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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!

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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!

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!

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!

Apparently, chickens are a gateway drug to more hard-core microfarming adventures. Can you guess what these little puff balls are?

They’re turkeys! They hatched just 8 hours ago, and are still stumbling around in their box. One little guy (or gal, I don’t know how to tell yet) even flipped over onto his back and started peeping up a storm, and needed a gentle hand to tip him back over. I guess this means we’ll be having to check on them every hour or so to make sure they don’t flip over and dehydrate themselves.

There are six turkey poults, all Mamouth Bronze Turkeys. Think of the turkeys you see portrayed at the Pilgrim’s and Indian’s first Thanksgiving…they will look something like that. They will not be pets, although I’ve read that they enjoy human company a great deal. I’m sure that we will enjoy their company too…until Thanksgiving, when we will enjoy their drumsticks.

In addition to the turkey poults, Adam threw in four Araucana chickens as well! They seem to be fiesty little creatures, already running and jumping just 8 hours after hatching. The little chick on the right of the picture is the Araucana, the turkey is on the left. The reason I wanted these little gems so badly is because they lay green/blue eggs! We’ll have the prettiest egg boxes on the block once those little ladies start laying.

To sum up my microfarming adventure tour, I also had one of the first strawberries of the season, and the first salad from our lettuces this past weekend. Both were wonderful, especially since they grew right in our backyard!

I will enjoy dragging you along our turkey adventure, from farm to table as they say!

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!

We are having yet another incredibly rainy May this year, with more than an inch of rain above the usual average. Luckily, we have also had enough sunny days to give the garden time to grow.

This lettuce is ready to be used in salad, which we will do this week!  One plant that I’m rather excited about is this little sprout:

With all of the spaghetti squash   we’ve been eating this year, I thought it would be wonderful to  plant some of the seeds from a squash we had already bought, and harvest essentially free squash!  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to plant the seeds immediately after harvesting them from the squash, because all of the information I found about planting squash seeds called for drying and curing them for months, and saving them from fall harvest until spring planting.

I figured the worst that could happen is that they wouldn’t come up, so I cleaned my seeds, let them dry between two paper towels for a few days, hulled the seeds from the outer shells, and planted them!  After only a week, they have already tripled in size and had to be thinned! I’m very hopeful that they will make it through the summer and fall, and that I’ll have a stash of spaghetti squash in the basement for the entire winter.

The entire garden is planted at this point, including all of the herbs as well.  We’ve got two kinds of lettuce, arugula, cauliflower, broccoli, red and green cabbage, strawberries, cantaloupe, cucumber, spaghetti squash, rutabega, cherry tomato, roma tomato, heirloom tomato, red/green/yellow/purple bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, green bean, mesclun mix, carrot, green onion, brussels sprouts, artichoke, pumpkin, thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, parsley, cilantro, mint, chives, oregano, and dill.  Whew!  This is the point where I tend to get excited, until I remember that it will be at least 60 to 90 days until anything is ready to harvest!  Now we just have to focus on keeping everything alive and healthy.

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!