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Here's a hearty and very satisfying casserole that in its original form is vegetarian, but is easy to convert to meaty if you like - just see the note at the end. This would be a great centerpiece for a Cinco de Mayo celebration, and much easier than an assembly-style meal like tacos or burritos (although those are fun if you have the time!)
Go from this...
It's so easy!
2 jars salsa (use a good quality salsa, and choose the spiciness according to your taste. I use one mild and one medium, but I'm a little wimpy. Samurai would prefer it to be muy caliente!)
2 cans refried beans (I like Amy's brand, either traditional or black bean, usually found in the organic section of grocery stores)
1 package corn tortillas (look for organic, non-GMO. Healthiest brand is Food For Life's Sprouted Corn Tortillas, in the freezer section of many natural food stores or the organic section of some grocery stores.)
1 8-oz. package shredded cheese, jack or cheddar
½ bunch cilantro, chopped, optional
sour cream, avocado, scallions, tomatoes, shredded lettuce... as many toppings as you like!
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.
In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spread about 1/2 a jar of salsa on the bottom.
Put a third of the corn tortillas on top of the salsa, breaking them up as necessary to fit in a single layer and cover the bottom as much as possible. A little overlapping is fine. Most packages come with either 10 or 12 tortillas, so you'll use 3 or 4 for each layer.
Spread one can of the refried beans over the tortillas, then the other 1/2 jar of salsa, then about 1/3 of the shredded cheese. (These steps are pictured below - not that this is complicated, but pics are always fun!)
Repeat the layers of tortillas, beans, salsa, and cheese one more time.
Finish with a final layer of tortillas and the remaining salsa (smear around to cover the edges of the tortillas) and top with the cheese.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 40 minutes, until all bubbly. Remove the foil, add the cilantro, if using, and bake for another 5-10 minutes until the cheese on top is like you want it.
Serve with sour cream or greek-style yogurt, and other optional veggie toppings.
You can make this a meaty concoction by simply adding or substituting seasoned, cooked meat to/for the refried beans. For example, I prepared 2 pounds of ground beef with 1 packet of taco seasoning and used that in place of the beans. This meaty version does especially well with some chopped veggie toppings (tomatoes, scallions, lettuce, etc.), since it is so hearty. Make sure your baking dish is a deeper lasagna-style one, since this version is a little thicker!
Photo documentation of the complicated layering process
Refried Beans (and/or meat)
Then repeat those layers one more time (from tortillas through cheese), finish with final layer of tortillas, salsa, then cheese. Here's what it looks like when done baking! (I added the cilantro in the last 5 minutes or so of cooking.)
I was working at the kitchen sink, and suddenly felt 4 pairs of eyes upon me. I turned and this is what I saw.
<iframe width="420" height="315" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/XEfYkgST5RU?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Here’s a recipe that takes a vegetable my kids don’t like very much and turns it into something they actually get excited about - a rare find! Why do we want to eat kale? I happen to think it tastes great, but also... Dr. Mercola recently named kale as one of the top-ten superfoods we should all eat (http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2011/09/10/top-ten-best-superfoods.aspx ) - here’s a fun way to get more of it in your belly!
1 large bunch of kale (if bunches are smallish, get 2)
Preheat oven to 350 deg. You’ll need 2 baking sheets and 2 wire cooling racks that can sit on top of them.
Tear the leaves off of the stems and then into large pieces (2 to 3 inches, approximately). Wash and dry the leaves as best you can (a salad spinner works perfectly).
In a large bowl, toss the kale with a pretty good-size drizzle of olive oil and some salt, then spread it evenly on the wire racks placed on top of baking sheets. Bake for about 15 - 20 minutes until nice and crispy. The leaves will darken somewhat. Enjoy right away! As soon as I pull it out of the oven the Samurai and our 2 sons immediately come and stand around shoveling it into their mouths making disturbing crunching noises and leaving little kale crumbs around the stove. Not too pretty a sight, but I console myself with the knowledge that all those nutrients are gonna be good for them.
Serves about 4 - 5 in our house.
This recipe only seems to work with kale and its curly leaves. Any of the flat-leaved greens don’t crisp up properly. Also, be sure to use the wire racks - if you put the kale directly on the baking sheets, you would have to turn all the pieces halfway through the cooking to try to avoid sogginess - tedious!
Here's a very easy and tasty beef stew with a southwestern twist. There are no potatoes in it, so it is low-carb for those of you who are cutting back on the starches! It's thinner than a typical beef stew, but chunkier than a soup. One could thicken the liquid at the end with some corn starch, but I've never bothered. Stirring in some sour cream to your bowl is highly recommended!
3 T. olive or refined coconut oil
2-3 pounds beef stew meat
2 bell peppers, any color, cut into 1 inch pieces
3 medium carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 T. cumin, ground
1 quart beef broth
1 jar salsa, 16 oz.
4 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
sour cream, cilantro, optional toppings
Heat 1 T. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over med-high heat. Brown half of the beef cubes for several minutes, then place into the slow cooker. Repeat with more oil and the other half of the beef.
Heat the rest of the oil in the skillet, then add the peppers, carrots, and cumin. Cook, stirring frequently, for a minute or two, then pour in about half of the broth. Bring to a simmer then cook for a minute or two, scraping the bottom of the pan. Pour the contents of the skillet over the beef in the slow cooker.
Add the remaining broth, salsa, and zucchini to the slow cooker. Cook on low for about 7 to 8 hours, until the beef is tender. (I haven't tried it, but would probably work on high for about 4 hours.)
Serve with cilantro and sour cream.
Instead of buying already cut up stew meat, you could get chuck or round steaks and cut them into approximately 1 inch pieces yourself, trimming any excess fat off. Be sure to account for the trimmed-off excess in calculating the weight of the steaks you need to buy. Bison meat would also work fine in this recipe.
Here's a Thai-inspired chicken soup that is easy to make and bursting with flavor! It's healthy comfort food with an Asian twist.
2 tablespoons coconut oil, ghee, or butter
1 onion, chopped
1-2 pounds uncooked chicken breast, diced
1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 quart chicken broth (I use either homemade or a box of low sodium, no added MSG.)
1 can coconut milk (look for this in the Asian/Thai section of the grocery store. I prefer regular, not "lite".)
1 lime, juiced, divided
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
4 scallions, chopped
½ bunch cilantro, chopped
salt, to taste
optional: Thai fish sauce, cooked rice
Heat a soup pot over medium high heat, then add the coconut oil. Saute the onions with a little salt for a few minutes, then add the chicken chunks with a little more salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through. Add the ginger and half of the garlic towards the end of this.
Stir in the broth and bring to a boil, then stir in the coconut milk, half of the lime juice, and the red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for at least 15 minutes (longer is fine, too).
Turn off the heat, and add salt to taste (depends on the amount in your chicken broth). Stir in the rest of the garlic, the scallions, and most of the cilantro (leave a little aside for topping individual bowls). Add the rest of the lime juice if desired. Cover and let sit off-heat for 5 to 10 minutes, then serve.
Great served over rice. Add a few drops of fish sauce to your serving to knock the flavor out of the park!
This has become a favorite side dish in our house, and the only way the boys really enjoy eating cauliflower. This is super, super easy - if you have a food processor, especially. I started hearing about people using mashed cauliflower as a substitute for potatoes when I began to eat more low-carb this summer, and this is the recipe I came up with. I think it tastes great, and the mouth feel is creamy and amazing. And it's much healthier than potatoes! It's yummy on its own, or with some kind of sauce or gravy on it. One of my sons was very suspicious of it the first time I made it, but after the first few bites he said, "You need to make this a LOT!"
1 medium to large head of cauliflower, washed and trimmed, then cut into chunks (approx. 1 1/2 to 2 inches in size)
4 oz. cream cheese, cut into a few chunks
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into a few chunks
salt (about 1/2-3/4 tsp.)
pepper to taste
Extremely Helpful Equipment
Place the cauliflower in a steamer basket over boiling water, and steam for about 15-20 minutes until very tender. (Don't have a steamer? Boil it until tender, then drain VERY well.)
Put the cooked cauliflower into a food processor and run it until the cauliflower is partially mashed, then add the cream cheese, butter, salt (start with 1/2 tsp., then add to taste), and some pepper to taste. Run the processor until the cauliflower is a uniform, creamy consistency. Sometimes it wants to be stubborn and not really start mashing up, but be patient and let the machine do its thing - the cauliflower will yield to the might of technology.
Serves about 6 or more, depending on the size of the cauliflower. It's great left over, too.
NOTE: my mother makes this and does not have a food processor, so she just mashes it all up by hand. She says it is still good, but not quite the same creamy consistency as you get with a machine. She also finds she has to boil the cauliflower a bit longer to get it soft enough to do by hand.
I have something like this for my steamer setup - much sturdier than the collapsable baskets.
My food processor is a Kitchen Aid - powerful and easy to use!
Here's some thought-provoking information to keep in mind when considering getting the flu shot:
A new study revealed that the flu vaccine prevents type A or type B influenza in only 1.5 out of every 100 vaccinated adults … but the media is reporting this to mean “60 percent effective” – the difference is due to a semantic sleight-of-hand: confusing the meaning of relative vs. absolute risk reduction
Media reports that the flu vaccine is 60 percent effective does not mean that 60 out of 100 people who get the flu shot will be protected against influenza; separate research shows 100 people must be vaccinated to prevent one case of type A or type B influenza.
Vaccine-acquired immunity is temporary, which is why even though the influenza viruses included in this season’s flu vaccine are the same viruses that were selected for the 2010-2011 influenza vaccine, the CDC is still recommending you get vaccinated again, even if you got the vaccine last year. The immunity you get by recovering from influenza naturally is qualitatively superior and longer lasting.
Lifestyle changes will generally be far more effective at preventing type A or type B influenza or other types of flu-like respiratory illnesses than the flu vaccine.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine as "the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses."
This advice applies to everyone 6 months of age and older, and the CDC stresses that you "should get a flu vaccine as soon as [they] are available."
With a promotion this strong, you might assume that getting a flu shot is a "sure thing" to protect you from all flu-like illness this year, but actually it's not.
Not even close.
This decadent dessert is a legend at our parish's Paschal (Easter) feast - the serving bowl is often literally licked clean when everyone is done! It's super easy because it relies on box mixes and Cool Whip, but somehow the combination of the various ingredients results in a surprisingly tasty and even elegant completed dish.
1 box brownie mix, prepared (should be over 20 oz. box and use a 9x13 pan - see Note)
¼ c. coffee, optional
1 box chocolate instant pudding mix, 4 serving size
1 ½ cups cold milk
1-8 oz. container Cool Whip
¼ bag creme-filled chocolate cookies (Oreos or Newman O's), crushed
Prepare brownies as directed on the box. After you pull the pan out of the oven, poke some holes in the brownies with the end of a chopstick (or a similar item), and pour the coffee over the top of them (optional). Let cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk the pudding mix with the cold milk. (I use a hand or stand mixer.)
Gently fold half of the Cool Whip into the pudding so you get a mousse-like consistency.
Now it's time to layer these ingredients into your serving bowl! A clear glass bowl is the most attractive, but anything will do. How you layer it depends on the shape of the bowl and if you are doubling (or tripling or quadrupling) the recipe. The basic order is: break up the brownies into large pieces and put a single layer in the bottom of the bowl. Top with the all the pudding, half of the cookie bits, then the rest of the brownies. End up with the remaining Cool Whip and sprinkle the top with the rest of the cookies.
I usually quadruple this recipe for a crowd, and use a big bowl, and end up repeating layers more than listed above.
You need a brownie mix that is over 20 oz. and requires a 9x13 pan. I like the taste of the Ghirardelli brownies mixes best, but they are more like 18 oz. and use a smaller pan. So, I just make a little extra!
I'm not crazy about the nutritional quality of many of the ingredients - especially Cool Whip! My fantasy is to create a "real food" version of this by combining the recipes I have for homemade brownies, chocolate pudding, and real whipped cream, but I'm usually making a quadruple batch of this under time pressure and just haven't pulled it off yet. However, I do make a few choices that help - I use local raw milk, and when preparing the brownie mix I use melted coconut oil (refined) and local pastured eggs.
For me, cooking pork chops is often a bit frustrating because today’s pork is so lean that the result is often very dry. Here’s an easy way to create succulent chops and a yummy sauce all in your slow cooker with very little labor. I love having dinner cooking in my Crock Pot - gives me kind of a smug feeling all day (as opposed to that nagging “what am I gonna fix for dinner?” playing in the back of my mind).
6-10 center-cut pork chops, trimmed (quantity depends on size of the chops and the number of people you are feeding)
Salt, pepper, garlic powder, or other seasonings
about 1/2 cup of flour
Fat/Oil (olive, refined coconut, butter, or ghee)
1 large or 2 medium onions, sliced
2 - 3 cups chicken broth
8 oz. sour cream or whole-milk yogurt
Put the flour in a shallow dish or pie plate and mix it with seasonings of your choice. Salt, pepper, and garlic powder are good - or any favorite seasoning blend you might have on hand. I don’t measure the seasonings - I shake it in fairly liberally, imagining how much I would shake onto the amount of chops I’m cooking.
Heat about 1 tablespoon of the fat or oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Dredge the pork chops in the flour mixture, then add to the hot pan and brown lightly on both sides. Put the chops in the slow cooker, then top with the onion slices and enough chicken broth just to cover it all.
Cover and cook on low for about 8 hours (this can vary slightly, depending on the size and quantity of chops). Remove the chops (they should be falling-apart tender!) and stir in the sour cream to the remaining liquid and onions. This sauce is excellent over the chops and either mashed potatoes or mashed cauliflower (recipe coming soon!), and whatever green vegetable you decide to serve on the side.
Note: if you want a thicker gravy-like sauce, you can transfer some or all of the liquid to a saucepan (before you add the sour cream) and heat it with a little corn starch or flour to thicken somewhat, then stir in the sour cream off heat. I’m usually too lazy to bother, and don’t mind the more liquidy sauce flooding my plate!
This recipe is adapted from one I got through a cool menu-mailing service called, oddly enough, Menu-Mailer. Check it out if meal planning is a challenge for you!
Here's a simple but very tasty quick chicken dish! It's fairly saucy, so plan to serve it with mashed cauliflower or potatoes, rice, or something else to sop up the yumminess.
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup dijon mustard
juice from one lime (about 4 T.)
3-4 pounds of chicken, skinless, boneless white or dark, whole pieces or cut up into bites
1-2 bags frozen veggies, your choice, optional
sour cream or yogurt
In a glass dish, combine salsa, mustard, and lime juice, then add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and marinate for 30 minutes or more. (If more, refrigerate.)
In a large skillet (with a lid) or dutch oven (depending on the amount of chicken you have), melt butter over medium heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade, and cook for a few minutes, turning to lightly brown on both sides (this may require 2 batches). Add the rest of the marinade to the pan with the chicken and simmer for at least 10 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through - time may be a little longer if you left the chicken in big pieces. (Marinade needs to simmer that long in order to cook any raw chicken still in it.) If you want to add some veggies, just throw in a bag or two of mixed frozen veggies of your choice at the end and cook until they are heated through.
Serve with sour cream and extra lime if desired.
This makes enough for about 8 people. You can adjust the quantities up or down pretty easily - just keep the ratios of salsa/dijon/lime fairly consistent.
(Originally published on Fixitnow.com Sept. '10)
This is probably my most requested recipe, which is a little embarrassing because it is so simple and relies heavily on canned/boxed ingredients. I normally like to cook with whole, unprocessed foods, but sometimes you need something quick and easy. This certainly fits the bill!
Mrs. Samurai’s Corn Casserole
Makes enough to feed a small crowd.
1 stick butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
16 oz. sour cream
3 cans cream-style corn
3 cans whole kernel corn, drained
2 pkg. Jiffy brand corn muffin mix
In a large bowl, mix together butter, eggs, and sour cream. Add corn and muffin mix and stir to combine. Pour into a large casserole dish or pan (or two 9x13 pans) and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for about an hour to an hour and a half, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean and it is starting to brown a little around the edges.
You can halve this recipe, using one or two cans of each type of corn – depending on how “corny” you like it. Bake this smaller size in a 2 quart dish or pan for about 45 min. to an hour.
(Originally published at Fixitnow.com in September '10)
All right, time for another of my highly requested recipes. This is great to make for a crowd, because if you have it sitting around for very long in your house you’ll eat so much that you’ll have to run a marathon to burn off the extra calories. Like the Corn Casserole, it’s very easy to make, and if anyone tries to discuss the nutritional makeup of it, plug yours ears and hum.
Graham Cracker Toffee
2 packs of plain graham crackers (approx.)
2 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
12 oz. bag chocolate chips
1 cup. chopped pecans (roasted for a few minutes in the oven, if there is time, to bring out the flavor)
optional – mini marshmallows
Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet (mine is about 17 in. x 12 in.) with foil, tucking into the corners and allowing some to wrap around the sides. This takes the wide roll of foil – if you have only a regular roll of foil, use 2 smaller pans. You do not want this stuff to get on the pan itself – it’s like superglue. Grease foil with unsalted butter or cooking spray.
Arrange the graham crackers in the pan in a single layer, breaking them as needed to cover as much of the pan as possible.
Melt the butter, sugars, and salt in a saucepan, then bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently. As soon as it comes to a boil, carefully pour the mixture over the graham crackers, using a spatula to smooth it evenly. Make sure all of the crackers are covered. Bake for about 10 minutes – the syrup should be enthusiastically bubbling.
Immediately sprinkle chocolate chips all over the crackers, then put back in the oven for a minute or two. Remove pan, then smooth the chocolate out using the spatula. Sprinkle the nuts over the chocolate (and, for a “Rocky Road” variety – some mini marshmallows), then let it cool for 30 minutes. Stick the pan in the freezer for about half an hour to harden the chocolate, then lift the foil off the pan and break or cut the toffee into pieces. Enjoy!
Of all the products on the grocery store shelf, would you suspect simple, golden honey to be controversial? Unfortunately, few food stuffs are beyond the reach of corruption, as this story illustrates.
Click here to read the whole, sordid story.
Many people aren't aware of the growing "raw milk" movement going on in North America, and the resulting political fallout. Basically, many folks have come to realize that drinking milk in its natural, non-pasteurized state has many significant health benefits (plus the flavor is far superior). For many thousands of years, of course, humans drank milk this way and thrived on it. The only reason milk became a health problem in the late 19th-early 20th centuries is that as more people moved to cities, dairies were also moved to the city. Cows were kept penned up in unsanitary conditions and often fed things like liquor mash, rather than grass. The milk quality was so poor that they often had to add white powder to make it look normal. Combine that with the lack of sanitation and refrigeration, and no wonder there were problems.
Now, with stainless steel and electricity, there's no reason we can't safely consume milk from healthy cows (i.e., they hang out in a pasture or a clean barn and eat grass and hay) that hasn't been pasteurized. The FDA feels differently, however, and has been increasingly performing raids (often with guns drawn) on farmers suspected of selling raw milk illegally. (Every state has its own law about raw milk sales, but there is a Federal prohibition against transporting it across state lines. Sheesh - you'd think they'd have better things to worry about.)
So - today there is a great protest happening by a group of (mostly) moms called the Raw Milk Freedom Riders. Check it out here. What do you think?
For more basic information on raw milk, see here.
Here's an easy weeknight dinner that you can usually pull together from ingredients you have kicking around in your fridge. Since the food is breakfasty, it would also make for a yummy brunch.
The only "thinking ahead" item is that if you are using frozen hash browns, it's helpful to pull them out and have them thaw (either a few hours on the counter, or all day in the fridge). But there's even a work-around for that. Read on!...
Baked Hash Browns
1 bag frozen, shredded hash brown potatoes, about 1 pound or so, thawed and blotted dry (I use a clean dish towel to do this)
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
a few scallions, sliced
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 450 deg. F. Place one oven rack in the highest position, and one in the lower-middle.
(If you forgot to thaw your hash browns ahead of time, spread them on a clean dishtowel on a baking sheet and stick them in the oven for a few minutes while it's preheating until they are thawed, then pat them dry.)
In a 9"x13" glass baking dish, toss the potatoes with the melted butter, scallions, and salt and pepper to taste. Using the back side of a soup spoon, spread the mixture out evenly and up the sides a bit to have a fairly thin layer (about 1/2 inch).
Place on the lower-middle rack and bake for about 45 minutes until as brown and crispy as you like. (Note: you can turn these into an appetizer by topping with some cheese, bacon pieces, and extra fresh scallions at the end and broiling until the cheese is melted, then serve with sour cream, avocado, etc.)
====> While the hash browns are in the oven, begin preparing the Frittata...
Note: this recipe is literally based on the vegetables I happened to have on hand in my kitchen that night. It turned out to be very tasty with this combo, but feel free to vary the types that you use. It's a great way to use up stray veggies that are lurking in your crisper drawers feeling neglected!
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium yellow summer squash or zucchini, chopped
2 cups kale, loosely packed, coarsely chopped, stems discarded
2 T. cream or half and half
1/2 tsp. salt
black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup or so cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
a few large fresh basil leaves, rolled together and thinly sliced
When the hash browns have approximately 20 minutes left to cook, heat a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat, then add the butter. When it's melted, add the onions and saute for about 5 minutes until they are somewhat softened, but not browning yet. Add the squash and the kale, and cook for about 5 more minutes until they are softened and the onions and squash are browning a little.
While the veggies are cooking, whisk the eggs, cream, salt, and pepper together in a medium bowl with a fork until well combined.
Pour the egg mixture into the skillet, tilting the pan slightly if needed to get the liquid into the nooks and crannies around the veggies. Reduce the heat to medium-low, then cook undisturbed for 5-7 minutes, until it starts to look set around the edges.
Turn off the heat under the pan, and sprinkle the top with cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil. Turn the broiler of your oven on, then place the pan on the top rack and broil for about 2 minutes until the top is puffy and lightly browned. WATCH CAREFULLY! "Brown" can turn to "burned" quickly under a broiler.
Remove the pan and turn off the broiler.
(By the way - if the hash browns are still in the oven during all this, they'll be fine. Just keep an eye on them, too.)
Stick a dinner knife into the center of the frittata to check for doneness. If it's runny at all, just pop it into the oven set to about 400 deg. for about 5 minutes, until it's done.
Serve a slice of Frittata (I usually cut this size into 6 slices) with a good-sized chunk of the hash browns... serve with salsa, ketchup, hot sauce, or just as-is. Yum!
This is a yummy soup that can be either made vegetarian or with chicken. Delish either way! Don't let the long list of ingredients worry you - as with any of my recipes, it is easy to make. Scoop some cooked rice into each bowl if desired to really round out the meal.
2 T. coconut oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
2-3 carrots, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 T. fresh ginger, minced (The Ginger People company makes a nice jarred minced ginger that's a great time saver)
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 T. sweet curry powder
1 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
dash cayenne powder
1 10-oz. bag frozen peas
1-2 cans chick peas/garbanzo beans (depending on how "beany" you like it), rinsed and drained OR about 2 cups or so of cooked, diced chicken
1 quart broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 can coconut milk (look for this in the Asian/Thai section of the store)
1 lemon, juiced
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
3-4 scallions, sliced, optional
salt and pepper, to taste
cooked rice (optional)
In a soup pot, saute onion, celery, and carrots in the oil with about 1/2 tsp. of salt until a little soft, about 5 minutes. Add ginger and half of the garlic, cook for about 30 seconds. Add spices and zucchini, then cook for a minute or two.
Add the frozen peas, beans or chicken, broth, and coconut milk. Bring to a boil, then simmer gently for 20-30 minutes (or less, if you're in a hurry!).
Stir in the lemon juice and some of the cilantro and/or scallions, taste to adjust seasonings. Offer extra cilantro and/or scallions for toppings, as well as cooked rice if desired. A dollop of sour cream or plain yogurt wouldn't be out of place here, either.
I just wanted to wish everyone who celebrates Easter this weekend a very blessed day!
~ Mrs. Samurai
I have a few simple guidelines for the food I like to cook at home.
1. It should taste really good (duh)
2. Our meals should have some variety and interesting flavors
3. Nothing should be too time-consuming or difficult to prepare
4. The meals should largely be nutrient dense
Number 4 is often considered to be the undoing of Guidelines 1-3, but I've discovered that's not the case, particularly when you consider what kind of food is truly nutrient dense. I'll write more later about what I consider to be good nutrition, but will sum it up to say I have come to the conclusion that traditional, whole foods are the best things for us to eat. 'Traditional' meaning the kind of food humans have eaten for most of our history. Meat, cheese, traditional fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.), veggies and fruit - awesome! That is, if you are eating reasonably good quality sources of these items (again, more on that later). Processed, refined, sugary, "20th century" foods - these have to be considered "treats" to be eaten on occasion (which is a hard truth to face up to, since we all tend to get addicted to these). I do love to bake treats, and will share these kinds of recipes at times, but I usually wait to make these for when I'm feeding a crowd or on a special occasion.
If you are curious, check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. Their work and writings, combined with others and our own experiences here in the Samurai household, have shaped my opinions on healthy eating a lot over the last few years.
Eating should be enjoyable from start to finish. Cooking should be fun, the meal should taste yummy, your digestion should feel good afterwards, and your health should flourish. Wow, I'm hungry now. Time to go make dinner!
One of the health-related issues I've been paying more attention to in recent years is vaccination. It tends to be a controversial topic, with vaccine opponents often portrayed as hysterical mothers who don't understand science, but here is a very thoughtful video of a medical doctor discussing her concerns about vaccines after spending 3 years researching them. It's worth adding her thoughts to the conversation! Many in the medical field treat vaccines as a "done deal" - they are safe and effective, etc. But, they cannot explain the skyrocketing rates of allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, ADD and other chronic diseases, especially in our youth. It seems to me that we shouldn't remove anything from the table of possible suspects, especially a medical treatment that is being done to nearly every child in the US.
What do you think?
The Samurai and I had this for dinner last night, and it was so good I had to get it up here to share with the rest of you! It's loosely adapted from a recipe from the online "Menu-Mailer" service.
Slow Cooker Chipotle Chicken Thighs
1 large onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
4 medium carrots, diced
4 pounds chicken thighs, boneless, skinless
1 can/jar crushed tomatoes, 14-15 oz., or tomato sauce
1 medium lime, juiced
2 chipotles (canned in adobo sauce), minced
2 teaspoons adobo sauce (from the can of chipotles)
3 cloves garlic
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
1 bag frozen green beans
sour cream, avocado, optional
In a skillet (with a cover), cook the onions, celery, and carrots in a little oil and salt for 5 minutes over med-low heat, covered, until soft. Do not brown. Scrape the contents of the skillet into the bottom of your slow cooker. (You can skip this step and just place the raw veggies in the cooker if you are really short on time, but I think this step helps the flavor and texture a lot.)
Cover the veggies with half of the thighs, sprinkle with some salt and pepper. Then layer the remaining thighs and sprinkle those with salt and pepper.
Combine the tomatoes, lime juice, chipotles, adobo sauce, and garlic in a bowl, then pour over the chicken.
Cook on low for 7-8 hours, or high for 3-4. Add the frozen green beans during the last hour of cooking (you can just throw them right on top of everything and sort of push them into the liquid a bit).
Once everything is done, remove the thighs from the slow cooker and set aside. Stir the cilantro into the liquid and veggies remaining in the cooker. Serve by placing 2-3 thighs in a shallow bowl then topping with veggies and liquid. Serve with optional sour cream, avocado, etc.
Serves 6 (at least!)
Yum! I just saw this blog post and thought I would pass it along. Do you love crunchy, salty snacks, but are trying to avoid carbs and/or fried foods? How about some crispy disks of parmesan cheese? Sounds good to me. I used to do something similar to this with smoked provolone, but I think this would have a little more punch and crunch. Let me know if you try it, and what you think.
This is from the excellent Food Renegade blog (click that link to see the whole entry).
Parmesan Crisp Recipe
Parmesan Cheese, grated
Simply spoon the grated Parmesan cheese into chip-sized, relatively thin dollops on a hot griddle. The cheese will melt, then turn crispy. At this point, use a spatula to flip the crisps over and lightly brown the other side. Then remove from the griddle onto a plate.
If you don’t have a griddle, you can spoon the Parmesan cheese into chip-sized, relatively thin dollops on a cookie sheet or two. Place the cookie sheets in your oven under the broiler and watch them melt and lightly brown. At this point, remove them from the oven and use a spatula to transfer them onto a plate.
Once upon a time the local medical establishment was concerned that the Samurai's cholesterol levels were too high. Rather than follow their advice, he followed the more cutting-edge nutritional advice we'd been reading on our own questioning the popular "cholesterol theory" of heart disease. He reduced the amount of processed and/or carbohydrate foods he was eating, and increased consumption of good quality fats, meats, and eggs. His cholesterol numbers went down, and he was pronounced very heart healthy. (Of course, any of you who know the Samurai knows he has a good heart )
Note that you can't just add any old fat to your diet and expect good results - there are some that should be avoided.
From Dr. Mercola's website:
Read the rest of the article here! Then go enjoy some good quality saturated fats.
We go through a lot of eggs here at the Samurai household - about 3 dozen a week. We like 'em scrambled, fried, in omelets or frittatas, even raw! The simple, humble egg has been much maligned in the press and by the mainstream "healthcare" establishment at times, but we don't let that bother us - we recognize it for the little nutritional powerhouse it is, and know that it's been a valued part of traditional diets for ages. Eggs are an inexpensive source of a complete protein (in the white) combined with a variety of essential healthy fats and nutrients in the yolk. They're good brain food!
But here's the tricky part: those eggs you buy in the grocery store are not as healthful as they could be. Most of you have probably seen the stories about the poor chickens crammed in cages at the factory farms - not a good life for the animals, but it also turns out that the eggs aren't as nutritious either.
When a chicken is actually allowed to live a more natural life outdoors with exposure to sunshine and insects, their eggs have lots more Vitamins A, D, and E as well as beta carotene and Omega-3 fatty acids. Awesome! Kinda makes sense, doesn't it? A healthier, happier bird will produce better eggs.
Now here's one more tricky part - deciphering the language used to describe the hens' conditions. Is there a difference between "cage-free", "free-range", and "pastured"? Turns out there's a big difference. The only way to be sure you are getting eggs from chickens that actually spend their days pecking around outdoors, thereby producing those healthier eggs, is if they are labeled "pastured". Anything else means they might have still spent their whole lives indoors. (Note: don't confuse that term with "pasteurized", which is a whole different thing )
Here's a very nifty video explaining this egg terminology further: UPDATE- for some reason this video was made "private" recently. I hope that will change, but in the meantime I'll link to an article discussing this further down below...
<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/30716968?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0" width="400" height="300" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe>
How do you find pastured eggs? We live in a semi-rural area, and our local farm stands and farmer's markets sell them as well as our natural food store. It shouldn't be too hard to find them wherever you live, and it's great to support the local farmers! Around here the pastured eggs average around $4 to $5 per dozen - a little more than the conventional eggs, but still a good deal considering how much you are getting from them.
For more info, see this article at Food Renegade's site!
Here's a photo of some of our own hens that we had a few years back and their trusty guard, Ouzo. Good times!
Some recipes are really mostly ideas of what to make for dinner - fairly simple combinations that aren't all that innovative, but just come together so well they are worth writing down. That's what I finally did after preparing this dish recently. There's not much to it, but if you use the right basic ingredients, it makes for a really tasty and easy dinner. The use of sliced mushrooms helps to expand the volume without spending more $ on sausage or sacrificing heartiness. See my ingredient notes at the end!
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, sliced
2 red bell peppers, sliced
1 green bell pepper, sliced
2 8-oz. container sliced mushrooms
2 packages pre-cooked italian sausages, sweet or hot, sliced (see note)
1 jar Pasta Sauce, marinara or basil, good quality (see note)
2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a 12-inch saute pan (with straight sides - not just a skillet) or a dutch-oven over medium-high heat, add olive oil, then onions and peppers. Saute for about 5-10 minutes until somewhat soft, but not browning. Add mushrooms and saute for another 5 or so minutes until they are fairly soft. Add the sliced sausages and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes until they are heated through and getting a little browned.
Pour in the pasta sauce, stir, cover, and simmer over low heat for about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and let sit off-heat for 5 more minutes. (Adding the garlic at this point really makes for a bright taste. If the cloves are really big or seem extra strong, just use one.)
Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Usually jarred sauces are salty enough, so you probably just need pepper.)
Serve over pasta, rice, or quinoa, or just with good bread to soak up the extra sauce, and a little salad or raw veggies.
My favorite sausages for this recipe are Niman Ranch's Italian Pork Sausages, which I find at a local natural foods store. You could also use chicken sausage, but it won't be *quite* as succulent. Just be sure the sausages are pre-cooked (otherwise, cook them yourself before proceeding with this recipe).
My favorite pasta sauce is Bove brand, the Basil or Marinara varieties. Bertolli and Barilla make good sauces, as well.
Here's a great, quick meal that's perfect for summer. It requires only brief cooking (or grilling) and benefits from the fresh, local produce that's available.
This is more of an idea than a recipe - a tasty and easy variation on the "cooked meat on a green salad" theme, such as taco salads or grilled chicken caesar salad.
The general idea is to top a green salad with seasoned hamburger meat. The salad part basically mimics the toppings that you would put on a burger - lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, pickles, and cheddar. If you have any leftover bacon, then by all means crumble it up and put it on! Then you top it with cooked hamburger meat - either cooked in a skillet or grilled as patties then crumbled - and dress it with mayonnaise and ketchup or mustard. When I first heard of this, I wasn't sure what I would think, but it is DEE-lish!
Here's how I made the one in the picture. We have a family of 4 currently at home, but 2 of those are teenage boys, so if I cook meat it has to be a minimum of 2 pounds these days! Use only 1 pound of meat for a smaller family.
Obviously, this is a recipe that can easily be altered to suit your own tastes and/or what you have on hand!
2 pounds of ground beef, preferably local and grass-fed
a spoonful of bacon fat
salt, pepper, garlic powder
lettuce (I used local mesclun mix - eyeballed the amount the 4 of us would eat), washed
1/2 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 of a Vidalia (sweet) onion, sliced very thin
pickles and/or sauerkraut (I don't care for pickles, but some traditional sauerkraut adds a nice tang)
leftover bacon pieces
Brown the ground beef in a skillet in the bacon fat, sprinkling with salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste. (Or, if you want to grill, just make hamburger patties and then break them up into small pieces.)
Meanwhile, prep all of the veggies and toppings, and set out the dressings. Then, everyone can build their own salad by putting the desired veggies and toppings on a plate or in a shallow bowl, then adding some meat (use a slotted spoon!), then the dressings - usually a dollop of mayo* and a squirt of ketchup or mustard. Just mix it all around a bit with your fork, then eat it up, YUM!
* Miracle Whip may be used instead of mayo for those of you so inclined