Winter Vegetable Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

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We celebrated Chinese New Year by making a stir fry dinner with local vegetables, chicken and an amazing spicy peanut sauce. I’m not sure this is a dish anyone from China would actually recognize, but it was fresh, tasted good and gave us all a moment to reflect on the beginning of the Year of the Snake. Stir fry is one of those great, eternal cooking techniques that can make a delicious meal from an endless combination of foods. And right now, we have a seemingly endless supply of Chinese cabbage in our garden, so this recipe was just the ticket to make a dent in it! If you haven’t grown Chinese cabbage, consider it this spring. It is very tasty–fresh and crunchy, but also a little sweet. None of the cabbage “bite” that European cabbages have.

The sauce we used is an adaptation of THIS salad dressing posted by Creative Noshing. It is really pretty amazing–spicy and a little sweet. We loved the dressing so much that we modified it as a sauce for stir fry. YUM.

This recipe is my technique for making stir fry. I like to cook small groups of ingredients together and then add them all in at the end. I find that this way, I don’t have overcooked vegetables and my wok stays fairly hot. You can add the sauce at the end of cooking (we’ve tried this), but it is much better to give each guest some sauce to add at the table instead. You can season your stir fry as you go–I love the taste of the vegetables so much that I don’t generally add salt and pepper except to season the chicken.

Spicy Peanut Sauce (makes about 1 cup)

  • 4 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha chili paste
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2cup olive oil (you could also use peanut oil)
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper

Put all ingredients in a food processor or the mixing container for an immersion blender and blend away until smooth. Set aside.

Stir Fry Chicken and Vegetables (makes 4-6 servings)

  • 2 tbsp. organic coconut oil
  • 1/2 lb. boneless chicken thighs, cut into strips
  • 6-8 organic carrots, peeled and cut into coins or slices
  • 2 organic sweet peppers (I used one red and one yellow), cut into thin strips
  • 1 organic yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cups organic broccoli florets, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup sliced, fresh mushrooms
  • 2 cups organic fresh greens (chard, Chinese cabbage, bok choi), cleaned and trimmed
  • 4 cups cooked organic rice
  1. In a wok or very large saute pan, heat the coconut oil over high heat.
  2. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. When oil is hot, add chicken to the wok.
  3. Cook chicken quickly, tossing in the wok to keep the chicken from burning. Cook about 4 minutes or until chicken is browned on all sides.
  4. Remove chicken to a bowl and set aside.
  5. Allow remaining oil to heat again. When hot, add the onions, peppers, and carrots. Toss and cook on high for about 2 minutes. Remove to bowl with chicken.
  6. Add more coconut oil if needed and heat wok over high again. Add the mushrooms and broccoli. Toss for 2 minutes. Remove to the bowl.
  7. Add the greens to the wok and stir fry over high heat for 2 minutes. Add all remaining ingredients back to the wok and toss well.
  8. Check for seasoning and add salt and pepper as necessary.
  9. Plate the rice and add the vegetables and chicken on top. Serve with spicy peanut sauce.

Rainbow Peanut Noodles

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Can I confess to you that I am a Pinterest freak? I mean, yes, I realize that Pinterest features a lot of made up stuff that most of us will never do because we are busy having actual lives, but really. I’m like a moth to a flame. Occasionally, I will actually try to tackle a craft/home improvement/gardening/deep cleaning project, but mostly I just like to look at the pretty pictures. Guilty pleasures, I know. Sometimes those photos are accurate portrayals of what recipes will really look like, but often “they’ve had work done.”

Not so with this recipe. When I saw a photo of this dish from Give Me Some Oven, I thought no way will the real dish look so vibrant and lovely. I was all prepared for something less than stellar, and was pleasantly surprised when I ended up with something that looked like the photo! Thank you, Give Me Some Oven! I think it is one of my new favorite dishes. Healthy, vegetarian, easy to make and so darn pretty to look at, this recipe is a winner all around. In fact, the Give Me Some Oven site is full of rainbow recipes and they all look amazing so check out her site and get cooking!

The original recipe is HERE. I did some make some changes. I used my Spicy Peanut Sauce instead of the peanut sauce in the recipe. Mine is not sweet and has more kick to it. If you are making this dish for little ones (or family with a sweet tooth), I would use the original peanut sauce recipe. I did make it and it’s delicious, but I like more sass and less sweet–just a personal preference. I also used some fresh, local vegetables like local early garlic, local spring onion and sugar snap peas instead of edamame. You could really use whatever you want as long as you balance out the colors! I also used fresh rice noodles instead of pasta and that worked well, so if you’re gluten free, no worries!

The trick to this dish is to do all of your vegetable prep ahead. Once you start cooking, you have about 5-7 minutes until dinner is on the table, so have everything ready to go before you heat your pan. I hope you enjoy this as much as we did!

Rainbow Peanut Noodles (Serves 3-4)

Spicy Peanut Sauce (makes about 1 cup)

  • 4 tbsp. smooth peanut butter
  • 1″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. sriracha chili paste
  • 2 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2cup olive oil (you could also use peanut oil)
  • Kosher salt and ground pepper

Rainbow Vegetables

  • 12 ounces fresh rice noodles (or pasta)
  • 1/2 head of organic purple cabbage, washed, drained and shredded
  • 2 small bulbs of fresh, organic spring garlic (or 1 garlic clove), minced
  • 1 pint fresh sugar snap peas, washed and trimmed
  • 2 organic carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
  • 1 yellow and 1 red bell pepper, washed, trimmed and sliced very thin
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • Optional toppings: peanuts, sesame seeds, chopped scallions
  1. Combine all ingredients for peanut sauce in a blender or the bowl of an immersion blender. Blend together until creamy and set aside.
  2. Heat water for the noodles. When water boils, cook the rice noodles for 1 minute. Set aside.
  3. Heat coconut oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium high heat.
  4. Saute the rainbow vegetables for 3-4 minutes, tossing frequently. Turn off heat.
  5. Add noodles and 1/2 of peanut sauce to the vegetables in the pan and stir to combine.
  6. Serve immediately with toppings of your choice!

Running Goals and Food as Fuel

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For the past 15 years or so, I have been a casual runner, entering the occasional 5K race and always enjoying it. Last year about this time, I decided I would venture into new running territory and run in a local women’s 10K race. Why? I have no idea, but it seemed like a fun thing to do (and it was!).

Assisted by an unusually mild winter and spring (pretty much the opposite of this year), I started running regularly and using a GPS program called Run Keeper to log my mileage and time. I couldn’t believe I did it! I was beyond excited that even in the 95 degree heat, I could run a complete 10K race–the farthest I had ever run. At the race, I met a woman who, without knowing it, changed my whole year. And maybe my life. She started running later in life and together with her daughter had run many of the Disney races. She encouraged me to go for a half marathon at Disney. She said I could do it. Those words are very powerful.

At home, in a crazy fit of lord knows what (running endorphins?), I signed up for the Disney Princess Half Marathon. And signed up my husband, Tom, as well. Then I panicked. How in the world would I run 13.1 miles? Well, friends, there is nothing like investing about $3,000 in a race, hotel, airfare, etc. to help you along with a goal. I downloaded a Jeff Galloway training plan and we were on our way.

Last week, we ran our race. It was awesome. Full of Disney magic, fun, hard work, beautiful weather and personal satisfaction. While the race itself was fabulous, the journey of our training over the past 6 months was really the greatest part. I am learning to appreciate so many things about my body and to treat it well. To give it rest when needed, to strengthen its weaker parts and to feed it what it needs.

And now we have a new goal! We are signed up to run a full marathon in November and the Disney Coast to Coast Challenge in 2015. We have a long way to go to double our distance, but it will be fun trying.

Spring is a time when many of us decide to pull out our dusty running shoes and get outside. But just as important as what we wear, is what we eat. Here are some links to recipes that have worked especially well for us over the past few months. Some are meals and others are snacks/desserts. I hope you find these helpful!

Banana Bread Oatmeal

Chili Lime Shrimp Salad

Clean Energy Bars

Crunch Chai Spiced Granola

Double Chocolate Raw Fudge

Fish with Tomato and Fennel

Mediterranean Shrimp and Feta

No Bake Peanut Butter Cookies

Raw Honey Almond Butter Truffles

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas

Swiss Chard with Mushrooms and Eggs

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Winter Vegetable Stir Fry with Spicy Peanut Sauce

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

Week 24 Budget and Menu

Summer, summer, summer is here! Not “officially”, I know, but in reality we are in lovely, lovely summer here in central North Carolina. The markets are bursting with goodness and we are in high blueberry season once again! What is your favorite food of summer? I think mine is ripe tomatoes, but I love it all.

This week’s menu focuses on some rather quick dinners as we are still finishing up softball season and games invariably fall around supper time. We are having some delicious fish this week and some grilled pork with our new mango cardamom jam–I can’t wait!!!

Our little garden is coming along, but we have much more success in our yard with a winter garden. I think the plants benefit from the leaves coming off the trees in our yard. Still, we plant our tomatoes and squash and cucumber and hope for the best!

Budget [$105.92]

  • The Produce Box (ALL ORGANIC: blueberries, potatoes, kale, broccoli, Napa cabbage, sugar snap peas, cauliflower): $26.50
  • Locals Seafood (mackerel fillets): $12.00
  • Mae Farm (pork chops): $15.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (mozzarella): $6.00
  • Melina’s Pasta (spinach fettuccine): $6.00
  • Wild Onion Farm (organic cucumber, organic yellow squash): $4.00
  • Old Milbourne Farm (fennel): $2.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, yogurt, soy milk, olives, salt): $29.42

Menu

  • Wednesday–Game Night! Overnight blueberry oatmeal (really)
  • Thursday–Chicken & veggie stir fry w/ spicy peanut sauce, rice
  • Friday–Napa salad with vegetables and leftover peanut sauce
  • Saturday–Fish with tomatoes and fennel, roasted new potatoes
  • Sunday–Grilled pork chops w/mango cardamom jam, zucchini
  • Monday–Game Night! Bagel pizzas with homemade roasted tomato sauce and Hillsborough Cheese Co. Mozzarella
  • Tuesday–Spinach fettuccine with cauliflower cream sauce, mushrooms and leftover pork chops

Have a wonderful week, get out to your local farmer’s markets and cook some wonderful, healthy foods!

Organic Spring Salad

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So, what really happened was…I was in a hurry…and hungry…

Although the weather here does not even approximate spring yet, I am craving spring salads. Now, I love some collards, but I am really ready for the light, raw greens of spring. I love all the wonderful ingredients put together–lettuce, crunchy cucumber, broccoli, tomatoes and whatever else happens to be fresh. Unfortunately, with our cold spring so far, that isn’t much. So I dove into the organic section of Trader Joes and Whole Foods and came up with this salad on the fly. I was in a super hurry because I had not planned out this craving very well. It was nearing dinnertime…and I was really hungry.

I found that an organic veggie tray can be your best friend. Mine had cherry tomatoes, jicama, snap peas, and carrots. I also scored a very ripe, organic avocado. Combined with some leftover raw broccoli and some pre-cooked balsamic chicken, I was in salad heaven.

What really makes salads a happy thing in my house, though, is the salad dressing. After reading the ingredients in most grocery store dressings, I decided to try making my own so I can control the ingredients and eliminate unnecessary sugars and high fructose corn syrup. Here is what I have learned about making salad dressing:

  1. It is much easier than I thought.
  2. I have most of the ingredients in my pantry already.
  3. My stick blender (immersion blender) is my greatest ally.

With a few handy ingredients and my little, easy-to-clean stick blender, we have been able to create very delicious dressings in about 5 minutes. On the topic of dressings, I have to give a shout out to another blogger who has given me a lot of inspiration to seek fresh salad ideas. A fellow blogger at Creative Noshing has been a great inspiration to me as we explore making different dressings. She has wonderful, fresh, recipes for dressings that have become our staples. Our favorites are homemade ranch dressing and a spicy Asian peanut dressing (which is also amazing on stir fry vegetables).

Visit Creative Noshing for some superb dressing recipes. Whether you like ranch, Russian dressing, poppy seed or spicy peanut, she probably has a recipe that will have your family happily eating their greens!

Outsmarting the Grocery Store

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Aside from small trips to Trader Joes, and occasional treks to Whole Foods, we have given up almost all grocery shopping. Occasionally, I find the need for something I can only find in the standard grocery, but that is pretty rare anymore. I have learned that I can make my own powdered sugar, self-rising whole wheat flour and buttermilk, so why buy them off the shelf?

Now, in full disclosure, I have never loved grocery shopping, but since we started shopping primarily at our local farmers markets, going to the grocery has become even more frustrating and stressful.  First, no one seems to know anything about the produce or meat sold in the grocery. I’m not dissing 16 year olds, but why oh why would I take produce advice from someone who has never cooked? Second, the things I need seem to be hard to find. Is it me or are steel-cut oats almost impossible to see on the shelf? And lastly, I continue to be amazed at how expensive processed food is. Sure, a box of Hamburger Helper is only .99 with a coupon, but you’re paying for mostly salt and pasta. Plus you still need to add meat and maybe canned tomatoes. Not a good deal when a whole box of pasta might be .99 and you get two or three times more than is in the box of Hamburger Helper. A loaf of bread might be $1.99, but for $3.99 you can get a 5 lb. bag of whole wheat flour that will make you 5 or 6 loaves of bread.

So I was intrigued this morning when I saw a Twitter posting from Earth Eats about the geography of a grocery store. None of this is really new information, but it is a good reminder that when you enter a grocery store, you (and most importantly, your children) are being carefully manipulated to make choices that are good for the grocery stores profits, but not good for the health of your family.

Case in point: my daughter went looking in Trader Joes for peanut butter. Just plain ol’, no sugar added peanut butter. She grabbed a jar and off we went. Until I noticed during checkout that what she thought was peanut butter was some kind of cookie butter. WHAAAT? What the hell is cookie butter? We went back to the shelf and there were two entire rows of cookie butter at chest level, and the actual peanut butter was waaaaay down at the bottom. GRRRRRRR. Cookie butter, by the way, is cookies, fat and sugar. Now, maybe this is your favorite food in the world (I won’t judge), but it’s not what we want in our diet. And it is not a sub for peanut butter in Thai spicy peanut sauce.

Check out this article–maybe you want to print it out and take it with you to the grocery store? It’s eye-opening, for sure! Here are some takeaway tips:

  • Shop the perimeter–the outside aisles is where the fresh food is.
  • Look up–and down. The healthier, less processed food is often not at eye level.
  • Buy ingredients, not packages.

Here is a wonderful mantra to keep in mind (this is from Michael Pollan).

“If it came from a plant, eat it; if it was made in a plant, don’t. ”

Week 7 Budget and Menu

This is a week of fun celebrations! Sunday is Chinese New Year, starting the Year of the Snake. We won’t have any snakes, but we are planning a fun Chinese New Year dinner. Tuesday is Fat Tuesday and we are celebrating with a fun Family Gras dinner. Then, as if there weren’t enough fun in our week, Thursday is Valentines Day and we will cook a heart healthy Valentine dinner. All that adds up to a week chock full of food fun!

Our budget is a bit higher than usual this week. My trip to the farmer’s market wasn’t very productive. I think we’ve hit a bit of the winter doldrums, so we supplemented our farmer’s market finds with organic produce from Trader Joes.

Budget [$119.44]

Coon Rock Farm (andouille sausage, eggs): $19.00
Two Chicks Farm (carrots): $3.50
Mitchell Family Pantry (strawberry jam, roasted tomato sauce, frozen summer corn, frozen peppers) $10.00
Trader Joes (organic broccoli, organic onions, organic peppers, organic mushrooms, whole wheat flour, pecans, pot stickers, sparkling blood orange juice, half and half, salmon, mozzarella, chicken): $86.94

Here is our menu for the week!

Menu

Sunday–Stir fried chicken and vegetables with spicy peanut sauce, organic rice, pot stickers, ginger ice cream
Monday–Ellie’s Rodeo Pizza, kale salad
Tuesday–Chicken and andouille jambalaya, homemade king cake
Wednesday–leftover buffet
Thursday–Poached wild salmon, sauteed Swiss chard, summer corn, dark chocolate brownies
Friday–Pasta con sarde
Saturday–Soup (from freezer) and cornbread

Cheese Substitutes: Nutritional Yeast and Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce

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To give you a sense of how much we love cheese in my family, I will tell you that my mother once toyed with breaking the law bucking the system to smuggle carry cheese in her suitcase on a return trip to Paris. When I asked her, “Do you feel like this cheese is really worth maybe getting arrested by customs?” she took a long time thinking about it. So did I. Because really, a good cheese might just be worth getting into a little hot water. Our people are French in heritage and we love our cheese. Cheese, however, does not always love me–one of many cruel food ironies.

As we start our marathon training in earnest this week, I am on the lookout for some replacements that will give me the satisfaction of cheese without the tummy trouble on my long run the next day. I am also exploring other plant-based sources of protein and nutrition during marathon training with the help of a great website, The No Meat Athlete. We have been reducing our meat consumption for several years now, so this is just one extra shift in our journey.

In general, I am not a big fan of cheese substitutes (and as I’ve detailed, I do love good cheese). Cheese substitutes often get the texture or flavor wrong and overall I’d rather NOT have cheese than to pretend I’m having cheese that tastes like salt or playdough. I have found some great ideas from other blogs that hold promise for me to enjoy some cheese-y flavor without any tummy trouble. If you are interested in trying something new or just shaving off some saturated fat from your diet, give these a try!

Nutritional Yeast

The first good cheese substitute is nutritional yeast. I know, sounds gross, but bear with me here. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast super high in B12. It is also a complete protein. So, by itself, it is very good for you and it has the added benefit of the wonderful umami flavor of Parmesan cheese. Nutritional yeast comes in large flakes, so this is not something you would serve on crackers, but it is amazing in soups, stews, scrambled eggs/egg substitute or in a pasta dish. You can mix it with some olive oil to add to foods or just sprinkle it over foods like you might a dry cheese. Definitely, it’s worth a try. Not sure if you would like it? You can buy nutritional yeast flakes in the bulk bin of Whole Foods or other natural food stores and try just a little to see if you like it.

Vegan Cashew Cheese Sauce

Cashews are amazing little nuts that, when softened, can replace peanut butter and even cheese! I love reading the blog My Whole Food Life (check it out!). She has terrific ideas, recipes and now videos! I saw THIS video for a cashew cheese sauce and thought it would be great for nachos. It is easy to make, tasty and great for serving with corn chips, quesadillas or even drizzled over burritos. I’m not sure, but you could probably use this to make a vegan mac and cheese. I add a little more cumin and some red pepper flakes to the sauce because I like it spicy, but you could make this sauce yours in a million ways. Unlike conventional cheese sauce, this is healthy (have you read the ingredients in processed queso?) and without the heaviness  or tummy issues of milk-based cheese. Watch the video, starring her lovely daughter and her husband and see for yourself! If you like what you see, you can subscribe to her YouTube channel and get more quick videos!

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