Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Tacos

I’m not gonna lie. This dinner was inspired by the Project Recipe crunchy black bean tacos I made last fall. It was those crunchy corn tortilla shells that still haunt my dreams sometimes. When you buy hard taco shells at the grocery store or get hard tacos from a restaurant, they never taste like those did. Crunchy, hot and kinda greasy (in the best way possible).

I was thinking about what else would be tasty in hard tacos. I regularly make the sweet potato quesadillas from Animal Vegetable Miracle, with sweet potatoes, spices and soft cheese. So why not put them in a hard shell taco? Makes sense to me.

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They were really good actually. But here’s the thing. You remember how I’m trying to clean out the freezer? Well, I had a partial package of corn tortillas in the freezer that I used to make these. Good deal, getting that out the way. But these tortillas, maybe because they have been frozen and thawed, weren’t as pliable as fresh ones. They cracked and broke in half about half way through the frying, which made the difficult task of turning the tacos over  without losing the insides even more difficult.

They were messy but really really tasty. Aren’t tacos supposed to be messy anyway?

Here’s the recipe:

Sweet Potato and Goat Cheese Tacos (makes 4 tacos)

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes
  • 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tb taco seasoning
  • 4 – 6″ corn tortillas
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 1 Tb coconut oil
  • half an avocado, sliced, for serving

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes into 1/2 inch dice. Toss with olive oil and taco seasoning and bake at 375 for about 20-25 minutes until they’re soft and browning on the edges. Heat the coconut oil in a large skillet on medium high heat. Smear the goat cheese down the middle of each tortilla and fill with the roasted sweet potatoes. Gently fold the tortilla in half and place in the skillet. Fry the tacos for about 4 minutes per side until the tortillas get hard and golden brown. Gently flip the tacos over with a spatula. This is probably the hardest part. Fry on the other side until the shells are done. Serve with avocado slices and EAT immediately.

You could easily sub cotija cheese (the Mexican white cheese) for the goat cheese, or even feta. I just happen to have goat cheese. Two tacos each was plenty for two people (we also had a side of roasted cauliflower). Sweet potatoes are a good source of fiber (and beta carotene) so they’re super filing. You’ll be surprised at how full you’ll be after only two tacos. This dinner was done in about 30 minutes total, so it’s perfect for weeknights, or better yet, Meatless Monday. You can even roast the sweet potatoes a day ahead to save even more time. They won’t be as crisp on the edges, but once they’re in the taco, it doesn’t matter anyway.

I got a Liebster Award!

I got the ultimate shout-out in the blogging world this week–recognition from a fellow blogger in the form of a Liebster Award.

Image credit: Mountain Mama blog
Image credit: Mountain Mama blog

In case you are wondering, Liebster Awards are basically a recognition from another blogger that says “Hey, I read this blog, and I think you should, too.” Kind of like an endorsement. But the best kind of endorsement, because it is from someone who knows how hard and fun doing a blog the right way is. How hard it is to find the time to keep up with posts, keep coming up with ideas to write about, boosting readership (if that’s your goal), and doing all the tech stuff that you have to learn how do do on your own. (Trust me, I wish I had an IT department that could do all of it for me). But bloggers also know how nice it is to hear that someone reads your blog, that they’ve tried a recipe or they got an idea from your blog, and that they’ve endorsed your blog to their readers.

Liebster Awards are meant as a way to recognize small or emerging bloggers, and hopefully help them grow their blogs.  Part of the Liebster Award is to answer a series of questions to introduce yourself to your readers and potential new readers.

I was nominated by Jolynn at MountainMama. I don’t remember how I found her blog to begin with, but I am a regular reader. She’s in West Virginia! When I see bloggers in West Virginia (all 2 or 3 of them I’ve stumbled on) I have to check them out.

1.  Where were you born? I was born in Charleston, WV, where I live now. But I haven’t always lived here.

2. What is your favorite food? Guacamole, blue cheese, smoked salmon, oysters

3. What is your favorite season? Summer. The days are so long. And I love the outdoors.

4. What is your favorite Hobby ( besides blogging)? yoga and cooking

5. What kind of home do you live in? A cookie-cutter mid-entry. It’s hard to do much with the way it looks on the outside, but inside I’ve tried to decorate it a little eclectically. It has a fantastic backyard. Perfect for my delicious potager.

6. What kind of animals do you have? An old cat

7. Have you always liked writing ? Yes, except for English classes when I was being graded on it.

8. When did you start blogging? 2009. Wow. It’s been 5 years. Hard to believe.

9. Why did you start blogging? I started blogging not long after we bought our house. My blog was about our house; decorating and remodeling and DIY projects. I wanted to show the “before and afters” off. I realized that I kept having an urge to write about what I was cooking and eating. So I started my current blog, Delicious Potager. My old blog about my house was called Keepin’ Up with the Joneses. The site is still up. http://www.jennelleandjeremy.blogspot.com

10. Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert? It depends on who I’m around. At the grocery store? I’ll talk to anybody. Total strangers; doesn’t matter. When I’m in a group of women right around my own age that I don’t know I usually clam up. I don’t know why. Makes me nervous.

11. Are you married or single? Married

So, here are 10 blogs that I read regularly with around 200 or fewer readers. You should definitely check them out, as some I get a lot of good inspiration from, and some I just really enjoy reading.

Chiot’s Run – I’ve followed Suzy’s blog for almost as long as I’ve been blogging. I found it through participating in the Dark Days Challenge a few years back. Her posts about Dexter the cat are my favorite ones, but she posts about gardening and the farm she and her husband just bought in Maine, including the animals. Also worth listening to is her podcast series called “Cultivate Simple.”

I Run These Towns – Okay, this is someone I actually know in real life–Samantha, my college debate team partner. She lives in Michigan now where she works as an advocate for cities. Her biggest hobby is running, and her blog chronicles races she does around Michigan and around the country and her travels. She always finds the best places to see, eat and grab a drink in any city she visits–she really knows her blog subject matter!

The Beeroness – I just found this blog recently. It’s all about cooking with beer, which is seriously right up my alley. I love beer and I love to cook and eat. I’ve tried a handful of recipes from the site, and they’ve all been amazing. So much so, that I always tweet Jackie when I do, letting her know. She has a cookbook out now, which I don’t own, but I would really like to.

Better After – Because let’s face it, we all love to see the “before” and “after” pictures from home decorating and improvement projects. People from all over the country email pics of the projects they’ve done with a little explanation, and Lindsay puts them on her blog.  I haven’t attempted any of these projects myself yet, but I’ve pinned quite a few to try someday.

The Year of Simplicity – Jennifer just started blogging, but I read every single post in one afternoon, and it’s literally like binge-watching a tv show you really love. I can’t wait to see what her next post will be. The concept is to try and not buy anything for an entire year that’s not on sale or secondhand (aside from food and necessities like that) and just enjoy the simple things in life more. I love that idea. She’s had some amazing how-to’s for making body butter and posted some mouthwatering family recipes. I should note, this is also someone I know in “real-life,” her husband and her were both law school classmates of mine.

Oh My Veggies – another blog I only recently found–actually through Pinterest. The blog is maintained by a team of five lovely veggie lovers, and features vegetarian and vegan recipes. The pictures are STUNNING. I want to eat everything they post, and I’ve pinned a ton of the recipes to try.

A Proper Bostonian – I am a sucker for pictures of cats on the internet. Show me one person who is not. And, I have a love affair with the city of Boston after visiting there a few years back. This blog is just the everyday doings of a cat-lover and her pack of cats, sprinkled with all sorts of stuff like fashion, travel, and current events.

Eating Appalachia – Two years ago, I went to Mixed Con for the first time. It’s a food blogger conference just over the border in Virginia. I met dozens of talented food bloggers from the region that write about all kinds of food and cooking. Jes of Eating Appalachia is not only a talented food blogger that I met, she also takes amazing photos. I love that she blogs about regional food, and has the same food philosophy that I do. Her posts about her trip to Spain last year are a must read!

Nik Snacks – Nikki Miller-Ka, the lady behind Nik Snacks, is also someone I know in “real life.” I met her at Mixed also, and she is just one of those people that you can’t not met. She is just magnetic and funny and entertaining, and it comes through on her blog. She is a private chef, whose star is on the rise in the Triad area of North Carolina. She does restaurant reviews and covers local food events in the area, as well as has lots of seasonal recipes on her blog. It’s a fun ride to follow along with her food adventures.

You should definitely check out these blogs if you get a chance. It’s so nice to see that someone stumbled on your blog and read some of it. I started doing this because I enjoyed reading food blogs and felt inspired by what I read and saw. The best reward has been becoming a part of this big cyber community of folks with similar interests. Sometimes it just makes your day to hear that someone else is reading along with your weekly musings about whatever it is you’re writing about.

The 1st Annual West Virginia Urban Agriculture Conference

Last weekend, I attended the 1st annual West Virginia Urban Agriculture Conference. on the campus of West Virginia State University.

Image credit: WV Urban Agriculture Conference
Image credit: WV Urban Agriculture Conference

I was stoked. Especially since I fantasize about turning my half acre in city limits into a working farm. This was right up my alley.

It was hosted by the West Virginia University Extension Service, West Virginia State University Extension Service and SARE (the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Organization).

There were four tracts: production, focused on actually producing agricultural products; homesteading; policy and land use, focused more on community involvement; and business and marketing, for those in the agricultural business. There were two days of sessions covering anything from bee keeping to media training for local foods projects.

I found out about the conference from my mom, who is taking the Master Gardener course offered through the WVU Extension Service.  I was expecting the conference to be a small group of mostly other students in the Master Gardener course and a few people like me who are gardening and food nerds. I was blown away (and I think the conference organizers were, too) by the level of interest in attendees when I showed up the first day. Over 250 people attended. Many showed up at the door. It was truly inspiring to see so much interest in sustainable urban agriculture right here where I live. I am used to reading about this level of interest in places like Seattle, Portland or New York City. It’s so nice that the sustainable food movement is strong here in the Kanawha Valley, as well as across the country.

Now, to the fun part. The awesome sessions I attended.

My favorite session was the session on growing mushrooms. I love mushrooms. I hate buying them at the store. It seems like if you don’t use them in a couple days, they start to get slimy. To be honest, while I’ve heard they’re easy to grow, I had no idea where to start. The best part of the session, was it was hands on. We actually pounded some plugs inoculated with mushroom spores into logs and sealed them with wax. The log will be completely covered in shittake mushrooms in five to six months. It’s that easy.

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The WVSU Extension Agent explaining mushroom cultivation to the group.
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An attendee pounding the plugs into the log.
Plugs inoculated with shittake spores
Plugs inoculated with shittake spores

The extension agent told us that oyster mushrooms grow in just about any medium. They’ve had success growing them in a bucket in about two inches of used coffee grounds. I can’t wait to try this.

Mom and I also attended a session on home wine making. It was led by a fellow student in the Master Gardener course who also owns a wine making supply shop in the Kanawha Valley. He has been making wine for 25 years, and has even won awards at the State Fair of West Virginia for his wine. He made it sound so easy, and this session was also hands on. We mixed a batch of wine made from frozen raspberries from his backyard right in class. And this session had free samples!! So tasty!

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I also attended a session on beekeeping. The City of Charleston passed an ordinance last year to allow homes to have up to two beehives within city limits. I really want to get some bees, but it’s quite an investment. I am trying to learn as much as I can, since I know pretty much nothing about beekeeping, before I take the plunge. Tomorrow I am going to attend the monthly meeting of the Kanawha Valley Beekeepers Association to learn more, get answers to my seemingly endless questions, and meet some beekeepers who will hopefully take me under their wings. A

t the beginning of the session, which was led by the president of the local beekeepers association, he asked “Why do you want to be a beekeeper? Is it for fresh honey, to help pollinate your garden, or to help support declining bee populations? Or all three?” It’s definitely all three for me. I love fresh honey. Right now, I have some from a family friend whose hives are near his apple trees, and you can taste the apple blossoms in the honey. As a matter of fact, we sampled three different kinds of honey, basswood, autumn olive, and the most common, wildflower. I had no idea that honeys made from different flowering plants would taste so significantly different. I’ve heard that honey is one of the best things you can eat to help with seasonal allergies. Honey is made from pollen, so when you eat local honey, you are essentially getting trace amounts of pollen that helps you build up an immunity to the agonizing symptoms it causes. I’m definitely on board for that.

During the session, we watched a short TED talk video from Marla Spivak about the collapse of bee populations worldwide. This is no joke. Without bees, grocery stores would essentially be empty. The video is actually pretty informative, and I’d encourage you to watch if you have the time. Here’s the link. It’s so important to support the bee population, and you don’t need to have hives to do so. You can simply plant pollinator-friendly plants, and these are basically anything that has a bloom. There’s a great reason to have flower beds around your home. Even better if they are full of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the season.

The most popular session (over 100 people signed up) was the raised bed session. Although I already have raised beds, I learned quite a bit from this session. It was broken into three parts. I learned a better design for my hoop house, which I’ll try this fall and winter. I picked up lots of little tips and tricks that will make my raised beds even better I hope.

There was such a positive response from the community for the conference, they are already planning for next years. Mom and I decided that we would definitely attend again. There were a number of sessions that I would have liked to attend, but they were offered at the same time as another that I wanted to attend, so I had to pick one. I can’t wait to put some of the knowledge I soaked up to work in my backyard, and to see what the 2nd Annual Urban Agriculture Conference has in store for next spring.

PROJECT RECIPE: Curried Corn and Cheddar Chowder

Curried Corn and Cheddar Chowder. Say that three times fast.

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I’m pretty sure I was browsin’ Pinterest when I stumbled on this Curried Corn and Cheddar Chowder recipe. It sounded yummy, plus I had everything needed to make it. I love it when that happens. It’s almost like it was meant to be. Meant to be in my belly, that is.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: The Hubs summed it up best. He texted me at lunch when he was eating this soup, and said “Holy sh*t. This soup will change your life.” So, yeah. It’s a keeper.

How I changed the recipe: Instead of hot water, I used 4 cups of corn stock. Corn stock is so easy to make and freeze, and when you use it in soups or risotto, it just ups the flavor like using chicken stock or something. I also didn’t add the roux at the end. And I shredded the cheddar as opposed to cutting it into cubes. I figured it’d melt faster. Also, 1 1/2 pounds of frozen corn kernels turned out to be about 4 cups.

I had all the stuff to make this because I froze some corn (and corn stock) that I bought right around the last few days the farmers market was open last October. I love corn chowder, and I have a really good recipe, but it calls for bacon. Sadly, my bacon supplier is out of commission. Sandy Creek Farms had a fire in their smokehouse this spring, and is currently not producing any bacon. I have been in serious withdrawal since I ran out this winter. I hope they reopen sometime soon. My corn and corn stock was just patiently waiting it out in my freezer, and this recipe helped me get a few more containers out to make room for summer vegetables. And this vegetarian version of corn chowder just knocked off my go-to recipe with bacon. I’ll definitely be making this again when corn comes back in season in a couple months.

Seriously, you should click through the link to the recipe above or find it on pinterest and make this soup. It will probably change your life.

PROJECT RECIPE: Kale and Ricotta Pasta

Anytime I see kale in a recipe, I’m in. It’s my favorite vegetable. I’d had this recipe printed for quite sometime, but just had never gotten around to making it. I’m not making much progress in that big binder of recipes I find on food blogs, because for each one I make, I find three more. And now there’s Pinterest. I have so many good recipes I want to make. Someday.

I found this recipe for Kale and Ricotta Pasta on one of the blogs I follow regularly, Baked Bree. I met Bree at Mixed Con a few years ago, and learned a ton in her photography session. Her attention to detail comes through in her beautiful pictures. I’d encourage you to visit her blog for that alone, even if you aren’t interested in the recipes themselves.

Of course, mine isn’t nearly as pretty as hers. But it was so yummy.

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PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper! I want to make it again, but differently. I need to tweak a couple things, that I changed when I made it. The lemon is what really makes this dish. Without it, it would be just ho-hum, but it gives it a little zing.

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t have penne. I had half a pound of ziti, but the recipe calls for a whole pound of pasta. I should have used the half pound of ziti. A whole pound of macaroni makes a lot of pasta. Too much pasta. Also, I used a lemon that I had scraped a couple teaspoons of zest from for another recipe. I would definitely use more zest next time I make this. I also didn’t have pistachios, so I omitted them. I might try that next time.

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My favorite breakfast smoothies

At the start of the year, the Hubs and I pledged to eat fewer simple starches (i.e. flour, potatoes, sugar) just to kick start the annual post-holidays diet clean-up. That lasted about 10 days, and really, we didn’t intend to do it forever (I like potatoes and pasta too much).

But one thing that did stick was smoothies for breakfast. Before, I was baking something on Sunday evening for breakfast all week. Things like quick bread, scones or muffins that are easy to grab as your running out the door with a cup of coffee. I was never on the smoothie kick. They seemed too fussy. And I was convinced I’d be hungry in an hour after I had one.

Well, I can tell you that I was proven wrong on both counts. These couldn’t be much easier (actually, if someone would just wash my blender every day, that would be awesome). They are pretty quick to make if you have all your ingredients handy. And I really don’t get hungry all morning. The key to that is making sure there’s plenty of protein in them. That’s where I had the hardest time finding recipes. I wanted smoothie recipes that didn’t require me to buy a lot of produce out of season. A lot of the recipes I found called for spinach or greens, green apples, or something that I didn’t have in the freezer or isn’t available in the winter except from the grocery store. I didn’t want to be spending a lot of money on produce that comes from the southern hemisphere in January.

I just tweaked a few recipes I found on Pinterest and made up my own creation. Actually, two creations. I hope you’ll find these as easy to incorporate into your breakfast rotation as I have.

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PB&J Smoothie (makes 2 servings)

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tb ground flax seeds
  • 1 scoop of vanilla protein powder
  • 1/3 cup low fat cottage cheese
  • 1 Tb natural peanut butter
  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • a little water to thin it out after you blend it (maybe 1/4 cup)

Add all the ingredients to a blender and blend for a few minutes. I add them in this order. I think it makes it less likely to cake up around the bottom and on the sides. If it is the consistency of pudding (mine usually is) add a little bit of water and blend again until it’s the consistency of a thick milkshake. You should be able to pour it out of the blender. Also, after adding water and blending, you should have about 32 ounces. Divide between two glasses and drink immediately.

Nutrition Info (according to my Lose It! app): Fat 14.3 g (37%); Carbohydrates 27.6 g (including 17.8 g of sugars and 3.3 g of fiber) (31%); Protein 28.4 g (32%)

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I don’t know the brand of protein powder I use. I hate to admit this, but it expired in 2010. We’ve been eating it for three months and haven’t died yet, so I’m gonna finish it up. I guess that’s the pitfall of buying a gallon-sized container of it. About 12 years ago, I used to follow the Body for Life diet, which was easy and successful. But, there’s no full-fat dairy on it. Or bacon. Or hardly any beef. I abandoned it when I switched to a whole foods natural diet, which I can whole-heartedly endorse. One of the holdovers from that diet were the two huge containers of protein powder that had been overlooked in the little-used cabinet over my fridge since who knows when. So, I’m getting my money’s worth out of them instead of throwing them out. I would not recommend this. Actually, this is the kind of protein power I’m going to buy once I use up all I have leftover.

The flax seed bumps up the protein in these smoothies. You can find it in the natural foods section at the grocery store. So does the cottage cheese. In case you’re wondering, you can’t taste it at all, and if you blend this up well, you don’t even see the curds at all. You could swap in greek yogurt if you don’t want to use cottage cheese.

I had a couple one-gallon bags of frozen blueberries that I picked from my mom’s blueberry bushes last summer, so using them in smoothies was a no-brainer. You could also sub blackberries in this recipe, if you don’t mind the seeds. Although, I’m not sure you’d notice the seeds much since the ground flax seed in these is a little grainy. The texture doesn’t bother me, though.

Banana Mocha Smoothie (makes 2 servings)

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 Tb ground flax seeds
  • 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
  • 2/3 cup plain 0% fat greek yogurt
  • 1 medium or large banana sliced
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder (you can sub 1 Tb instant coffee)
  • a few ice cubes (if your banana is fresh. You can also freeze the banana slices and omit the ice)

Place all the ingredients in the blender in this order. Blend for a few minutes until the mixture is smooth. Pour into two glasses and serve immediately.

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Nutrition Info (according to my Lose It! app): Fat 8.3 g (26%); Carbohydrates 27.7 g (including 17.7 g of sugars and 2.3 g of fiber) (38%); Protein 25.9 g (36%)

While these smoothies aren’t “low carb”, they are very high in protein, which makes them a little better than eating something like muffins or scones that wouldn’t have very much protein in them. Eating protein along with carbs helps us digest carbs more slowly, stabilizing blood sugar spikes and the production of glucose, allowing the body to use the food more efficiently. What this all really means is eating protein with carbs means you won’t be hungry as quickly, and the food will be less likely stored as fat. (Here’s my source for that.) That’s a win-win in my book.

PROJECT RECIPE: Steak Sandwiches

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This meal is a byproduct  of my continued freezer clean-out. Of the half a beef we bought last fall, we have eaten most of the stew meat and a good bit of the steaks. We have plenty of hamburger left (which I’ll use more of this summer), but we have a ton of packages of cube steak left. I have made chicken-fried steak twice, but that’s getting old.  I needed something else to make using cube steak. That’s the beauty of the internet, and particularly Pinterest. Searching for cube steak recipes on Pinterest didn’t take long until I found one I had everything I needed to make. And that wasn’t chicken-fried steak. (Seems that is the most popular thing to do with this humble cut.)

For those following along a home, cube steak is usually top round steaks that have been tenderized. It’s an economical cut of meat, and cooks quickly–making it perfect for a quick and easy weeknight dinner.

I found this recipe on Pinterest for Cheese Steak Sandwiches. It’s from the LOL Foodie blog, which I think is no longer active, but nonetheless, there are some really tasty looking recipes on it. This is not an authentic Philly cheesesteak. I’ve made those before. But this is a pretty bangin steak sandwich with cheese, and a good way to use cube steak.

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PROJECT RECIPE verdict: The Hubs says keeper. I was more ambivalent. It was really quick and easy, and tasty–for that matter. And I got half a package of mozzarella cheese, some hoagie buns and a package of cube steak out of the freezer. The worcestershire sauce was a nice touch, but go easy on salting the meat, as the sauce does add some saltiness.

How I changed the recipe: I used 2 Tb of butter plus 1 Tb extra virgin olive oil, because 4 Tb of butter seemed like a lot. This was plenty. I also had slices of mozzarella cheese. Fresh mozzarella (sold in a ball) would have been better as it does melt better and is creamier, I think. But like I said, I was using up what I had on hand.

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We added some hot peppers I canned in tomato sauce–the perfect topper for this sandwich.

Coffee Snobs

Things that will instantly put me in a good mood: Cole Haan sales, free yoga classes, and piping hot cups of coffee made from premium dark roasted beans.

I’ve been a coffee lover since I was a teenager; maybe 14 or 15. My parents are coffee drinkers, and I guess it was just natural that I turned to the black liquid gold on lazy weekend mornings. I’ve gone through all the phases–the flavored coffee creamers phase, a phase of ordering real cappuccino at restaurants, and, I’m not proud to admit it, but even the International Coffee phase. You remember, those tins of basically sugar and some instant coffee?

Over the past few years, I’ve been on a dark roast phase. With just a little bit of half and half. Real half and half.

It’s nice to go to a local coffee house and order sometimes (and it’s basically a necessity to find a Starbucks when I am travelling), but I really love to make coffee at home, where I can read the paper and have a muffin and take my time enjoying it. We have both a Keurig and a regular coffee pot. I use the Keurig on weekday mornings a lot, and we make a whole pot on the weekends.

When we were registering for wedding gifts (feels like 100 years ago), one thing I really wanted was an espresso machine. Target carries a fairly inexpensive model, and I got one for a wedding gift. I use it also about every weekend, but I’ve discovered it’s limitations over the past year or so, and I really want to upgrade it to a more expensive model.

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I recently watched an episode of Good Eats all about making espresso, and I learned a few things that I was doing wrong. First, you need to make sure you really pack the coffee grounds into the basket. I mean really pack them in. I found a small jar that fits the basket and I’ve been using that to form a nice tight little “puck” of coffee grounds. Second, be patient in frothing the milk. It takes five minutes or more. This is why it feels like it takes forever when you order a cappuccino or latte at a coffee house. Alton suggested using a meat thermometer slid through a binder clip on the edge of the frothing pitcher for the milk to make sure you get it hot enough. I used to heat the milk in the microwave before frothing it because it never got hot enough. There’s nothing worse that going to the trouble to make espresso for a latte, then pouring cold or luke warm milk into it. You have to be patient. It take sometimes five minutes or more to get the milk warm enough. I usually try to get it up to between 90 and 100 degrees .

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Our newest coffee-making fancy is a french press. Some friends made coffee in their french press when we visited last fall, and it was amazing. I’d never had coffee made in a french press before, or new anybody who had one, for that matter. Someone brought one into the Hubs’s office a few weeks back and they tried it out. He even took in a bag of whole bean coffee to use in the press. “You have a coffee grinder at your office?” I asked, skeptically. Apparently, it’s like a full-on coffeehouse there now, with their coffee grinder, french press and whole bean coffee. It puts my office’s Folgers in a Bunn coffeemaker to shame. A couple weeks ago, we finally bought a french press of our own, and I have to say that it does make superb coffee. You can beat how easy it is to make, either. I’m considering getting one for my office now, too.

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I recently read that k-cups, the plastic one-serving coffee pods made for Keurigs and other similar single-serve coffeemakers are becoming a huge problem. First, all of the k-cups sold in 2013 would wrap around the world 10.5 times.  That’s a lot of little plastic cups that wind up in landfills. Secondly, I’ve often wondered about BPA in the plastic itself. As someone who makes a conscious effort to avoid it, I sure do drink a lot of k-cups. When we first got our Keurig, I tried to recycle all the plastic cups. But we drink coffee faster than I was taking the time to empty them out and recycle them, and used k-cups piled up on my counter until I had time to empty them out. Those things don’t come apart super easily either. And, they’re expensive! Luckily, there always seem to be coupons for them, and I buy whatever is on sale at the grocery store with coupons. If I get them for 50 cents per k-cup or less, I consider that a good deal, but compare that to what a pot of coffee in a traditional coffee pot costs. Pennies. I bought a refillable k-cup when we first got our Keurig, but I didn’t use it much because it wasn’t as handy as grabbing a new k-cup and popping it in. There was an outer casing and an inner basket that came out, and you had to remove the part of the coffee pot that you put a k-cup in. And it was made out of plastic. Uh-oh. So, last year, I upgraded to this one from Amazon.

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Forgive the crappy quality.

Pricey? Yes. But I waited for it to go on sale. And most of it is metal, not plastic. Supposedly, the plastic parts are BPA-free. (Who knows what other nasties BPA-free plastics contain?) You don’t have to remove anything from your Keurig, and it’s pretty easy to make coffee. A scoop and a half and bam. One less k-cup in the trash. I still buy k-cups, but this is my go-to a lot of the time.

The next coffee apparatus I really want to try is a Chemex. They are almost prohibitively expensive for such a simple contraption, and I don’t want to sink that much money into something that I’m not sure how much better the coffee might be. Everyone I’ve ever heard of having one says its the best coffee they’ve ever tasted. If I ever find one second hand, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat. But I’ve never seen one being sold second hand, so maybe that should say something right there.

PROJECT RECIPE: Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash

Have you ever been to Food52? You should bookmark it if you don’t have it already. Or better yet, subscribe and you get a weekly email. It’s pretty much a genius concept. Each week, the lovelies who run the website ask readers to submit their best recipes based on a featured seasonal ingredient. They try the ones they really like and select a winner. And you can go onto the website and get the winning recipe with notes from Amanda and Merrill.  Sorta like my PROJECT RECIPE idea. The website is so popular, it has grown to include a shop for cooks and foodies, a weekly column, guest posts and tons of tips and advice for home cooks. If I ever need inspiration for an ingredient that I find myself with and I just don’t know what to do with it, I always go there. Tons of ideas. Just search by your ingredient.

I found this recipe for Lamb Stew with Butternut Squash on the website a while back and it just called me in like a dinner bell. What’s not to love? A hearty one pot dish for a chilly night’s dinner. Winter squash. Lamb. I’m in.

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Project Recipe Verdict: Keeper. This recipe did not disappoint, obviously. Lamb gives it a bit of an unexpected twist. This lamb stew meat was luscious with just the right amount of fat marbled through it. I figured the stew would be bland as the recipe doesn’t call for much spice or seasoning, but is was dynamite. The lamb and tomato flavors don’t need much here because they marry so well.

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t have any butternut, but I did have a gigantic hubbard squash in the garage that I had been storing since last October. They will store in the right conditions for seemingly forever. I figured I better not push my luck too much with it though since the weather (hopefully) will be getting warm soon. It tastes almost like butternut. Maybe not as sweet, and definitely harder, so I braised it longer. About an hour total with the squash, and it was nice a soft. I checked the lamb after about an hour, and it seemed like it was close to done, so I added the squash then and gave it another hour. It’s really hard to overcook something like this. I also used vegetable stock instead of beef because I didn’t have any beef stock.

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The key here is to get a nice brown crust on the meat before you add all the rest of the ingredients. It really brings up the flavor and protects the meat from just becoming gray mush when you braise it. Don’t be afraid to turn the heat up high and really get it sizzling. If it sticks a little, no worry. You end up scraping up all the browned bits with the stock anyway, which helps build the flavor.

This was an easy (but not fast) one-pot meal. Definitely nice for a Sunday evening, since you can put it in the oven on a late afternoon while you do other things around the house. Since the hubbard I cut up to use for this has yielded about two and a half gallon bags of squash, which I’ll put in the freezer, I’ll definitely have to make it again.

Fancy Beef Noodle Soup

I love making soup. I love eating soup, for that matter. I especially love bringing it in my lunch to work.

There aren’t a lot of options for buying lunch where I work. And, hello? That’s one of the first things in all the articles about personal finance that is recommended–brown bagging it. It saves a pile of money.

Besides, who would want to buy lunch from the nearest fast food joint, when you can have a warm hearty bowl of this?

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I used to work at an office that was right beside of a bar. The bar had pretty good food, and did a pretty steady take-out operation for lunch. They had the best beef noodle soup. It was pretty simple, too. I’ve made my own version a few times with deer meat that we’ve canned. Canned deer meat is good for soups because canning it actually cooks the meat, and sometimes it can be a little chewy. The Hubs isn’t real big on soup for lunch like I am though. And he especially isn’t big on the “beef” noodle soup that I make. So this time I decided to spiff it up a little. A little something extra never hurts.

White wine and fresh rosemary kick this soup up a notch or two on the fancy meter.

Fancy “Beef” Noodle Soup (makes 7 generous servings)

  • 2 + 2 Tb. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tb flour
  • 1 lb. beef or venison stew meat
  • 1 quart + 1 pint beef or venison stock
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 Tb. steak seasoning
  • 3/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Tb fresh rosemary, chopped fine
  • about 3 handfuls dry egg noodles

Heat 2 Tb. of the oil in a large pot. Add the onion and carrots. Turn heat to low and put a lid on the pot. Let the vegetables sweat about 10 minutes, checking occasionally.  Once the vegetables are soft, take the lid off and turn the heat up to medium high. Cook, stirring often, until they begin to turn golden brown–about 4 minutes. Add the garlic when the onions and carrots are starting to get a little bit of golden brown to them. Don’t let this burn! Add the other 2 Tb. of oil and sprinkle the 3 Tb. of flour over the vegetables. Stir well until they are all coated with the flour. Add the beef/venison.  (If it is uncooked, turn the heat down a bit and cook it for a few minutes until it begins to brown on all sides. Make sure to stir often so the vegetables don’t burn) Stir well and add the stock and wine. Add about another 3/4 to 1 quart of water. Add the mushrooms. Cover the pot and bring it up to a boil. Turn it down to low and let it simmer with the lid on for about 25 or 30 minutes–enough time for all the flavors to get together and for the alcohol to cook out of the wine. Bring the pot back up to a boil and add the egg noodles. This is the tricky part–getting the noodles to just the right doneness without overcooking them. You want to err on the side of slightly undercooked noodles, as they will continue to cook as a the soup cools. I boiled the soup about 5 minutes and tested the noodles. Slightly underdone-perfect! Remove the pot from the burner and serve immediately. As soon as the pot cools enough to put it in the fridge, do so to keep the noodles from getting too mushy. I waited about 30 minutes.

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Speaking of soups and bone broth, this couldn’t have been more timely. I wrote most of this post Sunday evening, but this week, my friend Jodie, shared an article on Facebook from Dr. Mercola about the benefits of bone broth, that I wanted to pass along. It really is an unsung superfood. Got a touch of the sniffles? Reach for bone broth instead of the cold meds. It really is truwhat they say about chicken soup when you’re sick–but only if it’s made with real bone broth, not the stuff that comes from a can.

Here is the link to the article on Dr. Mercola’s site. The compounds and minerals present in bones are anti-inflammatory. It’s important to eat foods with anti-inflammatory properties because so much of the Western Diet is made up of food that CAUSE continuous low-grade inflammation throughout our body. Over the years, this chronic low-grade inflammation leads to common diseases and afflictions that we suffer from today like heart disease, diabetes and cancer. One thing I didn’t know about bone broth that I learned Dr. Mercola’s article, is how beneficial bone broth is for your gut. Even more of a reason to get this superfood into your diet, since the health of your digestive system has a ripple effect through the rest of your body.

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Bone broth is so easy to make, and if you make a lot of soup like I do, you’ll want to have plenty of it on hand. I started  making my own for economic reasons. Ever had a chicken or turkey carcass leftover that you just threw out? That’s all you need to get started (well, and maybe some aromatics). Toss those leftover bones (you can do this with just about any kind of bones, beef, chicken, turkey, deer, even fish, but that’s a different post…) in the crockpot and add a splash of white wine (or red if you’re making beef broth). The acid in wine is necessary to extract some of those beneficial minerals out of the bones. If you don’t have wine, you can use a little cider vinegar.  Add some aromatics like carrots, onions and celery. I keep a gallon ziplock bag in my freezer of vegetable scraps like carrot peelings, stems of kale, root ends of onions, etc. So I just toss in some of that. (when the gallon bag is full, I use that to make vegetable stock–another money saver). Add a little salt and pepper, or spices like thyme or rosemary. Fill the crockpot to just below the top with water and cook on high for at least 12 hours. I usually have to add some water. The longer you cook it, the more of the minerals that will break down in the broth. I’ve cooked it on low in my crockpot for over 2 days before! I usually break a turkey carcass in half and cook each half separately since my crockpot isn’t that big. This will yield about 4-5 quarts of stock. It freezes beautifully, and you’re always ready to make your next batch of soup!

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