After All This Time, All I Have To Offer Is Casserole

It was never my intention to take a leave of absence from this space, but it seems that it happened anyway.  Oops.

If I’m being perfectly honest, it was kind of nice.  Not being tied to a camera or a computer for a little while.  I might try it more often.

Not that I don’t enjoy coming here and sharing with you – certainly I do.  I just might be doing it a little more sporadically right now (not that I was all that regular about it before).  When I make something that I think you’ll particularly appreciate, then I’ll share it with you.  That’s what this space is really for, after all.

It’s still January for a few more days.  I didn’t really make any earth-shattering resolutions at the start of this New Year.  I’ve found that I’m not very good at keeping them.  What I did decide with some certainty is that I really need to simplify.  Complicated is just…well…too complicated.  So, simple it shall be.

I’ve kind of gotten into a routine with my cooking.  Another reason posting hasn’t happened much lately – not much new to share.   Once a week or so, I make this chicken (or some variation thereon), and we eat about half of it for dinner that same day.  Then I cut the rest of the meat off the carcass and tuck it away for use another day and make this lovely dark chicken stock out of the bones.casserole2

Then, a day or so later, I make chicken and rice casserole with that leftover meat.  I know what you’re thinking – casserole is so passé (does anyone even say passé anymore, or is that passé)?  Just hear me out, though.

casserole4 (2)

See – I have a very picky toddler in my house.  He’s three, and he’s demanding.  And also sometimes unpleasant.  And unlike his older, more amenable brother, he doesn’t care much about pleasing anyone but himself.  So if he doesn’t like something?  He makes life pretty miserable for the rest of us.  Thus, rather than making two different dinners every night, I’m trying to come up with things that we can all enjoy (and that don’t involve opening a box of noodles that may also contain a packet of orange cheese-flavored powder – not that I haven’t done that a time or two in desperation).  This seems like a good enough compromise.casserole1

It’s loosely based on this casserole from the archives of Paula Deen.  I say loosely because hers involves opening a bunch of cans (canned chicken, canned soup, canned beans, canned water chestnuts, parboiled rice, etc).  My version takes sauteed onions and celery and homemade chicken stock and just the tiniest hint of heavy cream and mixes it all together with hearty brown rice and skillet roasted chicken (and maybe a smidge of extra-sharp cheddar) for a flavorful, tummy pleasing meal.  Paired with a salad for the grown-ups and some unsweetened applesauce for the kids, it’s an easy weeknight fix (and disagreeable-toddler-approved).

casserole3

Chicken and Rice Casserole

prep time: 10 minutes

cook time: 45 minutes

serves: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 Tablespoons oil (I used coconut, but you could use olive oil or butter – whatever you have)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 stalks of celery, diced
  • 8 oz. cremini mushrooms, cubed (optional – this was decidedly not a toddler-approved addition, but I enjoyed it)
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 6-8 oz. of cooked chicken, diced (I used one breast and one thigh off a pre-roasted chicken)
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (this was about 2 1/4 oz. by weight)
  • 2 cups brown rice, cooked according to package directions (yields approximately 6 cups cooked)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. In a large oven-proof enameled cast iron pan over medium-high heat, saute your onions and celery in oil until they begin to become translucent (if you don’t have a pan like this, you can do everything in a regular skillet and then transfer it to a casserole dish to bake in the oven).
  3. Add the mushrooms and let them get good and brown.  Taste for seasoning – add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Sprinkle the flour into the pan and stir it around.  Let it cook for a few minutes so that it loses the raw flour taste.  You’re making a roux.
  5. Pour the chicken stock in the pan and stir to combine, making sure you dissolve any lumps of flour that might be remaining.  Let it come to a boil – it should thicken.
  6. Add the heavy cream and stir to combine.  Turn off the burner.
  7. Add the chicken and the rice.  Carefully stir to combine.
  8. Add the cheese and stir through.
  9. Cover and bake in a 350F oven for 45 minutes.  Remove the lid during the last 15 minutes to let the top get good and brown.
  10. Enjoy!

 

 

A Post Dedicated to Community Supported Agriculture

Over the summer, I took the time to read Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  It was the height of gardening season, we’d just acquired our first round of chickens, and I was completely enamored of her stories of sustainability and year-round local eating.

Of course I was – our garden was overflowing with tomatoes and beans and peppers, and there was local produce to be had at farmers markets and roadside stands everywhere I turned.  Even the chain grocers carried local and regional fruits and vegetables, and proclaimed it proudly with prominent signage.

When fall rolled around, I even planted a “winter garden” full of a variety of cruciferous vegetables – cabbages and brussels sprouts and broccoli and greens – along with tender lettuces and spinach.  Unfortunately, the brassicae were more fodder for a host of Mamestra brassicae (cabbage moths and their larvae) than they were for our family.  We managed to eke out a few small heads of broccoli and some collard greens, but for the most part the chickens enjoyed the leafy treats crawling with juicy caterpillars.  Our lettuces did well, though.

About four weeks ago, the Marketing Team Leader at Harry’s Farmer’s Market (with whom I’m partnering on the pantry stock-up giveaway – if you haven’t already entered, there’s still time!) announced on their facebook page that they were working with Rockin’ S Farms to put together a Community Supported Agriculture subscription program.  I was so excited to hear this – I’d read about Rockin’ S on Jenn Carter’s A Hundred Miles of Food blog, and was intrigued by this little farm located about 14 miles northeast of my house.  They grow their own corn for meal and grits, and grind it on their property.  They also make jams and jellies, and are known for their chow-chow.  I immediately decided that I would give their CSA program a chance.  I even had a chance to meet Nichelle Stewart, one of the owners, and her family at Harry’s one day when I went in to pick up my produce.

The thing about eating locally year round is that winter can be a tough time for produce.  Luckily, here in Georgia we’ve had a very mild winter so far, which means our winter growing season has been extended.  However, winter vegetables are very different from what we’re used to in the spring and summer.  Instead of brightly colored summer squashes, peppers and tomatoes, we’re talking about root vegetables, leafy greens and densely packed heads of cabbage.  As far as fruits go, you might still be able to get some varieties of apples, persimmons, pears and pomegranates.  And since we’re close to Florida, citrus is always an option.

One of my favorite ways to use kale

Our bags from Rockin S’ are always chock full of picked-fresh (usually the morning of the day they are delivered) greens and root vegetables. We’re also privy to bags of corn meal and grits, as well as shiny jars of preserves.  One week we even got honey from a local bee keeper.  I’ve had a great time coming up with new and interesting ways to incorporate these vegetables into our meal routine.  Yesterday, I had a comment on my facebook page from a fellow CSA subsriber.  I had mentioned using rutabagas from our bags one week to make dinner for our family.  She said she was a little inexperienced with some of these veggies, and asked for more info on how we used the rutabagas.  It occurred to me that there might be more people out there with similar questions (Nichelle Stewart from Rockin’ S does a great job of including recipes and information in the bags each week, by the way), so I decided to do a post recapping some of the ways we’ve put this bounty to good use, including the Kale Carbonara pictured above.

This salad with greens, pomegranate arals, pumpkin seeds and goat cheese is based on one that Tami of Running with Tweezers featured a couple of weeks ago. I shredded up some napa cabbage and colorful rainbow chard from one of our bag one week, and subbed chevre and pumpkins seeds for Tami’s pine nuts and aged goat cheese.  It was a huge hit at a dinner party we went to, and I’ve been making variations on it ever since.

This Asian-style beef stew is loosely based on this recipe for pot roast from Whole Foods.  I used carrots, beets and rutabagas as the vegetables in the pot and added some orange zest to brighten things up a bit.  It was delicious.

And for breakfast this morning, I made rutabaga and mixed-greens hash with a poached egg.  I love hash, and typically make it with potatoes.  Nichelle had mentioned that they use turnips and rutabagas in place of potatoes in lots of different applications so I thought I’d try them here.  I have to admit, I’ve always had a slight aversion to turnips.  They have a slightly bitter earthy flavor that can be a little offputting.  However, I really enjoy them in this hash.Rutabaga Hash
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves: 2

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 large rutabaga, diced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 small carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup mixed greens (I used rainbow chard and mustard greens), cut into thin ribbons
  • salt and pepper to taste

Begin by melting the coconut oil in an iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion and saute until translucent.

Add the rutabaga and carrot and spread out into a single layer.  Allow to cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes (you want them to get good and brown on one side before stirring).  After the first five minutes, check to see if they have browned sufficiently.  At this point, stir periodically to make sure that rutabaga pieces get brown on all sides.

Toward the end of the cooking time, add the greens.  If necessary, cover for a couple of minutes to make sure the rutabagas are cooked through.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve topped with a poached or fried egg and a sprinkling of hot sauce.

I have really enjoyed the challenge of finding creative ways to use the vegetables I’ve received from Rockin’ S Farms.  I love knowing where the food comes from, who grew it and harvested it, and that I’m doing my part, however small, to support our local economy and agriculture industry.  Nichelle and her family are providing a wonderful service, and we’re lucky to have access to that.

Don’t forget to click over to this post and let me know your New Years Resolutions (maybe you resolved to eat more locally this year!), or tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.  You could win a $50 gift card to Whole Foods, courtesy of Harry’s Farmers Market.

 

A Celebration, a Goal, and a Gift For You

As I sat down to write this post, I realized that it has been exactly two years since I first started this blog.  Two years.  I can’t really believe I’ve stuck with it for that long.  I’m notorious for starting things and then giving them up before I’ve gotten very far.

Speaking of sticking with things (or not), I have a confession to make.  I started 2011 with a goal to eat healthier and to exercise more.  In January of 2011, I was about 10 lbs. heavier than I wanted to be. I blamed it on “baby weight” that I’d never lost (the “baby” was a year old at that time).  I thought if I introduced more whole foods, cut back on the meat and dairy, and introduced some moderate exercise I would easily drop that 10 lbs. in no time.

Now we’re in January of 2012

(2012!!)

and instead of having lost that extra 10 lbs. I’ve put on 20 more.  There, I said it.  I’m 30 lbs. overweight, and I hate it.  I guess those 2011 goals didn’t really work out so well.

This year, I’m bound and determined to stick with it.  I know – everyone is setting goals and making resolutions right now.  It’s the thing to do. My most popular posts over the last few days have had to do with kale and greens and whole grains.  People are looking to eat better and get healthy in the new year.

I’m doing a couple of things to help me along on my goals.  First, I joined the Couch to 5k training program.  I’ve never been a runner.  In fact, I’ve kind of always hated running.  In high school I would do whatever was necessary to avoid running in PE.  I’m now almost done with week two of the nine week training program, and I can honestly say that I still hate running.  BUT, I’m sticking with it.  I suck at it, but I’m doing it.  And I can tell I’m getting better at it, in teeny-tiny minute increments.  So that’s something.

The second thing I’m doing is partnering with my local Harry’s Farmers Market to give my pantry a healthy makeover.  Whole Foods, in their Whole Story blog, issued a $50 pantry makeover challenge.  Their claim is that you can buy a list of pantry staples at Whole Foods (which I realize some people refer to as “whole paycheck”) for about $50.  The items on the list are:

  • 1 lb black beans
  • 1 lb lentils
  • 1 lb quinoa
  • 2 lbs brown rice
  • 3 (32-oz) boxes vegetable broth
  • 1 (32-oz) box chicken broth
  • 1 lb rolled oats
  • 2 cans cannellini beans
  • 1 lb orechiette pasta
  • 1 lb pasta, your favorite kind
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 jar unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 (32-oz) box unsweetened soymilk
  • 1 (32-oz) box unsweetened almondmilk
  • 1 (5-oz) can tuna
  • 3 (15-oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 package no-oil sundried tomatoes
  • 1 jar pasta sauce

Whole Foods is running a contest through the end of January to give away five grand-prize packages of a year’s worth of pantry staples and a pantry makeover.  They’re also giving away 31 pantry stock-ups valued at $50 each.  All you have to do is leave a comment on the post on the blog.

Harry’s contacted me to see if I wanted to participate in the challenge.  They offered to either provide me with a $50 gift card that I could personally use for the challenge, or that I could give away to one of my readers.  I decided to take the challenge on my own, just to see if I could really buy everything on the list for around $50, and to save the gift card for one of you.

Today I went to Harry’s armed with my list and a few coupons that I’d printed off of their website.  My shopping trip took a little over an hour (mostly because I had a hard time finding canned-tuna and sundried tomatoes), but in the end I wound up spending less than $45 for the items on the list.

I had four coupons for $1 off various items, and I got two $.10 bag credits.  Even if I hadn’t had the coupons and the bags, my total would have been right around $50.  I did make a couple of substitutions: I got two cartons of almond milk instead of one almond and one soy (I don’t do soy milk), and I purchased two 28-oz. cans of tomatoes instead of three 15-oz. cans. I also accidentally got an extra bag of rice that added $1.99 to my total.

That’s a lot of food.  I’m not sure it will last us the whole month, but we’ll certainly try.  I plan to keep you all updated on our progress here on the blog, and to include recipes for things that we make with these ingredients.  I figure that all of these pantry staples paired with the produce I get from the Rockin’ S Farms CSA I recently joined and the meat I get from Riverview Farms should get us pretty far.

For lunch today, I made this recipe for Tuscan Tuna Salad from the Whole Foods website.  I served mine on a bed of mixed greens that I got in this week’s CSA bag (spicy mustard greens were a very nice addition) with some whole-grain crackers on the side.  I highly recommend it.

For dinner, I chose this recipe for Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe, Sundried Tomatoes and White Beans.  I subbed broccoli from our garden for the broccoli rabe, but otherwise I followed the recipe to the letter.  Even my kids liked it.  My husband and I ate ours with a mixed-green salad on the side and there was plenty left over for lunch tomorrow. The key (in my opinion) is adding the water from the reconstituted tomatoes along with the pasta water at the end.  So good.

Okay, here’s the part you’ve all been waiting for.  Because the blog is two, because I’m determined to stick with my goals this year, and mostly just because I appreciate you all so much, I’m teaming up with Harry’s Farmers Market to give one of you a $50 Whole Foods Gift card that you can use to make over your own pantry (the gift card can be used at any Whole Foods store).  Here’s how you can enter to win:

Tell me in the comments what your New Years resolution was this year.  Are you going to stick to a budget for the first time ever? Are you going to get a pedicure every two weeks? Is your goal to read the Harry Potter series from start to finish before 2013?  Whatever the goal, let me know and you’ll be entered to win.

You can also tweet the following: I want to win a $50 Whole Foods Gift card from @HFM_Alpharetta and @lifeinrecipes: http://bit.ly/AsEio7.

Do either of those things between now and 12:00 PM Eastern time on January 30, 2012 and you’ll be entered to win.  Do both to be entered twice.  Limited to two entries (one here, one on twitter) per person, please.  I’ll announce a winner on January 31.

>Light

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As I was sitting in a line of cars at a stoplight today, contemplating the ingredients I needed to purchase at the store to make this pizza, I was confronted by the stark reality of hunger and homelessness.
There, in my warm car, with the radio in the background, I was struck by the sight of a young couple on the side of the road.  They could have been anyone – you, me, our neighbors.  The were a little dirty, a little ragged, but they weren’t that different from anyone else you might pass on the street.  She was  quite pretty, sitting off to the side, holding a sign that said “Traveling folk, hungry and broke.  Every little bit helps, even a smile.”  He was standing closer to the line of traffic, with a sign that read, “Mama said there’d be days like this.”  
As we sat there, those of us warm and safe in our cars, I started to see windows go down, and hands reach out with folded bills, waving toward the couple.  The young man would walk over, smile, say a couple of words and take the offered funds.  I sat there wishing I had a few dollars to give them.  I watched the exchanges, and I smiled as he walked in front of my car, hoping it would count for something.  As the light turned green, and I drove on, I realized I was crying – tears streaming down my face.  They were tears of sorrow for the couple and for their circumstance, but they were also tears of joy and thankfulness for my own family and our circumstance.  
Don’t think I wasn’t struck by the irony of the situation.  There I was, wondering whether I should stop at Kroger for mozzarella cheese and just use the domestic parmesan I had at home, or drive the extra distance to Harry’s for buffalo mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, while at the same time this couple sat wondering where their next meal was going to come from.   

Last week I had the privilege of participating in a virtual progressive holiday dinner party called  Share our Holiday Table along with 70 or so other bloggers in an effort to raise awareness and funds for Share our Strength.  That event has come to an end, but that doesn’t mean that Share our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign is over.  If you are like me, and find yourself with a little bit extra this holiday season, consider donating to this worthy cause.  There are so many families who are struggling – to keep the lights on, to pay their bills, to put gas in their cars.  And yes, there are millions of families struggling to feed their children.  
In light of what I’d just encountered, I chose to go the less expensive route and stop into Kroger for some fresh domestic mozzarella.  While I was there, I found some white mushrooms that had been marked down to $.99, so I bought those too.
One of the things that Share our Strength does is teach families how to cook healthy meals on a restricted budget.  I attended a volunteer orientation for their Cooking Matters program about a month ago, and I was struck by the care and planning that has gone into the curriculum for the courses that they offer.  They don’t just give people meal plans and send them on their way, they take the time to explain why one ingredient is better than another (even if it might cost a bit more).  For instance, they explain that buying whole wheat pasta instead of regular pasta will save you money in the long run, even if it costs more right now.  Why?  Because you don’t have to eat as much of it to feel full – it stays with you longer, because it takes your body more time to process.  And it contains more nutrients.  So even if it costs $.50 more per box, you’ll be able to stretch that box much further than you would a box of pasta made with non-whole-wheat flour.
This pizza I made for dinner tonight is a great example of that.  It has a whole-wheat crust, fresh tomato sauce, and uses a small amount of flavorful cheese and pepperoni.  For two pizzas, the cost was less than $9.  And we had leftovers.  Even Little Caesar’s is more expensive than that.

This is the first in a series of posts that explores cooking healthfully on a restricted budget.  The hope is to show that even people who have limited funds can afford to feed their families quality food without relying on overly processed mixes or fast-food restaurants.  The cost breakdowns are based on what my local grocery store is currently charging for a particular ingredient.  For instance, below you’ll see whole-wheat flour as an ingredient.  A 5 lb. bag of whole-wheat flour costs approximately $3 at my grocery store.  There are about 20 cups of flour in a 5 lb. bag, so to figure out how much 2 3/4 cups of flour would cost I divided 20 by 2.75, which was about 7.3.  I then divided 3 by 7.3, and came up with about .4, or 40 cents for 2 3/4 cups flour.

I know that this is more trouble than many people are going to want to go to on a Friday night after a busy week.  The point is to show that it can be done, if you choose to take the time.  I managed this after a full day at work, with two small children playing at my feet.  My husband was stuck in typical Friday afternoon rush-hour traffic, so it was just me and the kids until he got home around 6:45.  At that point, we all piled in the car and ate pizza and then drank hot chocolate while we drove around and looked at Christmas lights.  It was an inexpensive evening, but it was quality family time and I felt good about what we were eating (well, except maybe for the hot chocolate).

As we drove around, eating our pizza and happily pointing out the twinkling light displays, I couldn’t help but notice that there were fewer this year than in years past.  Whether it’s because people are trying to conserve energy or funds, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s more the latter.  We did pass a number of houses with lines of cars out front, evidence of holiday parties in full swing.  And we glimpsed quite a few lit Christmas trees peeking through parted drapes.  The celebration and the true meaning of the season continue, even if the lavish light displays have been downsized.  What I thought about most as we traveled the neighborhood streets was that couple, and the displays of generosity I’d witnessed sitting in my car in front of a different set of lights earlier in the day.  And I was thankful.

Whole wheat pizza dough
prep time: 10 minutes
rest time: 15 minutes
bake time: 5 minutes, then 10 minutes
yields: 2 12-inch crusts
Ingredients
1/4 cup water ($.0)
1 package or 1 Tablespoon instant yeast ($.50)
2 3/4 cup whole-wheat flour ($.40)
1 Tablespoon sugar ($.01)
1 teaspoon salt ($.01)
1 Tablespoon oil ($.10)
1 cup warm water ($.0)
Total cost: $1.02
  1. Preheat oven to 425F
  2. Combine 1/4 cup warm water and yeast and set aside for 5 minutes or so.
  3. Combine Flour, sugar and salt
  4. Add 1 cup water, oil and yeast mixture. Stir to combine.
  5. Turn dough out on floured surface and knead until dough forms a smooth, elastic ball
  6. Divide dough in half, form two balls, and cover with a damp cloth.  
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes or so while you prepare the rest of your ingredients.
  8. Roll dough out on a floured surface until it is 12-inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick
  9. Bake for 5 minutes on a lightly greased cookie sheet, just until crust starts to bubble
  10. Top with sauce and toppings of your choice, and bake directly on oven rack for 10 minutes more.

Tomato sauce
prep time: 0 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes

Ingredients
1/2 pint grape tomatoes ($1.50)
1 carrot, grated ($.30)
1/4 medium onion, diced ($.25)
1/4 cup water ($.0)
pinch salt
Total cost: $2.05

  1. Combine tomatoes, carrot, onion and salt in a saucepan over medium heat
  2. With a fork or a potato masher, crush the tomatoes
  3. Cook mixture until tomatoes start to release their liquid
  4. Add water.  Using the fork or masher, mash the mixture until it is well combined and relatively homogeneous
  5. Remove from the heat

To assemble the pizza

  1. Spread thin layer of sauce on par-baked crusts
  2. Top each crust with 1 oz. of parmesan cheese ($.50 per pizza, total $1.00)
  3. Slice 8 oz. mozzarella cheese very thin, and space evenly on pizzas ($3.50)
  4. Top with 17 slices of turkey pepperoni (I actually used some homemade pepperoni that I had in my freezer, but turkey pepperoni works just as well – cost for turkey pepperoni: $.75).
  5. Thinly slice 4 mushrooms and spread evenly over top of the pizza ($.30)
  6. I added thinly sliced red pepper to my pizza, which would add another dollar or so to the cost if you chose to do that.
  7. Bake at 425F for 10 minutes, or until cheese is brown and bubbly and edges of crust are brown and crisp.
While this is quite a bit more work than stopping at Little Caesar’s or Papa John’s, it is certainly better for you, and slightly less expensive.  The total cost was just under $9, and it fed four people dinner tonight, and there’s enough for a couple of us to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.   That’s $1.50 per meal per person.  And I had it ready in just under an hour.