Heading to the farm!

I’m so excited that you’re going to get a two-part post because I can’t wait until tonight. I’m off to Devon Acres farm to purchase a share in their CSA. Lovely farm fresh, organically grown veggies for the rest of the summer! Hoping the kids will grow to love them more when the see how vegetables are supposed to taste!

I’ll be back to update with more details and maybe even pictures before long!

Planning for the season(s)!

I’ve posted a few times about how important it is to plan for your meals. Over the past few years my family – ok – my husband and I (the kids get dragged along for the ride as they cannot yet get themselves to the grocery store!) have become more and more aware of the foods that we are choosing to eat.

As I’ve gotten further into my nutritional studies it would seem that our choices have gotten smaller and smaller. But really – were all the “foods” we were consuming before, and admittedly, sometimes still do, truly “food”. Absolutely not. There have been times that I had to close one of my text books because all the information out there, really can be overwhelming. I think there were even times my children were tempted to hide my books! So how does this affect our food choices especially in relation to the “seasons”?

Where we live in Southern Ontario, depending on the season, can really limit in many ways our access to fresh fruits and vegetables. But, we have advantages that those who have lived in this area for generations before us didn’t necessarily have. If they could survive on what the earth provided, it leads me to question, why can’t my family? I have been greatly inspired by “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. I will touch more on this book and the idea of becoming a “locavore” in some future posts. If you are looking to start somewhere, or gather ideas, this is definitely a great read.

So – “Seasonal Planning” what exactly does that mean? Well, the first step is becoming aware of the what is available (in your geographical) area each season. This is a great web site here to learn about what is seasonally available where you live. For us it means opening the calendar and marking that in June we will be planning on going strawberry picking and prepping to freeze and make jam, enough to hopefully last us until next June, or at least well through the winter. I canned my own salsa last year, so this year I will be planting those ingredients that I will be using lots of in that recipe. Romas, jalapenos, garlic, onion, bell peppers and cilantro. We will be hitting the blueberry patches at the end of July and ensuring we make time for cherry picking in June. I love beets, so I will be planting those several times throughout the summer as to ensure an ongoing supply. I know plucked from my own garden I can feel free to eat them with the skin on and enjoy them in all their sweet goodness. I am also hoping to try garlic this year. One of the things I am most looking forward to very soon is fresh, local asparagus. I can’t wait to cook some on the BBQ or in the oven. I hope to be able to stock up well on this fine vegetable as it’s season really is so short. What it stands for to me though – is the beginning. It is the beginning of the season of fresh fruits and vegetables. A season that can pass all too quickly sometimes. Soon our raspberry canes will be sprouting, and it will be interesting to see how much garden space they will be taking over this year. It’s always interesting to see if any tomato plants grow themselves from last years seeds, left behind in the garden. Each year I learn something new, I look forward to sharing with you what lessons I learn this season.

Slow Cooker Apple Cinnamon Walnut Steel-Cut Oatmeal

After having a talk one morning after bootcamp about make ahead breakfasts, and overnight breakfasts I decided to do a little research and see what I could come up with. I found so many great recipes out there so I promise you, after some family experiments, there will be more to come. For now, I really liked the idea of the slow cookers. It’s nice to be able to have one less things to worry about in the morning. Or if you are like myself, this is also fantastic for shift workers. Come home in the morning, mix up the ingredients and wake up in the afternoon to the lovely smell of cinnamon and apples and a warm bowl of oatmeal.

The Ingredients:

  • 2 apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk
  • 1 1/2 cups of water
  • 1 cup of uncooked steel-cut oats (we like Bob’s Red Mill)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar
  • butter – enough to coat the slow cooker pot
  • 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts
  • 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (you may like to start with less and add more to each individual bowl)
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

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The Steps:

  • Coat the inside of the slow cooker with butter. Just enough so the oatmeal won’t stick. Some people suggested cooking spray, but I prefer butter.
  • I combine all the ingredients in a bowl stirred them up and carefully poured them into the crock pot, the pouring was probably the biggest challenge!
  • Cook on low for approx 7 hours on low.

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Already to go!

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7 hours later, a warm and wonderful start to the day!

Things to Keep in Mind:

The cooking time may vary depending on the style of the crock pot. The first time you make it you may want to make it during the day so you can keep an eye on it. This will re-heat nicely. You can add a little milk and warm it in the microwave. Add different garnishes to your taste. Think raisins, a little maple syrup, try different types of nuts. Many recipes advised to add the nuts later. I actually like them as part of the cooking process. They soften a little, which I find a much more pleasant experience in this oatmeal then hitting a hard “crunch”.  With the milk this almost has a rice pudding consistency. If all you’ve ever had is instant oatmeal – you are in for a bit of a surprise. If you are not a fan, give it a few tries. I’m sure once you get used to this it will be hard to go back to the synthetic over-sweetened taste of the instant packages.

 

Crock Pot Lentil Stew

Sorry I didn’t get this posted for yesterdays Monday recipe. I was sitting down to write and my 15yr old asked to help quiz him for his science exam. Well, anyone out there with a teenager will probably understand when I say that when they ask to spend time with you, you jump at the chance. Mind you, my brain was spinning a little by the end…electricity and ohms never were my thing!

So here we go. This is a great slow cooker recipe I adapted from a vegetarian cookbook. I had never successfully cooked with lentils before so I was excited to try it.

The ingredients:

  • 3 cups dried lentils (1 pound), sorted and rinsed – I used red
  • 3 cups of water
  • 1L of vegetable broth (you can use chicken, but stick with vegetable if you want it to be a vegetarian dish)
  • 1-14oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped (you can use any colour)
  • 4 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic (you can adjust to taste, but a minimum of 2)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried marjoram
  • 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper

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Can’t keep the little fingers away from bite sized veggies!

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and stir. Cover and cook on low for approx 10 hours.

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This dish takes a long time, and it makes a lot!! The recipe originally called to serve over couscous but I choose to serve it over spaghetti squash and found that very tasty. Also, because it makes so much I pureed about 6 cups of it and we had that as soup. In that form it can also be frozen, I am not sure that the stew would freeze as well. This is a dish that I also found was better the next day, probably because the lentils became more tender. I’m excited to try more recipes with lentils now. I’ll keep you posted!!

Why You Need to Read Food Labels

If your not an ingredient list reader I challenge you to give yourself an extra 30 minutes on your next grocery store visit to spend some time reading labels. I can promise you, you will find some surprises. In fact, take a look in your fridge. Just the other day this is what I found in mine:

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This is my minced garlic. I like convenience as much as the next person, I don’t know how I didn’t realize what was in this. I knew there was oil, didn’t think about what kind, but I was surprised and disappointed by the other ingredients. Then again, I should know better!! It’s a reminder to me to always check.

Here’s one more for you, see if you can guess what this label is on:

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Lemons anyone?!? Remember, read your labels so you can make concious food choices. Don’t let someone else (and that includes me) dictate what you put into your mouth. Become a proactive consumer. And remember, scrub your produce! Happy shopping.

How to Cook a Spaghetti Squash

I’ve been asked a few times in the last couple of weeks how to cook specifically a spaghetti squash. So here’s a quick lesson.

  • Choose a squash that is firm with few blemishes. Pay attention to the stem and flower (bottom) areas for soft spots.
  • Wash the squash and cut it lengthwise. Be careful as they like to roll!
  • Seed the squash and place it face down on a baking tray.
  • Cook at 350-375 for approximately 1 hour, until skin is soft.
  • Run a fork along the length of the squash and it will separate into spaghetti-like strands.
  • You can get about 4 cups from an average sized squash.
  • Watch the oven! You can always add a little water to the pan, to avoid the lovely scenario below. It doesn’t affect the taste, just the amount of scrubbing you’ll have to do to clean up the pan 😉  

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There are a multitude of ways to enjoy this vegetable. As a main dish top it with spaghetti sauce, as a side dish try a little butter and fresh parmesan cheese, or wilt some spinach in a pan with olive oil, garlic and pine nuts and top the squash with that. I’m sure it would be tasty with chili as well. My favourite way to have it is topped with shrimp that I have simmered in coconut milk and fresh grated ginger!
Now, it doesn’t taste like spaghetti!! It does taste like squash but the texture I think is more enjoyable for kids then your typical pureed, mashed or cubed turnip.

Spinach and Avocado Smoothie

A quick, easy and tasty way to kick start your day is with this Spinach and Avocado smoothie.

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The ingredients:

  • 1/2 ripe avocado
  • small frozen banana
  • 3 cups of baby spinach
  • 1-1/2 cups of cold water

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The steps:

  • In your blender add a few handfuls of spinach to taste. I use about 3 cups.
  • Slice the frozen banana and add to the blender.
  • Halve the avocado and remove the pit. This is done by hitting the pit with a knife and twisting it to the side, which if the avocado is ripe will easily remove the pit. Just be careful!! Score the flesh on one half and scoop out into your blender.
  • Start with one cup of cold water and blend well, add more water as required to reach desired consistency.

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Some things to think about:

  • I like my smoothies cold, which is why I prefer frozen bananas and cold water, it’s not mandatory.
  • If you’re not sure about the spinach, start with less. You can also use kale, but make sure the stems are removed. Spinach has a much milder taste, kale is very earthy.
  • Feel free to alter the ingredients, change up the fruit and such, but be warned if you are using strawberries, blueberries or cherries it will be tasty, but it won’t be a pretty colour!
  • This is a fantastic smoothie to give kids around St. Patrick’s day. It’s the one time of year they are often willing to try green food! Add more banana to sweeten it and you can alter the amounts as their taste buds start to adjust to the flavours.
  • If you want to increase the protein, you can add greek yogurt, or protein powder (I recommend plain or vanilla).
  • If you are only using half the avocado, store the other half in a sealed container after covering the exposed flesh with lemon juice.

Enjoy!!