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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!

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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!

Well, the year is officially flying by, and I can hardly believe that this meal plan will take us through the first week of June!  The weather is consistently up in the 80’s, the garden is starting to take off with all the sunshine (our very first strawberry is almost ready to be picked!), and I am starting to get very unsightly tan lines from my daily walks at work.  With all the changes in the weather recently, I have been wanting to change up my cooking too, craving a wider variety of meals.  I don’t generally make multiple new meals in a week, but this meal plan includes four new meals!  Wish me luck that I won’t be stuck eating mediocre leftovers all week!

Meal Plan for May 30th to June 4th:

1. Taco Salad – Green salad (from our garden!) topped with seasoned ground beef, bell pepper, tomato, red onions, avocado, sour cream, and a spicy “ranch” dressing (which will be homemade starting with a greek yogurt base).
2. Artic Char Chowder – A recommendation from my brother
3. Parmesan Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Broccoli – Pork tenderloin cut into medallions, then pounded flat and crusted with parmesan cheese, then pan fried. We’ll see how that one turns out…
4. Piperade – No relation to Powerade…this is from my French cookbook “Je Sais Cuisiner” (I Know How to Cook) by Ginette Mathiot, which I absolutely love! Piperade is an egg dish, with bell pepper, tomato, ham, and spices. I just like the funny name.
5. Steak with Grilled Mushrooms and Asparagus – The last of our grass-finished steaks *sigh*.

The last day of the week, Saturday June 5th, is our 4th wedding anniversary! That day, instead of cooking, we’ll be going to a restaurant downtown called Local 127 that serves only seasonal and locally sourced foods. I couldn’t be more excited!

Since last week’s meal plan was such a hit, I thought people might appreciate some dinner ideas again this week! One thing I’ll be doing next week is using cooked meat on multiple days, in different meals. More batch cooking, since it’s my favorite way to plan meals that can be made quickly on weekdays. So without further ado, here are my picks:

Chicken Lettuce Wraps, made with leftover whole roast chicken (the recipe for which I will most definitely share)
Pulled Pork Salad
Stuffed Eggplant
Frittata with the already made Pulled Pork (with bell peppers/jalapenos/onion/garlic/mushrooms)
Cornish Hens with Roasted Broccoli
Cobb Salad with the leftover chicken from the Cornish Hens (always a hit!)

The cornish hens I buy from Findlay Market are no measley cornish hens, they weigh in at about a pound and a half each, which is considerably bigger than the ones I see at the grocery store. Consequently, I am generally full after eating only the leg/thigh half of my hen, and am able to save the entire breast for salad meat. If you have a bigger family, roasting a full size chicken will probably give you the amount of meat you will need to have roast chicken for dinner and cobb salad (or lettuce wraps) later in the week. Part of the fun of cornish hens is that everyone gets their own little chicken though, and who doesn’t like miniature food anyway?

I hope seeing my meal list is helpful to someone out there, I know I need some fresh ideas from time to time myself!

Strawberries are in season just about everywhere right now, and thanks to the collision of the California and Florida crops this year, they have been on sale everywhere!  I decided to take advantage of this unusual happenstance, and made a grain free (and consequently gluten-free) strawberry shortcake for a dinner party (well, book club, but it’s mostly about the dinner really) not long ago.  I started with a basic honey-almond cake recipe (I cut the honey for the recipe in half) and made my own whipped cream to go with it. You’ll also need 1 pound of sliced strawberries for this recipe.

To make the whipped cream, you only need the following ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream (get the best you can find, it makes a huge difference)
1/4 cup powdered sugar, or to taste (none if you like your cream unsweetened, more if you’re a humming bird)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (only the real stuff!)

**I like to use powdered sugar because it doesn’t take any time to dissolve in the cream, so you get a perfectly fluffy whipped cream. If you’d like to cut down the sugar, you could try subbing in a few sprinkles of cinnamon with the vanilla, since cinnamon registers as a sweet taste along with the vanilla. If you find it still needs a little bit of sugar, you can always add just a tablespoon or two.

1. Put your LARGE mixing bowl into the freezer, glass and metal will both work well. Get out your hand mixer while the bowl is chilling, and use a whisk attachment if you’ve got it (regular beaters will work as well, the whisk is just better in my opinion).
2. Pour your cream and vanilla into your frosty bowl.
3. Begin whipping your cream on medium, increasing to high, and adding in the sugar a tablespoon at a time.
4. Whip until the cream holds soft peaks, but not too long! This shouldn’t take more than four minutes. If you over-whip your cream it will curdle, and if you whip it even longer you’ll get sweet vanilla butter. Sounds good, but it’s not what we’re going for here.

Once you’ve got the cake ready to go, slice it in half with a long bread knife (I haven’t eaten bread in almost a year, but I’d never throw out a good knife!) and set the top half aside for a moment. Spread about half of the whipped cream on the bottom layer of the cake, then spread about 2/3 of your sliced strawberries over the cream. Carefully lay the top half back over the cream and strawberries. Spread the remaining whipped cream on top, and the remaining strawberries as well. If you’d like, you can toss some toasted almonds on top as garnish, and drizzle a little bit of honey as well to give your guests a little clue as to what’s in your cake.

This cake was a huge hit at my dinner party, and I felt pretty good about serving a beautiful dessert with much less sugar in it than a traditional shortcake. Bon appetite!