Love in the kitchen

3 jars of pear-ginger preserves
Fruit of my Sunday efforts: 3 jars of pear-ginger preserves.

Despite my best efforts for the past 29+ years… I have found love in my kitchen.

It turns out, I really do love to cook. Andy and I have seemingly switched places. He’s the gardener now, and I cook what he grows.

In fact, I spent just about my entire Sunday in the kitchen.

I guess I was itching for something to do since I haven’t been able to work out. Sunday was my third rest day in a row. Not only am I trying to give my ankle a rest, but I’m also recovering from a nasty cold that left me feeling just awful on Saturday.

It’s kind of nutty how much I cooked Sunday. Here’s all I did:

  • Started out making pear-ginger preserves. The recipe was supposed to make 7 jars, but I cooked it down so much the batch only made 3.
  • Steamed 3 pumpkins and made 2 1/2 quarts of pumpkin puree.
  • Put the pumpkin in the crockpot with sugar and spices and slow-cooked it all day to make pumpkin butter, which I will freeze.
  • Made chicken stock and froze it into 1/2 cup servings.
  • Prepped the bacon wrapped dates I’m taking to the office Thanksgiving feast and froze them for later this week.
  • Roasted the pumpkin seeds in the oven so Luke can take them to share with his class.
  • Made a beef pot roast in the pressure cooker and a reduction sauce. I served it with braised turnip greens, baked sweet potatoes and salad. Andy said it was awesome and Luke and mads ate their servings all up!
Plastic containers of pumpkin butter
This is the finished pumpkin butter, cooling on the counter in plastic containers.

Whew!  Busy day. Andy said after dinner that I must be hating it that I spent all day in the kitchen, but I feel productive. It was a free day, and I got to spend it playing with one of my passions — food. Plus, one of these days I’ll actually put up some preserves I can give away as Christmas gifts. Next weekend — watch out!

Rest Day Recipe: Skillet ‘Spaghetti’

Cindy smiles in the kitchenFull confession: I was going to share Andy’s secret paleo pancake recipe today. However, he fell asleep before I could get him to tell me how he makes them.

You’ll have to wait until next week.

In the meantime, I made up a recipe this week that was a hit with Andy. He described is as an “interesting combination, but really tasty.”

Full dish of meat, squash and greensSkillet ‘Spaghetti’ with Hearty Winter Greens

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 spaghetti squash, halved & seeded
1lb sausage, sliced
6-8 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
8oz mushrooms, sliced
1 bunch collard greens or kale, stems removed and chopped roughly
4-5 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp dried sage
Olive oil & coconut oil
salt & pepper to taste

Instructions:

Brush the inside of the squash halves with olive oil, then place cut side down on a microwave-safe plate and microwave for 16 minutes, rotating the squash halfway through for even cooking. When done, set aside to cool enough to handle.

While the squash are cooking, heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil in a deep bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces, and brown. Remove and set aside. Add the sausage to the pan to brown, about 4 minutes. Then add the mushrooms and chicken. After a couple more minutes, add the garlic and herbs.

When you can handle the squash, scrape out the pieces with a fork to make the “spaghetti,” and add to the pot, stirring thoroughly. Heat the greens in a microwave-safe bowl for 2-3 minutes in the microwave, then add to the pot. Reduce the heat slightly, and cover. Cook for several minutes, until greens are tender, but not mushy. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

Rest Day Recipe: Two Kinds of Greens

Wanna see something cool? Check out these photos from my garden:

I have to be honest — ever since I went back to work full-time, I have stepped away from gardening. Andy took up the task and he not only kept our garden alive, he’s also helped it to thrive and expand. His goal is to grow way more vegetables than we can eat.

The bulk of our crop this fall is greens. Kale, collards, mustard greens, and bok choy are just a few of our favorites. We’ve also gotten into eating lesser greens that are usually tossed because people grow the plant for something else — vegetables like beets, kohlrabi, sweet potatoes, cauliflower and broccoli.

We make something green with every dinner. Sometimes it’s salad. Many times it’s cooked greens. Greens are a fast weeknight meal addition, and today I’m going to share a couple of our go-to variations:

Basic Braised Chard

Ingredients

1 bunch chard, washed
Fat (like coconut or olive oil)
Chicken stock
salt

Instructions

Remove stems from chard, but don’t throw out the stems. Chop the leaves roughly into large pieces. Remove ends from stems, then chop finely. Set aside.

In a deep pot or Dutch oven, melt a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Add stems to the pot and saute for several minutes. When the chopped stems have softened, add several spoonfuls of chicken stock to the pot — enough to coat well. Stir the stems a few times, then add the leaves. Wilt the leaves, stirring frequently to cook evenly. After a few minutes, when all of the leaves have cooked down and turned bright green, remove from heat.

Salt to taste and serve.

Luke’s Favorite: Collard Greens with Coconut Milk & Lime

My 5-year-old loves the flavor combination! Kale can be used instead of collard greens. But don’t eat the stems of collard greens or kale — too woody!  You can add lime zest with the coconut milk for more lime flavor.

Ingredients

1 bunch collard greens, washed and stems removed
Fat (like coconut or olive oil)
1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut milk
Juice from 1 lime

Instructions

Chop the leaves of of the collard greens roughly into large pieces. Place the chopped leaves in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute. (Less if you use kale). The key is to make sure none of the leaves dry out.

In a deep pot or Dutch oven, melt a couple of tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Add the leaves to the pot and cook for 10 minutes. When greens have softened, add the coconut milk to coat. Cook for several more minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the lime juice, salt to taste and serve.

Rest Day Recipe: Caribbean Chicken Pot

Time to rest your body and feed your recovering muscles!

Caribbean Chicken Pepper pot stew in a white bowl.
This stew, with chicken, sweet potatoes, collard greens, okra, and peppers is chocked full of yumminess.

I’m going to share a stew today that I thought was fabulous, and it wasn’t hard to whip up on a weeknight. The stew made a TON of leftovers, which we ate for days.

The original recipe called for a minced Scotch bonnet pepper. I left it out because I cook for 2 little ones, but if you want the heat, add it at the same time as the chicken stock.

Enjoy!

Caribbean Chicken Pot with Okra
Serves 4

Ingredients

8 boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground allspice
4 cups chicken stock
3 medium sweet potatoes (2 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut into 1-inch dice
1 bunch collard greens, stemmed and chopped
1 (16-oz) bag frozen or fresh okra, thawed and sliced

Instructions

  1. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Cook chicken, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl
  2. Add onion to the empty Dutch oven and cook until softened, about 4 minutes, Add garlic, tomato paste, thyme and allspice and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add chicken broth, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and chicken with any accumulated juices and cook until chicken and potatoes are almost tender, about 10 minutes. Add okra and cook until chicken and potatoes are completely tender, about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Serve and eat!

My thanks to Cooks Illustrated for this recipe. It’s the bomb!

Rest Day Recipe: Basic Chicken Stock

It’s Friday, and that means is a rest day.  Whoo hoo!

So instead of a workout, I’m going to post a recipe for something I mentioned earlier this week: chicken stock!

Yes, I know chicken stock does not sound quite as exciting as, say, the steaks with tarragon mashed potatoes and mushroom sherry sauce that Luke and I prepared, cooked and dined upon this evening. However, chicken stock is an essential ingredient. In fact, I used in in my dinner tonight.  AND, Andy drank a mug full after being sick all day.

He started feeling much better after drinking it.

Chicken stock is really easy with the pressure cooker. I made more than 2 quarts during breakfast one morning.

Stock is also amazing. It’s delicious, nutritious and CHEAP. It’s possible to make it with or without bones. You know me – I eat meat – so I recommend WITH bones. However, for my vegetarian friends, I highly recommend the recipes of Deborah Madison from her amazing cookbook: Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone. Andy and I found great success with her vegetable stocks and that cookbook is a must in all kitchens, not just vegetarian ones. I like her philosophy of vegetarian cooking, and the dishes can easily be paired with meat.

Moving on. Stock made from bones. We’ve made beef and fish, but mostly we make chicken.

We get a broiler every week from Richardson Farms. We freeze the leftover bones, by throwing them in a bag throughout the week. When the bag is full, we make stock.

We use the stock in a ton of different recipes, so usually it just stays in the fridge for a week until it’s used up. But sometimes we freeze it in a muffin tin, then pop them out and store them in a bag in the freezer. That way we can easily measure out 1/2 cup amounts to recipes that need it.

You can use all sorts of leftover vegetables to flavor your stock. Cooks Illustrated says the most important is onion, so don’t go without it. But there are also some things you shouldn’t use in stock, including onion skins and vegetables from the cabbage family.

Here’s our go-to recipe:

Brummer’s Basic Stock

Ingredients

Chicken bones
We keep everything leftover from the roast chickens and throw them in a bag in the freezer

Onion
One onion cut into chunks is perfect. It doesn’t have to be cut up all fancy-like. Don’t use the skins.

Celery and carrots
I use whatever I find in the fridge, which is usually carrots and celery. the amounts are up to you, but generally I don’t use more celery than carrot. You don’t even have to peel them. Just wash them off, break them up and toss them in the pan.

Water
I use our filtered water just to make sure it’s free of off-putting tastes.

Steps

Heat 1-2 tbsp oil in your pressure cooker over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute for several minutes.

Add carrots and celery and saute several more.

Add leftover chicken bones. Amount will vary, but generally, put enough to fill the pressure cooker to its “bell.” Saute several minutes.

Add water to cover the veggies and bones, just above the bell. Add a good pinch of salt and any herb you may want to use, stems and all. (I recommend parsley.)

Clamp on the lid and lock into place. Heat at medium high until button indicator pops out and shows pressure has been reached. Turn down heat to maintain low hiss and process for 45 minutes.

Remove pot from heat. Open ONLY when the button indicator shows pressure has dropped. Drain stock away from used veggies and bones. Pour into containers and store for up to a week in the fridge, longer in the freezer.

Kitchen Essentials: Stocking my Paleo pantry

You guys know by now, we do a lot of cooking here at Casa Brummer.

We love food. Even as vegetarians we cooked a lot.

As parents and Paleo eaters, we cook even more.

Personally, I often find it easier to cook meals at home than to load the family in the car, drive to a restaurant, wait for a table, agonize over the menu (what to eat?!), give in to Luke’s requests for pancakes… Blah, blah… You get it. Sometimes it’s more trouble than it’s worth.

But cooking at home is only as easy as you make it, and in order for us to make it work, there are certain essential pieces of equipment and ingredients we have on hand at all times.

1. Pressure cooker
This is one of the best tools we have in our kitchen. It makes everything much faster, including meats, vegetables, stocks and more. We use it all the time. You can find a good one at any kitchen store, Target or Wal-Mart.

2. Dutch oven
You don’t need to invest a lot in a good Dutch oven. A Le Creuset is nice, but our Chef’s Mate is just as good, it’s lasted for years, and it was only $50 at Target. We use it nearly every day. Score!

3. Sharp chef’s knife
This is where you spend the money. A good chef’s knife is worth it. The blade should be forged, the balance good, and it should fit your hand. It’s worth going to a fancy kitchen store and having the staff pull out all of the different brands so you can test them. You don’t have to spend a fortune, but don’t go cheap. We have a Wustof Classic and a sharpening steel, which is a must for honing the blade. We have a knife sharpener too, but once or twice a year I take our knives to the knife store and have them sharpen them.

4. Stock
Chicken stock or veggie stock — it can be used in soups, stews, as flavoring for greens, braising veggies… you name it.

5. Coconut milk
I use coconut milk instead of heavy cream in just about every recipe that calls for it. It’s also amazing as an addition to greens with a little lime or braising meats on the stovetop.

6. Canned (or jarred) tomatoes
I would say that 50% of the recipes we make call for a can of tomatoes. We were fortunate to be able to jar our own at the beginning of the summer, but we’ve gone through most of the jars by now. Thank goodness there are many choices of canned tomatoes at the store.

7. Onions
It’s the building block of nearly every recipe. And if a recipe doesn’t call for onion, I usually add it.

8. Bag o’ chicken (or some kind of frozen convenience meat)
When I’m in a bind or need a quick dinner solution, bagged chicken thighs have saved me on more than one occasion. They’re quick and easy and can be used in tons of different recipes instead of split chicken breasts.

9. Well-stocked spice/dried herb rack
You gotta have flavor, right? Spices and herbs can be expensive if you buy in jars, so I go a la carte in the bulk section and buy only what I need. That way the herbs and spices don’t lose their flavor before I get a chance to use up the package.

10. Nuts
I keep almonds and walnuts on hand at all times. They’re awesome for snacking, sprinkled on salads or used in recipes.  I buy other nuts depending on the need for a recipe or the price in the bulk section. We’ve been buying cashews, pistachios and hazelnuts lately. Pecans and macadamia nuts are my favorite, but they have been SUPER expensive, so I’ve gone without.

11. Vegetables!
This is an absolute MUST! The Paleo kitchen is built on a solid foundation of vegetables. (Who says we don’t eat carbs?!)
We get a CSA box every week and supplement with trips to the grocery store and farmers’ market. What we eat all depends on the season. Today was grocery day and right now in our fridge we’ve got chard, mustard greens, collards, kale, beets, turnips, carrots, salad greens, peppers, cauliflower, cucumber, summer squash and okra. On the counter there are sweet potatoes, acorn squash, and avocados. We’ll eat through almost all of that before the week is up.
Andy’s really been working hard on our garden, and fall is the BEST time to garden in Central Texas. Our garden is full of seeds and seedlings, and we hope much of it will sustain us through the winter. Andy’s goal is to grow more than we can eat so we can share with others.

There you have it — the kitchen essentials. We use a lot of other tools and ingredients, too, but these are the ones we use nearly every day of every week. Hopefully it will help you stock your own kitchen and inspire you to cook at home, too.

Happy cooking!

Recipe Alert: Pork chops and sauerkraut

At my house, we love quality food. That means we do everything we can to source locally and we even make some foods from scratch that a lot of people don’t.

On any given day, there may be a jar or two of sauerkraut fermenting on the counter. Andy found the recipe for homemade sauerkraut on Mark’s Daily Apple, and we’ve found it to be incredibly easy, cheap and delicious.

The money we save on sauerkraut goes toward the pork chops we buy from Richardson Farms, which pastures its pork, making quite the difference in taste, and for me, conscience.

Pork chops and sauerkraut is a perennial favorite in the Brummer casa, so I thought I’d share.

Pork Chops and Sauerkraut
(Serves 4)

2 pounds sauerkraut, rinsed
2 slices bacon, chopped
1 cup chicken stock (preferably homemade)
10 juniper berries
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 pounds pork chops
1 onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
1 Apple (Granny Smith works best), peeled and grated (This is optional — but it’s really yummy)
4 tsp brown sugar (this is from the recipe I base mine on, and I usually leave this out)

1. Combine sauerkraut, bacon, stock, juniper berries and bay leaves in a microwave-safe bowl . Cover and microwave until sauerkraut is softened, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook until foaming subsides. Add pork shops and cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes each side. Transfer to a plate.

3. Add onion and 1/2 tsp salt to skillet and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in sauerkraut mixture, apple (and sugar if using) and bring to a simmer. Nestle the pork chops into sauerkraut, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Cook until chops are no longer pink in the center, 10-12 minutes. Discard the bay leaves and juniper berries. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.

Intervals at 4:30

I was awake by 4:30 this morning. No coffee required.

I’ve been taking ZMA supplements before bed, and that — combined with an extra hour of sleep, no nighttime anti-histamines, and adjusting to my tightened nutrition — have helped me feel much more rested without caffeine.

I’ve also found myself reading more and more of Ross Emanit’s book Infinite Intensity, which is written for fighters. And while I’m no boxer, I do want to be strong, powerful and fast — the qualities of a fighter. (I guess I’m also missing Kung Fu a little.)

Ross’ training plan is really interesting, and years ago, Andy and I did the 50 training plan from Never Gymless. That was great.

So I’ve been incorporating more and more of Ross’ training regimen into my routine. This morning I did intervals.

4 x 800m (90 sec rest between intervals)
Average time: 3:53 per interval
5 x 50m (jog back to start between intervals)
Time each round: 13 sec

I threw in some ring pull up holds and double unders, just to keep practicing. Then I finished up with core training.

3 rounds
5 wheel rollouts
6 side bends w/ 25# DB (each side)
12 supermans
10 Russian twists (each side with 6# med ball)
60 chinnies

Whew! Those wheel rollouts and side bends are no joke! I did not get my chest anywhere near the ground on the rollouts. Maybe one day?

Breakfast was fun. I’m going into work later this week and I actually cooked breakfast for us. I even cooked Mads up some pork and zucchini:

pork and zucchini in the pan

I only eat protein and fat at breakfast, so here’s what I ate:

Pork and pork pan sausage with avocado on a white plate

My day went downhill from there. I actually left for work to escape the crying. I love my daughter, but she’s been super fussy lately, and I felt like I could do nothing to appease her.

Then I had a long talk with Andy and we came to the agreement that I will not join Zach’s Olympic Lifting class in October. Or November. Or December. Maybe January. Which really disappoints me because I had my heart set on it. I’ve felt pretty sad since the conversation, even though I know it’s the right decision.

Of course, I risk circumstances changing, class times changing, class prices changing… but what are you gonna do, right? I’m privileged with the opportunity to go to my current class. At least I get that.

Being a responsible grownup really sucks sometimes.

The Paleo Pitch

Lately, I’ve found myself talking a lot about what I eat and what I don’t eat, when I eat and when I don’t eat, and why I eat the way I do.

I feel like Paleo is pretty straight forward. I’ve been on this path for so long, it’s a no-brainer for me. I feel great. I look great. And I read a lot about it, so I’m confident that science backs me up, despite crappy mentions from Dr. Oz (What To Eat – Sept. 12 issue) or utter nonsense posts on the CNN Health Blog. (The comments to the blog post are awesome. Definitely read them, and follow @robbwolf if you don’t already, because he posted rebuttal info.)

But I have to admit, I’ve done a poor job of explaining what Paleo IS, why it’s beneficial and how it’s worked for me. Andy remembers all of that science behind it. He’s like a reference book, I swear. Me? I read stuff all the time, and I still can’t explain the science when my kids’ babysitter asks about it.

That’s why I was thrilled to see the Whole9 folks post their elevator pitch. It’s awesome. It starts with the positive — about what you eat, not what you don’t. Basically, it sums it up perfectly.

I plan to memorize it. Or at least use it as a guide to develop my own.

I’ve been lax about writing about what I eat on this blog. It’s been a goal of mine to add my daily food log, but I just haven’t had the time.

Perhaps folks would like to know what kinds of dinners we create? Because they’re super fabulous. I have to say, I look forward to dinner. Lately they’ve been way better than a restaurant (with the exception of Ruby’s BBQ) — 4-star for sure!

OK, except for last night. I tried my hand at making beef and broccoli stir fry. It wasn’t bad, but if I had eaten it in a restaurant, I wouldn’t have gone back.

I’ll leave the stir fries to Andy. His are amazing. Andy is quite the chef. He’s taught me a lot about how to make quality food taste even better.

Breakfast and burpees

image

I wasn’t sure breakfast was going to be enough this morning. I packed homemade breakfast patties, made of beef and pork with spices, and a whole avocado.
If I hadn’t donated blood this afternoon, I would have fasted until dinner.
Instead I ate a full lunch and after giving blood drank some Gatorade and ate some raisins.
Oh well… Almost got it right.
I loved being back in the gym this morning. I practiced double unders when I arrived, and I’m getting a lot better!
Then I slammed through the WOD:

21-15-9
Plate burpees to overhead (M 45# / W 25#)
Pullups

Time: 9:00 @ 25# (2 purple bands)

Pullups are feeling better… Those ring rows I’ve been doing must be helping.