Pear and Goat Cheese Salad

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We don’t get a huge selection of autumn fruits here in NC. Once grape season is over, we have apples and that’s mostly it until strawberries make their appearance in April. Not that I don’t like apples, but it’s nice to have something different. So I was very happy when Asian pears showed up on our Produce Box menu for this week! I had never eaten Asian pears, which are a bit crisper than Bosc pears and not as cloyingly sweet. These pears though, they have a visual marketing problem. Asian pears look like brown apples, so even if I had seen them at the market, I probably wouldn’t have purchased them. And that is too bad because they are delicious, refreshing and healthy.

We used one of our awesome pears to make this fresh, fall salad of organic, local lettuce, kale, dried organic cranberries, and goat cheese. It was delicious, and a nice break from all the squash we’ve been eating!

Pear and Goat Cheese Salad (makes two servings)

  • 1/2 head of organic, bibb lettuce, washed and chopped
  • 1/2 bunch of organic, red kale, washed, trimmed of stems and chopped
  • 1 organic pear, washed, cored and sliced thin
  • 1/4 cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 2 organic radishes, trimmed and sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup dried, organic cranberries
  • 4 ounces goat cheese
  • 1/4 cup candied pecan halves (you could also use toasted pecans)
  • Dressing of your choice
  1. Toss together the lettuce and kale and divide among two serving plates.
  2. Top each plate of greens with equal amounts of pear, cucumber, radish and cranberries.
  3. Divide the goat cheese and sprinkle over the plates.
  4. Top each plate with pecans and serve immediately with dressing on the side.

 

Week 47 Budget and Menu

A packet of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups

Our weekly menu will no doubt include some of this. Not vegan, organic or local. But still…

 

Happy Halloween! This week, we are back to spring-like temperatures. It’s crazy, this weather, but great for trick or treating, running and yard work! Our shopping this week reflects a super busy mom–not only are we hosting a group of teenagers for Halloween, but Tom and I are running in a Day of the Dead race and I’m working late a couple of nights. So, we have more grocery store items this week, but we’re still focusing on the organic and making healthy choices.

Hope everyone has a happy and safe Halloween! Here is what is on our menu when we are not sneaking Reeces Peanut Butter Cups.

Budget [$103.42]

  • The Produce Box (pears, organic kale, organic bibb lettuce, organic radishes, organic beets, pesticide free persimmons, pasture-raised ground beef): $40.00
  • Trader Joes (mushrooms, steel cut oatmeal, chicken sausage, organic pumpkin, organic beans, goat cheese, frozen pizza, candied pecans, organic yogurt, frozen fruit): $63.42

Menu

  • Wednesday–Pear and Goat Cheese Salad
  • Thursday–Pizza (and, probably, candy)
  • Friday–Swiss Chard , Beet Greens and Mushrooms with Egg
  • Saturday–Chili with Buttermilk Cornbread
  • Sunday–Lentil Soup with Sausage and Kale
  • Monday–Leftover chili
  • Tuesday–Pumpkin Coconut Ginger Soup

Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Praline Glaze

20121110-173653.jpgMy sweet T’s birthday cake!

For the record, cake is not health food. I get that. Really. But as we prepare for Thanksgiving (not even a month away!), I’m trying to include as many fresh, local ingredients into our Thanksgiving meal as possible. And for the record, that meal involves cake. And pie.

Don’t judge–you know you want cake, too. Or pie. Or maybe both.

Here in North Carolina, we produce sweet potatoes. A lot of them. Not only are sweet potatoes naturally sweeter than their other tuber cousins, they are packed with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. After watching THIS video about sweet potatoes, we typically buy organic sweet potatoes because who wants a “bud nip” cake? Not me. Not even with ice cream.

This cake is my “go-to” cake for holiday parties, autumn pot lucks and any time I want to look super fabulous to my family. The sweet potatoes make for a very moist cake. The original recipe is from Southern Living, but I’ve tweaked it a bit over time. I do use whole wheat flour, so my cake doesn’t have a super fine crumb, but it is still tastes great! It is not health food, but it is far better for you than grocery store cakes, which substitute hydrogenated oils and lots of sugar for more expensive (and flavorful) ingredients. They hope you can’t tell the difference, but there is a reason those cakes all taste more or less the same.

You can make this cake without the praline glaze, but I highly recommend making the glaze. The cake itself is not very sweet, so the glaze adds a lot without making the cake too sugary.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Praline Glaze

Cake

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups organic cane sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 smaller potatoes)
  • 3 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour (I love King Arthur’s flour)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt cake pan.
  2. Using a standing mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until creamy.
  3. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Add sweet potatoes and vanilla and mix well.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix well.
  6. Gradually add the flour to the wet mixture, beating at low speed (unless you plan on wearing the flour) and mix just to combine.
  7. This batter will be very thick!
  8. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 to 75 minutes.
  9. Remove cake pan from oven and cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  10. Remove the cake from the pan onto the wire rack and cool for 1 hour.
  11. When the cake is near the end of its cooling time, make the glaze.

Praline Glaze

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup spiced pecans (you can make these, but I buy them already “spiced” at Trader Joes)
  1. Chop the spiced pecans into rough pieces, but not too small.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk constantly and boil for one minute.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Whisk in powdered sugar, a little at a time and mix with the whisk until smooth.
  4. Let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glaze begins to thicken.
  5. Pour over cooled cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake glaze with the spiced pecans.

Tip: “clean” the saucepan by dipping more pecans into the glaze clinging to the pan. Eat happily, considering this to be your baker’s reward :-)

Tutorial Tuesday #9–Six Key Questions to Ask When Buying Local Meat

If you’ve been following the blog, you know how I feel about factory farmed meat. Not everyone has access to fresh, sustainable meat, but if you do, give it a try. Here is a nice article by the Sierra Club about questions to ask your local farmer about their meat products. Since we’re heading into turkey season, this seemed like a timely piece!

Sustainable Meat: 6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

6 Questions to Ask a FarmerLet’s face it, there’s nothing eco-friendly about factory farms. When servings of eggs, dairy, and meat come packaged with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, groundwater contamination, animal cruelty, and hormones, we wouldn’t blame you for losing your appetite. But there are still ways to eat meat without unduly burdening the earth. This week, we’ll offer hints for finding a “greener” pork roast or Thanksgiving turkey.

6 Questions to Ask a Farmer

One big advantage of getting your meat, eggs, and dairy from a local farm as opposed to a giant, faceless corporation, is that you can actually talk to the farmer. Visit your local farmers’ market or check out Eat Wild’s farm directory to find free-range livestock farmers in your state, many of whom sell shares in meat CSAs. You can ask them questions to find a farm that matches your own standards for land and livestock stewardship.

Here are six good questions to get the conversation started:

     1.) Are your animals fed with organic feed?

     2.) Are your animals raised on pasture?

All livestock will eat grass, and not only are they healthier for it, but their meat, milk, and eggs have been found to contain more omega-3s than animals that eat no grass. Pastured animals will also spread their manure out on fields, where it can decompose naturally.

     3.)  Are your cows and lambs “grass finished”?

“Finishing” is also known as “fattening up,” and grain is a healthy part of the diet of poultry and pigs, but wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows and sheep. “Corn-finished” or “grain-finished” meat comes from livestock that ate little but grain and other processed supplements for the last six months of their lives, while “grass-finished” animals were fattened up on the pasture. Even pastured dairy cows usually eat some grain for extra nutrients, but should still eat mostly grass.

     4.) How do you handle your animals’ manure?

Manure is a huge pollutant in feedlots, where it seeps into groundwater and rivers. If your farmer tells you that the manure is left in “lagoons,” then it means they’re leaving it untreated, where it can pollute local water systems.

     5.) Do you give antibiotics to healthy animals?

Often, antibiotics are used to keep farm animals healthy when they’re too overcrowded and stressed to fight off disease. This has caused a widespread rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If farmers only use antibiotics on animals that are actually sick, you know that they’ll have been raised in a healthier environment.

     6.) Do you use heritage breeds?

Many “modern” livestock breeds can’t even survive outside of climate-controlled cages, but ‘heritage” livestock are bred to live outside, and are healthier, heartier animals overall.

Feel free to ask about whatever other concerns you might have. The more we demand answers from our food providers, the better choices we’ll be able to make.

–Image credit iStockphoto/jabiru.

Rachael Monosson is an editorial intern for Sierra and a recent graduate of Stanford University, where she studied Earth Systems. She lives in San Mateo.

Week 46 Budget and Menu

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Well, we’ve been out of commission for over a week due to events that absorbed all my extra time, but now we are back with another week of healthy, locavore goodness! The weather is turning cooler after some unseasonably warm temperatures, so our menu is gearing up for fall again! I made some delicious chicken noodle and vegetable soup this week using homemade stock from our freezer and leftover chicken and vegetables. And, we are getting some wonderful, fresh fall greens this week along with locally produced bratwurst– yum!

Enjoy your fall cooking! Hope you are finding wonderful vegetables and fruits at your markets right now!

Budget [$94.89]

  • The Produce Box (organic yellow squash, bokchoi, tatsoi, Swiss chard, turnips, kohrabi, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, apples, cabbage, and bratwurst): $50.25
  • Farmhand Foods (small flank steak): $6.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (mushrooms, frozen fruit, yogurt, steel cut oats, almond milk): $33.64

This Week’s Menu

  • Wednesday–Egg salad sandwiches, apple slices
  • Thursday–Homemade chicken noodle soup, grilled cheese
  • Friday–Stir fried greens w/beef and spicy peanut sauce
  • Saturday–Swiss chard w/mushrooms and eggs
  • Sunday–Roasted whole bluefish, roasted broccoli, sauteed yellow squash
  • Monday–Braised cabbage, turnip and apples with bratwurst
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Hummus and Kale Salad

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We love kale, that super trendy green. We love it cooked in soups, stews and casseroles, but we also love it raw. Once trimmed of its thick stems, the leaves can be chopped and used to make a flavorful salad that is much more satisfying than lettuce. And in the fall when we are increasing our running mileage, we need a salad that keeps us full and sustained.

This salad is awesome! Chock full of antioxidants and protein, it is filling, delicious and fresh. This recipe is based on a recipe posted by Giada DiLaurentis in her weekly newsletter. We decreased the amount of oil and added some cooked chicken breast, but you could leave out the chicken for a vegetarian dish.

Hummus and Kale Salad (makes 3-4 servings)

  • 1 large organic clove garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons tahini
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1 large lemon)
  • 5 cups raw, organic kale, washed, trimmed of stems and chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 4-6 sundried tomatoes, rehydrated or packed in oil, each sliced in half
  • 1 can organic chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups chopped, cooked chicken (optional)
  1. In a small sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and cook 1-2 minutes, or until garlic is just fragrant. Remove from heat and set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together tahini, pepper and lemon juice. Slowly add the cooled olive oil and garlic, whisking constantly.
  3. Add the chopped kale, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas and chicken. Toss well to coat everything with the dressing.
  4. Serve immediately or keep chilled for up to 4 hours.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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Food cooked in its own bowl–does it get any easier than that? I love making stuffed squash–not only is it cozy and delicious, but stuffed squash is a great way to use up small bits of leftover fresh vegetables and turn them into something amazing.

All winter squash are high in fiber, low in fat and an excellent source of vitamins, including beta-carotene, vitamin B, vitamin C and potassium. It is also filling due to its high fiber content, and very inexpensive! Win-win-win-win! A serving of stuffed squash is 1/2 of a squash–we usually make more though, since a stuffed squash half makes a completely amazing lunch later.

There are endless combinations of foods for this dish, and I almost never make it the same twice, but this is one of our favorites. It has a nice, Italian flavor that spices up the squash without being overpowering. So grab an acorn squash (or two) and make your own delicious creation!

Stuffed Acorn Squash (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 acorn squash
  • 4 tablespoons fresh, grass-fed butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small, organic onion, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cloves organic garlic
  • 4-6 sun dried tomato halves
  • 1 small bunch kale, washed, trimmed and chopped (about 4 cups raw)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 lb. organic chicken sausage (ours was Italian sausage)
  • Kosher or sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup organic, mozzarella cheese, grated
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
  2. Cover the sun dried tomato halves with very hot water and let soak.
  3. Wash the outside of the squash and dry carefully. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut the squash in half widthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. To make sure each half will stand up properly, trim a little bit of the squash ends, making a flat edge.
  4. Rub the inside of the squash with 1 tablespoon of butter each and put the squash, cut side up on the baking sheet. Roast the squash for 45 minutes or until the squash flesh is soft.
  5. While squash is roasting, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Remove the sausage from its casing and add to the skillet. Cook until sausage is no longer pink and cooked through, about 10 minutes.
  6. Remove the sausage and add the onion to the pan. Cook 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  7. Remove the sun dried tomatoes from the water, chop, and add to the pot.
  8. Add the kale, sausage and water to the pan, tossing all ingredients well. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 10 minutes or until squash is cooked.
  9. Remove squash from the oven and let rest until cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes). Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
  10. Scoop roasted flesh from the cooked acorn squash, leaving about 1/4″ of flesh to keep the squash shell stable. Return the squash shells (scooped side up) to the baking sheet.
  11. Add the kale mixture to the bowl and combine everything well. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
  12. Stuff the squash halves with the squash-kale mix, top each half with 1/4 cup of shredded cheese, and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  13. Serve immediately.

 

Pumpkin Pasta

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Pumpkin is everywhere right now. In coffee, on bagels, baked in cookies, whipped into mousse, roasted, stewed and frozen. Try to avoid it. I dare you. Rather than run away from the squash invasion, I’ve embraced pumpkin and its similar fall vegetables butternut squash and acorn squash.

This pasta is coated with a thick, savory sauce that has the texture of a creamy pasta sauce without all the fat. Perfect for a chilly, fall night when you crave something as rich as mac and cheese, but still need to lace up your running shoes and move forward. This recipe is based on one for Creamy Pumpkin Pasta by A Bird and a Bean, but it reduces the fat content, ups the pumpkin and reduces the amount of meat without sacrificing flavor. Think of this as a foodie version of a cozy fleece jacket–warm, comforting and satisfying. We used a wonderful, smoked, lean Canadian bacon from Mae Farm, and this added a tremendous amount of flavor with very little meat (saving fat and $$$). If you don’t have Swiss chard, you can easily replace it with chopped, fresh spinach or another mild green.

Embrace pumpkins and fall greens this fall!

Pumpkin Pasta (makes 4 servings)

  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 small, sweet onion, peeled and chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4-6 ounces smoked Canadian bacon, chopped
  • 1 can organic pumpkin puree
  • 2 cups homemade chicken broth (or 1 can)
  • 1/4 cup plain almond milk
  • 1/2 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground, black pepper
  • 4-6 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • 4 cups chopped Swiss chard
  • 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 lb. ceccerece pasta (or similar shaped pasta like macaroni)
  1. Heat water for pasta in a large stock pot.
  2. While water is heating, warm the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook 2 minutes or until onion softens. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.
  3. Add the chopped Canadian bacon and cook until warmed through–about 2 minutes.
  4. Remove vegetables and meat from the pan.
  5. Add the stock and whisk to deglaze the pan, bringing up all the brown bits (they have lots of flavor).
  6. Whisk in the almond milk, pumpkin, sour cream, nutmeg, pepper and sage, and whisk well.
  7. Add the onion mixture back to the sauce and the chard, and keep warm over low heat.
  8. Cook the pasta according to directions and drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.
  9. Add the cooked pasta and cheese to the sauce, tossing to coat the pasta well with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of the pasta water to thin. Pasta sauce should coat and stick to the pasta.
  10. Serve immediately.

Apple and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

20131010-083842.jpgNorth Carolina, where I live, is the king of sweet potatoes. While it is a challenge to find organic sweet potatoes, I’ve found several farmers who carry them. Potatoes are delicious and nutritious (especially sweet potatoes!), but farmers often use carcinogenic fungicides and sprout inhibitors that penetrate beyond the skin of the potato and into the flesh. So no amount of washing or peeling is going to eliminate them. These babies are definitely worth buying organic, if at all possible.

This sweet potato dish is one of my “go to” recipes for a busy fall weeknight. It has all the great hallmarks of fall–sweet potato, pumpkin pie spice, apples and maple syrup. This would make a great side dish or a light meal in itself. We have an abundance of sweet potatoes at our farmers markets and apples are back in full force, so this recipe takes advantage of all that is fresh and delicious.

Apple Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (makes 3 servings)

  • 3 medium-sized sweet potatoes
  • 2 medium apples like granny smith or galas
  • 1 small bunch of kale
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (or more, if you like!)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 3 tablespoons real maple syrup
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Poke sweet potatoes all over with a fork and roast in the oven until soft (about an hour depending on how large your potatoes are). Remove from oven and reduce heat to 350.
  3. While potatoes cool a bit, peel/core and chop the apples into 1/2″ chunks.
  4. Wash and trim the stems from the kale. Chop into bit sized pieces.
  5. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add butter and melt. Add apples. Cook apples for about 2 minutes.
  6. Add the kale and cook until wilted–about 4 minutes.
  7. Add spice to the apples and stir. Add more butter if you need it. Reduce heat to low and cook until apples are soft. Set aside.
  8. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut skins and scoop potato flesh into a medium-sized bowl. Add apple mixture and mix together until combined.
  9. Spoon mixture back into the potato skin shells. Top with chopped pecans, put on a baking sheet and bake for another 15 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven and drizzle with maple syrup.
  11. Serve!

NOTE: You will have extra filling left over. This makes a great leftover lunch the next day! Pair it with some cooked quinoa and you have a complete second meal.

Week 44 Budget and Menu

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This week is full of fall goodness–pumpkin, acorn squash, chowder, kale–yum! Our weather finally feels like fall, and while I’m sad to see our summer weather go, I’m glad to get my cute boots and sweaters out of storage!

Our markets are full of peppers, squash, pumpkins, lettuce, kale, green beans and hopefully we will have broccoli soon! I am missing our summer berries–that season always seems too short–but we are enjoying apples. Last season, North Carolina had an apple shortage due to a late spring freeze in the mountains, but this year is a completely different story! So glad to see lots and lots of apples out there!

Breakfasts this week include homemade muffins, bagels, and steel-cut oatmeal. Our lunches are typically leftovers and fruit or oatmeal.

The budget this week is good! We are helped as always by Tom supplying us with the fish he catches (one of the benefits of living close to the ocean!).

Budget [$87.51]

  • The Produce Box (apples, green beans, acorn squash, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, peppers, kale): $47.25
  • Trader Joes (Romano cheese, pasta, ground organic turkey, taco shells, avocado, frozen fruit, yogurt, almond milk, whole wheat flour): $34.26
  • Panera (bagels) $6.00

Weekly Menu

  • Wednesday–Green salad with hard boiled eggs
  • Thursday–Leftover pasta with red pepper sauce
  • Friday–Chicken and kale stuffed acorn squash, quinoa
  • Saturday–Baked fish, green beans, salad
  • Sunday–Corn and crab chowder, salad
  • Monday–Pumpkin kale pasta
  • Tuesday–Turkey tacos, spicy rice
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