Who knew having a kindergartner would be so difficult! She is busier than I am. I have been on the hunt for quick and easy recipes I can do while she’s tearing through the house after glee club, violin, cooking class, and soccer (see told you, busy lady!) We love the rice bowl at Chipotle and Moes, so I decided to make a healthier version at home. I also wanted to make it vegetarian because sometimes I feel like we are overloaded on meat. Especially since we’ve been doing so much paleo stuff lately, with Whole30. It’s a nice change And could be a great meal for meatless Monday!…
As I write this I am sitting in my office looking out the window waiting for the Snowpocalypse to hit, aka Winter Storm Juno. When did we start naming winter storms? It seems strange to me. It seems like a way for weather people to get excited when it is not hurricane season. I guess they are predicting this storm will be pretty impressive and since I live on the coast of CT…well…it’s gonna be a long night. I suppose we will see how this goes, by tomorrow this post will either be silly because we didn’t get hit with anything, or I will have interesting pictures to share next time!
I’m not sure if you are aware or not but Sara and I both decided to start 2015 off right by doing another Whole 30. Whole 30 is a great way to get your eating back on track after an overindulgent holiday season.
Well my Whole 30 started off great. I was having a much easier time of it it than I did the first time around and was settling in for an easy month. All that changed when I woke up one morning, went downstairs to eat my usual breakfast of a banana with almond butter…but when I tried to eat the banana I discovered my mouth wouldn’t open! Now to say I was a little perplexed was an understatement. I have never had trouble opening my mouth wide (who doesn’t like big sandwiches right?) let alone trying to eat something as small as a banana. Well…one trip to the doctor and some muscle relaxers later I discovered I somehow hurt my TMJ joint. Which means what? Nothing but soft foods for me for the foreseeable future. AKA my Whole 30 was over. Yes I probably could have subsisted on pureed vegetable soups, mashed sweet potatoes and spaghetti squash, but I am opting for just doing the best I can, including eating whole wheat pasta. Maybe I will do Whole 30 next month…
The recipe I am sharing with you today is one I started working on during my last whole 30. It came about because I was thinking it would be cool if you could somehow make mini Shepard’s Pies you could eat with your hands? Well, these are the results of all my experimenting. They aren’t exactly Shepard’s Pie anymore, but believe me, you won’t care…these babies are good! Baking them with the mashed sweet potato on top keeps them juicy, yet they are still portable enough you can eat with your hands. Give them a try, I promise you will love them!
I am in the first week of my second round of Whole 30. I did my first Whole 30 last year and had a great experience. Your can read all about it and see what I ate by clicking here. We decided to do Whole 30 again to help us get back on track after the holiday season. Sara and I are both doing Whole 30 this January…wish us luck!!!
This time around I thought I would change it up a bit and try adding some new fish recipes to my Whole 30 repertoire. I have always been a fan of crab cakes. When I was younger that and fried shrimp were the only seafood I would eat. As we grew up my parents tried to incorporate more fish into our diets. I remember my mom used to make salmon that was baked with a little Cesar dressing and fresh ginger…I know it sounds weird, but trust me it is delicious. This dish made me fall in love with salmon…and once the love affair started there was no looking back.
For this recipe I wanted to combine my first two seafood loves, crab cakes and salmon, in one dish. These delicious salmon cakes are both Paleo and Whole 30 compliant. One of the things I like best is that it is a great recipe for using up leftover salmon. I like serving it with some lemon wedges, but I think avocado would work well with the dish as well.
I think this prime rib roast is going to become a tradition for us. It’s simple to prepare but indulgent in flavor. I decided to include it in my Holiday Spread because it’s quintessential holiday, fancy fare. Plus, its really fun to photography, so why not make it when Sera Petras is there to take pictures. I can not take full credit for this recipe, I adapted it from the Niman Ranch cookbook.
I received the Niman Ranch Cookbook: From Farm to Table with America’s Finest Meat for Christmas a few years ago and fell in love with it. It taught me so much about sustainable farming, as well as concepts like free range, organic and more. It’s definitely worth a read. The last part of the book is packed with delicious recipes, including this one. The hardest part of making this is cutting it after its done. At least it was for me. I spent so much time and money on this meat, I didn’t want to mess it up by cutting it wrong. But, in the end it turned out to be way easier than I thought. Click here for a resource that I found really helpful.
So, this post is the final post from my A Holiday Spread series of posts. I want to send my sincerest thanks to Sera Petras Photography for making it possible. We’ve never had such lovely and beautiful photographs on our site. We absolutely can’t wait for the next collaboration.
Here is a recap of all the food we serves at our Holiday Feast;
For a recap of our Holiday Spread, including information on the table setting, and our prep, click here.
Let us know what you think. Do you have plans to go all out this year with your table decor?
Local Ingredient: JQ Dickinson Salt.
I was one of those teenage vegetarians. Like many teenage girls, when I reached 13, I could no longer stomach the idea of eating an animal. Of course that didn’t last long, as my mom was a meat and potatoes kind of lady, so if I wanted to eat, I had to eat what she cooked. But, as I grew up and was able to make my own decisions on the food I ate, I was able to make more conscience decisions on the humanity of my meat choices. I try very hard to make humane decisions. Historically, I’ve avoided lamb because I just couldn’t stomach what I was eating. But as I did more research I discovered that as long as you make conscientious purchases, lamb is one of the most humanely treated animals in our food system, and its got a ton of health benefits to boot. So, along with this recipe, I thought I’d share with you some information I found on lamb. This information is particular to grass fed, pasture raised lamb;
- Omega3 & 6 – Grass-fed lamb is super high in omega-3 & 6 which we all know helps promote heart health and brain development.
- Lower in Fat – Grass Fed lambs are out to pasture more, which makes them leaner. So you get the added benefit of the tasty-ness of the grass diet, but also a leaner cut of meat.
- High in Vitamin B – Grass fed lamb is incredibly high in vitamin B, B12 in particular.
- Protein – As with most meat, lamb is also high in protein.
All About the Lamb
A lamb, a baby sheep less than 1 year old, is usually sold in 5 different cuts; shoulder, rack, shank, loin and leg. Lamb is a staple food across the Middle East and Europe, especially countries like Turkey and Greece. When considering how to prepare lamb, here is a quick list of what cut is best for what preparation;
- Shoulder: Best for stews, and can be cut into stew meat.
- Shank: Best when braised.
- Lamb Chops: Best broiled or pan seared, then finished under the broiler.
- Rack of Lamb: Best when roasted but can also be pan seared then roasted.
- Ground Lamb: Ground lamb can be treated like ground beef or turkey, such as foods like burgers and meatballs.
As with any meat you buy at the market, it has been raised to be eaten. We always recommend trying to buy local, it’s part of our clean eating philosophy, and it’s no different with lamb. Try to find a local source for your lamb, this could be a local farm, small local grocery store, or even the farmers market. I found that a simple Google search of “local lamb Virginia” gave me a ton of options. Border Springs Farm is nearby to me and even has an online store. The specialize in grass fed lamb.
As I mentioned earlier, grass fed lamb has a plethora of health benefits, and its also delicious. Adding lamb to my diet has opened up so many recipe options for me. I love the Mediterranean and curry flavors that go well with lamb, but also the herb and minty flavors too. It’s very versatile and pretty simple to prepare. I’m considering serving this for the holiday’s this year. It would be so beautiful on a holiday table, perhaps on a bed of bright red cranberries. Oh, the possibilities!
I have always been intimidated by Rack of Lamb. It just looks so pretty and always seemed so difficult. But, I’m here to tell you, it is not! This recipe is pretty simple. The herbs are so flavorful and go great with the taste of the lamb. This recipe is prepared to medium rare, as that is the recommended temperature for lamb. You can adjust the oven cooking time as needed though if you want your lamb cooked to a different temperature. Enjoy!
Local Ingredient: Lamb from a local farm, rosemary from my garden.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There I said it. I love Thanksgiving. I have the best childhood memories of this particular holiday. We usually spent it at my Grandma’s house, and we always feasted! Though she was born and lived much of her young life out west,(her birthday certificate lists her birth place as Indian Territory) she moved to the south in the early late 30’s with her family and ended up marrying a Alabamian. So, she quickly became versed in all things southern. Each year our Thanksgiving table included things like green beans made with the ham bone, black eyed peas made with the ham bone, southern style corn bread, honey baked ham, candied yams, green bean casserole, deviled eggs, sweet tea and turkey, of course. As I look back, my childhood Thanksgivings are one of my biggest cooking influences. I think I’ve gained much of my skill and experience in the kitchen by cooking Thanksgiving dinner.
I come from a particularly small family, I’m an only child and only have 2 cousins. Both were boys, and lived a few hours away. So, I only got to see them on Holidays. We always had so much fun. I grew up in Florida, so sometimes we would swim all day and when it was cooler out, we’d play football in the yard, or watch hours of football on tv. We are also a divided family, half are Florida State Seminoles, and half are Florida Gators. Each year, the rivalry football game is played on Thanksgiving weekend, so to preserve our family civility, we always went out separate ways by Friday. Football runs deep in Florida. In fact, one of our family friends broke up with his long term girlfriend because she made the mistake of talking smack after her team beat his….yeah…its that important. Anyway, back to the food…oh wait one more thing – GO NOLES!
As I got older, I was required to help out in the kitchen. My mom’s specialty was deviled eggs. We made them for any and every family get together. It was expected. My job was always peeling the eggs. As I grew up I slowly took on more responsibility. These days, I cook pretty much the entire meal. However, that’s because I want to not because I’m required to. I usually start planning my Thanksgiving menu in early October. I love Thanksgiving day. I get to spend the whole day in the kitchen, cooking for my family, then enjoy watching them eat all my delicious food. The best part is that one of them usually insists on cleaning up. Because we have a small family, I don’t always get a whole turkey. The past few years, I’ve gotten a bone-in turkey breast. It cooks like a turkey, but is smaller and less expensive.
This year its just 5 of us; my parents, my daughter, my husband and me. So, I’ll probably cook a smaller than usual meal. I plan on doing a bone-in chicken breast, since it will serve everyone well enough, with just the right amount of leftovers. The breast cooks quicker, but otherwise its pretty similar to a whole turkey. I decided to try my hand at brining a bone-in breast this year, and was rewarded. It was super moist, tender and very tasty. Usually I made a pan gravy with the pan juices, but for this I actually decided to just serve it with the juices on their own. It was really delicious. I was surprised at how the coconut oil really browned the skin beautifully. I was so happy with how this turkey came out. I’ll add that my dog was too because she dragged it off the counter and went to town. Yea, I was pretty angry. She’s lucky I love her.
Local Ingredient: Turkey Breast from a local turkey farm, sage and rosemary from my herb garden.
This week Jessica and I took a trip to Bold Rock Cidery in Nellysford, VA. This place is like Disney World for grown ups. It’s beautiful there and the cider is delicious! I have been hooked on their Virginia Draft for a while now, I can get it at my local grocery store. The fact that it’s made less than 30 minutes from my house is just the icing on the cake. If you ever take a trip through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, this is a must see location. They recently opened a new tasting facility. This place was built to host parties. It’s huge and the view is amazing. I see many weekends there in my future.
The cider is made with apples from Virginia and Maryland, many from right there on their own property. They will also be releasing a pear cider in November. I CAN NOT wait!.We’ve spent many beautiful Virginia days at local vineyards and are so excited to have another excellent option. There is a huge lawn which I know my daughter will love running around on. The best part? I can get a growler of Virginia Draft!
So, with our fun trip to Bold Rock we decided we wanted to incorporate some hard cider into a recipe. With the holidays coming up, many people are looking for a fantastic main dish they can serve as an alternative to roasting a whole turkey. A beautiful roast chicken is always a great option, especially for smaller families and dinner parties. While turkey leftovers can be the best part…when you have 5 pounds of turkey to re-purpose…it can get a little hard to get through it all.
The apple roast chicken is a recipe that we’ve been testing for over a year. In the past, we always made it with regular apple cider, but a Bold Rock Virginia Apple was in order for this time. It worked out great! The cider gave the chicken and gravy a slightly sweet apple flavor that had us licking the saute pan. We will definitely be making it this way from now on.
In our first few tests, we had trouble getting the skin to brown evenly. We decided to cut the apples for under the skin in thin discs, which made a huge difference. We also switched up the seasoning on the outside, adding a little salted organic butter to get that beautiful brown color.
This chicken would be great with our Honey Roasted Sweet Potato and Parsnips or the Cranberry Apple Chutney. Also, you could try it this weekend as a warm up to get your palate ready for fall flavors. You could use any hard cider if you are no lucky enough not to have Bold Rock nearby like me.
Local Ingredient: Local organic chicken and Bold Rock Hard Cider.
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Over the weekend I decided it would be fun to go pumpkin picking. I have never actually done it before, but figure hey, might as well go straight to the source right? One of our local farms and wineries, Jones Tree Farm, offers pumpkin picking so I decided to give them a try. It was amazing! First the farm is great. They have activities all year long and offer a variety of different pick your ow berries during the summer and cut down your own Christmas trees in the winter. To top it off they grow their own grapes and have a beautiful winery and tasting room on property. Robocop and I love going up there to have a glass of wine and relax on the patio. Bliss!
As far as the pumpkins go the farm does a phenomenal job. They had so many different varieties it was overwhelming. I had never seen some of the varietals they had before. On top of the really cool pumpkins they also had a large selection of edible squash. I got a couple of massive spaghetti and butternut squash for $3 each. Score! On the property they also had a 3 little pigs set up for the kids. They had 3 huge pigs in an enclosure eating pumpkins. All around the pen they had signs posted telling interesting facts about the pigs. I thought this was great. Not only was it fun, but it was also great that they tried to teach children about what smart and sensitive animals pigs are. Very cool!
In addition to buying tons of squash and carving pumpkins, I also picked up a couple of sugar pumpkins to cook with. I love making my own pumpkin puree, it is so simple. Just cut the pumpkin into pieces, remove the seeds, place in the oven at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, or until it is soft. It just tastes so much better than the stuff out of the can and has the added bonus of making your house smell delicious!
Like everyone, I love all things pumpkin. Especially dessert. Why is it that pumpkin seems to make all desserts better? One of my favorite pumpkin desserts are pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. Yum. While these bars are always delicioud on their own I had a crazy idea…what if you added chocolate? What pumpkin and chocolate? That’s crazy!….crazy good. The bars are so moist and have just enough chocolate to make them decadent without masking the pumpkin flavor. The cream cheese frosting makes them even more decadent without becoming overly sweet.
Local Ingredient: Pumpkin (From Jones Tree Farm).
I went to Newport, RI for the first time last week. It was amazing, I cannot believe I have never been there before. The old houses and cobblestone streets reminded me of when I used to live in Charleston, SC, which made it feel like home. I won’t lie to you…Robocop and I spent most of our time eating our way around the city. It may not have been the healthiest decision, but it was completely worth it. While we went to a lot of neat restaurants and ate many amazing dishes, my favorite one (I still have dreams about it) was the lobster Mac’n Cheese at the White Horse Tavern. Now I didn’t know this, but the White Horse Tavern is actually the oldest tavern in America. Pretty cool right? It was first opened in 1673 and when you walk inside you can feel the history. We sat in the bar area (you have to when you are at America’s oldest tavern right?) which is a small room with low ceilings and a massive fireplace. Sitting there I could imagine what it was like 200 years ago, when men rode in on horseback and stopped for a meal and to warm up by the fire. It was a really neat experience and I recommend it for anyone visiting Newport. Another thing I didn’t realize about Newport was what a major role it played in high society at the turn of the 20th century. We spent most of our time in Newport, while we weren’t eating that is, touring the old Newport Mansions. I love history and it was great learning about what life was like for the Vanderbilts and other influential families on Bellevue Ave. during that time. While touring the palatial estates was amazing, my favorite part was taking the Servant’s Life Tour. For this tour you get to go behind the scenes and see where the servants lived and worked. Definitely a must do for anyone who wants to gain a better understanding of life during the Gilded Age. While I saw many beautiful houses in Newport this one was probably my favorite… …I could totally see myself living here. Visiting Newport in October put me in the fall spirit. It is such a wonderful New England town. While I know it is mostly a summer destination, Newport is also beautiful in the fall. The leaves are starting to change and there is a slight chill in the air. Personally, I have been fighting fall this year. I am not sure about you, but here in CT we had a very cool summer and I feel like I was robbed. So in my denial that summer was over, I realized I was also not embracing all the thing I love about fall. This included pumpkins. Up until a couple of days ago I hadn’t even had a pumpkin flavored food item yet…a true crime. But not anymore! Fall in now in full swing in my house! Thank you Newport!!! For my first official fall dish I decided to make Pumpkin Chili. Now if you have never had pumpkin chili you might be skeptical, I know I was. But trust me it is delicious. The pumpkin flavor is not overpowering, but rather adds a hint of sweetness to the chili that is a perfect balance to the spice of the peppers. I made my own pumpkin puree for the chili, by roasting a pumpkin I got at a local pick-your-own-pumpkin farm. I also used couple of habaneros from my garden. In all reality I never intended to plant habaneros this year, but some of the seeds I used must have gotten mixed up. I thought I was planting red bell peppers…so you can imagine my surprise when the fruit started to take shape…surprise! Sorry I digress…back to the food. After letting the chili simmer for a couple of hours it was delicious. The pumpkin made it a little sweet while the habaneros gave just enough kick to make it interesting. I drank my favorite pumpkin beer with it and suddenly it felt like fall! Local Ingredient: Sugar Pumpkin (harvested from a local farm where you can pick your own pumpkins!) and habaneros from my garden. Yum
I have never been a fish lover. I try, but for some reason I have had a hard time convincing my palate to convert. But, my daughter, she loves all things seafood, which is awesome! I’ve spent years as a picky eater, secretly wishing I loved shrimp, salmon, lobster, asparagus, broccoli, and the list goes on. Luckily, since I gained a love of cooking, I have also come to love many new foods like broccoli, brussels sprouts, asparagus, and squash, but seafood eludes me. However, when my daughter was born I committed to losing my picky eater status once and for all. The last thing I want is for her to become a picky eater too! I’m happy to say that I must have done something right (which is rare for a mother to say!) because my kid will eat just about anything. She loves fish, shrimp, scallops (which she calls squishy chicken) and will try most anything I put in front of her. It does take a little convincing sometimes, but once she tries it she usually loves it. Of course, as with any kid, she has her moments. She doesn’t like pineapple or watermelon. I mean who doesn’t like pineapple or watermelon?? And, occasionally she’ll come home from school with a story about a kid at who says her hummus or peppers are gross so she doesn’t want to eat it anymore. But, that is usually short lived.
As a foodie, when I reflect on my now 5 year old’s life (she had a birthday last week), I think back on her food evolution. I thought it would be fun to share some tips and tricks I’ve picked up and developed along the way.
When my little kiddo was ready to start eating, I was obsessed with getting it right. I read and read and read on how to introduce food and what to serve. Ultimately, I decided to make all of her baby food myself. I know that sounds like it is a monumental task, but it turned out to be pretty simple. For us, foods were introduced pretty early, around 5 months. Here is how I approached it:
- Start Simple – We started with mashed avocado. I simply mashed an avocado until it was completely smooth. A blender would work too. Then I put it on her high chair tray. It was finger painting with food. She played in it, tasted it, got it in her hair, all over. But, she loved it.
- Introduce new foods slowly – I introduced one new food a week. I can’t exactly remember, but I think her second food was butternut squash, or possibly pear sauce.
The last thing I wanted was for her to get bored with food. So once we had a pretty good list of foods she could eat, I tried to make sure she always had some variety. I bought a Baeba and then stored and froze all her food in seal-able ice cube trays. When I needed food, I popped two cubes into a glass container to warm up. It was also handy when we went out to eat, I would just ask the server to warm it up for me. I bought the book from www.freshbaby.com called So Easy Baby Food and it really helped me figure things out.
- Make Ahead – I always set Sunday afternoon aside for making baby food. I would make enough for the whole week.
- Make it Fresh – I know this is kind of a contradiction of the point just above but, there are a lot foods baby’s can eat fresh. Mashed up avocado is a great example, but also mashed banana or even cantaloupe. Just be sure its mashed really really well to prevent choking. And be careful about skins and seeds.
When we first started serving finger foods, I primarily served fresh fruits. My daughter ate a lot of tiny pieces of nectarine, peach, cantaloupe, apple, but also steamed (until mushy) broccoli, carrots, and very small pieces of baked chicken. I also started to serve her small pieces of what we were eating. I felt this was important because it gave her a wide variety of tastes and textures to explore.
- They Eat What You Eat – While I obviously gave her her own foods, like apples and pears, I also always gave her a small bit of what we were eating.
- Frozen is a Great Substitute – I would sometimes buy bags of frozen organic veggies. When it was time for a snack or lunch I would throw them in a tiny bit of water and then heat them in the microwave. While this wasn’t as good a fresh, it gave me the option of giving her veggies, even when I was rushed or when things weren’t in season. Honestly heating up a small bowl full of mixed veggies is easier (and probably cheaper) than heating up frozen chicken nuggets, so why not!
Now and in the Future
As a picky mom, I have to work hard to eat healthy in front of my daughter. I try hard to make things that I don’t like but want her to like. So my tips here are ways I’ve learned to get my daughter excited about foods even when I’m not.
- Eat It Even If You Don’t Like It – We must practice what we preach here. I try in earnest to make foods, like shrimp, fish, lobster, etc because I know its important for me to serve them. My child deserve to be introduced to a wide variety of foods without any prejudice on my part. So I make it, eat it and keep my mouth shut. I may not eat a lot of it, but I at least put it on my plate and make sure she’s sees me take at least one bit.
- Encourage Them To Try – We always encourage our daughter to try something before she says she doesn’t like it. When she was younger we called it the “try me portion.” When she was convinced she didn’t like something, I would put a small “try me portion” on her plate and she was required to at least take a couple of tastes. I don’t have to do that much anymore. I think its because we set that precedent early, she knows she must try a little of everything on her plate.
- Get Them Involved – One of my favorite examples here is when my daughter decided she no longer like hummus. It had been her favorite food for months, then one kid at school said it was gross…and she decided to agree. So, I asked her to help me make dinner. I drained the chickpeas and then asked her to peel them. Now, I don’t usually peel the chickpeas, as it would take forever, but you know it does make the hummus smoother. Anyway, by the time she was done, she had eaten more than half the chickpeas before I could even make hummus. Then when she saw what they turned into, she decided she liked hummus again.
Back to the fish…The other day my daughter and I were at the grocery store and we passed by the fish counter. She went crazy, “mommy I want shrimp, I want fish, oh can we get those crab hands” Of course she meant crab claws, kids can be so cute sometimes. So out of respect for my “Eat it even if you don’t like it rule” I snagged two fish fillets. I let her pick. which ones I got lucky and she picked tilapia, instead of something really fishy like trout or salmon! In the past I’ve had some tilapia, and other mild fish like flounder that I could say I actually enjoyed. So I wanted to duplicate that experience here. I decided to broil the fish and just do a simple season with salt, pepper, and dill. I added the tomatoes, because I love the flavor and wanted to add a pop of color to the fish. Plus, I love roasted tomatoes and look for any excuse to serve them. The whole thing was actually really delicious, and I’m proud to say, I’ve added it to our monthly recipe schedule moving forward. I’m pretty proud of myself. Bonus, the recipe is Whole30 compliant!
A disclaimer here – be sure to consult your pediatrician on the best time to introduce foods to your baby. Every baby is different. Also, be careful with finger food, and fresh foods, as they can be a choking hazard. And, as always, be conscience of any potential food allergies.
Local Ingredient: Fresh garden tomatoes from my CSA bag this week. Fresh dill from my herb garden.