From Mess Hall to Bistro

Trying to keep my sanity in tact, while keeping bellies full

Monday, October 20, 2014

Lunch-In a Jar!

I've seen several "in a jar" things floating around the internet and Pinterest for a while, but for some reason, I've never tried most of them. I'm not entirely sure why though. I was intrigued by the salad in a jar though and decided to try it out. I had Monday off work last week, so I made up a few of the salads so we would have them for lunch this week.

I didn't take pictures of the process, but here's what I did.

1. Rinse out enough clean pint size jars, lids and rings. Line them up on the table or counter, wherever you'll be assembling.

2. Get out enough bowls for all of your ingredients, along with a cutting board and knife.

3. Rinse all of your ingredients and start chopping!

4. Assemble the jars

5. Start with the dressing-just a little bit in the bottom of each jar. I used a homemade ranch dressing made from greek yogurt.

6. Then add all of your firm veggies than can stand up to sitting in dressing for a few days. I used carrots and celery

7. Next, the juicy veggies-like tomatoes. I didn't use tomatoes in this round, but I put ultra thin sliced apples here because they are a bit juicy. I also added some green onions here.

8. After that-the proteins. I used chopped boiled egg and feta cheese.

9. Top it off with greens. I had this fabulous mix of exotic greens that I used. You really want to pack the greens down so nothing moves around. No one wants soggy lettuce!

10. Pop the lid and ring on. Now you have days worth of lunches ready to go!

When lunch time rolls around, all you have to do is loosen the greens up then put the lid back on and shake! So I guess you get a little bit of an arm workout at the same time.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Loving These Smoothies

I love smoothies...and with this October Unprocessed challenge, it's actually rather surprising I didn't start making some before the halfway point. But here we are, halfway through October and here I am, enjoying a delicious blueberry, oatmeal, honey, banana, yogurt smoothie. And I love the fact that I can make several of these up ahead of time.

All I have to do is grab one from the fridge in the morning, and whenever I'm ready for it during the day, I have a cup full of fruit and dairy!

I like the added oatmeal because it gives it a thick texture and really keeps me full. And I love that I can use whatever fruit I have around-gives me a nice variety! 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chocolate Mousse

At the beginning of the October Unprocessed challenge, I had lots of craving. Lots, and lots of cravings! They have subsided for the most part, but I did do a search the other day for a dessert that was quick and easy, yet still met the "kitchen test". I kept finding recipes for chocolate avocado mousse, but kept skipping past them because chocolate avocado mousse sounds disgusting.

But the more I got to thinking about it (and the lack of wide selection of recipes), I figured I would try it out. I happened to have avocados in the refrigerator and chocolate mousse did sound good.....

I saw several variations on the basic recipe. Some were vegan, some were low fat, and some were clearly just a way to clean out a refrigerator. But they all had the same basic core: 

Milk of some sort (most had almond or coconut milk)
Sweetener (most used agave nectar)

So I grabbed the blender and threw all of my ingredients in: 

1 Avocado, cut into large chunks
1/4 c cocoa
1/4 c skim milk
3 Tablespoons honey
Pinch of salt
Few drops vanilla

After less than a minute of blending, here's what I had: 

Yes, that is the result of just a few ingredients in a blender. And it was delicious! Even my husband, who hates avocados, just about licked the bowl. I didn't tell him until afterwards what it was. he looked at me a little funny, but there was no complaining! 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Coconut Curry Shrimp

Last weekend, I made the best coconut curry shrimp. It was delicious! It tasted so good, it was worth the time to clean the shrimp, which is the main reason we don't have shrimp very often.

What I used: 

About 30 medium sized shrimp, peeled and cleaned
One onion, diced
2 Tablespoons garlic
2 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 can coconut milk
Salt to taste

I started the rice while the shrimp was defrosting. I didn't want plain rice, so we tried this blend. Kind of love it! It was great for this dish because it could stand up to the curry flavors, but was still mild enough not to overpower the coconut flavor. 

After the shrimp was defrosted, I started the onions and garlic in a just a bit of olive oil. 

Then it was on to peeling and cleaning the shrimp....Ugh, I hate cleaning shrimp. But, I kept reminding myself that it would be worth it. And finally, I had clean shrimp to toss in the pan.

I only cooked them for about a minutes on each side because I didn't want to cook them all the way through at this point-they would be rubber by the time the sauce was thick. Then, I added the curry powder. I had yellow curry on hand, but this would be good with so many varieties.

Then I added the coconut milk and the paprika.

The coconut milk will start to thicken just about the same time the shrimp finishes cooking. Somehow, I managed to time this perfectly because the rice had finished cooking and sat for exactly five minutes. All that was needed was a quick fluff with a fork, then on to the plate!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

October Unprocessed Week 2

We're halfway through this challenge and I've had some time to really think about the long term impacts of it and our lifestyles. Here's what we learned this week:

1. We love barley. Love it. It's kind of fun to discover new foods that we like.

2. My taste buds are starting to change now too. I'm not sure why it took longer for me to notice it, or maybe it was because I eat less artificial sweeteners than my husband, but I'm starting to pick up on more natural sugars now.

3. Not all cottage cheeses are created equal. I found only one brand that didn't contain preservatives or artificial ingredients. We all got really excited....over cottage cheese. I never thought I would get excited over cottage cheese, but here we are!

4. I'm sleeping better. My guess is this has more to do with not having the extra caffeine in the form of Starbucks than all of the other processed foods.

5. While I thought giving up Cheerios was going to be the worst part, I actually don't think I'm going to go back to cereal. I love having whole wheat breads or muffins in the morning. They keep me full for a long time. That's not to say I won't ever eat cereal again, but it's not going to be my breakfast staple anymore.

6. We are eating a lot more salads, and skipping the salad dressing altogether. I have been making a big bowl of salad and we can eat off of it for several days. The bacon and feta cheese add a nice salty flavor and really bring out the juiciness of the tomatoes. I've never been a huge fan of iceberg lettuce, so we've been using frisee and romaine.

Week 2 Confession

I had a really bad day of cravings. All I could think about was chocolate cupcakes, peanut butter M&Ms, and Ben and Jerry's Phish Food ice cream. It was rough. I finally gave in and made peanut butter cookies. (1 c peanut butter, 1 c sugar, 1 egg) After I had a few cookies, I developed the most intense headache. I have to assume the two are related. The peanut butter and the egg are allowed in this challenge, but all that sugar was just too much for me. I used to love those cookies, but I don't think I'll be able to eat them anymore. And if I do, I'll just have 1.

Last night, I had a roast in the crock pot. It just wasn't getting tender. It was kind of a dinner fail. Normally, I'd throw in the towel and just have cereal for dinner. Since I couldn't have cereal, I ended up making popcorn, which actually is perfectly acceptable in the unprocessed challenge, but not exactly a balanced meal.

All in all, it was as pretty good week!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Crock Pot Roast Duck

For some crazy reason, we decided to raise ducks this year. I must admit, I much prefer ducks in the freezer than in the back yard!

I enjoyed watching them in their little pool. But they were stinky!! I was ready for them to go to freezer camp. 

We've cooked a couple of them now and we've decided our favorite method is in the crock pot. When we butchered, we didn't pluck them; we skinned them instead. It made our job a bit easier, but we lost some of the flavor and the fat that the skin offers. 

To cook the duck, I put a layer of sliced onions in the bottom of the crock pot, then put the seasonings (fresh sage leaves and thyme) in the cavity and salted the outside of the duck. Then I added carrots and potatoes around the duck. We turned the crock pot on low for 6 hours and let it cook away!

When I got home from work that day, the house smelled delicious! The meat just fell off the bones and was so tender and juicy! To finish dinner, I all had to do was pour the drippings out of the crock pot and make the gravy. 

Not only did this dinner taste great, but the duck, onions, carrots, potatoes and sage all came from our back yard! I don't know if it's because of the October Unprocessed challenge or the fact that we just grew more in the garden this year, but we've realized we are eating a lot more local food this month. And as much as I like eating the animals we raised, I'm going to let the folks at Maple Leaf Farms take care of raising the duck we eat in the future! 

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Spaghetti Squash and Meatballs

Last fall, we tried spaghetti squash for the first time and loved it! I can't even begin to tell you how many dinners we had that involved spaghetti squash last October and November. I may have gone a little overboard on it. But as spring and summer came around, it was forgotten. Our spaghetti squash plant in the garden produced just one very small squash, but someone else was kind enough to share their extra bounty with me, so we are once again stocked!

Spaghetti and meatballs is a favorite in my house, but I just don't have enough time in the day to make spaghetti from scratch all the time. When I decided to try to October Unprocessed challenge, spaghetti squash was the first food that came to mind.

For the spaghetti squash, I just cut it in half and rub each half down with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then, place cut side down on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and roast for about an hour at 425. Then using a fork, pull out all of the strands into a glass baking dish. I usually add about a tablespoon of butter and toss that well and top with grated Parmesan. Just before it's served, put it under the broiler for a few minutes for the cheese to melt.

While that is cooking, I start the sauce. Tomato sauce is one of my favorite things to make and it's so easy! I can use tomatoes I canned over the summer so it has a fresh, summery taste.

Saute one diced onion and a tablespoon (or 2) of minced garlic in some olive oil until the onions soften.

Then add in a quart of diced tomatoes (drained), a pint of tomato sauce, and herbs to taste. I used fresh basil, oregano and parsley from the garden. Then, just let it simmer.

For the meatballs, I combined a pound of ground pork, an egg, breadcrumbs from some peasant bread I made the other day, Italian seasoning and salt. Then form into balls and brown in a cast iron skillet. When all sides are browned, toss them in the oven to finish cooking. Usually by the time my sauce has simmered down to a good thickness, the meatballs are done.

When the meatballs have cooked all the way through, I add them to the sauce. This allows the tomato sauce to pick up some of the pork flavor and the meatballs to absorb some of the tomato sauce.

This is a pretty involved dinner, but it's always delicious and makes a great lunch the next day!

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