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Archive for January, 2012

“Oh, do you know the muffin man? The muffin man, the muffin man.”

What about the milk man? The farmer? The fisherman? The baker?

Farmer's Market Bounty

Over the past century our relationship with the origins of our food has become quite detached. Try explaining the meaning of “The Muffin Man” to a class of Kindergartners as they recite it and their eyes glaze over with befuddlement. What do you mean fresh bread was delivered directly to homes by the person who made it?! Didn’t they go to the A&P and pick out a loaf of packaged bread made months ago and kept “fresh” by a large dose of preservatives?! And wasn’t that loaf made by an assembly line of industrial machines… not a skilled baker?!

White Carrots

It’s only in the past year or so that I have begun to discern the difference between the industrial organic Whole Foods style of foods and those that can be obtained from a local producer. I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s book, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and was shocked to discover that the average food item travels 1500 miles to our plate. That’s farther than many Americans will travel in a single trip during their lifetime! Just last night I quickly perused the produce section at my Whole Foods in NJ and found bell peppers from Mexico, potatoes from Oregon, clementines from Spain, and blueberries from Argentina. The sheer miles that separate these foods from their roots has an indisputable impact on their flavor, freshness, and nutritional value.

Blue Potato

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE Whole Foods and find myself entering into a rarely paralleled state of euphoria when I step over its threshold. I feast my eyes on the aesthetic beauty of their bounty of colorful produce and eagerly explore each aisle in search of wholesome gems that I confidently know are unadulterated by artificial additives, sweeteners, colorings, and preservatives. Alongside the international far I also found locally grown apples and leafy greens. I applaud their efforts to support local farmers and provide shoppers with the opportunity to discover the unique flavor and diversity of local crops.

Ready to Roast

I have a growing sense of obligation to do my part as an individual consumer. I am fortunate to live in an area where there is a farmers’ market open each weekend… a place where I can attach a face to the produce I am buying and chat with that farmer about the agriculture practices, passion, and hard work that went into bringing it to my plate. From my perspective as a lover of healthful food the farmers’ market satisfies my desire for the freshest, most nutrient dense products. As a passionate cook it challenges me to have the ingredients lead to the recipe rather than vice versa. And as a responsible citizen it allows me to play a role in preserving farmland, reducing fossil fuel consumption, and support local business.

Simmering

The bottom line…

I will continue to make my weekly pilgrimage to Whole Foods and consume strawberries in January if I desire them. But, at the same time I will make a conscious effort to become more of a “locavore.” After all, there must be some perks to living in “The Garden State!”

To prove my commitment I present you with a Martha Stoever original recipe. Inspired solely by ingredients purchased at our local farmers’ market (and Nick’s hankering for “stew”). Is it soup or is it stew? You decide.

Roasted Vegetable Stoup - Satisfies Your Mind and Hunger

Roasted Root Vegetable “Stoup”

Ingredients

  • Root vegetables of choice (I used a combination of celeriac, beets, carrots, turnips, parsnips, and fingerling potatoes): approximately 1 cup of each
  • 1 leek (thinly sliced)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1 quart of vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil)
  • 2 tsp Herbes de Provence
  • 2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh chopped parsley (optional garnish)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  2. Scrub and trim ends and any bad spots off of all the root vegetables.  I left all of mine unpeeled with the exception of the celeriac. Cut into 1 inch pieces. Place root vegetables on a foil-lined cookie sheet or roasting pan.
  3. Melt 1 TBSP of coconut oil in microwave. Pour over the root vegetables and toss to coat. Season with the herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss again and spread into a single layer.
  4. Roast vegetables for 30-40 minutes, until tender, tossing once to caramelize.
  5. In a large stockpot melt remaining 1/2 TBSP of coconut oil over medium low heat. Add the leeks along with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes. Then add the garlic. Continue to cook for another 5 minutes or until leeks are softened and translucent.
  6. Just before vegetables are ready pour vegetable broth into the pot with the leek mixture. Add bay leaves and bring to a boil.
  7. When vegetables are done add about 2/3 of vegetables (reserve other 1/3) to the stockpot. Let soup simmer for approximately 10 minutes.
  8. Remove bay leaves. Then using an emulsion blender puree everything in the stockpot to desired consistency.
  9. Add remaining 1/3 of root vegetables to the pot and simmer for an additional 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  10. Garnish with parsley and serve with chunks of fresh bread
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Animal products and I have always had a tumultuous relationship. Immediately upon being weaned from a bottle I stopped drinking milk. Though inundated with messages of  “doing my body good” I loathed everything about it. As a matter of fact, one of my most scarring childhood memories involves a well-meaning grandmother following me around with a nice tall glass of milk forcing me to choke down sips until the glass was empty (or until my parents arrived home to rescue me!) I would run from the sight of a leftover cereal bowl (seriously is there anything more vial than soggy Cheerios?! ), gag while blending fruit on the bottom yogurt, and even turn my nose up at my mom’s famous homemade manicotti. And those were just my dairy woes! If served a hamburger on my dinner plate I would squeeze every last bit of juice out of it until it reached the desired hockey puck consistency. My lunch sandwiches were only composed of peanut butter and jelly and in my mind chicken (in the form of lean breast cutlets) was the only white meat. My relationship with meat came to an abrupt halt all together when I entered college. If you read my previous post you would know that throughout my first 18 years I had been spoiled by my mom’s healthful, homemade cooking. One lap around the dining hall and I knew that no matter how many ways they sauced, fried, or breaded their mystery meat I was not going to find an option that pleased me. And so began my first stint as a vegetarian. This lifestyle lasted until I moved off campus and was able to cook for myself. Though I did not find myself having to stave off cravings for meat, I had heard “Well how do you get your protein?” enough times to convince me that reintroducing some meat (chicken and turkey) back into my diet was a wise choice. As I matured so did my taste buds and I was exposed to the wide world of dairy delicacies that ranged beyond the standard cow’s milk products. Tangy crumbled cheeses such as feta and goat cheese, thick greek yogurt, and egg white omelets became staples of my diet. I still ate my Cheerios dry, but my palate was expanding none the less. Over the next couple of years, I continued to refine my culinary skills and also began educating myself about nutrition. The combination of these two factors exposed me to a number of non-traditional foods with huge health benefits such as tofu, quinoa, and a plethora of exotic sounding fruits and vegetables. Consequently, I found the way to answer the “So where are you getting your protein from?” question without having to rely on poultry. And so, I embraced vegetarianism again and this time for good. Fortunately, my husband, Nick, who grew up on a well-balanced Ohioan diet of cheeseburgers, fries, and soda was willing to adapt a semi-vegetarian for himself and gladly consumes whatever meal I prepare… no matter how odd sounding (tempeh…tzatziki?!) or looking (tofu tacos…green smoothies?!) it may be! Let it be known that he still eagerly devours a steak, chicken parmesan hero, or McDonald’s meal when outside of our home, but is hugely supportive of my lifestyle choices.

As we welcomed 2012 and subsequently were inundated with messages of wellness goals and challenges I began pondering what positive changes I could make. I already exercise plenty, eat more than the prescribed daily servings of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, hydrate well, etc. The one blip on my radar was my dairy intake. The aforementioned “dairy delicacies” that I discovered after college had become commonplace in my meals and thought my intake was by no means excessive, I was consuming some form of dairy in many of my meals. Just as my inclination to obsessively research had led me to make an educated choice to adopt vegetarianism, it had recently been exposing me to a wide body of information about the benefits of a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle. Could I really give up my morning bowl of Greek yogurt and berries?! Would I enjoy a hearty bowl of minestrone without a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese?! There was only one way to find out. So I hesitantly proposed the idea of a week long vegan experiment to Nick hoping that this latest idea would not be the straw to break the proverbial camel’s back. True to his easy-going demeanor he agreed and after some more research (noticing a trend?!) and a well-planned trip to Whole Foods our week o’ vegan began on January 8th.

At risk of losing you in the mundane details of my nutritional intake for the week, I chose to chronicle just our dinners.

Monday – Kale, Farro, and Bean Soup (adapted from Generation Y Foodie)

Tuesday – Lentil Stuff Portobello Mushrooms (adapted from Yummy Mummy)


Wednesday – Spicy Asparagus-Tempeh Stir Fry (adapted from My Recipes)

Thursday – Raw Broccoli Salad (adapted from Running to the Kitchen)

*Disclaimer – I am a novice at food photography. Developing these talents is on the list of goals (and of course things to research) for 2012.

And now for the results of the experiments…. drum roll….

We’ll start with Nick.

Nick lasted a total of 4 days on the vegan diet. In his words “Our meals were varied and I did not find myself missing meat. However, I did not feel any difference in energy levels… if anything I felt less energetic. I know I probably would have to give it longer to feel positive benefits. I got tired of feeling like I had to limit my choices outside of the home.”

Now for Alissa.

I not only stuck with the vegan diet through the week, but have extended my experiment  indefinitely. Today marks two weeks. Being that I was already vegetarian and eating a diet high in fruits/veggies, whole grains, and legumes I did not feel that the change made a significant difference the composition of my meals. The absence of cravings for items that I thought would be difficult to part with was surprising and I have found a number of alternative food items that were pleasant surprises (soy and coconut milk yogurts and unsweetened almond milk being a few) My satiation and energy levels are consistent and overall I feel great. In addition to the physical effects, the alignment of my diet and my growing awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet is gratifying.

The verdict:

I plan on sticking with the vegan experiment as long as it continues to feel (both physically and emotionally) like the best lifestyle choice for me. Though I have not been confronted with any challenging situations yet (going out to eat, social gatherings, etc.) I know they will come and my response to those obstacles will certainly impact my decisions. At the heart of my choice will always be finding the happiest and healthiest pathway for me.

My gift to you for sticking through this rant is what can be loosely defined as a recipe.

I have coined it the His and Hers Herbivore and Carnivore Pizza….the Saturday night dinner that equally appeased the co-existing lifestyles in our home.

His and Hers Herbivore and Carnivore Pizza

Ingredients

   For Both Sides

 

For His Side (Carnivore)

  • 3 homemade chicken cutlets (prepared your favorite way), cut into bite size pieces
  • Shredded mozzarella cheese

For Her Side (Herbivore)

  • 4 oz sliced baby bella mushrooms
  • 1/4 sweet onion (sliced)
  • olive oil for roasting

Directions

  1. Make dough according to recipe.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  3. While dough is in the final stages of rising roast all of the vegetables. For peppers roast according to recipe. Place broccoli, mushrooms, and sweet onion on a large rimmed baking sheet (I separated mine because Nick only wanted broccoli on his side) Drizzle vegetables with olive oil and toss with your hands until coated. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until crisp tender (approximately 20 minutes) Remove from oven and set aside.
  4. Turn oven up to highest temperature setting.
  5. Roll out the pizza and place it on a pizza stone or baking sheet according to recipe. Top entire pie with marinara sauce. Then sprinkle one half with shredded mozzarella cheese and chicken cutlet pieces. Then sprinkle the other half with roasted mushrooms and onion. Top both sides off with roasted red peppers and broccoli.

6. Bake until blistery and golden, about 10 minutes.

          

7. Once slightly cooled, cut into slices and enjoy (both the pizza and the inevitable argument over the better half!)

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Have you ever wondered what would have come of Martha Stewart if she had moonlighted as an elementary school teacher and restricted her refinement of her domestic prowess to nights, weekends, and snow days?! Satisfy that curiosity as you join me, Martha Stoever, on my journey as a semi-domestic goddess (i.e. one who wears her pearls daily and serves her husband a warm, healthful meal every evening…. while donning her finest flannel pajamas and simultaneously packing a school, gym, and lunch bag for the next day). It’s bound to be “a good thing”!

So who is this Martha Stoever I speak of? Growing up in the suburbs of New York, I was nurtured by my stay-at-home mom’s domestic talents. Our well-balanced lunches often came with a warm, fuzzy note, the aroma of simmering marinara sauce was a Sunday staple, Halloween costumes were homemade (and cotton!), and construction paper, glitter, and glue were effortlessly spun into eye-catching holiday ornaments. As a naive child, I assumed that everyone’s mom put such care and creativity into their everyday tasks. It wasn’t until I reached the wise old age of my late teens that I began to truly appreciate my mother’s efforts and recognize how spoiled fortunate I was. It was about this time that my own domestic synapses began to ignite (cue cliché… “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”) The pinnacle being when I purchased myself my mom (sorry Mom!!) the Martha Stewart Living cookbook and discovered her classic sugar cookie recipe. This was the first time that I forged into an unknown recipe on my own and by the time I had a couple dozen perfectly golden heart-shaped cookies laid out in front of me I was sold. The “oooo’s”, “mmm’s”, and accolades from satisfied taste testers may have also played a tiny role (I mine as well be shameless about my ego boosts). I had become a domestic goddess convert.

I cannot take literary license for my alter-ego name. That honor goes to my freshman year roommate, Lauren. While most of my peers were exploiting their newfound freedom… pounding jungle juice, bingeing on pizza till 4am, and waking up just in time to do it all over again… I was sipping on tea and indulging in crafts till the wee morning hours. Sadly, the communal kitchen with its lone EZ Mac caked microwave didn’t lend itself to much culinary exploration. However, what practice I lacked in the kitchen I did make up for in the interior design and DIY project realm. Fabric covered scrapbooks, a paper hearts tree, Abercrombie bag wallpaper, and mini-stockings for all of my neighbors were just a few of my prided projects that year. Through it all Lauren patiently tolerated my overtaking of our 14×14 dorm room (as long as there was chocolate involved) and took to affectionately calling me “Martha Stoever.”

Fast forward 10 years and here I am. I am a 28 year-old passionate first grade teacher, blissful newlywed, budding runner, self-professed blog addict, and health conscious homemaker. And I am hoping to add burgeoning blogger to that list. I’ve been indecisive in committing to a theme for my blog… vacillating between recipes and healthy lifestyle, domestic adventures of a newlywed, and classroom creativity. Although it is against my nature, I’ve decided to take a stream of consciousness approach and plan to blog about whatever I am feeling passionate about in the moment. Each of these aspects of my life mold me in their own unique way and I hope that by validating them all I can give the most honest and raw glimpse into my world. Here’s to hoping “It’s a good thing!”

P.S. This blog was crafted while on a 10 mile run in sub-freezing temperatures… I have to have a leg up on the real Martha in something!

I leave you with the recipe that started it all for me.

Classic Sugar Cookies

Adapted from Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Makes 7 dozen small or 2 dozen large cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter

¾ cup sugar, plus 3 tablespoons for sprinkling

2 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon orange liqueur or cognac

2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add yolks, beat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and liqueur. Add flour, baking powder, and salt; mix, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium, until flour is just incorporated.

2. Turn dough out onto a clean surface and divide evenly into 2 portions. Flatten each half to 1-inch-thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1     hour.

3. Lightly flour a clean surface. Roll dough to ¼ inch thick, and cut into desired shapes. Decorate as desired, brush with egg wash, or sprinkle with sugar. (Scraps can be combined and rolled one more time.) Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool.

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