Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'm a Fan of the Meal Plan

If you're looking to simplify and de-stress your life, do yourself a favor:  

Become a fan of the Meal Plan.  

Meal Plans take the stress out of “what the heck am I making for dinner?!”, keeps the increasingly picky kiddos off my back and insures that my tight food budget stays in check.

Here’s what I do:

I develop a week’s worth of themed dinner such as Pasta Night, Rice & Veggie Night, etc. then get creative with those themes depending on what’s easily available, affordable and in season.

Here’s how that looks:

Monday – Pasta Night - Depending on the season this could be fusilli tossed with walnut pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, Mac 'n Cheese or the Easiest Baked Ziti ever. 

Tuesday – Quesadilla Night - Stuff ‘em full of seasonal veggies… Let the kids help!

Wednesday – Rice and Veggies - Again, use seasonal ingredients, but also experiment with different types of rice.  (Costco sells a wonderfully nutty organic brown rice that’s easy on the wallet.)

Thursday – "Brinner" (y’know, Breakfast for Dinner = Brinner!) - Try homemade blueberry pancakes and eggs; quiche; strata or a seasonal scramble.

Friday – Pizza Night– The possibilities are endless…   Pizza dough is ridiculously easy, cheap, and fun to make. 

Saturday – Leftovers - Time to eat down that fridge!

Sunday – Wildcard! – We sort of wing it on Sundays, often cooking a big dish that will make easily reheatable lunches all week long.  Try turkey enchiladas, a lovely batch of savory black beans or Crock Pot “Rotisserie” Chicken. 

You’ll need to start with a well-stocked pantry of go-to spices and seasonings (sea salt, cumin, garlic and such) plus keep plenty of non-perishable goods on hand. Pasta, rice, flour and tortillas are in expensive and easy to store.  (When I’m not making my own, I buy organic tortillas in bulk.  They freeze beautifully.)  It look me a few weeks to get the hang of developing a schedule, taking inventory of my pantry and creating meals with available eats but once I got the system down it makes meals (particularly dinners) so easy and stress-free.   

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sweet Thankfulness - Cranberry Sauce

When I was a kid, cranberry sauce showed up at the table all uniformly ridged and can-shaped, threatening to wriggle itself off of the serving plate.  It was rubbery and sort of strangely tart/sweet and altogether unsettling. (I dare you to name another sauce that can be sliced.)

I certainly do not judge those that love canned sauce (there is a certain comfort to it) but last year I decided to take a stab at making homemade cranberry sauce using only the freshest, in-season ingredients I could find. (My only out-of-season concession was a lovely orange, for it’s zest and pulp.) I asked my friends for recipes, surfed the web and eventually crafted my own version for the ruby red sauce.  (Actually, it’s more of chutney.)  This recipe is easy and fun to make.  (Let the kids help!) It's tangy, fresh and sweet and the most beautiful color.  Pair with herbed turkey and garlic mashed potatoes and it's altogether delightful.

Please understand that this is a not a budget dish and costs about 6 times more than the rubbery can version. (Which is about a buck.)  However when you compare the taste, nutrition and the fun of cooking your own lovely, sweet cranberry sauce to the stuff that slithers out of a can there is no simply contest.

And the kids love it.

This is the fun “What I’m Thankful For “ art that the kids created yesterday on the kitchen chalkboard. (Look closely at the left side, right about the middle…)

Yup, Sam drew a blob and asked me to label it “cranberry sauce.” 

Kid’s seal of approval: Priceless.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries
1 orange – zest (grated rind) and pulp (cut into small chunks)
1 apple – peeled and diced (I prefer Granny Smith)
1 cup orange juice
½ cup sugar
½ tsp. ginger
½ cinnamon

And away we go:
Combine all ingredients in saucepan, cook in medium high until bubbly then turn heat down to low and simmer until cranberries are soft. (I told you it was easy.)

Bubble, bubble…  Luscious yummniess…

Bright, fresh, tangy and sweet  = wonderful addition to your T-Day dinner…

Friday, November 19, 2010

Crazy about Kohlrabi

This, my friends, is kohlrabi:

See the blub at the end?  Where the stalks are sprouting?  That’s the part you eat.

It sort of looks like a beet with arms or maybe a turnip from outer space…  It’s lovely! In fact, kohlrabi is called a “German turnip.”  Best described by Wiki, “The name comes from the German Kohl ("cabbage") plus RĂ¼be ~ Rabi (Swiss German variant) ("turnip"), because the swollen stem resembles the latter.” It comes in many amazing colors including bright purple, deep red and creamy white.

It’s a versatile veggie.  Preparation includes boiling, steaming and roasting.  You can sweeten it (imagine a maple-infused mash - yum) or spice it up and bake with a coating of chili flakes and garlic.  Of course, you can always go the simple route and slow roast it with just a bit of olive oil and kosher salt. (My fave....) I love any veggie that can be prepared a million different ways.  It stretches our creativity, taste buds and budget. (A bulb of kolhrabi only costs $1-2., depending on it's size and demand at your farmers market.)

And, a big bonus since it's so darned yummy, kohlrabi has multiple health benefits. It's low in calories and high in fiber and Vitamin C, which helps support the structure of capillaries and benefits your body's skeletal, lymphatic and digestive systems.  It's also an excellent source of potassium. 

The best part about yesterday’s new find?  It was picked out by my lovely, sweet, 4-year old daughter. She was thrilled to discover this strange-looking edible and was eager to learn more about it. She was tickled to meet the Lori (who owns and operates Stems n’ Roots Farm, just west of Atlanta) who planted the kohlrabi seed, cared for the sprout and harvested the finished product. We’ve helped foster her interest in where we get our food (from the GROUND, not Wal-mart) which I believe is a big step is getting kids interested in healthy eating habits, loving food and respecting the earth. It’s essential that we teach the young ones this important cycle – farm to table – so they understand the gravity of keeping the cycle going.

 My little kohlrabi eaters...


1 bulb of kohlrabi
1 tablespoon of olive oil
a liberal sprinkle of Kosher salt

And away we go:
-Preheat over to 400 degrees
-Line cookie sheet with foil and lightly coat with olive oil or non-stick spray
-Clip stalks off kohlrabi bulb. 
-Peel bulb, then slice into small wedges or matchsticks.
-Toss in bowl with olive oil and salt.
-Place on one layer on cookie sheet and roast for 15 minutes, flip kohlrabi pieces, then roast another 10-15 minutes. 

Kohlrabi is done when lightly browned and can be easily pierced with a fork.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Meatless Monday - Embrace the Bean

I strive for our family meals to be (not necessarily in this order):

1) Nutritious
2) Easy
3) Unprocessed
4) Inexpensive
5) Organic

No doubt about it, beans fit the bill in every way. There’s little better than a luscious and amazingly aromatic pot of lovely, made-from-scratch beans simmering on the stove on a chilly fall day. I love beans in all shapes and sizes but my heart belongs to the beautiful black bean.
·      Nutritious: Recently it’s been discovered that black beans have more health benefits than most other beans due in part to their dark outer layer. They’re a delicious source of dietary fiber and absolutely packed with antioxidants. (Read: a good protector of cancer, heart disease and aging.)
·      Easy: It’ll take about 10 minutes prep time and about 3 hours of simmering on the stove (with very little care or concern, except for the occasional stir) to make a large batch of tummy-pleasing black beans.  You’ll probably spend more time wrapping Christmas gifts.
·      Dried beans are completely unprocessed with nothing added.  A true whole food.
·      Inexpensive – A batch of black beans that feeds 6-8 people will run you less than fancy deli sandwich – about $6-7. or less  ‘Nuf said.
·      Organic beans are easily obtained at most grocery stores.
Beans are versatile so we often use them in our weekly meal plans in such stuff as tacos and enchiladas, over brown rice, a topping for mixed veggies with cheese and on and on…  Try pureeing these beans and thinning with a bit with stock to make a hearty soup.  (Top with diced roasted red bell peppers and sour cream for some serious yumminess.) After making the black bean recipe listed below we usually freeze about half of it for future use.  They'll keep in the fridge for about a week, you can freeze for about 3 months.

1 Tbsp of olive oil (or bacon fat if you really want to kick the flavor up a notch)
2-3 cups of chicken stock
2 medium onions, grated or chopped finely
1 ham hock - optional (you can find good ones at Whole Foods)
1 bag of dried black beans
2 cloves of chopped garlic
salt and pepper to taste, other spices such as cumin and chili flakes depending on your yen for kick, heat and
And away we go:
Heat oil in heavy pot (I use a Dutch oven) and add onions and garlic. Cook until translucent and add ham hock.  When ham hock is slightly browned, add beans and stock. (Use enough stock to just cover the beans and keep more at the ready....)  Bring pot to simmer then turn down to low and cover, leaving small crack between pot and lid.  Stir occasionally and add water as needed, always keeping the beans slightly covered with liquid.  Cook time is about 3 hours, depending on how soft you like your beans.

(I'm no food stylist and it's hard to make beans look good in a picture so I used one of my fave bowls to take your attention off my bad photo...)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Meatless Monday - Oh yeah, it's Pasta Night and the feelin's right (Oh, what a night...)

Meal planning plays a big part in our success of eating healthy (and organically) on a budget.   I’m not a drill sergeant about it but we try to stay on track with the schedule as much as we can.  (Plus, it cuts way down on kiddo whining… “But I don’t waaaaaant quesadillas.  “Well, sorry, kiddo.  It’s Tuesday so that means it’s Quesadilla Night.  Wish I could help ya out…”  Works like a charm.)

My planning allows some variation on the theme so that we don’t get meal fatigue. (Spaghetti?  Again?)  For instance, Monday is Pasta Night.  This means that with a little planning I’m free to prepare Pasta Primavera (using fresh, seasonal veggies), Pesto Pasta (using fresh pesto with a noodle of choice plus a wide variety of add-ins like sun-dried tomatoes) or Mac and Cheese - depending on the family’s mood. (Some nights we just need a Mac and Cheese comfort food night, y’know?) Additionally, this theme usually stays on the Meatless Monday track, which I think is a good idea for a wide variety of reasons.  (Will get into that on another post.)

Today I’m sharing a recipe for one of the big staples of our diet – Pesto. We use it on breakfast sandwiches, omelets, pasta dishes, casseroles – you name it.  Seriously, we use it like a condiment. We first discovered the mass utility of pesto just after the kids were born.  A neighbor gifted us with an ample container of the homemade stuff.  At first we thought, “huh, interesting baby gift” but soon our taste buds were off and running and it became a regular in our fridge.  Raw garlic, nuts, olive oil, cheese, basil – how could a combo like that be anything but fabulous?  Plus, we make our pesto with walnuts, which has crazy health benefits – super high in Omega-3s and fiber, for starters. And walnuts are way less expensive than the more widely-used pesto addition, pine nuts. 

It's cheap and easy to make at home. A small container at the store will run you at least $5-6. bucks but the do-it-yourself variety takes less than 10 minutes to make and is fraction of the cost.  Organic basil in easily grown in pots and you can buy good quality olive oil, cheese and walnuts in bulk at your local warehouse store. Pesto freezes well too. I use the Foodsaver system.  Fabulous. Every year I make about 4 months worth for the freezer so we can get through the winter without going through pesto withdrawal.

Enjoy and Happy Pasta Night to you.


2 cups fresh basil - washed and towel-dried
4-6 whole garlic cloves
1 cup of walnuts (MUCH cheaper than the more often used pine nuts)
1 cup good quality olive oil
1.5 cups good parmesan cheese (or you can use a mixture of reggiano and parm)
Salt and pepper to taste

And away we go:
Layer basil, nuts and garlic in food processor and pulse until finely mixed. 

Slowly add olive oil while food processor is on. 

Take off lid, scrape sides and add cheese. 

Thoroughly mix to desired consistency.  (We like it super smooth...)

(The bounty from ONE of my front porch basil plants.)

(Green gold...  Pesto to get us through the winter...)

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sites that Save (on organics and more...)

I'm a fan of the internets. (Just ask my Blackberry.)

My approach to eating organic on a budget is multi-pronged and includes surfing the web for deals. Here a sampling of some of my fave places to get great offers:

Organic Deals and Coupons - Blogger Susan was motivated to live an organic lifestyle to help cure her son's excema.  (He's symptom-free now.) She compiles and lists lots of great places to find organic coupons (links to coupon sites and links to manufacturers/companies sites that offer coupons), plus grocery store deals.  

The Green Half - From their site: The Green Half brings eco-conscious people and businesses together.  We only present offers from companies committed to becoming more green.  Plus, we donate 10% of net certificate sales to various local nonprofits. People get great deals, businesses get loyal customers and deserving organizations get support. Yeah, I can get onboard with that.  While they do not feature organic deals each week they do offer them occasionally so it's worth getting on the mailing list. 

Mambo Sprouts - Fun site that offers recipes, product reviews, deals and coupons for organic and all-natural stuff.  Get on their e-mail list and they'll send valuable offers and coupons.

What are your fave sites that save you $$ on organics??

Monday, November 1, 2010

Meatless Monday - All Hail Kale - KALE CHIPS

I'm a big advocate of the highly underrated kale. It’s sort of the Superman of dark, leafy green things. It’s a powerful anti-oxidant (read: Cancer fighter!!) and packed with all sorts of good things such as Vitamin K (helps maintain bone density), beta carotene (helpful with preventing the hardening/thickening of the artery walls, reduces blood cholesterol) Vitamin C (protection against immune system deficiencies, cardiovascular disease, prenatal health problems, eye disease, and even skin wrinkling – yowza, that’s a lot of stuff), it’s reasonably rich in calcium and much more.

In short, it’s a amazingly nutritious veggie. (In fact, it’s a form of cabbage. Wild cabbage, actually. Who knew?)

And affordable. Only about $1.50/2. for an organic bunch at most farmers markets and grocery stores. 

We keep kale on had in our fridge for delicious Green Juice as a stand-alone beverage or use as base for Super Smoothies.  Another option is to bake it. Yup, doesn’t everything taste better when made into a CHIP?! It’s easy peasy and only takes about 15 minutes. You can spice them up (or down) any way you like. The kids will love them (crunch!) and you’ll be glad that they’re munching a green, leafy power-veggie instead of greasy, toxic-colored cheese curl. (Blech.) 

Much better value too: Yucky, processed snacks/chips = $2.-3. bag and include all sort of chemicals you can't pronounce VS. Organic kale chips = About $2./batch and full of healthy cancer-fighting goodness.  No contest.

- 1 bunch organic kale
- 1 TBSP. olive oil (DO NOT over-oil or you'll get soggy chips!)
- 1/8th or 1/4th tsp of kosher salt or fave herb/spice mix, depending on who much flavor you want (sometimes I simply use Kosher salt but other times we’re in the mood for more spice, like a mix of chili powder and garlic salt or a lovely Tandoori spice blend...)
- a sprinkle of fresh lime juice

And away we go:
Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wash kale and dry in a salad spinner or between towels. (Be sure to dry completely.)

Tear the leaves into large, chip-sized pieces and put in large bowl.

Drizzle with oil, the sprinkle with fave spices. Toss kale with your hands to coat well and evenly. Sprinkle with a little lime juice to make flavors pop.

Arrange in a single layer on a rimmed, foil or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Roast for about 10 minutes, until crispy and starting to turn brown on the edges, but not too dark.

Serve immediately or cool completely and store in an airtight container until ready to serve.

(Ready to bake...)