Ready or Not…

bone brothMeet my new best friend: 36 hour bone broth.

Ready or not; here comes influenza.  According to the Center for Disease Control, influenza is–despite our tropical temps–making its way west.

After the traumatic months of ill health my family endured last winter, I am determined to everything in my power to shield us from the effects of all the nasty bugs that surround us in 2014.  Will we still get sick?  Yeah, prolly.  But hopefully not as sick and not for as long.  Perfection is not my goal.  Improvement.  THAT’S what I’m shooting for!

So, several life circumstances over the past year have prompted me to take a look at more ancient, homeopathic prevention/cure methods of avoiding or at least mellowing the effects of the creepy crawlies.

Enter: BONE BROTH.  I’ve always made it, but this year my technique got turned up big time.  36 hours in the crock pot, my bones sit with purified water, onion, garlic, celery, salt, pepper and a dash of cider vinegar.  When done, the gelatinous rich broth (it liquifies when heated) is filled with protein, minerals and lots of disease fighting power.  Seriously.  If you don’t believe my source, above, just google “benefits of bone broth.”

A pungent simmering of fresh garlic, ginger, onion, radish in a good bone broth is a very soothing and helpful remedy to a cough/cold/chest congestion.  I’ve tried it.  It really does help.  But you gotta use a good homemade bone broth.  The sterile rectangular boxes above the cans of soup on the market shelves are not even close.  Sorry…

Besides my brothy friend, I’m making a big batch of elder berry syrup this weekend.  Friends have requested–lemme know before I buy honey on Saturday if you’d like more too–and, like I said, I’m revving up, baby!

elderberry syrup

The final arrow in my quiver-arsenal: saying “no.”  Yes.  I mean no.  I mean I’m saying no this season.  I pride myself on my commitment to follow through on my commitments.  You can count on me!  Yesiree!  And while I don’t want to ruin my illustrious reputation, I have decided, this season, to not let obligations dictate my actions over the health of my family–including my health.  Last year I contracted pneumonia.  PNEUMONIA because I stubbornly refused to let a little (big) illness get in the way of my life.  Like a ridiculous Nyquil commercial, I wasn’t going to let the flu stop me in my tracks!

Yeah.  So instead pneumonia brought me to my knees.  Lesson learned.  Check.  (Who comes up with these slogans anyway?  No wonder all these illnesses keep getting spread around!)

This season, if illness breaks through my bone-broth-healthy-eating-exercising-elder-berry defenses I will not be a silly ding dong and just keep trudging along.  I will say “no” if I have to and feel OK about it.  In fact, I might even feel pretty great.

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School Lunch

Josie making salad And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite time of day–even more favorite than the ever present “What’s for dinner?”– Yes.  That’s right: What the heck do you put in your kids’ school lunches!!??

I grapple with this issue mostly with my middle child.  Josie is a very high-brow girl when it comes to culinary delights.  I believe I once mentioned that when asked what she’d like for lunch at school (since her food was coming home practically untouched) her reply was “Ummm… bruschetta please.”

Josie is not a big meat eater, is currently gluten free, and later this month will have braces.  Can you say: food restrictions?  Yipes.  We gotta step up our game here folks.

So I thought about it and decided work with her strengths.  Thank heavens she’s a foodie!  Josie’s auntie gave her a cookbook for Christmas and I have to say, it’s helping quite a bit.  Not only does it give us some good ideas, but as a third grader Josie is now able to prepare most of the items on her own.  This effort, in and of itself, is lending itself to consuming lunch at school.

This is the cookbook we are currently using:

Trader Joe's cookbook I have cleverly blocked out the first letter of a couple choice words in an effort to not give free advertising to this store.  I like Vrader Hoe’s, but I must say they could use a little competition.  Also, while it is darn handy to use ingredients found at a single stop, many of these so-called “recipes” are just instructions for pre-packaged foods.  I mean seriously: some “directions” say “open the frozen food box, put in oven, bake and serve.”  Hmmm… This is not really considered cooking in my opinion… how ’bout you?  But I digress.

In any case, if you’ve got some kiddos old enough to make a go in the kitchen, I do recommend getting something like this.  Libraries carry cookbooks, btw–so don’t get on Amazon if you’re not sure you really need it.

Josie’s Caprese Heaven

Ingredients: 1 cup Ciliegine whole milk fresh mozzarella balls, 1 cup sugar plum tomatoes sliced in half, 2 tbsp. refrigerated Genova Pesto (contains walnuts), a few sliced olives (we like kalamata), pinch ‘a salt, black pepper to taste.

Directions: Mix and serve!

Tip: The original recipe does not contain olives.  After our first taste test, however, both Josie and I agreed that the salad was missing a little something.  “We shouldn’t add any more salt” she said… (Man I love this kid) “I know!  How about some olives?”  It was the perfect choice.  To keep chilled during the school day we place salad into thermos and put in fridge over night.  Serve with some rice crackers on the side and wah-lah!

Best tip of all: She who prepares also cleans up!

Home on the Range

OK.  So, yes this label says “antelope.”  And, yes, I’m going to eat this meat and so is my family.

I got this from my sister-in-law’s brother (still with me?) who lives in Montana where hunting is akin to, well, it’s something a lot of folks do up there.

A few years ago the thought of eating Bambi’s father (yes, I know, technically not an antelope, but I’m making a point so just go with me here ….) would have saddened me.  Not so much today.  While I still have no desire to, like, put on an orange vest and pull the trigger on one of God’s beautiful creatures, the free-range-organic-meat-lover-on-a-budget in me can certainly find the beauty in accepting the gift laid before me.  Thank you, Jeffrey Johnson.

My freezer is currently stocked with approximately 20 lbs of various forms (burger, steaks, roast) of antelope and I’m pretty stoked about it. 

What does antelpe taste like?  Pretty much the same as beef, but with a slightly stronger flavor.  It’s not “gamey” like venison or other game meats I’ve eaten, although I can smell the difference when I’m handeling it raw.  Once it’s cooked, however, I dare your taste buds to even notice it’s not a more familiar form of red meat.  So far my family has happily consumed antelope in the form of cheeseburgers, fajitas and spaghetti sauce.  Really the only give away is that the antelope meat is so lean (read: really free range) that there is practically no fat after preparation, even from the ground burger.  Good stuff Maynard.

I originally got online to see about gamey-blogs for good recipes, but as this meat isn’t really a stress for my palet, I’ve resorted to just treating it like what I already know.  If you know a hunter or can get your hands on something like this, I reccomend it.  The animal led a natural life and now I can feed my family the healthiest meat possible.  Not a bad deal in the end.

Not Fancy Pizza

pizza

OK.  So, this is not fancy pizza.  I already said that, didn’t I?

My favorite pizza is a tie between a really good Margarita (love that tomato, basil, garlic combo) or this one from The Luggage Room that has a fig paste, sharp pungent cheese sprinkles and balsamic something-or-other topped with a simple arugula salad.  Basically it’s all three of my kids’ worst pizza nightmares tossed on a crust.

So, when I make pizza for my low-brow peeps, I keep it pretty vanilla (so to speak.)  Crust, sauce, cheese–sometimes sausage or pepperoni.  That’s really all they desire.

The reason I’m sharing this recipe with you–which is actually more like a tip–is that my not-fancy-pizza works great for school lunches, which, as our winter break has, uh, evaporated, I gotta kick things into high gear again.  I make three or so pizzas at a time, cut them up into just the right sized slices to fit into my reusable lunch pouches, freeze’m and pop’m into said pouches and there you go.  Who doesn’t like pizza for lunch?  Well, actually Josie doesn’t, but she’s definitely in a minority here.

Michelle’s Not Fancy Pizza

Ingredients: Dough.  Sauce.  Cheese.  Whatever else you want.

Directions: I buy my dough (yup.  It’s true) from a local Italian market.  Roll it out and bake at 400 for about 8 minutes so the crust will be a bit crunchier.  Then add sauce and whatever toppings.  Throw back in until cheese is melted and begins to brown.  Now that’s Italian.

Ummm… I love this

cocobon

OK.  So, most of my friends know that this used to be my favorite wine.  And, OK.  It still is.

I don’t drink Cocobon exclusively as I do enjoy other wines.  But this little honey for, like 6.99 a bottle at Trader Joe’s, is still a winner as far as I’m concerned.  Once I bought a case of it because I was in the mood (not to get hammered–but to have a case of it around for a while.)

My palate is not very sophisticated in the wine department.  I had a job waiting tables at a 5 star schmancy place for a few months when I was in college and I never really liked it.  (I was more of a blue-collar waitress if you must know.)  The money was fine but I always thought it was so DUMB that we were supposed to memorize peoples’ orders without writing them down.  Why is that considered so high brow?  Honestly, it’s the opposite of smart as the whole reason the Phoneticians invented the written alphabet was so that we wouldn’t have to memorize everything any more!  I told the manager this fact several times but he never really bought it…

As a waitress at that restaurant I had to attend wine classes.  At the time I thought beer that came in bottles instead of cans was a high class drink so you can pretty much imagine me at the table testing the “bouquets” and discussing the tannins in a glass of wine.

As it turns out, I had “a nose” for wine and actually did like the class in the end.  It seemed cool to me then and still does that wine is , you know, evolving in the bottle.  It’s a living food.  I love that the  grapes have to very purposely struggle to produce the best juice.  What a great analogy for life, right?   Mostly, though, I just love the way wine tastes.  It.  Is.  So.  Good.

When I lived in Madrid years ago I really fell in love with beauty of drinking decent bottles of pretty good wine.  The Spaniards know how to drink (and they showed me… wow… but that was then) and while they fully embrace a quality wine, there is no shame in enjoying a less expensive bottle.

So maybe rather than “blue-class waitress tongue” what I actually have is a “Spanish tongue.”  Yeah.  Let’s go with that.  These days I enjoy wine on a regular basis and actually prefers it to beer (even beer that comes in bottles.)

Michelle’s tips on choosing wine:

1. Don’t feel intimidated!  Most people only think they know about wine anyway or maybe they just attended the same class I did and can throw around some aristocratic wine terminology.  To this I say “pish-posh.”

2.  Some stores have employee picks or, you can ask if there’s an employee who knows about the wine.  ASK THEM TO HELP.  They’ll love it.

3. Expensive does not always equal better.  Nope.

4. Most people know that smelling the cork has nothing to do with proper wine evaluation, so don’t do that.  Do check out the bottom of the wine bottle though.  A flat bottomed bottle is much cheaper to make than a bottle with a divot–especially a deep divot.  If the wine is put in a more expensive bottle it likely means the producer thinks it’s worthy of it.

5. Don’t drink Charles Shaw.  Yuck.  Sorry but “two buck chuck” is hardly even considered wine–even by blue collar waitresses.  This beverage is chemically processed rather than properly aged for faster production, which is why it’s cheaper than Coca-Cola (which I also don’t recommend.)  I may not be high brow, but I say pay a few dollars more and get a decent real bottle of wine.

6. Be sure to tell me if you find a good wine pick that costs between six and ten dollars.  Happy New Year!

This is How We Do It

Check out my Tortilla Soup recipe featured today till next Tuesday on Hometown Pasadena!

chili in potMerry Christmas Eve!

OK.  So, at this point in the holiday season a sit-down turkey with all the standard side dishes is just really not what I’m in the mood for.  Between the homemade candy friends have delivered, the boxes of chocolates Mike’s students (he teaches middle school and has around 150) blessed us with and the general can’t-turn-around-without-someone-placing-a-delectable-delight-right-under-my-nose vibe that permeates my life… a little turn toward the lighter side of the table is in order.

One of the many aspects of living in the multicultural mecca of the universe (unofficial title) is that Christmas Eve dinner options abound.  So I’ve whipped up some simple black bean chili which we will ladle over our Mexican tamales (which I did not make–sorry) for dinner tonight.  Tamales are Mexico’s way of saying “Feliz Navidad” and this year it’s our way too.

For dessert…

oranges sweet Clementine oranges picked from my neighbor’s tree two days ago.

Please know that the following statement is not so much a “nah-nah-nah-boo-boo” type claim as much as a “I’m originally from Minnesota so I don’t take local things for granted…!”

It’s almost 80 degrees outside.  My windows and doors are open and I ain’t dreamin’ of no white Christmas…

Easy-Peasy Chili

Ingredients: 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 med onion (diced), 1 clove crushed garlic, 2 med bell peppers (diced–approximately 1 1/2 cups), Two 15 oz. cans black beans (with liquid–don’t drain’em!), One 15 oz. can diced, stewed or crushed tomatoes, One 6 oz. can tomato paste, 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Simmer onion (any kind will do,) garlic and olive oil for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and cook until peppers start to soften.  Add everything else, stir and bring to a boil/simmer until peppers are fully cooked.  You.  Are.  Done.

Tamales… yeah so you may recall that I’m actually 1/2 Mexican.  It’s my dad’s side though.  My mom’s ancestors which hale from Lithuania and Germany never passed down any tamale making traditions.  Lucky for me Los Angeles has the second biggest populations of Mexicans (after Mexico City) in the world so it couldn’t be easier to find authentic, delicious tamales made by someone who’s mama showed’em how to do it right!  Gracias amigas!

 

Waffles. Mmm… Yes.

waffle

Ahhh… winter break.  Vacation.  Lazy mornings.  Waffles.

Just a peek into Michelle’s train of thought on this crisp (OK, yes: by So-Cal standards) Sunday morn.

You may notice that my waffles are stacked.  In a pile.  A BIG pile.  It’s rather a bit of work to make waffles.  Pancakes and French toast are easier as I can grab my handy-dandy double burner griddle and whip up those little honeys six at a time.

Not so with waffles.  One.  At.  A.  Time.  That’s how you do waffles.  So if I’m in waffle mode I capitalize on the vibe.  The extras will either sit in the fridge for toasting up over the next few days, or slip into the freezer for a future breakfast of fun.

Just in case you’re wondering, I have done a fair bit of breakfast recipe searching.  These waffles are dang tasty.

Michelle’s Buttermilk Waffles

Ingredients: 2 cups whole wheat flour,  1 tsp each of these: baking powder, baking soda, salt, 2 eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, dash vanilla, 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

Directions: mix it up and pour into your waffle iron.  Even though my waffle iron has a non stick surface (I’ve never seen one any other way) I still brush a little oil on both sides between every pour.  Top with maple syrup, honey, powdered sugar, jam… so many lazy mornings ahead, so many waffle topping options!

Tips: Double the above recipe and then you can just pour that skinny carton of buttermilk right in as it’s four cups!

Gluten free friends: I substituted the wheat flour in Josie’s waffles with Pamela’s Gluten/Wheat free pancake mix/flour.  Worked fine and they taste great–although they did cook a heckuva lot faster than the other ones.  Just a heads-up.

Dirty–not really–Rice

dirty rice

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas… let’s see: three classroom “holiday” parties, one orchestra concert, two choir performances, two holiday shows (thank you for putting third and fourth grade together!), Christmas caroling with the neighbors (we are too cute) and an extra Christmas celebration with the cousins as my brother’s family is out of town for the big day.  All of this in 7 days?  Sure!  What?  You say I need to bring food to every single event?  Got it.  Sure.  Why not.

I’m joking, by the way.  Much like a size 1 supermodel who casual mentions “It really doesn’t matter what I eat at all–I simply never gain weight!” I would hate for you to hate me.

Yes.  I like to cook.  Yes.  I’m pretty organized.  And yes, the holidays stress me out too.  (And no, I’m not a size 1–see photo, ahem–top right.)

Oh yes, and my family still wants to, like, eat three meals a day plus snacks… enter: Michelle’s Dirty–not really–Rice.  My kiddos don’t exactly swoon over Cajun spices, and I didn’t have all the correct ingredients anyway (and I sure as heck was not going to make yet another trip to the store!) So I modified, grabbed some left overs and whipped up a nutritious, all-in-one-bowl, tasty dish that we all gobbled up pronto.  What is merrier than that?

Easy-tasty-healthy, baby.  That and planning ahead (I have three meals prepared already for next week when I’ll be practically living at my kids’ elementary school) is the key to serenity.  Throw in a glass of wine and you’ve got yourself a real holiday winner.

Dirty–not really-Rice

Ingredients: 2-3 cups cooked rice, 3 Italian sausages, 1 chopped red pepper, 1/2 chopped onion, 1-2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1 tbsp butter, 1-2 stalks chopped celery, 1 can red beans (drained and rinsed), salt and pepper.  (red pepper optional)

Directions: Saute your onion, garlic, peppers and celery in the olive oil.  Place the sausages amongst the these tasty delights.  After the sausages have cooked for a while, remove them and slice to finish cooking and sear each piece a bit.  Cook rice separately.  Drain and rinse your beans.

When meat and veggies are done, simply toss in the rice, beans and a little butter.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  I added a few shakes of red (cayenne) pepper to Mike and my dishes to perk them up a little.  Super yum-ola baby!

Tips: You could make this dish with other meats too (chicken would be nice/or hey, go vegetarian!) and don’t be afraid of throwing in other vegetables like carrots or sliced squash.

The Midwesterner in me loves this type of meal (it’s the casserole concept but w/out the condensed soup nonsense), especially during busy weeks, because it’s a balanced meal in one bowl.  Not only is this easy to make, it takes minutes to clean up!  One pot, five bowls, five forks.  Done.

Elder Berry Saturday

elderberry Saturday

OK.  So I don’t know how you’re spending your Saturday… but ’round here we are jammin’ in the kitchen.  I’m finishing up my next batch of elder berry elixir (place your orders soon!) and the kids are working on their Christmas gifts for the grandparents.

The only thing needed to make this cold, wet, mid-December afternoon perfect are some melodic Christmas tunes to keep us literally hummin’ along.

Thought you might be interested in some of my current Pandora favorites (just type “holiday” after the artist when you select):

Blues Traveler, Bare Naked Ladies, Straight No Chaser and Brian Setzer Holiday are great for something when you want to tap your foot or even get ‘yer Christmas groove on.

When I’m in the mood for just some absolutely lovely carol singing, there’s nothing like Sarah Mclachan, Karen Carpenter or James Taylor.  I wish I could get one of them to come sing me to sleep some night… but I digress…

Sometimes we’re up for something a little different, but don’t exactly want to shake our red and green booties around.  Then I pull up Sister Hazel, Good Lovelies, Dave Matthews, Mercy Me or Six Pence None the Richer.  These bands do nice renditions of the classics that we love to sing along to. (worth noting: I never cared for Six Pence when they were a popular band, but I think the lead singer really rocks ’round the holidays.  Go figure.)

And by the way, I pretty much always have music in the background while I’m chopping or stirring.  If kickin’ it in the kitchen isn’t exactly your cup of tea, try some tunes.  Just like when you exercise, the rhythm is gonna getcha!