Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thank You

Earlier this week, The Art of Cooking Real Food was awarded three awards by Jessica from Oh Cake and The Food Blogger's Network.  I'm honored to have even been considered!  Again, thank you so much, Jessica!

The first award is the Sunshine Award.  The rules for the Sunshine Award are:  
  • Include the award logo in your blog 
  • Answer 10 questions about yourself
  • Nominate 10 bloggers
  • Link your nominees to the post and comment on their blogs letting them know they have been nominated.
  • Share the love and link the person who nominated you
  1. Favorite Color - Red, the darker, the better.
  2. Favorite Animal - Dog!
  3. Favorite Number - I really don't think I have one.
  4. Favorite non-alcoholic drink - water; I'm simple like that.
  5. Facebook or Twitter - Facebook. I'm still trying to understand Twitter.
  6. My passion - Food!  And being able to choose, grow, and/or raise our own unadulterated food.
  7. Prefer giving or receiving presents - Giving.  For sure.
  8. Favorite Pattern - if it is in regards to clothing, plain is my favorite pattern (I'm boring that way).
  9. Favorite day of the week - Wednesday - it's oddly the least busy of all the days.
  10. Favorite flower - Peonies are my favorite, followed by roses.

The second award is the Kreativ Blogger Award. The rules for the Kreativ Blogger Award are to list 10 facts about myself and then pay the award forward to six blogs. Here goes:

1. I have begun writing 3 different novels, but have only finished one.
2. I love reading the classics and YA fiction (but only the good stuff ;-)
3. I love politics - or, rather, I quite hate them, but I can't help gathering as much information as possible.
4. I'm an information junkie.
5. I think it would be pretty cool to be able to grow most of our own food and eventually live off the grid when I grow up. 
6. I have a very dry sense of humor and often people don't know when to take me seriously, which, sometimes, is kind of funny to me.
7. I rarely watch television.
8. I cannot use text speak, even when I text.  I have to type full, complete sentences.  I can't help it.  OMG.
9. I'm allergic to shellfish.
10. I am staunchly anti-"diet" (with exception of severe illness) and by the same token pro-" whole food".  Unintentionally, by eating real foods we were able to lower my husband's "bad" cholesterol by over 100 points and alter another individual's insulin dependent Type 2 diabetes  to the point of not needing medication or insulin for the past three years just by cutting out the processed foods and eating the real stuff. And that's pretty cool.

The rules for the Versatile Blogger award are to:
Thank the person who gave you the award and link to their blog - Thank you very much, Jessica!  List 7 things about yourself (See above) and pass it on as well as inform the blogger you've awarded them.  

I know some of these blogs have already received these awards from other bloggers, but I decided to still pass them on because the following bloggers' words, purpose, recipes, and just positive energy have inspired me and made me smile.  And I couldn't decide which award to give each of these talented bloggers, so I'm passing on all three to each of them.

Megan Peck Cooks
Virtually Vegan Mama
Christine's Pantry
The Mom Chef
Mis Pensiamentos
Roxana Green Girl
My Twisted Recipes
In Fine Balance
Juanitas Cocina
Jaim's Kitchen
Mom, What's For Dinner
Red Shallot Kitchen
The Saucy Gormet
The Hungry Couple 
Vegan Yack Attack
Mother Rimmy's Cooking Light Done Right

If you haven't enjoyed these blogs, I urge you to take a look.  They are wonderful, informative, and you'll find some pretty great recipes there.  I feel so fortunate to have found so many fantastic blogs since beginning The Art of Cooking Real Food, and the community is definitely something special.

Thank you all!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chopped Salad with Simple Vinaigrette and A Big Thank You

It doesn't get any easier than a chopped salad. So fresh, so tasty, so versatile with regard to ingredients - it's one of my favorite ways to accompany just about any meal.  As I was making this the other night, I was sort of thinking it's entirely too simple of a concept to blog about.  But then, much like with the roasted garlic, it occurred to me that maybe not everyone knows  how to  make a chopped salad.  And then while I was eating it, I decided that everyone should know how to make one.

Naturally, salads can be made from a formal recipe, such as a Greek Salad, or an Asian Salad, or even a Caesar Salad.  Not so with a chopped salad; all that is needed are any manner of leafy greens, preferably some romaine or other sturdy lettuce, maybe some herbs, and whatever fresh vegetables you have on hand.  The ingredients can vary depending upon season and what is available in your kitchen or garden. Since it's late March here, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and pea pods didn't make it into the chopped salad in the picture; instead I used some left over broccoli, red onions, carrots, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and half of a green bell pepper.  For the greens, I used romaine, young chard, spinach, red and green lettuce leaves, and some kale.  Pretty much any combination makes a great salad though.

The process is simple: cut the vegetables into large chunks, pile everything all onto a large cutting board and drizzle it with a favorite vinaigrette (I'll share a simple, fresh tasting lemon vinaigrette below).

Find a very sharp knife and start chopping; this is the part where the juices from the vegetables ooze out to flavor all the ingredients and the vinaigrette coats everything.  Use your knife to fold the salad back into the pile and chop some more.

Serve just like that, or topped with sunflower seeds or nuts, your favorite cheese (I love Feta, personally), and/or homemade croutons.

I'd like to take a moment to thank Jessica from Oh Cake who generously awarded The Art of Cooking Real Food with three blogger awards.  I "met" Jessica via the Love Blog Hop and she has pioneered the helpful and amazing Food Blogger's Network. She is an incredibly talented woman and I am honored beyond words to have received these awards from her.  I'm working on my post of thanks and my list of bloggers to whom I will pass the awards.  Thank you so much, Jessica!

Chopped Salad with Simple Vinaigrette
serves 5-6
  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tbs red wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
  • pinch of dried thyme
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4-5 cups mixed lettuce, baby greens, spinach, herbs, etc
  • 2-3 cups roughly chopped fresh vegetables
In a pint size jar with a tight fitting lid, add the olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, mustard, and thyme. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Tighten the lid and shake well.  Set aside.

Place the greens on a large cutting board.  Pile the vegetables on the greens.  Shake the dressing again and drizzle over the vegetables.  Season the salad with salt and pepper.

With a large sharp knife, chop the salad, using the knife to turn the mixture.  Continue to chop until everything is bite-size.

March is #greenslove month!

Please join in the #greenslove fun by linking up any leafy green recipe from the month of March 2012.  Don't forget to link back to this post so that your readers know to come by the #greenslove event!  The twitter hashtag is #greenslove.

Check out the #greenslove co-hosts!

Al Dente Gourmet ~ Aldy ~ @AlDenteGourmet
ASTIG Vegan ~ Richgail ~  @astigvegan
Bon a croquer ~ Valerie ~ @Valouth
Cheap Ethnic Eatz ~ Evelyne ~ @cethniceatz
Easily Good Eats ~ Three Cookies
Oh Cake ~ Jessica ~ @jesshose
Queen's Notebook ~ Elizabeth ~ @Mango_Queen  

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spicy Chickpeas and Greens - Greenslove Blog Hop

Greens of some sort make a daily appearance in the meals served at our house. I'm in the midst of planning my garden, and next to tomatoes, greens will have the largest presence. Right now we are planning what to plant where in the beds, trying to decide the best material to use to build them, and starting seeds. I'm so excited to have a garden again! I'll share pictures once we get things rolling.

Being a co-host of the #greenslove blog hop, I've got a virtual cookbook showcasing some of the most drool-worthy recipes from some of the best bloggers right at my fingertips.  And so do you.  That's a pretty cool thing, if you ask me. Be sure to check out the bloghop going on beneath this recipe to add to your collection of healthy greens based recipes.

In Spicy Chickpeas and Greens, nutty chickpeas mix with fresh greens in a spicy tomato sauce and are served over a bed of brown rice.  Yum!

Spinach is my favorite green to use when making this dish, but chard works well, too.  You may notice in the photo that this time I used collard greens because that's what I had on hand.  While it was still tasty, I don't really suggest using collard greens because they were a little more bitter than what works well with the spices.  If you decide to use chard, be sure to cut out the stems and use only the leaves.

Spicy Chickpeas and Greens
serves 5-6
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups) *you can use the same amount of purchased chopped tomatoes
  • 3 c cooked chickpeas
  • 4-5 c fresh spinach or chard, roughly chopped
  • 1 Tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 c cooked brown rice
  • Crumbled feta cheese and lemon wedges for garnish, if desired
In a large deep skillet or dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat.  Saute the onion for about 10 minutes or until tender.

Stir in the lemon zest, cumin, chili flakes, salt and pepper.  Heat for 1-2 minutes, or until fragrant.

Add the tomatoes and chickpeas. Cook for about 2 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Mix in the spinach or chard.

Cover, reduce heat to medium low, and simmer for 8-12 minutes, or until greens are wilted and sauce has thickened, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the lemon juice and adjust salt accordingly.

Serve over brown rice. Top with feta and more lemon juice, if desired.

March is #greenslove month!

Please join in the #greenslove fun by linking up any leafy green recipe from the month of March 2012.  Don't forget to link back to this post so that your readers know to come by the #greenslove event!  The twitter hashtag is #greenslove.

Check out the #greenslove co-hosts!

Al Dente Gourmet ~ Aldy ~ @AlDenteGourmet
ASTIG Vegan ~ Richgail ~  @astigvegan
Bon a croquer ~ Valerie ~ @Valouth
Cheap Ethnic Eatz ~ Evelyne ~ @cethniceatz
Easily Good Eats ~ Three Cookies
Oh Cake ~ Jessica ~ @jesshose
Queen's Notebook ~ Elizabeth ~ @Mango_Queen  

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Broccoli with Garlic Sauce

Lo Mein, Chow Fun, Moo Shu, General Tso, Fried Rice, Hot and Sour Soup, spring rolls...Ahhh!  I love the Americanized Chinese fast food!  Sweet and savory sauces over crisp vegetables - I get hungry just thinking about it.

However, it really doesn't like me.  Headaches and bloating always seem to follow a take-out meal from a Chinese food joint.  And sometimes it all starts during the meal (ever need to loosen your pants during a meal even though your portions are small?  Yeah.  That kind of bloating.).  Then, of course, there's the problem of being hungry again about an hour later. So why was this style of fast food the hardest for us to give up?

Because it tasted the best. Because it was fast.  Because it was the only take-out I can think of where a hefty portion of vegetables were included in the meal.  Because there was always a ton of food for not a lot of money.  And because it wasn't pizza...again.

Let's face it; we like the sweetness of the sauces because the corn syrup hits our blood stream and shoots right to our brains.  And the MSG heightens all of the flavors in much the same manner so we just want to eat everything on the table in a crazy hurry because it just tastes so darn good.  At least, that was the problem for me.  I'm sure there are more issues with ingredients (not the least of which are quality and origin), but those two seem to be the triggers for me.

So, in an effort to try to avoid all of those nasties, I've been trying for years to reproduce the dishes we like best at home.  But it's hard to compete with those ingredients.  And I'm not Chinese, so I have no family recipes handed down to me to help me understand how this cuisine is created (and I doubt they'd taste the same as the American Chinese food, anyway).  Yes, I can follow a cookbook recipe, but they just don't compare to the Chinese restaurant versions of the same dishes.  What's an Irish-German-Swedish-French-American gal supposed to do?

Trial and error.  Lots of trial and error.  A bunch of sog and a bit of crunch, all with crappy sauces.

But finally, finally I was able to create a Broccoli with Garlic Sauce (my personal favorite) that my whole family loves.  And guess what - they like it better than the Chinese joint's Broccoli with Garlic Sauce!  And I do, too; it has a ton of flavor, and I feel good about all of the ingredients.  Win!

With regards to the recipe, you can choose to saute the garlic with the vegetables if you'd like, but I like it best in the sauce because it tends to burn for me otherwise.  The place from where we used to like to order uses mushrooms, water chestnuts, and celery in theirs, so if you like those things, go ahead and add them if you'd like (I don't); if you keep the total combined additions to equal about one cup, you won't need extra sauce. To make the sauce, I like to put everything into a large measuring cup.  After adding the broth, each liquid addition raises the next level by how much you put into the cup, so there is no need to measure again (just be sure to add the garlic and ginger last).  Also, it's easy to prep the veggies and the sauce ahead of time and store it separately in the fridge until you're ready to use it, which makes for a super fast and easy dinner (aside from the time it takes to make the rice).

Broccoli with Garlic Sauce
serves 4
  • 1 1/2 c vegetable broth
  • 1/4 c organic tamari (soy sauce)
  • 1/4 c raw honey
  • 1 head garlic (about 10-14 cloves), peeled and minced
  • 1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (depending upon how hot you prefer)
  • 1 1/2 Tbs non-GMO cornstarch, such as Rumford
  • 4c broccoli florets, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 c red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch chunks 
  • 1 c pea pods or asparagus, seasonal (cut asparagus into 2-inch chunks)
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced on the diagonal
  • 4-5 green onions, sliced into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1-3 Tbs quality canola oil, or other quality high-heat oil of your choice
  • 2 cups hot cooked brown rice 
  • 4-6 Tbs chopped peanuts, optional
In a large measuring cup or small bowl, mix together the broth, tamari, honey, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and cornstarch.  Set aside.

Combine the broccoli, bell pepper, pea pods or asaparagus, carrot and green onions in a large bowl.

Heat wok or large skillet over medium high heat. Pour 1 Tbs oil into wok or skillet, then quickly begin to saute the vegetables in batches for about 2-3 minutes, adding 1 Tbs more oil for each new batch.

Replace all the vegetables to the wok or pan.  Stir the broth mixture well and pour it over the vegetables.  Stir to incorporate and simmer uncovered for 3-5 minutes or until sauce thickens and vegetables are just tender.

Serve over hot cooked brown rice. Top with chopped peanuts, if desired.

This recipe has been shared on the Recipe Lion Favorite Spring Recipes Blog Hop!
blog hop button March Blog Hop: Favorite Spring Recipes and Giveaway  

Friday, March 16, 2012

Mashed Potatoes with Kale (Colcannon)

Colcannon, a traditional Irish potato dish, is a simple, filling, creamy bowl of comforting goodness. It is made with potatoes, either cabbage or kale, lots of butter, and lots of cream or milk.  Sometimes ham or bacon, and/or cooked leeks or onions can be incorporated for some extra flavor.  In this version, I use kale, and add some garlic, too (because I like it like that).

I am an unashamed potato lover; I have yet to meet a potato I don't like. I'll take them mashed, fried, roasted, baked, steamed, plain, buttered, seasoned...I really don't care - potatoes are just good.  The humble potato has been around for thousands of years, is easy to grow in the back yard, and a lack of them wreaked havoc on an entire nation.  That's pretty impressive, if you ask me.

Most people familiar with Colcannon associate it with cabbage, but it is traditionally made with either cabbage or kale.  I  find it easiest to make this dish using a pasta pot (a big pot with a removable strainer); the potatoes boil in the water on the bottom while the greens steam in the strainer on the top.  If you don't have a pasta pot, you may either want to use two pots and cook each separately, or you could still use one large pot; use just enough water to cover the potatoes and then toss the kale on top before covering, but be sure to strain well.  If you want to add the onions or leeks, melt some butter in a pan and saute until tender; stir them into the dish after mashing.

Mashed Potatoes with Kale (Colcannon)
serves 4-6

  • 2 lbs potatoes (russets are ideal), peeled and chopped into 1 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 - 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 lb kale, stems removed and roughly chopped or torn 
  • 4 Tbs butter, divided
  • 1/2 c whole milk or cream
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch of mace or freshly ground nutmeg

Place the potatoes and whole garlic cloves in the bottom of a pasta pot; cover with water.  Insert the strainer; place the chopped kale in the strainer.

Bring to a boil, cover and reduce heat.  Simmer 11-13 minutes, or until potatoes and kale are tender.

Remove the kale and set aside.  Drain the water from potatoes and place the potatoes back into the pot.  Add 3 Tbs butter, milk or cream, salt, pepper, and mace or nutmeg.  With a hand held mixer, beat potatoes until creamy, about a minute.  Add the kale and mix until blended.

Remove to a large serving bowl.  Make an indentation with the back of the spoon and add the remaining 1 Tbs butter.

March is #greenslove month!

Please join in the #greenslove fun by linking up any leafy green recipe from the month of March 2012.  Don't forget to link back to this post so that your readers know to come by the #greenslove event!  The twitter hashtag is #greenslove.

Check out the #greenslove co-hosts!

Al Dente Gourmet ~ Aldy ~ @AlDenteGourmet
ASTIG Vegan ~ Richgail ~  @astigvegan
Bon a croquer ~ Valerie ~ @Valouth
Cheap Ethnic Eatz ~ Evelyne ~ @cethniceatz
Easily Good Eats ~ Three Cookies
Oh Cake ~ Jessica ~ @jesshose
Queen's Notebook ~ Elizabeth ~ @Mango_Queen  

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Pot Roast with Mushroom Onion Gravy

When I wake up in the morning, I like to check the news to see what happened in the world while I slept.  This morning I woke up to several headlines right at the top (above war, politics, and celebrity scandals, so you know it was considered Very Important News) that looked like this:

"Red Meat Linked to Premature Death, Research shows"

So, I started clicking through the numerous articles linked to that main headline in my news reader. The second headline I clicked was a little more descriptive than the original:

"A Hotdog a Day Raises Risk of Dying, Harvard Study Finds"

That article went on to be more specific; it isn't just red meat, it's processed meat products (specifically hot dogs, bacon and hamburgers.  Hamburgers are "processed food"? Well, I guess they are if you happen to be eating one that has been approved by the USDA to feed our nation's school children). And then, of course, there was the third one I read:

"Red Meat Does Not Raise Risk of Cancer, Heart Disease"

Want to bet that a ton of people will be swearing off red meat now that The Study has been published (again)?  Kind of like eggs - remember that?  For a while, it was the cholesterol in eggs that was going to cinch the noose.  But then, it wasn't.  And full fat milk.  Oh, and butter.  Wait, I mean margarine.  No, it's butter.  Actually, I forget which one we should be eating now.  Hmm.  Perhaps I should quickly consult The Study so I can figure out just exactly what I should eat for breakfast so I can make it to dinner without dying.

I would like to explain something to you if you didn't already know it (but my readers are pretty darn smart, so I'm guessing you've already gathered this).  As it pertains to food related illnesses, gluttony, laziness, and greed are what will kill you.  Eventually.  Sound harsh?  It shouldn't; it's a fact, like it or not.  Those diseases are the result of a collective effort from every human involved in our food supply, from Them right on down to Us. It's not the food. Food fuels life; without it, none of us would even exist.  Human choices are what leads to illness and untimely death.

And by food, I mean real food.  Hot dogs are not real food, at least, not the ones you buy in the giant processed meat section at the grocery store.  Somehow hamburgers have made an appearance on the "processed food" list.  Why?  Because our all-knowing and trust-worthy USDA has approved ammonia treated connective tissue (aka "pink slime") to be used in the production of hamburger.  It's not the food.

Choices, folks.  It's all about choices.  If you choose to eat hot dogs, connective tissue, ammonia, sodas with high fructose corn syrup and squishy Wonder bread, there's a pretty good chance you're going to get sick.  Is it the food, then?  Nope, it's the choice to eat it.

So, in light of the fact that red meat is going to kill us all, I am going to share with you a favorite Road To an Early Death meal my oddly healthy family thoroughly enjoys.  And I'm even going to add some beer to it to really hammer in the first nail. (Oh wait, I think beer is healthy now.  I'm not sure.)

The truth is that in our home, we really don't eat a lot of beef, but that's not because of health concerns or because I believe the latest "study".  Mostly, it's due to trying to maintain a budget while finding the best possible sources for our meat based proteins, and the fact that the cook (Yours Truly) prefers plants to animals.  My husband and kids love pot roast and the occasional hamburger, though, so I buy from one of two trusted local organic farmers so I can know just exactly where it came from and where it's been.

I'm a big fan of braising meats with beer (or wine).  I like it because it adds an enormous amount of flavor for a small amount of money.  Since the roast cooks for hours and ultimately creates its own broth, there seems no real need to add more of the same in the form of the braising liquid, therefore beer makes an inexpensive, highly flavorful ingredient.  In this particular recipe, use a regular old run of the mill beer, and try to avoid dark or even amber lagers because they tend to have a feisty flavor that overwhelms the mushrooms (but taste amazing in something like Beer Braised Pot Roast).

It is A-okay to use more than one roast if you can't find one large one - that's usually how I end up making this.  We like to use the leftover roast mixed with the gravy for warm sandwiches, but leftovers also freeze well for a future dinner.

Pot Roast with Mushroom Onion Gravy
approximately 10-12 servings

  • 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • 1 lb mushrooms (cremini or button), roughly chopped
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 - 5 lbs chuck roast 
  • 3/4 tsp dried thyme
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 12 oz bottle beer
  • 2 Tbs non-GMO cornstarch, such as Rumford
  • 1/4 c  water

Preheat oven to 325F.

Season both sides of the chuck roast generously with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with thyme.

Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a large dutch oven over medium high heat. Sear each side of the roast until nicely browned; about 5 minutes per side.  Remove to a plate or platter and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1 Tbs oil in the same dutch oven.  Saute the mushrooms for about 3 minutes.

Add in the onions and garlic, and saute for about 5 minutes more, or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the onions are tender.

Push the mushroom and onions out of the way and arrange the roast in the dutch oven.  Arrange the mushrooms and onions over and around the roast.

Pour the beer over all.

Cover and bake in the preheated oven for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until meat is tender enough to fall apart.

Remove the roast to a serving platter and keep warm (I put mine into an oven proof pan, cover it with foil, and put it back in the warm oven with the door open a crack).

To make the gravy, place the dutch oven and mushroom broth on a burner set to medium high.  Gauge the amount of liquid; if you think you have more than 2 1/2 cups of broth, add another teaspoon of cornstarch to the recommended amount in the recipe. Mix together the cornstarch and water until the cornstarch is dissolved.  Bring the broth to a simmer, whisk in the cornstarch mixture, and stir until thickened (about 3-4 minutes).

Serve the pot roast with the gravy.  The gravy is fantastic over mashed potatoes, too.

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