Thai Inspired Noodle Stir Fry

 

I don’t normally cook Asian cuisine at home, but have been known to put on a sushi party every now and then! With allergies to both gluten and soy it is hard finding recipes that don’t include these common ingredients and I can never go out to eat since most places use these ingredients. But recently I have re-discovered Thai and Vietnamese, cuisines that don’t rely on those ingredients but instead fresh flavors like lime, cilantro, mint, fish sauce and rice noodles. I am also a sucker for the crushed peanut garnishes…

(My first homemade Pad Thai)

We have a few decent Thai and Vietnamese places in Vermont, but they are at least an hour away from us. So I started making it at home. We had friends over for dinner a few weeks ago and I tried my hand at making the classic dishes, Pad Thai and Chicken Satay  (based on the recipes that are highlighted). It was a lot of fun to make and both dishes turned out delicious. After working with traditional recipes and wrapping my head around the flavor profile, I have started using these flavors often in my cooking, lately. I think this type of food lends itself well to the summer anyway; couple that with our garden and CSA bursting at the seams with fresh produce and immediately a delicious stir fry seemed like just the thing for dinner one night recently. It has literally been years since I made a stir fry and after this experience making it, I realized why it is such a popular go-to meal!

I had some leftover Pad Thai sauce and peanut sauce from the satay and so I used those in combination as my sauce. Then I scrounged around in my vegetable bin and took out everything that needed using. I knew I had some baby shrimp in the freezer and a plan started coming together. I also made a recent discovery of Miracle Noodle , a Shirataki noodle. Shirataki noodles are made from a white yam and are basically made up of water and fiber. They don’t have much of a taste on their own, but they are a great substitute for white rice noodles or glass noodles and are very light, as they contain no net carbohydrates. I used them for my Pad Thai and they worked great, so I knew they would be lovely with this stir fry.

This was a simple and quick meal to put together. If you don’t have all the vegetables I put in my stir fry, try using what you have on hand. This is what makes preparing a stir fry so fast and easy.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TBS coconut oil
  • 1 whole kohlrabi, cut in thin circles, cut in half
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • ½ leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 TBS minced/grated ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, minced/grated
  • ¾ cup peanut sauce http://www.shesimmers.com/2009/03/how-to-make-thai-peanut-sauce-my-moms.html
  • 2 16 oz packages of Miracle Noodle
  • A couple hand fulls of spinach
  • 1 cup of pre-cooked baby shrimp
  • Juice of one lime
  • ½ English cucumber, thinly sliced
  • sliced leek
  • crushed peanuts
  • cilantro and/or mint

METHOD: Heat coconut oil in a wok or large skillet. Add the kohlrabi and cook until nice and browned. Then add the carrots, leeks, ginger and garlic. Sautee until the carrot softens a bit (you want the end result to still be somewhat crunchy). Add the peanut sauce, add more coconut oil if it is too dry. Then add 2 packages of the noodles, stir constantly. Add the spinach and shrimp and cook until the spinach is wilted. Then remove the skillet from the heat and squeeze the lime juice over everything. Divide evenly between two bowls and garnish with the cucumber, leek, peanuts and cilantro/mint. Serve immediately. Serves 2.

Black Pudding Stew and Bannocks

 

January is a big month for those of us with Scottish heritage. We start the month off with the celebration of Hogmany or Scottish New Year. This tradition comes from the intermixing between the Norse and the Scottish in Scotland. The 12 Days of Christmas, actually comes from the original 12 days of Yule , and Hogmany is the end of that celebratory time, as the new Gregorian year was rung in.

Then January 25th is Burn’s Night when Scots and those of Scottish ancestry the world over celebrate the life and poetry of Robert Burns by celebrating Burns Night and hosting a Burns Supper. I hosted my first proper Burns Supper in a long time last year and plan to do it again this year.

So in the meantime I would like to share with you this dish inspired by one of my favorite foods that I don’t get a chance to eat very often- black pudding, or blood pudding/sausage. I know a lot of you are probably gagging right now. But blood pudding is truly a sacred food. As the name implies it is made from the blood of a slaughtered animal. Usually sheep, sometimes pigs but it can also be made from cattle, duck and goat. This food really exemplifies nose to tail eating and as a farmer, I believe in using the entire animal, and that includes its blood. I have not had a chance to make it yet, but I do plan to in the future.

I must admit, the first time I had black pudding, I didn’t know what it was. I think that helped my taste buds truly enjoy it without thinking that I was supposed to think it was gross. I am so glad no one told me and just let me enjoy it.

The making of blood sausage is common the world over and can be found in nearly every culture. Generally it is made of the blood, some kind of fat and fillers depending on the culture – in France it is known as Boudin Noir, made with chestnut flour and cream, it was made on the Navajo reservation where I lived, prepared by the women with blue cornmeal, in Norway I ate Blodpølse as part of Christmas Eve traditional fare where it is served with other cured meats and Rømmegrøt. So although it might not be very popular in certain places and have a high “yuck” factor among many, it is part of the traditional diet of probably all of our ancestors and to be respected.

Last year when I ordered my Haggis from Scottish Gourmet USA for our Burns Supper, I also bought some of their black pudding or Marag Dubh. It can be eaten fried up for breakfast and served with eggs, or used in dishes, like this stew I made with beans and mushrooms, creating a wonderfully flavorful dish with a certain je ne sais quoi coming from the addition of the black pudding. It is just like anchovies in Italian Puttanesca sauce, if you don’t tell people it is in there, they will love it, licking their dish, while swearing how much they hate anchovies.

I served the stew with another traditional Scottish favorite, gluten free Oat Bannocks to sop up all the delicious sauce.

Open your mind and be adventurous this new year! Join us for a Burns Night celebration and try some black pudding!

Black Pudding Stew

INGREDIENTS:

2 TBS of butter
2 slices of bacon
¼ large onion diced
1 clove garlic
½ cup re-constituted dried mushrooms (save the water)
½ lb black pudding, crumbled
¼ cup red wine
½ cup mushroom water
1 TBS Flowers of Scotland
¾ lb Christmas Limas, cooked
1 cooked potato diced

METHOD:

Be sure to cook your potato and beans ahead of time. Melt the butter in a hot skillet (preferably cast iron). Cut the bacon into small pieces and cook with the onion, garlic, mushrooms and black pudding. Once the bacon is browned and the onions soft, add the wine, mushroom water and cooked beans. Simmer on low for 25 minutes over low heat, covered. Take off lid and add the flowers of Scotland and cubed potatoes. Reduce liquid until the stew is nice and thick. Serve with bannocks. Serves 4.

Bannocks

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup GF oat flour
½ cup coconut flour
¼ cup tapioca flour/starch
¼ tsp salt
2/3 cup of yogurt/kefir/buttermilk
1 egg
2 tsp baking powder

METHOD:

Mix first 5 ingredients together and allow to sit on the countertop for 8 hours, or overnight. Next day place it in a food processor and add the rest of the ingredients, pulsing until the dough is nice and crumbly. Preheat oven to 400F.
On a floured surface press dough into an eight-inch circle about ¾ inch thick. Bake at 400F for 12- 15 minutes. Serves 6-8.

Every Day Chef Challenge – Autumn Bisque

In my last post, I shared with you my first Every Day Chef contest entry, Pumpkin Pie Parfaits. Today I will share with you a delicious holiday starter, Autumn Bisque.

Here is my inspiration for the recipe:

“I love cooking seasonally, and autumn is my favorite season. I adore the bright orange squashes that are so plentiful this time of year. We are hosting Thanksgiving this year, and I wanted to create a wonderful seasonal starter with delicious local vegetables, local beer and sharp cheddar cheese – all three things we are known for in terms of food culture here in Vermont.”

So yes, this delicious and creamy soup contains, vibrant orange winter squash, local beer, sharp cheddar cheese and BACON! So what’s not to love?

Recipe ingredients:
1 cup carrots cut into chunks (@ 2 small carrots)
3 cups red kuri squash, halved (@ 3 medium squashes)
Olive oil to drizzle
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 apple, cored, seeded and chopped (@ 1 small apple)
½ cup yellow onion, chopped (@ half of a small onion)
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced (@ 1 medium clove)
½ teaspoon sea salt
Dash of black pepper
¼ teaspoon of dried ginger
1 teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth
½ cup of gluten free ale (local is best!)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 tablespoon of lemon juice
2 strips of bacon, cooked and cut into pieces (optional garnish)

Cooking instructions:
1) Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the squashes in half and lay cut side up on a cookie sheet. Also place carrots on cookie sheet. Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and black pepper. Roast in the oven for about an hour, or until fork tender and slightly caramelized.
2) Scoop out the insides of the squash and set aside with the carrots.
3) Brown butter in the bottom of a large soup pot, over medium heat, sauté apples, onion and garlic until they browned – about 5 minutes. 3 minutes in add the salt and spices. Stir frequently.
4) Add Pacific Organic Free Range Chicken Broth, turn heat up, stir and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until apples are tender – about 5 minutes.
5) Add beer, squash puree, and carrots. Stir and heat through.
6) Add entire contents of pot to a blender. Puree in a blender; be careful not to burn yourself. Make sure the lid is on tight, and don’t do the whole thing at one time, unless you have a large capacity blender.
7) Carefully return contents to the soup pot, add the cheddar and lemon juice, and stir over low heat until incorporated.
8) Top with bacon crumbles if desired, serve immediately. Can also be reheated for later use.
9) Serves: 4 appetizer sized bowls.

Please click on this link to see the recipe and vote ! It only takes a second, you don’t need to register to vote, or anything. AND, you can vote everyday! So if you feel inspired and like both this recipe and the Pumpkin Pie Parfaits, you can vote for both, everyday until November 14th! Thank you so much!

Every Day Chef Challenge – Pumpkin Pie Parfaits

Every year, I tell myself I should challenge myself and enter some recipe contests. There is nothing I enjoy more than spending a day, or more a week testing recipes in my kitchen. I see so many of my fellow food bloggers entering all kinds of cooking challenges, and it looks like so much fun! But I always find an excuse not to do it, usually it relates to not having time to test recipes in the kitchen. Last year, my friend Aggie, from Aggie’s Kitchen was part of the Every Day Chef Challenge created by Pacific Natural Foods. So this past weekend, I spent all day Sunday creating two recipes for the Every Day Chef Challenge!

The nice thing about Pacific, is that they have all natural, preservative free, some organic and some free range meat broths in their offerings. So it is a good brand for people who are moving over to healthier ways of eating, but still like the convenience of store bought stocks, broths and milk alternatives.

I entered two recipes, this dessert is based on the Coconut Milk Panna Cotta Parfaits I made a few weeks ago. They were such a hit at our dinner party, and I had so much fun making them, I wanted to try some other flavor combinations. Plus, everyone loves a dessert made from pumpkin over the holidays and I wanted to create a pumpkin pie alternative for people who might be facing a family or group dinner where guests might have food allergies. This dessert is delicious, dairy, gluten, soy and refined sugar free. If you skip the graham cracker layer, you can also make it grain free. But this is perfectly delicious for those not suffering from allergies as well! My husband loved them, and he doesn’t even like pumpkin!

Recipe ingredients:
For Pumpkin Puree Layers:

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
2 tablespoons 100% pure maple syrup

For Panna Cotta:

2 ½ cups Pacific Hazelnut Non-Dairy Beverage
¼ cup 100 % pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
½ cup of graham crackers, crushed (I used gluten-free graham crackers)

Cooking instructions:
Looks long and complicated, but once you get the layering down, that is really all there is to it! It will be totally worth it!
1) Make the pumpkin puree layer. In a medium bowl mix well the pumpkin, vanilla extract, pumpkin pie spice and 2 tablespoons maple syrup. Set aside.
2) Pour the hazelnut beverage into a small pan and heat on the lowest setting until small bubbles form on the edges of the pan.
3) In the meantime, in a small bowl pour the quarter cup of water and add the gelatin, whisking briskly until thoroughly combined. Set aside until the hazelnut beverage has started to bubble.
4) Then add maple syrup, vanilla extract and spices to the hazelnut beverage once it has started to bubble slightly.
5) Remove the hazelnut beverage mixture from the heat and add a quarter cup of it to the gelatin whisking briskly to incorporate, making sure there are no lumps.
6) Add gelatin mixture back to the pan with the rest of the hazelnut beverage mixture, whisk to combine and then set pan on the lowest heat setting, so that it doesn’t start to cool and gel.
7) Using ½ pint mason jars, place about 1/3 cup of the hazelnut beverage mixture on the bottom.
8) Put the mason jars in the freezer for about 30-40 minutes, until softly set.
9) Remove jars from freezer and let the jars come to room temperature. You want to make sure that you aren’t adding hot liquid to frozen glass, as this will cause the glass to break.
10) Then add about 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin puree and smooth over top as best you can with the spoon or your clean fingers.
11) Then add a little crumble of the graham crackers.
12) You will repeat this process until you have the following: 3 layers of hazelnut milk mixture, 2 layers of pumpkin puree and 2 layers of graham crackers. Always let the hazelnut beverage layer gel before adding the pumpkin puree, etc.
13) Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours before eating.
14) Serves 4.

Here is a link to the recipe! I feel really weird about self-promotion…but here I go. If you like it, please vote for it on The Every Day Chef  Challenge website! You don’t have to register to vote or anything, just check out the recipe, and vote!  AND, you can vote for it every day, up until November 14th.  I would very much like to win a kitchen aid mixer. Something that I have been dreaming about adding to my appliances for years. If you really love the recipe, please feel free to share the link on your social media outlets. Thanks so much for supporting this blog!

My First Cheese Opus: Gruth Dhub and Flowery Crowdie

Dedicated to my dear friend Cat, her Granny and all my ancestors before me.

My final project for my Value Added Products class at Sterling College was to…dun, dun, dun…make a value added product!  My initial reason for taking this class was two-fold. The first was to begin my journey to becoming an artisan cheesemaker, by learning some more skills in the dairying process, beyond yogurt, kefir and fresh cheeses all of which I have been making at home for some time. The other was to learn the processes around making age old foods from scratch using traditional methods. I got both of those things out of the class, and so much more.

Over the past year or so, I have really enjoyed exploring my ancestry through food. Food is the cornerstone to all cultures, and by learning what traditional foods are in certain areas, you learn a lot about the people and landscape – what kind of climate they have and thereby the types of foods that were available before our global economy where so much (too much?) is available, as well as what other cultural influences helped to shape the modern food cultures. There are several great cookbooks I have acquired over the past year, and I will likely be sharing some more of those recipes soon. One of them is Scottish Traditional Recipes: A Celebration of the Food and Cooking of Scotland: 70 (Check!) Traditional Recipes Shown Step-by-Step in 360 Colour Photographs . It is a great overview of key products and foods of Scotland. I knew for this final project I wanted to make something quintessentially Scottish and this book was a good base.

At the time I started thinking about what to make for my project we were in the midst of sausage making. So at first I wanted to make black pudding, something that makes use of some of the less desirable parts of animals, including blood and organ meats. I have enjoyed various versions of blood sausages, in Norway, on the Navajo Reservation and in both Scotland and Ireland and have loved every single bite. I think a love for certain tastes, especially unique tastes are programmed in our DNA, and blood sausage is just one of those things. It is very common in all cultures that raise sheep. Sometimes it is made from pork.  But finding the ingredients to make such a dish was more than daunting. I had also thought of making haggis, but again, getting all the ingredients at this time of year didn’t seem possible in the amount of time I had.  Then I realized how silly I was, a budding cheesemaker, who wasn’t thinking about making cheese for this project? Ridiculous.

Then I read about Black Crowdie, or Gruth Dubh , as it  is known in Gaelic, which is literally translated as “black curds”. I will get into the reason behind the name soon, I promise.

One of my obsessions in the world of food is historic, traditional foods. So when I read about Crowdie, I was spellbound. I had to make this cheese. It was made even more enticing when I did a google search for a recipe and literally came up with NOTHING. Well, I shouldn’t say nothing, but when recipes say things like: heat the milk to blood heat” you just know there is a lot of work ahead trying to make sense of it all. But nothing excites me more than a historic recipe, with very vague directions to get me going! I had to make this cheese! So I first asked around to some of my Scottish friends and Facebook friends to see if anyone had a recipe. The saddest thing is that I got several responses from Scottish friends about how their Granny used to make it, but after she passed the recipe was lost. All the ancestors started screaming in my head : “YOU HAVE TO MAKE THIS CHEESE!

Next, I found several companies in Scotland that sold this cheese and on the advice of my friend and fellow online entrepreneur Nikki, contacted them for a recipe. Well, I ended up with the best guide possible into this historic cheese – Rory Stone from Highland Fine Cheeses, an award winning cheese producer, and from my understanding a pioneer in creating Crowdie for the mass market.  Rory and his family have been making cheese in Tain for a very long time, and like me, have been interested in some historic cheeses too – Crowdie and it’s cousin, Caboc as well as a cheese his mother invented, Hramsa, which is basically Crowdie flavored with ramps (wild leek).

See, Crowdie, is a true farmstead cheese, meaning it was made by every crofter, being referred to as crofter’s or porridge cheese because it provided a very practical way of ensuring that nothing was wasted. Crowdie is traditionally a skimmed milk cheese that is the byproduct of butter making.  This uniquely Scottish cheese was even once used as part-payment of rent in the Highlands. But it goes back much farther than that.

(photo courtesy of)

Crowdie making skills were given to the Scots by the Vikings. In terms of my passion and goals, we are 2 for 2, being that I have both Scottish and Viking (mostly Danish) ancestry.  Viking culture greatly influenced that of Scotland, including the cuisine of Scotland between the 8th and 14th centuries and much of that influence is still seen today. Things like blood sausage, smoked fish, and skimmed milk cheese. Similar skimmed milk products are still made in Sweden and Norway, today. Until the early 1700′s most Scottish cheese was made from skimmed milk after butter making, and did not travel well.

To make Crowdie homemakers would preserve the skim, which would naturally sour made by placing a fresh jug of skimmed milk beside the stove to sour and curdle. By keeping it nice and warm, the natural lactobacillus culture in the milk would ferment and set. Next they would scramble it, perhaps add some cream, add some salt and hang it up in muslin to produce Crowdie. The low fat content means it can be stored for long periods of time without refrigeration or salting. So the original Crowdie was a raw milk cheese. So at this point in the process I was happy to have a very reliable and trusted source of raw cow’s milk – Applecheek Farm. The Scots were a cattle herding culture, although they do raise sheep as well, it is possible that the original cheese handed down by the Vikings were a sheep milk cheese.

Because the milk is now pasteurized a lactic acid element needs to be added to encourage coagulation. To learn more about cheese and the importance of lactic acid action, see my last post Deep in the Cheesemaking Process. Then, in the making of Crowdie, the curds are heated, mashed, mixed with salt and then hung the traditional way in muslin bags.

Rory was a great help to me. We discussed at length desired taste, and texture when it comes to Crowdie, and we also discussed the process to how it becomes Crowdie – and the main component is that it needs quick lactic acid production. The process sounded quite a lot like making chevre, so I decided to make two different versions by  using  two various cheese cultures commonly used in chevre making – mesophilic starter culture MA 11 and a Fromage Blanc starter and by making a skimmed milk version as well as a full fat version. Although Rory’s recipe for Crowdie includes both starter culture and rennet, I decided to forego the rennet. Really, Crowdie was created before rennet existed as a product. Between that and the fact that Scottish and European rennet is so different in terms of strength from US rennet, I was left a little on my own.  So basically I made up my own recipe for Crowdie , using all the info I got from Rory and processes I had learned during the course at Sterling.

Having never tasted Crowdie prior to my experiments here, I so wish I could have invited my Scottish friends over for a taste test! I plan to make it the really traditionally way soon by allowing the raw milk to curdle naturally as well – and see if there is a  big difference in terms of taste and texture.

So what exactly is Gruth Dubh (Black Curds)? As the legend of the cheese goes, a cattle herder had put his cheese in the same container that he had earlier had his oatcakes in. The cheese got accidently covered in oats because of this. However, he found that he enjoyed this taste and then shared it with others – which is also why this cheese is traditionally eaten with oatcakes. This is how I served them to the class.

What was the result like? Well it was delicious. It was bright, tangy and acidic. The texture was soft, but also more crumbly than chevre, somewhat like a mix of chevre and cottage cheese or ricotta. I made both a full-fat Gruth Dubh and my own version – “Flowery Crowdie” which is the skimmed milk version rolled in Uncle Roy’s Flowers of Scotland

containing: starflower and coneflower petals, heather, thyme, bay, rosemary, tarragon, juniper berries, allspice and salt. Both were delicious, but I have to say I enjoyed the Gruth Dubh the most, even if the Flowery Crowdie looked nicer.

****************************************************************

CABOC – a relative of Crowdie

The MacDonald’s on Skye thought that they should produce something better for their Chieftan – a “white meat”. So they took the skimmed milk and made Crowdie with it but took the cream and matured it rather than churning it into butter. The mature cream was kept in a barrel and then after 4 months again hung to dry. It would then be split and reversed to get more of the moisture out and salted. “Caboc is a hybrid of “Cabag”, Gaelic for a homemade cheese and “Kebbock” which is a Scot’s word or Dorric for a farmhouse cheese and refers to the shape of the product rather than the style as they were all pretty much the same cheese. The shape being a bit like a stilton.” ~Rory Stone.

What did this historic cheese taste like? Well since I have never made it, I will quote a very humorous explanation from Rory Stone: “For some it tastes like rancid butter rolled in oatmeal, some might say nutty, but with that much fat there’s little of any flavour. Selling the cheese is a nightmare as it really is a Scottish specific line, the French say it is butter, the English just don’t get it and so it’s mainly eaten by people with triple heart bypasses and purple noses. At 70% butter fat it’s a kind of heart grenade”.

Sounds like another fine challenge to me!  Here is what is a very simple recipe for Crowdie/ Black Crowdie/ Gruth Dubh looks like. But just know that it took a lot of thought and understanding to get it to this point! So I hope you try it and I really want to give a huge shout out to all those who helped me through this process: Rory Stone and Highland Fine Cheese, Anne Obelnicki, Cat Thomson, Nikki Meisnere Accardi and AppleCheek Farm.

I have to say that creating a standard recipe for a historic farmhouse cheese based on my limited experience was a wonderful and successful challenge. I hope you enjoy making Crowdie as much as I did!

CROWDIE

INGREDIENTS:

1 gallon raw cow’s milk
1 pacakge MA11 or Fromage Blanc starter
3:1 Scottish (pinhead oats) to cracked black pepper for Gruth Dubh and less than one ounce of Flowers of Scotland for “Flowery Crowdie”

METHOD:

Heat milk to 72 F, add culture, let set for about 24 hours, until set like yogurt. Then cook over low heat (curds and whey), until curds scramble like eggs (do not exceed 100 F). Once curds have tightened a bit and look like “just cooked scrambled eggs” drain off the whey. Hang the curd over the sink in a muslin bag or clean pillowcase for about 4 hours, then salt and put in fridge for a few hours to harden up before shaping and adding flavors. Makes about 1 lb of Crowdie.

Friday Faves – Laura’s Lean Beef and DITALIA

Last Night’s Dinner – Simple Weeknight Fare

Sometimes during the holiday season when your mind is on other things you just need a nice quick meal. Something quick, easy to put together and nutritionally balanced. Something like burgers and fries. At our house that usually means patties made from organic, grassfed beef from our local farms, and oven roasted potatoes that we grew in our garden, served with organic ketchup and homemade pickles.

Since I am always writing about local, grassfed beef, I get a lot of emails, comments and questions from my readers asking me what they should do, if they don’t have a local farm nearby to buy meat? I always point them to Localharvest.org but sometimes even that doesn’t provide an easy answer. Previously I would tell them to look for buffalo meat instead, but it looks like some buffalo farms have gone the way of CAFO. So I have been really stumped.

(Photo courtesy of Laura’s Lean Beef)

Several months ago I was contacted by Laura’s Lean Beef about doing a product tasting. In all my dealings with meat companies, I asked a lot of questions. It was clear from the get go that Laura’s Lean Beef doesn’t use antibiotics or growth hormones. Which are a good things, but I needed more reassurances – are the cattle grassfed? If not entirely, is the grain GMO grain? Things like that.

As I said in last week’s Friday Faves I am not going to sample products unless they fit my criteria and I feel sure about the possibility of recommending the product to my readers. Although I am committed 100% to local, grassfed, pasture raised animals, I know that many of my readers don’t have local farms available to them and so I wanted to see if Laura’s Lean Beef would be a viable option for those readers. A product I could recommend to readers faced with the above dilemma.

So I asked what Laura’s cows eat – and this is the answer I got: “Laura’s cattle are mostly fed grass. They have access at all times to plenty of space. Cattle are never really “indoors”, although they are given access to shelter as necessary from bad weather. Their primary diet is pasture grass. They are given some corn, corn silage, barley, soy products, legumes, etc. to supplement the diet. And of course they are never given growth hormones or antibiotics. Hope this helps.”

It helped, but I wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to be advocating beef that eat GMO products. So I asked about GMO and this is what I was told: “The corn and soy products are non-GMO. Below is some background information on how Laura’s fits in to the organic/lean/grass-fed beef picture:

“Organic Beef – Focusing on Production
Today, healthy eating is often associated with the word “organic.” However, certified organic beef is not necessarily lean and may not deliver all of the health benefits of beef that’s low in fat. An organic certification refers only to the philosophy and practices used in beef production. For beef to be certified organic, cattle must be handled and fed in certain specified ways including having access to pastures and being fed 100% organic feed. They must also be processed in certified organic plants. There are no stipulations, however, about fat content. In fact, organic beef is typically no more healthy or nutritious than conventionally produced beef.

Grass-Fed Beef – Return to the Range
Since the late 1990s, there has also been a growing interest in grass-fed beef. This has been driven by
many of the same principles which propelled the organic movement including the return to more natural food production. Grass-fed beef, however, takes things one step further. Livestock are raised only on pasture – not on grain or soy of any kind. As a result, animals produce more “good” fats (including omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid or CLA) and fewer “bad” fats (omega-6s).
The drawback to grass-fed beef is its taste and toughness. It is very difficult to raise cattle solely on
pasture that yields the succulent and tender beef which consumers prefer.

Natural and Lean Beef – The Laura’s Difference
While Laura’s Lean Beef is neither certified organic nor exclusively grass-fed, it combines many of the
benefits of both while delivering less fat and great taste. Laura’s cattle are raised on sustainably managed farms, without the use of growth hormones or antibiotics, and fed a diet of natural grasses and grains. This approach yields exceptionally lean beef, which is also full of flavor.”

Then it goes on to discuss that Laura’s Lean Beef is low in fat and saturated fat, which is not something I am too worried about, however the leanness of the beef does seem to prove that the cows are mostly grassfed, since grassfed cows are much leaner than their grain fed counterparts.

In conclusion: “Laura’s Lean Beef accomplishes this while providing conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of cattle. This combination – and its great taste – is what differentiates Laura’s Lean Beef from organic and grain-fed options.”

Click here to learn more about Laura’s journey from taking over the family farm, and transitioning to a new way of raising cattle.

So Laura’s started to sound like a good option for those without access to local, grassfed beef – the best part is, you can find Laura’s Lean Beef in many grocery stores across the country. There is even a store search on their website. So for those of you looking for a better quality meat, and have no access to farms or farmers markets, I suggest you try Laura’s! The meat is tender and tasty – and the ground beef is perfect for making mouthwatering burgers.

We used the free coupons they sent us to buy a package of ground beef, which is what they had available at my local grocery store. We used it to make burgers and accompanied the burger with oven roasted potatoes.

(photo courtesy of DITALIA)

Which brings me to my next fave for this week: GLOP. My friend, the owner of DITALIA, Vince sent me a free sample of GLOP when I placed my last order with him. He said “if you blog about it, great, if not, just enjoy it”.  It is really good to have friends like that! He also sent me a free sample of Sicilian Roasting and Grilling Salt.

I love both of these products. The GLOP goes great on pasta, or as a sauce for a white pizza. We enjoyed it on our potatoes with this dinner. I used to buy “Garlic Fries” from Trader Joe’s eons ago. The fries came with this packet of oil, herbs, spices and cheese. You poured it and mixed it on the hot fries, and it was GOOD. So I just chopped up some fresh garlic, added it to the GLOP and mixed it in my oven fries! Just as good as I remembered!

(photo courtesy of D’Italia)

As for the salt – I use it all the time – it is my official go to salt. Not just for meat, it is a great salt to use on veggies, potatoes, even on your morning eggs. There are some wonderful aromatic herbs and spices in there like dried rosemary and peperoncino. I definitely seasoned my Laura’s Lean Beef patties with this salt.

Since the holidays are coming up, I suggest popping on over to DITALIA’s website. They even have fantastic gift ideas for the holiday season already packaged up for you.  I know Vince travels to Italy every year to source out new gourmet products. So you can be sure that anything you get from DITALIA is of the highest quality!

Roasted Chickpeas – 2 Ways

roasted-chick-peas_ready-to-eat

From Chicks to Chickpeas! Well I am finally back with a recipe. In fact I have many to share with you over the coming weeks. I have been cooking a lot since we moved. I mean it is hard not to when there is so much beautiful food available. However, as you can see from my most recent posts, I have been a little busy, and not really in front of my computer as much. Which is actually good in many respects. Also, I have so many other things to share with all of you, besides the food I am making, so sometimes it is hard to know what to post first! Ah, the life of a food blogger is so darn tough :)

We have obviously been very busy lately and due to that, it has been good to prepare some quick foods, that you can just grab a handful of when you make a mad dash back into the house from the garden for a forgotten item or two. This is one of those snacks – packed with protein, completely healthy, crunchy and delicious. Such a satisfying snack on so many levels. I have seen roasted chick peas out in the blogosphere many times before and have always sworn to myself make them soon. Recently I was inspired by Cook Local’s version which reminded me, I needed to make them!

I always tend to have soaked, partially cooked and then frozen chick peas in the freezer. They are one of my favorite beans, and basically as convenient as canned beans when prepared ahead like this. One of my tricks of making your own convenience foods, saving time and money, and the taste? About a million times better.

roasted-chick-peas_preparing

I really wanted to use Ras el Hanout – translated to mean “head of the shop” – as in the best spices, to spice half of the roasted chickpeas. I hadn’t used my mortar and pestle in a while, and really was looking forward to toasting all the aromatic spices beforehand in my cast iron skillet. This is my version of aromatherapy. So I dry fried my Ras el Hanout, and then added some coriander, cumin and blood orange salt from D’Italia to create my spice mix for batch one.

The second batch, I was looking for something a little more Southwestern. I absolutely adore the Mexican mole spice and lime coconut salt from The Spice and Tea Exchange. So decided to combine them and add in a little Calabrese hot pepper powder that I got from Sausage Debauchery.

Both versions turned out really well, and in the end I actually mixed the two up, and they complimented each other beautifully. So if you are looking for a quick, delicious and satisfying snack that packs a crunch AND that you can spice up any way you like, this is the treat for you!

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups al dente cooked chickpeas
3 TBS olive oil
Salt and seasonings of your choice

Ras el Hanout Spiced Chickpeas

2 heaping tsp of Ras el Hanout spice mix
1 TBS ground coriander
1 TBS ground cumin
blood orange sea salt to taste

Mexican Mole Spiced Chickpeas

2 TBS Mexican mole spice mix
¼ tsp Calabrese hot pepper powder
Lime coconut salt to taste

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, mix chickpeas with olive oil to coat then mix with spices.
Spread spiced chickpeas in a single layer on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the chickpeas are golden brown! Enjoy!

Make Your Own Sushi Party!

girls-sushi-party-ready-to-eat

Everyone knows how much I love sushi. Well, my youngest step-daughter Gwen is absolutely obsessed with all things Japanese (including culture, language, manga and anime), and with that love for Japanese culture comes an enormous love for sushi. It is her all time favorite food. You wouldn’t believe how much of it she can stuff into her little body!

So a few months back when I got some sushi rice from Koda Farms through FromTheFarm.com I knew I had to save the sushi rice for this summer when Gwen and her sister Rachel would be here, so we could have a make your own sushi party!

girls-sushi-party-steps1

We made an event of it by going first to the grocery store together to get some of the supplies. Then we headed to the local fish market to get some more goodies. We made the rice first, so that is would have time to cool off. Then while that was cooking, we prepared our fillings – tempura shrimp, fake crab (which is not fake food- as it is made from whitefish, so therefore, not crab…hence the name…), spicy fresh sea scallops, avocado, cucumber, carrots and scallions. We also made spicy mayo (Thanks Dharm for the Sambal Belacan!!!!)  and both toasted and black sesame seeds.

girls-sushi-party_having-fun2

Back when I taught at the cooking school, during the summer we had a camp program for kids, and we made a lot of sushi and it was a lot of fun! So since I already knew how to make the maki rolls, it was pretty easy, just a few quick pointers and everyone was off rolling! There are a lot of detailed, and step by step instructions online for how to roll maki, so I will not cover that here.

girls-sushi-party-happy-with-sushi

Needless to say we made A LOT of sushi. There were 4 of us rolling, and I think it is safe to say we each made at least 4-5 rolls each….and we ate every last piece too…Gwen is proud that she ate at least half of the tray! :) What can I say, she loves her sushi!

* I will add that per lo’s comment, making sushi is WAAAAY cheaper than going out for sushi. You need very little fish – we used 1/2 package of fake crab, 6 jumbo shrimp and 1/4 pound of sea scallops to feed the 4 of us (really OVER feed the 4 of us!). Not much by way of veggies either, because everything is sliced so thin!  Good question lo!