It’s good to be Queen

The last 24 hours can count as my coronation.

Firstly, my apologies for no blog post yesterday, I was tied up most of the evening helping Stretch overcome an issue with her DirecTV installation. She’s in college, in her first apartment, having to deal with setting up utilities and such… and of course some yay-hoo installer decides he’s going to make her life difficult. Well, 2.5 hours on the telephone later, by utilizing a MacGyver approach at conference calling, and after speaking to nearly everyone at DirecTV, we got her a NEW installer, a NEW installation date, and a free premium channel package for a year.

I went from “Mom” to “Duchess” after making THAT happen.

Then today, knowing the weekend would take me up to college delivering furniture to Stretch, I decided to do the marketing for my eldest and my little buddy Jake. The eldest is trying her hand at the Paleo Diet in order to not only lose weight, but to finally get on the road to health. She called me a few weeks back and said “I’M SPENDING SO MUCH MONEY! HOW DO YOU DO THIS?”

I’ve done posts before about shopping for high quality food while saving money. I even did one this week, asking for reader participation. (It’s not too late, by the way… feel free to chime in anytime!) My favorite farmer’s market has weekday hours during the summer, so I took my lunch and headed over there with $50 of her dollars in my pocket. She still had a few things left from my last marketing trip – smart girl cooked up dishes and then put them in the freezer – and had done her own supplemental grocery run at the local supermarket. Apparently the grandson eats celery and carrot sticks like they’re going out of style. Atta boy!

So here’s what I got at the farmer’s market:
1 dozen of the good eggs
2 beautiful, huge globe eggplant
1/2 peck of fresh green beans
1/2 peck of peaches
1/4 peck of pears
1 large cantaloupe
1 container yellow cherry tomatoes
1 container red grape tomatoes
Slicing tomatoes
1/2 watermelon (I bought one whole and will split it with her)
3 or 4 cucumbers (again, I bought some for us and will split them)

I still had over half her money left, so I went to the local grocery store to see if I could score any good deals on meat. It’s better to be lucky than good, because they had JUST marked down the meat that had a sell by date of tomorrow. So, I then purchased:
3 packs of chicken drumsticks (the organic ones! Five drumsticks to a pack, and I spent no more than 1.34 for each pack)
4.5 pounds of ground pork
1 pack of sweet italian turkey sausages
4 pounds of ground turkey
1 pack chicken thighs

Total spent on produce and meat for my daughter and grandson: $47.92.

So she has onions, squash, zucchini, celery, carrots, (all fresh) and some frozen broccoli in addition to the things she has cooked up and frozen. She will be able to make all kinds of things from this haul. She will certainly have enough meat for at least two weeks, and I will go back to the market on my normal Saturday run next week. For now, I’ve been able to take $100 (I spent $50 on my last market run for her) and buy enough good quality food for more than 4 weeks. GO MOM!

That moves me from Duchess to Queen. I’m just saying.

As my children get older, my influence over them lessens – and that’s a good thing – I want to have strong, smart, independent children who grow into productive adults. The opportunities to be their hero also lessen, so when it happens, I definitely try to step up. But two times in less than 24 hours? I’ll take it. I’m very proud of my two oldest girls, but I’m also very proud to still be the one they call for help.

It is good to be Queen.

Eating healthy without breaking the bank – Let’s get INTERACTIVE!

This is not my hand…or my money.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a pretty social person. I’m on Facebook, Twitter, I blog, and I tend to get myself involved in conversation wherever I can. Since being THAT GIRL who jumps into other people’s business is not conducive to my having a social life (or any friends), I instead take part in rather lively discussions on an internet forum based here in Southern Maryland.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, THE place to go for information on Southern Maryland is Southern Maryland Online. News, Announcements, Community Calendar items, Classified advertising, a huge range of sponsors, and best of all, the discussion forums. This is a place where you can find advice, information, lively discussion, a healthy dose of sarcasm, a little drama for entertainment, and some idiocy for humor.

Today’s hot topic (for me anyway) was the government push for healthier food, and the use of EBT cards (the modern, electronic food stamps). The first poster threw out an idea that those electronic cards could (in all likelihood) be programmed to only purchase healthy items. This spawned further talk about eating healthy being too expensive for the poor. Many of the “forumites” gave GREAT ideas on healthy options for eating on the cheap. You can check out the conversation here.

There’s some great meal suggestions in that discussion thread, (I had NEVER even thought to use that cheap ramen along with some frozen veggies and a scrambled egg to make a sort of lo-mein type dinner!) along with some website links that specialize in cheap but healthy dinners. Definitely go check it out! I’d suggest buying at the local farmer’s market, rather than the grocery store… and buy SEASONALLY. If the farmers have a lot of something, they have high supply which drives down price. Attend produce auctions, buy meat in bulk, freeze leftovers, and cook SIMPLY. No need for a bunch of fancy stuff, fresh healthy food tastes absolutely delicious when it is prepared simply, allowing the flavor of the food to shine through.

Oh, and buy the good eggs. Really. Splurge a little. Free-range, organic eggs have these huge delicious yolks that are nearly orange in color, and they are SO rich and so satisfying, you’ll eat fewer. I am now addicted to the good eggs, and I’ll never go back.

However, I want to throw this one to you… IS it possible to eat healthy without spending a lot of money? Can those on a tight budget eat better than sodium filled ramen (plain), frozen chicken nuggets, frozen burritos, and cheap macaroni with orange powdered cheese? What are YOUR go-to “healthy but cheap” meals? Leave me a comment, send me a recipe, let’s get interactive and share a little!

Who knows, I may end up cooking something of yours and taking photos to share in a future blog post.

Where else do I shop?

I mentioned in my previous post that sometimes I shop online for things I use. Most of these products are not your run-of-the mill supplies to be picked up at the local grocery market. However, some of these shopping places are just places that have super quality product and I am a sucker for quality.

I was fortunate enough to be referred to U.S. Wellness Meats through Neely at The Paleo Plan. Everything I have ordered from them has been amazing. Beef, chicken, bacon… all have been delicious and super high quality.

Another wonderful source for delicious beef is TX Bar Organics. Again, super high quality and super high flavor!

I do keep some grain products on hand for things like breading pork chops (the only way my son will eat them) okra, and eggplant Parmesan. Of course with no gluten, I have to get creative. I buy organic yellow cornmeal from King Arthur Flour. For gravy, the absolute BEST flour I have found is garbanzo bean flour. It dissolves like a dream (never any lumps) and thickens beautifully. It doesn’t have a super strong flavor, but it does have a slight chickpea flavor which gives gravy an earthy flavor that wheat flour cannot POSSIBLY add. Try making turkey gravy with it sometime, it’s the best EVER.

I have amazing gluten free all-purpose flour that I get from Jules Gluten Free. It truly is a cup for cup replacement and her blend really acts like regular wheat flour, only better! No pain for Mama. I love it.

I buy coconut oil to fry in, and avocado oil for drizzling on vegetables. My gluten-free pretzels, certified gluten-free oats, and that garbanzo bean flour are all purchased at VitaCost. Vitacost has an EXTENSIVE gluten-free pantry, and they run grocery specials all the time. So if you’re in the mood to try something new, you can order it from Vitacost and save money.

Amazon has a vast array of vendors as well… with all kinds of groceries for special dietary needs. I have rarely had a problem with Amazon or any of its vendors, so don’t be afraid to grocery shop there.

Isn’t the internet great?

By the way, none of the websites I am referring have paid me a dime, they don’t even know who I am. I’m just another consumer who believes in sharing great product finds.

So how about you? What fabulous food finds have YOU found online? Share your favorites, please!

By request

I got a request via a Facebook friend who has recently been diagnosed with both corn and soy allergies (YIKES!) to list where I shop and get my vegetables and meats. You may be surprised to find out that Whole Foods isn’t even on my top ten … no offense to Whole Foods, I’m sure they’re lovely people, but I’d rather shop locally from farmers I have built a relationship with. I feel they are far more likely to give me the straight scoop on the food they grow and sell. With allergies being such a concern, that type of relationship and honesty really can be a matter of life and death for some!

My Saturday morning “go to” place is the Home Grown Farm Market in Lexington Park Maryland. Do yourselves a favor and “like” them on Facebook here. They post when they are open, and when new products are available. I get my eggs from Farrah and Brandon (They’re the first produce vendor on the left as you walk in), and whatever is fresh produce-wise from Even’Star Organic (across from Farrah and Brian) Trossbach’s produce (next to Even’Star) and Shlagel Farms. I also shop from WAG meats (all the way in the back, just past Shlagel Farms). I know these vendors, they know me and I enjoy spending my Saturday mornings saying hello to them.

WAG meats DOES grain finish their meats, meaning the cattle are pasture (grass) -fed for the majority of their lives, and then given grain for a short time at the very end. What this does is add a little fat to the beef (purely grass-fed animals are VERY lean). This is a good thing when it comes to hamburger since you need some fat to make luscious burgers. If corn is a problem for you, this amount of grain finishing shouldn’t be an issue since the cow processes the grain… but in the interest of full disclosure, I wanted to make sure to mention it. I also get bacon here, since it’s uncured (no nitrites!) and deliciously thick cut. This bacon tastes more like MEAT without the artificial sweet/salty flavors you can get from the stuff bought in the store. Seasonally, I can also get dairy products (cheese, yogurt, butter) from the Home Grown Market too. Yum.

I shop ALL the vendors at the market, in fact there’s a cupcake lady at the back who is working on a gluten-free cupcake. When she perfects it, and decides to sell it, I will DEFINITELY be purchasing from her.

I usually then head to the farmer’s market in the BAE parking lot on Rt 235 across from Wal-Mart. There, I always purchase from David and Jennifer at Sassafras Creek Organic Farm. Be sure to sign up for their weekly newsletter! Every week, they send out an email letting us know what’s for sale at the market (I am addicted to their arugula) and usually giving a recipe on how to use them. YAY! Trossbach’s also has another stand here and if I’ve missed out on peaches at my first stop, I’ll get them here.

If I have time, I then head north to Charlotte Hall, to the Amish Farmer’s Market on the southbound side of Rt 5 (corner of Rt 5 and Rt 6 in front of the library). The Amish and Mennonite farmers always have not only fresh produce, but baked goods, noodles, canned preserves, eggs, flowers, herbs, etc. Or I’ll stop at Russell’s in Clements or Rt. 4 across from Fairgrounds road.

PLENTY of places to get produce in St. Mary’s County. Let’s talk about meat though shall we? This year, the spouse and I have decided to go all in and order half a pasture raised cow, and a half of pasture raised pig. The beef is going to cost us about 4.50 a pound, and we’ve ordered it from Glen Mary Farm, in Park Hall, MD. Our pig is going to cost only slightly more a pound and is coming from It’s Only Natural Farm in Nanjemoy, MD. You can find information about both of these wonderful farms at Eat Wild. We will get our meat in late October or early November from each of these farms. Chickens are a different matter, since chickens are a lot of work for not a tremendous amount of return, especially free range chickens! Luckily for me, while on my visit to the Loveville Produce Auction I met David from Zekiah Farms and he has the best prices on free range, antibiotic free chickens. David is a great guy, he was VERY helpful, and I’ve owed him this shout out for a couple of weeks now. PLEASE visit his website, and go visit HIM at the farm store.

When I’m in beautiful Calvert County, my go-to place is Chesapeake’s Bounty off of Rt. 4 in St. Leonard. I swear my car automatically knows when we are in Calvert and it leads me to their door. I ALWAYS find something delicious here. Produce, seafood, locally produced meats, and dairy… this shop is enough to make me want to move to St. Leonard so they can be my grocery store. All of the produce is grown organically, the meats sold are all raised humanely without antibiotics, and the dairy animals do not receive hormones! All great things.

For those pantry staples that I want to be gluten-free, I USUALLY order online due to price, but I’m finding that my grocery stores in the area are doing really great things expanding their gluten-free and other special diet departments. Plus there’s always the wonderful folks at The Good Earth Natural Food Company in Leonardtown. Be sure to stop there on the weekends when they are trying out new recipes in the kitchen!

So there’s my list of where I do my shopping. Some weeks (like this week) I don’t get to go to the market on Saturday mornings, so I’ll shop during the week. If I’m up in the big city, I HAVE to go to Trader Joe’s, since I love their Persian cucumbers. I’ll go to Whole Foods or Wegman’s on a special occasion, and I haven’t found enough time to make my own detergents and cleansers, so I still hit up Target, or Giant, or Shoppers, or whatever store I happen to be close to in order to do those supplemental grocery runs.

Hope this helps out, for those of you who are wondering WHERE to purchase. Here’s the secret…whenever possible, buy what is LOCAL and in season. You get a ton of food at wonderful prices. I (and my family) eat BETTER for LESS money by purchasing seasonally.

Hope you all had a delicious weekend… here’s to a very produce-tive (see what I did there?) week!

You are the salt of the earth

Aren’t these CUTE? I want them. Found on

Well if I’m going to have an earworm, that’s a good one to have…

“You are the salt of the Earth,
You are the salt of the Earth,
But if that salt has lost it’s flavor it ain’t got much in it’s favor.
You can’t have that fault and be the salt of the Earth.”

Speaking of salt, one of my pet peeves is something my sweet spousal unit does at nearly EVERY SINGLE MEAL. Before ever taking a bite of anything I have cooked, he will grab a salt shaker and liberally dose his plate. He is not the only one who does this, I’ve seen folks in very nice restaurants receive their food and before tasting anything at all, they grab that salt shaker and salt away.

It is everything I can do not to scream.

Before y’all get the wrong idea, I am a HUGE proponent of salt. I LOVE salt. I buy and use a TON of salt, (Kosher, coarse sea salt, Fleur de sel, etc.) I have absolutely no problems with the sodium in my diet, but I almost NEVER EVER salt the food on my plate before eating it. The notable exception here is freshly sliced garden tomatoes.

Instead, I use salt on food before and during the cooking process. Why? Because the liberal application of salt to food, or to cooking liquid, actually intensifies the flavors of the food being cooked. Look up the term “osmosis.” Salting a food before it is cooked or the water that a food is being cooked in causes the water in the food to be expelled and that allows for flavors to intensify.

I liberally salt raw meat and let it sit a bit before cooking. I put salt in all of my baked recipes, I even add at least a pinch of salt to every dessert recipe I make. The water I use to cook vegetables or pasta is salted to the point of tasting like the ocean before the food ever goes in it. Salt ENHANCES flavor… but it enhances flavor most if applied BEFORE or DURING cooking.

Also take into account that there are ingredients in dishes that are inherently salty (Parmesan, feta, anchovies…). These ingredients do the same job that an application of Kosher does. Ever have spaghetti sauce that seemed a little bland? Add a little Parmesan as it heats up, and taste the magic.

Add salt after cooking and all you taste is… salt.

Now, as I said, there are exceptions. Tomatoes? Slice them thick, salt, drizzle a little high quality olive oil and I’m a happy girl. Watermelon and cantaloupe both benefit from a little sprinkle of salt. Sushi gets it’s extra YUM from the salt in soy sauce… but these foods are fresh/raw. By the way, lemon juice has many of the same abilities. If you have high blood pressure, or need to limit sodium, try lemon juice on your food. It really brightens up the flavor and “wakes up” your taste buds. Your more sensitive taste buds register more of the taste in your food and you get a more flavorful bite!

And I agree that sometimes (especially during certain monthly events) we just crave something salty. I’m all about salted caramels, and I am not ashamed to admit that I have salted BROWNIES to satisfy two cravings at once. Just keeping it real, y’all.

So, what to do? Shall I hide the salt shaker? Tell him I’ve already salted his food? Eat in another room from my spouse? Never go out to eat again?

Is there a tasteless salt look-alike that I can put in the tabletop shaker to fake out the heavy salters who eat with me? Help me out Internets, you may be the only hope left for my salty sanity.

Have a delicious weekend, folks!

I mounted a sauce tonight

Okay, I admit that title is for the laughs… because not so deep down, I have more in common with my adolescent son than I’d like to admit.

But I really did mount a sauce… and it was gooooooood. Go ahead… snicker all you want. I am!

Seriously, mounting a sauce is to take a water (or broth) based sauce and whisk in cold butter at the end. This thickens the sauce, gives it a glossy appearance, and also gives it a buttery finish or taste. I had a small beef tenderloin in the fridge, so I trimmed it of its silverskin (for instructions on how to do this, look here), seasoned with salt and pepper, put a garlic and herb rub on it and let it sit a moment. I pre-heat my oven to 350, put my cast iron skillet on the stove top with a little olive oil, and as it heated, I sliced some button mushrooms and set them aside. Once the oil began to shimmer, I seared the roast in that skillet, letting the surface develop a beautiful brown crust all over. Once it was well seared, I placed it into my Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker with some garlic, small onions, and a splash of organic beef broth. Into the oven it went. I added a bit more olive oil to the skillet along with a small knob of butter (about a tablespoon), and when it heated, I laid the sliced mushrooms in the pan.

Here’s the thing about mushrooms… they’re like little bits of magic in a funny looking package. They will soak up flavors like a sponge (like that infused oil/butter mixture), but they also ADD a distinctive earthy flavor when they later release that fat and their own juices while browning. This is a culinary WIN-WIN! To brown the mushrooms, use a mixture of olive oil and butter (higher smoke point), DO NOT SALT them, and for goodness sake, make sure they aren’t crowded in the pan. Too many mushrooms in the same pan will all release their juices at the same time without enough surface area to cook it off, and you’ll end up with flabby steamed mushrooms rather than beautifully browned ones. You don’t really need to futz with them much either… just turn them a couple of times to make sure they get beautifully brown on both sides. It usually takes than 5 minutes a side for me to get gorgeous mushrooms.

Now you can salt them a bit, and add some black pepper… and it’s time to free up all that flavor on the bottom of the skillet. This stuff is GOLD – the meaty taste of the roast and tiny bits of browned mushroom! I added some of that beef broth to the skillet to de-glaze it, using my flat wooden spatula to scrape up all those amazing brown bits. The broth came to a boil pretty fast, so I turned the heat down and just let it simmer, lid off, with the mushrooms happily floating along.

My tenderloin finished cooking (I pulled it when the internal temperature reached 120 and let it rest, covered, on a serving plate) and I emptied the pan juices (and those cooked onions and garlic cloves) into my skillet as well. Again, I let the sauce cook down a bit, and found that the onion and garlic practically dissolved into the sauce too, also helping to thicken it. Bonus! My spouse sliced the beef after about 15-20 minutes rest time, and just as he finished, I whisked in about 2 Tablespoons of cold butter (cut into fairly thick slices) into my mushroom sauce. In no time the butter melted and emulsified with the pan juices, giving the sauce a gloss and thickening it further. Please note this is NOT a gravy… it is not as thick as if it had been thickened with a starch, but rather it is a lovely sauce with medium body and a deep brown sheen. I grabbed some fresh parsley, chopped it up (a couple of Tablespoons) and as I took the sauce off the heat, I added the herbs and gave it a quick stir to incorporate.

Man oh man was that the perfect accompaniment to the slices of beef! Rich, deep in flavor, I clearly tasted not only the mushrooms, but roasted garlic, the sweetness of the onion, a little spice from the black pepper and finally that parsley just sang through the buttery mouth feel. I paired the beef with fresh green beans, and a Caprese salad made from not ONLY locally grown tomatoes, but also locally produced fresh mozzarella.

Nothing like a little mounting before eating, I always say. Well I don’t ALWAYS say it, but maybe I should.

By the way you can also mount cheese sauces and risotto. And if the end result is tasty enough, you might get mounted yourself.

Go mount something! You’ll be glad you did.

Oh dear, I may have gone too far there. I’d apologize… if I could JUST STOP GIGGLING.

Is there a support group for chef groupies?

Hi, I’m Stacy. I have an addiction to Food TV, The Cooking Channel, and internet episodes of “The French Chef” and “Yan Can Cook.”

My addiction is serious. If there is food being cooked on TV, chances are I’m watching it. If there’s a “Gleek” equivalent for Food TV, I’m it. I’m also addicted to Twitter. Mostly I tweet about sports, because I cannot fathom watching sports on tape delay (the Olympics were torture!) however my second reason for Twitter is to follow every celebrity chef I can find.

Currently, I follow:

Alton Brown – Hilarious, especially for his analog tweets (via Post-it)
Ming Tsai
Marc Murphy
Amanda Freitag – have actually gotten replies which caused me to “squee!” like a fangirl
Scott Conant
Aaron Sanchez – huge sports fan, just another reason to love him
Jamie Oliver – VERY informative, especially about Food Revolution items.
Anthony Bourdain
Emeril Lagasse
Alex Guarnaschelli – wonderful Tweeter, down to earth, interesting, SMART. Carries on Twitter convos with Alton Brown and Amanda Freitag
Ted Allen
Giada De Laurentiis – gorgeous and prolific
Guy Fieri
Bobby Flay
Tyler Florence
Michael Chiarello
Cat Cora
Paula Deen
Bobby Deen
Jamie Deen
Justin Warner – latest winner of “Food Network Star” SMART and quirky like mentor Alton Brown
Anne Burrell
Michael Symon – Opinionated, passionate, fabulous
Gordon Ramsay
Rick Bayless
Rachael Ray – Needs to tweet more
Rocco DiSpirito
Ree Drummond – Just like her blog in 140 characters or less
Mario Batali
Food Network
Debi Mazar – HILARIOUS!
Gabriele Corcos – Ditto
Marcus Samuelsson
Ina Garten
Aarti Sequeira – Love her. Down to earth, happy, always makes me smile. Follows a lot of gluten-free folks (YAY!)
Geoffrey Zakarian
Robert Irvine – Incredibly prolific and unafraid to show his brave heart. He loves his job and his new bride.
Mo Rocca
Donatella Arpaia
Nigella Lawson
Melissa d’Arabian
Brian Boitano
Kelsey Nixon
Simon Majumdar
Richard Blais
Martha Stewart – DO NOT JUDGE ME!!
Cooking Channel

If there’s a meeting of the “Addicted to Celebrity Chefs Support Group,” someone please send me the details.

And don’t EVER ask me about my Twitter list of hockey players. It isn’t pretty.