Category Archives: Kitchen

Today’s Basket and Farmers’ Market Finds

This week’s basket from Milk and Honey Organics was packed with beautiful, organic produce! The basket included MacIntosh Apples, Red Pears, Bananas, Scallions, Parsley, Chard, Mixed Baby Greens, Snow Peas, Roma Tomatoes, Yams, Broccoli, and Cauliflower. Check out some recipe ideas for this week’s basket on the M&H’s Blog, “The Beehive Buzz.

On top of that, I stopped by the Rutherford Road Farmers’ Market on the way home from work and picked up the rest of this week’s groceries. If you haven’t shopped here, you have to give it a try. It’s open all year round, Mondays through Saturdays! You can even purchase raw milk here! And just behind the milk and cheese cooler are some flaps you can walk through into a large refrigerated room with eggs and tons of produce. It’s so much fun to shop here!

All Local Products: fresh eggs ($3/20),  all-natural cheeses (~$6 each), Happy Cow butter ($7.99), raw milk ($3.50), all-natural ground beef ($3) and pork sausage ($3.50), local honey ($10), veggies (onions, shallots, red potatoes, baby carrots, and radishes), cilantro, garlic, ginger, and two squash from the “bargain table” (gently bruised for 50¢/lb.). All of the farmers’ market finds, including the pumpkins and gourd below (~$10), totaled $71.53!

As a side note, I used the Instagram app on my iPhone to take all of these pictures. If you have an iPhone and haven’t used this app, it’s free and definitely worth checking out!

Turning 30’s Not So Bad…

Dark Chocolate Squares and Pumpkin Walnut Muffins with Golden Flaxseed and Cream Cheese Icing

Today was the end of my 30th year of life! I thought it would be more dramatic, but it really wasn’t. My husband and I both got the day/night off work and he brought me a dozen beautiful yellow roses from the Fresh Market!

Yellow Roses from Bryan

We celebrated with a few couples who are close friends this evening. We had a book exchange (white elephant style…minus the gag gifts) and everyone brought healthful hors d’oeuvres. It was SO much fun! I made little tent cards for people to label their dishes. Here’s a recap of the food:

Hors d'oeuvres Plates and Fun Napkins

Plenty of Organic Coffee!

All Natural and Organic Sparkling Juices

Tent Cards for Labeling Dishes

What a Beautiful, Healthful Array!

Veggies and Hummus

Caprese Skewers on Rosemary Branches

Grapes and Cheese Tray

Mini Turkey and Ham Subs with Creamy Mustard Dill Sauce

And a recap of the guests: Dave & Rachel, Rick & Jan (& baby Andrew), Nate & Leigh, and Bryan & me. Bryan created a great easy listening and light jazz playlist, which really set the mood for a relaxing time with friends. And the book exchange was fun too (though, there wasn’t much stealing, swapping, etc., with such a small crowd).

Dave & Rachel

Rick & Jan (Note: the Coca Cola in this picture is the original recipe with cane sugar instead of corn syrup)

Andrew - the life of the party!

Nathan - sorry, Nate, I couldn't get a serious picture of you. :)

Leigh (she's with Nate)

Me & Bryan

Book Exchange - everyone put your books in the middle!

Bryan with his new book - courtesy of Dave

Finally, I’ll close the eve of my 30th birthday with a few favorite quotes I found and picture of me and my man:

“Time and Tide wait for no man, but time always stands still for a woman of thirty” -Robert Frost.

“The longer I live the more beautiful life becomes” -Frank Lloyd Wright.

So happy together...

Interviewing Me: In the Kitchen

Q: What is your first cooking memory? A: I think I was about four years old. I can remember sitting on the counter (something I still do) and helping my mom mix batter in a big white bowl with a large wooden spoon. (She gave me that bowl when I moved out on my own after college, and I still use it regularly.) I also remember begging for her “last little bit” of coffee (yes, at age four). Love at first sip!

Q: Describe your cooking style in fifteen words or less. A: Experimenting With and Sharing Fresh, Organic Traditions with Plenty of Butter, Garlic, Passion and Joy.

Q: Do you have a favorite cookbook? A: My go-to cookbook is The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook (I have the 1989 edition). I love this one because you can find recipes based on food groups. Each food group is alphabetized, for example, in the “Vegetable” section, it will list Tomato before Squash. Each vegetable gets a basic “how to prepare” and a few recipes that include it.  A new favorite is Simply Organic. This one has beautiful pictures and is fun because the chapters are based on seasonal availability.

Q: Any favorite chefs or food celebrities? A: Favorite chefs would be Bryan (my husband), my mom, and my Grandma Thompson. My absolute favorite food celebrity is Giada De Laurentiis. I especially love her “Giada at Home” show! I started watching her when I began my weight loss journey (it was one of the few things on TV at the time I would go to the gym every day). I love her style and that so many of her recipes are healthful. Plus, she obviously takes care of herself. I hope I look that great at 40! A close second would have to go to Ina Garten, “The Barefoot Contessa.” And runner-up would be a tie between Sunny Anderson’s “Cooking for Real” and Pat and Gina Neely’s “Down Home with the Neelys.”

Q: What is your go-to dish or meal? A: Breakfast for Dinner! Specifically, Egg Casserole and Fruit Salad.

Q: What culinary creation are you most proud of? A: My Turkey Feta Meatballs with Tomato Caper Pasta. I have a coworker that I shared this recipe with and she makes it for her family about once a week!

Q: Do you have a memorable kitchen disaster? A: I was about 7 years old, and mom had gotten my twin sister and I a Better Homes and Garden New Junior Cookbook (1991 ed.). I was making “Scrambled Eggs,” something no one really needs a recipe for, but I was a kid and making them on my own for the first time. The recipe called for 1/4 tsp. salt and 1/4 c. milk. You guessed it. I switched the two amounts. 1/4 tsp. milk and 1/4 c. salt. Trust me, it took forever to pour that much salt, but I was patient, because I was determined to follow the recipe exactly. The result: the saltiest eggs in the world! We didn’t even get a chance to chew or swallow. As soon as it touched our tongue, it went back to the plate! My family still teases me about that one!

Q: Is there anything else that gives you trouble in the kitchen? A: Anything sharp! Mostly it’s the microplane, but the cheese grater has been known to knick a knuckle or two as well! Speaking of knuckles, they always seem to find the bottom edge of the cabinets too. And, like any good cook, I have my share of scars from knives and oven burns. I would never be a hand model! Thank God for the food processor!

Q: Do you have any favorite kitchen tips that you wish to share? A: 1. Clean As You Go! 2. Wash your hands with salt and lemon juice or lemon-scented soap after chopping garlic, onions, or handling fish. 3. Clean As You Go!

Q: What’s your favorite dessert? A: Hands down, Grandma Great’s Oatmeal Crispies! (They’re also the cookie that I gave to Bryan during our “getting to know you” phase at camp, the summer of 2004, and one thing he still asks for (“The way to a man’s heart…”). “Grandma Great” was my Great Grandmother Kahler, my Grandma Thompson’s mother. Bryan’s Apple Pie a la Mode would be a close second though.

Q: What other kitchen memories stand out to you from your childhood? A: I remember in 1st grade, I got the chicken pox for the second time (at least they told me it was chicken pox again. It didn’t itch like the first time, but I didn’t care because I was a first grader and got to miss a week of school). I spent the whole week baking with my Grandma Thompson! We made pies and cookies and played with blocks and puzzles, and she showed me her secret stash of drawings she had done when she graduated from high school. I love her!

Q: Who does most of the cooking in your house? A: Growing up, my mom and I did most of the cooking, though my sister and brother would help on a regular basis too. I just always had more of a passion for cooking, I think. Now, Dad was the Grill Master, and he had a few other signature dishes that he’d make too: scrambled eggs (I watched him instead of following a cookbook after that first experience), sliced tomatoes with homemade Thousand Island dressing and sugar, and Pheasant Chowder (yes, he shot the pheasant himself). Now, Bryan and I share kitchen duties. His mom cooks, but his dad is the one with the culinary passion. Bryan spent several months on an out-of-town construction assignment with his dad before we got married and had him teach him several favorite recipes, my favorite of which is his made-from-scratch turkey ‘n’ dumplins. We love cooking together too! It’s fun to have like passions!

Q: Do you have a favorite kitchen quote? A: I can think of a few.

From the 1995 movie Sabrina, while eating Moroccan chicken on the floor:

Sabrina: “It’s really so much better if you eat with your hands.”
Linus: “It’s interesting. I’ll have to try it with soup sometime.”

From the 2007 movie No Reservations:

Kate: “I wish there was a cookbook for life, you know? Recipes telling us exactly what to do….”
Therapist: “Well, …you know better than anyone, it’s the recipes that you create yourself that are the best.”

And an anonymous poem called “Kitchen Joy” that always sat on my mother’s kitchen sink windowsill:

“Thank God for dirty dishes; they have a tale to tell. While other folks go hungry, we’re eating very well. With home and health and happiness, we surely shouldn’t fuss. For by this stack of evidence, God is very good to us.”

Milk and Honey Organics Delivery – and A New Meal Plan!

This week’s basket: Jonagold apples, Extra Fancy Navel Oranges, Fair Trade Bananas, Blueberries, Limes, Collards, Boston Butter Lettuce, Celery, Sugar Snap Peas, Yukon Gold Potatoes and Fennel (I requested a substitute for the fennel, since it’s not one of my favorites, and was surprised with some baby bok choy instead…yeah!). I know you want one too, so order it now at Milk & Honey Organics for next week. This is the Starter Basket for $35.

Here’s the menu plan for this week:

Recipe Links:

Lemon Tarts (using Lemon Curd recipe from Ina Garten) or Lemon Cake with Lime Curd and Pomegranate from Design Sponge

Egg Casserole (my mom’s recipe, of course)

Lentil Walnut Burgers from Whole Food’s Market

Brandied Sausage Stuffing (aka Turkey Roulade) from Ina Garten

Smoothies (be creative: the link provides a basic formula)

Also, I may try these this week:

Homemade Wheat Thins from Oh She Glows

Whole Wheat English Muffins from Simply Life

Blueberry Salsa from Southern Living

A Few of My Favorite Things…

I thought I’d share a summary list of some of our favorite brands and products:

Laura's Lean Beef - All Natural and Lean

...not to mention, the best steak we've had in ages!

Bolthouse Farms Green Goodness - all natural, no sugar added. Odwalla's Superfood Juice contains a nearly identical ingredient list and tastes almost exactly the same.

Odwalla 100% Carrot Juice - great to add as a liquid to your smoothie. Bolthouse Farms carries a nearly identical product as well.

Trader Joe's Fruit and Vegetable Juice Twist -Pomegranate Blueberry OR Strawberry Banana - I have Bryan drink a glass every morning now. :)

Nescafe Classico - I know, I know. You say, "It's Instant!?!" It is, however, it's what we drank when I was in Europe for 2 months and it is actually a decent cup of joe! A new part of my morning routine.

Amish Country Havarti Cheese - Their Baby Swiss is also very good (and a key ingredient in my famous fondue).

Almond Breeze - Unsweetened Original

Immaculate Baking Company Triple Chocolate Cookies - $4.49 on IB's website. I wait till Publix/Ingles puts them 2 for $5 and then use a $1 off coupon. Freezes well.

Republic of Tea's Ginger Peach Tea

In the Kitchen with Mom

Me & My Beautiful Mom!

Mom and I made a special dinner for Grandma, Dad, Bryan and Jordan last night. We found super thick, boneless pork chops at the grocery store for a great price. Then we paired it with a squash medley and sweet carrots. Yum! I love cooking with my mom! We both learned how to cook by sitting on the kitchen counter, watching our moms. Some day, we’re going to write a cookbook together!

We started by rubbing 1/2 tsp. of the Sweet & Spicy Rub on each of the pork chops.

Sweet & Spicy Rub Recipe here.

Heat pan with 2 Tbsp. olive oil and 1 Tbsp. butter until melted. Then add pork chops and cook till golden brown on each side (about 5-6 minutes).

Next we sliced 4 zucchini, 2 yellow squash and 1 onion and put in 2 different pans with olive oil, butter, sea salt, and cracked pepper. We cooked over medium low heat with lids on till soft and lightly browned.

For the carrots, we steamed about 3 c. of baby carrots. Then we drained them and added 2 Tbsp. butter, a pinch of salt, 3 Tbsp. brown sugar, and 2 Tbsp. orange marmalade. Fold together till melted and all carrots glazed.

Sweet Carrots and Squash Medley

We served the pork chops with my homemade Cranberry BBQ Sauce (recipe from Whole Foods).

Cranberry BBQ Sauce recipe here.

Bon Appetit!

Gift Giving on a Budget

Christmas is rapidly approaching. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly believe it’s December already! This year we’re living (and giving) on a single income. So, we’re being creative and giving gift baskets. After all, Christmas isn’t about how much someone spends on you (or how much you spend on someone). We give gifts as a reminder of God’s greatest gift, His Son Jesus, to us on that first Christmas!

I came across this page on the Whole Foods Market website and can’t wait to try some of these ideas out! The majority are simple and contain budget-friendly ingredients, so you can customize each package. You could do themed gifts, like BBQ rubs and sauces for the guys on the list, home spa package for the ladies (see bath salts and oils recipes, or search for a homemade soap recipe), and “visions of sugarplums” package for the kids (check out the Mexican Hot Chocolate Buttons and Candied Cranberries recipes on the site).

Visit your local flea market, consignment shop, or Goodwill for baskets or containers to put your jars in (or just dig around in your closet or basement). Make sure to sanitize them, and maybe even line them with a pretty piece of fabric. If you sew the edges, the cloth can be used as a centerpiece napkin later on! Add a handmade piece of jewelry or a pretty ornament to brighten it up. And let your kids get involved, if you have them. Lots of these recipes are just mixing ingredients and require little to no heating elements.

The possibilities are endless. Start planning now (if you haven’t already). Many of these recipes can be made weeks ahead, so you can relax and work at your own pace without having to feel the holiday hustle and bustle.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Candied Lemon Peels, Orange Peels, or Cranberries
  • Infused Oils and Infused Vinegars
  • Seasoned Salts and Sugars
  • Chocolate-Dipped Figs or other fruits
  • Biscotti, Cookies, and other Baked Goods
  • Pancake Mixes or  Cookie Mixes
  • Barbeque Sauces and Rubs
  • Jellies, Jams, and Marmalades
  • Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
  • Marinated Olives
  • Mulling Spice Sachets

For more ideas, search the “Gift” Category on the Whole Foods Market website or check out this page on the Country Living website (picture above from Country Living site).

Happy Giving! And Merry Christmas!

~Melissa

Thanksgiving Tips: Stuff the Turkey, Not Yourself!

1. Don’t skip breakfast! Eat a low-calorie breakfast to kick-off your metabolism for the day. A cup of yogurt topped with fresh fruit and a handful of granola is perfect, or try a cup of steel cut oats with sliced apples and cinnamon. Another great option is the Jimmy Dean Turkey Sausage breakfast sandwiches.

2. While your meal is cooking, get active. Lifting a turkey in and out of the oven doesn’t count as a weight routine, so grab those weights and do some training before your feast.

3. Watch your portions. Stuff the turkey; don’t stuff yourself! Too many of us overeat at family affairs. Don’t feel like you have to take a serving of everything on the buffet. Choose the healthful options. Wait several hours before returning for seconds. Go for a 3-4 oz. serving of roasted turkey, and avoid the fatty portions. Avoid casseroles if you can; many of them are full of hidden fats and sugars. Mash cauliflower instead of potatoes to cut down on some calories; eat mashed sweet potatoes instead of sweet potato casserole, and serve your green beans steamed with a sprinkling of cranberries or pomegranates, garlic, and almonds. Don’t forget that apple cider and other holiday beverages contain calories too.

4. Get the family involved in fitness. Go for a 45 minute walk or play a game of football in the backyard after your feast as a family and boost your metabolism by as much as 15%.

5. Remember that Thanksgiving is about the people and the memories more than it is about the food. So, don’t stress out if your pie doesn’t look just like grandma’s did or if dinner doesn’t start exactly on time. Enjoy the moments and thank God for Who He is and what He’s done and will do in your life.

Happy Thanksgiving! Bon Appetit! And Enjoy the Journey!

~Melissa

My Idealistic Thanksgiving Feast

Most people wait until Christmas to have visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. I, on the other hand, dream about food often. The funniest part is it usually doesn’t include sugar plums (or desserts in general, for that matter) and I’m usually day-dreaming. Food is, always has been and always will be a passion in my life…especially delicious, nutritious and aesthetically pleasing food!

With Thanksgiving less than one week away, I have been dreaming of turkey and cranberry-everything! If I could create my perfect Thanksgiving feast, I think it would include the following recipes:

Fresh Pomegranate, Sliced Apples and Honey

Ina Garten’s Roasted Turkey Roulade (I would use boneless, skinless turkey breast and a lean turkey sausage instead of pork sausage for the stuffing)

Giada De Laurentiis’ Butternut Squash Soup with Fontina Cheese Crostini

Roasted Red and Sweet Potato Wedges, Carrots, Garlic and Brussel Sprouts (drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, 450F, 45 minutes)

The Pioneer Woman’s Green Bean Casserole (I actually really like green beans, so I might reduce the cream sauce by half)

Mom’s Cranberry Relish

Ina Garten’s Ultimate Ginger Cookies

Mom’s Cran-Apple Pie with Pecan Crumble Topping and my Great-Grandmother’s Perfect Flaky Pie Crust recipe

Venison and Brown Rice Bar (aka “Unfried Rice”)

Our friends, Greg and Catherine, joined us for dinner on Friday night. Catherine focuses on a raw vegan diet as much as possible, so we wanted to have a fun spread. They did, however, provide some venison that had been given to them. Everything was delicious and very simple. Greg and Catherine arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon. We prepped the Raw Pumpkin Pie and began the meat marinade while we caught up and enjoyed each others’ company. We ate around 5 and finished with a great board game. It was so much fun to cook as couples and try new things.

Nothing says southern hospitality like a glass of iced tea! (Of course it's sweet!) All photography in this post courtesy of Bryan McKinnon, http://www.shadowlight.smugmug.com.

The Spread: Brown Rice Bar with Fresh Mix-Ins, Pan-fried Venison, Tossed Salad with Mushrooms and Tomatoes, Carrot Salad with Cinnamon, and Sweet Tea.

Meat for the Man Folk: venison marinated in apple cider vinegar, garlic salt, onion salt, pepper and olive oil for 1 hour prior to battering in Italian panko (bread crumbs) and pan frying in canola oil. Yum!

Fresh Raw Ingredients for the Rice Bar: tomatoes, zucchini, apples, carrots, green onions, radishes, green and red peppers, white onions, pumpkin, garlic.

More Rice Bar Add-Ins: Pomegranate, Goat Cheese, Parsley, Paprika, Curry, and Mint Leaves. I highly recommend the combination of garlic and curry. This was a great feature and I will definitely serve it again. So tasty, and everyone gets to pick their own add-ins! You can please vegetarians, and it doesn't matter if the rice gets cold because it still tastes great!

We concluded the evening with a rousing game of Settlers of Catan, Organic French Press Coffee for the ladies and Earl Grey Tea for the men. (Okay, I took this pic, obviously.)