Texas Caviar

Texas caviar OK.  So seriously: how beautiful is this salad!?

I LOVE this photo.  Texas caviar, as it is called, has been around for a while.  I’ve had it before .  Actually my friend Shandy makes a mean one and she sent me the recipe but I couldn’t find the dang thing so I got on line and found multiple methods of creating this delicious, nutritious, gorgeous–and VEGAN– salad.

I’ll get Shandy’s recipe one of these days but it actually helped to look around in blog-recipe-land because it quickly became clear to me that there are so many variations of this delight, I am pretty much always assured to have something on hand that will work.  Whew!  What a relief as I really liked it and look forward to making it again.  Rhea, my 9 year old gobbled her bowl of Texas Caviar right up.  Josie and Gray were not as excited but with the right motivation rose to the occasion.  (I served this with some tortilla chips on the side and let them scoop some of the salad up–I tell ya: we have so much fun at our house!)

Michelle’s Texas Caviar

Ingredients: 1 cup of shelled and cooked edamame, 1 cup cooked corn, 1 can black beans drained, one can pinto beans drained and rinsed, 1 diced bell pepper, 1/4 cup diced red onion (I soaked mine in ice water for 5 minutes to take the “bite” out), juice of one fresh lime (ream that little guy and get every last drop out!), 3 tbsp. olive oil, 1-2 tbsp white wine vinegar, 1 tbsp. cumin, dash of sugar, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: mix it up and eat it!

Tips: The key to the flavor situation is the lime juice and cumin.  LOVE that combo.  Depending on how much juice you get from your lime–and then how much flavor that juice has–you may need more or less vinegar.

Other ingredients that I could have also added include, but are certainly not limited to: cucumber, jicama, tomatoes, diced carrots–heck the list goes on and one.  I will try to get some jicama in there next time as it seems like it’d soak up all those flavors real nice.

Acknowledgement: pretty much every recipe for Texas Caviar that I found that was actually made by what appeared to be a real Texan contained black eyed peas.  Being a Minnesota transplant currently residing in Pasadena, CA, I, uh, didn’t have those on hand… sorry!  Go Lone Star State!


Michelle’s Marvelous Medicine!

elderberry syrup

OK.  So this fall I’m taking the cold and flu bull by the horns (I’m not sure if that analogy works but I’m going with it anyway.)

The Calva-Despards got pummeled at the end of last year’s season of sickness and although there are no guarantees with any preventions, remedies or prayers, one can still try one’s best.

So, we got flu shots for the first time in years, I’m still praying and I’m taking some time to look at homeopathic preventative and treatment measures to what is sure to ail at least one of us one of these days.

Enter: Elderberry Syrup.  My girlfriend, Lisa, checks in with this really cool blog called Real Food RN.  Kate is an RN and mother who, in her search for methods of maintaining health and healing, has begun a wise and wonderful journey into the past.  She looks into what she terms “granola mama” methods of creating everything from cold and flu remedies to homemade deodorant.  Kate is an RN and works in a traditional hospital, she despises chemicals of every kind.

I like Kate.  OK, I don’t really know her except from her super cool blog and pretty photos.  But I like the approach of someone who looks at the big picture, studies multiple sides of things, and then draws logical, reasonable conclusions.

There are other women who taut similar messages to Kate’s.  However, when someone doesn’t brush her hair, criticizes omnivore practices and people who don’t nurse their kiddos till they are in kindergarten it’s just a teensy bit harder for me to jump on board.  Kate is smart and balanced.  Plus she clearly brushes her hair so I will go with Kate for now.

Back to Michelle.  I made  elderberry syrup yesterday and my family will be partaking in a daily dose of this stuff for the next several months.  So will Lisa’s family and my mom and dad.  The syrup is tasty (although I don’t think we’ll be putting it on pancakes as Kate suggests) and was actually super easy to make.  Don’t let the long list of steps, below, intimidate you.  It’s a bit like describing how to tie one’s shoes. (I’ve been referring to “one” a lot today.  I’m not sure why.)

Elderberry Syrup

Ingredients: 2/3 cup black elderberries (or 1/3 cup dried berries reconstituted–I could only find dried ones, btw), 3 1/2 cups water, 2 tbsp. fresh or dried ginger shredded or sliced (no need to peel), 1 tsp. cinnamon powder, 1/2 tsp. cloves or clove powder and 1 cup raw honey.

Directions: Soak 1/3 cup dried elderberries in 3 1/2 cups water over night.  Then put berries and liquid + everything except the honey into a pot.  Bring to a boil and then simmer for 45 mins. to an hour so the the liquid reduces to about half.  Let stand and cool until it’s still warm but not super hot.  Strain all liquid from the stuff you’ve boiled and collect in a bowl.   You may now toss your berries and spices as they have given their lives for your health.  Thanks guys.  Slowly stir in the raw honey into the remaining liquid.  Put into a cute bottle or recycled jar, store in fridge and there you go.

Dosage: For cold and flu prevention: 1 tsp. for a child and 1 tbsp. for an adult, daily.  If one (there I go again) gets a nasty bug, increase dosage to once every 2-3 hours.

Tips: (some from Lisa who, being the test kitchen by default, clued me in after she made a few mistakes–thanks, Lis!)Raw honey comes in different forms.  Make sure you get yours in a liquid form that pours easily.  It’s important that the hot mixture not be so hot as to destroy the healthy properties of the raw honey.  Also, when you add the honey as your last step,  pour it in slowly while stirring so it doesn’t just drop in as a giant clump.

Cloves are strong.  Lisa’s first batch turned out really clovey, so I cut back but I think mine could use a bit more (I like cloves!)  Will have to dial that in.

If you’re wondering where in the world to get elderberries or why you should be consuming any of these ingredients at all, I seriously recommend checking out Kate’s Elderberry Syrup recipe where everything is explained in simple terms and in an organized fashion.

Here’s to everyone’s good health this winter!

Brownsugar Oatmeal Cookies

oatmeal cookie crumbles What you see here is basically Jennie Craig’s worst nightmare.  No joke.

I was feeling a little blue yesterday so I decided to take a page out of Weight Watcher’s Therapy packet and bake.  (That was another joke in case you didn’t realize.)

What is the better antidote to despair: alcohol or cookies?  For a 9:00 am remedy I think I made the better choice.

I hopped onto the Pioneer Woman’s blog as I knew Ree wouldn’t let me down.  My friends, Ree did not let me down.

As a Midwestern born girl and as someone who is theoretically opposed to baking, rather than bake cookies I schlopped all the dough onto my cookie sheet with a high lip and baked bars.  Usually I just add a little time and keep checking back (to me this is more palatable than scooping little balls onto multiple sheets, repeat, repeat, repeat…)  I’m not sure why, but I think these bars took about 45 minutes to finally finish.  I reset that timer for 5 more minutes so many times I lost count…

I like bars also because they can be cut into small little rectangles that I freeze and place into my three kiddo’s echo-friendly containers for lunch at school.  Healthy foods are the foundation of my meal planning, yes.  But everyone wants a little something sweet after their veggies and I like to be able to control the ingredients.  “Breaking the rules” is part of living a balanced life and this way I can use real foods!

So, it’s up to you, follow the Pioneer Woman’s making instructions for cookies (predictable) or go crazy and make bars (for who knows how long) like me.  Either way please be careful.  The crumbs you see in my hand, above, are the only morsels I’m allowing myself to eat (today.)  The rest of the bars are frozen and out of sight.  Dangerous I tell ‘ya.

Pioneer Woman Brown Sugar Oatmeal Cookies

Ingredients: 1 cup salted butter (softened), 2 cups packed dark brown sugar, 2 tsp. vanilla, 2 eggs, 1 1/2 cups flower, 1 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 3 cups old fashioned oats

Michelle’s Directions: Preheat oven to 350.  Throw everything in a bowl and mix. Place balls onto cookie sheet for 12 0r so minutes if you want cookies.  Put the whole lot on the sheet and bake for, uh… a 45 minutes…? if you want delectable bars.

Ree’s Directions: check out the Pioneer Woman blog.  She takes her baking more seriously than I (everyone does) and follows a more methodical step-by-step type situation.  If you’re more like Ree we can still be friends!

Personal message to Ree which she’ll never even see: Thanks girlfriend!  I needed that!

Coocoo for Couscous!

couscous w pomegranite How, exactly, do you spell “Coocoo” anyway?

Never mind.  Today’s post is in honor of the fabulosa Meal Planning 101 workshop I taught two nights ago in my cozy living room.  Together with Ana, Jackie, Denise and Rebecca (hi mamas!) a productive evening of learning, laughing and–of course–eating was had!

I found this recipe online (and then modified it, what a shock) when I realized I had a half of a pomegranate that I needed to use up.  This fruit is beautiful and grows literally in many So-Cal folks’ backyards, although mine was purchased from the farmers market.  Takes a little work to get these glorious seeds freed from their fruit-home, but if you ask my girls, it’s tooootally worth it.

Michelle’s Citrus Couscous Salad

Ingredients: 1 cup couscous, veg or chicken stock, several fresh mint leaves, 2 fresh oranges, fresh pomegranate seeds (about a 1/2 cup if you can swing it), 1-2 tbsp. white wine vinegar, 1-2 tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Prepare couscous according to package directions.  You don’t have to use stock, but I like it better than water.  When done, add diced mint (start with a little), pomegranate seeds, vinegar and olive oil.  Squeeze your oranges and get some ‘a that juice in there (can use regular OJ too.)  The original recipe called for one orange, and maybe mine were a little bland but I needed two to get that sweet zing that I was wantin’.  Also add the vinegar and oil carefully.  You’d be surprised how much vinegars can vary so it’s better to hit with just one tbsp. and then add more if you need it.  There’s no going back if you add too much.  Serve chilled/room temp.

What I like about this salad: It’s so pretty!  Also it was easy-tasty-healthy, which, if you know me at all, are my three favorite food adjectives.   The I didn’t use as much mint as the original recipe suggested.  I like fresh mint, but it can be overpowering if one is not careful.  Oh.  The original recipe also called for green onion, which I didn’t have.  I had planned to add a bit of chopped white or red onion, but decided it wasn’t needed.  I promised my workshop girlfriends that I’d post this for them as they were my officially samplers two nights ago.  Thanks ladies!

Check me out on Hometown Pasadena till next Tuesday if you’re in the mood for more online recipe-a-la-MIchelle fun.  And I mean really, who couldn’t use a little more of that?

En honor de Dia de los Muertos: que tengan muy buenas memorias de todos que ya han pasado.


smoothy 2It’s a blustery-leaf-blowing brisk fall day in SoCal, and for whatever reason I’m in the mood for a good cold smoothy.  So sue me.

Recipes for smoothies kind of crack me up.  I mean really.  REALLY?  Throw some stuff you like in a blender and hit puree for heaven’s sake!  Sometimes my smoothies come out a bit too thick, so I add more water or juice.  Sometimes they are too runny, so I add another banana or just deal with it.  Sometimes they are not sweet enough, so I add a tablespoon of honey.  If it’s not cold enough I add some ice… I think you get the picture.

But for my friends who prefer to measure and, like, be organized about their smoothies, I recorded what I did today and now I will share it with you.  You’re welcome.

Michelle’s Go-To Smoothy

Ingredients: 1 can of fruit (pineapple, pears or peaches) including the juice, 2 bananas, 1 cup orange juice, 1 cup yogurt, 2/3 cup raw oats.

Directions: blend and drink.

Tips: Only buy canned fruit in juice.  Why in the world did people start putting “heavy syrup” on fruit.  Yuck.  I seriously think only bad people buy that stuff (OK, I may have overstated my case here but seriously–it’s sweet already!) I also avoid any canned fruit with artificial sweeteners.  Yipes man.

If I use plain yogurt I sometimes add I bit of honey to the mix as well.  I started adding raw oats to my smoothies years ago and I must say: YUM.  The oats are an easy way to bulk up the drink–especially for hungry kiddos and husbands, but you need to let them sit for a couple of minutes to soak up the juice so they break down nice and easy for ‘ya.

smoothy 1Like this, see?

Finally, (boy this is a lot of tips!) I do use fresh fruit for smoothies too, but only the ugly, too-soft pieces.  The good stuff gets eaten up w/out all this hassle!


French Toast Baby

french toast

I love living in my almost 100 year old house that is just a tad chilly in the mornings this time of year.  I put on my Uggs (knock offs), wrap up in a fleece something-or-other, make my coffee (my mouth is watering right now) and think about what’s for breakfast.

French toast baby.  Who doesn’t like French toast?  Actually I have a finicky nephew who won’t eat it but I still love him (even though he’s clearly very weird.)

Just like when I make pancakes, I make a TON of French toast–I literally use an entire loaf of bread or more at a time–that keeps great in the fridge or freezer for the next crisp fall morning.  Assuming not everyone is interested in mountains of breakfast stuff, however, I will now present to you a recipe for, like, a normal amount of French toast.  K?

Michelle’s Buttermilk French Toast:

Ingredients: few slices of bread (getting old is dandy) 4 eggs, 3/4 cup butter milk, two tsp. vanilla, two tsp. sugar, tons of cinnamon.  Additional options include a dash of almond extract (careful with nut allergies,) dash of nutmeg, pumpkin spice, stuff like that.

Directions: Set bread aside.  Whisk everything else together and  dip each piece of bread completely into the mixture.  Then place the soaked bread onto a heated cooking surface with a little oil (forgot to mention that in the ingredients)  Cook both sides on a medium heat.  Top with maple syrup or delicious other things like powdered sugar or tasty jams.  My mouth is watering again!

Tips: as I mentioned above, bread that is getting a bit dry is fine, in fact some folks like it better as it will soak up all the buttermilk-eggy mixture even better.  My favorite bread to use is a hearty whole wheat sour dough.  I like the sour dough contrast with the sweet syrup or whatever… so good.

‘Ode to Saturday

produceMan does this make me smile.  Ear to ear and forehead to chin.  I love this  day.  LOVE it.

Pictured here is the result of my weekly pilgrimage to my PHS favorite farmers market.  LOVE that place.

It never ceases to amaze me how a spread like this dissappears each week–but I don’t question it.  LOVE good produce and so does my family.  Yeah for us!

Today is a gloriously warm late-summer-feeling-but-actually-it’s-fall SoCal day.  This is the kind of day where the cost of living ’round here is warranted.  (As my Midwestern transplant extended family and I have been known to say, “Sure the schools are underfunded, the health care is in shambles, it’s crowded, expensive and overwhelming… but it’s so nice outside!”)  I LOVE California!

This afternoon is the Fall Festival at my kiddos’ school.  We will arrive in costume to set up our fun booth that we created with some friends and will arrive back home several hours later, hair spray-painted, faces decorated, bellies full of popcorn and tacos… and a whole week’s full of this rainbow produce scene to look forward too.  I LOVE rainbow produce!


Real Time Teriyaki Turkey Sandwiches

teriyaki sandwich done

So I still have leftover turkey (can I get an “Amen, sista!”) and by “real time” I mean that I am, in fact, making these sandwiches right now.  it is 10:30 in the morning and if you think this is a strange time to be making dinner, you obviously haven’t attended my Meal Planning 101 Workshop. 🙂

Teriyaki Sandwiches (could also be made with chicken, pork or beef but I got turkey so there)

Ingredients: 1 tbsp. olive oil, 2 diced stalks of celery, 1/2 diced med. onion, 2 cloves garlic, 1 diced bell pepper, diced left over turkey, 2-3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar, 2-3 tbsp. soy sauce, 1/4 cup or so brown sugar.

Directions: Place oil and onion on stove top and cook at med/high heat till onions turn a bit translucent (about 5 mins.)  Add celery, garlic, bell pepper.  Mix and let simmer until the other veggies begin to soften (another 5 or so mins.)  Then add 2 tbsp. vinegar and soy sauce and most of the brown sugar.  Mix, cover and set heat on low so the veggies can really cook down and soak up all that yummy sauce.

When veggies are cooked, add your diced meat, stir and heat for a few minutes.  Taste and add soy sauce, vinegar or brown sugar as needed.

I was feeling very snappy whilst simmering away this morning, so if you are a visual learner, here are some photos for you:

teriyaki sandwich 1 Here are the veggies getting started.  Aren’t they gorgeous?

teriyaki sandwich 3 And here are our veggie friends after they’ve been reduced a bit and tossed together with the meat.  I wish you could smell this photo…

teriyaki sauce Finally, these are my good friends, teriyaki sauce ingredients (aka: brown sugar, balsamic vinegar and soy sauce.)  For a simple teriyaki sauce situation I use the the 2-3 tbsp. soy/vinegar plus a 1/4 cup loose packed brown sugar, then adjust to taste.  If I need more liquid–like if I’m making stir fry over udon noodles or something like that–I sometimes toss in a splash of orange juice or a little meat broth.

I plan to serve these guys on whole wheat buns for dinner, but it would be also be delicious on rice or a baked potato!

‘Dem Bones

turkey carcass So anyway, back to that turkey carcass…

As I’m sure you recall (not) I make it a point to stretch every dang dollar that I spend on organic meat because, uh, it costs a lot of dollars!

If you are not familiar with making a stock from the bones of an animal, you may think it rather primitive–which it may be.  But I assure you that making your own stock is not only a good use of your organically spent dollars, it is healthy and actually quite gourmet.  (and for my vegetarian friends–yes, you can make a soup stock from vegetables as well, but we are going with the turkey scene here.)

Bones.  When I cook meat I pretty much always chose cuts with bones.  Why?  Because there is soooooo much flavor in those little guys.  Even if I cut the meat away from the bones before serving, cooking them on the bone always yields a better flavor.  Plus, then I have something with which to make a stock so it’s a win-win!

To prepare a stock takes a bit of effort, but it’s way worth it.  First step is to remove all the meat you can from the bones.  Then I place what’s left of the carcass in a large pot with whatever I had used to season it (onion, garlic, citrus) as featured above.  Sometimes I add a little salt, maybe a slug of white wine… just depends.

Next add enough water to cover your goodies, place a lid on top, bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a low boil for about 90 minutes or so.

bones cooking

The longer you cook the bones, the more flavor your broth will have, but there comes a point where you start saving on the organic meat dollars and then spend more on your gas or electric bill.  So I usually go about 90 minutes or so.  At this point, by the way, your kitchen is smelling so good you won’t believe it.

Now you’re going to strain the broth from the bones.  I like my metal strainer because the holes are tiny (no bones get through!) and then I can put it in the dishwasher to clean it.  It will be a bit greasy when done.

This time I had enough broth to fill one large glass bowl:

bones strained

Plus another small one:

bones done

At this point, your carcass has done its duty.   It has nothing left to give and you may now dispose of it knowing that you have taken advantage of every cent that went into it.  Congratulations.

Final step: I chill the broth so the fat will rise to the top.  Even though I don’t cook the skins, there is still some fat in the broth.  This is the kind of gross part but there you go.  I take a spoon and just skim it off the top:

bones fat Just collect this gross stuff and toss in the trash.  I don’t recommend putting it in your sink unless you’ve already called the plumber.

And there you go.  What does one do with a soup stock/broth like this?  Don’t get me started.  Just like you use store bought chicken broth to use for cooking, this stock can be used to cook rice, make soups, sauces, couscous, whatever.  It can be frozen in ice cube trays if you like to use little bits at a time, or in freezer bags or larger containers for later stock-using days.  Or you can just take what you’ve got and make some soup right now!

Absurd side note: my mother and I have been known to fight over a carcass like a pair of jackals if we’re at the same gathering.  “What a delicious meal!  Thanks so much for inviting us–and if you don’t mind me asking… what are you going to do with that carcass!?”

Don’t I hate it when the host notifies me: “Sorry, your mother asked first!” 🙂

I Also Made Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie

Quick shout-out to the Calvary Preschool Peeps who hired me to get everyone “Thinking Outside the Lunchbox” last night.  I enjoyed our time together!

Pumpkin Pie is not my favorite.  In my opinion, if I’m being perfectly honest, pumpkin pie is just, well, OK.  In the opinion of my family and all the guests at the pumpkin palooza party, however, this recipe for pumpkin pie is the bomb.  I seriously saw a few kids licking their plates clean (possibly adults were doing it around the corner or something.)

So, even though I didn’t really dig in to this, chances are you will. 🙂

Old Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

Ingredients: 2 cups pumpkin, 1 1/2 cup heavy cream or 1 12 oz. can of evaporated milk, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup white sugar, 1/2 tsp. salt, 2 eggs plus the yolk of a third egg, 2 tsp. cinnamon, 1 tsp. ginger, 1/4 tsp: cardamon, cloves, nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. lemon zest, pie crust (and yes, I used a frozen crust.)

Directions: mix, pour into pie crust and bake at 425 for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 50 minutes.  Serve with homemade whipped cream for extra yum factor!

Deep Thoughts: I intentionally chose a recipe with kind of a long list of ingredients. I figured that by adding a little more personality I might like this dessert a bit more.  It didn’t work–but like I said, everybody else loved it so I think I’m the exception here.  Just don’t know what it is about pumpkin pie…