Best Meat Sauce

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“Replace your grains with greens” is the single most powerful dietary changes I’ve made in the last year, but I’ll admit, sometimes I really miss the bun, a heap of rice, a thick slice of sandwich bread, or starchy noodles. Usually these cravings come just when I’ve been indulging them already. Argh. (Three cakes and a batch of muffins have left my kitchen in the last week.)

I make this sauce regularly and instead of my usual spinach or kale, I cooked up a box of brown rice pasta, according to the package directions.

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I hated the noodles. What a disappointment. They weren’t bad, but talk about boring. The next day I roasted a head of cauliflower florets, tossed with olive oil, fennel, sage, and salt. I have now reheated the sauce and eaten it on roasted cauliflower twice. It’s heaven. So, I’m sharing the sauce recipe because it’s a keeper. Serve it on anything you like.

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Best Meat Sauce

Ingredients:
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 pound ground sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 – 6 oz can tomato paste
1 pint tomato sauce (I use a homemade marinara. Any favorite bottled sauce will do.)
2 Tbs dried parsley (or 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped)
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried marjoram
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (or more!)
salt and pepper to taste

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Instructions:
Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef and sausage and cook until brown, breaking up with fork, about 5 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer meat to a bowl. Discard all but 2 Tbs of the grease and return to the stove. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in herbs, salt, and pepper and continue cooking for a minute. Return beef and sausage to skillet; add crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until sauce is thick, about 30 minutes. (Can be prepared 3 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before continuing.)

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Honey Buttermilk Mincemeat Cake

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I really, really love mincemeat. Deep, almost savory, sweet, rich, spiced, and preserved is my greatest dessert described and mincemeat hits all of the above. The thing is, store bought mincemeat can be rather expensive when done right and very disgusting when done wrong. I suppose the same is true when done at home, though I believe nothing is as exorbitant or unappealing when made by loving hands with thoughtful ingredients in a home kitchen. Mincemeat can be overwhelming and we are all familiar with traditional mincemeat pie, but often have different opinions about it. It’s one of those desserts that seems to go very right or horribly wrong. I think the key is portion size and balancing flavors. I especially love real mincemeat made with beef and suet, but that’s a post for another day.

A few weeks ago, I opened a jar of homemade (meatless) mincemeat from my mother’s pantry for a dinner party. I made a simple crostata with half of a whole wheat and butter pie crust recipe and just put a thin layer of mincemeat over the rolled out dough in the center, leaving 2 inches around the sides. I folded those sides over, egg washed the exposed dough, and baked it hot at 425 for 20 minutes. It was stunning.

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So last week I opened another jar the same day I bought a quart of local wildflower honey up the road. Wildflower honey has a more pronounced flavor than clover and while I love the taste, it has a habit of taking over anything it’s made with. Making this cake out of such simple, strong, old fashioned ingredients was a risk, but it paid off. I haven’t had a dessert that brought such pleasure in a long time. This may look like an everyday snack cake, but I disagree with the categorization. It’s impossibly rich and nearly a pudding cake because of how moist and dense it barely sets. Really, it’s just glorious. The whole wheat and buttermilk are absolutely necessary to hold up to the honey and mincemeat.

If you don’t have a jar of mincemeat on hand, you can purchase some, but I recommend taking the time to make your own mincemeat like this all-fruit version or this traditional one. Either find a way to make a lot of cake, pie, and crostada in the next few weeks or pull out the pressure canner and preserve it for a very long time. You’ll never regret having a jar on hand when this cake is just a few other ingredients away. Although I could have and would have eaten this cake alone, I shared a bit with my mother, Aurelia, with two gentlemen at an Editorial Board meeting, and with Aurelia’s teacher. Everyone raved about it and it seemed to speak to them the same it spoke to me. Something unexpected, memorable, and unlike any cake you’re used to. The perfect finish to your Easter dinner, perhaps?

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Honey Buttermilk Mincemeat Cake
Adapted from Allrecipes

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup honey
2 eggs
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup prepared mincemeat (freshly prepared or from a home preserved or purchased jar)

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Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9 inch springform pan. Cream butter in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add honey, beating well. Add eggs one at a time, beating mixture well after each addition. In a 2 cup measuring bowl, dissolve soda in buttermilk, stirring well. The mixture will bubble and rise as it reacts. Mix flour into creamed mixture alternately with buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Mix well after addition. Stir in mincemeat, mixing just until combined. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the springform pan and cool a bit longer, just as long as you can stand. Serve as is or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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10 Minute Workouts

These workouts come from Mark’s Daily Apple, a site I’ve come to rely on for solid nutrition and fitness advice. As a single working (and dating) mom living in the middle of the country and commuting to nearly everything, I can appreciate the complaint that there just isn’t enough time in the day to workout.

The owner of my local gym would say, “You don’t have time not to have time.” That’s confusing. But I’ve heard it and it stuck with me. The days keep going by and the one thing that makes the biggest difference in your health is just making the time. You don’t have to feel like it. You don’t have to have an hour long, all out endurance and strength workout every time. You just have to show up. The same goes for our diets. Quick detoxes, sharp calorie cuts, and occasional kicks on one trend or another isn’t what creates a life of clean eating. Doing the menu planning, grocery shopping, local food sourcing, and just showing up in the kitchen day after day is what it takes. So give yourself some slack. Find some patience. Do a 10 minute workout. Prep a ton of veggies and meat once a week for meals. Get into making yogurt or sauerkraut. Do a couple minutes of sun salutations in the morning. Put yourself to sleep earlier. All these little steps are what add up. Make the time. It’s about creating a routine, a cyclical life, mirroring the seasons and needs of our families and environment. I’m spinning this out too far, perhaps. But I know lately my time has been stretched thin. I’m not sleeping enough. Working a lot more hours. Trying to keep in touch with people. And more often than not I show up at the gym with less than 30 minutes and wonder if it’s even worth it. But listen, it is. I am eating boring soup leftovers and celery with almond butter every lunch. But when time is short, just show up, preserve some time, and don’t sabotage the work you’ve done ’till now.

I know I’ll be printing out these workouts to have on hand when I don’t have more time. Or if I want to get out of the gym sooner to get Aurelia and make a special dinner. Roasted asparagus. Sweet potato smokey turkey chile stew. Honey buttermilk mincemeat cake. Recipes to come, of course.

Make the time. Show up. Save yourself.

Taken from Mark’s Daily Apple:

1. Max Reps Multiplied

Choose two movements – one upper body focused, one lower body focused – that are complementary and do not conflict with each other. Pullups and squats, good. Deadlifts and squats, not so good. For each movement, perform the maximum amount of consecutive reps you can do. Multiply that number by four to give you a target amount of total reps. You have ten minutes to reach the target rep count in each exercise using any set and rep scheme you desire. So if you were able to do eight pullups and six front squats in a row, you need to do 32 more pullups and 24 more front squats. For weighted movements, 50 reps (including your initial max set) is the upper limit. For bodyweight movements like air squats and pushups, the upper limit is 100 reps. If you reach the upper limit, add weight next time.

2. Baby Steps

Very few of us launched right into full-blown bipedalism out of the womb. Instead, we crawled, crawled, and crawled some more. Contrary to the popular belief that crawling is just a useless placeholder for walking, moving around on all fours develops shoulder mobility and strength and contralateral awareness, plus the basic ability to move around and explore the environment. Adults should crawl too. It’s a little different for us, though. We’re heavier than babies, so crawling can be taxing, particularly on the upper body. We’re also not used to crawling, so it’s a new movement all over again for many of us.

The easiest way to learn how to crawl correctly is to start on the hands and knees. Assume the position. Place your left hand/left knee close together and your right hand/right knee further from each other. “Step” forward with your left hand and right knee, then follow with the right hand and left knee. Continue in this contralateral fashion.

For the workout, crawl for seven minutes out of the allotted ten. The three minutes of break time can be divided into as many break periods as you like (e.g. three 1-minute breaks, or ten 18-second breaks, etc.). Crawl forward, crawl backward, crawl uphill, crawl downhill. Crawl sideways. Just explore the environment from the vantage point of a big baby.

3. Short and Heavy

This is a prescription for heavy kettlebell swings and short sprints. Every minute on the minute, do ten swings with a weight that’s heavy for you and follow it immediately up with a short 5 second all-out sprint. Because the actual workout part of the workout will be short (but very intense), put every fiber of your being into the swinging and especially the sprinting. It doesn’t sound like much, but it will be after ten minutes.

If you don’t have a kettlebell, any weighted object that’s able to safely pass between your legs will work. Sandbag, weight plate, dumbbell, small child, etc.

The basic kettlebell swing is detailed in this video by Dan John. Watch it if you need to know how to perform the swing correctly.

4. Park Play

Stick to times when the playground is empty, partly for your security and partly so you don’t bowl over any kids during your workout. Or, bring a kid (hopefully your own) to join in with you.

The makeup of this workout depends on the equipment at your disposal. Most jungle gyms allow you to do some sort of pullup, so do some of those. If you can swing across from bar to bar, all the better. Climb poles, vault over barriers. Avoid taking the stairs and instead climb the structure itself. Crawl up slides, then slide back down and finish with a roll onto the ground. Just keep moving as if you’re a kid on a candy-fueled bender. Maybe there are some hot lava monsters afoot, too.

Spend ten minutes doing everything you can think of to move around on and interact with the playground equipment. Ten minutes is long enough to get a great workout but short enough to evade suspicion.

5. Burpee Ladder

The burpee is a simple yet humbling exercise. You begin with a pushup – that’s easy enough, right? – and spring up to the bottom of a squat, then stand and jump as high as you can before repeating the movement pattern. The first seven or eight burpees are always pretty easy, because you’re so focused on doing the movement that you barely realize the amount of taxation your body is accumulating. Once you finish that first set, though, the realization that you’re in for a rough time sets in.

Do ten of these the first minute, nine the second, eight the third, and so on. The faster you perform the burpees, the more rest you’ll get until the next set. The slower you perform the burpees, the less rest you’ll need since the burpees will be easier. What do you choose? Where do you strike the balance between intensity and rest? That’s for you to find out.

6. Could You Carry Your Prepubescent Self?

Forgive the convoluted name, but it makes sense when you learn what the workout entails: carrying a weight equal to 1/3 to 1/2 your current bodyweight for a full ten minutes. Use a barbell loaded with the requisite weight, a heavy sandbag, or an actual prepubescent version of yourself. Carry it for ten minutes using any method desired; just don’t put the weight down. Carry it on one shoulder, or both. Carry it in the front rack position, or placed on your traps. It doesn’t matter, and variety is actually probably best.

While merely standing there might seem like the easiest way to reach ten minutes, from my experience you’ll end up focusing too much on the weight and get discouraged. Instead, try walking around. Be the crazy guy who walks around the neighborhood with a barbell. Walk around your yard. If you’re game, throw in a few lunges and presses while you’re at it. Just don’t drop the weight until the ten minutes have passed.

Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Guacamole

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This is delicious, different, and easy. Start with a bowl of greens and in less than a couple minutes, you’ll have the most incredible salad, a meal in itself, full of everything your body will say thank you, thank you, thank you for.

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Basil and Sun-dried Tomato Guacamole

Ingredients:
2 avocados
1/2 bunch basil leaves, chopped
6 sun-dried tomato halves
2 cloves garlic
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

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Instructions:
In a food processor, blend the garlic and dried tomatoes until finely minced. Add the flesh of the avocados and pulse to blend until creamy. Add in the chopped basil and pulse a couple times, just until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Blackberry Oat Bran Muffins

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I made these for a meeting a month ago and they were a hit. A couple people wanted the recipe and like a fake-baker, I hadn’t bookmarked or remembered where on earth I’d found it.

Finally, I found it and made it again, doubling it for good measure. It’s different from most berry-bran muffins I’d come across because it has so much bran (without being dry or gritty) and a lot of wonderfully tart and probiotic-rich yogurt.

It’s tempting to put a ton of berries in, but don’t do it. Just a couple suspended in the batter keep the muffin together and just the right amount of sweetness.

I’d like to try this again and let the flour, bran, and yogurt soak together overnight for a more traditional approach. For more information on why and how to soak your grains (and nuts and legumes), read this blog post and get a copy of Nourishing Traditions, easily the most referenced book in my kitchen.

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Blackberry Oat Bran Muffins
Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

Ingredients:
1 cup oat bran
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/3 cup unrefined cane sugar
1 cup blackberries (no need to thaw them if frozen)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 Tbs coconut oil or butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs

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Instructions:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a regular 12 muffin pan or large 6 muffin pan with paper liners.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the bran, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar, until no lumps remain. Add the blackberries and toss gently to combine.

In another bowl, whisk together the yogurt, melted oil, vanilla, and eggs. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, and fold it in gently with a spatula until no trace of flour remains. The mixture will be lumpy, but resist over mixing.

Pour the batter into the prepared muffin tray, filling each muffin mold by about three quarters. Bake for 12-16 minutes for regular muffins or 18-22 minutes for large ones, until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a muffin comes out clean.

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Chicken Mole

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Ah! This is good! I’m a big fan of Jamie Oliver and his recipes usually become instant favorites. His unusual take on various regions of the United States is a thrill to read in Jamie’s America and I’m sure will continue to be a joy to cook from.

I simplified the chicken to gorgeously cooked thighs and amplified the mole sauce with some honey and tomato paste to bring some more sweetness to what turned out to be a complex, spicy sauce. It came together rather quickly but has the depth of a dish that took forever to simmer and develop.

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I hope you love it as much as I did! I only made 2 pounds of chicken thighs and saved half the sauce for the freezer. What a great back up meal to look forward to some tired night! Win win.

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Chicken Mole
Adapted from Jamie’s America

For the chicken
4 pounds chicken thighs
2 Tbs bacon fat or coconut oil
salt and pepper to taste

For the chocolate mole
5 large dried red chiles, such as New Mexico chiles
2 Tbs olive oil
2 onions, peeled and roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs sesame seeds
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 Tbs cocoa powder
Salt and pepper
3.5 oz good quality dark chocolate, broken into chunks (I used 85% cocoa)
2 Tbs red or white wine vinegar
1 Tbs almond butter
3 oz (half a small can) tomato paste
1 Tbs honey

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Instructions:
To make the chicken, simply melt the bacon fat or oil in a heavy skillet (cast iron is perfect here) over medium heat. Generously season both sides of all the chicken thighs, and cook them slowly, so they develop a lovely crisp crust and remain juicy inside. This took about 5 minutes a side. Work in batches until all the chicken is cooked and set aside.

While your chicken is cooking, get your mole sauce going. Wash the dried chiles and cut them roughly. Discard the stems and any big pieces of seeds and membranes. Put the chile pieces in a bowl and cover them with 3 1/2 cups of boiling water. Let them soak in this for 20 mins until they soften.

Get a large pan on a medium heat and add olive oil, onions, sliced garlic, soaked chiles (save the soaking water), cumin and ground cinnamon. Slowly cook everything for about 15 to 20 mins, until the vegetables have softened and sweetened.

Stir in the sesame seeds and tomatoes, then fill the empty tin with some of the water (about 1/2 can) you soaked your chiles in and add this too. Bring to the boil, then turn down and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add your cocoa powder and a good pinch of salt and pepper, stir really well and cook for another 5 minutes.

At this point, add the chunks of chocolate, honey, almond butter, and tomato paste and stir gently until the chocolate is melted, then pour the sauce into a food processor or blender for a minute or two. Taste and add the red wine vinegar a tablespoon at a time and more salt and pepper if necessary, until it tastes amazing. The sauce should have a loose consistency, so add a splash of chili water if it looks too thick.

To serve, transfer the chicken to a plate, and pour the mole sauce over. Top with avocado or more sesame seeds. Yum!

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Carrot Apple Apricot Banana Nut Cake (no sugar added)

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Yum! Cake! Sweetened only with fruit, especially wonderful toasted or grilled with a pat of butter and a cup of coffee.

I had days of happy, addictive, indulgent, tummy poofing carbs with this cake and it was wonderful.

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Carrot Apple Apricot Banana Nut Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit, October 1993

Ingredients:
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbs ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup applesauce
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cups finely grated carrots
1 cup apricot puree (or peach puree or crushed pineapple)
1 ripe banana, mashed
3/4 cup chopped pecans (optional)
3/4 cup raisins (optional)

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Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 12-cup Bundt pan. Into a medium bowl, sift the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, soda, and salt. In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, mix the banana and applesauce, apricot puree, and eggs until well blended. Mix in dry ingredients. Add carrots, pineapple, banana and pecans and blend well. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake until tester inserted near center of cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cake stand in pan 10 minutes. Turn out cake onto rack and cool.

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Sausage, White Bean, and Herb Soup

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I had some sausage leftover from a large package I’d opened for a ragu earlier and with some homemade chicken broth and hearty herbs, this soup came together so easily and it made the house smell wonderful as it simmered through a lazy afternoon last weekend. I stored the soup in jars for an easy to pack lunch and it’s been wonderful to eat through this week. Aren’t cold weather soups so comforting? This brothy, spicy, fresh combination of flavors will save any day you ask it to.

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Sausage, White Bean, and Herb Soup

Ingredients:
1 lb spicy Italian ground pork sausage
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups carrots, finely chopped or shredded
2 cups celery, finely chopped
8-10 cups chicken broth
1/2 bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped
1/2 bunch fresh parsley leaves, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

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Instructions:
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until cooked through. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper towels to absorb some of the oil. Put the skillet back on the heat and add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery to the drippings left in the pan. Cook until the onions are starting to brown and the vegetables are soft, about 8-10 minutes.

Add the sausage, cooked vegetables, tomatoes, beans, and broth to a slow cooker and cook on high for 2 hours or low for 4 hours. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Add the herbs and stir well. Cook for another 15-30 minutes before serving.

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Smoked Salmon Dip

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This has been an after school/work snack for Aurelia and me a couple times and we both polish it off with gusto. I’ve made it with 4 oz smoked salmon (pictured) for a lighter, more creamy dip and 8 oz of smoked salmon for a richer dip. Using some crème fraîche or cream cheese in place of some yogurt is a lovely pairing, too. It’s a flexible recipe. High in protein and excellent fats, scooped on celery sticks, is not just a healthy snack or appetizer, but a satisfying and memorable one.

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Smoked Salmon Dip
Adapted from Bon Appétit, December 2011

Ingredients:
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 Tbs prepared horseradish
4-8 oz smoked salmon
1 Tbs dried chives
salt and pepper to taste

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Instructions:
Place salmon in a food processor; pulse just a few seconds at a time until salmon is reduced to pea-size pieces. Add the other ingredients and pulse a few times to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Can be made 3 days ahead.

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Simple, Perfect Bacon and Eggs

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This was delicious and appealing enough to get it’s own post, even if it is so simple. But it’s the simplicity and the technique that elevate this standard breakfast into something to brighten your whole day. I know you’ll enjoy it. Eat hot! People must wait for perfect eggs. Eggs never wait for people.

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Ready for 3 steps?

1. Make Baked Bacon, finishing with a drizzle of maple syrup and crushed red chili flakes

2. Saute some chard or other hearty green in just a dollop of the bacon fat, salt, and pepper.

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3. Make the fried egg: In a skillet, melt a pat of butter over low heat. Crack an egg into the butter and put a lid on the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes. 2 for runny yolk and just set whites, 3 for over medium. I wanted a more set yolk, so this particular egg got 2 and a half minutes. Lift off the lid and slide the egg onto the cooked chard.

Couldn’t be better.

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