Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Red Beets Your Kids WILL Eat- Red Beet Risotto

I happened across this recipe in this month's (well April actually) issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. I was flipping through the pages at my son's baseball practice when I came to a photo of this beautiful red risotto. I read through the ingredients list and realized two things. First, that I had everything to make this recipe already at home. And second, it uses two items that I received in my CSA box last week.

So, this is South Beach Diet (phase 3) friendly if you use whole wheat orzo, like I did. If you want this to be gluten free, do NOT use the orzo, use the rice.

Please forgive me, I didn't take many photos. I was so stinking excited to make this that I just forgot. If I didn't want you to try it so badly, I'd remake it and retake photos. I'll be making it again next week.

I was going to blog on the loveliest beans that I cooked last week, but when I received beets in my CSA box again this week I felt compelled to post this, like NOW.

If you make the beet puree the night or day before (or even over the weekend) you can easily make this a 30 minute meal.

Also, please remember that beets stain, so please wear an apron!

Red Beet Risotto

Here's the ingredient line up...

Beet Puree:
2 red beets or three small red beets
1/2 medium onion
16 oz vegetable or chicken stock

5 cups veggie or chicken stock
1T olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2 cups carnaroli rice (I used whole wheat orzo, it's what I had)
1 bay leaf
7oz red wine (I used a very approachable Pinot Noir, J Lohr - Falcon's Perch)
4oz beet puree
2T unsalted butter
2oz creme fraiche (I heavy cream, it's what I had)
2T chopped dill
2T chives
Salt and pepper to taste
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Goat cheese (optional)

To make the puree:
I roasted my beets first (see Meet The Beets blog post for instructions) because I had plenty of time and it makes the skins SO much easier to remove.
Boil red beets and onion in stock until soft (10 minutes if you roast the beets first). Transfer to food processor or blender and puree. Set aside. BTW, I did not use all that it made.

To make the risotto:
In a small pot, bring the stock to a simmer and then turn to low heat. In a large pot or high sided skillet, heat olive oil and saute onions until tender. Add rice, bay leaf and cook for 2-5 minutes (until rice starts to turn translucent).

Add wine, stir and reduce by 3/4. Then start adding stock, one ladle at a time, stirring frequently until risotto achieves desired texture. Once desired texture is reached, add beet puree and stir.

Then finish with butter and creme fraiche (or cream). Salt and pepper to taste. Plate your dinner and top with fresh grated parmesan, chives and dill. I also topped mine with a few crumbles of goat cheese, which was not in the original recipe.

This dinner was easy, beautiful and delicious. The suggested wine paring is a Pinot Blanc, but since I had already opened the Pinot Noir, I decided to drink that with dinner. It went fine since it was a very light bodied, smooth red.

Since making this Monday night (it's now Wednesday), my kids have asked for it no less than twice a day. Don't be surprised if your kids request the "red pasta."


Friday, March 18, 2011

The Advantages of a CSA or Co-Op

First of all, I need to apologize. Since baseball season has begun for my boys it's been crazy busy around these parts! I'm so backlogged on my blogging. I have dozens of pictures to go through and notes to finish writing. But, in the meantime I thought I'd do a piece on CSA's (Community Supported Agriculture). I have many friends that ask me what a CSA is, or why I always have photos of my produce, or why I even use a CSA to begin with. So, my plan here is to address all of these concerns and more.

What is a CSA?

First of all I would like to share with you Wikipedia's definition of Community Supported Agriculture:

Community-supported agriculture, a form of an alternative food network, (in Canada Community Shared Agriculture) (CSA) is a socio-economic model of agriculture and food distribution. A CSA consists of a community of individuals who pledge support to a farming operation where the growers and consumers share the risks and benefits of food production. CSAs usually consist of a system of weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and fruit, in a vegetable box scheme, and sometimes includes dairy products and meat.

My particular CSA group is Harvest2U and they provide me with a box of fresh, locally grown, organic produce each Wednesday. Harvest2U seeks out quality produce from reliable local farmers who use organic farming methods. This means that the produce that is delivered to me has not been treated with any chemicals or pesticides.

Benefits of a CSA

There are so many benefits of using a CSA and I will share several of them with you. It's really up to each individual to figure out if it's right for you and your family. 

Organic Produce
To me, this is the most important factor in my choice to use a CSA.  There are so many environmental variables that we have NO control over, things that may harm us and our family. By purchasing and preparing organic foods for your family you can ensure that what is going into your body is not going to have harmful effects on you. No chemicals or pesticides are ever used on these products. 

This word does not do justice to the point I'm trying to make. Do you realize that by using a CSA you are usually getting produce that was picked within the last 24 hour? Harvest2U boxes contain produce that was still in the ground the morning you bring it home. Now really, unless you grow all of this in your own back yard and pick daily only what you are going to consume, it doesn't get much fresher than that. This would be a huge factor for me if I were researching a CSA. Ask your CSA representative when your produce is picked.
Do you understand how long it takes for produce to get from a farm to a grocery store and then on the shelves? Days. The items you are picking up at your local market have been out of the ground for days. If you are choosing something out of season, chances are they are coming from another part of the world and therefore have made a significant journey before they even arrived at the store you're shopping at. Even if you are purchasing organic produce from a health food store it's not as fresh as using a CSA.
Basically freshness leads me to my next benefit....Cost.

I know that this is perhaps the biggest concern for most people when considering a CSA. I have found that using a CSA is no more expensive than purchasing organic produce from a local store. If you purchase solely organic produce your grocery bill will increase, that is just a fact. BUT, if you are using a CSA that picks their produce within a day of that produce arriving at your house you are already ahead of the game. That produce is going to have a longer life in your home just based on the fact that it was picked the same day and hasn't been manhandled by every middle man that it takes to get it from the farm to your shopping cart. Because of this, you will end up with less waste.

Meal Planning
This benefit is two fold. It helps you stay organized which in turn reduces your grocery bill. 

Like I said, I get my CSA box each Wednesday. Usually I get an email from my CSA representative that tells me what my weekly harvest will include. Once I get that list I sit down and plan out my meals for the week. From that menu I make my shopping list for the grocery store. This way I'm not just picking up things because they look good or I think I *might* use them. My menus are balanced, healthy and well planned out. My family and my budget reaps the benefits of a little advanced planning.

Locally Grown
One of my favorite parts of my CSA is knowing that I'm supporting local farmers. My produce wasn't grown in Chile or Mexico or even another part of my state. It was grown right here in my valley by people who care about their farms, their customers and their reputation to grow quality organic produce. 

In Season
By using a CSA you are consuming produce that is in season. What does this mean? It means your produce is at it's best! It also means that it's the most economical time to grow this particular item, which is what helps keep costs down. This also gives you variety as to what you are feeding your family. One of my personal goals has always been to expose my children to a variety of foods. I'm pleased to say that  they have been eating so much healthier since I started using Harvest2U.

To me, this one is really a no brainer. I knew, without a doubt, that using Harvest2U would be the most healthy choice I could make for my family aside from farming my own produce. Since I don't have acres and acres to farm and I have a very brown thumb, farming wasn't an option for me. My original goal was to use at least one item from my Harvest2U shipment every day and then it grew to using as many as I could at once. Now I enjoy challenging myself to create new recipes or make old recipes more healthy.

What has this meant for me and my family? 
Well, since using Harvest2U a few months ago I have committed to serving my family the freshest, healthiest food I could. In this time my husband and I have lost a combined 40 pounds! That can't be bad, right?

So, if you are on the fence about joining a local CSA I encourage you to give it a try. Be prepared to change the way you think about the food that you put in your body!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Recipe Club Review - Chicken and Dumplings

I'm a member of an online discussion board that really has nothing to do with cooking and mostly everything to do with my love of a certain mouse. Anyhow, on said board, there exists a recipe club. One that I've been following for quite some time, but have never blogged any of the recipe selections. It's time for a change. The recipe of the month of February was chosen with the cold weather in mind, for sure. The person who chose this recipe used a trusted source for her comfort food selection, the Pioneer Woman Cooks. If you've never seen the Pioneer Woman's recipes you really should check out her blog. But be aware, her recipes are rarely low fat and almost always tasty! So, as you know, I can rarely leave a recipe alone, so here's my take on the Pioneer Woman's chicken and dumplings. It was the perfect dinner to have waiting for you when you've just come home from a REALLY cold baseball practice.

I have to say that I used whole wheat flour in lieu of the regular white flour to make this dish a bit more South Beach friendly, but with that being said, this is a phase three recipe at best. That might even be a stretch. This recipe can be made gluten free (GF) by using GF flour in place of regular flour. I also took the liberty of adding a generous portion of fresh dill. I absolutely couldn't pass it up. I received a beautiful bunch in my Harvest2U CSA shipment and it was calling to me.

Chicken and Dumplings (with a slightly South Beach friendly twist)

Here's what you'll need:

#1 on your list should be patience. This is by no means a difficult recipe, but it does take a bit of time to make.

  • 2 Tablespoons Butter (Margarine if you are on SB)
  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • ½ cup All Purpose Flour (I used whole wheat flour)
  • 1 whole Chicken, Cut Into Pieces (I actually used four thighs)
  • Salt And Pepper
  • ½ cups Finely Diced Carrots
  • ½ cups Finely Diced Celery
  • 1 whole Medium Onion, Finely Diced
  • ½ teaspoon Thyme (I skipped this)
  • ¼ teaspoon Turmeric
  • MY ADDITION - 1 generous handfull of chopped fresh dill
  • 6 cups Low Sodium Chicken Broth
  • ½ cups Apple Cider
  • ½ cups Heavy Cream
  • Dumplings:
  • 1-½ cup All-purpose Flour (again, I used whole wheat)
  • ½ cups Yellow Cornmeal
  • 1 Tablespoon (heaping) Baking Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt
  • 1-½ cup Half-and-half
  • 2 Tablespoons Minced Fresh Parsley (I subbed chopped fresh dill in it's place)
  • Salt As Needed

Start by sprinkling your bird with salt and pepper. Then dredge in flour, shaking off any excess. Then, in a dutch/french oven heat butter or margarine and olive oil. When the oil is hot, brown the chicken by cooking it about 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pot and place it aside. 

It's OK if it's undercooked, it's going back into the pot to finish it's cooking soon.

 Next, toss in those onions, celery and carrots that you've already diced. Yes, into the pot you just took the chicken out of. And, NO, don't wash the pot first! Those chicken bits and drippings are going to equate to some serious yumminess. Cook these veggies down for 4-5 minutes and then toss in the turmeric and dill (or thyme if you are using it). 

Stir this all together and then add the chicken broth/stock and your apple cider. Once that's done, put your chicken back into the pot. Now, put the cover on the pot and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. 

During this time you can put together the dumpling dough. It's totally simple. Really, really simple. Put the dry dumpling ingredients (including parsley/dill) into a large bowl and mix together. Then add your half and half, I used fat free because that's what I had. Stir everything together.

Once the 20 minutes has elapsed, remove the chicken from the pot and de-bone it, pulling the meat apart with two forks. Return the meat to the pot once it's de-boned. 

When the chicken is back in the pot, pour in the heavy cream and stir. If you're concerned about the fat in the cream that you can use fat free half and half or skim milk, but the cream just gives it a richness that I did not want to sacrifice the first time I tried this recipe.

OK, now that the cream is well incorporated, it's time to add the dumplings. Just plop them into the pot about a tablespoon at a time. Once you've done this, just put the lid back on the pot and let the dumplings work their magic for about 15 more minutes. That's it. Just serve and enjoy. I loved this recipe. Heck, I do enjoy most of the Pioneer Woman's recipes!