Sunday, February 24, 2013

Family Date Night: Iozzo's

Scott and I have decided to start instituting family date night in our family. One of our first family date nights was for my birthday at Fogo da Chao. The kids were well behaved and didn’t mention farting or spill anything during dinner – with two elementary-aged kids that is considered a success.
About every two months, we plan to take the kids to a new restaurant. We’ll dress up, make reservations and we make sure they understand this is an event to be on your best behavior. They will learn how to use good manners and we hope to encourage them to try new foods at the same time. Scott and I both tend to enjoy locally-owned and often ethnic restaurants  so this weekend we went to Iozzo’s Italian Garden on South Meridian in Indianapolis.
Italian seemed safe since we know our kids love pasta with tomato sauce. One kiddo ended up with pizza, the other with chicken tenders. Sigh. But they still tried a few new things regardless. Wilson had some clams, both tried edible flowers that were used as garnish – which Wilson loved – and Annyka had some grilled vegetables. I’m not sure what was so great about it, but the salad was amazing. It was a simple salad – mixed artisan greens, tomato and cucumber slices and house-made balsamic vinaigrette. I don’t know of the mixed greens were especially good or if it was the dressing, but it was delicious.
One of the ways I often judge a restaurant is on their approach to allergens – specifically gluten-free dining. Iozzo’s was great. I had noted when I made the reservation that one person in our group was gluten-free. They asked about it before I had a chance to say anything and the server was well-versed in what he needed to point out on the menu. They had quinoa pasta and they let me know that all sauces were GF. I had the Chicken Diavlo. It was very spicy and I love the sauce that seemed to be made from fresh tomatoes. Next time I may have to try one of their fish dishes though – they specialize in Southern Italian seafood.
We have a list of other restaurants we would like the kids to experience:
            Machu Picchu (Latin American)
            Abyssinia  (Ethiopian)
            Barcelona Tapas (Spanish)
            India Garden
            Tata Cuban Café
            Greek Islands
            Saffron Café (Moroccan)
I can’t wait for April’s family date night! We’ll probably be celebrating two 8th birthdays that evening!

It's a sweet potato fiesta!

Do you eat sweet potatoes? I’m not sure I’d ever had a sweet potato until a few years ago. I grew up having russet baked potatoes frequently, but not sweet potatoes. Recently I’ve been trying to eat more of this orange variety. I don’t like them as much as regular potatoes, but the nutritioinal benefits can’t be denied – They have tons of vitamin C, calcium, folate, potassium, and beta-carotene (which the body converts into vitamin A). At least one scientific group considers the sweet potato the most nutritious vegetable.
In addition, another reason sweet taters are so great is because they are a low-glycemic food. That seems a little weird to me considering the fact that glycemic stems from a word for sugar and this is the sweet version of the potato. But it’s true – sweet potatoes do not spike your blood sugar the way white potatoes do. The energy provided by a sweet potato will last longer than the quick energy you will get from a russet potato.  
I have a few friends who will eat a half of a sweet potato, with a little coconut oil and cinnamon, as a dessert to satisfy their sweet tooth.
This past week, I chose to have sweet potatoes with a tex-mex flair. I had originally planned to just bake my potatoes whole, but we ended up getting home later than planned, so instead I made them a little differently – cubed and roasted. I tossed them with homemade taco seasoning and them topped them with a black bean salad once they were done.
Fiesta Sweet Potatoes
2-3 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 batch of homemade taco seasoning – see below
1-2 tsp olive oil
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Tbsp lime juice
½ cup whole corn kernals
1 tomato, diced (or ½ cup mild salsa)
¼ medium onion, diced
Salt, to taste

Toss sweet potatoes with olive oil. Set aside about 1 tsp of taco seasoning for the bean salad. Toss the oil coated potatoes with the rest of the taco seasoning. Spread potatoes on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 30-40 minutes. Potatoes should be easily pierced with a fork and will browned around the edges.
While potatoes are roasting, combine beans, lime juice, corn, tomato, onion and remaining taco seasoning.
Once potatoes are done, top each serving with bean salad. Add salt IF needed. The salt in the taco seasoning may be enough.  A little sour cream or guacamole may be good with this as well, but I didn’t have any handy.

Taco Seasoning
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp onion powder
¼ tsp dried oregano
1 ½ tsp ground cumin
1 tsp Himalayan salt
1 tsp black pepper
½ tsp chipotle pepper powder
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl or spice shaker.
Most taco seasoning recipes call for chili powder and paprika, but I replace those two with chipotle pepper powder. Chipotle powder is smokier than regular chili powder, but it is also spicier. If you’d like the smokiness without the heat, try smoked paprika instead of the chipotle powder.

A weekend for chili

Like most normal Americans, I like a good bowl of chili in the winter. And like many people I’m pretty particular about how it is made. There are so many ways to make chili – Texas style; Cincinnati style; with pasta, without pasta; with beans, without beans; soupy or thick and chunky; served with peanut butter sandwiches, chips, sour cream, etc. You get the idea. Growing up my family liked macaroni in the chili, my college boyfriend HAD TO HAVE PB sandwiches with his, and my ex-husband liked his without beans and over spaghetti (he’s from the Cincy area).  
 Here’s how I want my chili: thick, with lots of meat and beans, no pasta (I think it gets mushy), with tortilla (or corn) chips on the side. I made some with quinoa in it once and that wasn’t too bad. I’m not as particular about the seasonings in the chili – texture is paramount to me. I generally like a slightly sweet, spicy chili, but that can be adjusted easily by each person before eating.
 I made a good one yesterday in the crockpot. I must record this for posterity. I can’t really make this chili during the week because it takes a few hours in the crockpot, but it’s not a “set it and forget it” recipe.

Nicki’s Weekend Chili
1lb of ground meat
1 12-oz bag of frozen mire poix
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
2 15-oz cans of chili beans – I used Kuner’s  no salt added
1 15-oz can fire-roasted petite diced tomatoes
1 cup sweet potato puree
2 Tbsp molasses
4 Tbsp chili powder, more to taste
2 tsp ground cumin
Himalayan salt, to taste

I used Moody Meat’s lead ground beef and put that in the crockpot with the mire poix, red bell pepper and garlic. I probably could have put in another half to full pound of meat and I would have loved it, but I am trying cut back on meat consumption
Mire poix is a convenient shortcut, but it is not required. If you can’t find mire poix (I find it at Kroger in the frozen veggie section), it is simply diced onion, celery and green bell pepper – a vegetable mixture used frequently in Cajun dishes – I would estimate it is about 1 onion, 2 stalks of celery and about ½ green bell pepper, diced.
I let the ground beef cook with the veggies on high for about two hours, stirring and breaking up the meat about every 30 minutes.
Then I mixed in the tomato sauce, molasses, chili powder and cumin. If you prefer, use your favorite chili seasoning packet in place of the spices.
Next came the cans of beans and tomatoes. I drained the tomatoes, but that isn’t necessary if you won’t feel like it.
Lastly, I took a can of sweet potatoes, drained them and pureed them in my Ninja and added about a cup of sweet potato puree. It added some thickness and sweetness to the chili.
I let everything simmer another two hours on high. Then, and this is important in my world, I let my chili sit in the fridge overnight before eating it. I’m in the chili-is-always-better-the-second-day camp.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Review: Angelo's Salvage Grocery Store

I found out this week about a salvage grocery store downtown, about five minutes from my office. Rumor was that Angelo’s often had organic and allergen-free foods. So I took a field trip today – an $80 field trip!

The store itself is not strong on atmosphere – it’s pretty much bare bones shelves with prices written on the items with a sharpie. But it’s a salvage store so that’s totally okay with me!

A few other helpful hints to know before you check out Angelo’s. The store is at 201 S College Ave (Indianapolis), just south of Georgia Street. If you approach the store from College, go past the building and the small parking lot is on the northside of the building. They do have small carts and bags for the grocery, but I’m sure bringing your own bags is appreciated. I brought two of my own (but needed a third) and the cashier helped me bag everything up. They do accept credit and debit cards, but there is a $5 minimum purchase to use a card. Lastly, their hours are a bit limited, so consider that before you go: M-F 8 am - 4 pm and Saturday 8am -2 pm.

If you need butter or cheese, especially in bulk, this is your place…at least this week! It’s kind of like a Goodwill in that regard – you don’t know what you’re going to find. Today they had plenty of butter, including Land O Lakes brand, bulk sour cream and various kinds of cheese. They also had string cheese singles 2 for a $1.

My favorite things were the sauces. This is an impulse buying problem for me. I love sauces. Marinades, condiments for dipping (remember the mustard mishap?), salad dressings, etc. I’ve never been able to eat foods “dry” – maybe that’s a Sjogren’s thing. So when I find ones that are not made with soy sauce, dairy or tons of chemicals, I snatch them up. I got several fun ones today: a roasted raspberry chipotle, tequila-lime-cilantro, Thai pineapple chili, Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette, organic tahini, Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, roasted red pepper sesame sauce and a huge thing of organic Tamari.

I also spent several minutes in the personal toiletries aisle – hand lotion, lip balm, body oils – many organic and all for great prices.

There were several varieties of canned beans and tomatoes  - big staples in our house – so I grabbed several cans of those as well. Some garbanzo, some black beans, and five cans of organic fire-roasted petite diced tomatoes ($.69 each).

They also had vegetarian and organic dog food. I was running out of time on my lunch break so I didn’t spend much time there, but I may have to next time.

I saw many brands that I normally can only find locally at places like Whole Foods, Pogue’s Run, and through Green BEAN Delivery. Whole Foods 365 brand was prevalent as well Envirokids, Late July (family size bag of chips of $1), Fantastic Foods, Stonewall Kitchen, and others.

This isn’t a “replacement for the grocery store” kind of place, but I have a feeling I will hit it up once a month or so before my regular trip to grab staples like GF pasta, rice or canned beans and tomatoes. Next time I’ll exercise a little more self-control since God knows if we get trapped in our house, due to something like…I don’t know, an ice storm…we will not be able to survive on mustard alone.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Another soup blog

It’s cold here in Indiana. Tonight we might get an ice storm. Yuck. Anyway, my point is that soups and stews are good at times like these. I've mentioned before how much I like soups. Soups can have tons of flavor without added fat or salt. Plus the fact that my daughter will eat vegetables if they are cooked in a soup.

A couple weeks ago, I made waaaay too many lentils for a salad and I froze the extras – probably about 3 cups of cooked brown lentils. I decided I wanted to use those to make some lentil stew this week. I've been trying to eat vegetarian so lentils are a good protein option. I went to Allrecipes to look for a vegetarian lentil soup or stew and found this one:

 Lentil Soup – Not a very exciting name, so I decided to call it Hungarian Lentil Stew based on the description on the site.

I brought my lentils out of the freezer and put them in the fridge about 24 hours before making the soup – they weren't completely thawed, but they were frozen solid either.

For once I mostly followed the recipe.
I sweated (I learned this term from watching Food Network) the onion and celery, added the carrots, garlic and paprika.
I put in two cans of diced tomatoes and beef stock instead of chicken though because I had that handy (obviously if you’re truly vegetarian – use vegetable broth).
I didn't measure the white wine. I just kind of threw some in.
And I put all my lentils in because I did want a heartier soup.
I didn't simmer my soup as long – only about 30 minutes – since my lentils were already cooked.
And lastly, I added a little bit of cornstarch in water to thicken it up a bit.

It was delicious, especially with Crunchmaster GF crackers…and just as delicious today for lunch. I have taco sweet potatoes planned for this evening, but if am too hungry to wait for those to bake, I may just have more soup! 

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I want to try these...

That is all. If I had Pinterest, which I do not and I'm stubbornly refusing to join because I refuse to be trendy in that regard, I could just pin this on a board. But instead I'll put it here. Deal with it.

Ahoy! A vegetarian gluten-free meal!

Tonight I have a vegan friendly meal planned. And I’ve been craving it. Its so simple it seems like a silly craving, but hey, I’m weird like that.

White beans with Tomatoes

1 15-oz can of diced tomatoes
1 15-oz can of cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed
½ medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt to taste

Throw it all in the bowl. 
Let it sit overnight. 

I did that last night.

So tonight for dinner, I’m going to make some rice pasta. Then I’m going to wilt some spinach.  And I’m going to toss some of the tomato-bean mixture with the pasta and spinach. AND I’m going to EAT IT.
I suppose if one were a cheese eater, some good hard cheese grated over the top would be good as well. 

Occasionally I even make things I can't eat

I made another meal last night that is not gluten-free or dairy-free last night. But it looked delicious and Scott loved it so I’m going to share it with you all as well.

I need a name for it though…it was inspired by beef pot pie, but it has a biscuit top instead of crust (and no bottom crust). I’ll work on that later.

Also, note I did this in two distinct steps – 1) filling in the crockpot. 2) finish it in the oven with the topping. I started making it in the crockpot one evening refrigerated that part, then finished it a couple days later mixing up the biscuits and baking it.

Biscuit-topped Beef Stew (does that even sound good? )

Step  1: The Beefy Filling
1.5-2 lbs of stew beef. I left mine in the big chunks the way I bought it from the store. But if you want smaller pieces you could cut them smaller.
12-oz bag of frozen mixed vegetables (carrots, corn, green beans, etc)
¼ cup red wine
1 can mushroom gravy
1 bay leaf
Salt & pepper to taste

Toss everything in the crockpot. 
Cook on high about 4 hours. 
Fish out the bay leaf and discard.
Pour into a 9x9 oven-safe dish or refrigerate for later use. 

Step 2: Topping/Finish
2 cups quick biscuit mix
2/3 cup milk
½ cup shredded cheese
1 tsp garlic powder (some might find this too strong, we LOVE garlic, but scale back if you aren’t as garlicky as we are!)
2 Tbsp dried parsley

Drop by the tablespoon fulls on the top of the filling, distributing so most of filling is covered by biscuit dough. 
Bake at 425 for about 25 minutes or until topping is golden brown (if you are using refrigerated filling, it might take longer to bake).

Serves 4. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Soup for a sick kid

I know most people think chicken noodle soup when they are sick, but since I don’t eat noodles and my daughter prefers rice (aww, she takes after me), we do chicken and rice soup. The kidlet has been battling a fever and congestion for the last four days so Saturday I ran out and grabbed the stuff to make her favorite chicken & rice soup.

I think this kid would waste away if she didn’t like soup. Since she was about 3 years old, soup has been one of the best (and sometimes only) ways I can get her to eat vegetables . I’m starting to suspect a biological reason for this, but I’m waiting to find out about this from a doctor.
Anyway, here’s my chicken & rice soup :*
*This is not necessarily a gluten-free or dairy-free recipe. I knew I was not going to be eating it, so I wasn’t checking the ingredients in everything.  I also was trying to make it fast. Cream of chicken soup is NOT GF or dairy-free. I’m not sure about the Uncle Ben’s.  

Chicken & Rice Soup
1-2 lbs of chicken thighs, with skin.
8 cups of water
3-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp whole peppercorns
Juice of one lemon
1 box Uncle Ben’s long grain & wild rice
6 oz frozen mire poix (diced celery, onions and green peppers)
6 oz frozen sliced carrots
1 can cream of chicken soup

Place the chicken thighs in a large stock pot. Add water to the pot. Then add the seasoning packet from the box of rice (do not add the rice), garlic, lemon juice and peppercorns. Bring water to a boil.  

Reduce the heat to low and let chicken cook at a slow boil, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Remove the pot from heat and cover. Let stand for about 25-35 minutes, until chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Take the chicken out of the stock with tongs and let cool until you can remove skin.

While the chicken is cooling, strain stock with a mesh strainer. Make sure you have a bowl or pot large enough to catch all the stock. Pour the strained stock back into the stock pot. I only put about half the stock back in the pot and refrigerated the rest for future meals.

Place the stock pot over medium-high heat and add the veggies. Bring the mixture to a boil and add rice. Lower heat to a simmer.

While soup is simmering, remove skin from chicken and discard. Then remove meat from bones. Dice chicken into small pieces. Add about half the chicken in the soup and keep the rest for later meals. If you want more chicken in the soup, add all of it!

Once soup has simmered about 15 minutes, whisk in the cream of chicken soup (this could easily be replaced with a little cornstarch roux to thicken the soup as well…or even leave it out for a thinner, brothier soup).

Let the soup simmer about 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately!

Serves 6-8. 

Baked Apples for Breakfast

For part of the second week and all of the third week of the Ultimate Reset, fruit is the breakfast. So for the last 6 days I've only had fruit for breakfast and it is getting old fast! It doesn't help that it's winter here in Indiana and having a cold breakfast isn't nearly as refreshing in February as it is in June. So today I decided to bake my apples. 

If I weren't on the Ultimate Reset, I probably would have added some chopped nuts and possibly some oats, but for today it was pretty simple. 

Baked Apples

3 medium apples
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp coconut oil
pinch of salt

Peel and core apples. Cut into 1-inch cubes. 
Grease the bottom of small baking dish with coconut oil - I used my brie baking dish. 
In a bowl, toss apples with cinnamon and salt until apples are evenly coated. 
Place apples in greased dish. 
Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes. 

Serves one on the UR, but it could probably serve two if you are having other things with your breakfast.

Monday, February 11, 2013

I'm hungry.

I am on Day 19 of the 21-day Ultimate Reset and I have to admit, I'm hungry. I want more to eat. Not necessarily non-healthy foods, just different ones. I've been eating fruit for breakfast for the past two weeks and I am so bored with it. I WANT some hot cereal. Thursday...Thursday I will have quinoa for breakfast.

I have had some good food though - squash with tahini is delicious. Curried cauliflower is still a favorite. Roasted beets are fantastic.

But I want cashew butter on crackers. I want bean salad and avocado hummus. I want dolmas and roasted red pepper spread.  I could totally go for some colcannon with kale.

Not awful foods. I don't want a cheeseburger or donuts, but I do want some additional variety. Two more days. Hopefully by then my daughter will be better. She's been sick for the past three days and it looks like she'll be home again tomorrow - she just can't shake this fever.