Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Cooking on a Hot Night

How can it be this hot in May?  94 degrees in Vermont.  I came home tonight and planned to make up some cold salad kind of meal. 

I made a great couscous, spinach, pine nuts & feta salad, not sure where I got the recipe from (Martha Stewart Living or Real Simple?), but it was a side dish to go with a flank steak. I thought it would make a good salad without the steak, and I was right, very tasty. Sliced garlic sauteed with the pine nuts, juice of a lemon, olive oil. Yum.

The second thing I made was a bust. It was a cold sesame noodle salad from This Can't Be Tofu cookbook. I just don't like soft tofu I guess. I also think as much as I want to like Soba noodles, I don't. Will liked it though, so it'll get eaten.  It needed soy sauce which I thought we had in the fridge, but we were out. The funny thing is it's closer and quicker to go down to the take out Chinese restaurant downtown than bother with the grocery store, so we ordered Owen his new favorite take out item since our Mother's Day dinner out, Wonton Soup. We got some veggie dumplings, and we grabbed enough soy sauce for the noodles I was making!

The two salads didn't really match, but I wanted to use the spinach, and hoped Kira would like the noodles...ha, I'm funny! She ended up with an english muffin.

Tonight while I was cooking and using the Mighty Food Farm spinach, I couldn't help but think about the documentary we watched in school today. My team-teacher who teaches social studies shows it during the unit on the Industrial Revolution as part of an overall child labor issue.  There are plenty of clips of child labor around the world, but he makes a point to show the kids our own country's shame as well.

As I watched this clip of the young people in Texas who were harvesting onions for $2 an hour, I was even more committed to the local food movement.  The fact that these children stand in the fields while the planes fly over spraying pesticides brought tears to my eyes.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Capers & Lemon Juice are a Heavenly Combo and You Can't Beat Fresh Eggs!

Will did a great job grilling some tuna steaks tonight. I sliced them up and made a salad that was to die for.
 The recipe was from Martha Stewart Living magazine. It called for canned tuna, but there's no way it would have tasted like as incredible. Grilled is the way to go for sure.  It had a little more than 1 tblsp of olive oil, and that was it for fats in the dressing--three lemons juiced instead!.  The almonds were a great addition, but the capers were what made this for me.  I'm so glad I didn't try it last night without the capers!

I also made a blue potato salad based on a recipe from  I wish these were from the farm (not time for potatoes yet!) because they would have made this great recipe even better!  I didn't have all the variety of herbs called for, so I just used tons of dill instead. Never try dried dill when fresh is called for--it's nothing near the same.   I also added one hard boiled egg.  The rice vinegar was fabulous, and less than half a cup of light mayo for the dressing!

Kira had the tuna plain, Owen had a hot dog, but both kids also had a hard boiled egg too. The eggs were from Mighty Food Farm, so the yolks were super yellow!!

My thinking is that some day Owen will swap out the bad stuff for more of the good. A few years ago I never would have thought Kira would be eating fish like tuna and salmon!  They also had fresh snap peas on their plates.  Kids like peeling the strings off and popping out the peas, then crunching the pods.

We were wondering about what makes the yolks so yellow. I knew it was pure goodness, but wanted a better answer.  Here's what I found from Whistling Train Farm's Egg FAQ page:

Q: What makes egg yolks dark yellow, compared to the pale grocery store egg yolks?
Beta carotene, or xanthophyll—both are natural plant pigments. When hens are able to eat green plant material or yellow corn (factory farm hens are sometimes fed yellow dye to color the yolks), the beta carotene concentrates in the yolk making it dark, sometimes even orange. Eating red peppers makes yolks red, and some plants can make the yolks green or even black.
Q: Eggs from your farm have darker yolks than I am used to. Does a dark colored yolk mean the egg is rotten?
 Quite the contrary. Fresh eggs have darker colored yolks and whites than old eggs. The bright color of the egg yolk fades as the egg ages. A pale yellow yolk and watery white mean that the egg has been sitting in storage for several weeks or months.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Grocery Shopping and Favorite Bean & Corn Salad

It's a beautiful day today and I spent most of it doing chores. I shouldn't complain because on rainy weekends we are bummed it's raining. I tried to make the best of it.  I brought the stack of recipes I keep and a few cookbooks outside with the legal pad I was going to write my list on, keeping in mind what we picked up from the CSA on Friday. 

I sat outside gazing at my horribly overgrown perennial beds (inherited from the house's previous owner) trying to map out what kind of busy week was on the horizon. Where the appointments, meetings, sports, and after school programs fell.

It's a total pain the buttocks, but when the week is busy, it's too easy to fall into bad eating habits and eat bad(tasting) fast food. Last week was pretty much in that category.  Plus, when you make a point to get your share of local produce, you don't want it to rot in the fridge.  I always hate wasting food, but it's even more criminal when you know the folks and/or see them actually harvesting it!

Here's Lisa from and the Mighty Food Farm Crew transplanting spinach, which we enjoyed with pasta last night!

This Can't Be Tofu!: 75 Recipes to Cook Something You Never Thought You Would--and Love Every BiteI decided to go ahead and try a few recipes from the tofu cookbook. The author is a great vegetarian chef with a lot of good books out there.

Hopefully, her recipe for sesame noodles will match those served at Powers Market in North Bennington, which Kira insists are like no other.  Then I'm going to try to adapt her recipe for soba noodles with bok choi (which I got a bunch of baby sized from the CSA), since I don't want to make the stock from scratch.

Once I got the list, I headed over to Hannaford, totally feeling sorry for myself (my husband had just come home from a mtn. biking stint).  I snapped myself out of it by going the roundabout way, which is more mileage but probably not much more time.

I actually turned off the radio and put the windows down and just tried to take in the day and the surroundings.  I get to drive through Old Bennington, past the old First Church where Robert Frost is buried, past the Bennington Battle Monument, and through a covered bridge before coming out at the entrance to Bennington College and driving around the corner to the Hannaford shopping center.

I spent $213.00.  Even with the CSA pickup.  It is so darn hard to eat well and not spend a fortune. 

By the time I finished the trip, unpacked all the bags, cleaned out old food I came across while putting things away, unloaded the dishwasher, washed the #@!!!expletive!!(%* pots from last night and the dishes from breakfast, it was nearly 6:00 already.  A whole afternoon, basically.

Then I go to make this meal with fresh tuna and realize I forgot the crucial ingredient--capers.  (probably distracted by running into a cute colleague from my school, who was standing in the snack aisle with a can of shaving cream, tasked with the awful job of choosing exactly which bag of chips to buy himself. don't get me wrong, I love my husband and my family, but sometimes I envy these young teachers and their singular living, when the big decision of the day is sour cream & onion or bbq.)

I quickly decided to make a stand by summer salad.  Only downside was it tastes great with avocados, and the ones I bought aren't ripe yet.

I knew my daughter would eat some of the bean and corn salad, but Owen would balk if that was all that was on the table. I quickly made some cheese quesadillas and arranged them around the salad, and wouldn't you know it, no complaints! 

There are a lot of variations of this salad, and I'm sure if you did a search you'd find some good recipes. I just tend to throw together whatever I've got, but the key is fresh cilantro and fresh squeezed limes.  Don't make it if you don't have them.

Tonight's was a large can of black beans, white and yellow frozen baby corn nuked, a bit of jarred taco sauce left over, a bit of salsa, two limes, half a bunch of cilantro chopped, about three scallions chopped, half a yellow pepper, about 10 grape tomatoes quartered.  I added sea salt, ground pepper, cumin, chili powder.

I topped mine with jalapenos and black olives, and some extra sharp Cabot cheddar (I realized if it's good sharp cheese, an ounce crumbled suffices and it tastes better than a larger amount of low fat cheese!) I also put crumbled tortilla chips on top after spreading them around the edge of the plate. Be sure to get a good brand of chips, without trans fats, so they taste like corn and not junk. I like this brand quite a bit, and they're a decent price at Hannaford.

Here's the meal, all ready to go (and enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow):

Featuring Farm Spinach for Pre-Prom!

Last night I was determined to make a really nice meal in spite of being tired out from a busy morning/afternoon and needing to get out to chaperone the junior prom at 8:00. I really wanted to make something featuring the Mighty Food Farm spinach from this week's CSA, and actually some left from last week too. That's the great thing about fresh farm veggies, the shelf life is incredible. 

Kira participated in an incredible event earlier in the day that had us out of the house from early in the morning until about 3:30.  It's called Girls on the Run and consists of girls from 3rd to 5th grade participating in a self-esteemed base curriculum centered around training for a 5K. It was so uplifting and positive! I was so proud of her!

We went afterwards to the Brattleboro Food Co-Op, an amazing place I wish we had in our town. I had the most delicious wrap: pesto, swiss, and tofu melted. The tofu was done kind of browned and firm. I'd like to add more of it to my diet and got a great cookbook at the library sale that when things slow down (the end of the school year is always hectic), I'm going to try to make some up for various dishes.  We also went to a great thrift store behind it where I got Liz Claiborne cropped khakis for $3.50!

Anyway, by the time we got home, there was no way a trip to the grocery was in order.  I looked about and manged to throw together a great meal by asking my dad, our guest for the night, to bring over the feta I knew my mom had in the fridge.

I sauteed garlic in olive oil (a great start to any meal), added some butter, then threw in frozen artichoke quarters, chopped kalamata olives, chopped roasted red pepper  (do you know how easy it is to make your own? They're kind of expensive to buy in a jar and don't taste that great. I can't believe I haven't made my own all along!)
I added to small containers of Pacific Organic Vegetable Broth. Pacific Natural Foods Organic Vegetable Broth, 8-Ounce Pouch (Pack of 24) This stuff is magic. You really should stock it permanently in your house! It's so flavorful and complements the fresh vegetables.  It is easy on the sodium, so I usually flavor it with more sea salt and ground black pepper as I cook with it.  I use it for all pasta sauces as well as for soup bases.

I put in as much fresh spinach as looked good, and it was done.  Of course use Barilla pasta, the best available in the grocery aisle.  I usually use the Barilla Plus enriched, but I had a box of regular Barilla linguine on the shelf.  The kids had it plain with butter only. Owen will eat that down like no other pasta meal!

The secret to serving this kind of dish is to cook the pasta, toss it with some olive oil so it won't stick, then portion out the pasta to the individual bowls. Then you scoop out all the veggies on top of the pasta equally, then finally pouring the broth/garlic/butter sauce equally between the dishes.  Top with reduced fat feta. 

Add a salad with fresh farm lettuce and what a nice green meal!

I left Will to clean up, so of course it's the next day at 1:00 in the afternoon and both the salad bowl and the pasta pot are sitting in the sink still.  He always leaves something in the sink.

Chaperoning the prom was fun.  It was great to see the kids all dressed up and some of them had bigger grins than I've seen on teens in a long time.  Just pure happiness.  The dresses were so mixed this year, from traditional, to sleek, to short 50s style.  I loved the variety, and great color!

The music is another story though. To me, there's no variety there.  There wasn't a single song I recognized. They probably played three slow songs and that was it.  The funny thing was they all dance in this huge throng, you know, like this pseudo rave pack, but when the slow songs come on, they all spread out and stand much much further apart!

In this town, the prom is a dance only. It goes 8-12, or for the seniors, 9-1. They don't have a dinner/banquet thing. The good thing is it's only $15 a ticket!  But I think it was fun having a meal out all together too. And as chaperones, teachers were pouring punch and even taking out the garbage!

Another thing that this town does that we never did growing up in CT, is the post-prom "march"!  The parents all come a half an hour before the end and line up outside the building (for the juniors, they traditionally clear out the auto showroom of a local dealership!), and the kids literally line up and march around the outside so the parents can see them all decked out! Isn't that something?

Overall what struck me most though was what pure fun they all had.  A few kids arrived in an old antique car (this is the home of Hemmings News after all), but aside from that few get limos or go overboard with materialistic stuff. Most girls do their own hair and make up, a few got their dresses from JC Penney or second hand, and a one girl I know even made her own dress!  As a chaperone, it was just watching them have fun and enjoy one another's company.  That's what I love about teaching--and living--in Vermont!

By the way, the theme was simply NEON. They gave out glow bracelets. I was remembering the class of 88 at BHS senior prom theme (we were a bunch of kids wishing we had skipped the light fandango 20 years earlier) "A Whiter Shade of Pale."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Biggest Head Ever!

We picked up our second CSA order of the season and got this ginormous head of lettuce! Seriously, we could feed three families with this!  We also got radishes, spinach, parsnip, and eggs.

And it ended up another chaotic night, with the boys deciding at the last minute to go fishing. Kira and I threw together black beans, mexican rice, sour cream, salsa, and chopped fresh spinach in soft tortilla wraps.

It's been an exhausting week. I hope I can recoup this weekend and get a decent grocery shopping trip in so we're better prepared for next week because the schedule is just as chaotic!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Disruptions!! Why isn't There Healthy Take Out?

It's been a really topsy turvy week.  Being at Pearl Jam this weekend, two night meetings for me, and two lacrosse nights for husband and son. Just no continuity!

Last night I pulled out the homemade spaghetti sauce I had made last weekend and pulled together two pounds of  baked penne to bring to my teacher's meeting (we're working on negotiating our contract--there's a good time).  I put the sauce in a big bowl of cold water so it would thaw faster. When I went to lift it out, the lid slipped off and a bunch of the sauce got mixed in with the water. Homemade sauce from the freezer is like gold to me, I couldn't believe the gasp I let out!  I remember a few times pumping breastmilk and spilling it and I had the same reaction.

Baked ziti (I like to use Penne instead) is a great way to feed a group. Sometimes people serve it and they've just put pasta in a baking dish with sauce and mozzarella on top. As my brother Chef Lee would say, "SHOEMAKERS!" 

To make baked ziti, you need to use ricotta cheese mixed with an egg and mozzarella. You stir that together with the cooked pasta and sauce, THEN put the mozzarella on top and bake it.  I made two pounds for eight people, and they hardly ate half! I guess people who aren't Italian just don't stuff themselves with pasta the way we do.

I haven't photographed any food this week--who wants to see tonight's Subway on the way to Lacrosse? But here's a photo I found of my mom's sausage, meatballs, and eggplant parm!

My kids are young, and I'm not sure how I'm going to handle the busy sports schedules on the horizon with Owen, who is truly an athlete.  I wish we had a place like the one that Stonyfield Farms' founder started in Maine. It used to be called O'Naturals, and my sister took me there when she lived in Portland.  It was set up almost like those Boston Markets, but all healthy, yummy, natural foods.  I just read that they renamed themselves Stonyfield Cafe.  I wonder if they'll ever open more than one?

In the meantime, check out my cutie in his lacrosse gear!