Friday, January 29, 2010

"13°F , feels like -4°F" ?!

That's what it says on the weather report right now. Eew. I hate winter weather like this. I've lived in the northeast my entire life, and I still can't bear the winter months. I know, I could move away from it. But I do like how winter looks through the window, from inside my toasty warm house. So here I sit, looking out the window and wishing for warmth. Which inspired today's cocoa. And none of this Swiss Miss junk, either. REAL hot cocoa.

When I decided this could be the recipe I share today, I realized this may not exactly mesh with the goals of my blog. "Delicious", yes..."nutritious"? Hmm. A little google search, and I learned that with low-fat milk (ours is from a local farm, too--nailed "responsible" :) ), it's actually not too bad. Turns out cocoa is loaded with antioxidants (twice as many as in a glass of red wine!!) that fight cancer and heart disease.

Around the holidays this year, I was doing some Christmas shopping at Marshall's and I came across orange extract for $3. I bought it on a whim, and I'm now obsessed with baking anything chocolate-orange. I even went back and bought the last three bottles they had because I was worried I wouldn't be able to find it so affordably ever again. I've mostly made these amaaazzzing Orange Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies (not, not, NOT nutritious, at all--see, I'm not all healthy all the time). Anyway, that's how the Orange Hot Cocoa came about. I wasn't sure how it would taste, but it was great--it's like I melted one of those chocolate oranges right in the pot. Mmmm... AND, the whole thing took about 5 minutes to make. Double mmmm. So, stay warm and drink up!


1 cup reduced-fat milk (2%)
1 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (see shopping tip, below)
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 drops orange extract

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan and heat through, stirring constantly (about 3-5 minutes).

Monday, January 25, 2010

Macaroni Vegetable Soup

Last week we went to the farmer's market. I was totally craving my carrot spread, and picturing making batches of it constantly. So I bought three big boxes of carrots from one of the stands. As the farmer I bought them from packed them up for me, he said, "That's the last of my carrots this year. I won't have any more after this...", and looked (I swear!) lovingly at my bag of carrots. It was like he was sending his youngest child off to college. He was clearly quite attached to his crops, so I have felt an abnormal sense of caring toward these carrots. I feel like I really need to use them all while they are still fresh, and not waste any of them (there will be NO MORE! :) ). I've used about half of them so far, and this is what's still left:

Yeah, it's alot of carrots. And I'm a little OD'd on carrot spread. So I used some carrots to make a batch of veggie soup for my friend this weekend, and was so inspired by my taste-tests that I made a second, use-up-some-carrots batch, yesterday. It came out delicious, and really healthy (and vegan! not on purpose, but if you ever need a good vegan soup recipe, here ya go). I used this recipe from, but doctored it up in true Leslie style.

The beauty of this recipe is that you can really use any veggies you want. I just pulled out everything I had in the fridge. All that veggie prep can be time consuming, so you can totally use frozen veggies if you want (just saute onion and garlic and add frozen bag with ingredients in step #2).

Macaroni Veggie Soup
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 c. onions, chopped
1 c. celery, chopped
2 c. carrots, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 kale leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium potato, diced (I left the peel on)
1 to 1 1/2 c. cooked whole wheat macaroni
14.5 oz. can petite cut diced tomatoes, with the liquid (I used "no salt added")
14.5 oz. can beans (I used great northern beans; canellini would be good, too)--rinse and drain
4 tbsp. tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. black pepper
5 cups water

1. In a large saucepan, saute onions in olive oil for a few minutes; add celery, carrots, and garlic, saute about 4 minutes more.
2. Add Kale, potato, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water, beans, salt, thyme, oregano, and pepper. Cover and simmer until veggies are all tender (about 45-60 minutes), then stir in macaroni and simmer about 10 minutes.
3. Add water, if desired, to make a little more broth. If you add more water, just make sure to simmer for a few more minutes to keep the flavors strong. (you may also need to add a little more tomato paste)

That's it! Lainey topped hers with some shredded mozzarella cheese, and parmesean would be good too. We didn't need it for this one, but it could also be pureed with the immersion blender for a picky kiddo.

Now, I'm off to snack on some carrots. If I'm looking a little orange the next time you see me, you know why. :)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Story of an Almost-vegetarian-pain-in-the-butt

For me, many food choices are pretty easy; it’s difficult to deny that leafy greens are good for you, or that whole grains are healthy. It’s a no-brainer to make foods like these part of our meals as much as possible. Then there’s meat… beef, pork, poultry, fish. I always believed that meat was a healthy and necessary part of a good meal (protein, protein, protein!). Lots of reading and questioning has led me to make some changes, though.

When I met my now-husband, he was a vegetarian. This threw my cooking preferences for a loop, but I was open-minded. Then, within a few months of us dating, he began eating poultry again. He still denies it had anything to do with me, and I still worry that I somehow encouraged him to re-evaluate his morals. Either way, for quite a long time after that, we were non-beef-and-pork-eating omnivores.

Then books like Michael Pollan’s, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and Marion Nestle’s, “What to Eat” entered our world. The more we learned, the more we felt we had to rethink what we were eating. Or, really think about what we were eating. When it came to the animals that were our dinner—where did they come from? What kind of lives did they have? What were they fed, what hormones and antibiotics were they given? And what implication did the answers to these questions have on our health and well-being? Throw on top of all that the fact that the meat industry is the single most devastating industry to the environment and it’s all a little overwhelming (recent studies have found that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 51 percent of annual worldwide emissions*).

So we entered the world of being “selective omnivores”. We’re not anti-meat…we just want to make sure we eat the right meat. That means no factory farmed meat (which accounts for 99% of the meat in our country, by the way). It’s really not easy, either. First of all, meat is harder to find—no more supermarket shopping. Sustainably raised meat is also more expensive, so we eat meat much less often. And friends and family have a hard time identifying just what we are…vegetarian? Picky? Pains in the butt? It’s just not an easy thing to explain when someone has lovingly cooked a meal for you. “Well, yes, we eat chicken, just not that chicken…”

I definitely miss eating meat. There are some nights all I want is a cheeseburger, or my Mom’s amazing roast beef with au jus. Mmm. I really like what Jonahthan Safran Foer says in his book, “Eating Animals”, and I try to remember it when I’m having one of those moments:

Two friends are ordering lunch. One says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” and orders it. The other says, “I’m in the mood for a burger,” but remembers that there are things more important to him than what he is in the mood for at any given moment, and orders something else.

Michael Pollan talks about the “Omnivores Dilemma”, referring to the dilemma of choosing what to eat when faced with the thousands of options in the modern supermarket. Our dilemma is different- how to eat a responsible, mostly-vegetarian diet in a part of the world (upstate NY) that isn’t very accommodating to this lifestyle. Not easy, but hopefully as awareness continues to grow, it will get easier.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Peanut Butter Balls

This afternoon, Lainey and I made one of our family favorites--peanut butter balls. Not the cocolate-dunked variety, but still super tasty. These peanut butter balls are the perfect, protein-packed snack. They satisfy a sweet-tooth craving, without packing a ton of sugar....well, ANY sugar, actually. (I owe a shout-out to my sister for passing this recipe on a while back--THANKS KRISSI!)

For a truly healthy snack, you should definitely use natural peanut butter. I know it is a pain to have to stir every new jar, but the health benefits SO out-weigh the added work. Commercial peanut butter has added hydrogenated oil (that's what helps stop the oil from separating but clogs up your arteries at the same time), and usually added sugars (or even high fructose corn syrup, ick!) and preservatives. Hydrogenated oils are a major cardiovascular risk; they cause an increased risk of coronary heart disease, and not only increase your "bad" cholesterol (LDL) but even decrease "good" cholesterol (HDL)! Yikes.
(see some info on hydrogenated oil here)

Some "natural" peanut butters still have added sugar or preservatives--just read the labels to check. The ingredients on my natural peanut butter (from Ocean State Job Lot! :) )?? "Roasted peanuts, salt". I love that.

And now the recipe. Not only is this a toddler-friendly snack, it's also a toddler-friendly recipe. No hot oven, no complicated ingredients. Just pouring, stirring, and rolling. Very quick and easy.


3/4 c. honey
1 c. peanut butter
1 1/2 c. nonfat dry milk

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl, chill for at least 30 minutes, and roll into 1" balls. Store in the fridge in single layers separated with waxed paper.

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Good Recipe Gone Bad...Gone Good

I was picking up some groceries yesterday in Ocean State Job Lots…I have to stop now to admit that I know it sounds like a kind of gross place to buy food. But they seriously have the best groceries—lots of organic foods, awesome flavored coffees, Teddy Natural peanut butter, organic whole wheat pastas—tons of my pantry staples. One of the best things they have is an entire aisle of Bob’s Red Mill products. Both of my girls were being cooperative yesterday, so I actually had time to look at all that Bob has to offer. And I found this veggie soup mix:

It looked like the perfect base for quick, easy soup. I decided I would make it that night and share my doctored up soup for my next blog post. I followed the directions on the bag, but added four carrots, an onion, and about half a bunch of kale (all thrown in the food processor for a few pulses to finely chop them), and a little bullion, salt, pepper, and thyme. It came out pretty good. I liked it, my hubby liked it, our friend who was over for dinner liked it. My two-year old, Lainey…gagged on it. Really. Full blown gagging with every bite. So much for my awesome blog on a great toddler-friendly, healthy soup. Damn.

Honestly, if I didn’t have this blog, I probably would have just eaten the soup myself all week until it was gone. But, now I have this self-imposed pressure to make healthy, kid-friendly food. So I put some thought into how I could possibly save it. This morning I had my moment of brilliance. I took some soup, added a splash of milk, and pureed it with my 2nd favorite kitchen appliance (stand mixer with dough hook still takes 1st place!).

I gave the new and (hopefully) improved version to Lainey for lunch today. Not only was there no gagging, but this was what she said when her bowl was almost empty: “Scrape the bowl, Mommy, there’s some on the side.” Yup. I did it. I turned a gag-worthy soup into a scrape-the-bowl worthy soup.

So, if you have a toddler (or even a picky spouse) and don’t own an immersion blender, I would seriously consider some weekend immersion blender shopping. Happy puree-ing!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Curried Carrot Spread

This is one of my favorite things to spread on our sourdough. Some of our family has been known to sneak a spoonful straight from the bowl on occasion, too. It’s that good. The sweetness of the carrots, combined with the flavor of curry and the slightly creamy yogurt, delicious! It’s also good as a veggie dip (dip your veggies in a veggie—how’s THAT for healthy?!)

The only time-consuming part is peeling and roasting the carrots, but I found a time saving tip. When I have the oven on for anything else, I throw in the sliced carrots (with only the oil) to roast, and keep them in the fridge until I’m ready to make the spread. Then, I just add the missing seasonings into the food processor and puree it all at once.

7 medium carrots, cut into 1” chunks

1/2 tsp ground tumeric

1 tsp curry powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 T vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tsp ground ginger

3/4 c plain yogurt

1/4 c mayonnaise

Preheat oven to 400. In a large bowl, mix carrots, tumeric, curry, salt, cayenne pepper, and oil. Roast carrots for about 30 minutes, until tender and brown.

Process in the food processor with remaining ingredients until smooth and creamy. Add water 1T at a time if spread is too thick. Makes 2 cups.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Our Daily Bread

If anyone had told me three years ago that I would be baking my own bread every other day, I would have rolled my eyes…why take all that time and effort to bake bread? They sell perfectly good bread in the store. That attitude about bread all went out the window when I tasted some homemade whole wheat sourdough bread from a good friend of mine. It was the most delicious bread, and I was totally hooked. So, I took home some of the sourdough starter and a recipe card, and tried my hand at bread-making. I am sad to say that my bread career started and ended within 24 hours. The kneading part was what made me give up…I kneaded the required 10 minutes and wanted to cry about four minutes into it. The combination of being pathetically out of shape (my arms got so tired!) and having to stop every minute (with sticky, flour-covered hands, by the way) to pull my just-crawling baby out of whatever trouble she had gotten into was way to much to deal with. And to top it off, I didn’t knead it well enough and the finished bread was practically not edible.

I hated to give up, because I really wanted to have this bread, but I did. When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my friend was generous enough to send a loaf of bread each week for the entire summer. This was when I became truly addicted. This bread was like no other; bread in my past was a delivery method for peanut butter and jelly, or butter…used basically for the occasional sandwich. THIS bread was eaten daily; toasted and buttered for breakfast, buttered or spread with something tasty at other meals, and other times just plain as a snack. We were devouring our loaf every week, waiting (im)patiently for the next week’s loaf. I realized I was totally mooching bread now for too long…something had to be done…so I got this:

Thank you, KitchenAid! This changed everything. God bless that dough hook. So, now I bake this incredible bread all the time, it’s super easy, and healthy, and I will try to share the recipe. The thing is, I really know nothing about bread baking other than this exact recipe. I can’t troubleshoot. I can’t adjust crust crispiness, or bread fluffiness. If you have trouble, I suggest google. Here’s what to do.

Put all of the following in your mixer bowl:

1 c. starter (I did not make mine, but here’s how)

2 c. whole wheat bread flour*

1 1/2 c. all purpose flour*

1 c. water

1 tsp. Active dry yeast

2 tsp. Salt

*any combination of whole wheat and white flour can be used to total 3 1/2 cups

From what I have read online, it looks like the order of mixing ingredients is important, but I just throw it all in there. Turn on the mixer and let it go for 10 minutes. Gently form/pat dough into a flat ball shape, put in a springform pan, cover with a wet towel, and let it sit overnight.

In the morning, bake at 380 for 35 minutes. Cool on a cooling rack.


From My Plate to Yours...

My mom tells me how, even as an infant, I spent my days loving to sleep and loving to nurse. I guess it’s not surprising that as an adult, I still love a good meal. (I still love sleep, too, but with a two-year-old and an infant, that pleasure is not as easy to come by.)

Being a stay-at-home mom for the past two and a half years has allowed me to take the time to practice my cooking skills, making my own good meals. I really enjoy cooking for my family. It’s fun to create meals that my daughter gobbles up—I love these words: “Fank you, Mommy, for this da-lish-iss dinnnner!” I have experimented with recipes, hunted for healthy ideas, and come up with some great menu stand-bys.

Being home, though, has sometimes left me feeling like I’m losing my mind to kid’s songs and laundry (I actually fall asleep AND wake up with children's music on repeat in my head). I recently started feeling like I really need something creative to stimulate my mommy mind. Which led to this blog. It’s my creative outlet; my chance to share my food thoughts and favorite recipes, my kitchen experiments (successes and failures), and to have some virtual adult interaction. There will probably be a common theme to most of my posts; it is important to me to cook responsible meals...not only nutritious food, but cooked with consideration for the environment and the food source. And hopefully, maybe, one of my yummy suggestions will end up on your plate one night. ( and please let me know what you think of it if one does!)