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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Guest Post: Healthier Zuppa Toscana

Hello Cookin' Mama blog readers! Once again, Mama has been slacking as of late on this blog. Thankfully, she also has friends who love to cook and share recipes! Below is another guest post for 2016 (See? not all of 2016 has been bad) from a lovely friend I met through theater. Enjoy! ~Cookin Mama

Hello all!  My name is Angela, and this is my first blog post ever.  I think Kristi must be some kind of magician, because I took my first selfie with her (see above!) and now she has me writing a blog post.  As a fan of her (and her cooking!), I am pleased to be here.

First, let me give you the nutshell bio.  I’m old enough to have seen the original Star Wars in the movie theatre. Ha!  I live with my husband, Ken, and our two cats, Binx and Xena.  I love to cook and bake; my nickname in college was Betty, for Betty Crocker.  I am also perpetually working on losing a few pounds.  We eat pretty healthy in our house, but it is a struggle.  Recently, we have cut out most white carbs and sugar.   It’s not exactly paleo, but it’s close.  This has put a damper on some of my favorite dishes (oh pasta, how I miss you), but in 2 months I have lost 16 pounds and Ken has tightened his belt two notches, so we’re motivated to stay away from the bread, etc. 

When the weather gets cold, I love to make soup.  If I had my druthers, I’d eat soup every day in the winter.  This new low-carb lifestyle of ours means some of my favorite soups need makeover, which brings me to the recipe I’m here to share.  Zuppa Toscana.  It’s a perennial favorite at the Olive Garden and in our house.  The basics of the soup are Italian sausage, potatoes, and kale.  It is hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food that is a little spicy and so comforting.  Today I was craving it, and Ken is fighting a cold, so soup seemed the ideal dinner plan.  However, we carbed out on Thanksgiving (my mom makes the best stuffing in the world and I was not going to skip it), so while I was craving zuppa, I did not want or need the heavy carb load from the potatoes.  So I got a little creative.

Cauliflower is pretty much the paleo go-to substitute vegetable for everything from rice to pizza crust.  We eat mashed cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes, so I figured cauliflower could be swapped in for the potatoes in the soup.  My original recipe uses bacon, pork sausage, and light cream. I didn’t have any bacon in the fridge, and I bought turkey sausage instead of pork.  I also used light coconut milk instead of cream because it tempers the cauliflower flavor better.  The end result was even more delicious than the original, and it doesn’t sit quite so heavy in your belly.  I think you could easily convert this to a vegetarian/vegan soup by using vegetable broth and a sausage substitute.  I wish I had some photos to share, but we ate it all.  It was that good.

I should also add this disclaimer.  I am not a very precise cook.  I view recipes as general suggestions, and I tend to just eyeball amounts.  I’ve given what I think are the amounts here, but feel free to experiment. 

Healthier Zuppa Toscana


Approximately 1 lb. turkey Italian sausage – half sweet, half hot
            I buy this at the farmer’s market from the poultry stand.  2 griller links of each kind.  I think it’s about 1 lb.
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small head cauliflower (or half a large head), chopped into small florets or pieces
1 quart chicken broth (we use the no sodium kind, but any type is fine)
½  can light coconut milk
Approximately 5 cups curly kale, deveined and chopped
            Again, this is a guesstimate.  I buy bagged kale from my favorite farm stand, and there are usually 7-8 large leaves 
               in the bag.  I cut it off the stem and then do a rough chop.
Salt, pepper, spices to taste (We use Red Robin seasoning salt)

In a large dutch oven or soup/stock pan cook the Italian sausage over medium high heat.  If purchased in link form, you need to take the sausage out of its skin and cook it loose, like ground beef.

Spoon the sausage into a bowl, add a little butter or olive oil to the drippings in the pan.  Cook the onion and garlic until translucent, about 5 mins.  Add the cauliflower and the chicken broth.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for 30 mins or so until the cauliflower is very soft. 

Using an immersion blender, puree the cauliflower mixture.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a real blender or food processor.  Just be careful of steam burns. 

When mixture is fully pureed, throw the cooked sausage back in.  Add the coconut milk and the chopped kale.  Stir until fully incorporated.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Makes 4 bowls.

That’s it!  Super easy, super tasty, and chock full of veggies.  The hot Italian sausage gives it some zing.  The coconut milk adds just a smidge of sweetness to the cauliflower, which makes the whole thing taste very rich.  Ken declared he liked it better than the original version, which is good, since it will be one of my go-to soups this winter.  Maybe next time I’ll double the recipe so we can have guests over for soup and conversation.  Yes, Kristi, I am referring to you and your family!  J

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

One-Pot Moroccan Pasta

My biggest helper for finding recipes these days is Facebook. I kid you not. I subscribe to a couple of different sites that share all sorts of fun recipes. Current favorites are Tasting Table and Bon Appetit.  If a recipe they share looks interesting, it gets pinned to the appropriate board on Pinterest. Believe it or not, I actually do go back to those boards when meal planning. If a recipe works out well (like this one did), it's kept and maybe notes are made. If it was not good, it gets deleted.

This past week I was feeling more in the mood for vegetarian and vegan options for meals. Monday night was vegetable coconut curry. For Tuesday, I chose a recipe from Tasting Table for Moroccan Linguini. The tag line was "turn a fragrant chickpea stew into a one-pot pasta meal." Um, okay. Sold.

This recipe had me purchasing freekeh for the first time. Freekeh (free-kah) is an ancient grain, and it is young, green wheat. Therefore gluten free friends, this is not the grain for you. However, diabetic friends, it is low on the glycemic index. When I looked this grain up, I found out I'm on trend! What?! When does THAT happen? Turns out, that aside from the non-gluten-free part of freekeh, it is poised to knock quinoa off the top spot for good-for-you-grains! Who knew?! I will say it added a great texture to this dish, and I look forward to finding new ways to use it. One of my fellow health-conscious Mamas said she uses it as a side, much like rice.

Now, one note about this dish. The "one-pot" got me all excited. Who doesn't love an easy one-pot meal during the week? Full disclosure: it took me about 45 minutes from start to stock in the pot to get the stew going. The stew needs to cook about 1 1/2 hours before you add the lemon juice and pasta. Therefore, either make the stew ahead, or do this on a night where you can get started pretty early. The house smelled AMAZING while this was cooking, and the end dish was delicious. We've also all decided that we will no longer be purchasing canned chickpeas as the result when making them in their dried state was delicious. Having all ingredients prepped and ready is the way to go here, and part of what took me a little longer. Of course, stopping to take pictures might have added a few minutes...

The ingredients are pretty straight forward, other than finding freekeh (organic aisle at my local super market chain), everything else I either had, or knew where to find. You need one 6 quart pot, although that pot was VERY full. Next time I might go up a size. As mentioned above, start by getting your ingredients gathered and prepped. 

This dish will go best when your mis en place game is on point.

What I failed to say so far is that your chickpeas and freekeh need to soak overnight. The packaging for the freekeh didn't say so, but the recipe did, so into the pot with the chickpeas it went! Before adding these to the stew, I rinsed them through a fine mesh strainer. 

Soaked freekeh and chickpeas

The stew starts with a lot of oil (1/2 cup), fresh garlic, fresh ginger, and one jalapeño. Right away the smell is fabulous. After they've cooked a bit, you add tumeric and cumin. Next, into the pot go the waiting and prepped vegetables. 

That cooks for about 15 minutes until everything is fragrant and cooked down a bit, then you add the chickpeas and freekeh, along with 8 cups of stock and 4 cups of water. It didn't say in the recipe, but here is where I added a good bit of kosher salt and some black pepper.

Once the stew cooks for about 1 1/2 hours, check a chickpea to make sure they're done, add 6 tablespoons of lemon juice, and 1 pound linguini. This next part is a bit of a workout. The linguini is not going to cook as fast as normal, the stew and pasta water will thicken, making a delicious and yet hard to stir pot of pasta! Hang in there though, the result is very worth it!

Moroccan Linguini

Recipe adapted from Nir Mesika, Timna, New York, NY, found on Tasting  Table

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

½ cup canola oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 jalapeño pepper—stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
One 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
¼ cup celery leaves, roughly chopped
2 plum tomatoes, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1 cup dry chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 cup freekeh, soaked overnight and drained
8 cups vegetable stock
4 cups water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound dry linguini pasta
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish

1. In a 6-quart pot, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic, jalapeño and ginger, and cook until lightly golden, 2 minutes. Stir in the turmeric and cumin, and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the celery leaves, tomatoes, carrot, and white and red onions. Sauté the vegetables until tender and lightly golden, 12 to 14 minutes.

2. Add the soaked chickpeas and freekeh, and cover with the vegetable stock and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas and freekeh are tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Add the lemon juice and dried linguini to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 14 to 16 minutes. Stir in the chopped cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Divide between bowls and garnish with more cilantro, then serve.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Guest Post: Instant Pot Potato Salad!

Recently I posted about my newly purchased Instant Pot, and how much I already enjoy having it in my kitchen. Below is a guest post from the woman who is mostly responsible for me purchasing one of these time saving and delicious food making devices! I hope you enjoy Brigitta's post, let us know what you think! ~Cookin' Mama

Please welcome my friend Brigitta!
It is true that the Instant Pot can make your life easier. My story started with an infomercial.  About a year ago I was sitting in a restaurant when the story about an electronic pressure cooker came on the television.  I was mesmerized by the claims.  I subsequently did a ton of research and found that the Instant Pot received many of the best ratings and reviews.  Flash forward to today and I own 2 Instant Pots!
Just this weekend my pot came in handy for a family barbecue. The perfect deli potato salad was a must on my menu but I really dislike the messy task of boiling a large amount potatoes.  I can never get them quite right and am usually left with an overflowing pot, unevenly cooked potatoes and starch residue everywhere. Cue the pot! I hastily peeled about 3.5 lbs. of large potatoes and put them in the pot on a trivet. I added 1.5 cups of water and set the pot to steam for 25 minutes.  After it cooked, I allowed about 10 minutes to pass before I released the pressure. I opened the pot to unbelievably perfect potatoes!  As soon as I could touch them, I easily sliced them for the salad.

Here is the recipe I used with the only changes being increasing the recipe to accommodate for the large amount of potatoes I cooked, the addition of some garlic powder and adding fresh chives instead of parsley.

The pot did take about 15 minutes to come up to pressure so complete cooking time was about 50 minutes total.  During that time I was able to chop and prep all of the other ingredients and make another recipe to boot.  I didn’t have anything to check or stir and only non-messy pot to clean afterwards.  Brilliant!  

Friday, July 29, 2016

Ode to the Instant Pot with a Quick Pork Shoulder

Quick pork shoulder? Yes. Quick pork shoulder. I realize this is a cut generally relegated to the slow cooker or oven for hours of braising. However, thanks to the recommendation from a friend, I purchased the Instant Pot during Amazon Prime day and I haven't regretted that decision for a moment. The Instant Pot is the modern day pressure cooker. I can make perfect brown rice in 20 minutes, pre-soaked cannelini beans in 12 minutes, and today I'm making pork shoulder in 90 minutes. From Cooking Under Pressure by Lorna Sass: "Pressure cookers are making a comeback," declared Mario Barros in her New York Times column, "Eating Well" (February 3, 1988). "There is no clear explanation of why they ever went out of fashion," she continued, "but now they are particularly appealing because they make it possible to cook many healthful foods like dried beans and peas in a very short time." Sass, goes on to suppose that upgrades to the original pressure cookers, along with even shorter cook times brought back this kitchen workhorse. Now, with the new electric pressure cookers, even with more safety features and need for little to no oils, they're making another comeback!

The Instant Pot has replaced my slow cooker on the kitchen bookcases

We were away from Wednesday to Saturday of last week. I usually meal plan and shop for the following week during that time. Consequently, come Sunday, I was a little at a loss for what to make for the week. Add in a generous friend who invited us to swim at their home and have dinner with them, and I only managed to grab a pork shoulder from the freezer to thaw. Fast forward to today. It was 2:00pm and I hadn't finished a plan for dinner. Then I remembered...the Instant Pot! After consulting a few websites as well as the recipe book that accompanied the purchase, I decided we could do pork rice bowls tonight. At 3:00 I fired up the pot, sautéd the pork in some oil to brown it and turned the pot back off. I then added water, smoked salt and kosher salt, and placed the lid on. After selecting "manual" for 90 minutes and setting the steam valve to closed, I sat down to write this post and check work messages. In 90 minutes + 20 minutes depressurizing, I will have the pork ready to go for tonight's dinner! This is extremely exciting to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that I no longer have to worry about figuring out how to get the slow cooker to work when I'm away for longer than a prescribed cook time. We can also decide to have rice at a moment's notice. Truly, this is just the start, I have seen many blogs, Facebook pages, etc. devoted to this Instant Pot and the things you can do with it. For now, I will share this recipe, and say that we're definitely off to a great start with this new kitchen purchase!

Instant Pot Pork Shoulder

4 lbs pork shoulder cut into two pieces
3/4 cup water
1 teaspoon smoked salt
2 teaspoons kosher salt

Set the Instant Pot to sauté and brown the pork on all sides, removing to a platter as each piece finishes. Turn off Pot, add in water, put back in pork along with any accumulated juices. Sprinkle salts over top, put on lid. Select manual setting for 90 minutes, place valve in closed position. Wait until done, do not quick release pressure.

Shred pork and enjoy with favorite toppings!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Half-Way Year Check In on those Resolutions.

I posted in January that we were starting the new year by going on a more whole foods journey. Not that we hadn't been doing a decent job already, but we can always do better. You may also remember I made my daughter cry by donating the unopened pack of Oreo cookies to the food pantry at our church. I am happy to report that she has been fine through the ordeal and has been rather happy with her personal resolution to eat healthy. We won't talk about her resolution to listen to Mommy and Daddy more often...

As for me, I was ten pounds heavier beginning January of this year than I was at the end of summer 2015. I could no longer even make it a mile on the treadmill at a 12 minute pace running. Staircases were problematic, and I felt awful. If we/I were going to do this health thing, we had to do it right. We had already been making strides over the past years, but we really had to commit. Here we are, halfway through the year, and I can report that for the first time in over 10 years, I have finally cracked the code to a more fit me and a more fit fam. Let me share what we learned, with the caveat that this is what worked for US. It maybe isn't for you. Maybe it wouldn't even work for you, but it certainly has for this family!

Making and eating meals together as a family.

My favorite runners

Step one is the whole family buying in. It isn't sustainable if you're making yourself one meal, and everyone else is eating something else. Breakfasts and lunches are also healthy(er) but not all the same. I am VERY lucky in that my family is on this trip together. My husband was the one who started it, about 8 years ago by getting to running, eating healthier, and losing weight. He lost 60 pounds to be exact. The goal has to be health though, not weight loss. The weight will come off (eventually) if you're taking steps - both literally and figuratively - to healthier choices. We take family morning trips to a local track where we can each run at our own pace, but yet still together. You haven't seen hilarity until you've witnessed the family attempting a yoga video together. And we celebrate each other's milestones and activities. Our family also meal plans together(ish). Sometimes I ask opinions while making the next week's list, sometimes after the list is complete, and sometimes special requests come in to be added to the list.

The scene every Friday or Saturday morning...meal plan, shopping list, produce section

This brings me to step two: meal plan, pack your lunch, and track food. I really cannot stress how much of a difference this has made. Meal planning / planning ahead especially. I don't always remember or have time to track what I've eaten in a day, but I do know if I don't meal plan and prep ahead, bad things can happen. Bad can be unhealthy choices, or really yucky on the fly making up of a recipe. Sometimes that works out, and sometimes you get arugula pesto. Will you have to spend some time in your kitchen Saturday or Sunday prepping your lunches? Sure. Might you spend a bit more at the grocery store than before? Probably. But, how much are you willing to spend for your health? Plus, if you decrease your budget for restaurants and fast food, you'll have plenty more for smart, healthy grocery shopping. I have been averaging about $150 per week, only purchasing produce and a few dry goods at the grocery store, and we spend about $1400 per year on our CSA from the farm for our meat protein, or $116 per month.  A monthly budget of $716 for a family of three is pretty decent, when that includes all breakfasts, most lunches, and almost all dinners for that month. We usually make double portions for meals to then use as lunches as well.  One .98¢ bag of dried pinto beans made up in the crockpot can deliver two dinners, or one dinner and a lot of lunches. One whole chicken roasted makes two dinners or one dinner with friends and lunches, plus chicken stock. You get the picture. I also resolve to share more of those types of things on the blog as I'm able.

Kiddo's self-packed lunch. Reusable container of milk, whole wheat pumpkin muffins, cheese, and banana

Mini sous-chef helping with dinner prep. 

Finally, step three: get moving. Here's where I was confused and messed up a lot these past 6 years. I felt if I couldn't get out for a run, the day was ruined and no exercise was happening. I never treated walking as "exercise." But guess what? Time on your feet moving is time on your feet moving. I read an article somewhere that a man, just by walking everyday, lost 100 pounds over a year. Might be a bit extreme, but hey, if he could walk everyday, so could I! Bonus if I ran as well. Other part of getting moving? Don't just pick one thing. That's great if you're taking up running, but make sure you strength train too, work on that core especially. Biggest mistake I make every time I start back up with running is only running. No stretching, no rolling, no other cross-training. This time? SO much better. We do some plank routines, stretch a lot, and as mentioned before, I walk every day at least 30 minutes (usually as my afternoon walk with our family pup).

Our beloved Jake, 12 1/2 years young.

The hubs and I after a run.

So, there you have it. The trifecta that worked for us. It didn't happen overnight, this was years of adjustments, learning what works best for us, and making a few sacrifices here and there. Now, the results:

I started the year at 180 pounds. I am now at 170.6. I started the year barely being able to finish a mile around 12 minutes. This morning I ran 2.3 miles at an 11:03 pace, and didn't stop once to walk. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner, no skipping meals. I have not given up coffee or alcohol. Meals include a healthy amount of protein, fat, and a few to no carbs. Little to no processed foods enter the home, and I guess you could say we're mostly gluten free (as I type this, whole wheat fusilli is on the menu tonight). I'm happier than I have been in a LONG while, and my family is happy, healthy, and hale. I share this not to brag, far from it since I still have a long way to go and it took me way too many years to get here, but to hopefully inspire, give you hope, and let you know it can be done and done in a sustainable way. I hope this year has been as good for you so far as it has for me, and if not, I pray it gets better!

I need new running shoes soon, so I guess I'll need new matching socks as well...