New Year, New Blog?

img_20200103_120755

Cook90 has launched its 5th year January challenge of cooking 90 meals in 30 days. This is my 3rd year participating. Each year I it reenergizes my cooking. As an experienced cook, it’s not that it teaches me brand new skills: more like it sharpens skills that got a dull edge during the year and perhaps even some rust during the holiday binge season. But I have picked up new tricks like DELIBERATELY planning to cook more of something for “nextovering:” extra cooking prep for new meals later in the week. Or making better use of the sheet pan to cook a whole meal in the oven.

This year’s #Cook90 focus is on sustainability and I have some THOUGHTS.

Interestingly I’ve been considering blogging about this for a while, like six years of thinking to be more precise.  In that time my cooking, eating, and life habits have changed a lot. I have been off *doing* things with food: just not documenting them very well, definitely not stopping to note directions, quantities, or quality. There are pros and cons, but one is it doesn’t leave much room for the sort of blog I started with years back writing up recipes. Let’s see where the January challenge takes us.

While revamping the blog’s About page, I mention our omnivore household and the sustainable farms we buy from. We’ve evolved so much over the years in eating and shopping practices. And the landscape has changed! I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, low carb, paleo, super low fat and sooooo many sizes. We’ve reduced pesticides and chemical use. Recently, I’ve found that eating a controlled calorie, lower sugar, lower glycemic (but not low carb) omnivorous diet has worked better to keep my health issues in check, for now.

We have worked to be very thoughtful about eating, and meat eating in particular. We buy from local farms who use sustainable farming practices whether they are selling me sunflower sprouts in a returnable glass jar, organic chicken, or a grass-fed beef share.

This NYT article sums up the issue and digs a bit into the problem specifically with beef: greenhouse gas emissions due in part to raising beef fed in feed lots and cows on industrial sized dairy farms. Turns out that letting them graze on grass and using careful land management techniques can reduce methane and the impact of animal farming (though it’s not yet clear to what levels). This would require significant changes in cattle production, processing, and in consumption and consumer preferences. [If you don’t subscribe to NYT This opinion piece in USA Today covers similar material on the differences.]

So, should one eat meat or not? I don’t think there are easy answers despite articles and studies saying a plant based diet is the best thing you can do for the environment. I think giving up products and services that are contributing to deforestation, water pollution, and global warming are the right thing to do, and that requires you as a consumer to take a HARD look at your life, what you consume, and what you contribute. Are you going to stop using air travel or driving? Make a commitment to curbing planet overpopulation or overdevelopment by having fewer children? Live in a more compact residence in an area so you can live with and electric car or without one entirely? What about other consumer products like phones and tvs that use difficult to mine commodities and quickly become obsolete – are you committed to keeping your phone for a decade or more? Or is it not just us and our individual choices that’s the issue?

The reality is that eating a plant-based diet is an economical option many people could choose when looking at ways to contribute on an individual level. Without major shifts in income equality, government intervention, and cultural and societal change to transportation, job choice, access to walking, rolling, or bike friendly communities, individuals have a difficult time accessing the global climate change drivers that studies suggest would help the most such as switching to alternative fuels, buying electric cars, opting into alternative electricity generation, walking/rolling/biking to work (or telecommuting) and more importantly creating global economic change needed to eliminate harmful emissions. Overpopulation is also a significant contributor to global warming that we aren’t necessarily talking about because that starts to make us uncomfortable. I don’t fault anyone for looking at food choice as an option, and I hope people don’t judge us for thinking deeply about the issues surrounding the problem and looking beyond just plant-based diets.

Perhaps food is a gateway into the next conversation about what else we need to change. Here are things I’ve made an effort to do.  You don’t have to be perfect to be better.

  • Eat and shop local, where possible
    1. This reduces the impact associated with your food from fossil fuel emissions due to transport.
  • Look for producers who focus on sustainable practices
    1. Ocean products should be harvesting/selling products that are considered sustainable, ethically and safely harvested, farmed or fished. https://www.seafoodwatch.org/
    2. Grass-fed and pasture raised products should be using good land management practices.
    3. Organic, pesticide-free: because of regulations, in the US this can mean different things and your local producers may be able to go pesticide free or reduced easier than going certified organic. In some cases, pesticide free may involve less chemicals than organic. Talk with your farmer.
    4. Water and waste management practices are important too. Hog waste is huge problem for large companies who are unwilling or unable to put in new waste management tools that raise costs.
  • Eat what’s healthy for YOU
    1. Not all foods are healthy for all people. Soy is a great example: it’s *not* a health food for me and triggers other problems, for some it has great benefits. Be less judgmental toward others for what they eat: strive to have conversations.
    2. I’ve added in more plant based meals, and tried out alternatives at home like making my own energy bars and nut based “cheese” to also avoid additional packaging.
  • Reduce single use plastics and waste
    1. Plastic Free July and the Zero Waste movement have a lot of great ideas about where to start. We started with fewer plastics to reduce fossil fuel use (and plastics really aren’t recyclable), and then moved on to things like bamboo paper products for the home.
    2. Compost (indoor and outdoor options are available), find a compost program in your community, advocate to start one in your community if there isn’t one.
  • Look for products and programs using clean fuels
    1. See if Arcadia Power* is available in your area. It connects your energy bill to clean energy providers.
  • Ask questions and do your own research.
    1. Spend some time learning about where your food comes from, climate change issues are happening, what is being suggested from various viewpoints to curb emissions and repair damage. Join an advocacy campaign.
  • Raise Hell
    1. No, seriously. Eating differently can help, but we need better people in elected office who are going to shift companies and government in this country to act differently around climate change right now. I’m convinced that we are being told it’s just an *us* issue as consumers (i.e. we need to change) when really it’s an ALL of US issue (the producers of products need to change, government needs to change). Most of the greenhouse gas in the US comes not from agriculture (9%) but from industry (22%) electricity production (28%) and transportation (29%) [Note that global numbers look different, and these numbers to change year to year]. The way we are going to turn this ship around is with alternative forms of energy and stopping emissions from fossil fuel and. Then go beyond that and create more equity so that the idea of products that LAST for decades and have affordable and replaceable parts isn’t out of the reach of average people, farmers, etc.
    2. Write your members of Congress and your local elected officials (where applicable). Work on electing better ones. Get in touch with me if you need help getting in touch with them.
    3. Leadership matters, not party. Decades of work have been turned back under the current administration, but that’s not an issue that, in my opinion, is about political party. It’s about recognizing the fundamental need to lead on this issue regardless of who is in office; science and innovation, something that American has stood for with pride, must drive policy.

 

And one final comment on sustainability: caring about the climate and environment shouldn’t be a privilege, but if you’ve read the above carefully, it is. After making these changes over 5-10 years, I can attest that it’s time consuming, expensive, and frankly exhausting, to avoid pesticides, plastics, fossil fuels, eat healthier, be healthier and care about anything other than day to day living. This from an educated, middle class, white person. Imagine what barriers are in place for someone else. This isn’t just about changing consumer values: if it is, we are screwed. Most of the world cannot buy their way into this change. See #RaiseHell: Advocate.

And because this blog is still about FOOD:  Sign up for Cook 90. Cook and eat some new things. Oh,  BTW, I also made some food, like I usually do on my blog. Yum.

img_20200101_172149

Cook90 2020 Day 1

We live in the South so there is no New Year’s Day without some form of black-eyed peas and greens. This year I used the Splendid Table recipe  that turns portabella mushrooms, instead of bacon, into umami bombs in this easy dish.

img_20200101_165602-1

Does this not look like little lardons?

img_20200101_170607-1

Be sure to substitute some coconut aminos for the soy sauce if you are soy averse.

img_20200101_164627

Also, I have a miserable, eye watering, nose streaming, taste nothing cold. So, when the recipe for feta and greens came up on Day 2, as interested as I was in the simple recipe with lemony yogurt, I longed for the comfort of the tomato based version I made often last winter in David’s book (and I had tomato sauce to use up). The link is missing a link to the simple tomato sauce, so you should really buy David’s book. 🙂

img_20200102_194946-1

I added extra onions and garlic to the dish, and some extra chili flakes. I am trying to kill this cold with fire.

img_20200102_194720

Until next post – be sure to check my Instagram where I post all the meals from Cook 90 2020!

 

[*Full disclosure: I am an Arcadia Power customer and after 10 referrals I do get a bonus from Arcadia on my bill. You get a thank you discount for signing up using my referral link. This is not otherwise a paid sponsorship; I got the same deal as you when signing up through a friend – I’m just extending my offer to you!]

Posted in Farmers Market, Meatless Monday, Non-dairy, Opinion, Side Dish, Uncategorized, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

French Fridays with Doire: Chicken Tagine with Sweet Potatoes and Prunes

 

I got to use my big daddy pot!

I got to use my big daddy pot!

Last week the Dorsita’s participated in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day, which is all about getting children excited about real food. Turns out that people who cook their own food eat healthier and kids who help choose, grow and cook food are more likely to make healthy choices including eating their vegetables!  It makes a lot of common sense; folks who don’t grow up eating certain foods have a much harder time adapting to new tastes and textures as adults. Grown ups might be able to eat spicier, or more unusually flavored foods, with our less sensitive taste buds, but having the expectation that vegetables, fruits, and whole foods are part of a normal diet starts when we are young.

The goal this week was to pick a recipe that we thought all kids should learn. I picked Chicken Taigine, a slow simmered Moroccan inspired stew, that might be a bit advanced for younger children, but it encompasses a lot of basic kitchen and food knowledge that I think young people, and adults learning to cook, should know. Here is why I think this dish works well:

  • It combines familiar flavors (chicken, onions, sweet potatoes) with possibly new ingredients (saffron, star anise, prunes).
  • There is a lot of history to be learned about Morocco and the influences of many cultures in the dish, including adding ingredients from the New World vs the Old. The the origins and growing of ingredients like saffron, star anise, cinnamon, and sweet potatoes alone would make a great school project.
  • The cutting of onions, peeling and chopping sweet potatoes and slow cooking methods can be applied to every stew or soup they make in the future.
  • Depending on the young person’s age, interest or skill level you can teach boning a chicken, or simply buy one cut up already. Cutting up whole chickens is thrifty and will serve when when they are on their own and making decisions about $.
  • Stews are good ways to use less expensive cuts of meat and stretch ingredients. They can cook for a crowd of their friends and family, while still staying on budget.
  • Despite its exotic sounding name, the ingredients are simple. Saffron might be the most challenging and pricey, but you can typically buy small amounts that will last for when they, or you, tackle a paella or cous cous with your new knowledge. 🙂
we went back for seconds...

we went back for seconds…

I made the dish last Friday to be served Saturday night to my co-workers. We were helping to staff a fundraising event over a weekend and thought dinner togehter would be a good way to end the day. Did I mention the event was at the beach? 🙂 I took a bunch of photos, ate two servings, washed down with some iced margaritas – all with the intent to post a quick blog of the dinner that night – however many margaritas later…I’m a bit late with my posting. A week late to be exact.

The tagine was wonderful: the spices slow simmered with the chicken made the house smell like I imagine an Eastern spice market would. Sweet potatoes are a favorite southern food and appealed to most everyone there. The broth was a bit sweet from the prunes and honey, a bit savory from the slow cooked onions that melted into the taste of cinnamon, bay, star anise and saffron.  Even D who dislikes cinnamon thought it was good when he dug into the leftovers.  We served this with a kale/cabbage salad with a poppy-seed dressing and cooked red quinoa for those who wanted a grain accompaniment.

sun is setting and dolphins are frolicking

sun is setting and dolphins are frolicking

Since 2011, a group of cooks and bloggers have been making their way though all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” We don’t publish the recipes, but you can pick up your own copy of the book and cook along, or just enjoy all the great food to be found in its pages. 

Posted in French Fridays with Dorie, Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Grilled Mahi Mahi with Cucumber Avocado Pesto “Salsa”

summery grilled fish with avocado cucumber salsa

summery grilled fish with avocado cucumber salsa

No matter how precise the recipe there always seems to be that table spoon or two of pesto, tapenade, tahini, remoulade, or some other sauce leftover in the fridge. If you are a bread eater, the easiest thing to do is spread it on a sandwich. Lacking that option, we are always looking for ways to sneak odds and ends into other dishes. A few weeks ago we made a batch of simple three ingredient pesto for a bean and artichoke ragout and then used it to top grilled flank steak. Pesto keeps and freezes well, so the remainder was used for this fish dish.

The mahi mahi fillets are dusted with Adobo seasoning, (a pre-mixed seasoning of salt, pepper, garlic, cumin and oregano available in most Hispanic foods sections at the grocery) and a bit of chili powder, then grilled and served with a chopped fresh salsa of cucumbers, avocado, lime juice, olive oil and pesto.  The salsa doubles as a salad or vegetable side dish, and would also be a good topping for a fish taco version of this dish. We are firing up the grill pretty regularly over here, but even if you don’t have a grill this recipe can be easily adapted to the stove or oven/broiler.

Grilled Mahi Mahi

4 pieces of mahi mahi

Adobo seasoning

Chili powder

Dust both sides of the fish fillet with both seasonings. Grill (or broil, bake or sauté) until just done. About 5 minutes a side, or 15-20 in a 350 degree oven depending on the thickness of the fillet.

 

Avocado Cucumber Salsa

1 medium cucumber, peeled and seeded

½ an avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped into small cubes*

1.5 Tablespoons of pesto

2 teaspoons of olive oil

Juice of ½ a lime (or more to taste)

Salt, a few sprinkles if needed

Dice the cucumber and add in to the cubes of avocado in a small bowl. In a second bowl, thin the pesto with the olive oil and lime juice. If it’s not thin enough to toss in the cucumber and avocado mixture, add a tiny amount of water.  Gently mix the pesto dressing with the cucumber and avocado. Serve on top of the grilled fish.

*If you like avocado, you can use the entire fruit in the salsa which will be more guacamole-like. You may need additional lime and/or salt if you double the avocado.

Posted in Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Sauces | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

This Week at the Farmers Market

Fresh young summer squash are already in the markets!

 

It was a beautiful day for the Apex Farmer’s Market this past weekend, sunny, no chance of rain. Last week the market was closed due to PeakFest, our town’s annual street fair and the farmer’s market space is used for a stage and entertainment area. I didn’t miss the market last week – we still had veggies left over from the big shopping trip for Easter dinner. One of the best things about buying farm fresh produce is that it lasts longer, so if you over purchase, you will have a longer timeframe to use them up. D joined me on my weekly shopping this week, hopefully not just because of the promise of Sol Tacos. 🙂 But, yes, there were tacos.

D's tacos: chuck burger on fresh tortillas

D’s tacos: chuck burger on fresh tortillas

We picked up a whole chicken from Andreas Homestead to use for a stew later in the week.  We got another jar of pear preserves from Natural Choice, which are great served with soft cheese (really, any cheese!).  Natural Choice makes all natural German mustard as well as preserves.  D and one of the owners had a long chat about Paul McCartney, Wings, the Beatles while we waited for our freshly made tacos.

Breakfast in a taco

Breakfast in a taco

The tacos were really good: My breakfast version had spicy salsa, black beans, ham, cheese and eggs and D’s chuck burger tacos are an American-Latino hybrid of a cheeseburger and taco. Doug’s only complaint is that he likes his burger meat more well-seasoned, but otherwise great. And they make their own fresh flour tortillas, of which D got to eat mine covered in salsa as well since I ate the breakfast innards out of it.

003

The entire market smelled intoxicatingly of strawberries. I picked up some zucchini to turn into “noodles” with the julienne cutter, some cabbage and squash possibly for a stirfry, and a head of romaine lettuce for salads and lettuce wraps. Produce vendors had:

Asparagus

Cabbage (likely the remainder from the winter/fall)

Cucumbers, pickle variety

Green beans

Lettuce, heads of romaine and leaf

Onions, larger ones than the spring version

Strawberries

Squash, yellow summer squash

Tomatoes

Zucchini

Zucchini were going fast

Zucchini were going fast

Posted in Farmers Market, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

French Fridays with Dorie: Leeks Vinaigrette with Mimosa

Leeks w Vinaigrette

It’s wonderful to be cooking with a group of people again. So fun in fact I am looking around for another potential cookbook and group. While I’m not sure I could juggle two online groups, it’s very tempting. Having said that, its sometimes difficult for me to think of what to write about a dish. Two years ago I took a brief food writing class through a local university continuing ed program hoping to better understand both the mechanics and the inspiration. The most lasting thing to come out of those weeks was the deeper appreciation for people who write as both profession and passion.   Turning vision into thoughts, taste into words, sensual into print, still has the steamy mystique of a miracle.  Like turning sugar crystals into cotton candy.

Why the musing on writing? This week’s recipe contains, separately, several favorite ingredients: leeks, sherry vinegar, and eggs. It involved kitchen twine and poaching. The “salad” was dressed while still warm (an under utilized technique in my opinion) and contained straight forward ingredients combined in a new way. And yet it left me a bit uninspired.

The leeks themselves may be in part to blame. No skinny young leeks to be found and not even any large long white leeks, which are generally more tender. These were a bit short, and more green than I like: a sign they may be more tough on the outside (and they were). The inner texture when poached was fine and the leeks had that buttery flavor that comes from them simply being leeks. The vinaigrette was balanced with olive and walnut oil, sherry and a bit of Dijon. I had a farm fresh egg. The combination was tasty and yet I’m not sure I would trouble to make them again, unless I could find some of those thin, young leeks to see if that made the difference.

Curious as always to see how the other Doristas fared.

Since 2011, a group of cooks and bloggers have been making their way though all the recipes in Dorie Greenspan’s “Around My French Table.” We don’t publish the recipes, but you can pick up your own copy of the book and cook along, or just enjoy all the great food to be found in its pages. 

 

Posted in Appetizers, French Fridays with Dorie, Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Non-dairy, Salad, Side Dish, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , | 13 Comments

Easy Dinner: Grilled Flank Steak and Asparagus

Eat asparagus while it's still in season locally.

Eat asparagus while it’s still in season locally.

There is a book on my nightstand (that I will be writing about in the near future) where the author suggests that home cooks would do well to work more like professional cooks and 1) plan meals for 1-2 weeks 2) shop once, weekly or bi-weekly, based on that plan 3) spend an hour or two on Sunday pre-cooking many items for the weekly meals. This makes a lot of sense. Especially if you are adapting to a new way of eating or trying to eat more whole foods. Eating out is less of an option and those without plans tend to eat off plan…

But sometimes you just need a quick meal on a weeknight with little thought. I hesitate to call this a recipe. Think of it as a starting point. Grilled meats and vegetables are flavorful on their own, with just salt and freshly ground pepper (yes, I like mine rare to medium rare.) If you have extra time, you can embellish the basics with:

Vinaigrette: Favorite oil, favorite vinegar, salt pepper, a bit of Dijon mustard. Shake. Sneak peek: The Dorie recipe this week calls for walnut oil, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and Dijon. Vinaigrette dressings keep for weeks, so make extra and use on salads, grilled vegetables or as a marinate for the steak.

Pesto: This easy one that accompanied the bean and artichoke ragout at Easter is just herbs, garlic and oil. Pesto without dairy or nuts will keep quite a while in the fridge, but any version can be frozen ice cube trays and placed in a bag, or in small containers in the freezer for later use.

Avocado: Tastes great with grilled meats, especially lean ones, and grilled veggies. My Dad used to put slices of avocado on pizza (Trust me. Fantastic) A squeeze of lime and a dash of salt and you have the essence of guacamole.

Directions:

Salt and pepper your meat. Add a dash or two of olive oil to the cleaned and washed asparagus, then some salt and pepper. Let them sit a bit to absorb. Heat your grill. Cook items to desired doneness. Hardest part is keeping the asparagus from falling through the grill when you turn it. Don’t overcook the steak or the asparagus. Both will keep cooking briefly when they come off the grill. If you are using flank steak, be sure to cut against the grain so it is tender. Top leftovers with an egg for breakfast.

Posted in Gluten-free, Low/er Carb, Main Dish, Sauces, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Gadget: More Silicone Covers!

I still use a baking pans frequently, even without making a lot of desserts.

I still use a baking pans frequently, even without making a lot of desserts.

Well, I went ahead and finally used my birthday gift card online to get more silicone covers. Shaped like banana leaves. Yes, banana leaves.   A few weeks ago I posted about a silicone bowl and pan cover that I recently purchased.  The lilly pad shaped cover will replace plastic or foil in the fridge, on the table, in the oven, as well as covering saute pans. This versatility makes it one of my favorite new finds (though they have been around a while, apparently. 🙂

Researching them online, the same maker has square and rectangular covers that mimic banana leaves. I keep saying “banana leaf” because to me they have such a nice shape, color and texture. Maybe its just the association of eating banana leaf wrapped tamales and living here in a quasi tropical climate that does it for me, but the designer did a great job taking a pleasing natural form and adapting it to something so practical. They cover square baking pans and rectangular “lasagna” roasting pans. Both key for me as I use those pans to roast chicken drumsticks and bake crust-less quiche which are weekday meals and there are always leftovers to put in the fridge.

My Pampered Chef stoneware pans get a lot of use.

My Pampered Chef stoneware pans get a lot of use.

These covers have the same small handle on one end that allows you to hang them from a hook on the inside of a cabinet or pantry door. I’ve added two more 3M removable hooks to the inside of a cabinet door, staggered so all three lids fit.

Posted in Gadgets, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments