Why I Am Posting These Recipes

I believe that it is healthier for an individual and for the planet to reduce the consumption of animal products in the human diet. However, I love to eat all kinds of delicious food, and find it really, really difficult to go totally vegetarian. Also, my family protests if I serve too many vegetarian meals in a row. So I am committed to making an effort to move towards a vegetarian diet without wholly doing so. I will post recipes several times a week that represent my philosophy of eating well, eating healthy, eating local. Most recipes will be easy to prepare, as I have a busy life. So I expect my followers to be people who love to cook and eat well, want to try to help the planet through their eating (by eating local foods and trying to reduce the use of meat in our diets), and have many other things to do each day besides cook.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Homemade Peanut Butter

Oh, my goodness.  This is SO-O-O GOOD!  I can't believe it took me all these years to make my own peanut butter, because it is so easy and SO DELICIOUS!  The peanut butter manufacturers shouldn't even be in business.  I was raised on supermarket peanut butter.  I bought supermarket peanut butter most of the time I was raising my kids, who are now all teenagers.  Every once in a while I would buy all-natural peanut butter, the health food store kind, but people in my family really don't like it as much as JIF.  Then there was that salmonella scare a year or so ago, when people were dying from the peanut butter they ate.  JIF was not one of the dangerous brands, so we were safe, but it made me think about the whole issue of where and under what conditions our processed foods are processed.  Most recently, I have been buying organic peanut butter from Trader Joe's.  I gave some to one of my kid yesterday in his lunch for school and he said it didn't taste good and he begged me to give him Jif, the peanut butter from his childhood!  He said he liked the sweetness.  Well, I had a bag of roasted, unsalted peanuts in my pantry that I bought about a month ago after reading somewhere that peanut butter was easy to make yourself and that even the store-made natural peanut butter you can buy in health food stores is sometimes gross because they aren't always meticulous about cleaning the machines they use.  I had been planning to try making my own peanut butter at some point, but just hadn't gotten around to it.  So I thought, this morning as I was making my son's lunch, I might as well try making a small batch of my own peanut butter to see how it turns out.  I figured I could make it a little sweet, using local honey.  And I can't even believe how quick, easy and delicious it turned out.  I will never buy peanut butter again.  I put a few pinches of some "vanilla bourbon infused sea salt" in this.  If you happen to have some of this, try it!  Otherwise, use plain sea salt.  The vanilla bourbon infused sea salt is coarse, which I think creates a nice sensation on your tongue because you get this burst of saltiness mixed in with the sweetness.  I also used some fine sea salt in this, so you might want to try all coarse sea salt if you have it, or a mix of the two textures.  Taste it with your finger after you process it, and adjust the saltiness or sweetness to your own taste before you transfer it to a container for storage.  This recipe just makes a small amount, which should not last very long, so you don't need to worry about perishability.  And making something from scratch instead of buying a processed product is greener eating, if you think about all the natural resources required to operate the plant where they make the peanut butter.  It is probably more economical, too, though I must say I have not analyzed the cost difference.

1 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
1-2 TBS peanut oil
1/2 tsp sea salt
a little more than 1 tsp honey

Blend all in a food processor.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Wheat Berry and White Bean Salad

This recipe is for an individual portion.  Last week, I cooked a pot of white beans and a pot of wheat berries to keep in the fridge so that I would have them on hand to make a variety of dishes.  (See recent posts for instructions on how to cook beans.)  One day, I made this salad for my lunch.  Wheat berries are hearty, filling, and a good source of protein, as are white beans.  This salad is a cinch to pull together, once you have the beans and wheat berries cooked.  Hopefully, this will inspire you to combine beans and grains with whatever fruits, vegetables and fresh herbs you have on hand to make your own salad as a healthy lunch.  Try to combine sweet and savory flavors, and use a variety of textures to make it interesting for your palate.  With good quality balsamic vinegar and olive oil for your salad dressing, you don't need to add much else for flavoring.

½ cup cooked wheat berries
½ cup cooked white beans
3-4 romaine lettuce leaves, broken into small pieces
1 radish, diced
a few strips of sweet peppers (orange, red or yellow), diced
4 dried apricots, chopped
1 TBS dried blueberries
2 TBS chopped cilantro
2 TBS chopped parsley
2 TBS chopped chives
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 TBS balsamic vinegar
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thick White Bean and Wheat Berry Soup

I love the combination of wheat berries and legumes because the wheat berries are kind of chewy and earthy, and complement the soft texture of beans.  The leeks and carrots provide a layer of sweetness.  Rosemary and garlic naturally and intuitively enhance the flavor of white beans.  Spinach rounds out the nutritional profile of the dish and makes it prettier and more colorful.  Cook a pot of white beans as I discussed in my last post, and use them in this and other dishes.  It is really easy to cook a pot of beans, even if you work all day.  You don't need to use them the same day you cook them.  If you are home during the day, you can soak them the night before, then cook them while doing other things around the house.  If you are out and about during the day, soak them before you leave in the morning and then cook them in the evening for use on future days (not for that night's dinner).  Once the beans are cooked, you can use them in a recipe like this for a relatively simple, wholesome meal.  This recipe calls for cooked wheat berries, which might pose a challenge for you if you are unfamiliar with them.  I have come to realize that you can buy raw wheat berries, which require a long cooking time and possibly a soaking time (makes them softer, but not absolutely required), or you can buy packaged wheat berries that have been parboiled, and only require about 15 minutes of cooking time.  I cooked a pot of wheat berries early in the week and used them for different things, including this.  If you have the packaged wheat berries, you can cook them quickly and use them in this recipe, or you could probably just add them to this without cooking them, just increase the amount of water or broth a little to accomodate the wheat berries absorbing liquid as they cook.  I am developing a "guide to grains" that I will post in the next few days, which will include information about wheat berries.

Friday, March 23, 2012

White Beans: Dip, Spread and More

Did you know that white beans are one of the best vegetable sources for protein?  For sustainable eating and greater economy, cook a pot of white beans and refrigerate them to use in this and other dishes.  All you have to do is soak them overnight in cold water, drain and rinse, add cold water to pot, and boil for an hour or two, until tender.  Do not add salt until beans are tender or almost tender (after they have cooked for about an hour or so), as doing so earlier will cause the beans to be tough.  The right amount of water is at least two sections of your finger above the top of the beans in the pot.  You don't need to measure with a measuring cup, as you can just drain the water out after the beans are cooked.   If you use too little water, the beans might be a little tough.  Remember that some of the water will evaporate.  You can do other things while the beans are boiling, so it really is not time-consuming, although some people will look at the cooking time and become intimidated.  Don't be!  Earlier this week, I boiled a pot of white beans and used them for a salad, a soup, and the dip or spread, below.  Remember, you don't need to cook them the same day you are eating them, so even if you are working all day, you can cook dried beans.  Soak them all day and them cook them in the evening for use the next day, if you can't cook them during the day.  The beans taste even better if you add an onion and piece of sweet pepper while they are boiling.  If you do this, discard the vegetables after you cook the beans.  If you are not a vegetarian, a smoked ham hock also adds flavor.  Like the salt, do not add this to the beans until they have been boiling for about an hour, as the salt from the ham hock will toughen the beans.

White Bean Dip or Spread

This recipe can be used as a spread on bread or crackers, or a dip for veggies.  It is a tasty, sustainable, wholesome snack or appetizer.  You can also use it instead of mayonnaise on a sandwich with cold cuts, cheese, or vegetables.  

1 cup cooked white beans
1 garlic clove
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp walnut oil
½ tsp sea salt
4 pinches dried rosemary leaves
1 TBS fresh parsley, chopped for garnish

Chop garlic clove in food processor.  Add remaining ingredients, except parsley, and process until smooth.  Transfer into small serving bowl.  Sprinkle chopped fresh parsley on top for garnish, if desired.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

Whenever I have leftover chicken meat, I make a chicken pot pie.  It is a great way to use leftovers, a practice that is good for the planet (avoiding waste).  Leftover vegetables can easily be incorporated into this recipe, as well.  I have used summer squash, zucchini, corn, cauliflower, potatoes, and green beans, as well as the vegetables that are listed in the recipe below.  Root vegetables such as turnips and parsnips would be delicious, too.  Don't feel like you have to measure the chicken and vegetables exactly, as I usually just load it up with whatever I have.  I just used measurements below to aid you in detemining the appropriate quantities.  Remember that a higher proportion of vegetables to meat is actually better for your health and better for our environment.  And use local chicken and local vegetables whenever possible to make your eating more sustainable for the planet.  One key to this recipe is the onions.  Make sure you include them, as they give the sauce a delicate sweetness that makes this pie especially delicious.  If you don't have a vidalia onion, you can use a yellow onion, but the vidalia onion is sweeter.  You also could substitute leeks, which also have a sweet flavor that would enhance the sauce nicely.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Pasta Alfredo with Chicken and Vegetables

You can use leftover chicken instead of poaching a whole chicken for this recipe.  You could also incorporate leftover vegetables into it as a substitution for or addition to the vegetables I list.  Also, I must acknowledge Jeff Smith's The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines cookbook for the idea of how to poach a chicken.  I am proud to say that I obtained a locally raised chicken for this recipe, purchased right on the farm.  You can, too!  Sometimes it takes a bit of effort.  In this case, I found out about a farm in Connecticut which is actually about an hour from my house, but close to a highway exit.  I had another reason to drive on that highway, past that exit, so I took my insulated shopping bags with me and purchased lots of local meat and dairy products from the farmstand as I passed by.  I made that farmer very happy!  It took a bit of planning, I admit.  If you sometimes drive distances on a major road, you might want to research the locations of farms that have farmstands or shops on-site ahead of time.  Check out your local department of agriculture website to see if they list farms and addresses.  A local university also might maintain a list of farms and their products.  Sometimes the farms have websites that make it easy to find out what they carry and whether they have a stand.  Sometimes you have to call the farmer and ask.  It is worth your effort, to provide peace-of-mind about how your food was raised and the impact it has on our environment.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fennel, Orange, Barley and Avocado Salad

I still had 1/2 a fennel bulb left over from the salad I posted on March 10, so I decided to make another salad with it.  Some of the ingredients are the same as that one, some are different.  I cooked some barley to use in the salad, demonstrating the easy use of grains as a salad ingredient to make a heartier and more wholesome dish.  Using whole grains in salads is a great way to reduce the amount of meat you eat in a meal, if that is a goal you aspire to, because the grains will fill you up more.  I used the same dressing as I used on March 10; I happened to have some left over.  I copied it on the bottom in case you need to make a fresh batch.

½ cup uncooked barley
1 cup water
salt to taste
½ fennel bulb, chopped
4 radishes, sliced thin and then halved
2 navel oranges, broken into sections and then sections cut into thirds
½ yellow pepper, diced
bunch parsley, chopped (about ½ cup)
bunch cilantro, chopped (about ½ cup)
6 Romaine lettuce leaves, chopped
1 avocado, diced
¼ cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

Combine uncooked barley andsalted water in sauce pan and bring to a boil over high heat, covered.  Once boiling, reduce heat to simmer and cook for about 20 minutes, or until water is absorbed and barley is tender.  Remove from heat and cool in pan.  Meanwhile, combine chopped fennel, radishes, oranges, yellow pepper, parsley and cilantro in bowl and let sit so that flavors can come together. When approaching serving time, add barley, chopped Romaine, avocado, and dressing to bowl and mix with other salad ingredients.  Add dried cranberries and stir to combine.  Sprinkle salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.  

Dijon Mustard Dressing:

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 TBS Dijon mustard
2 TBS sherry vinegar
Combine in jar and shake to mix it up.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Even if you think you don't like kale, you should try this Krispy Roasted Kale!

Who would have thought that a vegetable with such a strong taste as kale could taste so good?  But this is so good that I swear your kids will eat it!  Something about olive oil, salt and roasting can make just about any vegetable taste good.  Eat this with your fingers.  Great as an after school snack to make your kids get their veggie servings!

1 bunch kale leaves
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Break stems off of kale leaves and tear leaves from thick part of stems as much as possible.  Toss leaves in a roasting pan with olive oil and salt; use your hands to spread the oil and salt over the leaves as much as possible.  Roast for about 10 minutes, then toss and roast another 10 minutes (approximately).  You want the leaves to be crispy but not too burnt.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Shrimp Salad

This salad is good as a sandwich filling, using excellent quality bread, or alone as a salad.  The inspiration for this recipe came from Pazo Restaurant in Baltimore.  My mother ordered a "shrimp BLT," which seemed to me an interesting gourmet twist on an old classic.  I don't really know exactly what ingredients were in it, other than shrimp and bacon, but I think I tasted tarragon.  The other ingredients came from my own intuition about what would taste good together.  I left out the tomatoes, as they are not in season and therefore not that tasty right now.  If I make this again in the summer, I will definitely add some chopped tomatoes to the mix.  I think this recipe would also be delicious with lobster or crab substituting for the shrimp.  I used wild USA shrimp, as I think that wild shrimp is better for health and a green planet than farmed shrimp.  If you live in a country other than USA, I suggest you use the wild shellfish that comes from water closest to where you live to eat most sustainably.  The same goes for the bacon.  Buy local!  Find a source for local meat.  Purchase the brand that comes from your state, or as close to where you live as possible.  Buy from a local farm if you can.  Thinking about the environmental toll that transporting food over great distances imposes on our planet will help you make more sustainable choices in the ingredients you purchase.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fennel, Radish, and Blood Orange Salad

I could not stop eating this the night I made it.  That is, until it was all gone.  The sweetness of the blood oranges nicely complements the anise flavor of the fennel.  The radishes and blood oranges add nice color, so the salad is beautiful to serve.  It is hearty, so an excellent component of a vegetarian meal.  We ate it with the corn soup I posted a couple days ago and homemade, whole-grain bread.  The wheatberries were sort of leftover.  I had cooked them earlier that day to use in a bread recipe, and had 1/2 cup leftover.  Leftover whole grains are wonderful added into salads, because they add a little substance and can take on whatever flavorings the salad offers.  Eating vegetarian meals, either once in a while or all the time, is part of sustainable eating.  Sustainable eating means eating in a way that will help save our planet.  By increasing your vegetable intake and decreasing your meat intake, you will help decrease the demand for large-scale animal farming that pollutes the environment through excessive animal waste as well as intense energy and water consumption.  Eating lots of vegetables is also good for you.  It seems like scientists are constantly discovering new nutritional benefits from various fruits and vegetables, so by eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, you are increasing your chances of ingesting something that is really good for you.  Some of the ingredients in this salad are somewhat unusual, so you will benefit from the nutritional variety.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hearty Corn Soup—a Vegetarian Version for the Slow Cooker

One of my favorite things about summer is fresh corn on the cob.  I only buy corn that was picked that day, and only from farmstands.  I was brought up to be a corn snob, as my grandfather grew his own and taught all of us that corn is sweetest and most delicious when it is fresh.  Corn that is days old is starchy and not nearly as good.  Corn season is too short, though, so I try to buy more than we can eat that day and, at the end of the evening, I cut the corn off the cobs that didn't get eaten and freeze it in a zip-lock bag for post-season use.  I had a large bag from last summer that I was saving for corn chowder, a favorite soup.  I make my corn chowder differently every time.  Sometimes I use chicken broth or bacon for flavor, but this time I wanted it to be a vegetarian version and, since I decided not to use any milk or cream, I might not be able to call it "chowder."  First I caramelized the onions to give the onions a deep, sweet flavor that I thought might be a nice base for the broth.  I used smoked sea salt in the broth, thinking that it might impart some of the smoky flavor that bacon would otherwise offer the soup.  Smoked sea salt is probably better for your arteries than bacon!  If you don't have corn in your freezer from last summer, just use frozen corn for this soup.  And remember to stock up next summer, if you have a source of good local corn where you live.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


The corn stew that  I posted on March 2 tastes really good with arepas, a basic food that is part of Venezuelan cuisine.  Variations of this arepa exist in Costa Rican and Colombian cuisine, as well.  Arepas also taste delicious with Venezuelan black beans, the recipe for which you can find in this blog by using the search tool in the upper left hand corner.  These are also good with scrambled eggs for breakfast!

I follow the directions on the package of P.A.N. pre-cooked white corn meal (harina de maiz blanco precocida) to make arepas.  You can find this ingredient in supermarkets that carry South American ingredients, as it is a staple for South American households.  It is hard to find in some grocery stores that do not have a Latin American customer base.

2 ½ cups lukewarm water
2 cups of pre-cooked white corn meal (harina de maiz blanco precocida)
1 tsp salt (or substitute 1 TBS grated parmesan, as my sister-in-law does)

Pour the water in a bowl, then add the salt and then slowly add the cornmeal.  Mix together with your hands.  Form arepas by rolling lacrosse-ball size portions (about halfway between golf ball and tennis ball size) of dough until smooth, then patting into discs that are about 2 inches thick.  Cook in arepa maker (an electric appliance), or fry in butter on both sides until golden brown.  To serve, slice in half, spread open sides with butter,  and fill with grated cheddar cheese, stewed meat or beans.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Chicken and Corn Stew in Slow Cooker

I served this over arepas, which are South American buns made out of special corn meal.  We slice the arepas, spread the exposed halves with butter, spoon some of this stew on top, and sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of that.  Then eat them like sandwiches.  Arepas are my kids’ favorite foods.  I imagine that this stew would also be delicious served over rice, or in soft, warm corn tortillas.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Pork Pot Roast and Local Sources of Food

Eat local food!  That is my mantra.  Sustainable eating relies on local meat and local produce.  There are different ways to find local sources of food.  If you live in a rural area, it is easy to find farm stands and such.  If you live in a city, you likely have access to a local farmer's market.  Another way to find sources of local food is to do a web search.  I live in Connecticut, and have found sources of local food by searching for "CT farms" and "CT animal farms local pork."  The CT Dept. of Agriculture lists farms on its website where individuals can purchase food.  You should check to see if your state or, if you live in a country outside the U.S., an equivalent government office, lists farms that are close enough for you to visit.  Or you could contact the farm and find out if they sell their meat through a business that is convenient for you to get to.  One of these web searches led me to www.eatwild.com, a website that lists sources of grass fed meat in the U.S., Canada, and other countries.  It has links to local information.  Finally, you might be lucky enough to have a nearby grocery store that carries local meat.  If you ask your butcher, and they do not have local meat, perhaps you could persuade them to find a source to supply their store.  Obviously, you can make this pork pot roast with pork from any source, but local is more sustainable and will help you save Planet Earth!  I served this pork and vegetables over brown rice.  It would be good with any simple grain and a salad as a comfort-food type of meal.