Saturday, August 22, 2009

Vegetarian Crock Pot Chili

I woke up this morning and felt a little nip in the air. Mind you, the temperature is in the 60's and it rained last night. But I feel fall is just around the corner! Where did the summer go? Anyway, I felt like making it easy today and got dinner going right after I got up. So when dinner time hits everything will be ready! Yes! Chili just seemed apropos but I wanted chili with a twist. Enter vegetarian crock pot chili. It's loaded with summer vegetables including zucchini which I always can find a use for. I found this recipe at Allrecipes, one of my favorite cooking websites. You can find the recipe here. I'll serve this with a nice crusty bread and some fresh fruit for dessert and all will be good!
If you are counting WW points then it's only 2 points.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Eggs: Pastured, Organic, Cage-Free...What Does It Mean?

As many of you know, our hens have recently started laying. Yay! An average hen will lay one egg about every 25 hours. So, with 2 of our 11 hens laying daily we can enjoy a fresh egg just about every day! But what is all the excitement about, I mean an egg is an egg, right? Well no, an egg isn't an egg. There are many different factors involved. .
When you shop in the grocery store you will see a variety of egg choices and (prices). There are conventional eggs (usually the least expensive), as well as cage-free, organic, etc.. Let's look at what these terms mean.
Conventional eggs: These are your standard run-of -the mill eggs. Usually coming from what some call "factory farms".These eggs are usally featured as loss leaders at .88 a dozen. Wow! A bargain! But what you don't know is how the hens laying those eggs are treated. Generally, hens are crammed into large windowless huts where they are do not have access to the outdoors. They are usually fed a diet that is loaded with antibiotics to stave off any disease or illness associated with living in such close quarters. The diet is usually corn based which is subsidized, hence very inexpensive to provide. The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals
discusses these very conditions. This book is a "must-read" for those curious about the inner workings of the origins of our food.
Organic eggs come from chickens that are fed a diet of organic feed, meaning no pesticides, insecticides or fungicides may be used. Also, there may be no GMO products or animal by-products used in their feed. Usually, organic is linked with "free-range" chickens. According to the USDA, in order for a farmer to claim his chickens are free-range chickens, they need to be able to reach the outdoors. However, the chickens don't actually HAVE to go outdoors. The opportunity just has to be present. Also, the area outside can be on grass, dirt or even concrete. The next time you are near a chicken farm, take note of the ground material outside of the pens. It will be highly unlikely that you will see green, green grass beneath the chickens' feet. And that's if you see any chickens outside the facility at all.
Pasture raised chickens are what is usually associated with farmers who raise small flocks of chickens. Small flocks are usually under 100 chickens. Chickens are naturally vegetarians, so for a company to claim their chickens are fed a vegetarian diet is praying on the naivete' of those not familiar with the nature of chickens. Chickens pasture-raised are allowed to walk around on either grass or soil looking for small bugs, bits of vegetation to meet their nutritional needs. Scratching the ground is a vital part of a chicken's make-up and should be provided to allow for a happy bird. Usually, as a safeguard, additional feed is provided as a means to make sure the chickens are receiving their recommended nutritional requirements. Bugs and grubs and even little toads are a necessary element to a chickens diet, which provide proteins to produce a superior egg. A superior egg has many different qualities. The first thing one may notice upon cracking open a pastured egg is the color. Instead of yellow, the yolk is usually a deep orange. Instead of spreading out in the frying pan, the pastured egg will be more compact, it's borders more defined. But what's even better is the nutritional value. According to LocalHarvest pastured eggs have 10% less fat, 40% more vitamin A and 34% less cholesterol than factory farms. The very best thing is the taste! A deep, rich taste that tells you right away that this is what an egg should taste like.
So, consider yourself enlightened! Now when entering the marketplace whether it be a supermarket or farmer's market, or maybe even your own "backyard market", you will have the tools to make an intelligent decision about the eggs you choose. After all, an egg isn't just an egg.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spinach Frittata

I made a wonderful dinner tonight using what was in the garden and what was left over in the fridge. Also, with our chickens laying regularly now I had a bunch of eggs that needed to be used: hence, Spinach Frittata.
A frittata is an Italian omelette. It's usually made with eggs,veggies, meat and cheese. However, it's baked in the oven as opposed to preparing it on the stovetop. I find it fairly easy and you can make it as simple or complex as you'd like.
Tonight's frittata consisted of spinach, from the garden, and roasted potatoes, from last night's dinner, with some shredded parmesan.
Without getting too "formal" here is what I did: Took an oven-proof skillet and sauted some garlic and green onions in a little bit of olive oil. Next I added the roasted potatoes and spinach from the garden. I'd say about a cup of each. Let them cook for a bit to wilt the spinach and heat up the potatoes. Meanwhile I took 8 eggs and beat them in a mixing bowl and then added some salt, pepper and little hot sauce. Finally, I added the eggs to veggie mixture, stirred them then popped the skillet into a 400 degree F. oven and baked them for about 30-40 minutes. After the eggs were set, I took the skillet out of the oven and sprinkled some grated parmesan cheese on top. Cut the frittata into 8ths and serve straight from the skillet. That's it! Very easy and very easy to customize!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Baseball Bat Zucchini!

I have zucchini coming out of my ears...and who doesn't at this time of year. I always recommend growing zukes to new gardeners because the vegetable is fairly forgiving if you make a mistake or two (watering irregularly, not amending soil etc...) and rewards the gardener prolifically. The trick is to not let your zukes get any bigger than about 6-7". Any bigger than that and taste quality suffers. Actually, I prefer my zucchini to be on the rather small side with the blossom still attached which can be floured and fried in a little butter. Yum!!! Sometimes even missing one day of harvesting can land you with a huge baseball-bat of a squash. When I come across one of those I automatically allocate it for making zucchini bread/muffins. Save those little green gems for when you want a zucchini at it's flavorful peak!
Below you'll find a wonderful recipe for zucchini bread. Zucchini bread is a "quick bread" so you don't have to worry about kneading and rising and all that. I got it from 'The King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook". Enjoy!

Bagley House
Zucchini Lemon Muffins

2 Cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. salt
grated peel of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup (or more) chopped walnuts
1/2 cup (or more) raisins
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 c milk
1/3 c vegetable oil
1 cup (packed) shredded zucchini
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon peel in a large bowl. Stir in the walnuts and raisins.

In a smaller bowl (or a two-cup liquid measure), combine the eggs, milk and oil.

Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the wet ingredients. Stir just until barely combined and then gently fold in the zucchini.

Spoon the batter in a greased, 12-cup muffin tin. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins spring back when you press them with your fingertips.

These freeze well!!!