…but luckily I’ve got a plan for next week!   I’ve had so little motivation to cook and plan for the last month, that I worried I’d lost my touch…but show me some red meat and the meal ideas start flowing like gangbusters!  I’ve been craving steak for about three weeks straight now, and was happy to have it twice while on vacation, but my steak craving has since expanding to anything and everything involving red meat.  Especially ribs.  More specifically, slow braised beef short ribs, in all their fatty delicious glory.  So, without further ado, here is the list of all my current pregnancy craving meals for the week:

1. Braised Beef Short Ribs with salad
2. Taco Salad (taco meat over greens with tomato/onion/bell pepper/avocado/sour cream) – Taco meat will also be used in omlettes
3. Wings (Adam’s non-beef request…I guess they’ll suffice as a meal)
4. Thai Grilled Beef Salad – Thin sliced rib eye steaks over seasoned cabbage salad (asian coleslaw-esque) with thai spices…if this one turns out well I’ll share it!
5. Roast Beef Wraps with Rosemary Mayonaise – Thin sliced roast beef wrapped in romaine leaves with rosemary mayonaise and red onion
6. Roasted Chicken (more specifically a large Capon – neutered rooster) with Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Broccoli – Our first dinner with our friends coming in from Minneapolis next Saturday
7. Grilled Steak and Shrimp Kebabs with Assorted Grilled Vegetables – The second dinner with friends the following day

It’s quite the adventurous meal plan, and is quite possibly too much food for one week…I have a feeling I’ll be making 50-60% of these meals this week and the remainder the following week. It just feels nice to be inspired again!

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As you may have noticed, I haven’t had many new recipes to post in the last few weeks. It’s hard to think of and try new meals, when so many of my regular favorites now turn my stomach.  That’s right, I’m pregnant!

Adam and I were lucky to be able to tell our families in person while we were in Arizona on vacation last week. The weather in north-eastern Arizona was mild, breezy, and beautifully sunny. The scenery wasn’t bad either!

The carnitas dinner on Wednesday night was a hit, though I did start to feel nauseated from the smell of pork while cooking the second batch. The ice cream, on the other hand, was amazing and did not make me nauseated at all! I highly recommend Rick Bayless’ recipe for Cinnamon Vanilla Custard Ice Cream, which I made with heavy cream instead of milk for a thick texture.

I am beginning to feel more normal appetite-wise, and will do my very best to keep experimenting in the kitchen as I continue along with my pregnancy. This is undoubtably the most important time for me to be eating well, after all! Here’s to the start of a whole new adventure on the micro-farm!

Next week Adam and I are very lucky to have an entire week off from work to visit Northern Arizona with his family.  It will be a balmy 80 degrees every day, and dry!  None of this humidity that everyone is so used to in Ohio.

There will be 15 people staying in a giant cabin in the woods, and I will have the pleasure of making dinner one of the nights that we are there.  After much deliberation and searching through cook books, I finally decided to make Pork Carnitas from Rick Bayless’ book, Authentic Mexican.  What’s better than juicy pork ribs crisped in their own rendered lard?  Oh yes, slathering them in guacamole.  And that’s why I chose carnitas!

I am no whiz at frying.  I’ve known that for a long time.  In fact, I cook bacon in the oven to avoid the spatter from frying it on the stove.  I hate getting surprised by a rogue oil droplet flying out of the pan, and I haven’t fried things often enough to have the timing down.  So, I figured that a practice run of the main course was in order.

I started with just over 3 pounds of delicious, fatty Country Style Pork Ribs.  Don’t trim off any fat, because it has to render into the cooking water.  Once the water boils off, the fat is left to fry the outside of the ribs.  Genius!  So, start with the ribs in a large stock pot (my Le Crueset worked wonderfully here, thanks to the porcelain coating), large enough to keep the ribs in one layer on the bottom.  Cover with water until it is 1/2″ above the ribs, then add 1 teaspoon of salt to the water.  Boil the ribs at a simmer (not a rolling boil) partially covered for about 40 minutes, or until “just tender” as Rick says.  When the ribs are tender, turn the boil all the way up to evaporate the water as quickly as possible.  This part still took a good 20 minutes I think.  Once the water has boiled off you will just have the ribs left in a surprising amount of rendered lard.  Turn the heat down to about medium, and watch the ribs carefully/turn them often until the outsides are just crisp, which took about 20-30 minutes for the biggest pieces.  Don’t let them get too dark, because you’ll end up with dry/stringy ribs!  Thankfully that only happened with a couple of small pieces, and I learned my lesson.

Aren’t they golden and delicious looking?  Any decent carnita should be served with a side of delicious guacamole, and according to Rick, can be eaten just as crispy ribs with guac, or cut up into bite sized pieces and served in corn tortillas with guac.  Adam and I ate them as is, and were impressed with the results of my first attempt!  At least now I know they won’t be an utter disaster for the family!  Since that is only the main course, I will also be serving guacamole and salsa with tortilla chips (not for me) and sliced veggies (definitely for me) for dipping, homemade coleslaw (the dressing is surprisingly easy), and Custard Ice Cream with Cinnamon and Vanilla (also a la Rick Bayless)!  The dessert uses a full 20 egg yolks, meaning it should taste like frozen creme brulee (a.k.a. heaven).

Here’s hoping that no one has suddenly turned vegetarian on me!  They probably wouldn’t be happy eating just guacamole for dinner…though I wouldn’t mind!

My my how the spaghetti squash has grown!  It has overtaken the poor strawberries and eggplants, shadowing them from the sun and latching on to their stems with its twisting, curling, reaching fingers; but at least it is also blooming profusely!  I’ll expect to see some budding squash any day now.

It’s actually been raining very frequently, and heavily, this month.  The rain is good for our water bill, but there hasn’t been quite as much sunshine as the plants have needed in order to start letting their buds blossom and fruit ripen.  We still have a lot of warm weather yet to come in Southwest Ohio though, so I am still hopeful that there will be a bountiful crop this year.

Beside the spaghetti squash, we’ve also got many of the other seeds sprouting, including the pumpkin, green beans, brussels sprouts, mesclun mix, carrots, and onions!  The tomato plants are nearly as tall as I am, and are covered in pale green unripe tomatoes already.

Instead of caging all of the tomato plants like we did last year, we decided to try “stringing them up” as I’ll call it.  It’s an experiment, we’ll see how it goes.  The nice bright tomato in the middle of the photo is an heirloom tomato, though I don’t know what kind (it came as part of an heirloom plant mix), so I’m excited to see how it looks and tastes when it ripens!

In addition to our garden, the turkey poults and Araucana chicks are growing like weeds (or should I say spaghetti squash?)!  They’ve got flight feathers coming in, and are testing them constantly.  They are also learning to scratch, which is okay outside, but not so great when they’re flinging their feed all over the basement floor while they’re inside their kennel.

The Araucana chicks below have been getting some serious air too, with those impressive three-week old wings!  The chick on the left was quite sick, and we were afraid we were going to lose her.  Adam cleaned her up, we kept her separate from the other birds for a week, and she finally got to reunite with the other chicks this past week.  It’s amazing to see how much the other chicks grew while she was sick, as you can clearly see what the toll of having to heal rather than getting to grow took on the little girl.

Hopefully we’ve gotten past the most difficult part of the chicks’ development, and we won’t be in as great a danger of losing any others.

Overall, we are having a much more successful summer this year than last, but only time will tell how the harvest will turn out!

I cannot believe Spring has nearly come and gone!  I miss the mosquito free 75 degree days and the bevy of flowering trees all around…Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy summer too, I just can’t be outside in the garden for more than two minutes without acquiring an itchy collection of mosquito bites. With that said, my first-week-of-summer meal plan is not nearly as grill heavy as I’d like it to be, because Adam has had to work closing shifts quite regularly (keeping him locked up at Lowe’s until 11pm) and I’m just not the grill maven I ought to be. Add the mosquitos to the fact that I tend to take everything off the grill 5 minutes too early (Medium-rare chicken anyone? What, no takers??) and I’m better off just staying in the kitchen!

If anyone else is grill-impared like I am, or if you don’t have a grill, then boy have I got a delicious week planned:

Pulled Pork Salad
Meatballs with Marinara Sauce over Spaghetti Squash
Pulled Pork Frittata with bell peppers/onion/garlic/mushrooms/jalapeno/salt/pepper…mmm
Dijon Crusted Salmon with Asparagus
Cornish hens with roasted broccoli (I know, I keep doing roasted chicken with roasted broccoli, but it’s so dang good I can’t help it!)

I’ve been on a salmon kick lately with my salmon chowder (an adaptation of this recipe), and nothing sounds quite as good as a big piece of fish with tangy dijon mustard and fresh asparagus right now. I can still get good local asparagus at the farmer’s market, but this may be the last week for it (it is a spring vegetable afterall) so I’d better take advantage! Lastly, this picture has nothing to do with anything, but it’s seriously the cutest puppy picture ever taken. Wes used to be so precious:

Happy Summer everyone!

A simply roasted chicken may very well be my favorite dish. I mean ever. Well, maybe not more so than a perfectly done creme brulee, but it’s close! This was not always the case. In fact I’ve roasted more chickens in the past year than I had in my entire life before then, and even more than I ever remember my mother doing. I attribute my new-found love of roast chicken to one magnificent kitchen tool: the clay baker. Mine is the model known as a “Romertopf,” which is basically an unglazed terracotta boat with a lid. With this roasting-wonder-machine, a dish that at one time seemed both fussy and difficult (to me at least) became a complete no-brainer.

You begin by taking your chicken out of the fridge (it must already be thawed) and letting it come to room temperature, then filling both the top and bottom of the clay baker with water to soak. Let the baker soak while you gather your spices and chopping your vegetables. After 5-10 minutes (depending on how much you’ve used your baker, they tend to prep more quickly the more they’re used) you can dump the water out of the baker, and start loading it up! If you would like some sturdy root vegetables along the bottom, throw those in first. Spice them as you wish (I recommend thyme/oregano/parsley/salt/pepper…but then again I always do). Then, place your chicken on top of the vegetables. This will work just as well if you only want to roast the chicken without any vegetables inside the baker with it, either way is fine. Now, if you’d like to get a little fancy, you can run your finger underneath the breast skin to separate it from the meat. Throw about half of your spice mix under the skin and spread it around, then throw the remaining half on top of the skin and in the cavity if you’d like. Other accents might include garlic cloves directly under the skin (a wonderful touch), or a lemon scored fairly deeply placed in the bird’s cavity. Now, simply put the lid on top (make sure you’ve dumped out the water!) and pop the whole thing in the oven.

I did not miss a step in there, in case you were wondering…you don’t preheat the oven! I don’t know why exactly, but this is one of my favorite parts. The clay baker needs to come up to the full temperature, usually 400 degrees for my chicken, slowly so as not to break in the baker.

Roast for an hour and twenty minutes or so, depending on the size of your bird, then take the lid off and bake for another 10 minutes to crisp the skin. You will get a good amount of stock if you roast the chicken by itself, at least 1 cup if not closer to 2 for a large chicken. The stock is like liquid gold, so don’t throw it out! It adds wonderful depth of flavor to stews, soups, mashed cauliflower, or it can be used to make a perfect gravy.  Even if you don’t want to use the fat that rises to the top, leave it in the jar until you plan to use the stock because it creates a protective layer for the gel making it last longer in the fridge.  Good old fat, it just keeps on giving!

Once the chicken cools enough to touch it, put it on a serving tray and have at it! The meat is very succulent, because it’s been self-basting in the oven for an hour and a half. Even the breast meat is juicy and flavorful thanks to the spices under the skin. Adam and I almost always eat this meal with our hands, because it’s more fun that way. I’ll eat one leg and thigh, he will eat the other plus a wing and some breast meat, and the rest of the chicken will be taken off the bone and cut up for use in salads or an array of other meals.

I can’t say enough how much I love this kitchen tool, it’s so easy to throw a chicken inside and then take care of any other tasks you need to accomplish for an hour and a half while it cooks. And because the design of the baker keeps the moisture inside, your chicken will turn out perfect every time with minimal effort. If you have a wedding coming up soon and I’m invited, you’ll know what you’re getting!

Until today, this little experiment in Microfarming had been full of positive news. Plants and animals had all been alive and growing, and beside a pretty hard bite from a chicken a few weeks ago and a cucumber plant that didn’t survive, there has been little negative news to report.

This morning all of our chicks were alive and well as far as I could tell. Six turkeys and four chickens were staring at me, drinking their water, standing in their food dish, and peeping up a storm. They continued to peep all day long, with some expected silences at times when they were sleeping. When I went down to check on them this evening, I was very sad to see that one turkey poult was dead near the food dish. I could not see an obvious reason for its death, no blood or feathers out-of-place, there was food in the food dish and water in the water dish…It was simply laying on its belly, and already stiff from rigamortis.

The only clue to little turkey’s demise is that its neck was a bit caved in on either side, prompting me to think it may have been stepped on and accidentally choked by another turkey. I hope that all nine surviving chicks will still be peeping and bright-eyed in the morning, to rule out any sickness.

I was sad to see little turkey’s body stiff and cold, but it just brings reality to the fact that these animals are not our pets. Our dogs are part of the family, but the fowl are here to serve a purpose: to lay eggs for our consumption, and to be consumed directly. We will give them a good life here, and will harvest their eggs and their meat when the appropriate time comes. I just didn’t think we would lose a turkey so soon.

The other chicks are all growing very quickly though, their wing feathers are coming in strong, and they are beginning to lose more of their down feathers all over.  One of the Aracaunas is standing in the background, and she has been testing those wing feathers by flying up onto the perch Adam set up in the middle of their new cage.  The turkeys in the foreground also have some wing feathers coming in, though theirs don’t seem to be as functional yet.  Hopefully they’ll all be perching soon, and ready to go outside into the big bright world outside.

Last week in my meal planning post I mentioned how much I was craving a meal reminiscent of my 5-year old taste buds. Everyone had macaroni and cheese with cut up hotdogs at some point, right? Seeing as I haven’t eaten wheat for the better part of a year, I decided to go about finding a way to recreate the idea of macaroni and cheese sans the macaroni. The resulting dish was quite delicious, but be warned that you really have to want to make it…it’s not nearly as simple as making a box of Kraft’s “The Cheesiest” and throwing in some Bar-S Franks.

So, if you’re up for a bit of a culinary adventure, here you go:

Franky-Cheesey Cauliflower (amounts listed should serve 6, but you’ll want the leftovers, I promise!)

2 heads of Cauliflower, cut into small pieces (think the size of macaroni)
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
12 oz of your favorite Cheddar Cheese, shredded (I chose 8 oz of Wisconsin Cheddar, and 4 oz of Seaside English Extra Aged White Cheddar for kick). Reserve 1/3 cup of cheese to sprinkle on top.
1 tablespoon Rice Flour (to thicken your roux)
6 tablespoons Heavy Cream (or half and half or whole milk)
1 tablespoon Butter
4 cloves Garlic, diced or pressed
1/4 cup finely diced onion
1 pound of your favorite *all natural* Hot Dogs (look for something with no preservatives, and nothing with “mechanically separated pork”…I didn’t make that up)
Salt and Pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spread your chopped cauliflower on a baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Bake the cauliflower for 20 minutes, stir, and bake 15 minutes more. Doing so will make help your cheese sauce stay thick, rather than getting watery from steamed or boiled cauliflower.
2. While the cauliflower is baking, heat the butter in a sauce pan. Sautee the onions and garlic until fragrant, about 6 minutes.
3. When the onions and garlic are done, toss in the rice flour and stir.
4. Reduce heat to medium low, pour in your heavy cream, stir, then pour in all but the 1/3 cup of reserved cheddar cheese. Stir and watch your sauce closely, so as not to burn the bottom. Season with salt and pepper.
5. While your cauliflower is still baking, cut up the hotdogs into bite sized pieces.
6. When the cauliflower is done, transfer it to a 9×13 baking dish. Toss in the hotdogs, and then pour over the cheese sauce. Sprinkle the reserved cheese on top.
7. Put the dish back in the 375 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until the top of your cheese is golden brown and bubbly. (I used the broiler for about 2 minutes at the very end).
8. Let it cool for a few minutes, and Serve with something green!

Saturday was Adam and my 4th wedding anniversary, which turned out to be the best Saturday we’ve had in a long time! I didn’t get any flowers (apparently that’s the “traditional” 4th anniversary gift), or linens (the “modern” gift), but I did get to go canoing for the first time, and went to a great new restaurant called Local 127 in downtown Cincinnati! One of my favorite things to do on special occassions is to go to a really fancy restaurant and have a wonderfully decadent dinner. Since this only happens once or twice per year (we usually go somewhere nice on my birthday, but not always for our anniversary) I never feel bad about spending a little bit more than usual.

The reason I chose Local 127 is because it is a fairly new restaurant that is part of a group of restaurants in Cincinnati focusing on local, seasonal, organic produce and meat for all of their menu items. They buy from local farmers that use organic methods (whether or not they’re “certified organic,” since many of our local farms are family owned small operations), and every piece of meat on the menu is locally produced and grass-finished. All of their cured and pickled meats and vegetables are made in house, and the chef, Steven Geddes, is also a Master Sommelier, so the wine list is very carefully crafted. The only exception to the local rule applies to seafood, which is very limited in Ohio. Though to be fair, the only seafood on the menu on Saturday were scallops, which were sourced locally even if they weren’t raised locally. And I don’t think I want to eat a scallop that lived in the Ohio river anyway…

The restaurant was pretty and modern looking all at the same time, with warm lighting that made for quite a romantic ambiance. We had a small appetizer of cappocola and pickled cucumbers (which were slightly sweet and very good, and as I mentioned, made in house), then shared a normal sized appetizer of the most delicious potato skins I’ve ever had…TGIFriday’s could learn a thing or twelve from Chef Geddes…Between appetizers and dinner we were given a complementary small cup of cold potato soup, which was very good! It tasted like potato salad, but in smooth chilled soup form, and had a slice of crisped spring garlic on top. For dinner I had a simple Waldorf Salad with toasted walnuts and reisling soaked raisins, and a few bites of Adam’s Pork Belly and Sausage over White Grits dinner plate. The sausage was mild and tender, the pork belly was smokey and perfectly cooked, and the greens (spinach I think) that they were plated on were a perfect complement. The plates looked beautiful and tasted even better, and went very well with the red wine we paired with everything!

We didn’t have dessert there, but everything on the dessert menu looked delicious as well. I was completely satisfied and happy after dinner, which is exactly what you want for a special occassion, right? I don’t usually enjoy restaurants very much, because I do not like to pay for food that I could make better at home, but Local 127 was a very happy exception. Although now I’m scheming up ways to recreate those potato skins!

Now, at my mother’s request, I’m including a quick dessert recipe that I like to whip up when I’m craving ice cream, but don’t want to pay for Graeter’s or deal with the subsequent sugar crash. You’ll find plenty of recipes for Banana-Avocado “pudding” on line, but I hadn’t seen many using frozen bananas to make a more ice cream like dessert! The avocado sounds scary when you think about adding it with banana, but I promise that you won’t even taste it. It simply acts as a thickening and creaming agent, giving the dessert a very nice consitency. It also adds a bit of mono-unsaturated fat to the snack, making it more filling than just eating a banana by itself.

Whenever I buy bananas, we tend to leave at least one or two of them sitting on the counter until neither of us will eat them…at that point, I peel whatever bananas are left and put them in my frozen banana bag in the freezer! If you’re a smoothie drinker, they work great for almost any smoothie, but I like to make ice cream instead. So grab your frozen banana and your food processor, and give it a try:

Chocolate Banana-Avocado Ice Cream

Ingredients:
1 frozen banana
1/4 of a medium avocado
1 tablespoon of *Good* quality cocoa powder (it makes all the difference!)
Dash of cinnamon
Splash of vanilla extract
1 tablespoon water

1. Break your banana into a few pieces in the food processor, and add the avocado, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and vanilla.
2. Start the processor, and pour the 1 tablespoon of water in while it is running.
3. Scrape down the sides as necessary, and process until smooth. It shouldn’t take more than 30 seconds or so.
4. Enjoy!

I’ve never tried making a larger batch and keeping it in the freezer, but I’ve heard rumors that it may work. I tend to make this as a small treat, however, just to keep it to a “one serving and it’s gone” type of snack. My friend who hates avocados was wary about trying this with me, but even she loved it! You can add whatever other additives you’d like as well, with shredded coconut or pistachios being two that I’ve tried. With summer just around the corner, I hope this hits the spot!

I said it, Hot Dogs! But not just any hot dogs, I’m talking about real hot dogs, made from actual pork with no added ingredients and a natural casing. Thanks to Kroeger Meats at my beloved Findlay Market, I can actually get natural pork products minus the industrial ingredients. This coming week’s meal plan represents quite a spectrum, from fancy-schmancy salmon wrapped scallops, to cheesy cauliflower and hot dogs. We haven’t had the latter yet, but I’m hoping for another “kid worthy” stamp of approval from Adam on that one.

So without further ado, next week we will be filling up on:

1. Salmon Wrapped Scallops with a lemon-herb butter and Grilled Asparagus (recipe and pictures to follow)
2. Roast Chicken with Roasted Broccoli…I can only leave this off the menu for so long, I do love roast chicken!
3. Asian Chicken Salad with the leftover chicken (instead of the usual cobb salad)
4. Cheesy Cauliflower with Natural Hot Dogs…which does sound like something a two-year old would love, right? And a salad.
5. Turkey Meatballs with Marinara and Spaghetti Squash (using the same spices as this recipe, just with ground turkey because I feel like doing something different!)

I’m also going to check out Tewe’s Poultry Farm tomorrow for my roasting chicken and ground turkey, a poultry farm that specializes in hormone-free, pastured, antibiotic-free turkey and chicken. They are only about 20 minutes away from my home, and have better prices than I can find just about anywhere else! What can beat that? Hopefully I’ll have a new, local source for buying chicken, supporting a family owned business to boot!