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.

Long time no post, I know

Sorry for the lengthy delay in posting. Two weeks ago, my children’s Godmother (and the mother to MY Godchildren) passed away unexpectedly. To say that I was shocked and saddened would be a gross understatement. Even now I have a tough time processing the fact that this wonderful person is gone from my life forever. She was one of those people that no matter how long had passed since we last talked, we always picked RIGHT up where we left off. I had spoken to her less than a month before her death and she sounded great, happy…everything I loved about her. So that is how I will remember her, not the last few days of her life and her untimely death.

So I came back home from her memorial services, and back into my routine. New job, kid stuff, market runs, hit and miss dinners.

HOWEVER, I was able to make Italian stuffed cabbage rolls for my family as well as an extra pan which I delivered to friends who are brand new parents. I’ll do the tutorial on those later (they were LABOR INTENSIVE but oh so good!), but today I wanted to celebrate the most delicious, easiest side dish/salad I’ve had in a long long time. I call it “Zucchini Ribbon Salad” and it seriously couldn’t be easier.

I was fortunate enough to snag some tiny yellow squash and some small zucchini from the farmer’s market, hooray for fall plantings! and I needed something delicious to do with them. So here’s my answer… warning…it’s addictive.

I used four small yellow squash and two small zucchini… as well as a small red onion. I put them on the mandolin, and sliced them super thin into ribbons. I sliced the onion thin as well, and popped it into ice water to take some of the “bite” out of it. You could also use a simple vegetable peeler to get the ribbon effect from the squash, but since I had the mandolin out, I couldn’t resist!

I put one large clove of garlic through the garlic press into a bowl. I added the zest of a lemon and then the juice of that lemon to the bowl. I chopped up a handful of fresh parsley, added salt, and then whisked in a generous amount of olive oil to make a lemon vinaigrette. Be sure to taste! You want it lemony, but not so tart it causes the pucker factor.

I added the squash ribbons to the vinaigrette, making sure to separate them (no clumps of ribbons for me), and removed the onion from the water. I patted it dry on paper towels, and added it to the squash, then tossed everything together, mixing well and coating it with that delicious dressing. To serve, I used tongs and pulled the ribbons out, piling them loosely on the side of the plate. I topped it with some feta cheese, and it was perfect. Fresh, lemony, slightly salty from the feta… YUM. I could have eaten the entire bowl by myself. AND it was even better the next day.

It ended up being a great end to a pretty crappy couple of weeks.

Now I’m back and working on my next passion: Christmas shopping! But my idea for Christmas this year is to eschew the big box stores as much as I can, and either make gifts by hand, or purchase from local vendors, artisans, craftsmen, and small businesses. Yes, I know, Wally World hires people in my neighborhood, but ultimately a lot of the money goes to product manufacturers in China, and the profits to stockholder portfolios. However, by purchasing locally, the money goes in the hands of REAL people in my community. Plus these folks are putting their talent, their passion into their product…they deserve to be rewarded for that!

So, this Christmas it will be pre-paid meals (or gift cards) from the locally owned restaurant, or fitness classes with the personal trainer, or handcrafted jewelry, or prints of local nature photography.

Feel free to find us on Facebook and get the ball rolling in your own neighborhood! Our group is open to anyone, come shop with us, or promote your own ideas. I’d love for this to become a nationwide movement, just think of all the benefits we could bring to the economy if we all shopped small?

An Outside the Box (Store) Christmas on Facebook.

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!

Back to life…back to cooking!

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Whew! The show has closed and it was a success. Thankfully. Now it’s back to work. Tonight I put fresh broccoli into the freezer and cooked a delicious one dish dinner – stuffed zucchini!

I had two semi-large zucchini from the farmer’s market as well as some onions, bell peppers, garlic, sweet Italian sausage, and fresh Parmesan cheese. Mads had a soccer match, so I needed something easy and fairly quick. Therefore I put EVERY heat implement I had to the test. I preheat my oven to 350 degrees F. I cut the tops off the zucchini, washed them well, halved them, and then put them in a microwave dish with a glass lid and nuked for 7 to 8 minutes until they were tender. While they were going, I diced onion and garlic, and grabbed some frozen bell pepper strips from my stash in the freezer and put them in a cast iron skillet along with a bit of olive oil. I let them begin to sweat a bit while I removed 4 links of sweet Italian sausage from their casings. I popped the sausage into the skillet and let it all start to brown, adding some cracked black pepper, and a healthy couple tablespoons of Italian seasoning. The zucchini was then tender and I used a spoon to scoop out the centers of the squash, leaving a shell with about 1/4 of an inch of zucchini in it. I added the scooped out centers to the pan, letting it all cook thoroughly until fairly dry.

I put the zucchini boats face down on a kitchen towel, letting the extra liquid drain out of them. I used the same baking dish from the microwave, drying it out thoroughly, and then I brushed a bit of olive oil on the skin of the drained zucchini shells before returning them, face up, to the dish. Using a slotted spoon, I then scooped the sausage and veggie mixture into the zucchini boats. I sprinkled each with the Parmesan cheese, and then realized there wasn’t NEARLY enough melty goodness going on there so I added some shredded mozzarella.

The dish went into the oven while I washed up the dishes I had used… (Try not to faint!) and had Mads make some iced tea. Fifteen minutes later, I had warm, savory stuffed zucchini shells, topped with melted cheese. The secret here is to make sure the meat mixture is highly seasoned. The squash has a very mild flavor, and the mixture ends up being perfectly flavorful, not too spicy and not too bland.

Best yet it was quick! Thirty minutes from start to eating… and it was a great antidote to today’s weather which turned out to be wet and chilly. PLUS, those leftovers are going to be super delicious for lunch tomorrow.

It is SO good to be home!

My daddy raised a cheapskate

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After my visit to the produce auction on Friday, I came home and started cleaning out the fridge. As I’ve stated, I hate wasting ANYTHING, and I had a few things in the fridge that were at the “cook me or toss me” stage. Of course I chose to cook!
I had eggplant, yellow squash, leeks, mushrooms, broccoli, peppers, yellow cherry tomatoes, and half an onion that all needed my immediate attention. So the leeks got paired with potatoes for delicious leek and potato soup. Some of the eggplant was planked and grilled with Italian herbs for a quick side dish, or a panini sandwich later. A few of the yellow squash were charred in a cast iron skillet and tossed with roasted almonds in a turmeric and honey glaze before being finished off with fresh parsley. The rest of the eggplant and squash were roasted (along with some carrots) in the oven and then combined with those cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and some fresh green beans into a big pot of vegetable soup. The mushrooms, peppers, and onion all got sauteed in olive oil and garlic until caramelized and soft. It will end up being an amazing condiment/topping for hamburgers or steak in the next few days.
The eggplant planks couldn’t be easier. Slice in thirds, salt to draw out the water. Pat them dry, and then brush with olive oil. Sprinkle on Italian seasoning and pop into a grill pan. Turn them over once you get those awesome marks, and then finish with a drizzle of garlic infused oil at the end.
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I modified the squash from Aarti Sequeira’s recipe on the Food Network. I didn’t have hazelnuts, and I had more parsley than cilantro. PLUS butter isn’t Paleo, so I used coconut oil. It turned out delicious and beautiful!
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My leek and potato soup recipe is from my man Alton Brown. Again, I skipped the dairy since it isn’t Paleo, and you know what? I didn’t miss it at all. I added thyme to my potatoes and leeks, and when I fired up my immersion blender, the soup ended up perfectly creamy and smooth. I didn’t miss the cream or the buttermilk at all.
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I built the base of my veggie soup by sweating onion, garlic, and celery until soft, and then adding those yellow cherry tomatoes and salt until the tomatoes “popped”. I then used the immersion blender again (reason number ONE THOUSAND why my husband is the best ever… I LOVE my immersion blender) and made the base smooth. I added a quart of organic, free range chicken broth, a can of diced tomatoes, a bay leaf, thyme, and some salt. I had cubed and roasted some yellow squash, eggplant, and carrots in a 400 degree oven until they were a little tender and browned a bit. I added them to the soup broth along with the broccoli and some fresh green beans. Simmered on the stove until the veggies were all soft… the soup is really flavorful and sweet. It’s like a little bit of leftover summer in a bowl!
So, now my fridge is a little cleaner, I didn’t have to throw out anything, and I’ve got food prepared that I can heat up quickly and eat while on the run. Plus, my wallet is happy! No waste, and no need to pay more than I have to by eating out. My dad is going to be so proud when I tell him. Of course he’ll want to come over for dinner and that’s fine too.

I learned a lot about myself today

It’s FRIDAY! It’s also my day off…and rather than sleep in, I got asked if I would accompany some friends to have the most fun possible at 9 am on a Friday. I hadn’t really planned this trip, so I didn’t have a whole lot of cash on me. I decided I was just going to go to help Kim and her mom do the bidding, kind of like an auction coach. Instead here’s what I discovered about myself:

I suck at being an auction coach. I’m much better being an auction participant.

It does not matter how many I have in my freezer, or in my fridge, I am physically unable to walk away from fresh green beans.

I will indeed buy a bushel of sweet potatoes just because they’re tiny and cute.

I am going to need many recipes and ideas for things to do with butternut squash ($4 for a huge boxl? REALLY?)

Nothing makes me squeal like a little kid than finding farm fresh asparagus on the last day of summer and then only paying $3 each for 4 huge bunches.

So I could REALLY tell that the seasons have changed, because there weren’t nearly the number of wagons lined up to sell the produce. Additionally, there were far fewer cucumbers, tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini. Instead we were treated to the emergence of pumpkins, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and kale. It was still beautiful, and two weeks from now, I’ll be back out there bidding on greens, apples, pears, and mums!

But for today, here’s what I got:

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Total spent? $30

Herbs, sweet potatoes, spaghetti squash, butternut squash, green beans, poblano peppers (which will be dried to make ancho chiles!!) asparagus… Yum.

I look at my impromptu trip as a journey toward self discovery…and at least my addiction is healthy, right? RIGHT?

Oh and I got to see Dave from Zekiah Farms at the auction too. Always a bonus. PLEASE go visit him and his wife…they run a QUALITY operation and are awesome folks to be around. Besides, their price on organic, free range chicken cannot be beat. For real. Go see him, and tell him that Stacy said “Hi!”