Spring Is Here & Hello Again

Spring Is Here & Hello Again

The transition into the Spring season is all around and it is powerful. I wrote a transitional post about a year ago and it is uncanny how I feel that the most natural thing for me now is to reemerge, just a short (ha!) 8 months after baby E arrived. During this time I’ve been immersed in the long season of new motherhood. I’ve slowly arrived to a place where my business can exist in balance with this new reality.

I wrote about Our Edible Garden last year and experiencing how it has evolved since then, through both the effort my husband has put into it and with the changing of the seasons, has encouraged reflection. Last weekend we planted all new seeds, along with starting a few seeds in our mini greenhouse of which some are sprouting. Baby E and I go out every day to check out what is different and we always find something new. What we have been particularly drawn to this month is the budding and blossoming fruit trees. She will lunge for the flowers and leaves and rub them between her fingers. I love witnessing how she experiences the seasons. In sync with this explosion of change, I am ready to return to my work and the blogosphere.

I’m excited to share that:

  1. In home cooking classes are being developed. The topic will change monthly, giving you the opportunity to delve into a particular culinary topic in the comfort of your cooking space. Invite your friends, these will be structured with the small group in mind (up to 5). Stay tuned for updates and send a message to let me know you are interested. Since my passion is to increase the ranks of home cooks and support them in this very valuable thing called cooking-at-home, the first class topic is Knife Skills: Tools and Techniques, where we will cover what every seasoned or brand new cook needs to know – the necessary tools, how to care for them and what to do with them. We will apply the new (or refreshed) skills to preparing and cooking a tasty meal together. And there will be surprises. I can’t wait! And if there is a topic you have been dying to cover, please let me know.  
  2. I am available to take on at least one more Personal Chef client, where I cook for you (& family) in your home. Learn more about this at Why a PC? & How it Works

On a more personal note, a friend told me that a mom’s brain shrinks! And since so much of my brain now focuses on my child, I guess there is less to use on other things.

Not fair.

So these days when I work a shift at Savory Kitchen or cook at a clients home, I write a post it note or two of things to bring and to do before leaving. Then I start gathering my things the night before. Yes, my good friend, advanced planning is my best friend. But more than organizing my to do list has been on my mind. With “Mom” as my newly minted job title, it is even more obvious that what I do is SO RELEVANT. No matter the details of your life, it is full, many times to the brim, but the need to feed ourselves never goes away. My planning consists of using a weekly chart to map out what we will be eating at each meal, an app that allows me to share items with relevant people, and Instacart. is. amazing. Because shopping with a baby… not always for the faint of heart. So how do you manage it all? Would love to hear your story.

 

Nectarine Tree in Full Bloom

Salad Series: Watermelon & Spicy Shrimp Salad

Since my last post, salad consumption at home has increased by leaps and bounds, yay! It just feels right. And the scorching sun and overwhelming heat has kept me from delving into the recipe I had originally planned as the 2nd part of this salad series – one that requires lots of grilling. The growing a baby thing is definitely contributing to my extreme aversion to being hot since I can now only imagine spending most of the day inside relishing in the air-conditioned environment & NOT outside over a grill! So for this installment, I chose to stay inside and play with both cooling and warming ingredients. The Watermelon & Spicy Shrimp Salad highlights a spicy/smoky spice blend that coats the naturally sweet shrimp, paired with sweet, cooling watermelon. You’ll find a few other fun flavors in the mix. Enjoy!

Roasted Gypsy Peppers

Roasted Gypsy Peppers

Sweet Seedless Watermelon

Sweet Seedless Watermelon

Spice Blend for Shrimp

Spice Blend for Shrimp

Mixed Spice Blend for Shrimp

Mixed Spice Blend for Shrimp

Shrimp about to be cooked

Shrimp about to be cooked

Cooked Spicy Shrimp

Cooked Spicy Shrimp

Watermelon & Spicy Shrimp Salad!

Watermelon & Spicy Shrimp Salad!

Watermelon & Spicy Shrimp Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 Gypsy peppers
  • ¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup arugula, packed
  • ½ small seedless watermelon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • ¾-1 lb shrimp, small (26/30) peeled and deveined, approximately 6-8 shrimp per plate
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • Dressing
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • ½ tsp shallot
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 large pinch sea salt
  • Spice blend
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp oregano
  • ¼ tsp ginger
  • ¼ tsp coriander
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • large pinch white pepper

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees and place Gypsy peppers on a parchment paper lined sheet tray. Drizzle the peppers with olive oil and roast in oven for 15 minutes. Turn peppers and roast them for another 5 minutes. Allow to cool then slice into thin strips and mix with cilantro and season with sea salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the spice blend together in a medium bowl and mix the shrimp with this spice blend. If you happen to have a favorite spicy spice blend on hand, use that instead!
  3. Place a small saute pan on medium high heat and add about 3 tbsp of the 1/2 cup of olive oil, or enough to fully coat the bottom of the pan. Once the oil starts to shimmer - but not smoke (if it does this, toss the oil and start over) - place as many shrimp in the pan as will fit in one layer. Watch them, as they will cook quickly. Once they begin to curl up slightly, turn them and cook for another 30 seconds. Place cooked shrimp on a plate with paper towel. Add additional oil to the pan as necessary. Once all of the shrimp are cooked, add a bit more oil and add garlic slices to the pan. Fry until golden - this will also happen quickly, so keep an eye on it. The garlic is done when it becomes fragrant and a golden color. Set aside on a paper towel.
  4. Combine the dressing ingredients with a fork or small whisk.
  5. To build salad: wash and dry arugula, divide onto 4 plates. Remove the rind from the watermelon and cut into 12 medium thick slices. Fan 3 slices onto each plate, right on top of the arugula. Top with a small mound of the gypsy pepper and cilantro combination. Divide shrimp onto each plate and then add the dressing, coating a bit of everything on the plate. Sprinkle with fried garlic slices.
  6. Enjoy!
http://girasolecreation.com/2016/07/30/salad-series-watermelon-spicy-shrimp-salad/

Personal Chef for Baby (?!)

Does a newborn baby need a Personal Chef? Probably not – that is what mom is for! But babies parents might appreciate it. C & I were sitting in a birth prep class and the teacher asked us: “Do you have a plan for eating (good food) post labor?” Everybody in class paused and looked around at each other. She continued, saying, “You will have just finished the most intense workout of your life and you will need something nourishing and enjoyable – and you will need it immediately!” Well “ok”, I thought to myself, “this is right up my alley.” I offered up “Hire a personal chef!” Mrs Birth Professor quickly followed with “One that will be available – not in impending labor or post baby?” This made me pause as I had to agree that baking a human has been draining enough up to now and so, was this Personal Chef going to hire her own Personal Chef? NOPE I thought, I got this.

So here is part 1 of my plan, along with some of my considerations. Baby is due in the midst of a hot summer and I absolutely love fresh produce this time of year (stone fruit, berries, melons, etc.), so we are keeping our bimonthly fruit and veg Farm Fresh to You delivery, which comes straight to our door. Maybe my mastery of making quick meals out of random ingredients will come in handy at one, two and three weeks as a new momma (but I’m not really counting on it), so instead of cooking things like zucchini, I’ll most likely be slicing them thin and eating them raw.

To start, a variety of quick meal replacements and snacks are essentials. These are items that can easily be put on the plate, in a cup or in my hand.

Smoothie bags of various flavors filled with frozen fruit & veg, yogurt, milk, a variety of supplements (like psyllium husk, flax seed or one you are already use) which can be blended together with water, milk, yogurt, almond milk, juice, etc. I share my current favorite recipe below – with tropical flavors, but jam packed with good-for-baby & mommy greens.

Bone broth frozen in individual serving sizes. If you don’t already know about the magic of bone broth, please read Top 5 Reasons Why Bone Broth is the Bomb. from Underground Wellness.

Granola stocked in the freezer, as a snack or quick breakfast. I don’t have a favorite recipe, but I like to use this article How to Make Great Granola Every Time becauses the recipe is presented in a formulaic way ie I can modify it based on what I’ve got or what I’m in the mood for. My one preference is to use coconut oil in place of olive oil – a nicer flavor, great health benefits and a higher smoke point.

Energy bars, made from a blend of oats, nuts (hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, etc), dates, cacao powder, Brewers yeast (known to help aid in breast milk production), coconut oil and various spices. The beauty of these is that there is no baking involved, they can be made in large batches and they keep for seemingly ever.
Whether it be for post pregnancy or day-to-day meal planning, do you think these are good snacks or meal replacements ? I would love some more ideas and your thoughts!

Greens & Mango Smoothie

Ingredients

  • ½ banana
  • ½ mango
  • ¼ cup arugula, packed
  • ¾ cup coconut water
  • ¾ cup yogurt
  • 1 tbsp fiber mix - I use a combo of flax and psyllium husk
  • 2 dates

Instructions

  1. Blend all the ingredients in a blender and enjoy as a hearty snack or a light meal replacement.
  2. If planning for future use, pack all ingredients except coconut water in a sandwich size ziplock and store in the freezer. Will last up to 6 months.
http://girasolecreation.com/2016/07/21/personal-chef-baby/

The California Salad

Salad Series: A California Remake

The summertime heat has set in and my body is determined to eat only those food that leave me feeling light and cool. Unlike recipes that require the correct ratio of ingredients (baking, stews, etc), salads are a place to create, play with flavors and sometimes, just use up leftovers! Over the course of this summer I will share three of my favorite types of salads. The first is a remake of the Quintessential California Salad then we move on to a Grilled Salad and wrap up with a savory Fruit Salad. Recipes will of course be included, but don’t feel obligated to stick to them. When you do change it up a bit, come back and share what you did differently!

Ingredients

Ingredients

I admit to probably being the only person who talks seriously of her childhood salad memories but in retrospect, the way I experienced them helped me learn about flavor combinations. In my humble culinary opinion, my dad’s specialty has always been making salad. When he was in charge of making dinner at home, salads are what he did. And so of course, this is where those memories begin. Here is a quick breakdown of how he approached that task:

  1. Remove all leftovers from the fridge and place them on the kitchen counter
  2. Cut those leftovers and any fresh greens and produce into salad size chunks
  3. Throw everything into a large bowl, toss & serve the “everything but the kitchen sink” salad: TADA!

I continue to love the memories I have about pairing flavors together in this way and will regularly take a note from my dad’s playbook. Particularly when I am having a “I don’t feel like cooking” day (yes I have those too!), and an overwhelming amount of leftovers in the fridge. As an example, I’ll start with a layer of salad greens which these days include spicy arugula or green lettuce from the garden or whatever comes in my CSA box. This is followed by a generous helping of the spicy Thai noodles from weekend takeout and slow cooked beef or chicken from a midweek dinner. I top this with whatever produce I have laying around – spring onions, avocado (please don’t judge me!), radish, carrot, etc. Depending on the amount of sauce on the noodles or moistness of the beef, a bit of dressing might be in order. Keep it simple: citrus, a touch of hot spice and a small amount of neutral oil mixed with salt and pepper does the trick.

Green Goddess Dressing

Green Goddess Dressing

Farro and Dressing

Farro and Dressing

Combining flavors and food from various cultures is remarkably Californian and so I’m kicking off this salad series with a remake of the quintessential California-style Strawberry & Spinach Salad. Since this particular salad is way overdone, I find it to be unremarkably Californian AKA boring. I’m here to inject some life into it. My version starts where they all do: a mound of baby spinach. From there, I get a little wild. Nutty farro mixed with a creamy nut and herb dressing (akin to Green Goddess), rich juicy red cherries (so amazing this time of year), thin slices of red onion, topped with a spicy Gorgonzola Piccante and additional creamy green dressing. The distinct flavors of all the ingredients make me feel truly present as every bite is bold and unique, the whole grains make this feel like a complete meal and I am just so glad to be enjoying summer.

The California Salad

The California Salad

I hope you can make some of your own salad memories this summer!

Salad Series: The California Remake

Serving Size: 4

Ingredients

    Salad
  • 4 large handfuls baby spinach
  • 3/4 cup whole grain farro
  • 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ - ¾ cup Gorgonzola Piccante, crumbled
  • 30 each cherries, pitted by hand
  • Dressing
  • ½ c cashew
  • 1/3 bunch dill, large stems removed
  • ½ bunch cilantro, large stems removed
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/3 - ½ cup water
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • ¼ cup spinach
  • 2 tsp salt, or to taste

Instructions

  1. Soak cashews in a cup of water and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and a generous amount of salt. Cover and set over high heat until boiling. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, stir the farro in and cook "pasta style", so without a pot top, for approximately 30 minutes. This style of cooking grains allows you to test the texture of the grain so it is to your liking. 30 minutes will leave it slightly crunchy, a fantastic texture for this salad. Once cooked, strain and set aside.
  3. Combine all the dressing ingredients, except for half of the water, in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add additional water to obtain a texture you prefer. I left mine on the thicker side. Once the dressing is done, mix in about 2/3 with the cooked farro and set aside.
  4. Build your salad by plate, starting with a handful of spinach. Add a quarter of the farro and dressing combination on top of the bed of spinach, then add sliced red onion, cheese and cherries on top.
  5. Sprinkle a tbsp of dressing on top of the finished salad.
http://girasolecreation.com/2016/07/01/girasole-california-salad/

Hawaiian Style Pizza - the final product

Grilled Pizza

The story of how I converted C into a grilled pizza fanatic. Very recently, friends of ours brought over a weber grill for a BBQ, because under the care of our home grillmaster aka Mr Husband, ours had spontaneously caught on fire a few months prior. I’ve never had this problem, so tell me, who is the real master? Anyway, our friends also chose to generously loan us theirs for the time being, knowing that a (pyro) Aussie could not survive the summer without a few BBQ’s under his belt.

Grilling has been on my mind too; thoughts like “I hope he doesn’t burn the house down”, “Can I really trust him outside on his own?” and “When is it MY TURN!” race through my brain. I love the flavor the grill gives food and my mouth starts to salivate when thinking about all the various grilling options there are: onions, peppers, zucchinis, tomatoes, asparagus, stone fruit and lettuce along with maybe a simply seasoned steak – one of my favorites, alongside sausages and burgers: YUM!!

Simultaneously, while thinking about what to grill I had a craving for pizza. It hit me. GRILLED PIZZA, double YUM! Quickly followed by “Baby must want pizza.” The look I got from my husband when I brought up this idea can only really be fully appreciated in person, maybe with a picture (which I do not have). Lets just say he wasn’t as keen on the idea as I was. Thoughts of destroying our friends grill with ooey gooey pizza dough was tormenting him. When my explanation of how this would work began to sound like a plea, I shifted gears. “Baby wants pizza” I quipped. Conversation over.

The stars were aligned as the next day, I received in the mail the most recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine with the text “Great Grilled Pizza” printed at the very bottom. Can you guess what happened next? If not, here are some pictures of how the grilling unfolded!

Pizza Ingredients

Pizza Ingredients: Dough, Cigliene Mozzarella, Pineapple, Prosciutto & Parmesan
Missing: Tomato Sauce
Peaches were grilled for dessert!

Stretched dough on an oiled baking pan

Stretched dough on an oiled baking pan

Prepping the grill

Prepping the grill

The grilling dough

The grilling dough

Perfect grill marks: kudos to the chef!

Perfect grill marks: kudos to the chef!

The final product: Hawaiian Style Pizza - baby is happy!

The final product: Hawaiian Style Pizza – baby is happy!

Cook’s Illustrated, a wonderful resource for cooks of every level, only offers its full library of recipes to subscribers, so in place of theirs, I am sharing a recipe from The Kitchn. They have one claiming to be The Best Pizza Dough for Grilling and it shares many similarities to the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. I also found a tutorial on their site titled: How to Grill Pizza. Along with the tips I’ve listed below (gathered from my experience using the Cook’s Illustrated guidelines and recipe), you are all set to grill a pizza this summer! If you do, please let me know how it went in the comments or send me a photo!

A Few Final Tips for Grilling Pizza Successfully

  • Toppings
    • Use any you like, but limit an excessive amount of sauce or cheese
    • Prep all ingredient toppings and place them in bowls: load these up on a sheet tray and have them next to the grill
  • Dough
    • Pour ¼ c neutral vegetable oil (grapeseed is perfect) onto a sheet pan or baking tray with sides. Stretch your dough out in the oil – preventing it from burning on the grill & allowing it to develop a crunchy crust.
    • Stretch the dough while the grill is heating up.
    • Place the dough on grill by lifting it up and gently placing it on the grill grate.
    • If grilling more than one pizza base at a time, stretch the doughs out one at a time, stacking them between parchment paper. Grill all of the pizza bases, and then return one by one to add toppings.
  • Equipment
    • If using a round charcoal grill, such as a Weber, once the coals have been lit and get a bit ashy at the top, distribute them out like a circle. This will prevent the center of the pizzas from burning.
    • Spatula and tongs are essential to flipping the dough and finally, removing it from the grill.
    • Cutting board & knife is also essential, for when your masterpiece comes off the grill.
We tried, but couldn't finish it all off

We tried, but couldn’t finish it all off

 

Prep Your Meat 101

It’s almost Memorial Day – the day Americans honor all soldiers that died during the American Civil War. On a less patriotic (and somber) note, this day is also the unofficial start of summer which means the official start of BBQ season. In honor of the American tradition of grilling meats here is a review of how to make the most (AKA delicious) of our animal products this summer.

Season

Basic of all basic approaches to enhancing the natural flavor of meat is seasoning and what I mean by seasoning is salting – whether this be beef, wild game or poultry – and it is imperative to give the salt time to work its magic. Use a thick kosher or sea salt and generously cover the entire surface area of the meat (don’t worry quite yet about all the salt!). The magic of salt is that it pulls moisture out of the meat, consolidating proteins and flavor while also supporting the development of a beautiful crust which can really only happen at grill temperatures. Take the thickness of your salted meat and allow it to sit in the fridge uncovered for that amount of time. For example, if you have a 1.5 inch ribeye, have it sit for 1.5 hrs. Once that timer has gone off, use a clean cloth or paper towel to absorb all of the moisture that has come to the surface and with it a good amount of the salt will be removed. Add a pinch of pepper and get grilling!

Brine

Looking for a juicy, tender bite, coupled with the straightforward flavor of the poultry or pork you are preparing? A simple water and salt solution or brine will do the trick. The salt weakens muscle tissue, allowing the water to enter and be retained. This technique is for use on lean proteins, such as poultry and pork products which can be easily overcooked and dry out in the process. An hour at most will be sufficient and if the meat is filleted, butterflied or otherwise made into thinner and smaller pieces, less time is necessary. Even when you do remove excess moisture with a cloth or paper towel before cooking, the meat can seem a bit too salty if left in the brine bath for more than an hour.  How is this different than seasoning you ask? A brine will give a good lean protein both improved texture or bite and intensify flavor while seasoning enhances the already amazing flavor and mouthfeel of a great cut of meat.

Marinade

This technique is used to both flavor and moisten meats and historically was used as a method of preserving, primarily with vinegar. Thanks to the beauty of modern convenience (particularly refrigeration) and a supply chain that provides a constant inventory of amazing animal products, today’s marinades are not intended to be used as a preservative (though I could chew your ear off on pre marinated meats at the market – which I have found to be a cover up for old meat, ick!), but as a way to incorporate flavor. Modern marinades can include a wide variety of ingredients, such as yogurt, buttermilk, wine, citrus and other fruit juices. Best used on tougher cuts of meat – so maybe hold back on marinating your wagyu tenderloin! A flavorful marinade can also be used very briefly (5-10 minutes) on a nice cut of meat as well – but typically a bit of seasoning is a better option!

The prime objective with using a marinade is flavoring the exterior of meats and minimally about tenderizing, so starting with a quality product or serving it in an appropriate way is invaluable, ie cut against the grain for some tougher beef cuts as one example. A marinade is not going to magically transform that leg of lamb or stew meat (topic saved for another article). And adding flavor doesn’t always mean needing to use an expensive bottle of store bought marinade – your favorite homemade salad dressing can work really well! If a very acidic product – lemon, lime, orange juice, vinegars, etc. – makes up a large portion of the marinade, do not – I repeat: DO NOT allow it to sit on your meat for longer than a couple of hours because it will start to cook the meat, making for a mushy, not so appetizing final product. The internet is literally and figuratively swimming in marinade recipes but many ingredients work well and is where you can get creative; use fresh and dried herbs and spices, flavored oils, chili peppers, condiments like hot sauce, dijon mustard, Worcestershire, onion, garlic, beer, coffee, etc. to get a flavor you like.

Basic Brine & Summertime Marinade

Ingredients

  • Basic Brine
  • ¼ c sea salt
  • 4 c water
  • Summertime Marinade
  • ½ c olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 Tbsp sea salt
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 orange, zest and juice
  • ½ tsp red chili flakes
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1 Tbsp sugar

Instructions

  1. Basic Brine
  2. Ratio is 1 c water to 1 Tbsp sea salt
  3. Combine and dissolve water and salt in large bowl or freezer bag. Add poultry or pork and ensure the meat is completely covered. Place in fridge.
  4. For larger pieces, leave in brine for an hour and for pre cut fillets or smaller pieces, leave in for 30 minutes.
  5. Remove from brine, and and place on plate or tray and allow to sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes. Either pat dry with a clean paper towel or lightly rinse brine solution off and pat dry.
  6. Season with pepper or any other spice of your liking. Grill, roast, sear or saute & enjoy!
  7. Summertime Marinade
  8. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl or freezer bag. Put chicken or beef in bowl or bag, seal tight and place in fridge.
  9. Marinade for 1-2 hrs (depending on how much time you have!)
  10. Remove meat from marinade and place on plate or tray and allow to sit at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.
  11. Pat partially dry with a paper towel. Grill, roast, sear or saute & enjoy!
http://girasolecreation.com/2016/05/26/prep-your-meat-101/

Combo: Brine & Marinade

And finally, a combination of techniques works nicely to add a subtle flavor, while also reaping the tenderizing benefits of the salt and water solution. This technique takes advantage of how a brine works – so as the salt reduces the power of the muscle tissue to keep foreign things out, increasing the meats ability to retain water, the flavor components from sprigs of fresh herbs, crushed garlic, fruit juice or even a touch of sugar will be drawn into the meat, allowing for a final product that can be a bit more balanced with the rest of the meal. Any type of sugar will also contribute to a crunchier crust.

If you are looking for a deeper dive into the topic of brines, marinades and combining those two techniques, The Secrets And Myths Of Marinades, Brinerades, And How Gashing Can Make Them Work Better by AmazingRibs. Our top line info is the same but he provides more detail on the science of how it all works.

Here are some basic tips for prepping meat to grill:

  • Season, brine or marinade meats in the fridge, otherwise the meat is prime for excessive bacterial growth and an upset stomach (or worse) post meal.
  • Remove excess moisture from seasoned or brined and moisture, herbs, etc. from marinated items with a clean cloth or paper towel. This will also help prevent flare ups on the grill.
  • Before cooking the meat, place it in a room temperature spot for 30-45 minutes – not in direct sunlight but also not directly under an AC vent!. This allows the meat fibers to relax and cook through without needing to overcook the exterior.

Have I forgotten something?

Maybe. So if you will be including fish or vegetables on your grill menu, briefly use a marinade to add flavor, as seasoning and brining will not be effective. Again, anything extremely acidic will cook fish products (ceviche, yum!!!!….just be certain you bought fresh, good quality seafood!) and cooking that after a long standing acidic marinade will turn it into mush (yuck!)
Do you have a favorite recipe or technique for tenderizing and adding flavor to meat? I’ve shared two basic recipes: one for a simple brine and another for a summertime marinade. Enjoy and happy summer!!

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies – with recipe!

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

So I recently shared our newly planted garden with you – but in the meantime, while we wait for the full harvest to materialize, I’ve subscribed to a CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture) from Farm Fresh to You, where every other week we receive a box of fruit and vegetable. Contents can be customized, so if I’m sick of cooking with chard, I can swap it out for something else. We have been getting a regular supply of carrots, which I love, but to be honest, I’ve lost inspiration for what to do with them. Just in time though, our organic, just-picked-produce recently came with a recipe for Carrot Oatmeal Cookies (originally from seeksatiation.com).

Pregnancy has sent my appetite in so many unusual directions. It has been strange having no control over when I will be hungry and what I will be hungry for – when typically, and like most non pregnant people, I eat when and what I usually enjoy. Since that is far from my current reality & I’ve also been craving yummy carbs, the full truth is that I also really really wanted to find a healthier way to indulge my sweet tooth. And anyway, there is nothing like having a house filled with the aroma of just baked cookies, full of roasted carrot and walnuts.

These cookies are truly wonderful & satisfying – soft and chewy, only slightly sweet and filling. I found the recipe made more than 24 cookies. But since they have a soft texture, making the full batch and storing half in the freezer allows you to have some during the next week, without compromising on flavor or texture.

Mise en Place: Ingredients ready to be assembled!

Mise en Place: Ingredients ready to be assembled!

Cookies ready to be enjoyed

Cookies ready to be enjoyed

Carrot Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 c whole grain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • .5 tsp salt
  • 1 c oats
  • .5 tsp cinnamon
  • .25 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 c carrots, shredded or grated
  • .75 c walnuts, chopped
  • .5 c maple syrup
  • .5 c butter, melted
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, oats, cinnamon and nutmeg. Squeeze the extra moisture from carrots and add them and the nuts to the bowl of flour.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the maple syrup, melted butter and ginger. Pour maple syrup mixture into flour mix and stir until combined.
  3. Drop batter in tablespoon sized amounts onto a parchment lined baking sheet and gently press dough into a cookie form with a spoon or hand. Bake in the top ? of the oven for 15 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Store leftover cookies (if there are any) in an airtight container.
  4. Optional: I drizzled a simple glaze on top to pretty them up. Take a half cup of powdered sugar and very slowly add in water while whisking the two together (a fork works great too!). The combo will turn into an opaque white soup that still flows off the fork or whisk easily. Drizzling the cookies with honey is an alternative.
http://girasolecreation.com/2016/05/16/carrot-oatmeal-cookies/

Our Edible Backyard

Before buying our first house, I had dreams of a full garden where I could just walk out back and grab a sprig of mint or oregano, a lemon and a few tomatoes. If I wanted to have an apple for breakfast or snack, I would just pull one off a tree. And being able to pick and choose varieties (since seemingly, almost everything grows well in California!) makes grocery store shopping feel so limiting. With no middleman or shopping to do, this is a dream for chefs and avid home cooks alike!

A gardner and growing plants

A gardner and growing plants

Our backyard space is not huge, but there is some space to play with and we arrived with it already conveniently split into a few distinct spaces. The pergola to the far right and a walking path from the edge of the concrete to it takes up the right hand space. Along the right side of the walking path lives a palm tree (one day this will be removed, but for now, home to birds and hummingbirds). There is a 2×25’ stretch of dirt the runs along the back of the yard and the back fence. There was nothing growing here so it was decided that fruit trees belonged and we chose Pluerry, Pink Lady Apple, Gala Apple and Nectarine (formerly Bing Cherry!) trees. {Note to self and all of you readers: put drain holes in your pots, even if it is just for a 2 week period, as our “formerly Bing Cherry” ended up waterlogged, which we discovered on replanting it from temporary pot to ground.} Between these trees and the house we have a patio and lawn, with 3 terracotta pots where they meet.  In those pots are another collection of trees: green skinned fig called Peter’s Honey Fig, then a Meyer Lemon and Tango Mandarin. I admit to first visiting the nursery and getting very excited about all of the different types of fruit trees. So anyway, there might be more one day.

From the beginning – even before it began, I loved telling people that we have no idea what we are doing, because, well, it is true, yet despite that, we have had mostly successful results & are always learning. Starting with just a few edible items did help with the learning curve and allowed us to develop a routine of care and observation. I found this best to do in the morning – and also discovered: what a glorious way to wake up! What has changed at all since yesterday? Today I found the peas crawling up each other – which means we definitely need to find something else for them to crawl on – ASAP! Do the leaves look good? We discovered apple blossom buds with tiny bugs inside them which brought us down to the nursery. They have cleared up and tree looks happier than ever. Anything strange growing at the base? And of course the developing buds and garden creatures (ladybugs, bees, etc.), you can’t miss those!

The two apples and nectarine are already trying to produce fruit, which we weren’t expecting for a couple of years. We just decided to dramatically thin them since the conventional wisdom is to force them to spend that energy on strengthening their trunks and branches. Just yesterday we noticed tons of tiny new figs budding – from the original 3 figs the tree came with! This means we have upgraded from a fig tart to potentially, an entire meal and then being able to eat these guys straight off the tree.

Pink Lady apples

Pink Lady apples

A visitor to the Meyer Lemon tree

A visitor to the Meyer Lemon tree

To the left of the grass lives a metal shed and a large dog kennel. The kennel has become a storage spot for yard equipment but will one day become a greenhouse. Between the kennel and the edge of lawn there is a packed dirt path leading to the shed, which offers just enough space to build a 4×12 foot raised garden bed which we agreed would be a beautifully sunny place for an array of veggies.

After much research, C wrote out detailed plans by hand, shopped for wood (naturally decay resistant heartwood grade redwood) and necessary equipment, spent hours putting sides together and then doing final assembly with my dad who was visiting for the weekend. I lazily went to our local nursery and bought 40 bags of overpriced soil, which I promptly returned, did a bit more research and bought Gro Pro Potting Soil from Evergreen Supply Company. They showed up with a massive commercial truck to dump this on our driveway. YAY for soil!! The time I didn’t spend on researching soil, I spent on what to plant and when. From this, I ascertained that every type of veg needs a certain amount of water, depth in soil for seed placement, soil composition, soil temperature, etc. Feeling overwhelmed, I decided to let go of all of this new knowledge and plant items that are considered good for beginners – all based on some arbitrary list I found online. So I purchased seeds from Seedsofchange, a well known online purveyor of organic gardening needs and in their own time, each seed has sprouted. Have I emphasized that we have no idea what we are doing? The random tip or comment from garden store employees, family, friends and a bit of common sense seem to have done us well & we just recently harvested our first salad: radish and arugula – simple yet absolutely delicious. We have yet to see how the carrots, peas, tomatoes, peppers and green lettuce turn out, but they are looking happy and healthy so far!

Go Pro soil from Evergreen Supply

Go Pro soil from Evergreen Supply

Raised bed partially built

Raised bed partially built

The completed and filled bed, now to plant the seeds!

The completed and filled bed, now to plant the seeds!

C & Dad lining the bed with weed mat

C & Dad lining the bed with weed mat

Seed Packets

Seed Packets

Veggies!

Veggies!

More Veggies!

More Veggies!

Squint & you will see some green poking through

Squint & you will see some green poking through

If you have even the smallest amount of space, I would encourage you to grow something, anything you can eat. According to this article by Apartment Therapy, all you need is a window! Building and tending to a garden has been so very enjoyable and I look forward to watching it grow!  Stay tuned for recipes and ideas on using backyard produce and please share your gardening stories in the comments section!

Evening harvesting

Evening harvesting

Pickings for our first garden salad: radish and arugula

Pickings for our first garden salad: radish and arugula

 

 

Happy – and healthy! – Guts with Your Beeting Heart

I have heard the terms prebiotics and probiotics pretty regularly since my teen years, so I have always assumed that they, along with the gut microbiome they contribute to were – in a way – old news, as in, well understood by the medical community. In an effort to get a deeper understanding of the healthy gut & fermentation, I signed myself up for a class with Stacey Clinesmith of Your Beeting Heart. Stacey is a self proclaimed homesteader “lite” and avid fermentation fiend. If you met with her in person, she would happily admit to having a few science experiments (aka fermentation/bacteria growing projects) sitting on her own kitchen counter at a time.

As Stacey started her 2.5 hour class, she shared that the gut micro biome was discovered – and thus the official study and science of it began – in the 1990’s…..WHAT?!!!!! It turns out that the bacteria that live in our gut outnumber our human body cells 10:1 – an astonishing figure. Imbalances between “good” and “bad” bacteria have been linked in studies to a variety of diseases: from obesity to Alzheimer’s and autoimmune diseases. A good balance can contribute to anxiety reduction and mental health issues. Like so many discoveries made surrounding the topic of food and related systems, the answer to why older and more developed cultures have had a fermentation component within their diets for centuries are just now starting to be understood by science.

If you do get the chance to attend this class, expect to cover a variety of related topics, such as, but not limited to: what are probiotics and prebiotics, why both are necessary, how fermented foods heal, hands on time starting out both your own sauerkraut fermentation project and prebiotic bread, including necessary equipment and many tips for future success and invention, along with resources for local resources to explore in your effort in feeding yourself well. One bit of information I found very interesting (considering the future birth of a baby girl!) is that the oligosaccharides in mother’s milk which are not able to be broken down and used as energy for the newborn had really stumped scientists – until they discovered that it was being used to encourage appropriate growth of babies own healthy gut bacteria. How amazing is that!

Along with the Life-Changing Loaf of Bread, I chose to prepare the Cinnamon & Raisin Kraut recipe in class. I was intrigued by it because due to the inclusion of apple, cinnamon and raisin, its flavor is almost sweet and far less tangy than a traditional sauerkraut recipe. Just today – 24 days later – I chose to end the bacteria growth by storing it in the fridge. This particular kraut recipe would be great on a simply prepared white fish, in a grilled cheese sandwich or mixed into a green salad. I recently remade the bread, which ends up being a dense loaf, great toasted with a spread of your choice (nut butters, hummus, butter, etc.) or used as a base for an open faced sandwich.

Chopping cabbage for our kraut

Chopping cabbage for our kraut

Our individual mason jars of kraut

Our individual mason jars of kraut

Sauerkraut ready to ferment!

Bread ingredients on display

Bread ingredients on display

Bread ingredients getting all mixed up

Bread ingredients getting all mixed up

Loaf of bread: just needs some fermentation time

Loaf of bread: just needs some fermentation time

**I have not been compensated for this review – I had an interest in learning more about this topic & wrote this post in order to share my experience.

Cooking at Home

I usually love to cook at home.

We moved into our own house in August of 2015 and I feel more inspired in this kitchen than I have in most others. It might be the faux granite tops or the matching appliances. But it might also be because it is MINE! Actually, I really fell in love with it when we installed 2 centrally located floating shelves so all spices are at eye level and within arms reach. It is the simple things in life, and yes, this is one of them. Now… what to do with the cabinets of baking supplies. Yes, one major thing missing is a pantry and I’m still working out a solution. One thought is a completely open cabinet/shelving system so nothing is hiding! Thoughts?

Ok, back to cooking.

Last night I made a 4 course meal for us that I’ve had on “the tip of my tongue” for a few weeks. A classic Beef Short Rib stew which turned out to be a powerhouse of flavor while the meat practically fell off the bone. The bone had already been cut off, in order to cut the beef pieces smaller, but those are silly details that don’t really mean anything – point is, the beef was unbelievably tender! That was served with rosemary infused quick yeast rolls. These little guys packed a rich and decadent punch. Prior to that we had enjoyed a citrus roasted beet & endive appetizer. Cam doesn’t take to fungi all that well, so I topped his off with feta cheese while mine included sauteed crimini mushroom without the cheese. Love colorful and tasty appetizers that are quick to prepare and easy to enjoy. Combining grains and greens have been a thing of mine for a while, so a baby kale and farro salad was assembled, along with ras el hanout roasted sweet potato slices, a lemon honey vinaigrette and shaved feta cheese. Out of this world. The meal was filling, so no need to push it with dessert. Mixed citrus – grapefruit, cara cara and navel with a drizzle of vanilla and cardamom spiced syrup. A scoop of ice cream or freshly whipped cream would have taken this dish up a notch, but hey, will save that for next time.

A completely new culinary adventure has begun in my home kitchen this week: fermenting! Saurkraut & ginger with plans to incorporate some other dried spices and fresh roots to future experiments. The benefits to gut health are a real, tangible thing and the benefit to other aspects of health are being unveiled as I type. But hey, every culture has incorporated a fermented food as a part of their balanced cuisine, so by that logic alone, there must be good reason to include it in ours as well.

Here is a mix of fermented food examples across cultures:

  • Japan: Amazake, a traditional drink made from fermented rice. Usually, sweet and low-alcohol. Make your own amazake!
  • Korean: Kimchi is a spicy staple made with cabbage, radish, scallions and a combination of seasonings with red pepper, garlic, ginger, fish sauce, salted shrimp and sugar. Enjoy with everything!
  • Italian: Giardeniera is a condiment usually made of cauliflower, bell pepper, carrot, celery and gherkins in a white or red wine vinegar, herbs and spices. Eat as a simple appetizer with bread and butter or on a sandwich or in a salad.
  • India & Sri Lanka: Appam, a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk. Enjoy for breakfast with coconut cream or at dinner with a vegetable stew.
  • Iran: Doogh is an unsweetened yogurt-based drink that is usually carbonated and sometimes served with mint. Find this savory, tart drink in Middle Eastern grocery stores or at your closest Iranian restaurant!
  • Sweden: Filmjölk is another beverage made by a yogurt like product. What makes this different from traditional yogurt is the type of bacteria used. Siggi’s is a common grocery store brand that produces this – labeled as drinkable yogurt.
  • Indonesia: Tempeh is made of fermented and bound soybeans and is sold in cake form. Browse these delicious looking recipes and cook with tempeh!
  • Ethiopia: Injera, a national dish is not just a flat bread, but used as an eating utensil. Traditionally, it is made of teff flour and can be found in Ethiopian or East African restaurants. I’ve never made this at home but my chef friends tell me the fermenting process can be overwhelmingly aromatic…in a not so pleasant way…

Just last week I took a class on the topic of Good Gut Bacteria & Fermentation from my good friend at Your Beeting Heart and will share all about it in a future post!

Where are the photos you ask? Weeeeeell….. I recently had an incident with my phone and yeah, they are all gone. Here is one of my soon to be enjoyed creations from the class I took!

Fermenting Fun

Fermenting Fun