Signs of Spring: The birth (literally) of my future vegetable garden

Like pretty much everyone who lives in the northeast, I’ve been whining and complaining about this never-ending winter, balking at the temperatures that have dropped hopelessly into the 30s and stubbornly remained there, and – on several occasions – wearing flats despite there being actual snow on the ground.

A girl can dream, even at the expense of freezing cold feet.

But today – a glimmer of hope! No matter how many springs come and pass, I will always be uplifted and captivated by a baby bud. It has to be one of the most hopeful things to witness in life. A teeny tiny seed, buried in dirt, GROWING into SOMETHING.

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I’m thrilled.

I grow vegetables every year, and since Mike and I now own a house and I have FREE REIGN over this great yard, I am rolling with it. I’m also trying something new – planting flowers! I was inspired by my best friend Kate, who is amazing at gardening and has turned her rental property into a really amazing landscape. Just to clarify – she rents the property, so she truly does this out of a love of gardening. It’s awesome. (I will have to share photos once her flowers bloom. She has a planting plan diagrammed out like the White House).

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I started with peppers, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, beets, spaghetti squash, cucumber, and two kinds of peas. This week I’ll move on to hot peppers and some awesome looking flowers to really beautify the yard. It’s all so exciting!!

Even if it doesn’t FEEL like spring around here yet, I am enjoying my own personal spring beginnings in my home. I can’t wait to see how they all progress!

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Jasmine Rice and Cooked Vegetables = Super Fast Lunch Recipe

I made this dish during my lunch break when I was supposed to be walking Madison. So it teaches us two things:

  1. It is a super fast and easy dish
  2. I chose food over my dog this week

(To be fair, she did get to sit outside the entire time and never fear – I did walk her after work).

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I made the decision to turn my lunch break in a small cooking adventure because when I opened the fridge to forage for scraps in my frantic state of mid-work-day hunger, I found myself face to face with this:

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I do not know what it is about this mango chutney from our local Hannaford supermarket that I love so much, but I do love it. It’s sweet and fruity with a little spice, and goes so perfectly with rice that sometimes I forget there is more to a meal than rice and a heaping dollop of chutney.

So, between 12:15 and 1pm I made this super simple dish using Jasmine Rice (my personal fav type of rice) as the base and then literally any veggie that happened to be available in my fridge.

What You Need:

  • 1 cup Jasmine Rice
  • 1 1/2 cup water
  • A bunch of random vegetables, chopped (this is completely at your discretion – anything goes! I used sweet potato that I put through the food processor, onions, red and green bell peppers and one jalapeno for some zing)
  • Any kind of chutney (although as you know I highly recommend mango)

What You Do:

Chop the veggies, and heat, covered, in an oiled pan slowly over low-medium heat.

While the veggies are cooking, make the rice. If you are not using Jasmine rice, follow the directions for whatever rice you’re using. If you choose Jasmine rice, boil the water and rice together, then lower the temperature to simmer, covered, until the water has cooked off.

Plop the rice on a plate, and cover with a heaping portion of veggies. Add some chutney on the side for dipping (also your choice – any sauce or spices will also suffice) and enjoy!

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Pro Tip: Add a protein like tofu or chicken to make it a complete dish!

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork with Sweet Potato and Beer

On Sunday I received a text that spoke directly to my heart.

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The text came from my friend Mary, and to be fair, we had finished a 17 mile run just hours earlier. But if I’m going to be honest here, I will admit that I usually feel like I want to eat everything, regardless of how far I’ve run or even whether I’ve run at all.

I have a lot of cravings that tend to dictate what Mike and I eat for dinner.

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As you probably guessed, On Sunday like my friend Mary, I too felt like eating everything. To handle this feeling in the most mature and self-controlled way possible, I ate a handful of sour jelly beans and drove to the supermarket to buy ingredients for one of my favorite comfort food meals – slow cooker pulled pork. I felt like I needed comfort food – who doesn’t?!?

Knowing Mike and I couldn’t eat it until Monday night practically drove me insane, but it was well worth the wait. Absolutely delish! And I got kudos for making pork (Mike’s all-time fav meat dish that I rarely make).

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Seasoned Pork ready to start slow cooking.

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Spice Rub!

What You Need:

  • A boneless pork shoulder (also commonly called pork butt) between 3 and 5 pounds
  • One large sweet potato, grated or shredded (I used my food processor)
  • One large yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3-4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 1/4 cup beer (I used a brown ale. If you don’t want to use beer, the same amount of vegetable or chicken broth works too)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tbsp ground red pepper (cayenne)
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 cups of your favorite BBQ sauce (I used Thicker Style Hot Bone Suckin’ Sauce)

IMG_3645What You Do:

Line the bottom of the crock pot dish with the graded or shredded sweet potato, the thinly sliced onion, minced garlic and chopped scallions.

Pour the beer over the mixture. Drink the rest!

In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, chili powder, salt, cayenne, cumin and cinnamon.

Prepare your pork. I sliced it into large chunks and cut off as much fat as I could.

Rub the spice mixture over the pork pieces and place the pork over the onion mixture in the crock pot dish.

Set the crock pot on High for 6-8 hours OR on Low for 8-10 hours.

When it’s ready, spoon the pork out of the crock pot onto a separate plate.

Drain the liquid left in the crock pot through a strainer and INTO A POT so it doesn’t go down the drain. (This is only important to do if you do not wish to use BBQ sauce. If that’s the case, see below for the Pro Tip).

Return the onion mixture that was captured in the strainer to the crock pot. Return the pork to the crock pot and with a fork, begin pulling it apart until it is all looking like goodness.

Add your BBQ sauce and it’s ready to serve!

Pro Tip: If you do not wish to use BBQ sauce, pour the strained liquid back into the pulled pork mixture slowly until the pork is moistened (you may not need all of it!)

Pro Tip #2: Select a gluten-free BBQ sauce for a totally GF meal!

Pro Tip #3: Take advantage of the fact that this recipe allows you to say “pork butt” multiple times in conversation.

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog

Smuttynose Old Brown Dog – a perfect beer for this recipe!

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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You will never need to eat pasta again. Ever.

I’m serious. And I’m Italian. So this goes against everything my people believe but I’m sticking to it.

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When I would see recipes for spaghetti squash, I tossed them aside, figuring it was just a weird stringy food that could never take the place of my beloved whole wheat spaghetti. But I came across a large spaghetti squash at a farmer’s market this winter and talked to the farmer about it. He couldn’t believe I’d never made one before.

When people who grow food for a living tell me that I “have to try” something, I don’t take it lightly. I took that sucker home, and cooked it up following his (suspiciously simple) directions.

Well first of all, I felt like a food genius. I brought Mike in to see the cooked squash in action.

“Check this out!” I told him, gently plying away the spaghetti-like layers of sweet smelling squash with a fork. I know he was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?

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And second of all, it isn’t some weird stringy food. It’s great. Drenched in homemade tomato sauce, it’s almost like eating actual spaghetti, except with fewer calories and carbs. And one spaghetti squash makes quite a bit of food, and is one of those leftovers that makes the early part of my workday a time where I am simply waiting to eat.

Preheat oven to 450F

What You Need:

  • A spaghetti squash (1-2 pounds)
  • Tomato sauce. For a great homemade recipe that you can make simultaneously with the squash (efficiency!!!!) use this recipe.

What You Do:

Halve the spaghetti squash lengthwise from the stem to the bottom. Scoop out the seeds and extra stuff.

Place the halves insides down on a baking sheet (you can put foil under them if you want to make the cleanup easier).

**You do not need to use any oil! The squash produces liquid while it bakes and will not stick.**

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the skin starts to pucker and brown. You will also see liquid start to seep out around the base of the squash. You may also see the juices start to caramelize around the base of the squash – this is totally ok and really enhances the flavor. But that also means it’s time to take it out of the oven.

With a fork, gently separate the stringy squash layers from the skin and scoop onto your plate or into a bowl.

Cover in tomato sauce and freshly shredded Parmesan and enjoy!

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Pro Tip: You can save the skins and reuse them for in a homemade vegetable broth! Simply freeze them in a large bag with other vegetable cooking scraps until you need to make your broth!

A Lovely and Filling Kale Risotto

There are a few things I am sure of in this life: A good meal in a pinch does not have to require a trip to the grocery store; a Sunday-night meal plan will invariably improve your week; and sometimes you just NEED chocolate cake.

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One important fact about me is that I like to run (like actually LIKE  it), and one of the biggest reasons aside from the obvious health benefit is that it makes me feel more comfortable about eating all of the foods I love in quantities that might scare average people.

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2-pound lobstah

But with winter in New Hampshire being a stubborn thorn in my side, it was easy to fall into a rut of not running as much, and instead eating the chocolate/cookies/leftover pie ruthlessly decorating our office kitchen table.

BUT I have a 20 mile race coming up at the end of March, so I’ve been making a much larger effort to make a healthy dinner every night and bring the leftovers for lunch so I don’t have an excuse to buy food out. Saves money and calories!

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Last night’s dinner needed to produce enough food to make two lunches, and since I didn’t get to start cooking until 8pm (ugh) it needed to be fairly quick. By 8:30pm we had this kale risotto, which was indeed both lovely and filling.

What You Need:

  • 1 cup uncooked Arborio (Risotto) rice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 of a large, red onion OR a large shallot (I don’t always have a shallot on hand)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth (need some in a pinch? check out this post)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cups chopped kale (no stems – unless you like them!)

What You Do:

Heat a large wok or skillet at Medium to Medium-High and add the oil.

Add the chopped garlic and onion, and stir to coat evenly in oil.

Add the cup of Arborio rice and stir to mix.

One cup at a time, add the vegetable broth, stirring continuously between adding each cup. You want the broth to be at a low simmer in the skillet.

Once you’ve added the last cup of broth, add the kale. Stir to combine and lower the heat. Stir and cook until the kale reduces and cooks fully. Taste tests are always helpful! 🙂

Pro Tip: If you actually stir the Risotto the entire time, it will come out AMAZING. I don’t care if you have to hire someone to stand there and do it – I have made this dish so many times and when I finally ignored the mess and dishes and actually stirred it continuously, the end result was SO worth it.

Ready for Anything Homemade Vegetable Broth

Do you ever feel a little bad about all the vegetable scraps that pile up while you’re preparing a meal? Onion peels (are they called peels?), the tops/stems of peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli and squashes – it’s a crazy amount of food in the end that you aren’t using in the actual recipe!

I did eventually start a vermicycle compost bin, which is a HUGE help, but one thing I love to do with these veggie scraps is use them again for my own personal mealtime gain before feeding them to the compost worms.

This vegetable broth recipe is a super simple solution to that problem that basically produces an entirely new meal AND will help you feel less wasteful. A win-win!

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Store all of your vegetable scraps in the freezer in a gallon-size bag and simply continue adding to it each time you cook. Then, whenever you need vegetable broth for cooking, all you need to do is follow these easy steps and you’ll have at-the-ready homemade broth.

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What You Do:

  1. Boil a large pot of water
  2. Put a good amount of the frozen veggies directly into the boiling water
  3. Boil down until the veggies are soft and the water is visibly broth-like. Add salt or pepper if desired.
  4. Drain the water through a strainer directly into another large pot and it’s ready!

Pro Tip: Eliminate a step and make your dinner prep easier by making the broth ahead of time and freezing it. Then you can just defrost and use! (This photo is not great but this is a half-gallon container and I filled two with just one pot. Win!)

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Super Exciting Award!!

Something very cool has interrupted my mundane afternoon of work and contemplation of whether to eat the second half of a large cookie I bought earlier.

Joanna at FoodGurly.com has nominated my tiny start-up blog for the Liebster Award! liebsterblogaward

This award is designed to be passed around to spread blog love and draw attention to blogs that don’t have a lot of followers. Needless to say I am just touched AND super excited for the nomination! Joanna’s blog is awesome and a really perfect go-to place for gluten-free recipes that I have already used on more than one occasion, most recently to make these GF chocolate chip cookies. (They were amazing).

So this award means I get to answer some fun questions AND give some random facts about myself AND pass on the love to other awesome and deserving blogs/bloggers!

Here they are – I hope you enjoy learning a little bit more about me!

  1. If you could be a fruit, what would you be?  Why? A peach. They’re the tastiest fruit, they just scream “summertime” and I love saying, “You’re a peach!” to people.
  2. Sweet or Savory? Definitely sweet. I always joke that instead of having a sweet tooth I have sweet teeth.
  3. When you go to a new restaurant, do you order ‘the same old thing’ off the menu or do you try something new? It’s hard for me to try new foods out! I like to stick to what I know is good and save the experimenting for my kitchen.
  4. Beef of Chicken? Neither – if I have to eat meat, I choose turkey. But only rarely.
  5. Would you rather have a night on the town or a romantic evening in? A night out on the town! Especially if it includes dancing.
  6. Ice Cream or Sherbet? Ice Cream. I love all of the flavors (even though I can never choose just one) and it’s a good excuse to eat candy, sprinkles and chocolate sauce all at the same time.
  7. What is your least favorite household chore? Cleaning the bathroom for sure. Thank goodness for the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser.
  8. Cake or Pie? PIE!! Especially strawberry rhubarb!
  9. Do you think a person can change (i.e. Do you believe the old saying: Once a cheater always a cheater?) I have to say yes because I know people who have.
  10. Butter or Margarine? Butter all the way. Can’t beat it. (Well, you can…har har)

Some facts about me in no particular order:

  • I ran my first marathon in 2013 (Vermont City in Burlington) and have been hooked on distance running ever since.
  • I have a younger brother who in 2011 rode his bicycle across the country from Boston to Oregon by himself. I admire him so much.
  • I haven’t owned a microwave in 6 years and have no plans to buy one.
  • I was the mascot (Wild E Cat) for my college, the University of New Hampshire, for a few games each year.
  • I am ADDICTED to Tic Tacs and eat them by the pack in a matter of minutes. When I was little I stole a pack of the orange ones from our local Stop and Shop. My mom found them and made me bring them back and apologize.
  • I got married in September 2012. Mike inspires me every day to try new things.
  • I love owls and will buy just about anything if it has an owl on it.
  • I wanted to be a famous actress when I was younger and went to college for theatre performance until I realized I liked writing better – then I became a journalist.
  • I am a Run Commuter – I run to and from work!
  • I love the blogging community and all of the people I am meeting by having started a blog! I couldn’t be more excited!

Now I get to pass on the love and nominate some other awesome blogs, which have to answer the questions below and provide some fun facts about themselves – and then nominate other blogs to do this, and so on and so forth 😀

Officially Gluten Free | Simply Made Kitchen and Crafts | Skinny Muffin | Tips, Tricks and Tidbits to a Healthier Lifestyle

  1. Dark Chocolate or White Chocolate?
  2. Who inspires you in your life?
  3. If you could have one super power, what would it be?
  4. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast?
  5. Do you like going to the movies, or waiting for movies to come out on DVD?
  6. What is one place you have never been but really want to go?
  7. Eggs with ketchup or without?
  8. Do you have a “guilty pleasure” tv show?
  9. What is your favorite vacation spot?
  10. Would you prefer to live near the ocean, or the mountains?