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Monday, November 30, 2009

Meatless Monday

This week's Meatless Monday recipe comes from the one thing I cannot resist at the supermarket checkout. Candy bars and soda... no problem. Cooking magazines... kryptonite. Some time not that long ago, I picked up a copy of Fine Cooking's fresh: 350 recipes that Celebrate the Seasons. It was within these delicious glossy pages that I found inspiration for today's Meatless Monday.

Luxurious Four-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese

This is not your neon-orange-nutritionally-defunct-out-of-a-box-kid-crack macaroni & cheese, but a much more sophisticated-yet-down-home-comforting version that is sure to please adult and child palate alike. It uses Gruyere, Blue, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan cheeses. Now let me just say up front that I am not a fan of blue cheese and was extremely hesitant to try this recipe. However, since embarking on the Meatless Monday journey I have been forced to become more adventurous with our absence of meat, so I held my nose and reserved judgement for the final outcome. It was good! The blue cheese was detectable and I would probably decrease the amount used next time, but it was quite tasty nonetheless.

This recipe filled a 13x9 pan. Even small portions were deceivingly fulfilling. We were able to get several meals out of this one recipe. Any time I can cook once and eat a lot is a bonus in my book. Yep, this one is a keeper.

Luxurious Four-Cheese Macaroni & Cheese


Kosher salt
3 cups whole milk (I used 2%)
4 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. Tabasco sauce; more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
5 oz. Gruyere, coarsely grated (about 1 3/4 cups lightly packed)
1/2 lb. blue cheese, crumbled (about 2 cups; use less if not crazy about blue cheese)
1 lb. dried penne rigate pasta
1 Tbs. finely grated lemon zest
11 oz. Monterey Jack, cut into 1/2-inch dice (2 cups - I used a vegetable medley Monterey Jack)
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 Tbs. fresh thyme leaves
2 1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated (scant 1 cup)
3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs

  • Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil.
  • Heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat to just below a simmer. Remove from heat and cover to keep hot. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and bay leaf. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the hot milk, bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes, whisking frequently, until thickened and smooth. Season with 1 tsp. salt, the nutmeg, the Tabasco, and pepper to taste. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Stir in the Gruyere and blue cheese.
  • Cook the pasta in the boiling water to al dente, following the package directions. Drain well and return to the pot. Toss the lemon zest and half of the Monterey Jack into the pasta while it is still hot; add the cheese sauce and quickly toss to combine. Stir in the parsley and thyme and transfer half of the pasta to a large (3-qt.) shallow casserole or lasagna pan (I used a 13x9 baking dish). Sprinkle with the remaining Monterey Jack and half of the Parmigiano; top with the remaining pasta. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano and the breadcrumbs. Bake until bubbling and golden, 50 to 60 minutes. Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Starting a new Thanksgiving tradition


Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition. Families have gathered for centuries to enjoy the bounty of the Fall harvest. Maybe some of your traditions include gathering at the same home, preparing your fabulous pumpkin pie, enjoying traditional Thanksgiving dishes, watching the football game, traveling home to see family, whatever they may be, breaking tradition is hard to do. My family enjoys the traditional Thanksgiving fare, every year, the same thing; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green bean casserole, corn, sweet potatoes, jellied cranberry sauce, dinner rolls, lefse, and of course pie - pumpkin and apple. Not wanting to throw tradition out the window, but wishing to be mindful of the impact our feast leaves on the planet, I thought a little tradition tweaking was in order.

100 Mile Thanksgiving

I kept the menu traditional, but changed the source of my ingredients. This year I opted to try the 100-mile Thanksgiving, choosing local ingredients for our meal. Research shows that on average food travels over 1,500 miles before it reaches our plate. There is a lot of fuel, energy, and pollution expelled in the journey. It has also been suggested that nutrients are lost in transit. Keeping your food miles limited to a locavore's guide of 100 miles benefits your family's health and the planet's.

To keep from blowing my family completely out of their comfort zone, I served the same traditional dishes, but injected some of my sustainability by using local ingredients.

100-Mile Thanksgiving Menu

Roasted Organic Turkey - 40 miles
  • carrots - 37 miles
  • parsnips - 32 miles
  • celery - 2,000 miles (California)
  • onion - 37 miles
  • turnips - 37 miles
  • butter - 40 miles
  • dry white wine - 103 miles
Porcini and Sausage Stuffing
  • porcini mushrooms - 12 miles
  • slab bacon - 315 miles
  • onion - 37 miles
  • leek - 20 paces to my garden
  • celery - 2,000 miles (California)
  • garlic - 37 miles
  • sweet Italian sausage - 23 miles
  • liver from turkey - 40 miles
  • white bread - 14 miles
  • fresh thyme leaves - 4 steps outside my door
  • giblet stock - see below
Giblet Stock
  • neck, heart, and gizzard from turkey - 40 miles
  • celery - 2,000 miles (California)
  • carrots - 37 miles
  • onion - 37 miles
  • white mushrooms - 12 miles
  • bay leaves - ???
  • whole black peppercorns - ???
  • coarse salt - ???
  • fresh thyme - 4 steps outside my door
  • flat-leaf parsley - 20 paces to my garden
My sister-in-law brought the mashed potatoes, I made the gravy.

Riesling Gravy
  • pan juices from Roasted Turkey
  • dry Riesling - 103 miles
  • giblet stock - see above
  • flour - 45 miles
  • butter - 40 miles
Green Bean Casserole
  • green beans - 5 miles
  • morels - 36 miles
  • butter - 40 miles
  • garlic - 37 miles
  • flour - 45 miles
  • giblet stock - see above
  • half & half - 40 miles
  • bread - 14 miles
  • French fried onions - ???
Cranberry Relish
  • raw cranberries - 48 miles
  • apples - 30 miles
  • 1 orange - 2,000 miles (California)
  • sugar - ???
I know holidays are exceptions to the rule and we tend to be more lenient, but that does not mean we have to throw all sustainability out the window. You can have a traditional feast with all the fixings - just look for them locally. You can have gifts at Christmas - just make them purposeful; like giving to charity, experiences, homemade, etc. Progress does not have to come at the expense of the past. No need to turn your back on tradition - just tweak it.


Monday, November 16, 2009

Meatless Monday

Lately my husband has been toying with becoming vegetarian. While I am not sure my bacon-loving beau is ready to take that step, I am all for reducing our meat consumption. Americans consist of 5 percent of the world's population and process more than 15 percent of the world's total meat, at a rate of 10 billion animals annually! All that meat consumption comes at great environmental costs. Producing meat is very energy intensive. One-third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States are used to raise animals for food. Much of that going towards producing food to feed the animals that we eat. It takes up to 16 pounds of grain to produce just one pound of meat. 1.4 billion people - 20 percent of the world's population - could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone. Then there is the water needed to irrigate the crops to feed to the animals and water the animals to feed to us. It takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce one pound of meat, while growing one pound of wheat only takes 25 gallons. Seems like we could skip a step in there and just feed the crops to us. A totally vegetarian diet only requires 300 gallons of water per day, while a meat-eating diet requires more than 4,000 gallons of water per day! You save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you do by not showering for an entire year. I will skip the steak and take the shower, thank you very much.

Aside from the environmental aspect of meat consumption, there is the impact on your wallet to consider. I started lowering our meat consumption a few years ago by reducing our portion sizes. Meat is no longer the star of our meals, but acts more as a filler to round out the meal. One pound (16 oz.) of meat can make a meal for my family of four, compared to the 8.4 ounces that the average American consumes daily - each! Given that meat is the most expensive item in the grocery store, how much money could you save by consuming less of it? We already consume half as much as the average American, but I still think we could go lower. Enter Meatless Monday.

Meatless Monday is a non-profit website dedicated to reducing meat consumption 15 percent in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet. I pledged to make my family's Monday meals meatless. Unsure of where to start, I searched the website's recipe section (conveniently sorted by the meal you are looking for) and decided to give Great Northern White Chili a try.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 2 (15-ounce) cans Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 (15-ounce)can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
  • 1 (14-ounce) can white sweet corn, drained

Coat a large pot with nonstick cooking spray, then sauté the onion and garlic over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Stir frequently so vegetables don’t stick. Empty one can of the Great Northern beans into a food processoror blender and process with one cup of the vegetable broth until smooth. Add everything to the pot: the pureed bean mixture, the second can of Great Northern beans,the garbanzo beans, the remaining 3 cups of vegetable broth, chili powder, cumin, oregano, green chiles, and corn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook for 20 minutes. Garnish with a dollop of tomato salsa.