Sunday, December 29, 2013

Beef Neck-bone Stew (cooked in a Dutch Oven)

For those of you that read this blog, you know that I get my beef from a local farmer. More specifically,  from Indian Creek Angus (click on the link to see their Facebook page!), based out of Carnesville. If anyone is looking for a source for pasture raised beef, theirs is wonderful!! 

In one of my orders I had a few packages of beef necks and I had NO clue what to do with them. Based on cooking stew meat, I knew enough that they should be seared and simmered in liquid on medium to low heat for several hours. 

It just so happens that my Mom got me a RED 6 qt enameled dutch oven for christmas! I knew that I wanted to christen my new pot by cooking up beef neck-bone stew and do a little kitchen experimenting :).

Unfortunately, I have no pictures of the process. But here is what I did…

I defrosted the package, which contained 3 neck bones with a good bit of meat. I seared them on a cast iron skillet (I was afraid to do the heavy searing in my new pot, but I am sure I will work up to it), then I added onions to the skillet while the neck-bones finished searing and waited until everything got good and stuck :). Then I deglazed the pan with a cup of red wine and poured all of that into dutch oven. 

Then I added rosemary, turkey broth, and some tomato paste, and let it simmer for 3 hours. Then I removed the meat from the bones, and added butternut squash and carrots. I let that simmer and finally I threw in some frozen peas and broccoli and added seasonings at the end. 

It was REALLY good. This is all we had left in the bottom of the pot as Chris and I both ate 2 bowls. Even as I am writing this post, Chris leaned over and said, "The flavor of the soup was just so good, the most memorable flavored soup I have ever had". Coming from him that is high praise indeed! He wanted to eat the rest of the pot but I told him that we needed to save it so he could eat it for lunch tomorrow :). I am so happy with how this turned out and I am so happy with my new dutch oven!

The neck-bones still had some meat and a lot of cartilage that I don't want to miss out on, so I put them in a crockpot with water and a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (to get the calcium out of the bones) to simmer for the new two days. Then I will give the spent bones to our dog, who loves to gobble them up. Beef neck-bones are cheap and you can get many uses out of them. I encourage everyone to try them!

Here is the recipe :). 

Beef Neck-Bone Stew
1 lb beef neck-bones
1 onion, diced
1 cup red wine
2 TBS tomato paste
4 cups turkey/beef/chicken broth
2 sprigs rosemary
2 cups cubed butternut squash
3 carrots, sliced into rounds
½ bag frozen peas
½ bag frozen broccoli
1 tsp oregano or 1 TBS fresh oregano, chopped
Red pepper flakes

-Sear all sides of the neck-bone in a heavy bottomed pot, on medium high heat. Halfway through add diced onion and stir around. It is okay if some pieces of onion get stuck to pan. It will add lots of flavor. Once the onions are soft and the meat is seared, add 1 cup red wine to deglaze the pan, and scrape around the bottom to loosen up all the stuck on pieces. 
-Add broth, tomato paste, and rosemary sprigs, turn heat to medium low and cover. Simmer for 3 hours or until meat is tender. Remove neck-bones from pot, remove the meat from the bones (set the bones aside for making broth), chop the meat and return to the pot. Add butternut squash and carrots to pot and simmer until vegetables are tender. 
-Finally, add in frozen broccoli, peas and spices and heat just until the stew comes back to a slow simmer. Taste, and add more seasoning as needed. 
-Serve immediately. 

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Homemade Christmas Gift Ideas

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas this year. Chris and I are both enjoying our school break with the opportunity to spend time together and with family. I love this time of year!

In preparing for Christmas day, sometimes it is hard to find ideas for gifts that are meaningful yet practical and useful. Chris and I teamed up with my sister Anna for gift-giving this year. I wanted to share what we did, and maybe give you some ideas for next year :). 

Several people on our list got a bag of sourdough english muffins

The bags were decorated beautifully by Anna. They said 'Best when toasted and served as a sandwich or topped with your favorite spread'. 

Some people got pans of sweet potato sourdough cinnamon rolls. 

We spread them out. 

Then topped them with sugar and cinnamon.

Then we used floss to slice them into perfect cinnamon roll circles :). 

Two of my sisters came up to visit me the week before Christmas and they helped me with the cinnamon roll making. They are hilarious and crazy and totally awesome! I love you Anna and Joy!

Everything was baked and frozen until Christmas Eve, when we wrapped everything. 

 Of course since my sisters were visiting and helping me with all the cinnamon roll making, we made an extra pan of cinnamon rolls and ate it for breakfast the next day.

We also cut up some fresh oranges and drank chai tea out of teacups. 

Did I say how much I love these two? :)

Hmmm… three people ate a half of pan of cinnamon rolls. Yep, sounds about right. They were good!

You know all those aloe plants that I put in the garden in July this year? Well, in October (before it started freezing), I dug up all those plants from the garden and put them in recycled tomato cans (with holes punched in the bottom) to give as christmas gifts. 

I thought they looked beautiful wrapped in some red and white bakers twine. 

Several people on our list also got a jar of homemade cajun seasoning. I followed this recipe. I got the 4 oz. spice jars from Fillmore Container (they have great prices). 

The ladies in Chris' family got a jar of Lemongrass hand scrub. I mixed together 2 parts sugar to 1 part grapeseed oil and added lemongrass essential oil. It smelled so good! 

 We cut out snowflakes to glue onto our brown wrapping paper for decoration. Anna was much better at it than I was. I will show you...

Anna's snowflakes. 

 Noelle's snowflakes 
haha I could NOT figure it out. They turned out more like snow squares. :) 

On Christmas Eve we got everything wrapped and ready to go!

I really loved how all of our packaging turned out. Simple yet elegant. 

We spent Christmas Eve with Chris' family, and enjoyed watching Chris and his sister record a Christmas Parody. Check out their video! We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner and opened lots of presents. I got some really cute clothes and several interesting books that I can't wait to read! 

Then, we drove to see my family on Christmas day and had a wonderful time with lots of wonderful presents (including a red enameled dutch oven!), and food and togetherness :). 

Chris and I feel incredibly blessed to be surrounded by two wonderful and loving families. We cherish every opportunity we get to spend time with them. Getting to see everyone at Christmas-time makes it even more special. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Overcoming Disordered Eating

From as far back as I can remember I struggled with chronic binge eating. Especially once I lived on my own and started eating meals alone. I never threw up, though many times I wished I could after eating such large amounts of food. It was a constant cycle of setting limits and boundaries, obsessing over food, eating way too much and then feeling ashamed and guilty afterwards. Eating was a way of coping when I was stressed, bored, or sad. I thought that I would never change, and I feared that I would always be a failure.

The funny thing about fear is that it defines the boundaries of our life. The more afraid we are of failing the more power we give that fear and it can easily take over our lives. I thought the solution of making food my idol was just having enough willpower to withstand the cravings. Of course this never worked. The many years I spent overeating is proof of the fact that sheer willpower is not enough to transform a lifestyle. Just so you know, self-depracation is also extremely innefective.

You guys know how much I like plants and so I find a fitting analogy for this in weeds. They take over our lawns in disturbed areas and many have deep roots that reach down into the soil and are very difficult to uproot. For many weeds, even leaving a root piece the size of your pinky fingernail will cause a whole new plant to grow. Chemical warfare has been waged on the plants to try and eradicate them from our lawns, but this just causes them to get stronger and more potent. Trying to get rid of bad eating habits through sheer will is like trying to get rid of weeds with chemicals.

To begin to solve the problem, we need to look at why the weeds are there in the first place. You will notice that they are found on disturbed soil, highway banks and places with pollution and heavy traffic. You will also notice that you don't find weeds in healthy established ecosystems like old growth forests. In a similar fashion, I believe the key to overcoming disordered eating is by replacing bad habits and crowding them out with a balanced and healthy lifestyle.

I am not perfect by any stretch. I still mess up and eat too much food at times. But I believe that I am getting better. Two days ago I was home alone, had just finished lunch and wanted something a little extra. There was a box of donuts on the table, leftover from when Chris bought after-concert donuts to his students. Apparently you get a good discount on donuts when you buy 300 of them :). Anyway, I picked up a donut, was about to eat it and asked myself why. Was I eating it because I was hungry?  Did I even want it? Why did I want it? Of course, after evaluation, I realized I didn't really want a donut. I was in a weird state of bored procrastination. So, I put the donut down and moved on with the rest of the items on my to-do list that day, and enjoyed a delicious dinner with my husband that night. I can look at that and see progress. Before, I would have eaten the donut, sat at my computer and wasted time while finding other random things in my cabinets to binge on and then feel completely crappy the rest of the day. Praise God for progress :).

This brings me to 4 things that I believe have been pivotal in the slow but steady process of remediating my relationship to food.

1. Focus on Good Nutrition
To me this step is paramount to restoring a healthy relationship to food. Our body chemistry is so complex and the way we eat affects everything in our body from digestive system function, adequate hormone production, how we utilize and assimilate nutrients, how our bodies handle inflammation, etc… How can we feel our best and live life fully when we don't give our bodies the nutrition it needs to function correctly? Perhaps our poor relationship to food stems from a place of severe undernourishment. The two things that have been game changers for me have been drinking nourishing herbal infusions, and consuming 2-3 Tablespoons of coconut oil a day. I consistently drink 2-3 quarts of infusions every week alternating between oat straw, nettle and sometimes red raspberry leaf. The coconut oil is beneficial for a bunch of things including improving digestion, boosting metabolism, and supporting healthy hormone production (article on 101 ways to incorporate coconut oil in diet). Once I started adding the infusions and coconut oil into my daily diet I noticed a huge difference in cravings.

2. Accept Forgiveness
Another important step in overcoming binging is learning to accept forgiveness. I would easily get stuck in an emotional rut by beating myself up over another episode of binging. Then I realized how selfish and sinful that is. I was so focused on myself and replaying things I wished I could go back and do differently. Then I realized,  I had to stop defining myself by the poor choices I made. I am far from perfect, but slowly moving in the right direction and learning to accept God's forgiveness. Accepting God's forgiveness and learning to forgive myself allows me to focus my attention outward, and connect to others through the lens of forgiveness and compassion instead of judgement and fairness.

3. Identify your triggers, and find replacements
This is another big one for me. I know that I tend to overeat when I am bored, procrastinating, stressed, or sometimes for no other reason than I am alone and no one is there to witness my behavior. The other day when I wanted to eat that donut, I did a little self-assesment before I put it into my mouth and realized that laziness and not actual hunger that was driving my desire to eat. This exercise has helped tremendously. Many times, if I am completely honest, I don't really want the food in question at all. I am just using the food to fill an emotional void. Once we find our triggers, we need to take it a step further and identify replacements. If you are bored, go for a walk. If you are feeling emotionally empty, pray to God for restoration. Or call a friend for social interaction. If you are feeling tired, take a nap or sit down with a cup of tea for 10 minutes to recharge. The possibilities are endless, but the important thing is to realize why you are overeating and try to find non-food alternatives that will fill the void.

4. Enjoy the moment
Finally, I believe to move forward from a binging relationship to food is to remove it's power over our life. A part of this process is learning to enjoy and appreciate good food. I promise, food is not out to get us or destroy our lives. My intention is not to move from binging to becoming super legalistic about never eating sweets or unhealthy food. As with most things in life, I believe moderation is the goal. Unless you are avoiding foods for health reasons (such as allergies or food sensitivities) then I think all food can and should be enjoyed. For example, I didn't eat any sweets Mon-Frid this week, but I made a delicious chocolate pie with heavy whipped cream and enjoyed 1 1/2 pieces last night after dinner. Things I eat and enjoy on a regular basis that others might consider unhealthy are lots of coconut oil, olive oil, and butter with full fat dairy products and homemade desserts and delicious sourdough bread, etc… I guess what I am trying to say is that in our process of redefining our relationship with food, we shouldn't demonize the food itself. It is an inanimate object. Once we learn to identify our emotions and how we relate to food, we can being to rebuild a proper relationship. Food is a tool and should be used as a way to nourish our bodies, bring us pleasure and connect with the people we love.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Garlic Infused Olive Oil (In the crockpot!)

Are you ready for this? It is the easiest recipe ever! 

Put a layer of garlic cloves in a crockpot. I used 3 cups of cloves.

Pour in enough olive oil to cover the garlic and cook on low for 3 hours. Then strain out the garlic. Sorry that this picture is SUPER dark. It is dark in our kitchen and I am also taking a picture of a black crockpot.

You will be rewarded with a jar of delicious roasted garlic. 

And a jar of garlic infused olive oil. 

WOAH. This stuff is good. 

The garlic cloves are great just smushed onto a piece of bread. So far, based on what I have tried, they are also delectable mixed into green beans, mixed in ground beef for hamburgers, mashed into mashed potatoes, and in soup. The infused oil is great for sautéing vegetables and spreading on pizza dough before baking. This is only the start. I am sure I will find many many more uses for these wonderful ingredients. I am making sure to feed lots of garlic to Chris too… so we both stink of course :)! Mwahaha.

I am keeping both jars in the fridge and plan to use them up within the month. Also, to protect against the risk of botulism, I squeezed the juice of one lemon into the olive oil after straining. It adds a nice flavor, and helps it last longer. 

Let me know if you try this :). I would love to hear about how you use garlic in your kitchen!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Thanksgiving Shenanigans

Happy Thanksgiving! Albeit a bit late. I hope your Thanksgiving day was full of thankfulness, family and lots of yummy food! Chris and I ate lunch with Chris' family and we had a wonderful day.

This year, my husband and I celebrated our 4 year anniversary the day before Thanksgiving. I will take you through our anniversary and Thanksgiving with a few pictures :).

On Wednesday morning we slept in and then Chris worked on a quick project after breakfast while I made the cheesecake for Thursday. He converted his fog machine into a low fogger (where the fog stays close to the floor instead of dispersing into the air) for a production at church. 

The cooler gets filled with ice and when the fog comes into contact with the cold it causes the fog to stay low to the ground as it comes out the other side. 

Getting his camera ready to record a demo.

It worked! During testing we didn't have any ice, so he took out all the frozen vegetables from our freezer and put those in the cooler. I had to laugh, but it worked and I was definitely impressed! No harm came to the vegetables during the making of the demo :).

After that, we got everything packed and cleaned up we went to spend the night at a cabin. 

Chris made a fire :).

We ate a wonderful dinner of baked salmon, mashed cauliflower, and sautéed veggies. YUM!

Then we watched movies in front of the fire and ate Coldstone ice-cream. 

It was a great day!

Thanksgiving morning we woke up and had sourdough cinnamon toast with scrambled eggs and coffee. Then I finished preparing the cheesecake, green beans and cranberry sauce I was bringing to Thanksgiving lunch. 

Before we left we had to get our picture in front of the lake. It was a beautiful day! I can't believe it has already been 4 years. I am so thankful for Chris and I look forward to many more years to come. 

Then we headed over to eat lunch with Chris' family.

I brought steamed green beens with sautéed peppers, onions and garlic. It was a big hit!

I made this recipe for a low sugar cranberry sauce. It was a little too tart and I am out of honey, so I added 1/3 cup of sugar and I shredded a whole apple instead of using applesauce. 

Finally, I made pumpkin cheesecake (for sweetener I used 1/3 cup sugar because I didn't have any honey), with this crust (I used unsweetened coconut instead of almonds), caramel whipped cream, and drizzled homemade caramel on top. Oh my goodness. So good. 

I wish I had taken more pictures of lunch. I was too busy eating and enjoying good company after I got my plate. We also had creamed corn, stuffing, macaroni and cheese, turkey, rice and gravy, and more. It was a delicious meal and everyone did a great job with the food!

This is just a picture of us bundled up Friday morning. Our house gets cold! We look ridiculous but we are warm :). 

Finally, I will end this post with a picture of my last piece of cheesecake. I am already thinking of when I can make this again :).

What did you do for Thanksgiving? Do you have any special Thanksgiving traditions?