Spices.

Robust. Spices make your dishes exponentially better. They will change your taste.

I kind of feel like a traitor today. Most all of my spices come from Savory Spices, and my recent discovery The Spice House. Spice House….that Porcini Mushroom Powder is a gift from umami heaven.

I ordered a few jars of blends that looked interesting from Penzey Spices. I gave them the scent test (which everyone should do when buying anything you’re going to put in your food!)…opened the jar of each one, closed my eyes, took that initial sniff, and let the scent envelop me. This is my essential oil process, as you all know. 🙂 Second smell…what could I use this spice with (already had preconceived notions when I ordered). The thing I’ve noticed when buying spices is you need to experience them across the senses.

Ordered eight little jars that looked interesting. Here are the three that survived. 🙂 The must-haves from Penzey’s:

  • Fox Point Seasoning – ummmm hello. I love you. I see you in so many Italian dishes, and sprinkled alone by yourself on crusty bread with olive oil.
  • Parisien Bonnes Herbes – my nose was intrigued. Maybe on a slow, roasted chicken, or in a hearty mushroom mix over wild rice.
  • Arizona Dreaming – I miss living in Arizona. I LOVE Arizona. Many friends and awesome experiences from this state. Back to the spice…I cannot wait to use it in tacos, fajitas, salsas….perhaps something else outside of the box. I’m in love with this one.

Explore the three above – you will not be disappointed. Some inject magic into your food. 🙂

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Stuffed Cabbage Soup

With the cold weather we’re having, I thought that soup would be a great idea for the weekend, with leftovers for the week. Poked around on the web and found a couple of recipes for stuffed cabbage soup. I had pretty much everything already in the house, so this one was fairly easy to whip up.

Since it’s a Sunday, I decided to spend some time cooking instead of throwing everything in the Instant Pot. I’m also on a sugar detox, so adapted this recipe from The Recipe Critic to be a bit healthier and detox friendly.

Stuffed Cabbage Soup

Let’s talk ingredients! As I move to a more whole food, healthier lifestyle, I learn more everyday about the quality of food in our markets and what to avoid. Believe me, there is A LOT that should be avoided. Here are my tips:

  • Use organic, grass-fed ground beef from a trusted local source. I’m not going to get into a discussion on factory farming. 😊
  • All salt is not the same. Typical table salt is highly processed and ends up being around 99% sodium chloride, which makes it very easy to exceed a recommended daily intake. My standard choice now is Himalayan Pink Salt (HPS). HPS contains about 85% sodium chloride, and the remainder contains over 80 minerals have many health benefits. Organics has a great article describing the differences.
  • San Marzano tomatoes – I LOVE them. You may have wondered how a small town near Naples, Italy, produces enough of these wonderful gems to supply supermarkets year-round. It doesn’t. In fact, only about 5% of the San Marzano tomato products are authentic (ref. Food & Wine article). Read the label before spending your money. Here are the things to look for to make sure you’re getting the real deal:
    • San Marzano tomatoes are only sold in cans, either whole or in fillets. Tomatoes that are jarred or those that are labeled ‘puree,’ ‘chopped,’ ‘diced,’ ‘sauce,’ or ‘organic’ are not San Marzanos.
    • Look for the words ‘Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese Nocerino D.O.P.’ on the can; and the symbols of the Consorzio and the D.O.P., the latter of which identifies European regional food products protected by law. The Consorzio assigns a number to each can, labeled as ‘N° XXXXXXX.’ If you do not see these things, don’t pay the premium price.
  • White rice, bad – highly processed and stripped of nutrients. In this recipe, I used Lundberg’s Wild Blend, which turned out to be an excellent, hearty addition.

 

INGREDIENTS

1 pound organic, grass-fed ground beef
1/2 teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tablespoons Kerrygold butter, divided
1 medium head cabbage, cut into 8 wedges and sliced thickly
1 14.5 oz can fire-roasted chopped tomatoes, not drained
1 28 oz can San Marzano tomatoes (or 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes)
3 cups Swanson organic beef stock
3 cups cooked Lundberg Wild Blend rice

INSTRUCTIONS

If you’re using a rice cooker, start your rice now. Mine took about 50 minutes to cook. Follow directions on your rice to prepare 3 cups of cooked rice.

Heat a dutch oven over high heat and add the ground beef; season well with the Himalayan pink salt and coarse black pepper. Crumble the ground beef into large crumbles, and make sure to get a good brown on it. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-high, and add half of the butter to the pan followed by the chopped onions. Saute the onions for 4-5 minutes until softened and starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for another minute until it becomes fragrant. Do not brown the garlic. Remove the onion and garlic mixture from the pan and set aside.

Keep the pan over medium-high heat, add the remaining butter and cabbage. Cook until cabbage is wilted and browned.

Pulse the can of San Marzanos in a blender until like crushed tomatoes. Do not process until pureed. Of course, skip this step if you’re using crushed tomatoes.

Add the beef and onion/garlic mixture into the pan, along with the diced tomatoes, crushed tomatoes, and beef stock. Let simmer for 30 minutes over low heat.

If you are cooking rice on the stove or in an Instant Pot, start it now. Follow the directions on the rice to make 3 cups of cooked rice.

After 30 minutes of simmering (and when the rice is done) add the rice just before serving, and stir gently. Enjoy! 😊

Portobello Mushroom Pot Roast

Mushrooms, mushrooms, mushrooms! People love them or can’t stand them. I love them! Mushroom lasagna, in a marsala sauce over a good steak, tucked into a salad, stuffed with crabmeat and broiled with melty cheese on top, grilled Portobello burgers. I’ll eat mushrooms any way you want to cook them for me. They are also a great go-to in vegetarian dishes for meat eaters; and their hearty, meaty taste works well in stews and soups.

This dish is easy to make, everything goes into the slow cooker and is thickened up a bit at the end. It definitely lands into the comfort food dishes for the fall season! I served it with egg noodles; however, it would be great over rice or just by itself with crusty bread to mop up the wonderful mushroom sauce.

In addition to the thyme and Porcini mushroom powder that cooks with it, I add some freshly ground black pepper and sea salt to taste before adding the cornstarch mixture for thickening. Porcini mushroom powder is optional. I like the extra blast of umami that it gives dishes. If you can’t find it locally, The Spice House in Chicago sells it online.

The version below is vegetarian. To make it vegan, use vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Enjoy! 😊

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Ingredients

4 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 pound baby bella mushrooms, cut the large ones in halves or quarters
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 cup frozen pearl onions
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
3 cups vegetable stock, divided
1/2 cup dry red wine
3 Tbsp tomato paste
3 Tbsp Worcestershire
2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 Tbsp Porcini Mushroom powder (optional)
Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper

Add potatoes, mushrooms, carrots, onions, garlic, thyme, 2-1/2 cups vegetable stock, wine, tomato paste, Worcestershire, and Porcini Mushroom powder together in the bowl of the slow cooker, and gently toss to combine. Cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 3-4 hours, until the potatoes and carrots are tender.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining cold 1/2 cup vegetable stock and cornstarch until combined. Add to the roast mixture, and gently toss to mix together. Continue to cook for 5-10 minutes, until the sauce thickens up a bit.

Serve immediately, garnish with fresh parsley if desired.

Weeknight Taco Chili

Fall is my favorite season. A noticeable chill in the air, the leaves start to turn, it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s also the beginning of comfort food season! One of my top comfort foods is chili. Typically, this is a weekend effort for me – low, slow cooking for hours, and no beans!

However, I was looking for a weeknight chili that I could whip up with pantry ingredients that most of us have on hand. This came together in 20 minutes and simmered for an additional 30, spreading its wonderful aroma throughout the house. The chili has a bit of a taco flair with the addition of black olives, tomatoes with green chilies, and taco seasoning. I topped mine with tortilla chips, cheese, a dollop of sour cream, scallions and onions. Delicious!!

The seasoning I used for this is The Spice House’s Taco Seasoning. I usually buy most of my spices from Savory Spices, and they have a new Chicharron Salt that I’m going to pick up to try this week. However, The Spice House has some neat spice mixes. In addition to the Taco Seasoning, my other favorites are the Lake Shore Drive Seasoning and their powdered Porcini “Extra AA” Dried Mushrooms.

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Let’s cook! 😊

Ingredients

  • 1 lb grass-fed, ground sirloin
  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 15 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 15 oz can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 10 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilis
  • 8 oz can sliced black olives, drained
  • 2-1/2 Tbsp taco seasoning (or a taco seasoning packet)

Recommended Toppings

  • shredded cheese
  • green onions
  • fresh cilantro
  • tortilla chips
  • or serve over cooked rice

Directions – so simple!

Heat a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the ground sirloin and onion; and sauté until cooked through, breaking the sirloin up as it cooks. Add remaining ingredients (except toppings), turn heat up to high to bring to a boil. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium-low. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste, adjust seasonings if desired, and serve with toppings.

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Paella Valenciana

I enjoyed my first Paella Valenciana at Miro Spanish Grille in Charlotte a few months after they first opened. Thinking back on the experience, I was definitely new to traditional Spanish cuisine. I remember wondering why the rice was crusted on the bottom of my paella, but luckily I did not say anything. I now know the delicious crust is known as the socarrat, and is a sign of well-cooked paella. It is considered a delicacy.

Paella originated in Valencia, a fertile rice-growing region along the eastern coast of Spain. The word paella stems from the Latin word patella, which means ‘pan’, and refers to the type of pan used to cook the rice. The paellera is a wide, shallow pan with handles on opposite sides. The flat, round shape of the paella pan allows the rice to cook evenly without trapping too much moisture inside the grains. If you don’t have a paella pan, you can use a large heavy skillet, at least 12 inches in diameter. I used a copper core All-Clad pan; solid, heavy bottom that holds the heat extremely well.

There are endless variations on paella using a variety of poultry, seafood, meats, and vegetables; use what you enjoy in it. Today I am using shrimp, clams, mussels, chorizo, chicken, and asparagus. All of my seafood came from Catch On Seafood – a neat little store in Plaza Midwood. In all paellas there are three basic ingredients: stock, olive oil, and the real star of the dish – the rice.

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Bomba rice is considered the best strain of Spanish short-grain rice for paella. Bomba is unique for its ability to absorb three times its volume in liquid without turning mushy. The more flavorful the liquid, the more flavor-packed the cooked grain. The difference in the absorption rate is significant enough that if you are using Bomba rice, allow 3 cups of liquid for every cup of rice. Italian Arborio is often suggested as a substitution, some believe it is too creamy. This will be my test today, as I was unable to find Bomba rice after visiting three stores! Arborio it is for my first go at paella.

NOTE: Bomba rice is available at La Tienda and Amazon for mail order.

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For this dish, it’s helpful to have everything ready before you start cooking. Keep the seafood and the meat in the refrigerator until just ready to cook. Do all your chopping, and get your stocks and rice measured out. It’s going to look like a lot of ingredients, but it goes fast and you will not be disappointed. Mine came out excellent! I have some Bomba rice on order and will post a follow up in a couple of weeks.

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  • 1.5 cups Italian Arborio rice
  • 3 cups stock. A mix of stock is preferred, rather than just one type; today I used 1 cup each of clam juice, Classic Seafood Stock, and Roasted Vegetable Demi-Glace.
  • 1 cup dried Spanish chorizo (sliced into ¼ inch rounds)
  • 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast, large dice
  • 1/2 lb peeled and deveined shrimp
  • 1 dozen mussels
  • 6 count middleneck clams
  • Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, I used Hojiblanca from Pour Olive
  • ½ cup Red pepper, small dice
  • 1 small Spanish red onion, small dice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3 cloves of garlic, very thinly sliced (you can also dice, but I like the paper thin slices)
  • 20 threads Spanish saffron. I used a generous pinch powdered Spanish saffron from The Spice House.
  • 1 bunch of scallions sliced thin, keeping the green tops and the white bottoms separate
  • 1 cup Asparagus, bite size cut
  • Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Let your paella pan heat for a bit on a large burner at medium-high. And add a few tablespoons of olive oil, and swirl to coat the pan. Make sure that the entire bottom of the pan is nicely coated with oil. Add the chorizo first, and let it brown on both sides. Add the red pepper, onion, scallion whites, and garlic; sauté on medium heat for five minutes.

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Move the vegetables to the side of the pan, and add the tomato paste to the other size. Caramelize the paste for a couple minutes, and then mix it into the vegetables. First round of seasoning – add salt, pepper, and the saffron to the mix and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

Add chicken and then toss with other ingredients; and sauté for two more minutes. Add the rice by sprinkling it over the top of everything.

Add the stock(s) and turn the heat to high. From this point on, DO NOT stir the paella. Stirring a paella makes it gummy. Twist and shake your pan around a bit so the rice starts to settle through to the bottom. Turn the heat to high and when the stock is boiling, add the clams. Turn back down to medium-high heat and continue to boil for another 8-10 minutes.

Watch the clams, when they open if they take on rice, gently empty the rice back out and move them to the side. Shift the pan around on the burner periodically to ensure even cooking on the bottom.

When the clams have opened, add the asparagus, and then scatter the mussels and shrimp on top of the paella. Turn the heat down to medium. You can shake the pan a bit again, but remember – no stirring!

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When the mussels are open and the shrimp is cooked, check the bottom of the paella for the socarrat (crust).  If the paella does not have a crust, simply turn up the heat and cook until it does. Once the crust is formed, garnish the paella with the scallion tops, freshly ground pepper, and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

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Let the paella sit for ten minutes, uncovered, before serving. And oh yeah – that crust? Dark brown, slightly crispy and delicious!! 🙂

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The Food You Feed Your Furry Family Members

I have owned Dobermans for the past 15 years, and just adopted a senior girl, Kota, from a Doberman rescue. My dogs have always been part of my family, just like the people. Through the years I’ve done extensive research on the best food for them and their respective life stages. I’ve monitored lots of discussion groups specific to Dobermans. I’ve talked with numerous vets about their recommendations on food. Lately I’ve started to also explore the whole food and holistic side of pet nutrition.

I picked up Kota today, and they gave me a huge bag of Hill’s Prescription Diet J/D for my senior girl. The rescue uses Hill’s J/D for all their senior dogs. They also feed Solid Gold, which is a pretty highly rated dog food. Hill’s Prescription…not so much. Here’s why.

I looked up the ingredient list for Hill’s Prescription J/D on their website:

Whole Grain Corn, Chicken By-Product Meal, Flaxseed, Soybean Mill Run, Brewers Rice, Soybean Meal, Pork Fat, Powdered Cellulose, Chicken Liver Flavor, Fish Oil, Lactic Acid, Potassium Chloride, L-Lysine, Calcium Carbonate, Iodized Salt, Choline Chloride, DL-Methionine, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of Vitamin C), Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), L-Threonine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), Taurine, Glucosamine Hydrochloride, L-Tryptophan, L-Carnitine, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, Chondroitin Sulfate, Natural Flavors, Beta-Carotene

Let’s take the first two ingredients, Whole Grain Corn and Chicken By-Product Meal. Whole Grain Corn is a cheap and controversial grain with little nutritional value for a dog, yet it’s the main ingredient in this food. Chicken By-Product Meal is a dry rendered product of slaughterhouse waste. It’s made from what’s left of a slaughtered chicken after all the prime cuts have been removed. In addition to organs (the nourishing part), this stuff can contain almost anything — feet, beaks, undeveloped eggs — anything except feathers.

The ingredients do not get better; many are low grade, low nutritional value, and fillers for the dog food. The glucosamine and chondroitin to help with joint mobility? Not from a natural source. This food is ‘enhanced’ with synthetic glucosamine hydrochloride and chondroitin sulfate.

Quite frankly, this food is crap. A lot of veterinarians push Hill’s Prescription Diet foods as great foods that are made for your dog’s specific condition. Luckily, my vet has never tried this with me, as I’ve filled him in on all the brands that we’ve tried that are much, much better for my family members than this. The more I read on this topic, the more it starts sounding like a doctor that is pushing meds because they are being paid by a specific pharmaceutical company.

For comparison, let’s take a look at the ingredient list for Orijen Senior on the Orijen website:

Deboned chicken, deboned turkey, yellowtail flounder, whole eggs, whole Atlantic mackerel, chicken liver, turkey liver, chicken heart, turkey heart, whole Atlantic herring, dehydrated chicken, dehydrated turkey, dehydrated mackerel, dehydrated chicken liver, dehydrated turkey liver, whole green peas, whole navy beans, red lentils, chicken necks, chicken kidney, pinto beans, chickpeas, green lentils, alfalfa, lentil fiber, natural chicken flavor, chicken cartilage, herring oil, ground chicken bone, chicken fat, turkey cartilage, dried kelp, freeze-dried chicken liver, freeze-dried turkey liver, whole pumpkin, whole butternut squash, kale, spinach, mustard greens, collard greens, turnip greens, whole carrots, apples, pears, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, zinc proteinate, mixed tocopherols (preservative), chicory root, turmeric, sarsaparilla root, althea root, rosehips, juniper berries, dried lactobacillus acidophilus fermentation product, dried bifidobacterium animalis fermentation product, dried lactobacillus casei fermentation product.

Notice anything different? It’s REAL FOOD. Interesting fact – the protein content in Hill’s is 19.2%; in Orijen Senior, it’s 38%. The glucosamine and chondroitin in Orijen comes from the fresh poultry, meat, and fish; naturally occurring and no synthetic additives to this food.

Another telling fact is the amount of food recommended per day. Hill’s Prescription J/D recommended 4-1/3 cups per day for an 80 lb dog. Orijen recommends 2-3/4 cups for an 88 lb dog. Why the huge difference? Hill’s is full of fillers and other things that are not beneficial to the dog. Orijen contains real food and that’s it.

Are better dog foods more expensive? Of course. This comparison is like eating fast food at McDonalds versus eating a good meal at a great steakhouse. Which one would you rather eat?

Please, please do your research for your family members!  🙂  They deserve it.

Orijen Senior: https://www.orijen.ca/foods/dog-food/dry-dog-food/senior-dog/?lang=us
Hill’s Prescription Diet J/D: http://www.hillspet.com/en/us/products/pd-canine-jd-dry
Dog Food Advisor (DFA) – Saving Good Dogs from Bad Food: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/
Orijen Dog Foods on DFA: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/dog-food-reviews/orijen-dog-food-usa/
Hill’s Prescription Diet Dog Foods on DFA: http://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/?s=Hill%27s+Prescription+Diet

Chicken Enchilada Stew

Fall, how I love thee! The change of leaves; cool, brisk air; apples, cider, and pumpkins; and promise of Halloween in the air. The season for comfort food has begun. Although it’s not really cool in Charlotte yet, I was craving a stew. I was intrigued by a recipe posted in one of the essential oil Facebook groups I belong to, so I set out to create my own yumminess!

I’ve adjusted it to suit my personal taste, and it came out medium-spicy. If you prefer your stews mild, back off a little on the chili powder and the chilies. If you love it hot, try adding some Serrano chilies to the mix! It came out quite thick, which is exactly the way I like it. I recommend adding the vegetable broth to thin it just a bit, but not too much.

You can view the original recipe, which makes use of essential oils, on Robyn Mitchell’s Naturally Simple Solutions page. Robyn also has lots of great information on doTERRA essential oils, which I am just starting to learn about. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the specific oils on hand to try with this, but I will the next time. If you’re interested in learning more about essential oils with me, please let me know! 🙂

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Chicken Enchilada Stew

2 lbs. organic chicken breasts
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 jalapenos chilies, seeded and chopped
2 poblano chilies, seeded and chopped
2 Tbsp. coconut oil
1 14 oz. can fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can fire roasted crushed tomatoes
1 14 oz. can tomato sauce
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. cumin (or 2 drops Cumin essential oil)
2 tsp. dried oregano (or 1 drop Oregano essential oil)
Freshly ground pepper to taste (or 1 drop Black Pepper essential oil)
Salt to taste (optional)

1 14 oz. can dark red kidney beans
1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
8 oz. vegetable broth (optional)

Garnish: Avocado, Cilantro, Limes (or 1 drop Lime essential oil)

Mix the vegetables (except the beans), oil, sauce, and spices in a large bowl until just combined. Place the chicken in the slow cooker, and pour the vegetable mixture on top.

Cook the stew in the slow cooker on low for eight hours, or on high for six hours. Add the kidney and garbanzo beans to the stew. If it is too thick for your liking, add the vegetable broth. Set the slow cooker for another hour on low, or 30 minutes on high.

When the slow cooker is finished, remove and shred the chicken in a bowl. Add it back to the stew and stir to combine.

Serve topped with chopped avocado and cilantro, and lime wedges.

Enjoy! 🙂