Stuffed Crust Blueberry Lemon Pie

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Blueberry and lemon are definitely fruity BFFs. I love blueberries, but sometimes they are too sweet for me. Lemon is the perfect balance to that sweetness. Like all good best friends, these fruits compliment and bring out the best in each other, and the praline stuffed crust adds a lovely, crunchy surprise! Served chilled, this pie is the perfect, refreshing antidote for the hot days of early summer.

We use fresh berries for this, but you can substitute frozen berries, just add a few minutes to the cooking time–no need to defrost them. I like turbinado (raw) sugar for the crust filling–it’s richer flavor is terrific with the pecans. But, if you have regular, granulated sugar, you can use that instead.

Enjoy berry season! It is short and sweet, but always very tasty!

Stuffed Crust Blueberry Lemon Pie

  • 2 pie crusts from your favorite recipe
  • 1/4 cup organic, raw turbinado sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup organic butter, melted
  • 1 cup toasted pecan halves
  • 3 cups organic or pesticide-free blueberries
  • Lemon juice and zest from 1 organic lemon
  • 2 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca
  • 2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
  • 8 ounces lemon curd
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Add turbinado sugar, pecans, and cinnamon to the bowl of a food processor. Blend until finely textured, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
  3. Roll first pie crust into a 9″ pie pan, making sure crust connects with the sides. Brush entire crust with the melted butter.
  4. Add remaining melted butter to the sugar mixture and blend well. Cover bottom of the crust with the cinnamon/pecan mixture.
  5. Top with the second crust, pressing crust down to make contact with the cinnamon/pecan mixture and the sides of the first crust. Crimp edges and trim extra crust.
  6. Use a paring knife, cut small slits in the crust (this will allow steam to escape when baking).
  7. Bake crust for 20 minutes or until golden. Remove from oven and cool for 1 hour.
  8. When crust is cool, combine 1 cup of the berries, lemon zest, juice, tapioca and cane sugar in a saucepan. Heat over medium. Mash berries well and bring to a gentle simmer for 10 minutes.
  9. Add remaining blueberries, stir well and continue cooking for 2-3 minutes.
  10. Spread lemon curd over cooled crust. Spread blueberry mixture over the lemon curd.
  11. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Keep leftovers refrigerated for up to 5 days (if the pie lasts that long!),
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Hillsborough Cheese Company

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My child is in love. With a cheese.

Really, it could be worse, right? This sweet infatuation began at the Western Wake Farmer’s Market, where we visited the booth of artisanal cheese makers The Hillsborough Cheese Company (hillsboroughcheese.wordpress.com). We had been looking for a local cheese source, and were thrilled to find the cheese booth, complete with tasting opportunities. We sampled a few and ended up purchasing some Eno Sharp for grilled cheese and some fresh mozzarella for pizza.

Then, we tried the Bloomin’ Sweet Ash, an aged goat cheese that gets its ashy exterior from the application of a food grade vegetable ash. Really! They describe the cheese this way: ‘The result is a creamy, gooey layer surrounding a delicious, chevre-like spreadable center that alternates between notes of sweetness and bitterness.” My child believes this is the best cheese. Ever. I heard about the virtues and superior quality of this cheese all the way home. Apparently, I am going to be adding this to my list next week.

Hillsborough Cheese Company offers a nice range of cow and goat milk cheeses made with locally produced milk. Their cow milk comes from Maple View Farm in Orange County, which sets the standard in our area for high quality, no growth hormone milk from pasture raised cows. Their goat milk comes from similar high quality goat dairies in the area. Cheesemaker Cindy West focuses on crafting European style cheeses and it appears that they have some standard offerings as well as some seasonal varieties that take advantage of available local ingredients.

So how was the cheese? We tried the Eno Sharp in our grilled cheese last night and all of us agreed it was amazing. It had perfect melting qualities and a wonderful milky taste that was not overly sharp, but had enough flavor that we could really taste the cheese. Hard to describe (I’m not a cheese expert by any means). We would definitely do this again.

The mozzarella is a fresh, hand stretched mozzarella that we used on our homemade pizzas. It was so much more flavorful than store-bought pizza cheese that I don’t think we’ll ever go back to shredded cheese in a bag. A $4.00 round of cheese made enough grated cheese for two pizzas, so that’s $2.00 a pizza–definitely within our budget.

Hillsborough Cheese Company cheese is available at some farmer’s markets in the area–check their website for specific information. As for me, I’ll be heading out Saturday to purchase some Bloomin’ Sweet Ash for my bloomin’ sweetie.

Health Data and the SOLE Food Diet

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We are entering the 18th month of our local eating experiment and since I just had my annual physical, I thought this would be a great time to give you some data on how it has affected my physical and emotional health. A little data along with some recipes never hurt, right?

In January of 2011, we began our Year of Healthier Living. It all started with this conversation with my doctor:

Me:  I think there is something wrong with my thyroid. Really. I’ve gained 10 pounds, although I’m still exercising and eating Lean Cuisine’s for lunch every day. I feel tired a lot and I have terrible PMS mood swings.

Dr:  Hmm, your thyroid tests look fine. Maybe you need to watch what you’re eating. Your cholesterol is up, too–204 is getting high.

Me:  Ummm, I AM watching what I’m eating. I have a bagel for breakfast and low-fat yogurt, a diet frozen dinner for lunch with diet soda and a reasonably sensible dinner. I can’t eat any less and survive.

Dr:  Well, clearly, something is happening between your food intake and your exercise output.  Or maybe it’s just middle age.

Me:  GAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

As frustrating as this conversation was, it forced me to look at–and I mean REALLY look at–what was going on in my diet. That weekend, I did an inventory of our pantry and refrigerator. Lots of processed, pre-packaged foods (hey, they’re easy and cheap), frozen vegetables (hey, they don’t go bad), diet soda and plenty of refined carbohydrates in the form of bread and bagels. In summary–almost all of our food was labeled “healthy” or “low fat”, but almost all of it came from a factory.

Time to make a change.

That year, our New Year’s resolution was to transform our eating for one year. In the 18 months since then, we have completely switched our diet around. What does that look like?

  • We still eat meat, but we eat smaller portions of it surround by ample portions of fresh vegetables.
  • We only buy meat, eggs and most dairy locally and only purchase meat that is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.
  • We purchase only locally caught, sustainable seafood.
  • Most of our meat is certified as humanely raised. 98% of our vegetables come from local sources and most are organic.
  • We drink water instead of diet soda.
  • We do not buy processed snack foods or pre-packaged meals.
  • We cook at home 6 out of 7 nights.
  • We can, freeze, dry and otherwise “put up” local fruits and vegetables when they are ripe, so we have them all year long.
  • We only shop the grocery for things we cannot find at the farmer’s markets (organic rice, yogurt, frozen mangos for smoothies–that kind of thing).

How does that affect one person’s health?

Weight

At that initial physical with my doctor, I was at the highest weight of my life outside of pregnancy. I was frustrated because it seemed to be spiraling out of control and no reduction in the amount I ate was affecting it.

In the first year, I lost 15 pounds without altering anything except to buy local meat and vegetables, cook more at home and use a nutrition app when I eat out. I’ve maintained that loss and now I am working on increasing my exercise and adding miles to my running.

Cholesterol

I have always had good reports from my doctor, so to hear that my cholesterol was high was a shock. Not only was my overall cholesterol high (204), but my bad cholesterol was high.

In the first year, I reduced my overall cholesterol to 193 and so far this year, I have reduced it further to 182. My bad cholesterol is down to 104 and my good cholesterol is up to 57. This is really great news!

Energy

One of my biggest concerns was that I was tired and lethargic. I don’t think I realized the impact that eating poorly was having on my system. Those diet frozen lunches were terrible–high in refined carbs and salt, with little nutrition.

I have more energy now than I have had in a long time. This year, I discovered that in spite of my healthy eating, I am still very, very low on vitamin D (thank you, long, cold winter). Now that I am taking a supplement to help with that, my energy level is fantastic and I have more than doubled the distance I can run!

Hormonal Imbalance

For much of my adult life, I have had wicked PMS symptoms–crying, anger, sudden outbursts. I hated it. Everyone around me hated it. Pretty miserable situation.

I’m not sure which part of my diet change has affected that, but this is an area where I have seen a very dramatic impact. While I can still have a little irritability, my PMS symptoms are almost gone and I don’t experience the severe water retention I had before. AMAZING! Is it the no hormone/no antibiotic meat? Is it the lack of hyper-processed food? Is it the increase in fresh vegetables? I have no idea, but I’m sticking with it all!

What does this mean for you? Well, everyone has their own decisions to make regarding health and nutrition. And, let’s face it, not everyone has access to fresh food or good quality farmer’s markets.

However…

I think our ongoing family experiment shows that part of our national nutritional problem is WHAT we eat. Another part of it is WHERE our food comes from.

If you want a cookie, fine, have a cookie (not 6). But a homemade, whole grain or whole wheat cookie with real butter and reduced sugar and a store-bought cookie from a box are not the same thing. They don’t taste the same and they don’t act the same in your body. I am not a scientist, but I can tell you that food from a box is not the same to your body as food from the garden.

SOLE Food Kitchen is not about depriving yourself of “the good things”. It’s about realizing that the “good” things–whole grains, organic, fresh vegetables, sustainable, quality meat and eggs–are a treat for your body as well as the environment. And hyper-processed, packaged foods are without a doubt contributing to our national obesity, low energy and other health-related problems.

At my physical this year, my doctor was amazed. She asked a lot of questions about our new eating plan. Her advice? “Keep doing what you’re doing!”

Right on, doc.

Week 22 Budget and Menu

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The farmer’s markets are once again bustling with shoppers and bursting with late spring goodies! We are also getting more fresh tuna and fresh shrimp from the NC coast and that is reflected in our budget this week (it’s too good to pass up!). We are over budget by $22.59, but we have been under budget the last two weeks, so I guess it all works out in the end. My budget was helped slightly by a terrific electronic coupon from Locals Seafood, which saved me $5.00!

This week’s budget also reflects our need to use up some of the wonderful things we canned last year–jam, pickles, salsa–and some vegetables we froze (field peas, roasted tomato sauce). Since we don’t count our “stock up” expenses in our weekly budget, we figure a “per container” rate and pay ourselves back when we use them.

What is on your menu this week? Are you finding new foods at the market? We are so glad to see sugar snap peas again! Have a healthy and happy week ahead!

Budget [$122.59]

  • The Produce Box (blueberries, broccoli, tomato, romaine lettuce, potatoes, kale, bok choi, sourdough bread): $32.25
  • Locals Seafood (yellow fin tuna): $20.00
  • Mae Farm (pulled pork barbecue): $8.00
  • Trader Joes (fresh ginger, organic butter, pasta, frozen fruit, soy milk): $25.34
  • Wild Onion Organic Farm (celery, carrots, yellow squash): $10.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • HillTop Farm Organics (strawberries, sugar snap peas): $8.00
  • Mitchell family pantry (jam, pickles, salsa, field peas, roasted tomato sauce): $14.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Farmer’s market salad
  • Thursday–Egg salad sandwiches on local sourdough, homemade pickles
  • Friday–Grilled tuna steaks with stir fried vegetables
  • Saturday–Out for our anniversary!
  • Sunday–Mae Farm pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, greens
  • Monday–Pulled pork hoe cakes with homemade salsa, field peas
  • Tuesday–Ellie’s spaghetti tacos with homemade roasted tomato sauce

Grass-fed Beef Burgers with Bacon-Onion Marmalade

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Bacon.Onion.Marmalade. You’re welcome.

On Memorial Day, I ran my first ever 10k. Since there wasn’t an actual race on Memorial Day, we made our own faux race on a new section of greenway here in Cary. My farthest previous distance was 5k, or 3.106 miles, so this was surprising, to say the least. To celebrate this victory, we had lovely grilled burgers with ground beef from a local farm, Black Hoof Run Heritage Beef. We hadn’t made hamburgers in a loooong time, and they were so incredibly delicious!

Are you wondering what the big idea is about grass-fed beef? Is it just another trendy foodie fad? Another way to part you and your precious paycheck? Click HERE for a primer on grass fed beef. Not only does grass-fed beef taste better, it is lower in bad fat and higher in omega-3 fats (good fat).

With our delicious grass fed burgers, we treated ourselves to one of our favorite condiments, bacon-onion marmalade. This is basically a caramelized onion reduction with bacon and it is very delicious.

I first had bacon onion marmalade during my locavore’s lunch at Chuck’s. It was incredible. The idea of making it myself intrigued me–how hard could it really be? Turns out, not hard at all, although it is time-consuming. Sadly, it’s not recommended to can this lovely concoction, but you can refrigerate it for a couple of weeks and use it on many different dishes. Or share some with friends. You’ll have to work out for yourself who is “marmalade worthy” :-)

We made this with locally produced onions and locally and humanely produced bacon from Mae Farm. I cannot possibly say enough good things about the pork we have purchased from Mae Farm. It is always incredible. Yes, bacon is not health food, I do realize that. But what you end up using is in such small quantities that any health effects of the bacon fat are pretty negligible.

If you like bacon and caramelized onions, you will love this-it is sweet, onion-y, tangy and rich. Just the way to celebrate a super day!

Looking for a Deviled egg recipe? Click HERE!

Bacon-Onion Marmalade

  • 4 strips thick cut bacon
  • 4 lbs. yellow onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 c. apple cider
  • 1/4 c. white or wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (less if you don’t like spicy heat)
  1. In a saute pan, cook the bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon and reserve, but keep the bacon drippings.
  2. Add sliced onions to the bacon drippings and cook on medium-high for about 10 minutes, until all onions are soft and translucent.
  3. Reduce heat to medium-low and add all remaining ingredients to the pan. Stir to combine. Simmer until mixture is almost out of fluids and is thick and jammy–about an hour.
  4. Reduce heat to low and cook another 10 minutes until mixture is very brown and sticky. You may need to add a bit of water if the mixture is too dry.
  5. Serve what you need and refrigerate the rest in a covered container for up to 2 weeks.

 

Grilled Barbecue Chicken Thighs

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It is Memorial Day weekend, and in addition to honoring those who have sacrificed to keep us safe and free, it is the unofficial start to summer here in the U.S. In spite of some unseasonably chilly temperatures, we are starting our grilling season in earnest with these grilled barbecue chicken thighs. I know chicken breasts are healthier overall, but to be honest, I just don’t like them. They dry out too easily and take longer to cook. We typically buy boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs instead. They are quick to cook and seem to have loads more flavor than white meat.

For our first grilling session of the spring, we made THIS awesome recipe from Sugar Dish Me. The spicy rub was perfect–sweet and smokey. We used the smoked paprika we had on hand to make it extra smokey! And we used our own charred pepper barbecue sauce that we canned last summer. Yum, yum, and yum!!! This combination is better tasting and better for you than using the prepared seasoning (mostly salt) and commercially bottled barbecue sauce (very high in sugar and fructose corn syrup). We had to show some real restraint and not eat it all up (there was strawberry rhubarb pie, after all, and who wants to miss that???).

If you are in the part of the world just coming into summer, put this recipe on your list of things to try! If you are just beginning fall, well, put this on your list for next year–or just keep on grilling until it snows!

Grilled Barbecue Chicken Thighs (serves 4)

  1. Mix the spice rub ingredients together per instructions and rub generously into the chicken. Let chicken sit at room temperature while you prepare the grill.
  2. Preheat your grill and leave on high.
  3. Add chicken thighs to the hot grill and cook for 2 minutes per side. Lower temperature a bit and baste chicken. Cook for an additional 2 minutes per side.
  4. Turn one more time and baste chicken with sauce. Cook for an additional 2 minutes per side.
  5. Check for doneness. Remove from the grill.
  6. Let rest about 4 minutes and serve.

Happy grilling to all of you!

Memorial Day at the Market

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Had a great time at the Western Wake Farmers Market today! Although it is unseasonably chilly this weekend, we have lots of beautiful fresh produce. I especially loved the little girls who learned that you can eat some flowers, although they had a LOT of questions to ask before they would try it!

What’s fresh at the markets this week? Here is a summary!

Strawberries
Blueberries
Bok choi
Lettuce–all kinds
Rutabagas
Radish
Hothouse tomatoes
Hothouse cucumbers
Sugar snap peas
Garden peas
Cabbage
Broccoli
Yellow squash
Onions
Spring garlic
Kale
Beets
Turnips
Swiss chard

Happy market shopping!

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

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I’ll just admit it. I am not so much a pie maker. Perfect crust tends to elude me, and the tops of my pies are usually cattywampus and slightly caved in. That’s ok with me, though–as long as they taste good. And the ice cream doesn’t seem to mind, either.

This pie is the last in my experiments with rhubarb. It was sticky, sweet, tart and perfect with vanilla ice cream (or soy cream). It puts to shame those imposter pies that beckon to you in the grocery with their too sweet filling and their bland crusts. I think strawberry rhubarb pie is just like spring–fresh, slightly awkward, and gone too soon. Yum.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie (makes one pie)

  • 2 pie crusts from your favorite recipe
  • 3 cups fresh, organic or pesticide-free strawberries
  • 2 1/2 cups washed and chopped rhubarb
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons quick cooking tapioca
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Zest and juice from 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 egg white
  • Organic turbinado sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, mix berries, rhubarb, sugar, flour, tapioca, cinnamon, zest and lemon juice. Toss well and set aside.
  3. In a 9″ pie plate, unroll one of the pie crusts. Pat into the plate. Pour the berry mixture into the pie crust.
  4. Cut the butter into cubes and sprinkle on top of the berries.
  5. Beat the egg white with 1 tablespoon water. Brush the edges of the pie crust with the egg wash.
  6. Top with the second pie crust. Crimp the edges of the pie and trim excess crust.
  7. Brush the egg wash over the pie crust. Cut slits in the top to vent steam. Sprinkle top with turbinado sugar.
  8. Bake the pie for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and bake for 50 minutes more.
  9. Let cool and serve.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

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Ahhhh, strawberries!!! Always a welcome sign of spring. We are sadly coming to the end of our short, but sweet, strawberry season, but we have plenty of berries put up for later (yay!). I had never made strawberry rhubarb jam, but I love that combination, so I gave it a shot. I’m not sure I’ll ever make regular strawberry jam again!!! I like it so much! The tartness of the rhubarb is terrific in brightening up the sweet jam.

This recipe is adapted from the Pomona’s Universal Pectin website.

Strawberry Rhubarb Jam (makes 6-7 half pints)

  • 4 cups trimmed chopped organic or pesticide-free strawberries
  • 4 cups washed and chopped rhubarb
  • 1 tablespoon organic, unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons bottled lemon juice**
  • 2 cups organic cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon calcium water
  • 5 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  1. Fill a canning pot with water, insert the rack and add 4 half pint canning jars. Heat over high heat to boiling, the. Turn off heat and let sit until you are ready.
  2. Add chopped rhubarb to a stock pot with a little water and heat over medium, stirring frequently. Cook until soft.
  3. Add chopped strawberries and cook 1-2 minutes. Add butter. Mash berries with a potato masher and continue cooking.
  4. Add lemon juice and calcium water and stir.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and pectin. Slowly stir the sugar into the berry mixture. Bring to a boil.
    Turn off heat and let berry mixture sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars from the canning pot (carefully!) and set them on a clean tea towel. Put the jar lids into a bowl and pour some of the hot water over them to cover.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Add lids and bands, just tighten bands to finger tightness.
    Return the filled jars to the canning pot, cover pot, and heat over high to boiling. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover, and let sit for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from the hot water bath and let sit undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

**You can use fresh lemon juice, but because bottled juice is more consistent in its acid content, the bottled stuff may be more reliable.

Bluebarb Jam

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Doesn’t the word “bluebarb” make you smile? Say it out loud. You’re grinning, aren’t you? Your smile will be even bigger if you make this wonderful blueberry rhubarb jam.

Rhubarb is one of those odd fruits that I don’t use much. It’s hard to find here and it looks like some strange, mutant variety of red of celery. By itself, it is too tart to eat, but combined with other fruits, it gives a very pleasant, fresh tartness that cuts through the sweetness of ripe berries. Strawberry-rhubarb is a more common combination, but I had some fresh blueberries from a late week run to the farmer’s market, so I thought, why not??? Blueberries are pretty sweet on their own, which is why I love them paired with lemon. So why not rhubarb?

This jam is sweet and a bit tart, and the rhubarb seems to really bring out a nice flavor to the blueberries. I will definitely do this again! This recipe is from Pomona’s Universal Pectin.

Bluebarb Jam (makes 4 half pints)

  • 2 cups, washed and chopped rhubarb
  • 2 cups fresh, organic or pesticide-free blueberries
  • 1/4 cup bottled lemon juice**
  • 1 cup organic cane sugar or local honey (if you use honey, use 3/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (comes with the pectin)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  1. Fill a canning pot with water, insert the rack and add 4 half pint canning jars. Heat over high heat to boiling, then turn off heat and let sit until you are ready.
  2. Add chopped rhubarb to a stock pot with a little water and heat over medium, stirring frequently. Cook until soft.
  3. Add blueberries and cook 1-2 minutes. Mash berries with a potato masher and continue cooking.
  4. Add lemon juice and calcium water and stir.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and pectin. Slowly stir the sugar into the berry mixture. Bring to a boil. Turn off heat and let berry mixture sit for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove jars from the canning pot (carefully!) and set them on a clean tea towel. Put the jar lids into a bowl and pour some of the hot water over them to cover.
  7. Carefully ladle jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. Add lids and bands, just tighten bands to finger tightness.
    Return the filled jars to the canning pot, cover pot, and heat over high to boiling. Boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat, remove cover And let sit for 5 minutes.
  8. Remove jars from the hot water bath and let sit  undisturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 year.

**You can use fresh lemon juice, but because bottled juice is more consistent in its acid content, the bottled stuff may be more reliable.

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