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As a pregnant lady, getting a good balance of omega 3 fatty acids is extra important for me. One awesome way to get those omega 3’s is to eat fish, especially salmon! You may have heard the idea that fish consumption should be limited during pregnancy because of the danger mercury poses to the growing fetus, which is a valid concern. Unfortunately, people have been throwing the baby out with the bath water, so to speak, by throwing out fish because of mercury fears. Small fish and fish that are harvested at younger ages do not collect the mercury levels that larger and older fish do, including swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and shark. Eating plenty of wild Alaskan salmon, sardines, arctic char, trout, and albacore tuna will supply you with a lot of omega 3’s and help your baby build it’s brain!

With that in mind, I made a salmon ceasar salad the other day with made-from-scratch ceasar dressing that was excellent. I took the main ingredients for the ceasar dressing from this recipe, but made the following changes:

1. I halved the recipe, but didn’t halve the garlic or parmesan (I think I added extra parmesan actually).
2. I put all of the ingredients into my food processor, turned it on, and drizzled the olive oil into that instead of whisking.

It turned out just like restaurant ceasar dressing! I added it to chopped romaine hearts and diced roma tomatoes, tossed a bit, then topped with poached salmon and more parmesan.

Cook your salmon however you’d like. I simply put it in a pan on the stove, drizzled it with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and topped with salt and cracked pepper, put about 1/3 cup water in the pan, turned the stove on high and covered with a lid until the water boiled. Then, I turned the heat down to medium, turned the salmon over once, and it was done in a matter of about 8 minutes! Easy. The end of summer is very near, so try to enjoy a few more salads before it turns into soup weather!

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Yet another pregnancy craving I was having last week involved putting chili on, well, anything. And everything. I settled for putting it on top of roasted cauliflower because, let’s face it, roasted vegetables are amazing! I felt like making a simpler chili than usual, so I opted for grass-fed ground beef instead of chuck roast. I called it “rainbow chili” because I used three colors of bell peppers, and it turned out really pretty! See:

Before you start the chili, preheat your oven to 350 degrees farenheit and cut a full head of cauliflower into small-ish pieces.

Rainbow Chili:

2 pounds grass-fed ground beef
2 tablespoons cooking fat – I used bacon grease, but butter or tallow would work too
2 cups beef stock
3 bell peppers – I used green, red, and yellow
1 medium yellow onion
1 jalapeno – with seeds and ribs if you want spicy, ribs and seeds removed if you want to tone it down
4-5 large roma tomatoes
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon thyme
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon smokey paprika
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Dice all of the vegetables and mince the garlic.
2. Heat the cooking fat in a large stock pot and brown the meat. Season it with a bit of salt & pepper.
3. Take the meat out (leave the fat in the stock pot) and set it aside.
4. Sautee all of the vegetables except for the tomatoes until the onions are translucent (about 10 minutes). Add in the tomatoes at the end, then add the beef back in.
5. Add in the beef stock and the spices, bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for as long as you have. 20 minutes is fine, but you could leave it for an hour if you’ve got time to let the spices meld.

For the cauliflower you’ll need:

1 large head cauliflower
olive oil
Salt & Pepper
shredded cheese of your choice (pepperjack is nice, monterey jack or cheddar would also work)

While the chili is simmering, spread the cauliflower onto a baking sheet, and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt & pepper, and roast for 20 minutes. Stir/turn the cauliflower after 20 minutes, and cook for 20 minutes more.

Once your chili is ready, put the cauliflower in your bowl, and sprinkle some cheese on the cauliflower like this:

Put the chili on top of the cauliflower, then top with sour cream if you’d like. If you want to keep this recipe dairy free, it’s just as easy to leave off the cheese and sour cream though! I enjoyed this for dinner, but I actually liked it even better the next day for lunch. The spices really come together overnight! I can’t wait for the weather to turn a little chillier (get it, like chili…) so I can eat more yummy fall foods!

I am happy to say that our garden supplied half of the main ingredients for this wonderful side dish, and in a few weeks, will provide 75% of them! We’ve had a much greater tomato yield so far this summer, and have harvested bowls full of cherry tomatoes, at least 20 roma tomatoes, and about 5 heirloom tomatoes already, and it’s not even peak tomato time yet! The herbs have been doing so-so in the back of the garden, but there was more than enough basil for this dish. Our 5 or 6 remaining eggplant plants are finally doing well, and have 3 good eggplants coming along. Next time I make this, it will be with our very own eggplant rather than with one I bought at the farmer’s market (which I still love, but eating my own vegetables is more exciting).

Not being vegetarians, we also had good, local sausage with honey mustard sauce with our grilled eggplant, but they could stand on their own as a light meal. Start by getting a medium eggplant, and slicing it into rounds about 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick. You don’t want them to be so thick that they take a long time on the grill. Then, lay a layer of slices down in a colander, sprinkle with salt, lay another layer down, sprinkle with salt, and keep going until you’ve salted all of the eggplant. Let it sit in the sink for 15 to 20 minutes, and at the end you’ll see that quite a bit of moisture has been drawn out of the eggplant. Rinse off the liquid and salt, and pat dry with a towel. That little trick is also very important if you plan to make eggplant parmesan, or if you want to use eggplant in any other baked dish. Eggplant holds quite a lot of moisture, and drawing it out beforehand will almost always make for a better, less watery dish in the end.

Now that your eggplant is ready to go, here are the rest of the ingredients:

–Extra Virgin Olive Oil
–1 pound fresh mozzarella, either in ball form or log form, cut into medium-thin slices
–Enough tomato slices to top your eggplant slices (at least 2 large tomatoes, or 4 smaller tomatoes), any variety will work (I used roma because we had many that needed to be used)
–Enough fresh basil leaves to top your eggplant slices with one leaf each
–Salt & Pepper to taste

1. Preheat and clean your grill as usual. I’m not the grilling expert, so you won’t get any particularly helpful tips from me in that department!
2. Lay your eggplant slices out flat, and drizzle EVOO over one side. Flip, and drizzle on the other side. Season both sides with salt and pepper (remember, you already rinsed off all the salt you used before).
3. Have your mozzarella slices, basil leaves, and tomato slices ready to go on a separate plate. Place your eggplant slices on the grill, and leave them to cook for 4-5 minutes.
4. Turn the eggplant slices over, then top with basil, then mozzarella, then tomato. The eggplant will cook through on the bottom side, while the cheese melts and acts as glue on the top side. Grill for an additional 4-5 minutes, or until the eggplant is cooked (but not burned!) and the mozzarella is melted.

Isn’t it beautiful? I did not put the basil on bottom like I should have, and waited to put the tomatoes on until last. I made those little adjustments in the recipe because it will taste better the way I wrote it out. So basically, do as I say and not as I already did! This recipe will work for pan frying as well if you don’t have a grill, but I always enjoy the smokey/crispy quality that the grill imbues to vegetables. Happy summer cooking!

At the height of strawberry season this year, Adam and I were both happily indulging in the overabundance of strawberries on sale. Organic strawberries for $2 a pound? Yes please! We also have access to amazingly delicious heavy cream from grass-fed cows, from only an hour and a half away or so in Ohio, and it’s lightly pasteurized rather than ultra-pasteurized (keeping at least some of the beneficial bacteria that get boiled into oblivion during the high-heat pastuerization). Add to that local, raw honey, that tastes like sunshine. What does this leave you with?

Isn’t it beautiful? It’s not a recipe per se, it’s more of a combination of simple ingredients. Which I suppose is technically a recipe, but you know what I mean.

1. Whip the cream
2. Slice the strawberries into halves or quarters or slices (whatever you fancy)
3. Place strawberries in a bowl, add a dollop of whipped cream
4. Drizzle liquid sunshine (aka raw honey) on top
5. Eat!!

It’s so simple, but such a delicious combination. Try making the whipped cream with less sugar than usual, as the honey will add a completely different dimension of sweetness. A dash of cinnamon on top would not be unwelcome either, and if you have other berries in season right now, by all means substitute away!

Last week I was incredibly happy to find Grass-Fed beef short ribs at Whole Foods. I had been craving braised short ribs for quite some time, but was concerned about eating such a fatty cut of conventionally raised beef. Since toxins are stored in the fat of an animal (including humans!), I generally try to eat lean cuts of conventional meat if that’s what I’m forced to buy. Our side of beef is all but gone (we have about 10 pounds of random cuts left out of our 250 pounds from last November), so we have not been eating nearly as much beef as we were during the winter, and much of it has been conventionally raised since it can be quite difficult to find grass-fed beef for a reasonable price (I’m talking less than $10 per pound for most cuts).

At $6 per pound, the short ribs I found at Whole Foods were practically a steal, and there were 3 pounds sitting right there in the meat case! I snapped those suckers up immediately, and then searched the internet for a suitable recipe to try with my red marbled treasure. The problem I ran into was this: almost all of the recipes that sounded the best called for overnight marinating! I wanted short ribs THAT NIGHT, not later! I figured 3-4 hours would be plenty of time, but I couldn’t find a single recipe that didn’t call for the overnight marinating or all day cooking in the crock pot.

After some deliberation, I ended up choosing Tom Colicchio’s recipe over at Food & Wine, and promptly went to the store to buy a bottle of dry red wine. As you’ll see, it calls for an entire bottle. The alcohol cooks off, so I wasn’t worried about it in my pregnant state. I won’t rehash the recipe here, since it’s fairly involved and because I think it’s against internet etiquette (yes, there is such a thing!) to do so, but I will tell you these short ribs were AMAZING. They were exactly what I wanted: falling off the bone tender, with an incredibly flavorful sauce. I saved the sauce that we didn’t use on the ribs because it was so good I couldn’t bear to waste it! I did not use flanken style short ribs, instead I used the “square” looking ones cut with the grain rather than against it, but otherwise I actually followed the recipe very closely.

If you decide to make short ribs, do it on a day where you have plenty of time and won’t feel rushed. It’s a very slow cooking meal, but it fills the house with wonderful aromas, and fills your family’s bellies with hearty food made with love. If you give the recipe a try, let me know how it turns out!

Although it’s not soup weather at all here, meaning we’ve had 90+ degree days with 80% humidity or more, I have been absolutely craving chicken soup. Crazy pregnancy hormones! Actually, I’ve been craving a lot of soups, including broccoli and cheese soup and New England clam chowder. Unfortunately, it’s nearly impossible to find a cream based soup at a restaurant that isn’t made with wheat as part of the base roux. So, sorry Panera, but I can’t buy your delicious smelling broccoli and cheese soup. Maybe I’ll try making that next, sans wheat (since it really is completely unneccessary).

But back to the chicken soup. Since eschewing all grains from my diet, I haven’t had chicken noodle soup in more than a year. And you know what? Leaving out the noodles leaves so much more room for chicken and vegetables! Those are the best parts! I stuck with a fairly simple soup this time, because I wasn’t feeling particularly adventurous, so feel free to add whatever other vegetables or spices you’d like. After you’ve roasted a chicken, save the carcass and any extra bits to start your broth. Put the carcass in a crock pot, fill it up with water, and set the crock pot on low for as long as possible, preferably 24 hours. Add a splash (tablespoon or less) of vinegar to help leach the calcium out of the bones and get it into your soup! You can also add large pieces of onion/carrot/celery and a bay leaf to the mixture if you’d like. Then, when the broth is ready the next day, get your soup on!

Ingredients:

2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into bite sized chunks
1 large bunch of celery, sliced into chunks roughly the same size as your carrots (include the leaves, they have a lot of flavor!)
6 cloves of garlic finely diced or pressed
4 cups of chopped chicken, preferably from the chicken you already roasted!
1 medium yellow onion, diced -or- 1/4 cup dried onion flakes (it’s what I had, and it worked just fine!)
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme
Ground Salt & Pepper to taste
2 tablespoons butter
4 quarts of Chicken Broth or more – depending on how you like your broth to soup chunks ratio (we like more stuff/less broth, but you might not agree)

1. In a large stock pot, heat the butter, then sautee the diced garlic and onion (if using fresh onion).
2. Once the onions are translucent and starting to brown (or once the garlic is toasted but not burned if you’re using dried onions), add the chopped carrot and celery. Sautee until they begin to soften.
3. Add your golden, beautiful smelling chicken broth, strained to remove the bones/vegetables. Salt the mixture a bit, and bring to a boil.
4. Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to medium, add the rest of your spices, and cover and simmer for about 20-30 minutes or until the carrots and celery are as soft as you’d like them to be. They should be easily pierced with a fork, but not mushy like baby food.
5. Add the cooked chicken, and simmer for about 10 minutes more until it is heated through.

Again this is a very simple recipe, and could be expanded with whatever other vegetables you enjoy. I considered adding spinach, which is delicious in soups, and have enjoyed zucchini and yellow squash in chicken soup as well. Use your imagination! Remember, the longer your cook your broth, the more nutritious it becomes as the bones and cartilage and marrow break down from the chicken carcass, and the better it tastes. And if you’re not in the mood for soup just yet, I hope you keep this little gem in mind for the fall and winter!

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!

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!

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!