The best brussels sprouts you will ever ever eat. End of story. Period.

Disclaimer: It helps if you are already at least a casual fan of brussels sprouts.

If you hate brussels sprouts, it might be a lost cause. But this might be the recipe that wins you over. Like a gateway brussels sprouts recipe.

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And did you know, by the way, that it’s actually “brussels sprouts” and not “brussel sprouts?” I did not until today. There you go. Never stop learning.

Anyway, I am a HUGE fan of brussels sprouts. But at one point I didn’t care that much for them, because the only ones I’d ever eaten were tasteless and mushy that were frozen. Then I found a recipe that mixed fresh ones sauted in a little bacon grease into pasta. Game on. It was my “gateway” brussels sprouts recipe. I’ve been a fan ever since. Bacon makes everything better. It’s magical. Something about bacon’s salty and smokiness pairs so well with the bitter of brussels sprouts.

So why not invite more flavors to the party? Brussels sprouts and bacon have the salty and bitter cornered. So I thought these needed some sweet and sour.

These are super easy and fairly fast.

Salty and Sweet and Sour Brussels Sprouts (makes 4 servings)

  • 2 lb fresh brussels sprouts
  • 6 pieces of bacon
  • 1/4 cup vegetable stock, white wine or water
  • 2 Tb good balsamic vinegar
  • 1 Tb honey
  • salt and pepper

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Chop the bacon up into 1/4 inch-ish pieces. Add it to a skillet and fry, stirring occasionally, until the bacon begins to crisp up. Remove the bacon and drain on a plate with a paper towel, reserving the bacon grease in the skillet. Trim the ends off the brussels sprouts and cut in half. Add the brussels sprouts to the hot bacon grease and stir well so they are all coated. Salt and pepper brussels sprouts.

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Let the brussels sprouts get golden brown, sauteing for about 6 minutes or so. Add the vegetable stock, balsamic vinegar and honey. Stir well and place a lid on the skillet. Let the brussels sprouts cook on medium to low heat until softened a bit, about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and turn the heat up to medium high to reduce the liquid. Cook for another 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to ensure the brussels sprouts don’t stick. Cook until the sauce has thickened to coat the brussels sprouts and add back in the bacon pieces. Stir once more to mix. Serve immediately.

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Just look how delicious these look? Seriously, you can’t go wrong adding bacon to anything. Brussels sprouts are a case in point. I totally wouldn’t judge if you made a batch of these and ate them for dinner all by yourself. After you taste them, you’ll understand why.

I’m a believer in bacon, and I get all mine from Sandy Creek Farms in Ravenswood, WV.

Autumn Potager

It’s that time of year again.

Not really summer, not quite yet fall. Well, I suppose it IS technically fall, but it doesn’t feel like it to me. Sure, the days are slowly getting shorter and it’s not hotter than the hubs of hell during the day, but the leaves are only just beginning to hint to their changing colors. I haven’t had to break out a jacket yet. And my mums only have a couple blooms on them. I also haven’t bought any pumpkins yet from the farmers market. As a matter of fact, the farmers market, while selling foddershocks, pumpkins and mums, is still packed full of tomatoes, apples and peppers.

But, the summer vegetables in the delicious potager are pretty much over. Last week, I pulled up all the tomatoes except for two that still had a a couple big green ones on them. I planted a few cool weather crops, although it was a bit late for them. Hopefully I’ll get a few harvests of lettuce before the cold kills it, and maybe I’ll be lucky enough to time my kale just right to have it lightly frosted on a couple times before it’s ready. Kale is one of those crops that actually is better after a frost.

It was a stunningly beautiful September evening. I went out to check the fall vegetables and to get some soil samples to be tested by the WVU Extension Service.

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The marigolds are still going strong, and are one of the few things the deer haven’t touched. These past few weeks, it seems there’s been new deer damage weekly. This latest damage wasn’t from nibbling the tops of plants like they did my tomatoes, but trampling the tiny arugula seedlings just coming up. Luckily, it wasn’t too extensive. At this point, if this doe is going to sniff around my raised beds, I wish she’d refrain from actually walking through the middle of them!

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The best thing about my garden right now is this volunteer plant. It’s a cantaloupe vine! Because they require a long warm growing season, these baby melons most likely won’t get ripe enough to eat before it gets too cold, but I’m crossing my fingers.

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I even snapped a picture of evidence of the brazen squirrel I’ve been seeing in the backyard: pieces of nut hulls on my compost bin. I’ve heard this guy barking the last couple mornings and seen him out in the yard  a few times. They don’t bother me at all as long as they stay out of the bird feeders.

The main reason I was in my garden tonight was to get some soil samples to have my soil tested by the WVU Extension Service. I’ve never had my soil tested, and since I’ve been gardening here, every year, despite my best efforts, the yield has been fairly underwhelming. Maybe the secret is to amend the soil to add what it’s lacking. The soil sample collection is fairly easy. Just scoop about 1 cup of soil into a clean zip-top baggie and download the form. Send the form and sample to the lab at WVU. But, if you get the sample to the Kanawha County Extension Office before September 30th, they will send the sample to WVU for you, free of charge.

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Fall is really when you should get your soil tested. Most people wait until spring, but then it’s too late, especially if you want to plant spring cool-weather crops. Some soil amendments need time to work into the soil and distribute themselves, and need to be added a few months before you plan to use them.

I am eagerly awaiting the first fall harvest of lettuce, arugula, kale and radishes. And with the beautiful weather we’ve been having, hopefully it won’t be long. In the meantime, I’ve begun planning next year’s delicious potager. Hopefully, it will begin early next spring with soil amended to the right levels, courtesy of my soil test results from the WVU Exension.

PROJECT RECIPE: Blueberry Avocado Muffins

I was intrigued when I saw this recipe for Blueberry Avocado Muffins from the Gimme Some Oven blog. Who wouldn’t be? Blueberries and avocado?

So I printed it. And this week, I had one way overripe avocado and some fresh blueberries that needed used STAT. Game on!

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Mine aren’t nearly as pretty, but they sure are tasty.

The thing I love about this recipe is that the avocado basically replaces the oil in your average recipe. I always use applesauce in place of oil in muffin recipes, but the avocado is a nice way to change it up. Avocados are high in fat, but it’s the kind of fat that is healthy.

My muffins didn’t have the green hue the ones on the Gimme Some Oven blog did. But the kinda nice thing about these, is that no one would guess there’s avocado in there–which is good when you have someone who doesn’t think they like avocado but you know they really do, they just don’t know it. I know a couple people like that.

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PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. Tasty and healthy! Bonus points! I’m always on the lookout for breakfast that you can grap on the way out the door in the mornings. This was a nice way to use up a lonesome overripe avocado that got left behind in the fridge.

How I changed the recipe: Well, I forgot to make the strudel topping until after I put them in te oven. So, I did the lazy way of topping muffins and melted some butter, and once they cooled a little, I dipped them in the butter then rolled them in cinnamon and sugar. I also added about 1/3 cup of milk to the batter because it was super thick, like cement consistency, so I was afraid they would be too dry after they baked.

Give these a try–even if you’re not sure blueberries and avocado go together. You wouldn’t even know the avocado is in there!

The real message of Michelle Obama’s Drink Up! campaign

This week, Michelle Obama and Let’s Move (in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, that’s her Childhood Obesity campaign) are encouraging people to drink more water.

The new campaign simply says “Drink Up” when it comes to water.

Sound advice, right?

However, the new push has been widely criticized by nutrition and public health advocates. The criticism focuses almost exclusively on the campaign’s partnership with the soda industry, which I agree is probably an unholy alliance. Because of this partnership, the campaign has to be very careful that the message is definitely not “drink water instead of soda” or “drink tap water.”

No doubt drinking water INSTEAD of soda or simply drinking tap water instead of soda would be the ideal message. I’m dissappointed that the soda industry is playing any part at all in this important campaign. But I’m not going to throw out the baby with the bath water just yet, so to speak.

Having worked around politics, I know that sometimes you have to reach out to a group that you want to have nothing to do with as a means to an end. It’s just how it works. The soda industry, like any other industry, has a mission of selling more products. Period. Any attempt to decrease their sales is completely contrary to the goals of the shareholders of the company. However, there is no question that most of their products contribute to a whole host of diseases, inculding diabetes, fatty liver, tooth decay, and heart disease.

The reason I’m not jumping on the bandwagon just yet with all the critics of the campaign is that I think the Drink Up! campaign, while it could definitely be more focuses on tap water, is better than nothing. It’s a baby step in the right direction. And yes, it’s being funding by the soda industry, but looks what happening now. People are talking about it. And as a food blogger who is dedicated to singing the gospel of natural whole foods, I’m picking up the torch and saying, “Michelle Obama is right. Drink Water. Even better if it comes from the tap.” I’d rather one person choose a bottle of Dasani water over a Coca Cola Classic any day. The more people get used to the message of drinking water for health, the easier it will be to convince them tap water is best. It’s up to us, who don’t have a partnership with a major soft drink company, to get that message out.

I stopped drinking pop a couple years ago, and I wish I’d done it sooner. It was very hard at first, but after even a few months without any, they taste weird. Very chemically. I never was a big fan of regular pop. As a child, I went straight into diet cola because that’s what my parents drank. Now, the evidence that drinking diet cola leads to a number of health complications is truly frightening. I think it’s probably worse than the high fructose corn syrup laced stuff.

I can’t stress enough the benefits of giving up cola. Personally, I have experienced better skin, less of a sweet tooth, less of that “puffy belly” feeling. Not to mention all the hidden benefits, like reducing my risk of diabetes by a whopping 22 percent, and reducing changes of migraines, stroke, and heart disease.

One of the easiest ways for me to drink more water was getting a really neat water bottle. Nothing like getting a new toy to inspire me to stick with a good habit. Here is the one I have:

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photo credit: Amazon.com

I really wanted a glass bottle because I wanted to avoid bpa. It still have a few plastic parts like the straw and mouthpiece, but it’s better than drinking out of a plastic bottle. Click the picture to be taken to the Amazon website where I bought mine from.

The Hubs has this one:

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photo credit: Amazon.com

It’s also glass, a little more manly, and doesn’t have a straw. Clicking the pic will also take you to the Amazon listing.

Drinking tap water is better than bottled water for a couple reasons. First, as bottled water has gain popularity in the last few years, disposing the plastic bottles has become a huge problem. Plastic isn’t biodegradable, and now rivers, lakes and oceans are seeing more pollution from bottled water. According to National Geographic, 29 billion bottles end up in the garbage every year. That’s a lot of discarded plastic.

The second reason to skip bottled water for tap water is bpa. BPA is a compound in plastic that has been linked to a number of health concerns such as breast cancer and obesity. It can leach from the plastic bottle into the liquid fairly easily, especially when heated. I try to avoid it whenever possible.

The third reason, and this is a no brainer, is that tap water is a fraction of the cost of bottled water. A 16-ounce bottle of water at the grocery store or at a convenience store costs around $1.50. Tap water costs pennies per gallon if you get it out of your tap. Fill up your reusable water bottle at a public fountain and it’s free! Once I started carrying around by reusable water bottle, I started noticing water fountains everywhere. At the mall, at the movie theater, at the library.

At any rate, I am behind Michelle Obama’s Drink Up campaign even if she partnered with soda industry. I think it’s a start to drinking more water, and reducing our intake of soda. And, I’m carrying the banner to tell folks to drink TAP WATER instead of SODA: the real message in “drink water.”

Diclaimer: I participate in the Amazon Associates Program. Buying an item by clicking through the link in this entry does earn me a VERY SMALL amount of money–like literally a few cents. All opinions and endorsements are my own.

PROJECT RECIPE: Green tomato spaghetti

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I found this recipe for Green Tomato Spaghetti a while back and thought it sounded interesting, since I’ve never heard of anyone using green tomatoes for anything but frying.

I never got around to making it earlier in the summer when the first green tomatoes appear. At that point, I was just so happy to have them, I fried them left and right.

I forgot that you end up at the end of the summer with a bunch of green tomatoes when they fall off the plants and the vines slow down a bit. It was perfect, since I had something to do with the pile of them I have.

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I had a couple green roma tomatoes that had fallen off the plant, which were perfect since they are pretty meaty and don’t have a lot of seeds. I used three other slicer tomatoes given to me by my father in law.

PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper! The whole dish came together in under 30 minutes. And is a good way to use up green tomatoes at the end of the season. The most important thing–it’s SO tasty! The one thing I would do differently next time is half the pasta. A whole pound is too much. It probably made 5 large servings, and it wasn’t as saucy as I would have liked it. Next time, I’ll use a half a pound and have saucier pasta with fewer leftovers.

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Mine is not as pretty as Mario Batali’s, but it sure was tasty!

I just love Mario Batali, and it looks like there are a ton of other delicious recipes on his page for The Chew.

I haven’t eaten much other than leftovers for the past week.

So, I basically don’t have anything to write about.

Good thing I read a lot about food.

I found a couple little tidbits this week, that I felt you needed to know about.

Like this little gem: www.sodelushious.com

Have you ever heard of Chrissy Teigen? You should def follow her on Twitter. She’s hysterical. Who knew swimsuit models were so damn witty? She has a food blog that is absolutely adorable. It’s got plenty of healthy food for swimsuit models, plenty of bad food swimsuit models should not eat, and plenty of Asian dishes inspired by her mom, whom I’m sure will knock your socks off in the kitchen. I want to make it all.

I’m adding this recipe for Fish en Papillote, which she tweeted last week, and I’m so glad she did cause that’s how I found the blog.

The other thing to share has to do with the new developments concerning the meat industry in the United States and what role China will play in that industry in the future. It was announced last weekend that the USDA will allow meat that was raised in the US to be processed in China and imported back to the US without any label identifying it as such.

People seem to be up in arms about the prospect of meat being imported from China. And on one hand, I can see why. Let’s face it. China doesn’t have the best quality control standards for other imported products, such as cat food and lead-laced toys.

But, one bright spot in this development is that China has banned the use of growth hormones in the production of meat. Mother Jones lays it out here. While now, the meat will be raised and slaughtered in the US, shipped to China, processed, then shipped back (sounds completely absurd to me), it will still likely contain the same growth hormones and antibiotics it always has. Maybe someday we will be looking for meat that was raised in China. That is assuming: 1) China keeps their ban on growth hormones, 2) country of origin labeling (known as COOL) laws are passed, and 3) the FDA is able to inspect imports of meat from other countries more effectively than they do now. That’s a lot of hurdles to jump, but hey, you’ve got to find a silver lining.

Just another reason to buy your meat from a local farmer you trust.

Cantaloupe and Jalepeno Soup. And a Giveaway!

Last week, I found myself with a gigantic cantaloupe. I’m talking more than five pounds. This sucker was enormous.

I figured it was high time to make one of the remaining recipes I haven’t yet tried in my favorite cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper. Reading the ingredients for Cantaloupe and Jalepeno Soup, I was skeptical. But like every other recipe in this cookbook, it was amazing!

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I’m not a huge cold soup fan. I never got into that. I like my soup hot and hearty, like a meal. But today was the last “unofficial” day of summer. And I had a gigantic cantaloupe. So I felt obligated to give this one a shot.

Boom. That was my mind blowing over this soup. It was amazing.

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Icy. Sweet. Spicy. All at the same time. It did not disappoint. Then I was sad that I had cut the recipe into fourths because I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. Shoulda made a full batch!

Do not doubt this cookbook. There are so many recipes that when you read them, you’re like “What? No way.” But you try it, and you’re all like “Ehmergerd! this is the BEST THING I’VE EVER EATEN!” This cookbook is completely fail safe for making food that will blow you away.

I have done this about a dozen times with this cookbook, and I’d like nothing better than to make sure it happens to you, too.

So, I’m giving away one copy of my favorite cookbook, The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper.

All you have to do to enter the giveaway is follow this blog by clicking the link on the right, and leave me a comment telling me that you did. If you already follow it, leave a comment telling me you do.

You can get another entry by tweeting the link to this giveaway and leaving a comment with your twitter name. You can get a third entry by sharing the link on your facebook page and leaving another comment telling me you shared.

So, that’s three shots to win!

The giveaway closes at 11:59 pm on Sunday, September 8th, so hop to it and enter.

I’m squealling with excitement! Woot woot!

Good luck!