Saturday, October 31, 2009

Buying Local

It seems we hear a lot about "going green", "reducing carbon footprints", and "buying local" these days. It seems like the right thing to do is to protect the land we live on. And to me it does make sense to buy things that were grown close to where you live. I would imagine you get things fresher that way, at the very least.

In Houston, there are several farmers markets that take place throughout the week. I try to take advantage of them when I can.

The Bayou City Farmers Market is run by Urban Harvest and is one of my faves to visit on a Saturday morning. It's from 8am - 12pm every week, rain or shine, in a parking lot just behind the 3000 Richmond building. It's an entire market - you can buy produce, seafood, meats, flowers, soaps, premade name it. I think I also like it because there's always live music!

Onion Creek Cafe at 3106 White Oak in the Heights also has a Saturday morning Farmers Market. It's a smaller group of sellers, but you can find some great things there. Again, lots of local growers and organic produce.

The Houston Farmer's Market can be found at 2100 University (in the visitor's lot at Rice Stadium) on Tuesdays from 3:30pm - 6:30pm or at the corner of Greenbriar and University on Saturday mornings from 9am to 1pm. Again this is a location where you can find lots of local growers with seasonal offerings aplenty.

The Central City Co-op can be found at 2115 Taft and is open on Wednesdays from 9:30am -6:30pm and Saturdays from 9am -1pm. This isn't a traditional Farmer's Market, but rather is an organic co-op that allows groups to buy larger quantities at lower prices. There is a membership fee for the co-op, but they do allow you to purchase Dollar Day Pass to shop there as well.

The Midtown Farmers Market is located in the parking lot of Monica Pope's T'afia restaurant at 3701 Travis. This market has become a way of life for those who live in the booming area of Midtown and is always a great source of everything from green beans to chocolate.

The Downtown Green Market is an offshoot of Central City Co-op and is located at the Andrea and Bill White Promenade at Discovery Green Park on Sundays from noon until 4pm except during the month of August. Like most of these markets, their vendors are green and sustainable and everything is grown within 200 miles of downtown Houston!

And lastly, there's Canino's Produce at 2520 Airline. It's not a farmers market per se, but they do carry seasonal fresh produce from the area and it's clearly marked that way. Open every day from 6am - 8:30pm, Canino's is a great resource for anyone who loves to cook! I could spend hours inside Canino's as well as walking in the stands behind the store itself.

So, there you have it. Go out and buy local!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Making Popeye proud...

I'm Popeye the sailor man! I'm strong to the finich, 'cause I eats me spinach! I'm Popeye the sailor man! toot, toot! Okay, sorry, I was having a little flashback to childhood there. My close friends will tell you that when I talk about or think about or hear about anything with a related song, I have to sing the song. It's like a compulsion. Does that make me OCD or just weird?

Anyway...what was I going to tell you? Popeye....spinach! That's right. I used spinach the other day. It wasn't my intention initially, but I'm awfully glad that I did! It all started with Spinach and Fontina stuffed Chicken Sausages that I had in the freezer. I've been wanting to eat them ever since the "dairy free experiment" and finally thought about them enough in advance to have them thawed by dinner time! Woohoo! My brain still works occasionally and that, my friends, is cause for celebration. =)

So, back to the food - One of my favorite cookbooks is Pam Anderson's The Perfect Recipe for Losing Weight and Eating Great. I love it not just because what's in it is healthy, but because she sets up her cookbooks with base recipes and offers up limitless variations. It's Garanimals for the kitchen. I love it. She has a recipe for a Creamy Light Pasta that I started as the base of my dinner. I chose farfalle pasta to have with the sauce because, well, other than lasagna noodles it was all I had in the pantry. Then I took her variation called Creamy Pasta with Shrimp, Spinach and Oregano and subbed my sausages for the shrimp. I LOVED this. I love a white creamy pasta sauce that shall remain nameless due to its calorie and fat content. I don't often eat that nameless sauce. This is a GREAT replacement for that sauce and equally as versatile.

Per my usual crazy day, this recipe was quick and easy, tasty and filling and had pretty easy cleanup. I will continue to try variations of this one because, well, just because it was darn good.

***I made mine with chicken sausage stuffed with spinach and fontina rather than the shrimp!

Creamy Light Pasta Sauce

Serves 5 or 6

1 pound dried pasta
Fresh vegetable - optional; see recipe that follows
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup 2% evaporated milk
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra for sprinkling
Frozen, jarred, or dried vegetable - optional; see recipe that follows
Chicken, seafood, or ham - optional; see recipe that follows
Herbs and/or flavorings - optional; see recipe that follows
Ground black pepper

Bring 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon salt to a boil in a large soup kettle. Add pasta and, using the time given on the package as a guide, cook, partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. If using a fresh vegetable, add during the last 4 to 5 minutes of cooking.

Meanwhile, microwave broth, milk an dgarlic in a 1-quart Pyrex measuring cup or small microwave-safe bowl until steamy hot, 3 to 4 minutes; let stand for a couple of minutes.

Place butter in a Dutch oven or large saucepan over low heat. When butter melts, whisk in flour, then hot milk mixture all at once, whising constantly until sauce thickens, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in Parmesan, along with frozen vegetable, chicken, seafood, or ham, and herbs and/or flavorings, if using. Add salt and pepper to taste and simmer to blend flavors, about 5 minutes.

Drain pasta, reserving 1 cupt pasta cooking liquid. Return pasta to pot.

Pour cream sauce over pasta, adding enough reserved cooking liquid to moisten. Toss and serve immediately witha light sprinkling of Parmesan.

If you ahve any leftover pasta, pour it onto a baking sheet to cool quickly, then refrigerate. Save any remaining pasta cooking liquid to toss with pasta when reheating.

About 453 calories per serving.

Creamy Pasta with Shrimp, Spinach, and Oregano

Creamy Light Pasta (recipe above)
12 ounces peeled, deveined shrimip, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 box (10 ounces) frozen, chooped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup drained petite diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano

Add shrimp, spinach, tomatoes and oregano to simmering sauce.

527 calories per serving (includes the sauce)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chili when it's chilly.

Makes sense, right? Of course, chilly in Houston isn't chilly everywhere else. Chilly in Houston is, "oh my goodness, it's below 80!". I have a good friend, Kimmy, who live in Rhode Penninsula (yes, I know it's Rhode Island, but it's NOT really and island, is it? So, I refuse to call it that....heaven help the weeone when she takes a test of the states in the Union because I've rubbed off). Anyway, Kimmy has to wear like 20 layers of clothes by the end of October to survive the cold. I have to wear a sweater over my tank top and may put on jeans rather than shorts. This time of year always gives me a giggle because when you go shop for Halloween costumes there are plenty of those thick, plush, warm costumes and I always wonder who the heck buys them. Then I talk to Kimmy and find out that her kids need like 5 layers under that!!! It's a very different chilly, that's all.

So, since our chilly is different, I decided to make a chili that was different. *Now, I'm whispering this part because if I say it outloud, they may kick me out of Texas....this is a Vegetarian Chili. I know, I know, but the weeone loves, loves, loves black beans so I thought this would be a way to get her to eat chili.*

This was an easy-peasy recipe that managed to spatter all over my white stovetop, but I didn't really mind since it was a one pot that! I followed the recipe exactly for a change and loved the outcome. The weeone loved it as well. I did add some sour cream to her end product to tame the spices since she's not a heat-lover yet. I'm working on her though.

Enjoy this with some cornbread muffins and whatever Mexican beer you put in it...

  • Black Bean Chili
  • Rachel Ray's Big Orange Book

  • 4 large poblano peppers
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped or grated
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, drained of half their liquid
  • 2 tablespoons (a large palmful) chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons (about half a palmful) ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon allspice (eyeball it)
  • 1 bottle dark lager beer, such as Negro Modelo
  • 1 15-ounce can (or half a 28-ounce can) crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 2 cups beef or vegetable stock (use vegetable to make it vegetarian)
  • Hot sauce, to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, for garnish
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, for garnish

Heat broiler to high.

Char the poblanos under the broiler so their skins blacken, 7-8 minutes. Place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand 10 minutes. Once the peppers have cooled enough to handle, peel and seed them, then roughly chop them up and set them aside.

Place a medium-size pot over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons EVOO, about two turns of the pan. Add the jalapeño, onion and garlic to the pan, and cook 6-7 minutes, until the veggies are tender. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add in the beer, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook a few minutes to reduce the liquid by half, then add the black beans and their liquid, the chopped poblanos, spices, crushed tomatoes and stock. Bring up to a bubble, then reduce the heat and simmer to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper as needed.

Serve the chili up and pass around hot sauce, sour cream, and cilantro at the table to top it with.

Serves 6-8

Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting into the groove...

I haven't been cooking much since the 30 Days of Beverages. I just didn't feel like it. So we've been eating a lot of take out. Going into restaurants a lot and eating really easy stuff that I don't consider "cooking". I'm done with it. It gets old. Know what I mean? It's like being on vacation and in the beginning the restaurants are fun and exciting and different, but by the end of the trip all you want is something cooked from scratch at home on your own dishes. I got there.

So the cooking has begun again! Woohoo! Batten down the I come!

I planned quite a menu for this week and almost stuck to it completely. Impressive given we had a bit of a family hiccup this week when my dad landed himself in the hospital! Never fear, he's okay, and the menu lives another day. =)

I've had this Rachel Ray Big Orange Book for about a year and have only made a few things from it, so I relied heavily on this book for the week's ideas. The thing about Rachel Ray is that if you're a single mom who works fulltime, the 30 minute meal thing is a lifesaver! Generally speaking her recipes are relatively healthy although I do tend to adapt them a bit as I go. For example, I usually sub whole wheat pastas or breads, add more legumes to things where I can and reduce fats a smidge as she's really liberal with her EVOO pours.

The other night my parents were settling back into the house from dad's stint in the hospital and I figured the least I could do was bring him a "down home" meal. Who doesn't love a little home cookin' when they haven't been feeling well? So, RR's Italian Chicken and Dumplings it was. This is an inventive use of gnocchi and pesto and was really tasty. It truly did take me only about 30 minutes from start to finish so that was good. The downside? It used about 3 pots....I like a 2 pot or pan dinner generally. I'm not one to enjoy dishpan hands. =) But nevertheless, this recipe's a keeper and will be made again on a cold or rainy day or when someone doesn't feel well in our house! I used more chicken stock than the recipe called for as well as an extra tablespoon of flour so that it would still thicken the way a good chicken and dumplings should. Try're gonna like it!

Italian Chicken and Dumplings

5 tablespoons EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
2 pounds chicken tenders, diced into bite sized pieces
5 tablespoons butter
12 large white mushrooms, sliced
1 cup shredded carrots
4 celery stalks from the heart, thinly sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 fresh bay leaf
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken stock
1 cup fresh basil leaves
a generous handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
a handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
a couple of handfuls of grater Parmigiano-Reggiano
Zest of 1 lemon
2 (10-12 ounce) packages fresh gnocchi

Place a large pot of water on to boil for the gnocchi.

Heat a pot with 1 tablespoon EVOO, one turn of the pan, over medium-high heat. Add the chicken, then season with salt and pepper and lightly brown. Remove to a plate and add another tablespoon of EVOO and 2 tablespoons butter and heat. Add the mushrooms, carrots, celery, and 1-2 fresh bay leaves, then season with salt and pepper. Soften for 5 minutes, sprinkle in the flour and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in 2 1/2 cups of the stock, slide the chicken back into the pot and simmer to allow the sauce to thicken.

Place the remaining 1/2 cup stock in a food processor with the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, cheese, salt and pepper. Turn the processor on and pour in the remaining few tablespoons EVOO.

Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat with the zest of 1 lemon.

Salt the cooking water and drop the gnocchi in the water. Cook until the gnocchi floats, drain and add to the lemon butter and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Toss the gnocchi 2-3 minutes in the lemon butter until light golden at edges.

Turn the heat off the chicken and stir in the pesto sauce. Serve the chicken in shallow bowls and top with lemon butter dumplings.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fruit and Veggies and Flowers, Oh my!

There's something about a produce market that makes me feel all earth-mothery and cool. I don't know why that is since I am neither earth-mothery nor cool.

But I like this produce market near my house. It's a store, sort of, in the front and behind the building with employees and cash registers are rows and rows of people selling produce. It's all sorts of produce and some of it is fantastic and some of it is probably imported from China, but its' so fun to hang out negotiate a find the produce you'll make dinner with tonight....and to people watch. I love it. So, a couple of weeks ago, Staci and I grabbed our cameras and headed out to snap photos...and buy snap beans.

There were lots of gourds and pumpkins....indicative that fall is here despite the raging summer temps in our neck of the woods.

Not only were there traditional orange pumpkins but the great curvy FairyTale Pumpkins that I love so....

The people are so great to watch here. There are whole families manning a booth. They start their day at 6 am and go until dark - 7 days a week!

When I saw this display of tomatoes my first thought was, "Oh! Fried green tomatoes!!!". My second thought? "One of these things is not like the others! One of these things just isn't the same."

Grapes are a staple in my house. It's like toilet buy them every week. =)

The people who work these booths are expert merchandisers....doesn't this bucket of bananas just scream sunflower to you?!?!? Take that students at FIDM!!!

As we walked through the "store" at the front of the property I couldn't help but giggle when I noticed that iceberg lettuce and tomatoes shared a table. It was like a little wedge salad jumping out at me!

I really do love the produce market. It's a great place to walk, learn ( I ate some new fruit on this trip that I didn't like, but I tried!), imagine, and find good fresh pinto beans!!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Summer, thanks for the memories (vacation, part 3)

Summer is a mere memory at this point. School has thrust us into the heart of Fall even if the weather hasn't quite made me long for leaf peeping or any other outdoor activity. I have hope though that I'll soon be wearing shorts and sweatshirts rather than tank tops and looking for every opportunity to get outside.

In the meantime, I'll share the end of our trip to Baltimore, MD and Lancaster, PA this summer to visit with my brother, his wife and kids.

We had already spent our first couple of days on the boat in Baltimore and we headed back to Lancaster to be tourists for a bit and learn how to twist a pretzel and take in a ball game. The part of the trip that the weeone was most excited about was our next adventure....Hershey. The weeone was genetically blessed with a love of chocolate. If you don't love chocolate you can't live in my house. It's a rule. I promise. =)

We spent a day at Chocolateworld and Hershey Park where the kids all had a blast, we saw how they make chocolate at Hershey, we got rained on (don't all amusement park trips include a little rain?), and the weeone rode her first, second, and third upside down rollercoasters!!! I love that she's becoming a rollercoaster junkie! I have someone to ride with now!

After a day of funnel cake, hiding from the rain and flipping around on twisted steel, the kids had a down day hanging out at the house. Collin and Andrew tried to teach the weeone to swing a golf club. God love 'em, they almost got their heads taken off by that swinging club, but they were a determined bunch!

The weeone found new uses for her eldest cousin, Collin. Hey Collin, will you come to Houston and let me use you as a footrest? It might come in handy. =) (On a side note, yes, that is an Ohio State rug in Collin's room. I'm doing my best to sway him into loving LSU and have even forced him to own an LSU tshirt, but he seems to like those Yankee schools! =) )

Our final days were spent back at the boat in Baltimore. The morning of the day we left, Doug took the kids and me out on his little boat for a bit wakeboarding and little tubing. Collin had a great time hopping over the wake. The weeone had blast tubing again (and steering the boat with a bit of help from Uncle Doug). Andrew tried valiantly to get up on the wakeboard and although we high hopes, this wasn't his day.

This trip was the epitome of Summer Vacation.....Thanks Jones family - we had a blast!