Thursday, March 15, 2012

Steak and Potatoes

These days, we don't eat red meat too often. But my philosophy is if I'm going to eat red meat, I'm going to make it count! Tonight we had New York strip steak, roasted carrots, field greens and purple potatoes. It was top notch and super easy.

We found the organic purple potatoes at Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery a month ago, but I kept them in  a breathable bag hanging in the pantry, so they kept well. They have a thicker skin, but you peal them just like a regular potato. They taste like a musky sweat potato, they're definitely unique. And good for you. I prepared them just like regular potatoes, boiling the potatoes and then mixing with butter, salt and a splash of cream.

I stumbled on the multi-colored carrots at Publix, they were $2 for a small bag and I just roasted them on the grill with the steak. The greens are just greens with a splash of balsamic. 

The steak is organic New York strip, $12 at Publix. We've found that because organic meat is more expensive, we eat smaller quantities. Which is fine with us. I eat a steak like this a few of times a year, but I have big healthy soup plans for this weekend again, so this won't become a habit.

No, I'm not going to tell you how I cooked the steak, because red meat will kill you.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Why I Eat Healthy

So I can enjoy a slice (or two) of key lime pie. During the college basketball games his weekend, Publix has been pushing their pie pretty hard. So they had me ready and salivating by the time we went grocery shopping today. I'm not a key lime aficionado, and I'm sure their pie doesn't compare to a good homemade recipe, but dang this pie is good. I guess you could make your own, but at $6.50 each, I'm good to just let them do the work.

And no, there's not much healthy about it.

If you're a coffee drinker, try your key lime pie with some beans from Africa. I made a french press of Counter Culture beans from Ethiopia (I think, threw away the packaging). From what I know of them, Counter Culture seems to be a great company and I enjoy their product. I've found their coffee sold locally at Coffee and Crema and at The Fresh Market. Coffee beans from Africa (Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, etc.) have a citrusy quality which typically makes them a good paring for key lime pie, lemon bars. etc.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Tuscan Vegetable Soup

I'm always up for a bowl of good soup. My friend Audrey sent me this Tuscan Vegetable soup recipe earlier this week and I thought I'd give it a try. And I'm glad I did. Here's the recipe.

Chuck helps me chop a mountain of vegetables while Bella watches...
One 15.5 ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large onion, diced (1 cup)
1 medium carrot, diced (1/2 cup)
2 stalks of celery, diced (1/2 cup)
1/2 bulb fennel, trimmed and diced
1 small zucchini, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon thyme (I used more)
1/2 teaspoon sage (I used more)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (I used more)
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice
2 ounces baby spinach leaves, rustic chopped, about 2 cups lightly packed
freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Put olive oil in the bottom of a heavy soup pot. Saute garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and fennel until soft, but still a little crunchy. Pour in beans, diced tomatoes, broth, and spices to taste.

A few minutes before serving, stir in the zucchini and spinach.

Garnish with Parmesan cheese. Serve with sourdough bread. Yum. Yum.

Fresh dried sage and thyme
Our new secret weapon we found at Whole Foods
The healthiest soup ever?
I made a double batch, but between me, Chuck and Tiffany, we ate half so I only froze about three servings. This soup has a rich hearty vegetable quality to it. Adding the fennel and zucchini to the usual staples is a nice touch. Only thing I'll do differently next time is to add barley in place of the beans. I love cannellini beans, but they kinda turned to mush. This is going to be my go-to healthy soup now. Thanks Audrey!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Homemade Granola

Because I'm not a morning person, breakfast has always gotten short-changed for me. But not anymore. I've gotten a good routine of going to the store Sunday and buying fresh fruit for the whole week. I keep it at my desk at work or bring it with me in the morning. And I drink black coffee.

The breakfast routine
But the best part of my breakfast is homemade granola. Last year I found this recipe, maybe from Rachel Ray, but now I'm not sure. You won't be disappointed.

1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup dark (or amber) agave nectar
any dried fruit you like

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside. In a medium bowl, toss together the oats, almonds, wheat germ and cardamom. Pour in the agave and mix well (add extra agave if necessary). Transfer the mixture to the sheet pan and bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

The result is a giant granola bar. I let it cool and break it into huge chunks. I've made this probably 10 or 15 times with all different combinations of dried fruit (strawberries, cranberries, bananas, apricots). The agave nectar has a maple syrup'ish taste and is better for you as it has a low glycemic index. And I like to chop whole unsalted organic almonds from at Swamp Rabbit Cafe ($5.99/lb).

Homemade granola and fresh fruit is a tasty way to get a big serving of whole grains and fruit to start your day. There are huge health benefits to oats, wheat germ, almonds, and cinnamon. And by planning ahead by doing the prep on Sunday, I have no prep during the week. Making your own granola isn't cheap. Agave nectar is a little pricey (I hear you can find it discounted at TJ Maxx) and almonds and wheat germ aren't cheap. But the result is so worth it, there's no way I'd rather start my day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Places We Love: Live Oak Farms in Woodruff, SC

I first heard about Live Oak Farms from advertisements in various local magazines or papers. We've been down to the farm a few times. Every time we go, we're looking for one thing: grass fed ground beef. While we always end up getting other things from the farm store (chicken, cheese, snacks, etc) we usually walk out with about 10lbs of ground beef.

Live Oak Farms is about a hour away, but the trip is SO worth it. First of all, we love that we're supporting a local farm and second? It's cheaper! The grass fed ground beef is $4.75/lb as opposed to ~$7/lb at Whole Foods, Publix, etc.

A little math to see if the drive is actually worth it:
It's about a 64 mile round trip and we averaged 25 mpg. At $3.45/gal that means we spent about $8.83 to get there. We saved $22.50 buying beef from the farm as opposed to Publix [($7-$4.75)*10]. And, after all that math, considering only the ground beef and gas, we saved $13.67.

We went to the farm this morning and I brought my camera this time. We've been meaning to highlight local places we love and what's a better time to start than now? So, below are some of the photos I took today.

This friendly fellow always greets us when we visit the Farm Store. My mom has a crush on him.

Beef sticks! Yum! These are kind of like slim jims except without all the chemicals. We always grab one of these and a yummy drink to wash 'em down. 

Look at this popcorn! Wait--I haven't written that post about my love of popcorn yet. Well, just so you know, we definitely got some popcorn. The colorful ones, of course!

Mike's the shopper when we visit Live Oak Farms. Do we need this big bag of oatmeal? I think yes. He'll be using it to make some of his yummy granola.

Lots of yummy cheeses from Live Oak Farms and other local places, like Happy Cow Creamery!

*This post is, in no way, sponsored by Live Oak Farm. We're just big fans. :)

Friday, March 2, 2012

Buying in Bulk

So I've always heard of this great destiny of health food known as Whole Foods. Well this weekend I finally made the trek to Woodruff Road and visited for myself. Most of my time was in the bulk food section and I was very impressed to say the least.

The past few months our diet has included lots of rice, beans and quinoa. We've been purchasing these in small quantities at our local grocery store. What could be better than that? Buying giant portions of these at discount prices. We purchased 3.5 pounds of organic long grain brown rice at $1.59/lb, 5 pounds of organic black beans at $1.69/lb, and 4 pounds of organic quinoa at $3.69/lb.

Load the covered wagon...
Whole Foods also has a really cool assortment of rices. Just for fun, we bought some purple sticky rice, Bhutanese red rice, and black forbidden rice.

We also found upon some neat bouillon cubes. Can't wait to try.

So all in all, we dropped less than $60. If we passed on the fancy rices, we could have spent about $40. This will take us well through the year. And maybe then I'll be ready to brave Woodruff Road again.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dehydrating Food

Last year we invested in a food dehydrator to help us preserve items in season. It's been a lot of fun trying to figure out what dries well and what is worth the effort to dry and save. We use an Oster food dehydrator, nothing fancy. After drying, I usually put the item in the freezer for several days. This kills any bacteria that may have survived the drying process. Don't take any chances eating a dryed item that looks or smells funny. There's lots of good websites that explain dehydrating in detail, so do your research before you give it a try.

Here's a few things we've tried:

Apples - We dried fresh apples from Sky Top in NC. They were cut into 1/4" pieces with skins attached and turned out delicious! Unfortunately they take all day to dry and most were consumed within minutes. I dried about 20 lbs of apples and they were gone within a month.

Strawberries - Dried strawberries are tasty, but a lot of work. They have so much juice, they mostly evaporate and take on a thin leathery texture after they're dried. I've found they're great for adding to my homemade granola.

Mushrooms - Our shiitake logs yielded their first big flush of mushrooms this last fall. Slicing and drying is easy and they reconstitute well. Unfortunately I didn't do an adequate job keeping them dry and they molded. I'll try again in the spring when I get my next crop.

Tomatoes - Making your own sun-dried tomatoes is super easy. I keep a jar of different kinds (yellow, orange, heirloom) that I dried last fall. They keep well.

Herbs - I love cooking with fresh herbs, but it gets expensive to buy fresh all winter long. And I typically use a little and the rest go to waste. So I've begun drying what I don't use. This weekend I planted Peppermint and Lemon Balm to dry and make our own tea!

Far as saving money goes, it's hard to compete with purchasing already dried goods at places like Trader Joes (fruits) or Saigan Market (mushrooms). So I think you only save money doing this if you dry things you grow or purchase in bulk. But all in all, for some things, we've found it very beneficial.

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