February 2, 2014

The Evolution of a Winning Veggie Chili

It is Super Bowl Sunday. And there are chili recipes flying across the interwebs. I wasn’t planning on writing about the chili that I made overnight for the Youth Group’s Chili Cook Off at church today, but since my chili won second place in the vegetarian category, I thought that maybe it was good enough to share. The only downside is that I really didn’t take any pictures as I wasn’t expecting to blog about it. But I’ll see what I can do!

So, the genesis of this recipe comes from my husband, who mentioned to me that he heard the NPR segment on chili earlier this week, where the secret ingredient was … butternut squash. He knows that I have several bags of squash in the freezer, and thought I might be intrigued with the thought of adding it to the vegetarian chili being made at my daughter’s request. And, yes, she is the Picky Eater. She had no intention of tasting it, but she is very involved in leadership of the Youth Group and was insistent that we had to bring a chili. So who gets tasked with making it? Right. Yours truly.

To get started then, I had to do some research. What was this NPR segment that the husband was talking about?

The story was easy to find – A Surprise Play: Beefy Butternut Squash Chili – but wasn’t going to work for my assignment, as I had been asked to make a vegetarian chili. The internet is my friend, however, and after a bit of searching, I found this recipe – Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili – which also featured butternut squash. From there, my improvisational cooking skills took over – my modifications are in italics.

Ingredients

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced Oops, no celery in the house. I substituted 2 large parsnips, diced
2 carrots, diced 
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bell pepper, diced I used a red bell pepper as that’s what I had in the house
2 tablespoons dark chili powder Used 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon Penzey’s Northwoods Fire Seasoning
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Used ¼ teaspoon of Penzey’s Ground Ancho Chili Pepper
1 (29-ounce) can crushed tomatoes Used diced tomatoes, no salt added
3 (15.5 oz) cans red kidney or black beans, rinsed and drained
Used a bag of dried organic chili beans (red kidney, black, & pinto) from Harris Teeter
12 ounces butternut squash, peeled and diced (about 3 cups)
1 cup vegetable stock
Used about 5 cups of water here, since I was cooking dried beans I needed more liquid

 

NOTE: Sauteing the vegetables before adding them to the slow cooker creates a layer of flavor. Do not skip this step. This is absolutely right. Don’t skip it. Besides, it will make your house smell wonderful!

Heat the oil in a saute pan, then add the onions, carrots and celery
parsnips. Saute for four minutes, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the garlic and bell pepper, stir and saute another 2 minutes. 


Add the spices and cook for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove the pan from heat. 

Add the vegetables and the remaining ingredients to the slow cooker and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for six hours. Well, I cooked on low for 10 hours overnight. About an hour before we headed out to church, we turned it back on to high, added some Penzey’s Zatar seasoning, salt, and a good amount of Sirachi, and let it come back to a slow boil.

So there you go. Our winning chili. Inspired by an NPR story, made with what was in the house.

Of course, it surely helps that we spent last Sunday exploring the wonders of our local Penzey’s store ….

January 19, 2014

Meal Planning = Sanity

I know, I know. This is absolutely not new news for those of you in the blog-o-sphere who meal plan regularly. But I have been unable to meal plan with any regularity. I can’t give you any sort of a good reason why, other than to say that something else always seemed to take priority.

But when I looked at our food expenditures for December – I took a deep breath, and said to myself – “Get it together, girl!”

Parenthetically, I know that December is not the best month to plan for the year on – lots of entertaining, lots of meals out – but it did serve as a wake up call for me.

Couple that with the fact that my family indulged me with a chest freezer … that needed to be filled … and the fact that the next three months are jam-packed with rehearsals for the kids and the DH … and take out for dinner every night was not going to happen, I jumped back into the meal plan mode. I cleaned off the white board (which still had a list of meals on it from September…), and started the week off with a plan.

  • Tacos
  • Sausage, White Bean, and Spinach Soup
  • Homemade Pork Spring Rolls
  • Slow Cooker Chicken and Sweet Potato Curry
  • Shrimp & Grits
  • Pan fried Chicken Cutlets, Spinach, Brown Rice
  • Pasta Bolognese

And you know what? It worked. We ate well last week. There were no discussions about what should we make for dinner tonight. The slow cooker was used twice. Except for one night, we ate dinner at a reasonable hour (for us between 7:30 and 8:30 pm). There were leftovers for lunch. And time for the DH and I to catch up with Game of Thrones.

So, after we got home from the market yesterday, you know what I did? I bet you can guess.

Yup, I made another meal plan. Here’s what’s on the plan this week:

  • Tea Braised Brisket (braising away in the oven as I type)
  • Moroccan Fish Tangine (must use the new tangine pot given to DH as a gift)
  • Red Lentil Dal, Saag Paneer
  • Pork Chops with Red Cabbage & Apples
  • Steak Fajitas
  • Butternut Squash Lasanga

Raise your glass for a toast! Sanity Reigns!

May 27, 2013

It’s All About The Choices You Make

I am a proud customer of Smith Meadows Farm and have been so since we moved back to Arlington in 2002.  Having just finished Forrest Pritchard’s narrative of how he saved his family farm, Smith Meadows, I can’t tell you how glad I am that he made the choices that he did. As a mom of a young man who will be launching into adulthood at James Madison University this fall (and who professes a desire to major in English and Philosophy), I totally understand the less than whole-hearted embracing of his decision to choose the farm over a teaching career by his parents. But he persevered and chose not to embrace his parents’ concerns about the choices he was making. Even when his take home from the market was less than an Andrew Jackson. As his customer, I am thrilled that he had the vision and stubbornness to continue to fulfill his dream. My belly, and the bellies of my family, embrace his choices.

Enough about me though. What about the book? And the farm? And let’s not forget about the meat and the pasta?

The book is wonderful. It draws the reader into a coming-of-age tale, or maybe a conquering hero tale, or a straight up historical narrative about family farming in the USA. I am not the English major in the household. I read, I cook, I spend a lot of time bring local food into my home, and preparing it simply for the family. Gaining Ground reinforced the decisions that I make every week. But while I was reading it, I really just wanted to keep reading it, and hoped that dinner would prepare itself :)! The narrative sings, the writing is lyrical, and brings you into the story as it is lived by “Farmer Forrest” and his family.  There is hardship and sadness but the story is victorious in the end, as I am sure that you all might have imagined simply by the cover!

In addition, the narrative hinges on a decision to move to farmers’ markets close to DC, specifically the Arlington Courthouse Market. As this is the market that we shopped at when we first returned to DC, listening to the description of the behind-the-scenes market culture is priceless. And if readers have been shopping at Courthouse for the past decade or more, I am sure that you will want to read the book simply to see if you can identify who the vendors are that he describes!

Highly recommended – for those of you like me who eat as much grown locally as possible, and especially for those of you who still buy your meat at the grocery store. Stop, read, and reconsider.

May 5, 2013

A Real Food Kind of a Day

I like challenges. My family, not so much. Let’s just say that they indulge me.

This year we decided to have a bag of veggies delivered to our doorstep each Friday from Hometown Harvest instead of buying into a CSA. And Hometown Harvest apparently knows that I like challenges (or maybe it’s just that we ALL like challenges) and have decided to ask their customers to join in with them on a 30-day real food challenge. I have been following 100 Days of Real Food for quite a while now, but have never decided to do her challenge. Until now. I am working on getting my blog-writer-self back into a regular routine, and this seemed like a great way to do it.

So, the family has their Real Food Bracelets, and we embraced the challenge with gusto today.

(We have been slowly working up to this – the challenge officially started May 1st, but I was in San Francisco, and then 3/5ths of the family was away from Friday-Saturday, so today was the first day that we were eating all together all day).

Here are the rules (that draw lots on Michael Pollan’s most excellent advice):

“YES” Foods:

  • Whole foods that are more a product of nature than a product of industry
  • Lots of fruits and vegetables
  • Dairy products like milk, yogurt, eggs, and cheese
  • 100% whole-wheat and whole-grains (check the Understanding Grains post for more info: our Spring Mill sandwich breads fit the bill!)
  • Seafood (Wild caught is preferred…stay tuned for Alaskan Salmon from HH!)
  • Only locally raised meats such as pork, beef, and chicken (preferably in moderation)
  • Beverages limited to water, milk, all natural juices, naturally sweetened coffee & tea, and, to help the adults keep their sanity, wine and beer!
  • Snacks like dried fruit, seeds, nuts and popcorn
  • All natural sweeteners including honey, 100% maple syrup, and fruit juice concentrates are acceptable in moderation

“NO” Foods:

  • No refined grains such as white flour or white rice (items containing wheat must say WHOLE wheat…not just “wheat”)
  • No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice, or the artificial stuff like Splenda
  • Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package that has more than 5 whole-food ingredients listed on the label
  • No deep fried foods
  • No “fast foods”

So, we are pretty good already on the Yes foods – but we do like sugar in our coffee and tea, and My Picky Eater is a white bread kind of a girl – our clear stumbling blocks will be in those two categories.

I’m sure you are just dying to know what we ate today, right? Well, if I say so, I think we ate pretty well….but it was Sunday and I was home all day to make sure we ate well J!

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

  • Belgian Beef Stew with beef from Valentine’s Country Meats and onions from Hometown Harvest
  • Red Quinoa from our local grocery store
  • A cucumber, tomato, feta salad featuring local produce and cheese from Toigo Orchards, Hometown Harvest, and Fields of Grace
  • Wine for the adults, milk for the boys, cider for the girl

And to cap the day off, a rhubarb-apple-maple syrup-walnut-balsamic vinegar bake (apples because the strawberries were all gone!)

My belly is full. I’m not sure what tomorrow will bring, but today was a success!

May 4, 2013

Time to Skip with Joy: First Spring Markets Open Today in NoVa!

I expressed my sadness about lack of strawberries and asparagus on “the right coast” too soon! When I walked into our local farmer’s market this morning, I realized that Spring Market season began today…and with that comes a sharp uptick in the number of produce vendors….and, wait for it, those strawberries and asparagus that I was so excited about seeing in San Francisco. Now, the volume is not so great as what I saw out West, but the berries are sweet, and the asparagus will be delicious.

Our favorite crepe stand is back too…

What did I come home with?

Supplies to make keeping good on our Real Food pledge from Hometown Harvest.

  • 2 ½ gallons apple cider … made from apples only!
  • 2 loaves of bread (one country white and one honey wheat), both made from whole wheat grain
  • 1 package of Honey Greek Yogurt
  • 2 packages of fresh mozzarella
  • 1 wheel of Camembert (not pictured…it got buried in one of my bags!)
  • Mixed mushrooms
  • Persian cucumbers
  • 1 quart Strawberries
  • Cilantro
  • Asparagus
  • 1 lb. rosemary garlic sausage
  • 1 lb. bacon
  • 3 lb. rump round roast

This supplements what we received from our Hometown Harvest order yesterday …

  • Asparagus
  • Spring Garlic
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwi
  • Leeks
  • Lettuce
  • Bartlett Pears
  • Avocado

Next task….to see what I have in the fridge and menu plan for the week. We get our milk and eggs on Tuesday morning, so now is the time to determine what other items I’m going to need to round out our plan for the week.

P.S. The hardest part of this challenge is going to be making sure the kids have lunches that are real food. While the twins typically pack, the eldest likes to go to The Italian Store and get pizza…

May 3, 2013

The City on the Bay: Fit for Foodies

Work took me to “the left coast” last week, and I was able to find time to explore the many food-related joys of San Francisco. I got to eat at many wonderful restaurants the feature local, sustainable cuisine, including the world famous Greens, but my most favorite food-related event was when I got to spend Saturday morning at the Ferry Pier Farmer’s Market. Anyone who’s been following my blog for any period of time knows that we almost always go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning when we are at home …. so being able to integrate it into my travel plans made it even sweeter.

Now my friends in Chicago often express jealousy over our year-round farmer’s markets. I do love my January markets, but in the fresh produce realm those markets feature root vegetables, mushrooms, and apples. Nothing like the variety that greeted me in Northern California.

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April 15, 2013

My Ten Favorite Things About Eating Local

In no particular order, here’s my top 10.

1. You Never Know Who You’ll See At The Market.
Going to the farmer’s market is a social event … we frequent three different markets in our area (yes, we are blessed), and I cannot remember the last time that we went and did not see someone who we know. Sometimes it is a family member, sometimes a friend from high school, sometimes one of our good friends, sometimes the friend of a sibling, sometimes one of our kids’ friends, sometimes the owner of our local Thai establishment …. the list goes on and on…

2. It Just Tastes Better. I have blogged about this before, but really there is nothing, nothing like eating a snap pea, or a sweet cherry tomato, or a peach, or a lamb merguez sausage, or draining a glass of cold milk or fresh apple cider….

3. What Comes Around Goes Around. My eldest works at a local deli that sources much of what it prepares from local purveyors. Not only has he learned critical kitchen skills, but he is very knowledgeable about butchering meat and the best local cheeses. And our favorite orchard owner has repeatedly asked my daughter when she turns 16 so that she can hire her… as she knows a tremendous amount about different kinds of apples and is quite an engaging young lady.

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April 8, 2013

Blogging Against Hunger

Liz:

I only just found out about Food Bloggers for Hunger — but wanted to share Rachel’s thoughts as they really resonated with me tonight. And I really wamt to see the movie too!

Originally posted on Rachel's Table:

FBAH Logo

Hungry isn’t a word most would use to describe America. Instead, people use words like wealthy and great.

But 50 million people in this wealthy and great nation are hungry, meaning 1 in 4 children are “food insecure” and do not know where they will find their next meal.

One culprit here is poverty: 15.7 million children (21.6%) in America live in poverty. Many American mothers and fathers cannot afford to feed their children nutritious, whole foods, instead resorting to cheaper, processed and packaged goods.  Since 1980, the cost of fruits and vegetables has gone up 40%, but the price of processed foods has gone down 40% (mostly due to crop subsidies for corn and soy but that is another post all together).

The most nutritious foods in the grocery store, such as fresh produce, are the most expensive.

As I was thinking about this post, I talked to…

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April 7, 2013

Renewal: The Promise of Spring

It was a long winter in our household. After nearly three long years of struggle, my mother finally succumbed to her battle with cancer. Blessed to be with her when she died, it has taken me a couple of months to catch my breath, and reset. My blog, started as we waited to learn of her diagnosis, has suffered mightily from the darkness of winter and the sorrow of a lost parent. But over the past several weeks, I have found that stories have been bubbling up to the surface, and the desire to write, and share my photos of the world around me have re-emerged. And it is spring, and the promise of new life surrounds us. Here are some of the stories that I expect to show up on the “pages” of the Family Foodie Survival Guide. Which one do you want to read first?

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February 19, 2013

Who Needs Peapod When Your Farm Delivers?

One of my great joys over the past 9 months has been to sit down on Sunday afternoons, and think about what I wanted to cook over the next week. As our regular routine was anything but regular, this simple step was one that helped ensure that there was something in the freezer to cook … and brought a big smile to my face in the process. But I did not order food from our local Harris Teeter or our local Giant. I had no need to do so. Instead, I went onto the South Mountain Creamery site to figure out what to order. We have a recurring milk and egg order, and now routinely order cheese, sandwich meat (awesome salami), and some meat from them.  Sometimes we’ll add something pickled, or if it is cider season, some apple cider. And we have not been disappointed. The milk still makes my kids sing with joy (especially if I splurge and get a chocolate milk half gallon…), and the meat and cheese are much more flavorful than what we used to get at the grocery store.

As I was thinking about renewing our CSA, a friend of mine posted on FB asking for advice about local CSAs. After I shared my thoughts about our CSA, I read the comments that a friend of hers posted, and learned that there is a farm delivery service called South Mountain Veggies that is modeled on a CSA but that allows you to make substitutions in your order. I know that many CSAs also have that option, but ours does not. So, I jumped on the website, and started to look around to see what was available. As I looked, I realized that I could still support local and organic producers, but have a little bit more control over what produce came in our bag. So, we decided to give it a try, and got our first bag Friday. We are working our way through it — but were thrilled at the freshness and flavor that has characterized everything so far.

The husband is pretty happy with this new approach to the CSA. His biggest complaint has been that we end up composting too much of what we get from the CSA (especially the Swiss chard) … and he is hopeful that this approach will fit better into the reality of our lives.

And best of all for me … I can get locally sourced flour for baking!!

So, no need for Peapod. I can order just about everything I need from these two sources, supporting my local farmers, and enhancing my sanity by reducing trips to the grocery store!

Readers — do any of you depend upon local farm delivery services in addition to your local farmers’ markets and/or CSAs?

 

 

 

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