Seafood Stew & My Ongoing Path to Wholeness: Part 1

Fish Stew

 

When I make and eat this stew, which I have several times already in the past few months, I feel like I am aligning with everything I want to when it comes to food in my life right now. I am eating something wholesome, bursting with flavor, absolutely nourishing, not to mention satisfying and when I am through eating, I feel good, not heavy and not deprived.

Over the last few months I have changed my relationship with food. This is probably a process that will be ongoing for the rest of my life, but I hope not. I hope to be the woman in the vision I had a few months ago. Sitting at a large table, outside, under a pergola. We are surrounded by hills of farmland and trees. The sun is warm on my skin and I see it glistening over everything. There is a beautiful breeze blowing and the air smells so clean with a hint of wood fire smoke lingering. There is laughter in the air and the murmuring of a large group of people. The table is crowded with family and friends and it is laden with delicious dishes – homegrown fruits and vegetables, succulent seafood, cheeses, olives, cold cuts, fresh baked bread, wine, various kinds of salads and a gorgeous dish of pasta, glistening with the freshest tomatoes and olive oil, the scent wafting in the air. I make a plate for Alba and then a plate for myself and I eat it all, enjoying each bite, savoring each moment.

In my body I feel light as a feather, nothing heavy weighing me down, physically, mentally or emotionally. In that moment I am happy, so happy I could just dance with glee. I feel free and vibrant, utterly alive and primal and full of the love that is in my life.

Over the past several months upon returning home after an extended trip to Italy, I have come to really embrace Italian eating habits and some of the Italian way of life. Before this last trip, I spent the last 3 years battling Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid condition that is currently under control. I was overwhelmingly tired, putting on weight quickly, developing some skin conditions and I was reacting to various foods. In my quest for optimum health, I turned towards the Paleo diet since it is touted as an anti-inflammatory diet that is especially good for autoimmune conditions.

I truly believed this way of eating would help me lose the weight I put on, clear up my rosacea and eczema, give me the energy of someone in their early 20’s and allow me to get super fit and buff again. The idea of Primal/Paleo appealed to me because I never did well as a vegetarian (in hindsight, I think being a low-fat veggie for over 10 years led to some of my health issues) and I liked the idea of sticking to certain foods and not having to count calories. All the books, blogs and articles led me to believe as long as I stayed away from the “bad foods” and ate of the “good foods” I would be at my optimal health. It was a done deal I had this thing beat. I was on my way!

In addition to starting a new regimen of supplements prescribed to me by my naturopath and which actually helped IMMENSLY, I also spent a lot of time eliminating foods from my diet – eggs, dairy, beans, corn, soy, refined sugar, in rotation trying to find the magic bullet to feel as wonderful as all the books, articles and blogs I read told me I would feel. Then when it didn’t, I would beat myself up and try to figure out what I was doing wrong.

I concentrated my efforts in the kitchen on making gut healthy foods – lots of ferments like sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and yogurt. I made my own condiments and never ate sugar. I also quit coffee and tea. I took probiotics. I made my own bone broth and ate it often. I ate copious amounts of butter and coconut oil; lard and duck fat made regular appearances on my plate. I ate organ meat, fish eggs and fermented cod liver oil. I soaked my nuts before eating them. I drank raw milk.

But even with all of this, my rosacea continued to flare, my eczema didn’t go away, I gained a little more weight (maybe a pound or so a year in total, but it still added up). I still got tired often and my environmental allergies were so bad, I couldn’t take a sweater out of the closet and wear it without washing it first or my eyes would be so watery and I would become so congested I needed to take over the counter allergy medicine just to survive the day – and then I would beat myself up over that because I am the kind of person that doesn’t ever take things like that, and the cycle would start all over again.

On a recent trip to Sardinia in Italy, I was sitting down at an ocean front restaurant trying to figure out what to eat for lunch. I had just been to an Erboristeria (Herbalist) looking for something to relieve my dust allergy that was making me miserable. The herbalist there gave me a black currant tincture. He also told me to stay away from shellfish and when my gluten allergy came up, he suggested I might want to stay away from dairy as well, because those two allergies can sometimes be linked.

I almost had a melt-down at the table reading the menu. There was all this beautiful food on it that I couldn’t eat – all the pastas, the pizza and the bread. But then there was all the amazing cheeses and of course, being on the sea, tons and tons of shellfish. Since I was trying to be grain free and stick to my paleo diet, I was pretty much living on meat – prosciutto, mortadella and salami in all their various forms, as well as some delicious Sardinian sheep cheese. There was some fruit and yogurt involved in my meals as well, but if I was going to try cutting out dairy again, that was going to leave me with a very boring diet. It was just too much. I was asking too much.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream in frustration. I wanted mussels in marinara.

I remember looking across the table at Roberto and saying: “I feel like a self-flagellating nun in the land of decadence and debauchery”. He ordered the mussels and a glass of wine, he made me eat the mussles. I felt better.

After that moment I realized I was the one who was making myself miserable. Yes, I have a gluten allergy, but that’s it. Why was I depriving myself of all grains, beans, sugar, etc. ? I realized that for years now, I had been waking up every morning thinking that I was “unhealthy” and wondering if I really would ever be healthy again. I was identifying too much with my condition and letting it become a part of me. From that moment I knew I had to be the one to take control of this situation. So I started eating gluten free pasta and bread everyday and enjoyed several gluten free pizzas. I even had my first Coke in 20 years (in Italy they are still made with cane sugar). It was cathartic.

JennEatingPizza

When I came home I was determined to lose the weight I had put on over the years, between the Hashimoto’s and my diet. I found a wonderful book Flat Belly Diet! Gluten-Free Cookbook: 150 Delicious Fat-Blasting Recipes! and despite its cheesy name decided to work my way through it. It was tough, because I don’t really believe in diets and calorie counting. But I had also started to believe that I would never lose this weight again. Being in Italy, I talked with someone who had lost 40 pounds. How did she do it? She went on a diet. Was she worried that the weight was an underlying problem to a bigger health issue? No, she just ate too much and needed to rein it in. What a simple perspective! So I decided to try this book, the recipes looked delicious and I was excited about getting some new dishes into my repertoire. Within a month of eating this way I lost 10 pounds. After 2 months, I didn’t stick to the diet, but used techniques and the portions I had learned from the book to keep my eating in balance and have since lost another 5 pounds. Something that even the strictest version of the Paleo diet couldn’t do for me. After 3 months of eating this way, there has not been a return of Hashimoto’s flare ups, which was another concern I had and so I really feel like this is successful for me.

I came to learn that being a food lover doesn’t mean I always have to indulge, nor do I have to prove that all you have to do is eat high quality food in any amount and all will be well. I believe that food quality is still the most important thing, but I learned that I can’t stuff myself everyday and expect to remain at the weight I want. I can still enjoy amazing food, just smaller portions and make sure my meals are really balanced.

That is where this chowder comes in. Although everyone in my family, my husband, my father in law and even Alba, loved the recipes from the book, I felt the need to let my cooking creativity flow again and one day I made this chowder from leftovers and pantry staples. It was touted one of the best recipes I ever made and we have had it often since that first time.

It is full of delicious flavors, lots of wonderful vegetables and absolutely satisfying. I like to enjoy a steaming bowl of this with a nice slice of gluten free bread smeared with butter.

INGREDIENTS:
2 TBS olive oil
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, diced
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 russet potato, diced
salt and pepper
1TBS turmeric powder
1 cup veggie broth (if not using homemade, I like Pacific Foods Organic Vegetable Broth
1 can organic tomato sauce
½ cup white wine
4 whole tomatoes diced (or 2 cans)
1 can filtered water
1 lb of seafood (fish, clams, shrimp)
2 TBS capers
1TBS lemon juice

METHOD: In a large soup pot heat the olive oil, then add the vegetables, salt and pepper. Once veggies are getting soft, about 5 minutes, add the turmeric and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.
Add the veggie broth, tomato sauce, wine, diced tomatoes and wine. Cover pot and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes and other veggies are tender.
Add seafood and continue to cook until cooked through – less time for shellfish and a bit longer for fish. I like to use halibut or cod for this, and I usually let it simmer in the broth for about 7-8 minutes. If you are doing a mixture of fish and shellfish, cook the fish for about 5 minutes and then add the shellfish.
Once all the seafood is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the capers and lemon juice.

Serves 6 dinner sized portions

Easy Techniques To Make Super Gelatinous Bone Broth!

Bone Broth

SUPER Gelatinous Bone Broth

There is a lot going around these days about the health benefits of eating bone broth and, or gelatin (aka collagen). Bone broth contains gelatin, which in turn contains the amino acids glycine and proline. These amino acids are found in the bone, connective tissue and organs of animals. Our ancestors used to consume these parts of the animals they ate, but modern diets don’t usually include them, which is a shame because gelatin is great for our skin, nails, hair, joints and even our digestive organs, which directly relates to our immunity.

This article  discusses the many health reasons to consume gelatin, including, digestive health, releasing toxins and wound healing. It also gives suggestions for how to incorporate it into your diet.

I stated taking collagen when I was pregnant with my daughter. I started craving jello at about 4 months – and it made me think, why am I craving this? The main ingredient in jello is gelatin and what is gelatin good for? Bones. I was craving jello because I was literally growing my daughter’s bones, skin, joints and teeth. If that doesn’t put “you are what you eat” into perspective, I don’t know what does! I always say collagen is the reason why she is in a very high percentile for height! This post is not officially a part of my Post-partum Foods series, but it should be! If you know someone who is pregnant, make a batch of bone broth for her!

When anyone I know asks me what they can do for immunity, or especially if they are having digestive issues or joint issues, one of the first things I suggest is eating bone broth because it is so easy to make and so good for you! In fact both of my parents managed to break bones this year from accidents, and I made sure they both got some collagen to take during the healing processI make sure to include bone broth in our family meals, mostly in the way of soups and stews, but I also take this collagen* every day, stirred into my morning hot drink (usually Dandy Blend, sometimes Lavazza Decaf). 

So now that you are getting a general idea of why it is so important to add bone broth, or gelatin/collagen to your diet, how easy is it to make it? SIMPLE. It is one of the easiest things to make.

In my house, I am known affectionately as “the bone collector”. At any given time we have lots of bones in our freezer. We also have lots of whole chickens in our freezer, because we homestead and raise our own meat birds. Some years we have to “turn over” our laying hens when they stop producing eggs, and these hens are usually too small to roast, so I will use them to make bone broth. I also collect bones from other meals and sometimes buy beef bones from our favorite farm. The point is you have a lot of options when it comes to getting your raw materials. Collect bones, freeze them and then pull them out whenever you need to make more broth. I often mix and match my bones; one of my favorite broths to make is a chicken and pork broth, which is what I used to make the soup I will share with you in my next post.

All you need to make your own bone broth are: bones, apple cider vinegar (preferably raw), water and a crockpot.

Step 1: Place bones or whole chicken in the crockpot
Step 2: Cover bones and or chicken with water
Step 3: Pour in 1 TBS of raw apple cider vinegar (at this point you could also add seasoning, I like to season simply with salt, pepper and one or two bay leaves)
Step 4: Turn Crockpot on High setting and let cook for 24-48 hours.
Step 5: After 12 hours, put crockpot on the Low setting
Step 6: Strain broth and store

If you used a whole chicken, you can now take the meat off the bones and reserve to make classic chicken soup,  chicken tostadas, even my Moroccan chicken salad or throw it in some pasta! Then I store all the skin, tendons and other less desirable pieces to mix in with my pets’ food. I burn the brittle bones in our wood stove. This means there is never any waste.

This is a simple process that is mostly hands off, very cheap (you already bought it!) and so good for your health. There really is no reason not to do it! Plus, if you have pets they will literally love you forever!

Post-Partum Freezer Meals: Eggplant and Spiced Meat Bake

 

Eggplant and Spiced Meat Bake

The Mediterranean flavors are still on my mind and today’s post I will share with you a delicious casserole dish that is easy to assemble and cook, but tastes like you spent hours putting it together. This is a great addition to your post-partum freezer meal list because it is one of those dishes that tastes even better a day or two later after the flavors have really had a chance to marry, and there are some really great flavors! If you aren’t going to freeze this for later use, please make sure you make enough for leftovers, or you are really missing out!

This recipe is based loosely on Moussaka. It has all the same elements, the tomatoes, the béchamel and the spiced meat. However, I didn’t have any ground lamb, as is traditional, so I used what I did have – buffalo meat. You could use ground beef, lamb or even ground turkey in this dish and it would taste great!

When choosing your eggplant, smaller is always less bitter, yet even so I still salt and drain them before cooking to take any bitterness out. I used graffiti eggplants in this dish, I really like the flavor and they have a great melting quality to them when cooked, which is perfect for this dish. You can easily spot them because they are tear shaped and have variegated coloring of purple and white.

I hope you enjoy this hearty, delicious and simple dish!

INGREDIENTS:

3 medium eggplants, cut into thin rounds
salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound of ground meat
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of Beau Monde (contains, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, bay leaf and pepper)
2 hand fulls of arugula
1 – 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup of organic yogurt (I used homemade goat yogurt)
3 eggs

METHOD: Cut the eggplant into thin rounds, place in a colander and mix with about a tsp of salt. Let rest for 20 minutes. While the eggplant is resting, preheat the oven to 400 F. After 20 minutes, rinse the eggplant and squeeze out any excess moisture. Stir the eggplant in a bowl with 2 TBS of olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Heat the rest of the oil in a skillet sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the meat and spices and cook until nice and browned. Then add the arugula and the tomatoes. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes, or until it gets nice and thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is cooking whisk together the nutmeg, eggs and yogurt. This is in place of a traditional béchamel sauce.

Place a thin layer of eggplant in a large glass baking dish and then put a layer of the meat sauce. Continue to do this until all the ingredients are used up – in the same manner you would make lasagna – end with a layer of eggplant. Then add the yogurt mixture on top.

Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for about 45- 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Serves 6

Shredded Lemon-Yogurt Chicken over Grain-Free Naan with Garlicky Tzatziki

 

Shredded Chicken on Naan with Tzatziki

(Shredded Lemon-Yogurt Chicken over Grain-Free Naan with Garlicky Tzatziki)

Sometimes in the dead of winter, you long for something sunny and bright. During winter’s darkness I often become hungry for the bright sunny tastes of the Mediterranean.

On a recent trip to Costco we were excited to find organic chicken – breasts and thighs. This might not sound very exciting, but when you raise your own chickens for meat (and eggs!) most of the time the only chicken meals you really make are whole roasted chickens or chicken soup. When you free-range your chickens they don’t tend to get as nice and plump and so the breasts and other parts tend to be on the smaller side. So we were excited to find decent quality chicken cuts for very good prices at Costco to add some diversity to our dinners.

Having various cuts of chicken is a luxury for us and so I wanted to do something fun with the meat. I made several slices into each breast and stuffed them with slices of meyer lemon. Then I rubbed the breasts with a mixture of homemade goat yogurt, salt, garlic, oregano, mint and lemon juice. I baked the breasts in the oven until the meat could be easily shredded. Then I served the shredded meat on top of grain free naan bread with slices tomatoes, cucumbers and arugula and then topped the whole thing off with homemade tzatziki.

This meal really hit the spot! It was comprised of all the flavors I was looking for without taking a long time to make. Cooking with an infant in the house means cooking in stages. I made the naan earlier in the day – easy to reheat later. I also made the tzatziki early, so the garlic had time to really penetrate the yogurt. I decided to bake the chicken so it was very hands off. Then at the end I just had to pull the whole thing together.

I served it with a simple side of oven roasted eggplant dices.

Lemon-Yogurt Chicken Breasts

INGREDIENTS:

2 organic chicken breasts
¼ cup plain organic yogurt (cow, goat, non-dairy)
2 TBS lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Place chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish and mix with all the ingredients. Let sit in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place baking dish with chicken and marinade in the oven and cover, bake for 45 minutes until meat is tender enough to shred.

Tzatziki

INGREDIENTS:

1 ½ cup plain organic yogurt (cow, goat, non-dairy)
2 TBS lemon juice
½ of an English (seedless) cucumber, shredded
5 cloves of garlic, shredded or grated
salt to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

Oven Roasted Eggplant Dices

INGREDIENTS:

2 small eggplants, diced and salted
extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Preheat oven to 400 F. Dice the eggplant and place in a colander, lightly salt the eggplant and let sit for about 20 minutes. In 20 minutes rinse the eggplant and squeeze the pieces to get the water out. Place on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Salt to taste.

Grain-Free Naan Bread

I have used both of these recipes and they are great for this purpose!

Grain Free Garlic Naan (Gluten/Yeast/Nut/Dairy Free) by Real Sustenance
Paleo Naan Bread (Flatbread) by Swiss Paleo

 

How I Approach Baby Led Weaning

Alba Eating
(Alba Rose enjoying mashed avocado with egg yolk)

I will start off by saying I am a rebel. I was never good at following directions. I never follow anything to the letter. I like to read all about a subject from all angles and then take an approach that makes the best sense for my situation and me. This is how I approach feeding my 5-month-old daughter, Alba Rose.

I had a great discussion on facebook the other day about Baby Led Weaning and other ways of feeding babies. Before I became a mom I had pretty much decided that I wanted to feed Alba Rose using the Baby Led Weaning approach. It seemed the most natural way to go about things – give baby food right off your plate. Let them be in control of their eating and readiness to eat. Don’t force babies to eat what they don’t like, just try giving them those foods a little later on and see how they fare.

My ultimate goal with feeding Alba is to try and foster a diverse palate in her. We are adventurous eaters in this family and so I want to give her the best start in becoming adventurous too!

It started when we in Italy when she was just over 3 months old. Somehow she put it together that when we sit at the table something amazing and flavorful happens. She started following our forks and spoons with her eyes as we were eating and then that evolved into her starting to open her little mouth as we put the food in our mouths. So we started giving her little tastes – some broth here, a little pizza sauce there, a taste of gelato when we were out and about. She even got a little taste of black truffle sauce (what a lucky girl). At that time it was all about having a sensory experience., we would just dip her “ciuccio” (pacifier) in something we were eating and she was content having a flavored pacifier. After a week or so she even developed her own sound to ask for this flavoring.

After we got home we started giving her runny egg yolks, mashing some banana or avocado for her and she came to expect those treats as part of her daily routine. I call them treats because she really only tasted small amounts. She was learning to chew and swallow something other than breast milk.

Well in the last two weeks, she would start to cry and get frustrated if we only gave her a little bit. So we started making her larger amounts. She still nurses as often as she ever did before, but now she also gets 2-3 “meals” in between nursings in addition. She has always been in the lower percentiles for weight (and the highest percentiles for height) so we are hoping this might bridge the gap a bit.

Since I want to develop her palate, I started to think about how I could give her variety, but also feed her during the day when we weren’t having a meal (so we couldn’t just feed her off our plates). I got a wonderful book Bébé Gourmet: 100 French-Inspired Baby Food Recipes For Raising an Adventurous Eater from a friend of mine before Alba was born and so I decided to start making some purees for her to enjoy throughout the day. Her pediatrician recommended meat as a first food, since the composition of meat is most similar to breast milk. She also advised against using any baby cereals because a baby’s gut is not totally developed until one year of age and that gut permeability can lead to health issues if a baby is not eating easily digestible foods like meat, egg yolks, vegetables and fruits. Apparently babies don’t have the enzymes to break down grains until they are over a year old! Plus rice for example has no real nutritional value, so why start your baby on a filler food when you can provide them with nutrient dense alternatives?

LiverandSweetPotatoPuree
(Liver and Sweet Potato Purees)

Alba is so enjoying her daily snacks. She eats a wide variety of things now: egg yolks, banana, avocado, ground beef, liver, bone broth, sweet potatoes, green peas and today for the first time, pears. She also enjoys drinking a little coconut water from time to time. We never have to fight with her to eat her little meals, she chows them down with gusto and she can really pack it away! She is definitely a foodie in the making. This process has all come together by taking her lead. I think that is why it has been so enjoyable for all of us instead of being rife with complaints or difficulty. Since becoming a mom I have already learned that things go so much easier when I don’t cling to certain ideas if they aren’t working for us. By letting go I have been able to enjoy her so much more than I would have constantly fighting to keep my pre-conceived notions intact.

Now that I am a mom, I might be adding some recipes to this blog from time to time featuring baby food recipes. My plan is to introduce her to a wide variety of nutrient dense foods and slowly start adding spices and flavors over time. When making baby food, rule number one, if it is something savory, don’t forget to add a little bit of flavor – a little salt and some herbs and spices! If you feed baby straight from your plate s/he would be getting these things anyway!

Today I made her a sweet potato puree with a pinch of salt and some turmeric and curry powder. Very small amounts, but enough that she can taste there is something complex going on there. I also made her a very tasty pear puree. I added some vanilla and cinnamon to it and it was so delicious that I wanted to eat the whole batch myself! It would be delicious stirred in yogurt or smeared on top of toast.

I gave her some of the fresh warm pear puree and she gobbled it right down. She absolutely loved it! She also tried the sweet potato. She wasn’t as excited about it, but I will try again later for her dinnertime snack.

I made small batches of these purees and using the great little BPA-free freezer trays from Mumi&Bubi it is easy to just pop a few out the night before, giving them time to thaw so she can enjoy them the next day,. I still haven’t figured out an easy way to warm them up for her yet, anyone have some suggestions?

Remember, always consult with your pediatrician regarding introducing solid foods to your baby and specifically discuss any foods that may pose allergy risks for your baby.

What is your experience feeding your baby? Do you use Baby Led Weaning or some other practice all your own? What are your baby’s favorite foods?

PearPuree
(Pear Compote)

Pear Compote with Vanilla and Cinnamon
Adapted from Bébé Gourmet

INGREDIENTS:

3 pears, I used a combination of Anjou and Bosc
water
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp pure vanilla extract

METHOD: Wash and peel the pears, remove the cores, seeds and stem and cut u p into cubes. Place pear chunks into saucepan and cover the fruit halfway with water and bring to a boil. Cook the pears uncovered over medium heat for about 15 minutes or until they are very tender. Sprinkle with cinnamon and pour the vanilla in. Using an immersion blender blend everything together to desired consistency.

Makes about 10 1 oz. servings.

Post Partum Freezer Meals: Russian Borscht

 

2013-12-05_Borscht_Mashers

I loooove borscht. The first time I ever made it I was over run with beets from my CSA. This was in college and we had an agriculture program there and if you lived on campus (or off) your could buy a CSA share. This was the first time I had ever heard of a CSA by the way and I thought it was very cool and it taught me to cook lots of different kinds of produce I wasn’t used to.

So I was in my on campus apartment making dinner for my housemates. Everything in the kitchen was red, including my hands and my shirt. I loved the experience. Ever since then, I have been hooked. In fact during my pregnancy I had a dream while napping of eating borscht, so my husband made it for me. Since I love it so much, I figured it would be a perfect addition to my postpartum menu. I used beets that we had grown in our garden the year before that were roasted and then frozen. Definitely handy for a borscht lover.

This soup is restorative, comforting and deeply nourishing. Since I am such a borscht fanatic, I asked my friend and fellow blogger Sofya, who blogs at A Girl’s Guide to Guns and Butter for her recipe. She is from Azerbaijan and that being a former Soviet republic, I figured she would have a truly authentic recipe. Her recipe begins with making homemade beef bone broth which is the base of the soup. This is truly delicious comfort food.

This borscht is the best! In fact I am eating some right now. Today I served it over mashed potatoes with some fresh sauerkraut on top. In my version I was lazy and I cubed all my veggies instead of grating them. But I guess you can’t blame me for taking a short cut, I was 9 months pregnant when I made it! I hope you make some and enjoy it during the cold, cold days of winter.

Russian Borscht Recipe by Sofya Hunt

Makes approximately 7 to 8 quarts

INGREDIENTS:

For the stock:

2 roasts, such as chuck or arm, 2 to 3 lbs each, or 4 to 6 lbs soup bones (or some combination of both)
2 gallons cold water
1 whole turnip, unpeeled
1 whole large onion, peeled and studded with 10-12 cloves
2 large carrots, unpeeled
1/2 celeriac, peeled
2 large bay leaves
10 dried allspice berries

For the soup:

12 medium beets
1 medium head of cabbage, shredded (do not use the core)
2 small to medium unpeeled turnips, grated
2 medium to large unpeeled parsnips, grated
4-6 unpeeled carrots, grated
1/2 celeriac, peeled and grated
2 large onions, chopped
2 potatoes, cubed
3 sticks of butter, for sauteing the vegetables
2/3 to 1 whole 8-oz can tomato paste
meat reserved from making the stock, cubed
1 whole head of garlic, cloves peeled and minced
organic beef base, or an equivalent
additional water or stock, as needed
lemon juice, to taste
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 bunch parsley, chopped
sour cream and extra parsley, for serving

The Stock

Place meat and vegetables in cold water and bring to a simmer. Skim off the scum that will rise to the top just before the simmering point. Once the stock is simmering, add bay leaf and allspice. Cover partially and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender and the liquid had been reduced by at least half. Let cool and strain, reserving the meat and discarding the vegetables and spices. Note that I don’t degrease my stock, but if you’d like to do it, chill it in the fridge overnight and use a slotted spoon to remove solidified fat from the surface in the morning.

The Soup

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Wrap the beets tightly in foil and pierce the packages (the foil and the beets) with a fork in several places to allow some of the steam to escape, thus preventing them from exploding in your oven. Place on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast for for 1 to 1.5 hours, or until a knife can be slid easily in and out. Remove from the oven, allow to cool, and unwrap. To peel them easily, hold each beet under warm running water while rubbing it with your hands – the skins will slip right off. Grate cooled beets and set aside.

Melt butter in a large stainless steel saute pan or a dutch oven (don’t be taken aback by the amount of butter – it will all be absorbed by the veggies before you know it). When the butter begins to foam, add grated parsnips, turnips, carrots, celeriac, and chopped onion and saute until the onions are translucent and the root vegetables begin to soften. Reduce the heat to low and stir in tomato paste. Set aside.

Bring strained stock to a boil and add the cabbage and the cubed potatoes. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sauteed root vegetables and 3/4 of grated beets (we’ll be adding the rest towards the end for additional color boost). Continue simmering gently, partially covered, for 40 minutes. If your soup appears too thick at this point, feel free to add more water or extra stock until the consistency is right. If using homemade stock, add beef base (do not add extra salt until you are done adding beef base as it tends to be very salty on its own). Stir in the remaining beets, cubed meat, minced garlic, pepper, lemon juice, and more salt if needed (the exact amount of lemon juice will depend on your taste, but the goal is to strike a perfect balance between sweetness and acidity so your borscht is neither too sour, nor too sweet). Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the beets are no longer dark-red and the garlic has mellowed out. Remove from heat and stir in the parsley.

Let cool and refrigerate overnight before serving the next day.

Post-Partum Freezer Meals: Split Pea Soup with Ham Hocks

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My crockpot became my best friend during the time I was preparing meals for the freezer. I would prep all of the ingredients during the day and then let everything slow cook over night. In the morning, I would let it cool and then package the contents in mason jars. I focused on lots of soups and stews. Meals that were mostly hands off during cooking, could be packed in mason jars, so I didn’t have to give up any of my glassware to sit in the freezer for weeks and because soups and stews are easy to heat up.

One of our favorites was delicious and hearty split pea soup. In fact I had prepared this to serve to the midwives after the birth, but we were all too tired for food, so we ended up enjoying this later.

The first step, as you will see in many of the recipes in this series, is that I first made bone broth, this time from ham hocks we had in the freezer from our last two pigs. I made the bone broth in the crockpot as well, I added water to cover the bones and added about a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar and a couple of bay leaves – that is the way I make most of my bone broths. Then I let it cook for about 24 hours.

Once the broth was made, I got all the meat off and reserved it. Then I basically made this soup (of course in this case it was not vegan!)

I put all the ingredients in the crockpot with the reserved meat and let it cook over night.

The thing about freezer meals is that you don’t re-invent the wheel, go through blogs, cookbooks etc. and make things you already know how to make, items that freeze well. This isn’t necessarily the time to experiment with difficult recipes. Here are some of the recipes I made or made similar recipes from recipes I already had on my blog.

Sardinian Purcavru in Agru Durci (sweet and sour pork)

Paleo Pumpkin Muffins

Veal and White Bean Stew 

Post-Partum Freezer Meals Series: Homemade Burgers and Meatballs

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The last post I wrote was my daughter’s birth story and it got me thinking about all the things I did to prepare for her birth. So I decided to start a series on easy Postpartum Meals for the blog. These posts will also be of interest to those who are friends or family of a pregnant woman that would benefit greatly from having meals brought to her family in those first two weeks post-birth. Or for people who just want to nutritious and healthy freezable meals.

In this day and age many new moms and dads are isolated or living far from family and friends. One of the best things I did for myself in late pregnancy was spending a week getting various healthy, nutrient packed meals in the freezer for us, so when the baby came we were all set with good things to eat.

All in all, I was able to freeze a month’s worth of breakfasts, and about a month’s worth of lunches or dinners.  We are still eating from this bounty supplemented with some quick and easy fresh meals as well and now that Alba is over a month old, we are also going out for meals sometimes also.

I have read a lot about preparing for the arrival of your baby and most articles would suggest gathering local take-out menus so that during those first few weeks postpartum where you don’t really have the time or energy for cooking, you can let someone else cook for you.

This is good in theory, but the reality is that what you eat those first few weeks is the first nutrition you will be feeding your baby, if you are breastfeeding. So for me I wanted to be sure that what she was getting was super nutrient dense.  You won’t get that from take-out.

I am going to start the series out with two super easy ideas, pre-made burgers and meatballs. I will also link you to my Pinterest board with other Postpartum meal ideas that gave me inspiration when I came up with my own menu. In the posts to come I will share a variety of soups, stews, breads, muffins, etc.

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Burgers:

Who doesn’t love a nice juicy burger? Especially at a time when your body could use more iron? Burgers are the perfect fix! Making burgers for the freezer is easy! I use 100% grass-fed beef as the base and then I like to add smoked salt and a little barbecue sauce to the meat, mix it with my hands and create the patties. The trick to this is then putting the patties on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet in a single layer and popping it in the freezer until frozen. This way you can package your burgers into 2 serving bundles without the patties sticking together. I used 3 lbs. of ground beef and got 12 patties.

spaghetti-and-meatballs_preparing-meatballs

 

Meatballs:

I made meatballs in the same way. I flavored one batch with Italian seasonings: salt, oregano, basil and thyme and the other with Middle Eastern spices: salt, cumin, coriander, paprika and sumac. I formed the meatballs and then cooked them on cookie sheets in the oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes. After they cooled I put them in a single later on cookie sheets and popped them in the freezer, then bagged them in 2 person serving sizes for the freezer. With the Italian version we had rice pasta with meatballs and with the Middle Eastern meatballs we made Middle East Inspired Meatballs.

Here is my pinterest board with other freezable meals to get your mind and taste buds going.