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!!

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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.

PIG DAY!!

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Today, I got my pig. Well… WE got OUR pig. Part of it anyway. There was a mix up at the butcher, so I’m still minus ham, and ham steaks, and ALL THE BACON… but we’ll fix that soon enough.

Spareribs, baby back ribs, tenderloin, pork roasts, chops, shoulder steaks, sweet Italian sausage… I honestly cannot WAIT to try out all the recipes swirling around my head.

So, our visit to ION Farms in Nanjemoy was awesome! Lee and Tasha are super cool people who treat their animals a lot like pets. I got to meet a bunch of them, including the new breeding piglets. They’re all little redheads… good thing I didn’t meet this cuteness FIRST, I couldn’t stand it.

Look! Ginger piglets!


Goats, cows, chickens, guineafowl, rabbits, a mama cat and her kittens… Lee and Tasha have a cross between a menagerie and a petting zoo. As Lee puts it “we know the eventual purpose of these animals, but that doesn’t stop us from treating them like pets and spoiling them while we have them.” It sure shows too, as the animals are all just so calm, relaxed, and happy. Honestly, there isn’t a single iota of stress that shows on these animals. Also, they invite any of their customers to come and visit, see the animals, view their environment and their feed. It’s so refreshing to meet food producers with no secrets, no agenda, just the desire to bring wholesome delicious food from the farm to the table. You can read a bit about ION Farm at Eat Wild. Contact them, go see them, and enjoy your visit to the country. You’ll be impressed, I promise.

I realize also that I owe you a recipe for my ham with cabbage, apples, and carrot. So here goes… I took three organic carrots, peeled and cut them into rounds. I also peeled, cored, and diced three apples (one red delicious, one empire, and one granny smith since that’s what I had on hand). I heated up some bacon grease, and put the carrots and apples in there with some salt to let them soften. I cut half a medium cabbage into strips, and set them aside. When the carrots and apples just start to soften, I removed them, and laid the section of ham into the skillet. I laid the cabbage strips over the ham, spooned the apples and carrots on top, and then poured in enough organic apple cider to have the liquid come halfway up the sides of my deep skillet. I added a grating of black pepper and popping on the lid, I put the entire shebang into the oven at 350 degrees. I let the dish cook for a while, the liquid braising that cabbage until tender and luscious.

SO SO SO good! The apple cider, salt, and pepper added enough warmth and a hint of a spicy flavor that I didn’t need anything else. The carrots were sweet, the apples gave a tartness, and the cabbage just tasted earthy and had soaked up so much ham flavor it was incredible. It was also the perfect foil to my kale and ham hocks. The best news? There were enough leftovers that Mads and the Boy had some with mac and cheese for dinner tonight while Spouse and I went pig fetching.

OH! And in geek news, I got to help a fellow foodie @glutenfreefreak on tips to clean leeks! Look for her on Twitter and give her a follow. She’s the BOMB when it comes to gluten-free food finds. Oh, and feel free to follow me too, (@stacyo513) even though I tweet more about sports than food it seems.

Another work day awaits tomorrow, but you can believe I’ll be SO unproductive as I’m dreaming of ways to cook pork!

Fall worked out just FINE

So about that dinner…

YUM.

It took a good part of the morning, but oh it was SO worth it!

For the kale, I took half a HUGE yellow onion and diced it up, and added four huge cloves of garlic which I smashed slightly. I had my dutch oven on the stove, and put the onions and garlic in some bacon grease, a good teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and let them sweat out a bit. I then added the ham hocks and a good bit of organic chicken stock. I popped the whole thing in a 300 degree oven and let it all work together until the ham hocks were tender and the meat fell off the bone. I washed the kale in cold water, removed the tough stems and chopped it all into bite sized pieces. I am not a huge fan of my kale all going dark and yucky looking, so I took the time to saute it in batches, getting it bright green before adding it to the ham hock meat and flavored broth. Once it was all combined, I put it back in the oven (covered) along with a healthy (and I do mean healthy) slug of apple cider vinegar. It hung out there until the kale was tender (about an hour or so), and then I added one more bit of vinegar at the end. The kale really needed the acid and once it was all done, WOW. I could have made a meal of just kale alone … and I probably WILL for a lunchtime this week.

I rounded out the menu with those sugar dumpling squash, ham with cabbage, apple, and carrot, and some white beans. That is what fall eating is all about.

The squash couldn’t be easier. Whack them in half, scoop out the seeds and put them in a baking pan, cut sides up. Add about an inch of water in the pan, and into a 350 degree oven until tender. While still warm, I put a pat of butter in the cavity and then drizzled the whole thing with maple syrup. I finished it off with freshly grated nutmeg. Simply beautiful! Not as sweet as a sweet potato, but not at all starchy or bland…. especially with some freshly ground sea salt. I had four whole ones, and we ate only half of them, so I am sure these sweet darlings will see time in my lunch box this week too.

I’ll give you my cabbage and beans recipes tomorrow, but for tonight, it’s time to hit the hay… Hope your weekend was full of fall flavor.

Care package received, and celebrated!

So, Stretch got her care package today… I promised I’d post a photo once she got it, because I didn’t want to ruin the surprise (the little stinker reads my blog!)

Here’s what she got:

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I sent her some Halloween decorations and a pumpkin carving kit (most of them finds at my local Dollar Tree, or in the $1 bin at Target) so she can decorate her apartment, and maybe have some supplies to throw a little party. My favorite is the white and green sign that says “Witch Parking Only.” I love it because underneath the witch (you can’t see it in the photo) it says “All others will be toad.” That made me laugh… a lot.

She got some little costume items too, some clip in orange extensions, some glow in the dark nail polish, etc. Everything a little witch needs to look fashionable.

For pre-packaged food, I sent her some Jif to Go for those delicious western MD apples, some instant Gatorade powder, gluten free pasta, and gluten free brownie mix (I even found some Halloween/Fall sprinkles for the top!). Stretch didn’t know that Snyder’s makes gluten free pretzels, but they do, and they’re delicious. I also sent my little singing bird some N’ICE throat lozenges for the upcoming winter.

Now, see that fabulous thermal tote from Thirty One? The cute one with the butterflies and the green K? I have one just like it and it’s the most amazing lunchbox ever. Inside that tote were little goodie bags filled with gluten-free candy. I found a great list of gluten free candies online right here. I also put together little “bouquets” of Dum-Dum pops, and Charms Blow Pops. I grabbed three or four “movie candy” boxes I caught on sale (sour patch kids, sugar babies, and junior mints) and added them. Finally I filled the CUTEST little pumpkin bucket with M&Ms (regular and peanut butter).

Then I went crazy in the kitchen. Of course I sent her some marshmallow pops (hers have regular chocolate on white marshmallows), but I wanted to give her a few other treats as well. Caramel apples were just the ticket. I melted a 10-ounce bag of caramels and 1 T. of butter in the microwave. I put sticks into my COLD apples (unwaxed!) and then dipped and swirled them in the caramel. The coating was a bit runny, so to help things set up a little faster, and to add more taste, I rolled the apples in nuts, or crushed gluten-free pretzels before setting them on parchment paper to set up. After the caramel had hardened, I melted chocolate and dipped the top of the apples (after removing the sticks!). I set the apples back on the parchment, put the sticks back in, and honestly, the apples looked like chocolate cupcakes! She got one pretzel, one peanut, one pecan, and one almond.

Stretch, if you’re reading, make sure you CUT the apples to eat them! I doubt you’ll be able to bite these extra big, crunchy, chewy apples.

I made marshmallow popcorn balls. Forget that whole boiling sugar until scorching hot…these popcorn balls end up tasting like those beloved Rice Krispies treats. I popped a bag of kettle corn in the microwave, and emptied all the popped kernels into a bag. I emptied a bag of marshmallows, a tablespoon of vanilla, a healthy tablespoon of salt and half a stick of butter into the microwave. I heated it up (stirring at regular intervals) until melted. I had three bowls of “add ins” ready for the popcorn balls – dried cranberries, chocolate covered peanuts, and chocolate covered raisins. I let the marshmallow cool slightly before pouring it over the popcorn. Coating my hands lightly with coconut oil, I gently mixed the marshmallow popcorn mixture until it was all coated. I divided the popcorn into eight, and grabbing a handful of an add-in, I formed the balls so that each one had something delicious to complement the kettle corn and marshmallow. These treats end up being sweet and salty and absolutely addictive.

Finally, I whipped up some gluten free popcorn snack mix. Popcorn, gluten free pretzels, dry roasted peanuts, chocolate covered raisins, dried cranberries, and whatever leftover chocolate covered peanuts I had left. I tossed all the ingredients together, added salt…and then put the mix into my FoodSaver bags. I set the vacuum to “gentle” and removed the air before sealing. That will keep the popcorn crunchy until she’s ready to eat it.

As you can see in the photo, I also had a great time playing with my new toy – a personal Cricut machine! Mads and I made cards, and Halloween gift tags that we attached to everything. I even channeled my inner Poe and wrote cute little poems to add to some of the treats. Stretch called me today and I had the thrill of listening to her as she opened the box and exclaimed with delight over each new surprise. It made me so happy to hear her so happy! I asked her if she was going to share any of her loot… she remained noncommittal.

So, a little research into gluten free candy, a little work whipping up some homemade gluten free goodies, and finding some major bargains at my local stores turned into the best Halloween care package ever, and I am winner Mom. Stretch, I’m glad you were surprised and happy… just don’t eat it all at once…and remember to brush your teeth before bed!

Major cuteness

So, Mads has her final soccer match on Friday night. She wanted to give something special to each of her teammates. Stretch has a bake sale for her sorority, and she wanted something easy and portable. I sent a care package, and needed something gluten free and delicious to help fill it.

I have one magical petite treat that fills the bill and it’s SO DANGED CUTE!

Say hello to my little friend… marshmallow pops!
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Aren’t they adorable? And incredibly super duper easy.

Here’s what you need:
Large marshmallows
Chocolate or white chocolate
Sanding sugar/sprinkles
Small bamboo skewers
Small cupcake liners

Jar filled with dried beans

Poke the skewer through the cupcake liner and into the marshmallow. Make sure you pull the paper liner down away from the marshmallow though, because when you dip, you don’t want to get the paper all gross. Now, dip the top of the marshmallow into the chocolate, and swirl slightly as you lift up. Stick the skewer into the jar of beans to hold it upright, and before the chocolate sets completely, sprinkle with sanding sugar/sprinkles. Once the chocolate sets, push the cupcake liner up around the marshmallow and VOILA! Major cuteness, easy to make, and deliciously yummy.

Mads’ school colors are blue, white, and silver… to color the marshmallows I made a colored confectioner’s sugar and shook the marshmallows in that before dipping into the white chocolate. Pretty isn’t it? I told Stretch that she should dip hers in regular chocolate and then sprinkle with crushed graham crumbs. S’mores on a stick!

There are about 45 marshmallows in a bag, and these would make great treats for Halloween, birthdays, Christmas, or anytime. And did I mention the cuteness? MAJOR cuteness.