Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Triumphant Return that Tastes like Chicken

2014 has been an amazing year for this blogger - I got married, traveled to two new countries and several new states, launched a huge software project at work, and finished a second year of adjunct teaching at UNC-C. Needless to say, that's left very little room for writing here, despite no slow down in the amount of cooking I've done.

Now that life has quieted down, I'm back at the wheel and hope to add a bunch of new recipes in the coming weeks and months. I'm going to start with one that I've made a couple times recently, a roasted chicken with local seasonal herbs. The great thing about this is that you can size up the recipe for turkey or turkey breast which I've done twice with great success. It's also a pretty dish that has great leftovers potential for both stock (suggested recipe below) and sandwiches. The chicken, as always, came from Windy Hill, the herbs from Coto Farms who always has an amazing selection throughout the year, and the carrots, beets and turnips are from my friends at the Lomax Incubator. 

A note about herbs: yes, you can use dried herbs and if you do, I suggest getting high quality ones from an actual spice shop. The dried herbs you get in sets from a Bed, Bath and Beyond-type place are probably old and not awesome. However, herbs are really easily grown in greenhouses or just in people's homes so you can usually find fresh herbs all year round locally. Fresh herbs taste and look better in a recipe and really add an element of freshness, especially in the winter when our food tends to have less bold flavors.

Easy Roast Chicken (LPO)
2-3 large carrots
2-3 turnips
2-3 beets 

1 onion
1 whole head of garlic
1 bunch fresh sage
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh rosemary
1 whole lemon, cut in half
1 whole chicken
Butter, olive oil, salt and pepper as necessary

  1. Line a dutch oven with olive oil. Cut the vegetables in 1 inch pieces and line the dutch oven with them. Chop about 1 tablespoon of each herb and set aside.
  2. Stuff the chicken with the whole lemon, several cloves of garlic, and the rest of the herbs (unchopped is best, use the whole stem and leaves).
  3. Soften a couple tablespoons of better in the microwave then mix that with the chopped herbs. You can either rub these over the chicken's skin or, if you're daring, tuck them under the chicken skin (this is ideal, it really keeps the bird moist later).
  4. Put the chicken in the pan over top of the veggies. Drizzle some olive oil over the whole bird and tie the wings together with string (optional but this helps it cook more evenly).
  5. Bake uncovered at 400 for 15 minutes to get a nice glaze on the skin and then turn the oven down to 350 and cook the rest of the way (the inside temp of the bird needs to be 165 or, if you don't have a meat thermometer, cut one of the legs away some and check for a minimal amount of pink). Cook time really varies based on the size and fat-iness of your bird but this could take up to 2 hours. A good local bird like I had from Windy Hill will only take about an hour to an hour and a half but a fattier bird from the grocery store could take two.
Looks professional, was super simple!

To make chicken stock later:
  1. Keep the chicken and any leftover vegetables (though you might want to remove the beets because they'll turn your stock red) in the dutch oven or other large soup pot.
  2. Fill with water until it's covering most of the bird or 1 inch below the rim of the pot, whichever is lower.
  3. Add salt, pepper and chopped celery (optional)
  4. Place on stove and bring to a boil. Once it's boiled for a minute or two, reduce heat and simmer for up to an hour. Then you can remove the chicken, leaving any meat you still have around, and voila, chicken stock for soups or cooking later!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

I'll Make Lamb (With Gnocchi)

Now that I'm eating limited meat again, I'm almost already bored of it. Since I can't eat beef and we chose to limit our pork consumption due to the recent purchase of a family pig, that doesn't leave a lot of popular meat. Chicken is the most likely solution but who wants to eat chicken all the time?

Never fear, Windy Hill Farms has lamb! As do many farms in North Carolina along with goat many places as well. Windy Hill has an amazing lamb chorizo sausage that I just discovered recently. I've made other chorizo recipes here before but I decided to be a little crazy this time. I got some sweet potato gnocchi from Rio Bertolini at the Atherton Market. Onions and leeks are also all over the market these days as well as the standard kale varieties, of which my new favorite is German kale which is strong and a little salty. Throw all this together on a weeknight and we had a super easy meal Hamburger Helper would be jealous of...

Lamb Chorizo With Gnocchi (LPO)
4 links lamb chorizo sausage
2 leeks, sliced thin up to the green part
2-3 spring onions, sliced thin up to the green stem
Garlic, minced, to taste
1 package sweet potato gnocchi
1 large handful chopped kale
  1. In a large skillet, heat some olive oil to medium-high. Add all garlic, leeks and onions.
  2. Simmer until they've softened then add the sausage (remove the skin).
  3. Cook until mixed (note: you may have to help the sausage break up). Add kale, cover and turn heat down to medium-low.
  4. Make the gnocchi and cook until just before done. Drain.
  5. Add gnocchi to the sausage mixture. Turn once or twice until just mixed and heated through. Don't mix too much or it will break up the gnocchi.
  6. Serve hot!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

Having been largely vegetarian for a couple years, I got super tired of portobello mushrooms being on every restaurant's menu as the only veggie option. Sure, they're great, but use your imagination and make something other than mushrooms! I pretty much ignored them on all menus on principle until now.

Two reasons: first, my nutritionist suggested adding more mushrooms to my diet. They have bacteria in them that are especially good for sensitive tummies and are full of great nutrients. Second, one of the vendors at the Atherton Market has started selling portobello mushrooms from a farm in north Georgia (which is as local as we are going to get around here).

So when I saw these beauties at the market last week, I had to have one. The one I bought was massive - a good 7 inches in diameter! - and really just perfect in every way a mushroom can be. I went online and found a great recipe which I altered somewhat for what I had in the fridge this weekend. The rice, as always, is from Queen City Pantry and I could have easily used my canned tomatoes had I not had some fresh ones left over from an event. This recipe is per-mushroom is easily scalable for a larger batch (I only made one).

Tomato and Rice Stuffed Portobello (v)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1/4 tomato, diced
1/8 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 portobello mushroom, black gills removed
1-2 tablespoons Romano cheese (optional)
  1. Place the mushroom gill side down on a cookie sheet. Broil in the oven for 5 minutes.
  2. In a skillet, heat oil and add onions and garlic. Cook until soft. 
  3. Remove from heat and add cooked rice, tomato and Worcestershire sauce.
  4. Spoon mixture into upturned mushroom. Sprinkle top with cheese (optional).
  5. Broil for 4-5 minutes or until cheese is a little brown on top.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

My Foray Back into Omnivory

If you've been keeping up with recent blog posts, you'll know that I've been instructed by my nutritionist to add meat back into my diet. The problem is that I've committed to eating only local, humanely-raised and minimal hormone meat which poses a problem since most restaurants can't guarantee this. So what's a girl to do?

The answer is: look around you. There are so many local producers of high quality meat in the US, and Charlotte specifically, that you don't have to compromise your values to get animal protein. Thus, I went back to my old friends at Windy Hill Farms and have been trying some of their new or premier products. Last week, I made my favorite tomato sauce from my owned canned tomatoes but added their new ground chicken and some red pepper flakes.  It was incredible, if I don't say so myself.

This week, I wanted to revamp my barbeque pork recipe. I got a pork roast from Windy Hill and used my large crock pot. This time, however, instead of just eating BBQ, I made some fajitas. Here's how I cooked the BBQ after following the above recipe using some rice from Queen City Pantry. You can get taco seasoning from Savory Spice Shop and, if it were a little later in the year, you could also get the tomatoes and cilantro from pretty much any produce vendor in NC.

Pork Fajitas (LPO)

Two good handfuls of pork BBQ, pulled apart by hand
1/2 large yellow onion, cut in 1" strips
Taco seasoning to taste
About 2 cups cooked rice
Cilantro and diced tomato (optional)
  1. Simmer the onions in some olive oil or butter until soft.
  2. Add the the BBQ and simmer for 5-10 minutes and flavor with taco seasoning
  3. Serve with rice, cilantro, tomatoes and Greek yogurt or your favorite toppings.
This made three healthy burrito-sized fajitas using large tortillas.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Game Changer

As even infrequent readers of my blog will tell you, I try to minimize the meat and other animal products that I consume. I started this lifestyle after reading several books and doing research on the commercial meat industry. Michael Pollan, The China Study, you name it and I've read it. For almost three years now, our household has been on a minimal meat diet, replacing proteins with soy milk and tofu.

So mark your calendars because March 13, 2014 was the day my nutritionist told me to eat meat.

Why, you ask? In the course of my appointments with her, she suggested I have a nutrient test conducted and see an allergist to identify any food allergies. Here's what we found out:
  • My glutamine levels are low. Glutamine is the amino acid that regulates colon health and you get it primarily from meat and dairy products.
  • My B complex levels are also really low. This can cause fatigue, nausea and other stomach upsets. You get B from a lot of sources but the most accessible is pork.
  • My oleic acid levels are low. This is the good stuff in olive oil, almond oil, and similar products.
  • My allergy test showed a distinct allergy to soy products (like soy sauce, tofu, soy milk, etc).
What does this mean? Basically, by trying to go animal-fat free, I've been poisoning my colon with food that it can't tolerate and depriving it of something that, especially as someone with IBS, I desperately need. By trying to be healthier, I've been making myself sicker.

But what now? I'm still processing all this but the one decision I have made is that I have to start eating meat. I'm not going to go out and order chicken nuggets, but I am going to walk up to the farmer I buy eggs from and tell her that this is the week I want meat too (I'm sure she'll be thrilled).

The good news? Gluten doesn't seem to be an issue for my system but, after doing a lot of research on wheat in the 21st century, there are a lot of things about gluten that isn't great so I will continue to minimize my gluten intake to delicious local breads and pastries from Nova's (it's tough but I'll manage!).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Miso Soup Reimagined

One random but tasty thing my nutritionist recommended to help restabilize my bacteria was miso. I don't know much about this ingredient but I do know I love miso soup so I went to my friendly neighborhood Whole Foods who, in my opinion, has the best soup starters out there. I can take very little credit for this recipe which I got off the box but I was able to substitute several local items that you can find at the market. You can still get kale, which I get from the Lomax Farm where they grow it in a greenhouse this time of year, butternut squash for all over (though it has been less successful this year, says the farmers), and shiitake mushrooms from Cotton Barn Mushrooms. These ingredients are for 4 cups of miso broth so the recipe is easily scalable.

Miso Soup (V)
4 cups miso broth
1 handful shiitake mushrooms, chopped
1 large handful kale, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/4 onion, chopped
1 cup butternut squash, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil as needed for pan
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Saute the onions, garlic and mushrooms until coated in olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add kale and butternut squash, coating in the oil, cooking for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the miso broth and bring to a boil.
  4. Let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until squash reaches desired tenderness.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A New Adventure


After 6 years of living with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I decided it was time for a change. I have such a long list of things I avoid eating I could write a book (or a long blog) and am tired of having to cancel social events because of pain and other unfortunate symptoms. I asked around and found that a family friend in the area is not only a nutritionist part time but is also incredibly knowledgeable about IBS. Our meeting and her suggestions have sent me a new food journey which has also renewed my vigor for writing about new recipes.

Though I came away from our first meeting with a veritable laundry list of suggestions, good foods and bad foods, the biggest take away so far is that the amount and type of gluten and soy in my diet could be a huge contributor to the imbalance in my GI system. So the first order of business is to cut out refined grains, gluten products and the mass amounts of soy milk and tofu that I eat. I'm hoping that this is only temporary because really, a life without bread? I'll take the bloating and cramps, thank you very much.

Month One of the new diet has included a lot of recipes which I'll start recounting over the coming weeks. The real trick though is replacing some items like bread, pasta, crackers, etc that I get from the farmers market with other local items. This first recipe was very easy because Windy Hill has an amazing selection of sausage, there are lots of butternut squash still available, and Queen City Pantry just started selling vegetable stock. I also got most of the spices (as well as almost all the spices in my kitchen) from the Savory Spice Shop.

A note about meat: avid readers will know that for 2-3 years, I have been avoiding meat except for locally-grown or other conscientious meat options and even those only rarely. One suggestion from my nutritionist is to introduce small amounts of meat on a regular basis. Thus, you'll see some more meat recipes, all of which I plan to make with locally-available protein options.

Roast Butternut Squash Soup with Sausage (LPO)

3-4 pounds butternut squash,

2 large carrots

1 small onion

3 cloves garlic, peeled

Olive oil as needed

1/2 pound sausage (I used Chorizo but the book suggests mild Italian)

4 cups broth or stock

1/2 teaspoon of each: cinnamon, ground ginger and allspice

1 bay leaf

Toast almonds as garnish (optional)

  1. Cut the squash, carrots and onions into 1" pieces. Combine them and the peeled garlic into a large bowl, coat with olive oil, salt and pepper.
  2. Bake them on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes until the squash is easily pierced with a fork.
  3. Put the sausage on the stove in a large stockpot, turn on medium and cook through.
  4. While sausage is cooking, put all veggies from the oven into a blender and blend about half way. Put half the broth/stock in the blend and blend completely.
  5. Combine the remaining stock and the veggie puree with the sausage in the stock pot, adding the spices and bay leaf.
  6. Bring to a boil then simmer for 10-15 minutes and serve. 
Recipe source: Against all Grain by Danielle Walker