Natural Grocer's before I hit the gym, a protein shake after, two meals like what is pictured above with a snack or a protein bar in between somewhere. I eat two cheat meals a week, and my God, are they glorious, but otherwise I avoid fast food and processed flour and sugar. This is a pretty different way of living for me, but I'm kind of liking it. And I'm getting over my aversion to vegetables.

I would love to know what you all eat when you're working out a lot! It's so easy to get stuck in a rut. I hope this has given you some ideas, and I'd love some in return!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

OhFeelYa's Easy...Dinners--Lamb Chops and Sauteed Bok Choy, Cabbage, and Leeks

OhFeelYa's still here, and still easy (just kidding, Mom!). Still full of easy dinner ideas. Now that we've made it through the great winter of pork and potatoes, I'm trying to get more veggies in around here. My silly husband, who would attend the Church of Bacon if such a thing existed, is also a great lover of lamb. I got these pretty little chops last Saturday from a vendor at the Chestnut Square Farmer's Market in McKinney, Texas, but you could use beef fillet or pork chops or something similar . Btw, the farmer's markets are open again! Please go support your local farmers and meat producers! (Just make sure you ask each vendor where the produce comes from and if chemicals are used.)

Anyway, I was in a hurry this week, so the lamb just got sprinkled with a little salt, a lot of pepper, and allowed to sit out for a minute to take the chill off.

While the lamb was warming up a little bit (I think it browns more evenly when it's closer to room temp), I hunted around in the veggie drawer to see what needed to be used. I had a leek and three perfect little bok choy as well as the heel of a head of purple cabbage (the rest was sacrificed to the fish taco gods a couple of days ago). I chopped it all up, along with a couple of cloves of garlic, and put the leek and cabbage into some bacon grease with salt and pepper to cook down a bit. I waited to add the bok choy because I just wanted it wilt a bit, not turn into mush.

So here's another something I learned in the last six months or so about searing meat especially: let your pan get HOT. I've always been a bit scared of overheating the pan, and because of that, I never really got a good sear on anything, much to my husband's chagrin (he enjoys his meat blackened on the exterior and basically raw on the interior). Don't fear the hot pan. It's your friend. I put the pan over medium heat, let it get good and hot, and then I added ghee for the lamb to cook in. As soon as the ghee melted, I tossed in the lamb chops. Since my espoused likes his lamb with a dark sear but still quite rare, so I keep my heat in the medium/medium-high range. Flip the lamb when it's brown enough, and keep a close eye on it. If you want to cook it a bit, turn the heat down when you flip it.

While the lamb rested, I added a bit less than 1/4 cup of cider vinegar to the cabbage mix, tossed in the bok choy, and put a lid on that pan. The great thing about this veggie recipe is that it's good with cabbage and onion, brussel sprouts, and other greens. A tiny bit of bacon grease does add great flavor, but you could easily use your favorite oil or shortening and a sprinkle of smoked salt to get the desired effect. (Go easy on the smoked salt. It's potent stuff.)

Attempted pretty picture (I'm not awesome at plating).

I try to take pretty pictures for you all. Really. Sometimes it works out, sometimes not so much. I thought I'd try to take a pic of a normal portion, and it's so-so. However, the picture below, of what my husband actually ate, actually turned out better.
What this basketball-sized plate really looked like just before my hubby ran off with it.
If I could just get him to let me leave out the bacon grease, this is a reasonably decent meal, health-wise (if you only eat half of the amount in this picture). So it's easy to do something different for dinner, get your veggies in, and clean out that veggie drawer. 

Recipe is after the break...

Friday, April 4, 2014

Foodie Confessions...

So, since this is a food blog, I sort of feel compelled to report on all the parts of my life touched by food. Goodness knows, I love me some food. If you've met me, the food-lovin' evidence is pretty clear. I'm big(ish) and beautiful, for sure. I'm a size twelve, I do yoga about four times a week, and I skate regularly.
My and my niece, Christmas the Giant Bunny
I've spent my entire adult life having, like lots of other folks, a complex relationship with food. I love it. I hate it. I think about it a lot. It's my solace, my friend. It's my worst enemy some days. It's a great creative outlet. It's my addiction.

People in our country don't want to hear about food addiction. I've heard it said that it is less shameful in America to have a heroin addiction than it is to be fat. I've seen my own students express sympathy for an alcoholic in one moment and, in the next breath, express distain for a overweight individual, not seeing any similarity between the two. However, research has shown that some elements of food can trigger a similar response in the brain that opiates do. That sucks a lot if you have an addictive personality.

I never really understood why drug addicts and alcoholics couldn't "suck it up" and "exert some will power" regarding their addictions until I found myself binging on fast food in my car week after week about seven years ago. Immediately, self-loathing would set in, and I would promise on everything sacred that it was the last time I would hide out and overeat. I'd never do it again. Less than twelve hours later (sometimes more like two), I'd find myself back in the same place, hating, hating, hating the food and myself and everyone and everything while I ate.  I was worse than any drunk who just can't stay away from the bar.

Food is super weird. You can't quit it cold turkey. You can't avoid places that serve it. If you have struggles with it, you still have to deal with it every day, multiple times a day.

Around Christmas time that year, I just couldn't take it anymore. I was researching food addiction on the Internet when I came across the website for Overeaters Anonymous. I stumbled into my very first Twelve-Step meeting a few days later, sobbing that no one was going to love my fat ass ever again, and I fell into the best place I've ever been. The last seven years have been up and down for me with my food issues, but I've made some progress, and I've never, ever felt as miserable and alone again as I did that Christmas.
I know a lot of folks are skeptical about food addiction. Even more are skeptical of Twelve Step programs. I'm not here to lecture about the validity of either. They're real to me, but everyone else has to make an individual judgment call. I'm not even here to get on my soap box about body image and American culture, though God knows someone desperately needs to. I just really want to speak to other people like me out there. If you feel hopeless, helpless, utterly disgusting and out of control (and this applies to anorexics and bulimics as well), you're not alone. There are a lot of folks out there just like you, and there are many places you can go for help and support.

I'm going to keep writing about food, some of it healthy and some of it decadent, because it gives me pleasure to do so. But please know that people who seem to joyfully relate to food don't necessarily do so easily, and not all people who struggle with weight are just lazy. I guess I really just want to say that if you have a less-than-healthy relationship with food, I get it.

I swear I will finish the kimchi post soon. It was damn good.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Economical Kitchen--Strawberries and Muffins to Make You Swoon

The strawberries are so pretty at the store right now; I cannot resist them. (One thing I try to always buy organic is strawberries. They are one of the most heavily chemical-laden fruit available. See this link to an NPR story about California strawberries.) However, I wound up with a surplus of fruit last week, and my girl-child was in a rabid banana phase, so I wanted to preserve my strawberries. I love, love, love dehydrated strawberries. The dehydration process makes their tart/sweet flavor even more pronounced. So I cut them into even pieces and dehydrated them. Depending on how thick you cut your slices, they can dehydrate quickly, so keep an eye on them. Chunkier slices will make a more gummy-bear sort of consistency, and very thin slices will become almost like paper. I like a happy medium. When they were done, I bagged them and put them in the freezer. They can last for up to a year this way.
But they didn't even last a week in the freezer. I got hungry for Chunky Monkey Muffins. I started making these a long time ago, but haven't made them in a while. When I came up with this recipe, I started with the Oat Bran Muffin recipe from my pink gingham Betty Crocker cookbook. For the record, let's go ahead and clear the air about muffins. They're cake. Period. Just because we put oatmeal and fruit in them and call them breakfast does not make them any less cake-y. Check out the sugar content on that Starbuck's blueberry crumble muffin. I dare you. 

I, however, like cake for breakfast. But I don't want to feel crappy about it. So I worked out a recipe for really toothsome, chunky muffins with low sugar that can easily be made vegan.  
For the Chunky Monkey, I mix 3/4 cup instant oats (if you want to use steel cut or old-fashioned, just soak them in hot water until they're softened up a bit before you proceed) and 1/4 cup hemp hearts with 3/4 cup whole wheat flour and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Throw in 1/4 t. of salt. To the dry mix, I add 2 t. baking powder, 1/2 t. baking soda, and two packets of Stevia. You can sub in any sweetener you like or you can add extra honey below. Mix well.  
Here's the chunky part. I added about 1/4 cup blueberries because they needed to be eaten, 3/4 cup dried strawberries, 1/4 cup shredded coconut, and about 1/3 cup walnuts.At this point, my muffins are really just fruit and nuts held together by a little muffin.
In a small bowl, I combined 1/2 cup buttermilk, 2T. oil, 1/4 cup honey (you can also use maple syrup or agave nectar or whatever you're into), 1 single serving container of no sugar added applesauce (about 4 oz.), an egg, and 1 t. vanilla. Combine gently until all the flour is moistened. Don't overmix, but get it all wet. This will be a pretty thick batter.
Grease your muffin tin. This recipe makes enough for 9 medium-sized muffins. I fill the cups all the way up. I always fill the remaining cups with water to add moisture to the baking environment. Bake at 350 for about 14-15 minutes. You don't want to overdo these, as the oatmeal and whole-wheat flour will dry out quickly. However, if you catch them just at the right moment (when the knife tip comes out with just a smidge of batter on it), they're warm and soft and full of texture. They're not pretty, but they taste great and aren't too shabby for you. I have also made these with rice milk instead of buttermilk and Ener-G egg replacement for a lower calorie, vegan version. If you go this route, add a bit more applesauce and oil for moisture. I love to use organic coconut or grapeseed oil in these.
These muffins are rad because they're so versatile. Add dried bananas, slivered almonds, pumpkin or chia seeds, or my favorite, dried cherries. The recipe is after the break!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Where the Magic (and Many Disasters) Happen

I know after I've been reading a food blog for a while, I'm always interested to see what the blogger's kitchen looks like. That bit of visual evidence into someone's home seems to make the whole blog-reading experience a bit more personal. So, for fun, I thought I'd take some pictures of my work space and favorite tools for anyone who's interested. And if you're not, just sod off and read the previous/next cooking post. Kidding. Sort of.

I live in a smallish house in a Dallas suburb. While my home is sometimes referred to as "The Little Cottage in the Barrio" or as "The House of Weird" (largely due to the welcome mat that reads, "LEAVE," the two full rooms of books, and/or the five nutty animals we live with), I love my little place.

My kitchen is still waiting for an overhaul, but here it is as of now. I never thought I'd be that woman with a kitchen full of chicken paraphernalia, but when my granny Pauline died just after my daughter was born, I inherited a ceramic chicken from her kitchen. Not too long after that, I wound up with some chickens from my maternal grandmother's kitchen, and then yet another few from my great-grandmother's place after she went on to go terrorize angels or whatever feisty, old women do after they die. So now I'm that girl with a kitchen full of cocks, which would amuse some, but not all, of my grannies. 
OhFeelYa's Kitchen
While my kitchen itself is good sized because it's combined with the dining area, I don't have a lot of counter or cabinet space. My mom bought me my little island when we first moved in as a housewarming gift. I don't know how I would function without it.If you're desperate for more counter space and have even a small bit of room in the middle of the kitchen, I recommend the island as a great way to increase storage and counters.

The dining half of the kitchen area.
I love my kitchen because it has a lot of family things in it. My chickens (my husband even came with a kitchen chicken when he moved in!) all have history, my granny's breakfast cart, china cabinet, and china are in here, and the art hanging on the walls was done by my late father-in-law, a crazy, lovely Italian man who passed down many recipes to me and was twice the cook I'll ever be.

As for things I can't live without, I give you The Vitamix! This was a graduation/Christmas gift from my husband, who still shakes his head when I ask for kitchen gadgets for holidays. What's not romantic about a Vitamix, I ask you?!? While I love it the most for morning smoothies (remember all those bananas I froze in this post?), Marissa at Food in Jars uses hers for a wonderful-looking whole-wheat crepe recipe.
Canning Shelf
Recently, I cleaned out my tiny pantry to make more room for the items that are important to me. I was shocked at how much crappy food had expired while I was working on moving my family more towards slow food. I was able to condense my packaged food items onto one shelf, and that freed up one shelf for canning items and one for items that were shoved in a corner cabinet that never got used because they sucked so much to get to. Hurray! Above, in the canning shelf picture, is (left to right) about four rows of canned jelly, jam, marmalade, jalapenos, and chicken stock with my baggie of lids tossed on top. I'm always looking for jars at thrift shops and discount stores, so some of the extras are up here as well. On the right are the jar tongs. If you ever decide to do some canning, I would highly recommend these rubber-coated tongs for moving jars in and out of boiling water. I learned this the hard way when I tried to use the metal grill tongs. It was a sad, sad day at Ofy's that day.
 This collection of microplanes is my next favorite group of tools. Bless my parents for showering me with microplanes this year at Christmas. I had been struggling along with this one below from Williams Sonoma (which was only of ANY USE when used on something quite hard, like nutmeg but otherwise just made me mad). 
 My dad has a set of the Microplane brand trio (all four above) at the lake, and I swooned over them every time I was there until he finally got me my own. Thanks, Dad. Whether you're trying to zest citrus, or grate cheese or ginger or a hard spice like nutmeg or cinnamon, these are amazing. One good thing about them is that they can be purchased separately. I would recommend the red-handled one as a staple in any kitchen, as it is small enough to zest and do spices but also works perfectly on parmesan cheese.  The yellow-handled one is my favorite for soft cheeses.

In Williams Sonoma's favor, however, is the fact that they brought back the ebelskiver (sometimes spelt with an "a" at the beginning), the Danish pancake pan. I really love this pan because you can do  quite a lot with these little round pancakes. I like them because I always have jars of jelly and marmalade that need using, so I can make jelly-filled pancakes or put some blueberries in the center and top with Orange-Saffron syrup. You have not eaten until you have a Nutella-stuffed pancake with a dab of clotted cream and warmed orange marmalade on top. You can also do tiny quiches in this pan. Just pour in your egg mix, let it begin to set around the bottom, and then put your filling in the middle of the ball (cheese, veggies, etc...). My husband is a fan of the savory stuffed pancake. I'll leave the sugar out of my pancake batter, sub in some black pepper and thyme, and stuff them with pulled pork. Or, he loves the maple-bacon-jalepeno stuffed version as well. There are entire cookbooks dedicated to the noble ebelskiver, and a handy post from The Reluctant Gourmet here.

While I have a great many kitchen gadgets due to the love, support, and gift cards of my friends and family, nothing is quite as handy as my pressure cooker. (I will not show you a picture of the storage unit in the garage that houses my larger gadgets and an enormous spangled drinking cup with "bitch" spelled out in rhinestones--don't ask. That cabinet is stuffed to the gills.) My mom didn't cook with a pressure cooker when I was growing up, as she had seen her own mother blow up the pressure cooker a time or two and developed a healthy fear of them as a result. However, today's versions have more safeguards than our grandmothers' did. This one is a Duo brand that I got at Sur La Table a couple of years ago. I love this set because it comes with two different sized pans, which is important because your pressure cooker needs to be about 2/3 full to cook properly. It also comes with a regular lid in addition to the pressure-cooker lid so the pots are really functional. I love this cooker because like most cookers today, it is mechanized so that you can't open it until the pressure has released sufficiently. The gauge will tell you when it's ready. The pressure cooker is like magic. Anything you cook in the crockpot or oven for a long time can be done in about 1/3-1/2 the time in the pressure cooker (just don't do rice or things that expand really fast). It's awesome for beans because I nearly always forget to soak my dried beans overnight for cooking the next day. The blog at Hip Pressure Cooking has recipes for days.

What is in your kitchen that you can't live without?