Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Family Gatherings

Dave and I both come from pretty good sized families and are lucky that we get to live close by to the majority of them.  Anytime there is a holiday, birthday, or any other reason to gather, we all gather and eat.  Both families know how to cook and we always end up with way to much yummy food.  This Easter was no exception.  Since we were going to be going over to both sides of the family's gatherings, I decided to make a quick appetizer and dessert that I could bring to both houses. 





I saw a cute idea on Pinterest to dip strawberries in orange chocolate to make them look like carrots.  I used the Wilton Candy Melts (picked them up at Michaels) and dipped some big strawberries.  They turned out so cute!  




I also made a gluten-free carrot cake from a box mix and frosted it with a homemade cream cheese frosting.  It was pretty good, but the cake turned out really thin.  If I ever made it again, I would bake it in an 8x8 pan or use two mixes in one 9x13 pan.  Dave helped me decorate it.  Didn't he do a great job?  






As long as I can remember, every gathering I have ever been to has been graced with a taco dip (aka layered taco, walking taco, layered bean dip).  As much as I like those, they do get a little boring, so I was really excited to find a new take on the layered dip on Pinterest: A greek version!  Everyone loved it and I was requested to make this for every family gathering until the end of time!  It's that good!  We have been pretty busy the past week, so I cheated and had Costco help me out with some pre-made ingredients.  I really like that Costco has been getting more organic, natural products, free from the yucky ingredients you normally find in processed foods.  I love that this can be customized with all your favorite ingredients, or take out things you don't love.






Layered Greek Dip

2.5 cups of your favorite hummus
1.5 cups of your favorite tzatziki
1 jar of kalmata olives, roughly chopped
1 15 oz can artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 peeled and seeded cucumber
1/2 large red onion diced
1/2 jar peperoncini slices, drained
1 cup feta cheese
Pita chips or Organic tortilla chips


In a large casserole dish or serving platter (I used a 9x13 covered baking dish) layer ingredients in order.  Serve immediately or chill until ready to serve.  Serve with pita chips, or organic tortilla chips. 


http://www.amazon.com/Wilton-Orange-Candy-Melts-12-Ounce/dp/B0061TXUJC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1364848476&sr=8-2&keywords=wilton+candy+melts+orange






















Monday, March 18, 2013

Shrimp Civeche

One thing that I really love about living in Northern California, is the access to such a wide variety of fresh foods.  Within a 100 mile radius, this area produces almost every fruit, vegetable and meat one typically eats.  Olive groves for fresh olive oil.  Fields of artichoke plants.  Acres of citrus trees. Miles of pasture lands for animals.  Tomato fields.  Fresh and salt water fish.  Rice paddies.  Dairy farms.  You can even grow some varieties of bananas! If I were to go on a strict locavore diet, I don't think I would really miss out on anything at all.  Everything I love is grown around here. 

I'm still surrounded by bags of fresh lemons, so they are making their way into almost everything we eat.  And, even though it's only mid March, the temperatures have been creeping their way into the mid to high 70s!  When it starts to get warm outside, I only want to eat cold foods.  I decided to make my take on a shrimp civeche.  It was great eaten as is, but I also enjoyed it on a bed of butter lettuce leaves and scooped it up with organic tortilla chips. 



Shrimp Civeche

1 pound very small cooked shrimp, rinsed (I used 100 count shrimp)
2 Tbsp salt
Juice from 3 limes 
juice from 4 lemons
1 red onion, chopped
1 bunch cilantro, large stems removed and chopped
1 cucumber, peeled and diced
1 bunch of radishes, diced
Green Tobasco to taste
1-2 avocado, peeled, seed removed, cut into small chunks
Fresh butter lettuce (optional)
Organic corn tortilla chips (optional)
 


Place shrimp in a large glass bowl (do not use metal). Mix in the lime and lemon juice, red onion, cilantro, cucumber, and radishes. Refrigerate until ready to serve (at least 1 hour)  Right before serving, add the Tobasco and avocado. Serve chilled on a bed of fresh lettuce or as a dip with organic corn tortilla chips.  Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.  



Friday, March 15, 2013

Never Cry Over a Forgotton Lunch

Early on a recent morning, I arrived at work, and nearly broke down and cried.  I am by no means a morning person, and on that particular morning had woken up in a good deal of pain, most likely caused by something I shouldn't have eaten over the weekend.  But, the cause for my almost-tears wasn't just the bad morning, but also because I discovered that I left my lunch at home.  It was shaping up to be one of those days that I wished I had called in sick, slept for the next 24 hours, and tried again tomorrow.

The saddest part of realizing that I left my lunch bag (full of all my healthy food for the day) at home was knowing that the leftovers from one of my favorite dinners was going to sit on the counter all day and spoil and all that yummy deliciousness was going to waste.  Not to mention I would have to go out and buy lunch for the day, and it wouldn't be as healthy or tasty.

Of all my favorite dinners, this is probably my favorite.  It's based off the  Chicken, Mushrooms, and Artichoke Hearts in a Roasted Lemon Sauce recipe from For The Love Of Cooking.

Usually I serve this over gluten-free pasta or rice, but this time I served it over spaghetti squash.  I liked it better than over rice, and it was a healthier choice than rice or pasta.  If you don't know how to cook spaghetti squash, my friend Mo has a great tutorial on how to cook them.





Lemon and Artichoke Heart Chicken

1.5 lbs organic boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 4-6 pieces)
1/2 cup brown rice flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbsp coconut oil
1/2 lb crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup white wine (or substitute with 1c. chicken stock)
2 cups chicken stock
1 can of artichoke hearts (in water, drained) cut in quarters
1 can black olives, drained
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/4 cup capers
Juice of 2-3 lemons
Fresh cooked rice, pasta, or spaghetti squash for serving


Place brown rice flour in a shallow bowl or a pie plate.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Rinse the chicken, and pat dry with a paper towel.  Coat the chicken completely in the seasoned flour.

 Heat a large deep skillet with coconut oil over medium high heat.   Cook chicken until browned and cooked all the way through, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove chicken from skillet and set aside. 

Add mushrooms and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons of the remaining seasoned brown rice flour over the mushrooms and stir to coat.  Add wine and stir to de-glaze the pan.  Slowly stir in chicken broth, allowing sauce to thicken to desired consistency. Add artichoke hearts, olives, tomatoes, capers, and lemon juice.  Continue to stir about 3-5 minutes, until heated throughout. 

Serve immediately over fresh cooked rice, pasta, or spaghetti squash.  




Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What are Street Lemons?

If you drive around my town these days, especially in the older, established areas, you will find citrus trees loaded full of lemons, oranges, and other citrus fruits.  Our climate is ideal for citrus and it seems every house has at least one fruit-bearing tree.  

My sister told me that she recently made some lemon bars out of "street lemons."  

"What are street lemons?" 

"Oh you know, when you are on a walk, they are the lemons you get from trees that are hanging into the street."

(Don't worry, she didn't trespass, just "gleaned" from neglected trees that were already dropping fruit everywhere) 

Because I have several grocery bags of lemons generously given to me by my family from their over-abundant trees, I am trying to incorporate lemons in our meals as much as possible.

This day, I was craving a pasta dish, so I decided to make a creamy lemon pasta.  I served it with a side of baked salmon seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. 
 



Creamy Lemon Pasta with Spinach and Artichoke Hearts 

16 oz brown rice spaghetti
2 tsp coconut oil
6 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly (I love this new gadget I got!)
Juice from 2-3 lemons
8oz cream cheese (organic or non-dairy)
2 tbl capers
1 can artichoke hearts
8oz baby spinach chopped
Fresh ground salt and pepper


Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain, rinse, and set aside.  

In a large, deep skillet, heat coconut oil over medium.  Add garlic slices, and cook for about a minute, taking care not to let the garlic burn.  Add lemon juice and cream cheese, and heat until cream cheese is melted, being careful not to let it boil, reducing the heat as necessary.  Add capers and artichoke hearts and heat thoroughly, about 3 minutes.  Add pasta and spinach and toss until sauce completely coats pasta and everything is mixed throughout the pasta.  Season to taste with fresh ground salt and pepper.  Serve by itself or with a side of your favorite seafood (baked salmon or sauteed shrimp and my favorite choices).





Thursday, March 7, 2013

Creating Curb Appeal

When we bought our current house, it was a short sale days away from becoming a foreclosure. It was a (almost) brand new home in a brand new neighborhood and we got it for a steal, but the yard had been sorely neglected and has needed lots of TLC. We have slowly been getting the yard looking pretty again.

Since the Groundhog predicted Spring would come early this year, we have been experiencing wonderful springtime weather.  Cool mornings and warm afternoons.  Over the past couple weekends, Dave and I have been working on the "curb appeal" of the house. We decided to rip out the "flower bed" full of half-dead bushes and make an actual flower bed and try to make our yard beautiful and colorful.  I'm trying to expand our vegetable garden this year, and need to attract as many bees as possible.

We started our morning out at the local home improvement store and picked up some colorful plants.  Even though the Groundhog has said spring is coming early, the garden department hasn't gotten that memo, and the selections were still pretty limited.  But we still managed to find some colorful plants. 




Then, we loaded up the back of the car with some decorative stones. Those things are HEAVY!


We tore out the ugly old plants, and found these adorable little guys hiding in the underbrush.  They obviously love living here so much, that we decided to let them stay in the new planter bed. 


We built a planter bed out of the stones, filled it with soil, and made a beautiful garden bed.  It was a fun project, only took a couple of hours, and we got to work together, which is always exciting.  At the end of the day, we had a beautiful flower bed, complete with layers of bulbs that will bloom well into the fall.  See that giant rock in the middle?  It's hallow and plastic!  The sewer clean out is right in the middle of the planter bed.  We wanted it to be easily accessible in case of emergency, but still be able to have a beautiful flower bed!


We added this beautiful jasmine to hide the ugly drain pipe covering up the beautiful rocks.  I can't wait till it explodes with color!


We also planted this tiny tree to attract bees and provide us with yummy fruit in the years to come.  It's a grafted "cocktail" tree:  one half of the tree will produce plums and the other half will produce nectarines.  I'm very excited, but think it will be at least a couple years before that happens. 


Have you got spring fever yet?  

Are you planning on planting a garden this year?  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Learning To Eat My Greens

My mom and grandma used to always grow chard in the garden when I was a kid.  That stuff grows like a weed, so they were always feeding it to us.  My mom's favorite way to prepare it is to steam it in a skillet and add a little butter and salt and pepper.  That is probably my least favorite way to eat it.  So as an adult, I never bought chard because it was "slimy and gross."

Then my friend told me about this wonderful method of frying up a couple strips of bacon, then braising your chard (or other greens) in the bacon grease and topping it with the cooked bacon.

We all know that bacon makes everything better, so I knew I had to try it.

You know what else goes good with bacon?  Mushrooms!

I absolutely love eating chard this way, and actually look forward to getting it at the market!


Bacon and Mushroom Chard

4-6 slices of uncured bacon, diced
1 large bunch of chard, washed and chopped into bite size pieces
1lb mushrooms, washed and sliced


Cook bacon in a large deep skillet over medium heat.  You want to slowly cook the bacon to render out as much of the fast as possible.  Cook the bacon until it is crispy, but not burned.  Remove the bacon from the skillet and set aside (keep warm in the oven if possible).

Add the mushrooms to pan and cook them for about 5  minutes without stirring, so they get browned.  Stir the mushrooms and add the chard to the pan.  Let the chard sit on top of the mushrooms undisturbed for another 5 minutes.  Stir the chard and continue cooking until all the water has cooked out of the mushrooms and they are beginning to brown.  Remove from heat.  Add bacon and season to taste.  Serve hot.

***I think this would be really good served with a fried egg on top and a little bit of hot sauce***

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Get Well Pho

While I was sick, I wasn't doing too much of anything, except sleeping.  I slept 12-14 hours a day. During the times I was awake, I barely had the energy to make it to the couch to watch TV.   When I ate, food was quick and easy.  I lost my taste, and most days nothing sounded good.  If something actually sounded good, I ate it, only to be disappointed because it had no flavor.

A couple years ago, I had a bad winter cold.  My friend insisted I need a big bowl of chicken "fuh" to feel better. 

Ummm, what?  

You know, "fuh" from that place over by that market. 

Oh, that's what that is?  "Pho" is pronounced "fuh"?  Gotcha.

So I went with her and got a big bowl of pho. 

It was steaming hot and smelled amazing and tasted even better.  You could tell the broth was homemade and simmered from bones all day long.  There was an assortment of bits and pieces you could get in your pho like tendons and tripe, but I stuck with something "safe" and got thinly sliced steak. 

After the first bite, I was hooked.  Don't tell anyone, but I like it better than my mom's chicken noodle soup she made when we were kids.

 
Now, since I have been sick, I have been lazy and using lots of shortcuts.  

 Yes, I know it's way better to cut up a chicken and simmer it for hours and make a rich, nourishing stock.  But when you are only out of bed for 2 hours a day (that's a generous number, too), you don't have time to simmer a stock and make a fancy meal.  

So this is the shortcut way to make a big bowl of pho.   





Get Well Chicken Pho

1-2 carton(s) Chicken Pho Soup Base
1lb seasoned ground pork sausage (once again, I cheated used "Potsticker" flavor fresh made sausage from the local market...but use plain, add 2 finely chopped green onions, 2tbl finely diced red bell pepper, and salt, pepper, soy sauce and freshly grated ginger to taste)
1/2 of a 14 oz package rice noodles, prepared according to package directions, drained (I use the Taste of Thai stir fry noodles)
A handful of dried Shiitake mushrooms, prepared according to package directions
1 package fresh bean sprouts, rinsed
1 Lime cut in wedges
1 bunch basil, roughly torn
1 bunch cilantro, roughly torn


Preheat oven to 400*.  Shape pork into walnut sized meatballs.  In a heavy oven safe skillet, melt coconut oil over medium high heat.  Brown meatballs on one side for about 2-3 minutes.Carefully turn meatballs over, turn off stove, and place skillet in the oven for 10-15 minutes until meatballs are cooked completely (165* internal temperature). 

In a pot heat soup base until it starts to come to a boil. Don't let it boil away for too long, you just want to get it to serving temperature. 

In a deep soup bowl, place a portion of the noodles in the bottom, followed by a small handful of bean sprouts, a few meatballs, and a bit of the shiitake mushrooms.  Ladle hot broth over the top.  Top with basil and cilantro and a lime wedge.  Serve immediately.