Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween Biscuits

I'm pretty happy that Joe is in a school program not only for the education, but for the festive holiday celebrations. The Halloween party was last week and each family was tasked with a treat to bring. I signed up for vegetables, because I am a masochist.

I thought the best way to get kids to eat anything containing a vitamin or mineral on Halloween was to put it in baked-good form. So we made sweet potato biscuits shaped like pumpkins with raisin features. I thought the orangey color and sweeter taste would compete with artificial treats.

I used this recipe due to its use of whole wheat flour, but we got harder, flatter biscuits than I expected. The recipe is probably fine, but ideal conditions probably do not include a Joe "helper." They were edible and we had fun making them, so I guess that's all that matters.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Posts I've Been Meaning to Write

Ninety percent of the reasons why I haven't yet written these posts are due to photo downloading issues and nice weather. I'm sure it will rain soon and I will be forced to stay inside and futz with the camera.

-Homemade Pita Bread and Hummus
-Lettuce Soup Adventures
-Beet Cookies (Not Sponsored by Schrute Farms)
-New Garden 2012
-Owen, the Amazing

Halloween is one week from tonight and I still have to finish our costumes and find some treats to give away that won't send us all headfirst into Toddler World War. Those tasks will also probably merit a post.

Stuff I Did Tonight

Since picking up the boys from daycare/preschool and arriving home at 5:15, I have done the following tasks:

-Baked a loaf of bread
-Raked the front yard
-Cooked dinner from scratch (sauteed mushrooms & onions with steamed broccoli and bacon over rotini pasta; didn't have enough milk left for a cream sauce)
-Pureed up a batch of baby food and froze it
-Froze a bunch of bananas & chopped the peels for the compost
-Cooked a batch of vegetable soup for the freezer (cauliflower & pea shoots w/bacon & basil)

I still have a few hours worth of freelance work to be done and I'd really like to watch this week's episode of "Walking Dead" on the DVR. There are still apples and pears in the kitchen that need to be put away, as well as a bag of peppers and some kale in the fridge. The soup will have to be put into containers and frozen once it's cooled off. I want to get some chicken ready for the crockpot tomorrow, but I'm not sure if I can throw in the turnips that came in this week's CSA share, and I am putting off looking up how to prepare them.

The rest of the nightly routine requires that I gather frozen ingredients for the morning smoothie and stick the blender in the fridge to soften overnight; grind up coffee and fill the machine with water; throw my cup of soup, chunk of bread, and apple into my lunchbag; pull out baby food to thaw; and pump a bottle for the sitter in the morning.

It's 9:17pm.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Work Out Wednesday - Fall!

Average this week: 9903

Besides making a concerted effort to stay in motion this week, my fall activities seem to have given me a boost. This weekend we took the boys to pick pumpkins at Butler's Orchard. I also spent some time raking leaves, though surprisingly, that didn't net very many steps on the pedometer. In order for steps to be measured, I need to take 4 strides in a row. Raking involves more sliding to the side, but at least I got some decent outdoor exercise. There is more to do this weekend, possibly while squash is roasting in the oven.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Locavore 4 Life!

I did it! I found a local producer of dairy and meats, AND they deliver AND their prices are great! I didn't have to look too hard, because they are relatives of the group that runs our CSA, South Mountain Creamery. While they are not a certified organic producer, they follow organic farming methods and are working on becoming a self-sustaining farm by using animal waste for power. I have recently read that eating local is better than eating organic if you only have those options, and I love the fact that we can go to the farm and see all the free-ranging animals!

Our first delivery arrived yesterday and we tried butter, yogurt, a whole chicken, and a lovely quart of fresh skim milk. The plain yogurt in our smoothies this morning made them taste like ice cream!

I'll let you know what we try next week!

Stone vs Sheet: Cookie Test

I conducted this test three weeks ago after a day of touring wineries in NoVa with friends: which bakes better, a baking stone or a cookie sheet? I meant to post the pictures then, but the pizza I made after the cookies were done filled the house with smoke, leading to alarms, thrown-open windows, and undercooked pizza. That craziness was blamed on too-thick pizza dough, not on baking methods.

Anyway, I made a normal chocolate chip cookie and used both a sheet and my baking stone. Here are the results:

After 1 minute:

After 6 minutes:

The final products (stone cookies on top, sheet on bottom):

The stone yielded a faster, more complete bake. Obviously, the stone preheated with the oven, so the cookies were placed onto a hot surface and instantly started cooking. While I generally prefer chewy cookies over crispy, the stone's crispiness was light and not hard.

It took much longer for the sheet cookies to cook, and the tops didn't have the same satisfying crunch as the stone cookies. I think if I had more than one stone or just wanted a dozen cookies quickly, stone is the way to go.

It is not practical for several dozens, however, because there is more spread from each cookie and you can only have one batch going at a time. Which in my house means the first batch and dough from the third will be eaten before the second is out. Also, if there are little ones around, it's not as safe to have the oven open removing individual cookies from the stone, and I do not have anywhere safe to put a whole hot stone while I transfer cookies to a rack.

So there you have it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Work Out Wednesday: Biker Babies

Average steps last week: 6485/day.

I am LAAAZY. Well, sort of.

We decided to ride around the neighborhood on our bikes for some exercise and threw the boys in our little tow-behind bike trailer now that Owen is big enough to sit up by himself. I realized two things: (1) my neighborhood has HILLS and (2) the pedometer doesn't count pedaling. So in reality I got a tiny bit more exercise than is reflected in my average, but I'm still lazy.

I'm thinking of strapping the pedometer to my wrist to record my movements while I cook, which is what I spent most of the last week doing. Here's to a more active week ahead!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dinner Muffins

It is nearly impossible to get Joe, the two-year-old wonder, to eat dinner. He apparently eats very well at his preschool during the day, and I usually get a fresh fruit smoothie in him on the way to school in the morning, but in the evenings he is all go-go-go. It's fine--I don't want to force him to eat when he's not hungry, and he will always have some milk and a healthy snack--but I'd still like to find SOMETHING that I know he'll eat.

Enter muffins. Baked goods of most kinds will get Joe's attention and he focuses all of his boundless energy into getting his hands on them. I read about meatloaf muffins in a newsletter I subscribe to and gave the idea a try. The basic idea is meatloaf that is scooped into a muffin tin instead of shaped into a loaf.

Pretty adorable, huh? Topped with BBQ sauce, this recipe also gave me the chance to use up some of my CSA goodies. It was very easy to freeze the leftovers, which is a necessity for all of my cooking. Here's what I used:

Baby eggplant, sweet peppers, and onion--all organic from my CSA share and diced finely. Another interesting addition was whole wheat pearl couscous instead of traditional breadcrumbs (I used 1/3 cup). Combined with a pound of ground turkey*, an egg, and seasonings, it's a very healthy, veggie-heavy dinner. I used an ice cream scoop to portion out the mixture into my muffin pan, which is how I always dole out muffin innards, actually.

The recipe yielded about 8 "muffins," but Joe, unfortunately, did not get past his obligatory "Please try one bite for Mama" taste before he demanded yogurt. He was really excited to have a muffin for dinner before he realized it was meat, so maybe next time.

*Let's talk turkey for a second. Over the summer there were several major turkey recalls all over the country, and I suspect there will be more to come. As Americans try to eat healthier as a nation, they are swapping ground beef for turkey in many dishes like this one. While it is great that people are making an effort to be healthy, industrial poultry producers are simply applying their polluting, inhumane, and dirty chicken production practices to turkey in order to meet the increased demand.

In order to avoid being affected by turkey recalls from the major producers, it is very important to shop for poultry directly from farmers through farmers markets and local co-ops, or by buying free-range, pasture-fed, minimally processed meat from your local grocer (I bought mine at Whole Foods on sale). You may end up paying a few dollars more, but you can be sure that your family will not get sick from contaminants. Worth it, right?

Monday, October 10, 2011


This delightful bounty is what I came home to on Friday afternoon, delivered courtesy of South Mountain Veggies. The CSA, or community-supported agriculture group, is based out of Frederick, Md and sources organic and IPM foods from farms in the state and Pennsylvania. They also have contacts for organic produce like bananas and oranges which are definitely not local, but are still fresher than store bought.

My goal each weekend is to first "put up" the produce I know I won't cook with in the next week so that nothing goes to waste and so we'll have quality produce in the freezer all winter. Then I try to get creative.

This week I will break down some newer recipes I've tried to use up the CSA produce, which included: beets, cauliflower, concord grapes, pears, apples, spinach, bibb lettuce, acorn squash, red potatoes, and rainbow carrots. Some of the things I came up with are definitely surprising! Stay tuned...

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Work Out Wednesday: Baby Bound

Last week's average: 8165 steps per day.

Pros: I remembered to wear my pedometer every day, including the weekend. I also had 3 days of over 10K steps. What helped was I finally wiped down the old elliptical and did some heart-thumping cardio after the boys went to bed one night. Due to some weird running-related injuries, I'm only doing 20 minutes to start, per the advice of my personal, nagging PT...aka my sister.

Cons: Although I was on my feet a lot cooking over the weekend, stepping back and forth along the counter does not accumulate many measured steps. I also received a haircut from a good friend on Saturday--she thankfully makes house calls, but it usually results in me sitting for a few hours and then we sit some more and yammer on for the rest of the afternoon. I also got some much-needed snoozing done on Sunday morning and all told didn't leave the house. Another factor involved the baby being sent home sick from daycare, which resulted in me working from home for 2 days and missing out on my long, snaking walks through the cubicals at work, which usually helps me drive up my step totals.

The upcoming week will present its own challenges, but I'm ready! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Cheap Eats Chili

First off, I recognize the fact that my "About Me" section needs to change. It's still a little painful to think that I've done an exact 180, so if anyone has any suggestions for this section, I'll gladly take them.

Back to this post. The greatest takeaway from our Oklahoma adventure has by far been the skills I honed in the kitchen and the sourcing strategies I was forced to employ. Here in Maryland there are endless options for sourcing quality food, but my new challenge is how do it on the cheap and how to reduce weeknight cooking times to accommodate our new insane schedule.

It's fall, so chili in the crockpot is an easy go-to, but doing it right takes some preparation. Here's my ingredient breakdown and where everything came from:
*2 lbs ground beef - grass fed, farmer's market, $4/lb
*1.5 lbs kidney beans - dried, organic, Whole Foods bulk w/Living Social coupon, ~1.60/lb
*1 qt diced tomatoes - Roma, farmer's market, $2.50/lb
*2 onions - farmer's market, $2.50/lb
*2-3 green/red bell peppers - organic, CSA delivery, $3.50 for 4
*2 cups fresh corn - cut from the cob, IPM, CSA delivery, $.50/ear
*3-4 cloves garlic - organic, CSA delivery, $1/head
*salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin - my pantry
*1-2 jalopeno peppers - farmer's market, $3/lb (optional)

So we're looking at a grand total of about $20 for the pot, nothing canned, all fresh and almost all local. The most time-intensive part was the beans, which I have never cooked from dried before. I wanted to learn how, not just because dried beans are cheaper than canned, but because canned products are getting a bad rep from chemicals in the liners.

Because I didn't know about soaking overnight first, I used a quick-soak method. I brought the pot of beans to boil, then removed heat and let soak for about 2 hours before simmering them to cook with a little onion and garlic. I held onto the cooking water and froze it in ice cube trays to use later in soups and other recipes.

While the beans were cooking, I was busy chopping and pre-cooking the other fresh ingredients, so most of my Sunday afternoon was devoted to prep. I will note that the peppers and onions had already been chopped and frozen on the day I bought them at the market a few weeks back, so I just had to pull out those freezer bags. On Monday morning, while waiting for my coffee to brew, I literally dumped eveything in the crockpot. There was no room for the beans yet, so those went in when we got home later on that afternoon once everything had cooked down a bit. We took a pre-dinner walk while waiting for the beans to warm up, which I try to do with boys when the weather (and mosquitos) allow it. 

After we ate our fill, there was enough left over to freeze 4 quarts of chili. One quart gives us about 3 servings (2 grown-up dinners and a lunch...Joe still only picks at this). So the grand total per serving comes to around $1.35, and this chili is packed with nutrition and exactly ZERO chemicals and preservatives. We've had it so far as a chili and also in taco shells, which stretches out the servings even further. I'd like to bake up a pan of cornbread next time, but our new rule is to NOT run to the store for ingredients in the middle of cooking and to use what we have at home. So, I will either need to figure out how to make bread from the carton of cornmeal on the shelf, or wait til I remember to pick up a mix at the store (with a coupon, of course).