Monday, October 31, 2011

What's For Dinner: Butternut Squash with Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Whenever I head to Costco, I'm always astounded by all of the great deals, and without fail, something ends up in my cart that was not on my list. This last trip, I picked up a twin-pack of Nuovo Oven-Roasted Butternut Squash Ravioli. Butternut squash? Ricotta and Parmesan Cheese? All wrapped together in a ravioli? Yes, please. Given the cool autumnal weather of late and the pasta's orange hue, it seemed à propos to serve up the ravioli for our Halloween dinner tonight.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes 3-4 servings

1 package butternut squash ravioli
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon torn organic sage leaves (about 4-5 leaves)
1 tablespoon raw pine nuts

1. Cook the ravioli in a large pot of salted water according to the manufacturer's instructions.
2. Meanwhile, while the ravioli is cooking, melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat.
3. As the butter is melting, add the torn sage leaves and pine nuts. Stir constantly to prevent the nuts and sage from burning.
4. Continue cooking the butter until it is golden-brown; this should take about 3-5 minutes.
5. Once the butter has browned, remove the skillet from the heat.
6. Once cooked, remove the ravioli from the water and shake off any excess moisture.
7. Add the cooked ravioli to the butter sauce and gently stir to evenly coat the pasta.
8. Serve with a garnish of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Five: Northern Michigan Edition

D and I have spent the past week up at his family's cottage in northern Michigan. I already foresee a tough transition back to city life, especially since rumor has it that Philly may get several inches of snow this weekend. Couldn't fall last just a little bit longer?

Here are some highlights from our week up north:

1. We caught an amazing showing of the northern lights on Monday night. It was the first time I'd ever seem them, and it sounds like the show we saw was an especially awesome one with rare red lights mixed in with the usual greenish tint to the sky. Pretty spectacular!

2. Speaking of the night sky, it has been a while since I last saw a sky full of stars, so that has also been a nightly treat.

3. Turns out Leroy loves being in the woods! He's been loving daily romps in the woods sans leash where in addition to unsuccessfully chasing squirrels, he's also gotten the chance to jump over logs, wade in the creek, and sniff to his heart's content.

4. D's mom came up yesterday evening so today we road tripped over to the Lake Huron Scenic Byway. Our trip involved a hike up and down 300 steps to check out Iargo Springs and fantastic views of the AuSable River and the fall foliage reflected in its still waters. This evening D's dad arrived, and we headed out for a little Friday might fish fry (I skipped the fish and opted for the salad topped with pecans, bleu cheese crumbles, and dried cherries--so good!).

5. We only have one full day left to enjoy the northern woods. I think tomorrow may involve a few more walks in the woods, a little more book-reading by the wood burning stove, and maybe a little bit of fishing on the lake (catch and release for me!). Happy weekend!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

[Ingredient Spotlight: CSA Box #25]

Sadly, we are missing the last week of our Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA share. Here's what we would have picked up this week in our CSA box: 

2 Leeks - Farmdale Organics
1 Head Green Butterhead Lettuce - Coyote Run Organics
1 Medium Spaghetti Squash - Elm Tree Organics
1 Head Broccoli - Organic Willow Acres
1 Head Green Cabbage - Green Valley Organics
1 Butternut Squash - Green Valley Organics
1 Bag Onions - Windy Hollow Organics
1 Package Cremini Mushrooms - Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms

This was our first year taking part in a CSA share. We paid $425 for a 25-week vegetable half-share, which averages out to $17 per box. As I've shown in these ingredient spotlight posts each week, we received a large variety of vegetables and mushrooms in each box. Would I sign us up again next year? At this point, I think my answer would be no. Even with just a half-share, we ended up with more vegetables than we were able to eat in time before either (a) the produce went bad or (b) the next week's box arrived. And though I enjoyed trying new vegetables from week to week, there came a point when I had had my share of beets and kale, yet they just kept coming. I think I would consider going in on a half-share again if we shared it with another couple, but at this point, I don't think it makes sense for us. I think it was a great deal for a weekly boxful of organic produce; I think it would be hard to get the same amount of veggies for that little of a cost in a grocery store. 

Since eating organic and/or locally-raised produce is important to me, I think next year we will spend the money we would have otherwise put toward a CSA share at our (many) local farmers markets. That way we can ensure that we are still supporting local farmers while also purchasing just the vegetables that we want to eat that week. In general, though, we had a great experience with the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA, and I would highly recommend them to anyone interested in the Philadelphia (and greater NY/DC) region.


Wednesday, October 26, 2011

What's On My Mind: Processed Foods

A lot of hits to this blog come from searches such as “Is yogurt processed?” or “How is oatmeal processed?” While the intent of this blog isn’t to explain how certain foods are made or how exactly different food items are processed, I think it does help to at least define what is meant by the term processed food.

So what is processed food? One definition (from the textbook Developing New Food Products for a Changing Marketplace) explains that processed foods are “raw animal, vegetable or marine materials [that have been] transformed into intermediate . . . edible products through the application of labor, machinery, energy, and scientific knowledge.”  What this means is that a lot of food products are processed. And it’s not just pasteurized milk or a box of cereal that’s considered to be a processed food product. Even a bag of salad greens—which has been mechanically torn apart and pre-rinsed prior to being bagged—is an example of a processed food. Unless you’ve pulled it directly out of the ground or off the tree and eaten it, you’re eating a processed food. Where I try to draw the line, however, is in the ingredients. I much prefer to eat processed foods that have the most “real” (that is, whole) ingredients and the least amount of total ingredients. Using an example from yesterday’s post, I’d much rather buy a jar of peanut butter that lists its ingredients as “peanuts, salt” rather than one that lists “peanuts, sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses.” I also tend to shy away from products with artificial flavorings and/or colorings. However, I am far from perfect when it comes to this topic (hence the blog's name is A Less Processed Life, not An UnProcessed Life) -- sometimes it's just easier, and let's face it, way budget-friendlier, to buy products with more questionable ingredient lists than I would prefer.

In my mind, the best way to ensure that you are eating what you want to eat ingredients-wise is to make it yourself. The downside of this, of course, is the time it takes to do so. I can understand why so many people would rather reach for a can of cream of mushroom soup rather than take all the steps to make it on their own. I think, however, that if you do have the time, it is often well-worth it, both flavor-wise and health-wise, to skip the canned or boxed stuff and make it on your own.

Do you rely on a lot of processed foods in your cooking? Are there certain ingredients you try to avoid? Do you ever try to make things from scratch?  


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

What's On My Mind: Food Commercial and Label Claims That Drive Me Crazy

As promised yesterday, following is a list of four product commercials and/or claims that drive me absolutely crazy. 

(1) Chef Boyardee Commercials
These commercials have made me mad for a while. What’s the deal with demonizing vegetables? What’s wrong with teaching your children that they aren’t something to be feared, and actually taste kind of delicious? Now, I don’t have children, so maybe I just don’t “get” how difficult it is to feed children vegetables, but it seems to me if you start them out early, there’s a good chance they’ll continue to like vegetables as they grow older. Heck, you can even “hide” them in made-from-scratch foods if you want. But using a highly-processed can of food to get your full serving of vegetables? I don’t think so. 


(2) "Cage-free" Eggs
Though the idea of eggs from cage-free chickens may conjure up images of hens frolicking in the pasture, doing chicken-y things like eating grubs, scratching at the ground, and taking dust baths, for the most part, this image is a false one. Though it might be true that cage-free hens have a better life than their caged sisters, it isn’t that much better. Rather than being confined to a cage—often part of a stack that can reach nearly two stories high—that offers the chicken space about the size of a piece of paper, cage-free hens often live packed together in large open barns. Sometimes the birds have access to the outdoors, oftentimes they do not. And even when they do have access to the outside world, their access is often limited to a small, difficult-to-find door that leads out to a tiny bare-ground outdoor space the size of a small patio. If you’re really interested in eating eggs from humanely-raised chickens, your best bet is to seek out eggs from your local farmers market, where you can talk with the purveyor directly to find out how their laying hens are housed, raised, and treated. Alternately, you could raise your own laying hens in your own backyard (if your local ordinances allow!). I hope that someday we’ll have our own brood of laying hens. For now, we usually pick up fresh eggs at the farmers market, or I buy the humane-certified eggs from pasture-raised hens at Whole Foods. The $5 price (which is about $2-3 more expensive than eggs from both standard and cage-free hens) is well worth it to me.


(3) "Natural" Jif Peanut Butter
D and I were at the grocery store the other day and one item on our list was peanut butter. I prefer to eat natural peanut butter, which in my book has an ingredient list that reads “peanuts.” Maybe “peanuts, salt” if I’m feeling incredibly wild and crazy. So, after a quick look at the jars of peanut butter for sale, I grabbed a jar of “Natural Jif.” Admittedly, I didn’t read much further than the “natural” – after I got home I managed to read further on the front label, which states “Peanut Butter Spread Contains 90% Peanuts.” Imagine my dismay when I turned the jar around and read what the other 10% consisted of: “sugar, palm oil, contains 2% or less of: salt, molasses.” Call me crazy, but that ingredient list doesn’t scream all that “natural” to me. Sure, these items may have natural origins, but none of these ingredients are “naturally” found in a peanut. I think “natural” is definitely one of the most misused terms in food labeling. Producers capitalize on the fact that consumers see the term “natural” on a product as meaning that it’s a healthier, or less-processed option—an aspect that is often not the case at all.


(4) "All-Natural/Cage free/USDA Process Verified" Chicken
I first saw the commercial for Perdue’s new “USDA-Process Certified” chicken earlier this year, and my BS alarm immediately started to go off. To begin with “USDA-Process Certified” is marketing hogwash. Perdue worked with the USDA to come up with a “verification” program to certify how the chickens are raised and what they are fed. The packaging claims include “All Vegetarian Diet,” “No Animal By-Products,” and “Raised Cage Free.” Let’s start with the last claim first. Here’s the deal – chickens raised as meat birds are rarely, if ever, raised in cages. (Caging chickens is more of an issue with laying hens, which I explained above.) In fact, for the most part, the chickens are stuffed into large barns, where overcrowding and sickness prevail. So that’s problem #1. As to the other two claims, I suppose it’s okay that the chickens are fed vegetarian, animal by-product-free diets, but in reality, a chicken’s natural diet would consist less of corn, soybeans, and marigold (that last one of which imbues the birds’ skin with a yellow hue) and more of insects and leafy greens. A final claim on the product is that “No hormones or steroids added” which is really a non-issue as government regulations require that poultry NOT be given hormones or steroids. So good on you, Perdue, for following the law on that one.

What do you think? Are there any food commercials, labels, or product claims that drive you up the wall?


Monday, October 24, 2011

What I'm Celebrating: Food Day!

Did you know that today was the first (hopefully annual) Food Day? According to the organizers,
"Food Day's goal is nothing less than to transform the American diet—to inspire a broad movement involving people from every corner of our land who want healthy, affordable food produced in a sustainable, humane way. In other words, we want America to eat real. We want to get Americans cooking real food for their families again. We want fewer people at drive-throughs and bigger crowds at farmers markets. We want to celebrate fresh fruits, vegetables, and healthy whole grains—and to support the local farms and farmers that produce them. We want all Americans—regardless of their age or income or geographic location—to be able to select healthy diets and avoid obesity, heart disease, and other diet-related conditions." {via}
The goals of Food Day are to:

    1. Reduce diet-related disease by promoting safe, healthy foods
    2. Support sustainable farms & limit subsidies to big agribusiness
    3. Expand access to food and alleviate hunger
    4. Protect the environment & animals by reforming factory farms
    5. Promote health by curbing junk-food marketing to kids
    6. Support fair conditions for food and farm workers

Now that's some food talk (and goals) I can definitely get behind, and in a nutshell, that's what this blog is all about. This week, I'm going to step away from posting about what I'm eating (and let's face it, many of my creations are uh, questionable in the very least. I mean, did I really post about eating taco leftovers in an English muffin? Yikes!) and focus more on the food itself—including topics such as what exactly is processed food, where does your food come from, and why should you care. 

Coming up tomorrow, I will take a look at some of the food claims and commercials that drive me crazy. And now, off to celebrate Food Day with a few "real" ingredients of my own. Looking for a Food Day event in your community? Click here to find out what's going on in your neck of the woods. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's For Dinner: Buttermilk Waffles with Vanilla Chai-Spiced Sauce

Thursday evening marked our third night of breakfast-for-dinner in a row. I kind of love breakfast foods, though, so there's nothing wrong with that in my book! To mix things up just a tiny bit, instead of "normal" waffles, I went a little wild and made buttermilk waffles. Crazy, I know. There's not much difference between the two aside from the replacement of milk for just a bit more buttermilk. To keep with the theme of changing things up just a little bit, I added some chai-inspired spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom) to the vanilla sauce that I served alongside the waffles. Sometimes just a small change makes all the difference.

Buttermilk Waffles (printer-friendly version)
makes 6 large waffles

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
2 cups lowfat buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, sugar, baking soda, and baking powder. Set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla.
4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined.
5. Bake the waffles according to your waffle iron's instructions.
6. Place the cooked waffles onto a plate and place in the warmed oven until ready to serve.
7. Serve waffles with toppings such as maple syrup, fresh fruit, or a specialty sauce, such as the vanilla chai-spiced sauce shown below.

Vanilla Chai-Spiced Sauce (printer-friendly version)
makes 4+ servings

2 cup organic skim milk
1/2 cup organic cane sugar
2 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
ground cinnamon
ground nutmeg
ground cardamom

1. Mix milk, sugar, and flour over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir frequently!
2. Continue stirring as mixture heats; bring it to a boil. Cook for a few minutes more; the mixture will thicken to a pudding-like consistency.
3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Add the spices to taste. (I used about 5 dashes each of cinnamon and nutmeg and about one dash of cardamon.) Stir briskly with a whisk to combine. Keep the sauce warm until ready to serve.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: CSA Box #24

This week's box from Lancaster Farm Fresh included:

1 Head Rhapsody Lettuce - Coyote Run Organics
1 Head Green Leaf Lettuce - Green Valley Organics
1 Head Bok Choy - Green Valley Organics
2 Small Butternut Squash - Green Valley Organics
1 Bunch Daikon Radishes - Millwood Springs Organics
1 Head Broccoli - Pine Hill Organics
1 Bag Beauregard Sweet Potatoes - Eagle View Organics
1 Bag Yellow Onions - Sunny Crest Organics

Lately, I've seen a lot of interesting baked good recipes that use butternut squash. Here are a few that have caught my eye:

Butternut Blondies with White Chocolate Chunks
Butternut Squash and Chocolate Brownies
Butternut Squash Donuts [I think I'd try to make a baked version]
Butternut Squash Muffins with a Frosty Top
Butternut Squash Bread Pudding [this one is more savory than sweet]
Butternut Squash Harvest Loaf

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

What's For Dinner: Egg Sandwich and Hashbrowns

Last night we had pancakes for dinner, so it didn't seem all that out of the ordinary to have another breakfast-for-dinner dinner. Tonight we went for savory rather than sweet flavors. I roasted up a skillet full of hashbrowns made from the red gold potatoes in CSA Box #22. I put D in charge of poaching the eggs for the egg sandwiches that accompanied our hashbrowns. I added Swiss cheese (cut into a round shape using a glass to better fit the English muffin), fresh spinach leaves, halved grape tomatoes, and a small squirt of Dijon mustard. D added Swiss cheese and Canadian bacon to his sandwich. It doesn't get much easier than that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's For Lunch: Whole Wheat Pasta Salad

One of our errands on Saturday included a quick trip into Costco. (Okay, not so much a quick trip as the checkout lines were INSANE. That's what I get for attempting to shop there on a Saturday afternoon!) Among the items I picked up was an eight-pack box of rotini and penne whole wheat Barilla pasta. All for just $8.99! I couldn't pass up that deal. I used the rotini whole wheat pasta in a quick and easy pasta salad dish that we packed with us for our canoe trip and picnic on Sunday. This pasta salad features fresh veggies including broccoli from last week's CSA box.

Whole Wheat Pasta Salad (printer-friendly version)
makes about 6-8 servings

3 cups whole-wheat pasta (I used rotini, use whatever shape you prefer)
1/4 cup baby bella mushrooms, sauteed
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted
2 1/2 T olive oil
2 1/2 T red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
1 cup fresh broccoli florets
1 cup fresh carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2" rounds
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup whole pitted kalamata olives
1/4 cup feta cheese

1. Cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. While the pasta is cooking, saute the mushrooms until browned and softened. Remove the mushrooms from the pan, and then toast the pine nuts until lightly browned and fragrant.
2. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and pour into a large bowl.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, red-wine vinegar, thyme, Italian seasoning, and parsley.
4. Pour the dressing onto the pasta and toss to combine.
5. Let the pasta cool for several minutes. Then add the mushrooms, pine nuts, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, kalamata olives, and feta cheese. Use a large spoon to gently combine the ingredients.
6. Place the salad into a lidded container, or cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Place the salad into the fridge and let chill for at least two hours or overnight.
7. Serve cold.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Weekend Shenanigans: Fall Frolicking

{pumpkins for sale}

The weather over the weekend was perfect for a foray into the great outdoors for some fun fall activities. On Saturday, D, Leroy, and I piled into the car and headed out to Weaver's Orchard, where we picked up some apple cider, a variety of apples for pie-making, a pumpkin, and a bagful of apple cider donuts. After running a few errands at a few stores in the area, we headed off to French Creek State Park, where we let Leroy run off some steam and paddle a little bit in the lake.

{running down the park trail}

Leroy also did a little frolicking in the leaves, which he enjoyed quite a bit:

{happy dog}

On Sunday we continued our fall adventures by heading to Pemberton, New Jersey for a little canoeing on the Rancocas Creek Canoe Trail. We rented a canoe from Clark's Canoe Rental (which I highly recommend!) and went for a paddle up the creek.

{our little canoe}

We all sported life jackets -- one of our errands on Saturday included a stop at Petsmart to pick up one for Leroy. I figured if we had to wear one, he should, too!

{in the boat}

The weather was perfect for canoeing, the autumn leaves glittered in the gently flowing water, and all in all, we had a delightful paddle up and down the creek. (There were a few dodgy spots due to submerged (and not-so-submerged) trees from the flooding due to Hurricane Irene.)

{our turn-around point, where the creek became impassable}

We canoed upstream for about an hour and a half, and stopped off at a little picnic ground for lunch before heading back to from where we started. During our lunch stop, Leroy worked on his frisbee-catching skills (still a work in progress) and also worked on his swimming skills (he's a little unsure about that).

{picnic lunch}

The return trip down the creek (with the current) took only about an hour, and we were out of the water just after 3p, making our trip a total of about 4 hours, including our lunch break. I think we canoed a total of just over six miles. Fun times, indeed!

{along the creek}

Back at home we had a lazy Sunday night of "watching" football (the game was on; I spent the majority of the game completing(!) the crossword puzzle in the NYT magazine). Now on to another fun week of work! Happy Monday.

Friday, October 14, 2011

What's For Dinner: Teriyaki Veggie Stir Fry

Tonight's dinner was a stir fry composed of both fresh and frozen veggies, dry fried tofu, and teriyaki sauce, all served over a bed of short-grain brown rice. The fresh veggies included steamed broccoli and sauteed baby bella mushrooms from yesterday's CSA box. The frozen veggies were a mix of carrots, cauliflower, and more broccoli. I also added in a can of sliced water chestnuts for a little added crunch. I cooked up the fresh broccoli, mushrooms, and tofu separately, then cooked the frozen veggies in an electric skillet until warmed through. I added the pre-cooked ingredients, then topped it all with about a half-cup of organic teriyaki sauce and let it cook for several minutes more. Pretty easy. I'm a huge fan of frozen vegetables, which I will be using more of as the summer growing season ends and local produce becomes scarce. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: CSA Box #23

This week's box from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative included:

1 Spaghetti Squash - Elm Tree Organics
1 Bunch Red Radishes - Certified Organic - Farmdale Organics
1 Butternut Squash - Certified Organic - Misty Meadow Acres
1 Package Baby Bella Mushrooms - Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms
1 Bunch Cilantro - Noble Herbs
1 Head Broccoli - King's Produce 

Like usual, in addition to my veggies, I also picked up a loaf of bread at Metropolitan Bakery, our CSA pick-up spot. This time, rather than my typical baguette, I opted for a loaf of San Francisco style sourdough bread. I had bruschetta on my mind, and made a small batch with toasted slices of sourdough bread as a base, covered with a healthy slathering of ricotta cheese mixed with fresh chopped rosemary, toasted pine nuts, all topped with sliced baby bella mushrooms from our CSA box sauteed in a little Garlic Gold olive oil. Delish!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What I'm Lusting Over: iPhone Apps for Cooking


D and I are joining the iPhone family this Friday! (Well, so long as our shipment of two iPhone 4s's arrives, anyway.) I am beyond excited, though I am a little worried that I'm going to become one of those people that instagrams the heck out of everything. Particularly since using instagram is so 2009. Oh well. Regardless, I am rather excited about the new iPhone's camera capabilities, especially since the camera in my Blackberry is So. Very. Sad.

I am also quite excited about diving headfirst into the world of apps. And of course, there are plenty of food and cooking-related apps to check out. Here are the top five that intrigue me the most, including their descriptions from the iTunes App Store.

1. Epicurious - FREE

"Search more than 30,000 delicious, professionally created recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Self, and renowned chefs and cookbooks. Save your favorite recipes, and sync your Favorites list in the app with your online Recipe Box at You can also create shopping lists, and e-mail recipes and shopping lists to yourself and friends. Plus, get access to authoritative recipe reviews from Epicurious members."

2. Locavore - FREE

"Based on your phone’s GPS location, Locavore will make searching for in-season, local food a breeze by pinpointing farms and farmers’ markets nearest you. Read all about them on their profile page, find that specific local item you have been looking for or just check out what’s in-season right now. Plus, you can get recipe suggestions to make with your delicious local food and then, brag about it to all your friends through Facebook."

3. Harvest - $1.99

"Harvest is your guide to selecting the freshest, ripest, healthiest and best-tasting produce. Whether it's knocking on watermelons, smelling pineapples, squeezing avocados, or examining the color of peaches, you'll always know the best approach."

4. Whole Foods Market Recipes - FREE

"Looking for healthy and delicious food? Search Whole Foods Market Recipes for recipes featuring the finest natural and organic foods. You can search recipes by ingredients and dietary preferences such as gluten-free, low fat, and vegetarian/vegan. Every Whole Foods Market recipe includes nutritional information and cooking instructions. You can also enter up to 3 items you have on hand to find recipes using those ingredients. Add ingredients to your Shopping List from a recipe automatically, including quantities so you don't buy too much. You can also add items by hand, edit, rearrange, and send your list via email. Use the App's store locator to find Whole Foods Market stores near you. Each store page includes links to the store website and specials of natural and organic foods on sale at your local Whole Foods Market."

5. How to Cook Everything or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian - $4.99

"From this award-winning book: Mark Bittman’s 2,000 recipes and recipe variations—as well as his no-nonsense cooking guidance, including hundreds of how-to illustrations; equipment, technique, and ingredient information; and meal-planning ideas. Features include easy-to-use and flexible search capabilities, as well as the ability to browse recipes and reference information, handy built-in timers, placed throughout the recipe steps, well-organized shopping lists that make it easy to buy ingredients—and whatever other groceries you need at home, and convenient printing of recipes and shopping lists. One of the bonuses of this app is that all recipe and reference content is embedded in it, which means that you can use the app even if you don't have a network connection."


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What's For Dinner: Thai Coconut Soup Served Over Forbidden Rice with Roasted Sweet Potato and Sweet Dumpling Squash

I find that the first day back at work after a long weekend is a bit of a bummer. I managed to make it through the work day, but didn't have much of a desire to make a big mess in the kitchen when dinnertime rolled around. I looked in my cupboards for inspiration and came upon a can of Amy's Organic Thai coconut soup (Tom Kha Phak), and from there I figured I'd make some sort of rice bowl with the soup providing the majority of the flavor.

To put together my dinner, I cooked up some forbidden rice in the rice cooker (1 cup rice per 1 3/4 cup water, use the brown rice setting; it took just over an hour), then added about 1/2 cup of freshly oven-roasted diced sweet potato and sweet dumpling squash, and topped the whole thing with a serving of the soup, thickened slightly with corn starch, and a small handful raw cashews. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weekend Shenanigans: Ms. Bronson Goes to Washington

On Saturday morning I headed out to the 30th Street Station to pick up a 7:50a megabus to Washington, DC to spend the weekend with Jenny, one of my good friends from graduate school. We've been trying to coordinate plans to visit since I moved to Philly; our schedules finally coincided for this three-day Columbus Day weekend. I've been to DC a few times -- including trips with my family, on a fourth-grade trip, and a few years' back with my friends from graduate school. However, there's always plenty to do (and seemingly always new things to see as well) in DC.

After dropping off my bags at Jenny's apartment, we set off for Eastern Market (an outdoor/indoor farmers and craft/flea market), where we perused the goods for sale and stopped for lunch at Le Pain Quotidien. We spent the afternoon getting manis and pedis at a local nail salon, then headed downtown to catch an evening program at the observatory on the campus of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Unfortunately, 6:45p came and went, and no astronomers were to be seen. We waited about a half-hour before finally giving up and heading on to dinner. Later we found out that the museum had shut down early due to protests against a new exhibit on drone aircrafts in the museum. Too bad, as the closure made us miss International Observe the Moon Night! Boo.

We bussed/walked to dinner at Rosa Mexicano, a fairly chi-chi Mexican restaurant located across the street from the Verizon Center. Jenny and I shared an appetizer of freshly-made guacamole, as well as a pitcher of red sangria. (Oh, so good!) Dinner was great, if not exceptionally filling! I was definitely glad that we took a cab back to Jenny's place; I think otherwise I would have had to be rolled back home.

Sunday morning we headed out for breakfast at Ted's Bulletin, a kitschy diner that takes some of its art deco decor from the now defunct (and since imploded) Philadelphia Convention Hall. (Ah, like a little piece of home!) Since overdoing it the night before, I went for a simple plate of scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and toast. Just the right amount of carbs and protein to set me straight! The lunch/dinner menu (and long list of "adult" milkshakes) looked awesome -- I think next time I visit we'll definitely have to check out the Bulletin for an afternoon or evening meal.

Following breakfast, we headed out to the National Archives. We walked past the archives the previous night on our way to dinner, where I noticed they were currently showing a special exhibit on "the government's role on the American diet." Given that this topic is near and dear to my heart, of course I had to visit the exhibit! Since the archives also houses the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, there was a short line to get in. But soon enough we were inside and beelined toward the special exhibition. I found it to be quite interesting -- the exhibit covered the government's involvement in the introduction of crop species to the United States, traditional farming, industrial farming, factory food production, nutrition, and eating habits (with a large focus on the years before and just after World War II). I couldn't help but buy a book about the exhibit, so you may hear more about this topic in the future!

After visiting the National Archives, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History where we caught the IMAX 3-D movie Grand Canyon Adventure. (The movie was "meh" -- the 3-D effects were kind of cool, but the story itself was kind of lacking.) After the movie we headed back to Jenny's Capitol Hill neighborhood, where we stopped at The Old Siam Thai restaurant for dinner. Gotta love a place that has a daily happy hour!

This morning Jenny and I grabbed lattes at Starbucks and then headed off for a walk down to the Lincoln Memorial and back. (About a five-mile walk in total.) Along the way we stopped off at the Korean War Veterans Memorial


and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial, which just opened to the public in late August.


Lunch was at sweetgreen, a made-to-order salad place. I opted for the seasonal salad with local apples, mesclun greens, fresh basil, goat cheese, candied walnuts, and champagne vinaigrette. This salad is top on my list to recreate at home. In fact, I think I might already have most of the ingredients on hand!

I hopped back on the bus to Philly at 2:15p and arrived back just before 5:30p. Though a bit of a whirlwind weekend, I had a great time and already have a list of things that I still want to see (and places where I want to eat, too). One thing I noted during my time in DC was how expensive everything was! And I thought Philly prices were bad. Guess I'll need to save up my nickels and dimes before my next trip. Thanks for a great weekend, Jenny!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Ingredient Spotlight: CSA Box #22

This week's box from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative included:

1 Head Green Romaine Lettuce - Bellview Organics
1 Red Kuri Squash - Railroad Organics
1 Head Bok Choy - Scarecrow Hill Organics
1 Bag Onions - Windy Hollow Organics
1 Package Portobello Caps - Mother Earth Organic Mushrooms
1 Head Green Endive - Meadow Valley Organics
1 Bag Cajun Peppers - Friends Road Organics
1 Bag Red Gold Potatoes - Millwood Springs Organics

I've been paging through this month's issue of Sunset magazine, and given the amount of squash we now have on hand, I definitely have my eye on these recipes:

Cashew, Coconut and Pumpkin Curry
Pumpkin Soup with Pumpkin Seed-Mint Pesto
Pumpkin Gingersnap Ice Cream


Thursday, October 6, 2011

What's For Dinner: Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili

There's just something about cold weather that makes me want to break out my slow cooker and cook up a large batch of chili. I've seen a few recipes for sweet potato chili rolling around the Internet of late, and opted to use this Real Simple recipe and this Daily Garnish recipe as inspiration to make my own large batch of sweet potato and black bean chili.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili (printer-friendly version)
makes 8 hearty servings

2 14.5-ounce cans organic diced tomatoes
2 15.5-ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup organic low-sodium vegetable stock

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a 4-ounce slow cooker bowl. Gently stir to mix the ingredients.
2. Cover and cook on the low setting for 7-8 hours, or until the chili has thickened and the sweet potato pieces are fork tender.
3. Season with additional salt and/or pepper to taste.
4. Provide a variety of toppings, such as shredded cheddar cheese, plain Greek yogurt (or sour cream), fresh chopped cilantro, or oyster crackers.
5. Serve alongside a generous helping of golden cornbread.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

What's Baking: Golden Cornbread

Yesterday I made slow-cooker black bean and sweet potato chili for dinner (recipe later this week), and of course I had to serve cornbread on the side. Though in the past I've relied on packaged cornbread mixes, I decided to make a batch from scratch this time around. It was really quite simple, and the result tasted just as good as (dare I say even better than?!) the stuff you can make from a box. Plus, it's nice to know (and control the amount of) every ingredient that went into my batch of golden cornbread.

Golden Cornbread (printer-friendly version)
makes 12 servings

1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons organic cane sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons aluminum-free baking powder
1 egg (preferably from pastured hens)
1 cup organic skim milk
1/4 cup canola (or vegetable) oil

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Spray an 8" square baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, sift together the flours, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.
4. In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugars, egg, milk, and oil.
5. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until ingredients are evenly combined. Do not over-stir.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish.
7. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the bread comes out clean.
8. Let cool for a few minutes on a wire rack before serving.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What's On the Side: Edamame

Whenever I go out to eat for sushi, I have to order a bowlful of edamame as an appetizer. So, I have to admit I was pretty excited that last week's CSA share included a hefty bagful of the stuff. So what exactly is edamame, you might ask? Edamame is an young green soybean that is harvested before it has matured and hardened. You can purchase shelled edamame, but it is typically cooked in its pod. Edamame can be cooked by steaming or boiling; I've included instructions for preparing edamame by boiling below. A half-cup of shelled edamame provides 11 grams of protein, 9 grams of fiber, and is also an excellent source of nutrients such as iron and vitamin C. You can find out more about the nutritional content of soybeans here.

Edamame (printer-friendly version)
makes 2+ servings

2 cups whole fresh edamame

1. Wash the edamame. Set aside.
2. Bring a medium to large pot of water to a boil.
3. Add a liberal pinch of salt to the water.
4. Drop the edamame into the water.
5. Boil for 3-5 minutes.
6. Remove from the cooked edamame from the water and place into a colander. Tap out the excess water.
7. Turn the edamame out onto a paper towel and soak up any remaining water.
8. Place in a bowl and season with kosher salt.
9. Use your fingers to open the pods to remove the beans, or use your mouth to squeeze the beans from the pod. But don't eat the pod itself! 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Weekend Shenanigans: Saturday Evening Road Trip

On Saturday, D spent the majority of the day at a retreat on campus for work. Upon his return home around 4:30p, we decided to leash up the dog and head out on a short evening road trip. Our destination for the evening? New Hope, Pennsylvania.


Along the way there, we stopped off at Washington Crossing State Park. This state park marks the location where General Washington and the Continental Army crossed the Delaware River the night of December 25, 1776 before marching into a successful battle against the Hessian Army in Trenton, NJ. We decided the stop would allow Leroy the chance to run and work off some energy. (Since the park requires dogs to remain on leash, we kept him on a super-long line that still gave him the chance to run, but kept him under our control.) After running off some energy in the park's fields, we found a trail alongside a levee and walked down it for quite a bit. At one point, Leroy decided to test out the waters and actually walked in! He didn't seem to be too concerned about suddenly finding himself floating in the water, but nonetheless, quickly headed back up to dry land.


After thoroughly tiring Leroy out, we fed him his dinner then headed back on the road to New Hope. We thought we had been to New Hope earlier in the year, but apparently we never made it out of  Lambertville, NJ. For a Friday night in late September, the town was hopping! I bet it must be pretty crazy during the summertime. The cool evening temperature was delightful, however, and the weather was perfect to explore the town's main drag.


After walking up and down Main Street, as well as a few of the side streets, we opted to eat dinner at Wildflowers Garden Cafe and Thai Corner. As the restaurant's name suggests, the menu was quite eclectic, and featured American, Italian, Mexican, and Thai cuisine. Though such a global menu would typically make me run the other way, since the cafe was rated number 6 of the town's 42 restaurants on TripAdvisor, we decided it was a safe bet. D and I both had the pad thai with tofu, which was excellent. We sat outside on the back patio beneath the willow trees, where we enjoyed views of the Ingham Creek in the flickering light of the torches that outlined the outside space.


Following dinner, we were both in the mood for something warm, as the breeze was a bit chilly (finally! a chill in the air!), so we headed down to Ye Olde Starbucks (ha!) where D grabbed a cup of coffee, and I got a salted caramel hot chocolate (oh! heaven!) before returning to our car and heading back to Philly. I definitely want to get back to New Hope this fall -- there are lots of interesting restaurants and plenty of shops to wile away the hours.

Sunday was fairly low-key. In the morning, after eating a batch of flax waffles that I cooked up, we leashed up Leroy, and D took him to the dog park while I did the week's grocery shopping at Whole Foods and SuperFresh. Having just rained, Leroy was a mess of muddy paws after chasing and being chased by other dogs in the mulch-covered dog park. Once we arrived home, Leroy got a much-needed bath. The afternoon was spent making up a batch of Rachael's caramel corn, with a few tweaks. Then it was time for football and dinner and more football. (Exciting, right?) I finished up the evening by reading a few more chapters of Squeezed, a book about the Florida orange juice industry. Once I finally finish the book and digest (ha!) what I read, you can expect a post about it on the blog in the (hopefully) near future. 
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