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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!

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!

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!

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!

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!

I know I know, your grandma made you eat brussels sprouts as a child and they were bitter, mushy, and heaven help you, you were not going to eat the rest of them off your plate no matter how long you had to sit at the table! These teeny tiny cabbages (well, brassicas really) can be prepared in ways that do not leave them mushy and bitter, however, and I’ll bet you could even get your kids to eat them with gusto if you cook them with a little bit of bacon! If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a big fan of bacon grease, and use it frequently in my cooking because it imparts incredible depth of flavor. I realize that it is a saturated fat, and quite honestly, that’s one of the reasons I prefer to use it! I won’t do the subject justice if I try to explain it, so instead I’ll direct you to one of my favorite blogs to do the explaining for me.

Now that you’ve read up on saturated fat, and can heartily agree with me that it’s been unfairly demonized over the past half-century, let’s get back to brussels sprouts. These little gems contain good amounts of one of our favorite fat soluble vitamins: vitamin A.  They also contain vitamin C and folic acid, which are water soluble (in case you didn’t know already).  So, if you don’t cook and eat brussels sprouts with fat you’ll lose out on a major benefit of eating them in the first place!  They are in season from December to June, so snap them up while their flavor is still at it’s peak.

Ingredients:
1 pound brussels sprouts, washed and cut in half lengthwise
4 thick slices bacon (find a good, preservative and sugar free bacon)
2 tablespoons bacon grease
Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper to taste

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Cut your bacon into small pieces, approximately 1/2″ wide.
3. Using a large oven-safe skillet, heat the bacon grease and once hot add in the brussels sprouts and bacon pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sautee until brussels sprouts are just turning golden brown and bacon is cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.
4. Turn off the stove, and put your entire skillet in the oven, which should be preheated by now. Bake for 10 minutes, stir, then bake 10 minutes more until brussels sprouts are tender and nicely browned.

 I served them here with meatballs and marinara, which was delicious. I promise, they will be the best brussel sprouts you’ve had in a long time!

The growing season has finally started kicking into gear hear in Southwestern Ohio, and we were so lucky this year that Adam got a job at Lowe’s! Those two ideas may not seem complementary, but they definitely are. Lowe’s is a very big company. They buy more things than they can sell on a regular basis. With washing machines it doesn’t matter too much, but when a store has literally thousands of seedlings that are getting ready to die, well, then they just start throwing things away. Being the upstanding employee that he is, Adam asked if he could possibly take some of the plants that had been thrown out. As you can see here, it was a success! With the exception of the strawberries (which lived all through the winter!) everything in the garden is brand new.

He was able to get A LOT of broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, red cabbage, some arugula, a few different lettuces, eggplant, cantaloupe, rutabegas (not sure about those yet), mint, and a small rosemary bush!

We still need to plant the other two-thirds of the garden very soon, which will include:

Tomatoes (mostly cherry and roma tomatoes)
Bell Peppers (every color we can find)
Jalapeno Peppers
Carrots
Green Beans
More Eggplant
Spinach
More Lettuces
Cucumbers
Spaghetti Squash

And for the herb garden, I’ll need:
Basil
Thyme
Oregano
Sage
Parsley
Cilantro

Last year was a very rainy, gloomy, cool summer in our region, which did not make for good gardening. We are hoping for a much better year this time around, and with a little good weather and good luck we’ll have more produce than we know what to do with! We are also doing things slightly differently this year, taking a “square foot gardening” approach to our 10 foot by 20 foot area. Last year we planted in neat little rows, and while that was very nice and organized, it definitely was not as productive as it could have been (bad weather aside). We’ll intersperse some jalapeno plants and marigolds as we go to try and keep some of the bugs away (they don’t like spicy plants, or marigolds!), and hope for the best.

I can’t think of a better price to pay for organic, homegrown vegetables than free!