ThinkFood Feature: Breakfast of Champions & My First YouTube!

I am excited to announce that today; my recipe which appears in the ThinkFood Cookbook, about brain health is Today’s Featured Recipe !

You may recall many months ago, when I told you about the book, and how you could get free weekly recipes delivered right to your inbox! If you signed up for the weekly recipe, then this post is old news to you, as you should have the recipe in your inbox! I hope you enjoy it.

But don’t stop reading, because I have more news to share with you.

I started developing my “Breakfast of Champions” over a year ago – when I first started getting heavy into weight lifting. I wanted a “real food” alternative to all the protein powder, power bars, etc. that most people into this kind of exercise seem to be into. So I created a super balanced, but very versatile dish, which can be eaten almost daily without feeling like you are eating the same thing. This is a recipe for anyone who needs sustained energy throughout the day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so you might as well, go for it! Even kids love this recipe. One of my favorite kids in the world often asks her mom to make her “The Champions” for breakfast.

The grain component to this dish is soaked buckwheat. However, I have often made it with sprouted quinoa, or leftover roasted potatoes. I also switch up the greens and cheeses depending on what is in season or on hand. I even made this dish with leftover mole sauce ! Like I said, it is so versatile!

I am so proud of this dish, especially because it was featured in this cookbook, and also because it includes EGGS, which have become a big part of our life since we got laying hens this past summer and they started laying this fall (click here to read about our first egg).

I love that this dish is so balanced nutritionally, but also includes major components of my food philosophy – real food, local food, grow/raise your own, etc.

That is why I decided to prepare this recipe on film, to submit as my entry to MasterChef, Season 2. So I ask all of you to keep your fingers crossed for me that I am invited to be part of the show. My goal for wanting to be on the show is to present real food and traditional food preparation to the masses. Here is my first ever YouTube video! Hope you enjoy it! (running time @ 15 minutes)…

You can order your copy of ThinkFood: Recipes For Brain Fitness via this link !

Celebrating Yule (Jul, Jule, Winter Solstice)

I can be honest with all of you, my dear readers, right? I mean food blogging is all about sharing recipes, cultures and traditions, right? Well I would like to share with you some of my food traditions for this time of year, which are a bit personal.

I celebrate Yule. Yule is the ancient celebration of the Winter Solstice, which generally falls between December 21-23. I am Pagan. Which means I have my own rich traditions for this deeply special and sacred time of year.

Winter Solstice has been celebrated for thousands of years, spanning many cultures. If most of us traced our family trees back far enough (and for some we might not have to go that far) we would likely find many ancestors who celebrated this feast of light – the return of the sun after the darkest times of the winter, when the days begin to lengthen. The ancient Romans knew the celebration as Saturnalia, the Hindus call it Diwali, the Jewish festival of light is called Hanukkah. For those of us who follow the pathways of our ancient Northern European ancestors, we call it Yule, Jul, or Jule.

Many traditions from lighted Christmas trees, to Yule logs and mistletoe are a part of this rich history and have influenced more modern winter holiday celebrations. These were all ways to celebrate the return of the sun and light after the bleak Northern winter. A time to celebrate brighter days ahead – hope for the future. There are still many of us today who continue these time-honored traditions.

In our home we celebrate by decorating 2 live trees – one outside with edible ornaments for the wildlife to enjoy and one indoors, potted that we can use year after year. We also burn a yule log, which is carefully chosen to represent maximum heat potential and longevity and then at midnight on the solstice we turn out all the lights for several minutes, and then turn them all back on to welcome the sun and the light.

In commemoration of this holiday, I also enjoy preparing a delicious feast. Isn’t that what all food obsessed people do? Did you know that the tradition of the Christmas Ham comes from ancient Scandinavians and Germanic peoples? The traditional meal for these proud people was a whole roasted hog, a tribute to the God, Frey, who is associated with boars.

This year I found out that I have some German and Scandinavian (Danish) roots of my own, and to celebrate this new-found heritage, and honor my ancestors, I decided to focus this Yule feast on those cuisines. Typical Jul fare in Denmark includes roast pork, potatoes and red cabbage. So I created a delicious Yule feast consisting of Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut, Red Cabbage and Mashed Purple Viking Potatoes with fresh local cream and butter.

For dessert we enjoyed a Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding with Cherries. All washed down with some delicious local sparkling mead. (recipes below).

If you would like to celebrate the Winter Solstice and need some food for thought, here are some ideas from years past:

Norwegian Kjøttkaker med Brunsaus (spiced meatballs in gravy)

Norwegian Mulled Wine and Sweet Porridge

Winter Solstice Cocktail Party

Yule Log cake or Bûche de Noël

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THIS YEAR’S RECIPES:

Roasted Pork Chops and Cherry Sauce with Wine Kraut and Red Cabbage

2 large bone-in pastured pork chops

1 TBS wild game blend (juniper, savory, mustard, brown sugar)

3 ½ cups shredded red cabbage

4 slices of dried apple snipped into strips

salt & pepper

1 ½ tsp Beau Monde- allspice, bay, cinnamon, cloves, mace, nutmeg, black and white pepper

1 pint homemade winekraut

for Cherry Sauce

1 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

¼ cup fruity red wine

palmful of dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ tsp vanilla extract

black pepper to taste

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Season pork chops with wild game blend. In a large cast iron skillet sear pork chops on all sides in butter or bacon fat. In the bottom of a tagine or dutch oven, season the red cabbage with salt, pepper and beau monde. Place the chops on the cabbage and pour the winekraut over everything. Add the apple slices. Roast in oven for 2 hours.

After 1 ½ hours make the cherry sauce. In a small saucepan, mix all ingredients. Bring to a boil, over medium heat then reduce heat to low. Reduce the sauce until it is ½ of the original amount. Place in a small serving bowl for ladling on top of the pork. Serve with mashed potatoes. Serves 2.

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Deconstructed Brown Rice Pudding (no sugar added, egg and gluten free)

INGREDIENTS:

½ cup of almonds (I soak my almonds in water and salt overnight and then store in the freezer)

¼ cup dried morello cherries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

¼ cup dried wild blueberries (unsulphured, no sugar added)

½ cup water

1 cup cooked brown rice

½ cup whole milk (preferably raw)

1/3 cup 100% pure dark cherry juice

1 TBS pure vanilla extract

¼ cup Drambuie or brandy

METHOD:

Soak almonds one day ahead (optional). Soak cherries and blueberries in warm water for at least ½ hour. Also soak the rice in the milk. This will allow the berries to plump up and the rice to absorb some of the milk.

Right before serving, dump the berries and their soaking liquid in a small saucepan with the extra cherry juice, vanilla extract and booze. Heat up over medium heat, bring to a boil and then simmer until berries have soaked up most of the liquid.

To serve, pour the berry compote over the rice and milk mixture. Serves 2.

A Truly Local Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year. One reason is because it is the only harvest still celebrated by the majority of people in North America, where people enjoy a variety of seasonal foods in a ritualistic manner. Celebrating the harvest is a festival that has been going on for a very long time in our human history and humans have always loved a good ritual. Celebrating the harvest is a way to give thanks for having enough food to sustain you through the next season. Living in a rural area, and spending much of this year planting, growing and harvesting our own food, has really put us in touch with a more natural cycle. Something I am very thankful for.

This year, Roberto and I decided in order to really appreciate the meaning of this holiday, everything we were to prepare would be from local ingredients – some ingredients as local as our own backyard! We pre-ordered a heritage turkey from Applecheek Farm. On Wednesday we went to the farm to pick up our fresh (not frozen) bird and decided to pick up other items at the farmstore to create the rest of our menu. We were greeted with an array of wonderful fresh and seasonal produce – fresh cranberries, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squashes, local breads, cheeses, eggs and milk. Everything one would need for a splendid holiday meal.

Since it was just the two of us this year, we decided not to overdo it. This was our menu:

Maple Roasted Heritage Turkey*
(Local Ingredients: turkey, butter, maple, From The Backyard: fresh rosemary)
Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing with sausage oven dried tomatoes, fresh herbs and pine nuts
(Local Ingredients: Cornmeal, homemade chicken/duck stock, sausage, From The Backyard: oven dried tomatoes, fresh rosemary and sage) – recipe below
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
(Local Ingredients: butter, fresh cream, From the Backyard: potatoes and rosemary)
Roasted Brussels Sprouts
(Local Ingredients: brussels sprouts, butter)
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
(Local Ingredients: fresh cranberries, honey) – recipe below
Maple and Pumpkin Crème Caramel
(Local Ingredients: maple, cream, milk and pumpkin, From The Backyard: eggs)

*note: heritage turkeys are much leaner and smaller than sedentary commercial birds. This means that fast cooking at high temperatures is a better method than slow roasting. To read more about heritage turkeys, and why you should consider one for your Thanksgiving table next year, read this short article from Local Harvest

I prepared the compound butter for the turkey (I suggest making extra to enjoy with the leftover cornbread – they are the perfect combination with a nice brown ale), the creme caramel and the cornbread on Wednesday, and then spent the morning on Thursday in the kitchen finishing up the rest.

Doing Thanksgiving this way is so much less stressful, because you just go with the flow and what it the freshest and available! So I challenge you to think about doing something like this next year!

We spent the day watching a Lord of The Rings marathon, talking to family on the phone and just relaxing by the fire with the pets. It was a perfect Thanksgiving and a great way to really relax and unwind after such a busy season on the homestead.
THANKSGIVING RECIPES:


Fresh Cranberry Sauce

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups fresh cranberries
orange zest from one orange
juice of one orange
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
¼ cup dark red wine (like zinfandel, grenache, or malbec)
¼ cup raw honey
pinch of nutmeg

METHOD:

In a medium saucepan combine all the ingredients. I even put the quarters of orange in that have been zested and juiced. Turn heat to medium low and bring to a boil while stirring often. Reduce temperature to low simmer and cook until the liquid has reduced and you are left with a thick sauce – about 15 miutes.

Gluten Free Cornbread Stuffing with Sausage, Oven Roasted Tomatoes, Fresh Herbs and Pine Nuts
(Recipe stuffs a 9-10 lb bird)

INGREDIENTS:

half a recipe of gluten free skillet cornbread (see below)
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted
2 TBS olive oil
½ onion, minced
1 clove garlic minced
1 TBS each – fresh sage, fresh rosemary
1 cup loose sausage (I use pasture-raised)
½ cup oven roasted tomatoes, chopped
½ – ¾ cup homemade poultry stock
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

Make cornbread and toast pine nuts and set aside. Sautee onions, garlic and herbs in olive oil until onions become translucent. Add the sausage and cook until just browned. In a large mixing bowl, break up th cornbread into small pieces, then add the contents of the pan. Stir together with the oven roasted tomatoes. Then add the stock and stir to coat all the pieces of bread – making sure everything is nice and moist. Then it is ready to stuff inside the bird.

Gluten Free Skillet Cornbread:
Ingredients:
1 cup oat flour
¾ cup cornmeal
½ cup kefir, buttermilk or yogurt
½ cup milk
¼ cup of butter, melted
2 TBS maple sugar
2 ½ tsp aluminum free baking powder
pinch of salt
2 TBS butter or lard for skillet (I used bacon fat)

Method:
Mix oat flour, cornmeal, kefir and milk in a large mixing bowl. Let sit out on counter overnight or at least 8 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Then mix in the rest of the ingredients, except the fat for the skillet. Heat fat in a cast iron skillet, then pour the batter in and put the skillet in the oven. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove bread from pan and let cool on a wire rack.

Thanksgiving Leftovers!

Need some ideas of what to do with your Thanksgiving holiday leftovers? Try these delicious potato croquettes using leftover mashed potatoes, and other pantry staples!

INGREDIENTS:
1/4 cup  olive oil
1/2 cup onions, chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
Leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg
2 TBS capers, chopped
salt and pepper
2 TBS fresh rosemary
1/2 cup bread crumbs

METHOD:

In a small skillet sautee the garlic and onion in about 2 TBS of olive oil. In a mixing bowl mix together mashed potatoes, egg, capers and salt and pepper and fresh rosemary. Add in the onion and garlic and 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and stir to combine.

Mold croquettes and roll in bread crumbs. In a large skillet heat the rest of the oil and sautee croquettes until browned on both sides. I did this all ahead and then put them in the oven on a cookie sheet about 15 minutes before dinner so they were nice and hot.

Marinara Sauce

INGREDIENTS:
2 TBS olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 a small onion
1 small can of diced tomatoes
1 can of organic tomato paste
salt and pepper
dried oregano
splash of balsamic vinegar

METHOD:
In a saucepan, sautee the onions and garlic in 2 TBS olive oil. Once soft, add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir and let simmer for a few minutes. Add the salt, pepper and dash of oregano and balsamic vinegar. Stir and let simmer for about an hour. Serve with croquettes.

For more ideas, check out my Day After Thanksgiving Leftovers Party!

French African Guinea Fowl with Maple Onion Glaze

As I mentioned in an earlier post, because of the amazing meat CSA we have with Applecheek Farm, we have been able to try a variety of meats, that we have never had the chance to eat before. Guinea Fowl is no exception. To learn more about Guinea Fowl and their status as watch-birds on the farm, please read this quick blurb from Applecheek.

I had never tasted a guinea fowl, let alone heard of one, until we were picking berries this summer , and were greeted by a flock of them, which at the time I thought were weird looking wild turkeys (hey, I am still growing into my status as a country girl)! So when I discovered that we got one in our CSA, I was absolutely intrigued.

I wanted to prepare a special “taste of Vermont” dinner for my aunt and uncle when they were visiting us for the first time back in October. So I took special care to choose a menu featuring the best local ingredients, including vegetables from our garden. I intended to save the guinea to enjoy for a special occasion, and their visit was perfect. I consulted one of my favorite cookbooks, Dishing Up Vermont: 145 Authentic Recipes from the Green Mountain State and found a recipe for Quail with Maple Onion Glaze. So I decided to tweak it to use with the guinea.

The dish was delicious, and the guinea fowl? One of my favorites. The taste is something like a cross between a chicken and a turkey – much more dark meat, which is what I like anyway. It was juicy and full of rich flavor, especially with the succulent sauce. I served it with pan roasted fingerling potatoes from our garden and a Maple Creme Caramel, which I will feature in a separate blog post soon.

This is a perfect dinner to serve to guests (probably feeds no more than 5-6 people with sides) and the leftovers and bones make a fabulous broth. If you don’t have access to guinea fowl in your area, I can suggest using quail (you will need 12 quail!) , like the original recipe, and I am sure it would be a perfect sauce to dress an autumn roast chicken or even a Thanksgiving turkey!

INGREDIENTS:

1 guinea fowl
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
2 TBS unsalted butter
3 TBS olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
½ cup or dry white wine or local light beer (which is what I did) + ¼ cup
½ cup of pure maple syrup

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Rinse bird inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Season inside and out with salt, pepper and thyme. Heat 1 TBS of butter and 1 TBS of olive oil in a dutch oven until hot. Add the bird and brown on all sides, deglaze with ¼ cup of beer or wine. Place in the oven and roast with lid on for about 1 hour.
In a hot skillet, add remaining butter and olive oil. Saute the sliced onions, stirring constantly over medium heat, until onions are brown (about 10 minutes). Deglaze the pan with beer or wine. Cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Then add the maple and heat until the liquid thickens. Reserve and toss with the bird once cooked to serve. Serve immediately.

Eggs: The Fruits of Their Labor

Today is a very exciting day for the Thistlemoon Meadows homestead. We just finished an incredibly delicious farm fresh breakfast – from OUR farm. One of our sweet little hens gave us a very unexpected surprise this week – an egg, and then ANOTHER egg! This came as a surprise, because we were not expecting eggs until late November at the earliest.  They are only a week shy of 5 months, but at least one of them is mature enough to begin laying.

I can’t explain my excitement when I found that first egg. My heart swelled for this flock of birds that we have raised from day-old chicks. We have fed them the best organic feed, which happens to be local, and they feast on grass, clover and other greens as well as bugs, grubs and worms and our kitchen scraps (vegetables).

They have been such a joy to have, especially our special girl, Gimpy. But even the healthy ones all have such personalities and we have so enjoyed their greeting clucks and squawks whenever we  pass by.

I cannot ignore the fact that we are in the middle of harvest season, and as part of that harvest we can now add these eggs. I am just so thankful to our hens and for all the beautiful sun and rain we had this spring and summer that allowed them to have such good quality fresh food. You can tell by the deep color of the yolk. Look at your eggs the next time and take note of the color of the yolk, and how well the egg holds its shape after you crack it open – this will tell you so much about the quality of the eggs that you are buying.

We look forward to more eggs to come. But we wanted to really celebrate these first two. To do so, I made a delicious harvest breakfast – fried eggs, with bacon and kale homefries. The potatoes in the homefries were also from our garden. I served it all with a dollop of homemade ketchup.

Happy Harvest and Hallows to all!

Tagine Pot Roast

Now that the weather is growing colder and we are beginning to stay indoors more often, it is time for me to break out one of my absolute favorite cooking vessels – my beloved Tagine. I have used my tagine to make numerous tagines, but I have also used it to make beef stew, roasted chicken and stewed pork ribs, among others. I find that cooking with my tagine is unmatched when my goal is tender, fall-off-the bone, don’t-need-a-knife-to-cut-it meat.

Tagine cooking is really so simple, but the flavors are deep. These meals are perfect for a casual night at home, and at the same time impressive when you have guests over. Especially if you have a decorative tagine to serve it in. But the time commitment is minimal. In other words, perfect for absolutely any occasion.

This time I decided to start Tagine Season off right with a traditional pot roast. I slow cooked it with delicious root vegetables from our garden. It was the perfect meal on a cold night, sipping a glass of red wine and sitting by the fire. I look forward to many many nights like this, during the fall and winter months.

Tagine Pot Roast

INGREDIENTS:

1 roast ( I prefer grassfed beef)
salt and pepper
spices of your choice (I used an espresso meat rub)
olive oil for browning
¼ cup of red wine
2 TBS aged balsamic vinegar
3 large carrots in large dices
2 turnips in large dices
2 potatoes in large dices
1 large daikon radish in large dices
2 TBS dijon mustard
1 TBS of olive oil
dried thyme
rosemary sprig

METHOD:

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Rub the meat with the salt, pepper and spices. In a large skillet brown the meat on all sides in olive oil (optional step). You can do this right in your tagine, if it is made of cast iron. While the meat is browning, toss your cut vegetables with dijon mustard, olive oil, salt, pepper and dried thyme. If you are not browning in the tagine, once the meat is browned on all sides, remove the meat from the skillet and place in your tagine. Pour the red wine and balsamic vinegar over top and arrange your vegetables around the meat. Place a fresh rosemary sprig on top, put the lid on, and cook in the oven for about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Be sure to check every 45 minutes or so for liquid. If it needs more liquid, you can just add a tablespoon or so of water. Serve and enjoy!

Canard aux Olives, Preserved Plum Tart and an Ode to Applecheek Farm

This year we joined a CSA – a meat CSA. Most people are familiar with vegetable CSAs but this was the first time I had heard of a meat CSA. We are very fortunate here in our little piece of heaven called Vermont, to have many amazing diversified farms, including one in our town, Applecheek Farm. For us, Applecheek is not just a place to get raw milk, free-range chicken eggs, delicious grassfed beef, or pastured pork. It is also a community hub. Since we have moved here we have been to numerous “Localvore Dinners” catered by and served at the farm, a pig roast, as well as several farm tours.

Applecheek has become a destination for our out of town guests that come to visit us and want to see and experience a real farm, where many animals co-exist together, grazing on green grass, as opposed to a feedlot where there are thousands of one type of animal grazing in, well, their own excrement.

(My step-daughter Gwen having fun with chickens, Jenn at the Welcome sign, Rocio w/ pigs and llamas, a real tractor, Jenn with a goat and the happiest cows you will ever meet).

At Applecheek people can get up close and personal with happy cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys guinea fowl as well as non-food animals like emus, llamas, draft horses and retired pet goats. It is also a place where the local community gathers to eat good food, learn about sustainable farms and spend time with each other.

Rocio and John who have recently taken over the farm operations from John’s parents John and Judy, and Jason and Sarah, who run the catering operation and the Localvore dinners became the first friends we made when we moved here. They have helped us immensely by providing tips for where to get various things locally and of course where the good eats are. We all share a love for good, nutrient dense foods as well as home-brewing, lacto-fermentation and food preservation.

Here is the Applecheek Farm philosophy:

“We strive to produce food that encompasses dignity for our animals, stimulates local economy, provides optimal nutrition for our customers and restores the ecological capital within our soils. Our priorities here on the farm begin with the soil and the nutrients that develop within our land and ultimately passed on to those who eat our food. From our perspective, this is a grass farm that converts grasses into meat, milk and eggs. While many people refer to our farm as a sustainable farm, we feel it is simply not enough to sustain. We are committed to a restorative approach to farming our land and animals in an effort to increase the quality of our soils.”

A dream come true. It is the kind of farm that all of us dream we had in our town after watching Food Inc. or reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Our dream was realized when we moved to this part of Vermont, and we are grateful for it daily, as inevitably some food item from Applecheek graces our table at least during one of our daily meals, be it fried eggs and sausages for breakfast, a delicious burger, or in this case a whole roasted duck.

I am getting really familiar with duck in this household since joining the CSA, which invariably make the fire department really familiar with us because no matter what, I cannot stop myself from frying potatoes in the fat from the duck – which always makes the house a smoky mess, and sets off our alarm! But look at this beautiful dish – it is totally worth it!

Besides that, I am always trying a new recipe with the duck, this time, I decided to make something simple, a classic French dish – roasted duck with olives, or Canard aux Olives. I pretty much followed this recipe, except that I used white wine instead of broth, added some lemons (also stuffed the bird with lemon wedges), skipped the vermouth and used all green olives. I also cooked it in a 350 F oven, instead of on the stove top. I served them with those delicious duck fat fried potatoes. The result was an incredibly good roasted duck that was unanimously declared to be the best duck I have prepared to date. The bones and leftover meat I used to make a delicious stock and soup. Nothing went to waste.

For dessert I made individual preserved plum tarts. I made a crust using almond flour and butter, vaguely fashioned after this recipe pressed it into my individual baking dishes, and baked for about 20 minutes at 350F. Then I placed some of my plum preserved in brandy-vanilla-cardamom syrup and topped with fresh maple whipped cream.

Now since Applecheek really is a special place, I don’t expect that all of you, my dear readers have access to such a farm. But I am sure that you do have farms in your area where you can buy free-range, organic eggs, or humanely raised meat, or if you are lucky raw milk. So support them, learn from them, ask questions and help to make the food on your table a little bit better for you and your family. The more we support these farms, the more farms like this will be available to us! To find farms in your area, check out LocalHarvest.