S’more Stuffs 11/13

Making my life easier: Blog Lovin’
What is it? A daily blog roll.  You input your favorite blogs & email address and each morning or once a week Bloglovin sends you the feeds in one tidy spot.

Making my life harder: visiting every restroom in town because my almost 2 year old who insists she must pee-pee

Latest Blog Crush: The Dating Divas…these ladies are too cute!

Currently Craving: a good mulled wine

Foodie Find: Who Knew?  They make Brownie Brittle.  Can’t decide if I love it or hate it.  You decide for yourself – it may be the perfect stocking stuffer.

Gobble, Gobble, Wibble, Wobble, Do a Turkey Dance

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If you have never read 10 Fat Turkeys by Tony Johnston at least three times a day for the past 15 days, then you do not have an appreciation for how it can get stuck in your head. Cute book, especially the first year we owned it. Any way…I digress. As usual. So, Thanksgiving. Next to the Super Bowl, the greatest food holiday of the year. At our house it is often overlooked by family drama about the upcoming holiday season and the daily rush, rush.

This year we are making it a point to set Thanksgiving as a precursor to what the true meaning of Christmas is all about. Every night a dinner, we go around the table recalling something we are thankful for that day. We’ve brainstormed ideas of acts of kindness or service we can work on in December, and talked about our many blessings. To me, it has been the perfect set up for a holiday spent enjoying our family, counting our blessings, and being thoughtful.

A time of year when we entertain more, see extended family more often, and fill our calendars to the brim, thoughtfulness seems to be an oxymoron. We are snippy with salespeople, rude to other drivers, and brash with our kids – all so we can spend more quality time together with family we rarely see and make it to parties with co-workers and acquaintances.

Often an unnecessary stress is accommodating dietary needs of our friends, family members, and acquaintances we are not accustomed to cooking for. It doesn’t have to be stressful, and you can come out smelling like a rose if you do your research. Who wouldn’t notice the thoughtful guest or hostess that has menu options for everyone…diabetic, food allergic, vegetarian, whole food minded, paleolithic…the list goes on. The Internet is a wealth of information, some times overwhelming. I have collected some ideas that I hope will help get your inner chef going. Plus, most people I know that do have dietary needs are tickled pink if they even have one option to nosh on and are normally more than happy to bring a dish that fits within their parameters.

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grilled salmon with sausage stuffed acorn squash

I cruised my favorite culinary websites and scanned some of my go-to blogs. Most websites these days have recipe searches for allergy and other dietary restrictions. For any holiday or event, I make a list of traditional foods my family enjoys and then apply a little creativity. You can break from tradition all together and make fish or tex-mex or just rework your tried & true. Today, you get the Thanksgiving Feast, the Remix (Come on, you can’t do a turkey dance these days without a remix).

The Pantry: Be careful. When cooking for people with food allergies or special dietary restrictions, allergens lurk in many of the condiments, vinegars, and sauces we cook with. Stick to simple spices (sold in the bulk aisle of grocery stores like Central Market or Whole Foods much cheaper than in the little jars on the shelf – I also love our local store Pendery’s), salt, fresh cracked pepper, olive oil. Check labels for gluten-free, certified organic, etc. If you don’t have time to make things like stock or tomato sauce from scratch, read the can carefully. Where is the product made? What are the ingredients? Does it have an allergen warning on it due to the plant where it was processed? Sometimes it is best to just buy fresh. I like organic free range low sodium stock, the bulk section of my grocery store, olive oil, kosher salt, and fresh cracked pepper. You would be surprised how much frozen food and juice is a mixture of food from four or five different countries. I buy Texan. Then I buy USA.

Turkey: This one is the easiest, so I will skip recipe links for this category. If you buy free range, organic, fresh meat, most of the time you will pay slightly more for much higher quality. The benefit is you are getting meat minus all of the antibiotics, fillers, juices, and what-not other producers pump poultry full of. Most of these fillers can aggravate food allergies. The star of the show should be the bird, so save some cash somewhere else.

For a home cook, I have made a lot of turkey. One year in college, 18 to be exact, and those we’re even for me. You don’t have to do a lot to it. I’m not tackling the brine vs. no brine debate. I prefer mine with light smoke and heavy cracked pepper – that’s it. Or if you are a die hard roaster – stuff that sucker with citrus, slide some chopped herbs under the skin, salt & pepper, and call him done.

For gravy, try alternate thickening agents like arrowroot instead of flour, or a reduction versus traditional gravy. Be careful to research the starch you decide to substitute though because they all work a little differently.

Dressing & Side Dish Options:
I’m a dressing girl. If you take enough ServSafe classes, you just don’t stuff whole poultry. There are tons of recipes for dressing alternatives like wild rice dishes and this year’s favorite grain trend – Quinoa!

  • Mashed potatoes with stock substituted for dairy
  • Mashed potato & parsnip purée – great flavor, slight sweetness – great with added roasted garlic
  • Puréed turnips – you make them very much the same as you would mashed potatoes. Dice them, add to pot, fill with water, salt the water, bring to boil, reduce to simmer. Let them go 15 minutes or until tender. Drain them and lay on a towel to dry out & cool slightly. Wring in towel over sink to give you a more potato like texture. Put them in the food processor and process with salt, pepper, a little finishing oil, garlic, herbs, whatever!
  • Roasted or baked sweet potatoes
  • Roasted broccoli with grapes – Man would make a face, but its a riff on broccoli salad and it’s yummy. Take fresh broccoli & grapes on foil lined sheet pan drizzle olive oil, salt & pepper. Roast 400 degrees about 20 min. Go all out and add some crispy bacon ribbons and shards of parmesan if you really want all the broccoli salad elements.
  • William Sonoma’s Braised Brussels Sprouts with bacon & thyme -a holiday staple around here
  • Sautéed green beans with crisped prosciutto (or ham) and caramelized onions
  • Roasted fall veggies – just pick your favorites and add olive oil, salt & pepper. 400 degrees, 30 minutes to an hour; done.
  • Roasted acorn or butternut squash – such a pretty presentation. You could even stuff it with a dressing alternative.
  • Try some soup and explore new salads!

    Can’t forget the Cranberries:

  • Roasted Pears & Cranberries – Cube one to three pears (depending in dinner party size) with one to three bags fresh cranberries, drizzle on some honey & orange zest. Roast until golden.
  • Cranberry Conserve – except I don’t add the nuts
  • Ree’s Quick Cranberry Sauce

    Desserts & Baked Goods:
    This one could be the hardest or the easiest depending on how you look at it. Here are some things you can try. First, the optimist upgrades the quality of the product you are baking with….especially chocolate and cocoa (which are filled with fillers). Then they seek out tested recipes from cookbooks or blogs that know baking & gluten free baking as their specialty. The pessimist would say baked goods rely so heavily on scientific elements – crumb, mouthfeel, appearance… it’s hard to get good results. Not an avid baker? Use Urbanspoon to review bakeries in your area that can handle some of the more complicated and time consuming dishes like baked goods and breads. Know of a restaurant or food truck that is vegan, gluten-free, Paleo, etc.? They might let you order some of their yummies for the holiday. Especially if you ask nicely and offer a tip.

    Check out my Pinterest board! I have pinned fall holiday decorations, entertaining ideas, art/craft projects and recipes galore!

    Helpful websites to grab recipes from:
    Many of these are Paleo websites because that way of eating eliminates many inflammatory and allergen foods.
    FitSugar had some really tempting dressing spins
    Paleo Mom – she’s just cool & her site is a great resource
    Autoimmune-Paleo Blog
    Balancing Health & Happiness – Kristin is a Paleo health and wellness coach – check out the blog tab for recipes
    Kalyn’s Kitchen – focuses on low-glycemic eating, but has Paleo, gluten free & other types of recipes
    Skinny Taste
    Chocolate Covered Katie
    Gluten Free Girl
    Gluten Free Goddess

  • Against All Grain
    Paleo Parents
    Taylor Made it Paleo
    PaleOMG

    A special thanks to all of my friends who gave suggestions on resources they use on a regular basis or have dietary restrictions and have shared their knowledge, tips, and tricks with me over the years!

    Take me out to the ball game!

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    Buy me some peanuts and crackerjacks; I don’t care if I never get back! If you’re on a family budget and you head to a Major League game this year and you’re taking your kids a trip to the concession stand may make you feel like you may not have enough money to put gas in the tank to get home. Man recently headed to a game
    He was able to go to Walmart and get drinks, snacks, and a small cooler for a fraction of the ballpark price.
    water and soda at the park $4.50 each – Walmart $1.58 for a 20 oz of soda and $3.48 for a case of water
    Peanuts $5.00 a bag – Walmart had a bag twice the size for $1.00
    Cracker Jacks weren’t available at the ballpark — but they should! They’re in the song and everything!
    $2.00 for a bag of ice, $5.97 for a cooler, and it was still less than a couple of beers – plus, he had a way to keep his chocolate from melting.

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    the Grocery Dilemma

    I usually have the children and the iPad with me when grocery shopping. Kiddo keeps busy by taking pictures in the Photo Booth app while I shop. His work is featured today.

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    I’m a foodie. I enjoy the process of putting together a meal. Rarely do I have the time to plan and shop for elaborate menus. Usually I rush to make a list, check local specials, and plan meals for the week. When Man is sweet and squeezes in a supermarket run while I herd kids and tackle the mountain of laundry formerly known as our couch, he returns fuming. Like the kind of fuming that is, “thank you Lord he didn’t punch someone in the parking lot”. Then we spend the rest of the day madder than two wet hens and we barely accumulate enough food to last us a week or two. I inevitably forget to put something on the list, have to go to several stores to finish my list, or reach for an ingredient mid-week only to find it had already molded.

    The whole process is giving me a nervous twitch.

    I started doing a little research. The class I was teaching was knee-deep in a study over Omnivore’s Dilemma any way. I became more exhausted, frustrated, and annoyed — every eat on a budget article, post or pin was full of processed foods, cheap foods laced with God knows what, or hours of labor.

    I do not have patience or time for hours of labor.

    I am not naïve, Wal-Mart is not going anywhere any time soon, and a quick run to the mega store does have its place.

    But, I want more than settling for whatever Wal-Mart or Target has on its shelves most days.

    Can I split the difference between the supermarket and alternatives?

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    My aspiration is to feed my family based on the following:

    1. Be sure of what is in my family’s food.
    2. Know where our food comes from – preferably Texas, if not – then the good ole’ USA.
    3. Buy seasonal produce.
    4. Limit the amount of preservatives, chemicals, antibiotics, etc in our family’s food.
    5. Find high quality product on my shrinking budget.
    6. Avoid product that is overly processed or not on the up and up (enter Monsanto, chickens in the chicken feed, HFCS, etc)

    I’m not unrealistic. Man is not giving up his Dr. Pepper. Kids should have cake and ice cream at a friend’s birthday party. I’m not giving up my chocolate. I like pizza dough made with white flour. I don’t see me baking or making iced tea without sugar. However, I am a dietitian, former personal trainer, and newly retired culinary arts teacher…if anyone ought to feed their family decent food it’s me.

    That got me to brainstorming.

    Of course I will still have to go to the “grocery store” for household items, but how long could I get eggs, milk, meat, produce and bread without it? Could I forgo Wal-Mart & Target (where customer service usually sucks) for neighborhood stores that give me a bag refund, offer to help me out with the groceries, and actually answer questions I need to ask while shopping? Could I find everything we needed at the farmer’s market in town? Would it cost me an arm and a leg to eat well?

    I only have a foot.

    Then I thought…in the words of Barney Stinson…challenge accepted!

    I seek advice! Have you found any great blogs or websites that help you plan? Please share any thoughts or tips!