Pasta with Ham and Spring Peas

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Have you enjoyed a fresh, garden pea? Isn’t it a marvel that they taste so completely different from the mushy, canned peas of our childhoods? I’m not even sure how they are the same vegetable. Fresh garden peas are one of the wonderful gifts of spring. Light, fresh and tasty, they pair so well with other foods like mint and ham and parsley. We received our first quart of fresh peas this week and had fun shucking them. I knew right away, I wanted to make this simple, Italian dish pairing smoked pork, spring onions and these peas!

We used locally made spinach fettucine from Melina’s Pasta, smoked pork from Mae Farm and spring onions and peas from our Produce Box! This was a quick and easy dinner that was also delicious! I did use a jar of Alfredo sauce (weak moment in Target), but you could easily make your own or just use olive oil.

Pasta with Ham and Spring Peas (serves 4-6)

12 oz. spinach fettuccine
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 spring onion
2 smoked pork chops or 2 cups of hormone free ham, cubed
1 cup fresh peas
1 jar Alfredo sauce
Parmesan cheese

Bring a stock pot of water to boil over high heat.
While waiting for the water to boil, heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.
Dice onion and add to the pan. Cook for 2 minutes.
Stir well and add the ham. Cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir often.
Add salt to the boiling water. Add pasta.
Add peas and Alfredo sauce to the sauté pan. Stir well and heat through.
Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan, along with 1/4 cup of pasta water. Toss well to coat the pasta.
Add pasta to serving bowls and top with grated cheese, if desired.

Week 21 Budget and Menu

We are gearing up for another exciting, busy week. Softball season is keeping us hopping and we are enjoying every second of it! Our menu this week reflects not only our need for quick dinners, but also our celebration of Memorial Day! We haven’t had beef on our menu in a long time and we are going to enjoy every bite of these grilled hamburgers!

Our budget is under budget, even with wine from Trader Joes 🙂 Happy Memorial Day, everyone! Let summer begin!

Budget [$88.58]

  • The Produce Box (asparagus, romaine lettuce, garden peas, cilantro, strawberries, spring onions, kale): $27.50
  • Locals Seafood (crab cakes): $10.20
  • Mae Farm (smoked pork): $6.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettucine): $6.00
  • Black Hoof Run Farm (heritage, grass-fed ground beef):$6.32
  • Trader Joes (burger buns, organic onions, organic chicken, frozen fruit, wine): $27.56
  • Mitchell Family Pantry (roasted pepper ketchup, jam): $5.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Scrambled egg tortillas
  • Thursday–Pasta with smoked pork and garden peas
  • Friday–Salad with strawberries, pecans and goat cheese
  • Saturday–NC crab cakes, creamy grits and asparagus
  • Sunday–Grilled beef burgers with bacon-onion marmelade, green salad, fruit parfaits
  • Monday–Barbecued chicken, deviled eggs, broccoli salad
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Simple Strawberry Jam

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I am not a fruit jelly person.

Fruit jellies are those lovely, clear, sparkling creations prized for their lack of seeds or fruit pulp. They take time, patience and (to me) they are a bit fussy. Give me a hearty, rustic jam with chunks of tender fruit to spread all over my morning toast any day. Homemade jam reminds me of sticky, jam kisses from your children. And lazy, summer mornings. And one of my favorite children’s books, Jamberry by Bruce Degan.

By next week, we will have blueberries…

One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry
Hatberry, shoeberry, in my canoeberry

But right now, we have strawberries…

Three berry
Four berry
Hayberry
Strawberry
Finger and pawberry
My berry, your berry

So this weekend, I made strawberry jam, thick with pieces of strawberry and absolutely, berry delicious. This recipe is a slight derivation from a recipe in Sherry Brooks Vinton’s book Put ‘Em Up. Just slight though. I use a stick blender to really mash up the berries and I also add 1 tablespoon of organic, unsalted butter to the cooking berries. I seem to have a problem with strawberries producing a lot of foam and the butter is a Ball recipe suggestion for reducing foam (it works!).

And if I haven’t said it enough, the Put ‘Em Up canning/food preservation book is really the best one I have. It is the only one that is thoroughly sticky, splattered, dog-eared and well-loved. For the record, I get nothing for saying that, just the satisfaction of sharing with you something I appreciate.

Got strawberries? Go make this jam!

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Strawberry Jam (makes 6-7 half pints)

  • 8 cups of organic strawberries, rinsed and hulled (tops taken off)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted, organic butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (included in the Pomona’s packet)
  1. Cut the cleaned and hulled berries into quarters (or into halves if the are small). Put cut berries into a non-reactive stock pot.
  2. Mash the berries with a potato masher, then blend together with a stick blender for about 1 minute.
  3. Mix the sugar and pectin together in a bowl.
  4. Fill your canning pot with water and add the rack and your jars. Heat over high heat and bring to a rolling boil. Put lids in a bowl and set aside.
  5. While you wait for the canning pot to heat, bring the berries and the butter to a boil over medium high heat, and stir to make sure they don’t burn.
  6. Stir in the calcium water and lemon juice. Then, add the sugar and pectin mixture, stirring to prevent lumps.
  7. Return the berry mixture to a boil, heating through. The mixture should be thick and coat the back of a spoon. Remove pot from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam.
  8. Turn the heat off of the canning pot. Remove hot jars from the canning pot CAREFULLY and empty the hot water inside the jars back into the canning pot. Put some of the hot water in the bowl with the jar lids. You want to cover them in the very hot water.
  9. Fill the hot jars with the hot berries, leaving 1/4″ of headspace. We use our trusty blue canning funnel. Use a spatula or the gadget that comes with your canning kit to remove any excess air in the jars.
  10. Wipe jar rims with a clean paper towel, take the lids from the hot water and top each jar with a lid. Screw on bands just to finger tightness (don’t over tighten).
  11. Add the jars back to the canning pot, add the cover, and bring water to a boil for 10 minutes.
  12. Cut off the heat, remove the pot lid and let jars sit for 5 minutes.
  13. Remove jars from the canning pot and do not tilt them! I use a clean tea towel to dab excess water off the jars, but keep them straight.
  14. Let the jars sit I disturbed for 24 hours. Check seals and store all sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.

Note: If you have any extra jam that doesn’t quite fill a jar, you can ladle it into a jar or cup and refrigerate it for up to 3 weeks!

This is the basic technique that applies to all berry jam making. The proportion of acid and pectin may change, but if you can do this, you will be able to can almost anything! Ready? Give it a go!

Raspberry, jazzberry, razzamatazzberry,
Berry land, merryland, jamming in berryland

Tips for Preserving and Canning Berries

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Strawberries are so delicious and plentiful here in North Carolina right now that it seems hard to believe in a few short weeks they will be gone. Once you have fresh, local berries, it is hard to buy imported berries at the grocery store. They do not have the soft texture and robust flavor that locally picked berries have, and their carbon footprint is often pretty horrible. And Ka-ching! They can be very expensive. So my mission is not only to eat local, but to put up what we can so in November, we will have local fruit and vegetables without any fuss!

With a little planning and a little work, you can store away fresh fruit and vegetables at the peak of season so you aren’t tempted by those inferior berries (or tomatoes or corn or peas) later in the year. Here are three easy ways to save your strawberries! These techniques work for other berries as well.

Dehydrate them–You can do this in the oven if you don’t have a dehydrator. This is not difficult, but does take time and patience.

Freeze them–Wash, dry and hull strawberries. Cut them in half and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet(s). Pop the baking sheet(s) in the freezer for about 90 minutes. Then, load the frozen strawberry halves into freezer bags and store in the freezer. You can also just pop the berries in freezer bags and skip the baking sheet technique, but in my experience, you end up with a frozen blob of berries that are all stuck together. When you freeze the berries individually, you can just use what you need instead of defrosting the whole bag.

Can them–Making jam is very, very easy and you don’t need a lot of equipment. You can make freezer jam (there are many recipes online), but beware! Freezer jam uses a LOT of sugar. I find it is too sweet for me to eat and, to me, the sugar actually dulls the flavor of the berries. But that’s me–you do what you want.

I know canning can seem intimidating. My own first attempts to make strawberry jam were not as successful as later batches, but we had fun learning. Most mistakes can still be useful–jam that doesn’t gel (or “set”) can be called “ice cream/pancake topping” or used to fill a layer cake or used in muffin mix to make fruit muffins. So, no big loss, just a new marketing strategy 🙂

Here are some tips I’ve learned if you are interested in making fruit jam or canning vegetables:

  1. Invest in a modest amount of equipment. Having the right equipment will make your job easier and quicker. You do NOT need an $100.00 “water bath canner” or a $265 hammered copper jam pan from a high end kitchen store (seriously, Williams Sonoma?). You DO need a large pot, a canning rack to fit in the pot, a jar lifter to safely remove your jars from hot water and canning jars with lids and rings. Can you use your kitchen tongs to move your jars instead of a jar lifter? Yes and no. Take it from me, that accidentally dropping a jar back into a pot of hot water is not pleasant. Buy the jar lifter. Canning kits are available that include everything except the jars at places like Wal-Mart for under $30, and will provide you with years of use. If you really want the fancy copper jam pan, then by all means, get it, but that is for you, not the jam 🙂
  2. Use only tested, FDA-approved recipes. This part is not funny. Successful canning means having the right balance of produce and acid, that is heated to the proper temperature to keep bacteria from growing. You cannot make up your own canning recipes without risking the health of anyone eating what you produce. Using tested recipes (and following those recipes) ensures that all your hard work will result in something that is not only delicious and healthy, but is safe to eat. My absolute favorite food preservation book is Put ‘Em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton. She has a new book out this spring that is just for fruit and I need to get a copy. The original is wonderful! Chock full of creative, tested recipes for fruits and vegetables, the book includes tips for drying and freezing foods as well as canning. One of the things I love is that her jam recipes are low sugar, which I prefer. Some jam recipes will outright shock you with the amount of sugar they require.
  3. Buy fruit at the peak of season. If your strawberries don’t taste good to you out of the bucket, they won’t taste good to you in a jam either.
  4. Buy organic or pesticide-free fruit when possible. I know, I know, it’s expensive. But, when you’re concentrating fruit down into a jam (or dehydrating it), you are also concentrating any pesticides or toxins on your fruit as well. And that is not a good thing, especially if you are pregnant or if you have little folks eating your jam. If you can’t find organic or pesticide-free fruit, make sure you are washing it well to remove as much surface toxins as you can.
  5. Have fun! I’ve found that yes, canning requires some work and some hot days in the kitchen. But, it is also a lot of fun and pretty cool, too. In the past year, we haven’t purchased any grocery store jam, salsa, barbecue sauce, pickles or tomato sauce–we just shop from our own pantry!

Tomorrow–Strawberry Jam!

Tomato, Avocado, Bacon, Lettuce and Egg (TABLE) Sandwiches

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The weather has finally turned toward summer, and this week I ramped up my running schedule. I love getting out on the greenways, but a side effect of more exercise is that I am STARVING. Not just a little peckish–I am “I could rip someone’s head off” hungry. Trying not to eat like a linebacker, though, ’cause if I do, I won’t be running anywhere. This version of a spring BLT sandwich (a TABLE sandwich) is more satisfying than the regular variety without being bad for me (like the 5 Guys burger I was contemplating). This is definitely a thick, Dagwood-style sandwich and it makes a meal on its own.

Why TABLE? Well, TABLE sounded like a better acronym for the ingredients than BLEAT, right? All of these ingredients except the avocado came from our local farmer’s market and were locally produced–even the whole grain, multigrain bread from La Farm.

Speaking of bread, if you are watching your carbs, this sandwich could also be served open-faced, if you wanted to eliminate one slice of bread (when the bread is fresh and truly whole, multigrain, I’m up for both slices!).

For supper, I sautéed some fresh asparagus in about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat until they were just tender, and served that with our sandwiches. The sandwiches were so filling on their own, we didn’t need an extra vegetable, but it was delicious all the same. Yum!

Spring TABLE Sandwich (makes one sandwich)
One sandwich has 560 calories and 23 grams of protein. It is a meal by itself!

  • 2 slices whole, multigrain bread (La Farm)
  • 1/4 organic avocado
  • 1 slice local raw cheddar
  • 1 organic Roma tomato
  • 1 leaf organic lettuce
  • 2 slices cooked local bacon
  • 1 farm egg
  • 1 teaspoon organic mayonnaise
  1. Toast the bread slices and set aside.
  2. Mash the avocado with a fork until it is guacamole texture. Set aside.
  3. Slice the tomato and set aside.
  4. In a small nonstick pan, cook the egg to your desired done-ness. I like lightly fried with a slightly runny yolk.
  5. Assemble your sandwich by spreading the avocado on one slice of bread. Top with cheese, bacon, tomato, egg and lettuce.
  6. Spread mayonnaise on the remaining slice of bread and put that slice, mayo side down, on your sandwich.
  7. Dig in!

 

Avocado Chili Lime Dressing

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Avocado. Chili. Lime. You’re welcome.

Cool, creamy avocado dressing. Yes, summer is here!

Actually, we went from having the heat on to having the a/c on in 24 hours. Bye, bye, crazy winterish spring–early summer has arrived and bumped you out of the lineup. North Carolina has mostly wonderful weather, but it lacks some delicacy in the transition. Overcoat one day and bathing suit the next? But of course! Why dilly dally with easing into the new season when you can just…BLAM…smack people with a wall of heat.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. I love summer. Love, love, love lazy weekend days at the pool or the beach, popsicles, grilling dinner, fresh tomatoes, corn and yes, salads.

This salad dressing/grilled chicken topping/sandwich spread/replacement-for-sour-cream-on-your-taco-salad is just the cool, creamy and slightly spicy food accessory for summer. It started with an idea I saw on Pinterest for taco topping, and morphed into something even more delicious. My version is more of a pourable guacamole. Yum! We had this on salad with grilled chicken and it was so good I was tempted to just eat it with a spoon. Really. That good.

Try this as a salad dressing or as a dip for fresh/grilled vegetables. Or as a sandwich spread. Healthy, cool, creamy and delicious!

Avocado Chili Lime Dressing (makes 6-8 servings)

Each serving has 170 calories and 5 grams of protein

  • 1 ripe avocado
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (we used Chobani)
  • 1/2 cup good quality olive oil
  • Juice of two limes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Dash of red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  1. Cut open the avocado, remove the pit and scoop the flesh into a stick blender-safe container.
  2. Add all the other ingredients to the container.
  3. Using a stick blender, blend all ingredients together until creamy. Depending on the thickness of your yogurt, you may want to thin this mixture out with a bit of milk or buttermilk (or soy milk for that matter).
  4. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. I like this dressing with lots of lime, but you could pull back on the lime and add more yogurt to make it more creamy and less citrus-y.

Other optional add-ins: you could change this up by adding a little chipotle in adobo to this dressing or by adding some cooked, chopped bacon!

Week 20 Budget and Menu

English: cow

I am over budget this week by $7.00 and it is all the cow’s fault.

Oh, cheese, you destroy my willpower every time! While at the Downtown Raleigh Farmer’s Market, I visited the new booth of The Cultured Cow Creamery, a sustainable dairy and cheese making venture from Durham, NC. I just went in for a sample. Really. Just a teensy weensy sample of their raw cheddar.

Have you ever had raw (unpasteurized) cheese? We stuffed our faces with it sampled it in Paris, and it is far and away better than any other cheese I’ve tasted (or maybe it was just Paris?). My mom was even tempted to sneak some back in her luggage (attention all TSA agents–she didn’t). The Cultured Cow cheddar was so creamy and melt-in-your-mouth delicious that I had to buy some. Had to, I tell you. Who wants a week filled with cheese regret? Not me, that’s who. So that is why I am $7.00 over budget this week. It’s all the cow’s fault 🙂

Budget [$107.72]

  • Produce Box (all organic: lettuce, strawberries, broccoli, kale, chard, onions, asparagus): $29.50
  • Trader Joes (organic chicken, organic limes, avocado, whole wheat English muffin, frozen fruit, organic soy milk, yogurt): $38.72
  • Hilltop Farms (organic strawberries, organic radish): $7.00
  • The Cultured Cow Creamery (raw cheddar cheese): $7.00
  • La Farm Bakery (whole grain bread): $5.50
  • Homestead Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Locals Seafood (flounder): $15.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Chili lime chicken salad with grated raw cheddar and avocado dressing
  • Thursday–Crazy Good sandwiches (prosciutto, egg, local raw cheddar, lettuce, tomato, avocado on whole grain bread), kale chips
  • Friday–out
  • Saturday–Flounder, asparagus, Swiss chard
  • Sunday–Roast whole chicken, broccoli, sweet potato
  • Monday–Chicken quesadillas, red quinoa
  • Tuesday–Homemade egg salad sandwiches, homemade pickles

Mocha-Coco Ice Cream

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I’m still on a mission to make a version of ice cream that is dairy-free and reasonably healthy. I’m not sure this is a total hit, but it is very tasty! Did you know you could whip coconut cream (not coconut milk) into a fluffy, whipped cream-like confection? I took the basic idea of whipped coconut cream from The Lunch Box Bunch and some ideas about homemade ice cream from Nigella Lawson and concocted this whipped mocha coconut cream that I froze. It tastes very, very good. The texture is not quite right for ice cream (think more like dippin’ dots), but it is cold and tasty and melts in your mouth very quickly. If you accidentally leave this cream in the freezer too long, it will freeze into a hard, solid mass, but an hour or so on the counter softens it up.

This is actually a wonderful chocolate, mocha whipped cream for pound cake as well–just don’t freeze it!

Mocha-Coco Ice Cream (makes 4 servings)

186 calories per serving

  1. 1 can organic, full fat coconut cream
  2. 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  3. 1/3 cup raw cacao powder
  4. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  5. 2 tablespoons coffee liquor
  1. Put the unopened can of coconut cream in the refrigerator overnight. Do not shake the can!
  2. When you are ready, remove the can from the refrigerator and scoop out only the thick, white cream (the can will include some coconut milk at the bottom–save that for another purpose).
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  4. Add the cream and all the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a standing mixer with a whisk attachment.
  5. Beat the cream mixture at high speed for about three minutes to incorporate air into the cream.
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  7. Quickly use a spatula to remove the cream to a shallow dish. Cover and freeze for 1 hour or until fairly solid. If you freeze for longer, allow the container to sit at room temperature for about 45 minutes or so until the cream softens.

Whole Wheat Linzer Muffins

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Monday mornings beg for something special and delicious, don’t they? Like maybe a cookie? Just as a rule, we don’t eat cookies for breakfast. I know, I know, some mornings that sounds pretty appealing, but we try to keep breakfast focused on protein and away from sugar as much as possible. These muffins are based on the flavor profile of a Linzer cookie–you know, those pretty almond cookies with raspberry jam in the center? I found a recipe on Epicurious for these Linzer muffins and, after some adaptations, we found them to be a delicious and fairly healthy way to start the day or have a snack.

The original recipe uses an obscene amount of sugar, which we cut way back (and never noticed). We also substituted whole wheat flour for the regular flour and homemade, low sugar raspberry jam from last summer for the filling. And we did not top them with confectioner’s sugar, although I know that is a hallmark of Linzer cookies. The end result was a nutty, crunchy, satisfying muffin with a sweet jam interior. I could have used more jam in the center–I was worried about it leaking out the sides. Next time, I’ll add a little more jam, but the amount we used was still more than enough to give us that sweet raspberry flavor. Definitely, even with the reduced sugar, these muffins were sweet enough to make everyone happy!

Improve your Monday morning (or afternoon tea) with a muffin that is just sweet enough, but still packs some good antioxidants and protein!

Linzer Muffins (makes 12)

Each muffin has approximately 240 calories and 4.8 grams of protein.

  • 1 cup whole, toasted almonds (no salt)
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup organic milk
  • 6 tablespoons organic butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1/8 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup low sugar raspberry jam (NOTE: not with sugar substitute)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and grease cups of a 12 cup muffin tin.
  2. In a food processor, add almonds and sugar and process until almonds are finely ground (about 20 seconds).
  3. In a large bowl, mix almond mixture, flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon.
  4. In a smaller bowl, whisk together milk, butter, egg and extract.
  5. Add wet ingredients to dry and stir just to combine (don’t overmix!). This batter will be rather thick.
  6. Add about 2 tablespoons of batter to each cup and flatten a bit, if necessary, so batter covers entire bottom of cup.
  7. Add 1 teaspoon or so of jam to the top of the batter in each cup.
  8. Top with the remaining batter, making sure the jam is covered.
  9. Bake for 18-20 minutes. Tops will just barely be golden.
  10. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn muffins out onto a cooling rack. I dare you not to eat one while they are still hot. I.Dare.You.
  11. Serve while warm. These will store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Skinny McMuffin

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Some days, I want more than Ezekiel bread for breakfast. And some mornings are game days, and I want to fuel up my player with something healthy and satisfying, but not too heavy. These breakfast sandwiches are based on a popular fast food offering, but healthified. They have less fat, less cholesterol, less sodium and more protein than the drive-thru version. I could have these for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are so good. And they are quick. From start to finish, about 5 minutes. For mine, I also add a few pieces of roasted asparagus and some arugula pesto. Ahhhhh, breakfast!

Skinny McMuffin (one sandwich)

Per sandwich: 390 calories and 24.8 grams of protein

  • 1 whole grain English muffin
  • 1 farm egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto
  • 1 slice cheese
  • 1 teaspoon organic mayonnaise
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a toaster, toast the English muffin lightly.
  2. Heat a non-stick pan to medium heat.
  3. When muffin is lightly toasted, put on a plate and top one half with the slice of prosciutto. Top the other half with the mayonnaise.
  4. Crack the egg in the pan and cook for about 2 minutes. Flip egg over and top with the cheese, so cheese will melt while egg cooks.
  5. Cook egg 1-2 minutes more and add cooked egg and cheese on top of prosciutto.
  6. Top with remaining muffin half and serve!
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