Flu and food

Don’t let the title worry you, all is well here at Casa de Hectic. Luckily I cooked up chicken and meatballs, sprouts, broccoli, and sweet potatoes earlier in the week so that has kept me well fed during lunches at work. Also NO sodas! Just water and tea. No artificial sweeteners, nothing chemical or yucky. So far I feel fine. Still obviously detoxing and getting the sugar and junk out of my system.

I went to get a checkup this week too, and will have blood drawn for all the usual labs. The doc and I talked a bit about this flu season. She agreed that its been a bad one already, with lots of folks getting hit HARD by the flu and other viral things.

It got me to really thinking about when I get sick. Usually I can tie my illness to two direct factors: stress and diet. Guess what happens when my stress level goes up? I eat poorly, or not at all. With my food allergy, that stresses my immune system and then WHAMMO! I’m sick. I know this sounds obvious and nothing new, but maybe writing it here will keep me accountable.

The next time I am overly stressed and I blog that I’m having ice cream or bourbon and cola for dinner, you have permission to yell at me. You have permission to remind me to NOT be stupid. Deal?

And if you are sick with the flu, I promise I will share my chicken soup recipe to make you feel better.

I think that’s a great deal, don’t you?

New Year, new resolve, and a NEW POST!

So, I hope I’m not the only person who found herself so busy over the Christmas holiday season that she couldn’t find time to blog! Anyway, for the one or two of you still around… I’m baaaack!

So here’s what I’ve been up to: I changed jobs… TWICE. Y’all knew about the first one, and that it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. Well, on a whim I applied for a position that involved a pretty large promotion. It was a whim. I mean while I had the job experience, I do NOT do well in the interview process. Well, I got called in for an interview…

And I got the job!

So I started in mid-December, was there for a week, and then spent two and a half glorious weeks at home, finishing up Christmas gifts (small businesses, artisans, and lots of handmade love too!), celebrating with family and friends, starting the New Year’s purge of junk we don’t use… you get the picture. Oh, and putting our house on the market.

So yeah, I have been a little busy, and that busy has translated into VERY poor eating habits. Oh I’ve been mostly gluten-free, and our Christmas feast was entirely gluten and corn free for my sister in law… but there’s only so many dozens of gluten-free cupcakes and tins of Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark you can eat before your pants start to get a little tight around the thighs. It’s so damned unfair.

So now it’s a new year, and I am going to climb back onto my Paleo horse and ride it to a looser pants. Today was day one, and it went fine. I went to Mom’s Organic Market over the weekend, making sure to get some coconut milk, some coconut yogurt, and my favorite Applegate Farms lunch meats. Over the weekend I had also made some Paleo-friendly beef stew. So breakfast was deli meat rolls and a cup of brewed tea sweetened with just a touch of this coconut syrup sweetener. Lunch was my yummy leftover beef stew.

By the way for those of you who aren’t familiar with Paleolithic eating, here’s the really short version:

No Grains
No Legumes (soy, peanuts, beans, peas) Green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas are ok since you are primarily eating the pod, which is vegetable matter.
No processed cane/beet sugar, and no artificial sweeteners either! For sweetness, I use the coconut stuff, or a little organic raw honey.
No dairy (at first… I will add a little bit of fermented cheese after my first month)
Food labels should be SIMPLE! If there are chemical names on the label, don’t eat what’s in the package!

So, what do I eat? I eat meat, poultry, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, and eggs. I eat all that delicious produce I put up in the freezer over the summer, and the cow, pig, and chickens that share space in there. My dairy substitutions come from coconut or almond milk… oh, and I have dark chocolate and red wine.

I did this last year, and felt so danged GREAT! I was cooking a lot, and eating well, and losing weight… and then life happened. I let things slip…I let myself take the easy way out. We all do. But rather than beat myself up, I will just get back on what I KNOW works. Clean eating, REAL food, and paying attention to my body.

The key for me, is finding that balance of being creative and still EASY! I get the creative part when I get to cook. The easy part happens when I cook enough for leftovers that make up my lunches. So tonight, I wasn’t hungry (I ate my beef stew later in the afternoon since my all protein breakfast kept me full) and I decided to whip up a few things for easy lunch.

I am now in love with Brussels sprouts. I got 3 POUNDS of little tiny ones the final weekend our local farmer’s market was open and so tonight I cleaned them, tossed them in a few tablespoons of olive oil just to coat, and poured them onto a baking sheet. I sprinkled them liberally with kosher salt and into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. I then let them do their magical little thing… roasting until the outer leaves turned brown and got all crispy.

MY GOSH, how did I live so long without Brussels sprouts? Seriously, these things are MAGIC. Roasting makes them all delicious and nutty and I am not kidding you, I can just pick them up with my fingers and pop them into my mouth as a snack. Holy moly. Forget the mushy, stinky, gross Brussels sprouts that my mother would cook… the secret here is small tender sprouts, high heat, good fat, and short cooking time. For bigger sprouts, cut them in half (or quarters) and quickly blanch them in boiling water before roasting them. The end result is yummy deliciousness and no bitterness!

For what it’s worth, my FAVORITE way to cook Brussels sprouts is in a cast iron skillet, in bacon fat. Same deal…hot pan, good fat, short cooking time (just enough time to let the sprouts brown and crisp up) and YUM. Sprinkle those hot bacon-y sprouts with pomegranate seeds and let it change your life.

I also roasted some chicken parts, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, and lemon juice until done with crispy skin. Sounds like lunch tomorrow is going to be SO SO good.

So there it is! My first post of the new year…an ode to the Brussels sprout.

And as a way of bribing you to keep returning, and to tell your friends about my blog, I leave you with a photo of my kids in their Christmas pajama pants made by ME! Aren’t they cute? And the kids aren’t bad either!!

20130107-223750.jpg

So thankful


Here’s the starting lineup during today’s feast for anyone who is interested:
Two turkeys – roasted using Chef Michael Symon’s cheesecloth method. Total weight: 31 pounds
One ham – cooked in the infra-red deep fryer – 20 pounds
Root vegetable stuffing (gluten-free!)
Orange-cranberry sauce
Creamy mashed potatoes
Gravy
Green beans and bacon
Herbed creamed broccoli bake
Corn and Cauliflower bake
Sweet potato casserole
Watergate salad
Green tossed salad
Deviled Eggs
Macaroni and cheese
Cucumber and cream cheese canapes
Cotton Pickin’ Cake
Ice cream cake
Pumpkin pie (regular crust and gluten free graham crust)
Pecan Pie (see above)
Apple Cranberry Tart
Cheesecake
White chocolate cheesecake

Twenty family members and close friends gathered together, prayed together, ate together, and then laid around on the couch wishing for yoga pants. We were joined by five others for dessert. It was a spectacular day and evening where we enjoyed full bellies and fuller hearts.

Oh and that win by my Washington Redskins was the best dessert ever.

I hope your Thanksgiving nourished you as well – body and soul.

What’s on the menu for Thanksgiving?

We’re having 22 for dinner tomorrow, and everyone is contributing. In my house we’re responsible for turkey, ham, stuffing, gravy, and my incredible cranberry sauce. I added the zest of one orange to mine tonight and it is a really great balance of orange and cranberry. Not super tart, not overly sweet, just a really great mix. I may split the batch and add some fresh ginger to half just for a little more zing. We’ll see. I also made a huge batch of creamy mashed potatoes courtesy of The Pioneer Woman.

Everyone is bringing something… we’ve got veggie dishes, sweet potato casserole, dinner rolls, mac and cheese, pies of every flavor, cake, deviled eggs, cheesecake, iced tea…. yeah, we are a family blessed with a bounty of food and love, and blessings. I plan on spending my day enjoying THEM. There will be no rushing out to stores, or being distracted by the dust bunnies that I will have inevitably missed. Tomorrow is a day to have my stomach and my SOUL filled with the gathering of family and friends.

I am thankful for so very much this year. November has just sucked so far, but I am still here. I am still alive and kicking, and learning things about myself and my own resilience. I have a wonderful support system, and I plan to surround myself with them this weekend.

Until then, enjoy what my stove looks like, as my root veggies are sauteed in preparation for tomorrow morning. They just LOOK like Autumn to me and the smell is something to be thankful for indeed.

I hope tomorrow provides each of you plenty of reasons for gratitude and thanksgiving. Have a wonderful day, my foodie friends.

It’s Turkey Time!

The biggest foodie day of the year is tomorrow, and I like many of you have been shopping and preparing, and researching. For those of you who are looking for the perfect turkey on Thanksgiving Day, I thought I would share:

MY FAVORITE TURKEY RECIPE

I thought this sounded good! Here is a turkey recipe that also includes the use of popcorn as a stuffing ingredient — imagine that. When I found this recipe, I thought it was perfect for people like me, who just are not sure how to tell when turkey is thoroughly cooked, but not dried out. Give this a try.

8 – 15 lb. turkey
1 cup melted butter
1 cup stuffing (Pepperidge Farm is Good)
1 cup un-popped popcorn (ORVILLE REDENBACHER’S LOW FAT IS BEST)
Salt/pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush turkey well with melted butter, salt, and pepper.
Fill cavity with stuffing and popcorn. Place in baking pan making sure the
neck end is toward the front of the oven, not the back.

After about 4 hours listen for the popping sounds.

When the turkey’s a** blows the oven door open and the bird flies across the room,…. it’s done.

NOTE: This recipe isn’t for turkey, it’s for LAUGHS. Please don’t try this at home. If you’re unsure on the best path to a delicious turkey, please see any of the pros on Food Network, or call the Butterball Hotline, or make RESERVATIONS instead of dinner.

And now I’m off to make my cranberry sauce, and prep the vegetables I’m using for my root vegetable stuffing. Two turkeys are thawing, my ham is thawed, and I still have to find more chairs…. More later!

The absolute BEST not-macaroni and cheese EVER

Intrigued yet?

So this weekend, seeing as how I was going to the mecca of grocery stores (WEGMAN’s) I embarked upon the mission of cooking ALL the produce left in my fridge. I had two eggplant, which I baked, hollowed out, and then stuffed with a mixture of sausage, onion, and cheese. I had fresh green beans which got blanched, and bundled wrapped in bacon. I popped them into a hot oven to let the bacon crisp up and man were they good. I had Brussels sprouts and broccoli, which got prepped, tossed with olive oil and slivered garlic, and then roasted until caramelized and gorgeous.

Then there was the spaghetti squash.

I wasn’t in the mood for “regular” spaghetti squash, I wanted something different…. something other than pretending that the squash was noodles to carry marinara. I wasn’t in the mood for marinara at all…it’s getting to be winter, it’s cold, and I needed something hearty enough to kind of act as a main dish with all these other veggie side dishes. And then I remembered it… a recipe given to me by my BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) DeeJay for a “not-macaroni-and-cheese” using the squash, cheese, onion, and bacon.

It has always been my belief that damned near ANYTHING can be made to taste better if you add onion, bacon, and cheese. So, I halved the squash and popped it face down in the microwave for 15 minutes to cook. While that was going on I fried up 7 strips of nitrite free bacon until they were crisp but not overly so. Setting the bacon aside on a paper towel, I poured out all the bacon grease except for a tablespoon or so and used that grease to fry up some diced sweet onion until tender and just starting to brown.

I got two other saucepans out and in one I started about 4 cups of milk just to heat up to a scald. To the second saucepan I added some butter and an equal amount of my cup for cup gluten-free flour (about 2 ounces of each). I cooked these two together for a few moments, and then slowly whisked in the hot milk, dissolving all the solids. The sauce thickened up rather quickly. I added salt and pepper and then whisked in an assortment of shredded cheese I had in the fridge. I had sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, three cheese blend, and mozzarella. All of these cheeses were in the bag and were “convenience purchases” for me, so this helped me by emptying out all of these partially opened bags. I also added 2 cloves of garlic I had put through the garlic press. I kept whisking until the sauce was beautifully smooth. I have noticed that when making sauces or gravies with gluten-free flour, I almost NEVER get lumps!

I buttered a shallow casserole dish and as the squash was done, I pulled it out of the microwave. I took half and scraped out the flesh with a fork, causing the “strings” of squash to fill the bottom of the dish. I chopped up the bacon, and added it and the onions over the surface of the squash. I took half of my cheese sauce and poured it over. Next, I scraped out the OTHER half of my squash and layered it into the casserole, finishing it with the rest of the sauce. Smoothing it all over with a spatula, I popped the lid on (Foil would work here too) and put it in a 350 degree oven. I let everything bake until the casserole was hot and bubbling just a bit around the edges. I pulled the lid off, dusted the top with grated Parmesan, and then let it cook another 15 minutes or so so the top could get brown and yummy. I had one piece of bacon left over so I chopped it up and sprinkled it on top just before serving.

HOLY MOLY…I cannot even begin to explain just how good this was. The cheese sauce baked up beautifully, light and creamy and cheesy…the onions were sweet, the bacon salty and smoky. Best of all, this was EVERYTHING mac and cheese could be, minus the heavy pasta and the OUCH from me eating gluten. So, SO good. Yet another reason my BFFF is one of my favorite people. So dinner ended up being the not-macaroni and cheese, the beans and roasted veggies, and I ended up being one very satisfied woman with a full belly and an empty refrigerator.

Hope your weekend was equally savory and delicious.

Too stressed to eat

I know, right?  So at one point I was stressed and eating ice cream for dinner.  Then I was stressed and bored because there’s no NHL hockey season yet so I was eating chips and dip, or salsa, or whatever OTHER junk I had on hand.  NOW I’ve started a new job and the first month has been, well, a challenge.  An unpleasant challenge. 

And now I’m so stressed I can’t eat.

Apparently the stress also causes me to clench my jaw because I can FEEL the muscles being tight and the accompanying headache sucks big time.  

HOWEVER, I am now home for the weekend, unwinding and I WILL be enjoying some foodie time.  My BFFF (Best Foodie Friend Forever) and I are making the trek to Wegmans, or Whole Foods, or Trader Joe’s…or somewhere marvelous to get what we need for Thanksgiving.  Dinner will be for 26 this year I believe.  I am going to need more chairs.

I am responsible for turkey (I have two) and ham, stuffing (gluten free!), and gravy.  Oh and cranberry sauce because I cannot abide the jelly junk in the cans, mine is so much better and it’s SO SO easy.  Don’t believe me?  Let me tell you, my friend Karen from my former (wonderful) job asked me about fresh cranberry sauce and when I gave her my recipe, she couldn’t believe how easy it was… then she made it and definitely couldn’t believe how delicious it was.  This is a woman whose family didn’t like cranberry sauce and now they eat it for more than just Thanksgiving.  

It’s easy to remember too…just think one, one, and one.

One package of fresh cranberries, one cup of white sugar, one cup of orange juice.  

Wash the cranberries and pick through, getting rid of any stems, as well as berries that are soft, blemished, or under-ripe.  Combine the sugar and orange juice in a sauce pan and heat on medium heat until sugar is dissolved.  Add cranberries and cook until they start to pop (about 10-15 minutes).  Once the berries have popped, remove from heat and transfer to a bowl.  As the sauce cools it will thicken like jam/preserves.  

This is the basic recipe, but if you want to jazz it up you can add any one of the following:  the zest of one orange, one tablespoon fresh or candied ginger (grated), 2 ounces of gold or spiced rum, or even 2 teaspoons tequila and a finely chopped jalapeno pepper!  

I love cranberry sauce.  It’s that deep delicious mix of sweet and tart that is perfection with turkey, chicken, pork, or even a delicious beef roast.  It also SCREAMS “holiday!” and that is definitely something to be thankful for.