Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Maple Pecan Slow-cooker Sweet Potatoes: Simple and Sweet

We have been enjoying these sweet potatoes since I first tried them at Thanksgiving.  With Easter falling early this year, I think they'll fit nicely on the menu.

The light sweetness of the maple syrup works nicely with the natural sweetness of the potatoes.

Maple Pecan Sweet Potatoes

2 lbs sweet potatoes
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tablespoons unsweetened shredded coconut
2 Tablespoons pecans, chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 Tablespoon coconut oil, melted


  • Peel and cube sweet potatoes (3/4 inch cubes).
  • Place sweet potatoes in a slow cooker.  
  • In a small bowl, combine remaining ingredients and sprinkle over the top of the sweet potatoes.
  • Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours, until potatoes are tender.  
  • Remove lid; let rest 10 minutes; then gently stir to coat potatoes evenly (the goodies tend to sink to the bottom of the crock pot).  

This recipe is a huge hit with my kids--and even my husband who, accustomed to sweet potatoes drowning in brown sugar and smothered in marshmallows, doesn't have much use for this vegetable.  Making these in a slow-cooker is great for holiday dinners as it means one less dish competing for attention and oven space.

This post was shared at Friday Food Flicks.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Broccoli Beef Bites: Kid-Friendly Nuggets

This recipe is sort of like a home made chicken nugget--except that it's made with ground beef and packed with broccoli . . . so the similarities are some what tenuous.

This isn't exactly a hidden-veggie recipe, but it is definitely a subtle-vegetable recipe.  It's also a package-deal vegetable recipe:  there's no way to eat it and pick around the veggies.   These freeze well, reheat-well, and make a quick and handy lunch or snack.

Broccoli Beef Bites

1.5 lbs ground beef, cooked
3 cups steamed, shredded broccoli*
3 cups bread crumbs **
6 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder

Step 1:  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare a baking sheet by lining with parchment paper or lightly greasing.

Step 2:  Combine all ingredients.  I found it easiest to combine by working the ingredients together with my hands.  (This recipe seems to be very flexible--adjust as needed with more bread crumbs or eggs until it's a texture that will hold together in patties; I suspect the type of breadcrumbs one uses might be a big variable.)

Step 3:  Form mixture into nugget-shaped patties and place on prepared baking sheet.  (Tip:  These are not cookies, so they will not expand; they may be place close together on the cookie sheet.)

Step 4:  Bake for 25 minutes, flipping once, until lightly browned.

Step 5:  Serve with dairy-free ranch dressing.  (This really is a must--totally fabulous!  I use coconut milk in place of the soy and skip the chives because I don't have them on hand.)

*I use about 3 heads of broccoli, including all but the toughest parts of the stem, steam it, then run it through the food processor to shred (but not puree). 
**To make bread crumbs, we collect bread ends and bits and store them in a gallon bag in the freezer.  When the bag is full, we lightly toast them in a 250 degree oven, then run them through to food processor to make crumbs.  I store crumbs in the freezer until needed.  

This recipe is based on chicken-and-veggie nugget, Crocodile Nuggetsposted by Cooking Traditional Foods.

Kid-Friendly Introduction Strategies

When I first made a version of this recipe, it was, frankly, a flop with my kids, but  I blame that on a faulty introduction strategy on my part.

Mothers of picky eaters are often advised to introduce new foods by linking the new food to a known, preferred food.  That's the route I tried here--comparing these to commercial chicken nuggets.  They are lovely, but Chicken McNuggets they are not.

When I said "nugget" my six year old envisioned a commercial, breaded, deep-fried chicken nugget and anything different was a betrayal of his vision.  He flat out rejected them.  I waited quite a while before a second attempt at intruducing them--this time call them "bites" instead of "nuggets" and, viola, success!

I've also found that trying to distract from the vegetables with cute names alluding to interesting green critters--Shrek, alligators, etc--is unsuccessful with my kids.  The broccoli is subtle, but still obvious in this recipe and trying to distract from it seems to make the kids suspicious and reluctant.  At my house, it is better to call a spade a spade and encourage my kids to enjoy it for what it is.

This post shared at Friday Food Flicks,  Whole Food Wednesday and  Allergy Free Wednesday.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

This was the winter that I discovered roasting vegetables.  The basic formula is simple, the variations are endless and delicious:  break veggies into bite-size pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, and perhaps another seasoning or two, roast in the oven until tender with slight browning at the edges.  Roasting seems especially suited to the hardy vegetables we associate with winter time.

Roasted vegetables are kid-friendly (as veggies go . . .):

  • They are tender--my kids resist crunchy and firm veggies.
  • They are flavorful--roasting seems to bring out the best in veggies, especially when generously tossed with olive oil.

Here's the vegetable that got me started roasting veggies this winter, based on a recipe from Taste of Home magazine:  roasted cauliflower.  The first time we served this (along side non-dairy macaroni and not-really cheese) all three kids ate it without prompting or cajoling.

Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower, broken into bite-size florets
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  
Toss cauliflower with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder.  Spread in a baking dish.
Roast for 18-20 minutes stirring once. 
Cauliflower is done when florets are tender with just a bit of browning on some edges.

Check out these other roasted vegetable recipes:
Roasted Cabbage
Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Carrots

Friday, March 16, 2012

Guacamole Deviled Eggs: Green Egg Fun

These eggs are in honor of my three-year-old, who will eat guacamole by the spoonful.

I'm excited about them . . .

  • because they are green, and tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day.
  • because it's been Dr. Seuss month at school so green eggs are inherently cool.
  • because I finally found a way to get my kids to eat the yolk of a hard boiled egg, not just the white.
  • because they are yummy!

Guacamole-Deviled Eggs
4 eggs
1/4 cup of guacamole 

Step 1:  Hard boil the eggs.  My favorite method is to place the eggs in a saucepan, filling with water to cover.  Cover with a lid and bring to boil over high heat.  Once rapidly boiling, turn the heat off, but leave the pan covered, sitting on the burner for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, pour off the hot water and chill with cool water.

Step 2:  Peel the eggs and cut in half (the long way), scoop out the yolk.

Step 3:  Mash the yolks with a fork.  Combine the mashed yolk with the 1/4 cup of guacamole (it should be about equal parts yolks and guacamole).

Step 4:  Scoop the guacamole-yolk mixture back into the egg white.

Serve and enjoy!

Shared at Friday Food Flicks and Simple Life Thursday.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How to Buy Meat from a Farmer

Since deciding not to buy meat at the grocery store any longer, I've been scrambling to figure out where the heck I will find and buy grass-fed, pastured, happy critters.

  • I asked local crunchy friends where they buy meat.
  • I asked friends with agricultural jobs/contacts for leads.
  • I asked at the local fed store.
  • I checked out the chalk-board ads on the community blackboard at the fed store (who knew that existed??)
  • I searched at was by far the most helpful, but still the prospect of spending hundreds of dollars at one time on a meat purchase to get half a pig or beef remained daunting.

Photo from
Enter Joel Salatin's book Holy Cows & Hog Heaven:  The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food.  

First, let me say, if you've never read anything by Joel Salatin (the beyond-organic farmer featured in The Omnivore's Dilemma) I highly recommend it.  His style is folksy and witty, and his content is paradigm-shifting, empowering, educational, and entertaining.

I ask you, who else could get away with using the term techno-glitzy?

Having read Salatin's book, here are some of the questions I'm asking myself as I investigate farm-sourced food that will be good for me, good for farmers, and good for the environment:

1)  Is the farmer trustworthy?  This is the cornerstone of the philosophy of personal-responsibility and informed-consumerism that Salatin advocates.  He recommends visiting the farm, talking to the farmer's business peers and neighbors, and finding out what sort of professional materials the farmer is reading (of course, this means I have to have some idea what he ought to be reading . . . )

2)  Is the farmer committed to appropriate size?  Salatin argues that you want to buy from a farmer who is committed to quality and balance--not one with aspirations to become an empire.  He writes, "Any small farmer who aspires to an empire is no different than any multinational corporate entity."  An empire mentality will lead to compromise and sacrifice of best practices.

3)  Is the farm neighbor friendly?  Salatin argues:  "The bottom line is this:  a farm friendly food system is both aromatically and aesthetically pleasing.  Anything else is not a good food system, period."

4)  Is the farmer open?  A farmer should communicate well, give complete information, and offer free access around the farm so that I can see the conditions of the animals for myself.

5)  Is the soil healthy and fertile?   I'm not so sure--especially in March--that I'm going to be any sort of accurate judge of this, but Salatin suggests asking to see the compost pile and looking around for earthworm castings (note to self:  look up pictures of earth worm castings).

6)  Is the animal feed non-GMO?  Much like I avoided reading Omnivore's Dilemma for a long time, I've avoided reading about genetically modified plants.  I still haven't read enough about it to be well-versed, but enough to know that I want to avoid exposing myself and my children to GMOs whenever possible.

Final Thoughts
Joel Salatin is so passionate about his land, his animals, and our freedoms that there were many times I found myself choked up with tears (yes, in a book about buying meat).

I am the sort of person who hates to barter and negotiate with people (buying vehicles is painful for me!), so I find myself intimidated by the prospect of asking farmers a zillion questions and requesting farm tours.  It almost feels accusatory, as if I'm starting out not trusting them.

However, since I want to opt out of the inhumane, unsustainable, unhealthy system of mainstream food, becoming an inquisitive, informed consumer, who digs deep and builds relationship with the producers of my food is a skill I need to develop (hence the forty-five minute conversation I had with a rancher yesterday morning--bless him for making the time!)

As I wrap this up, I'd like to quote one of those passages from Joel Salatin that brought me to tears with its profound depth:

Farm friendly food asks the question:  "Is the pig happy?"  On our farm and thousands like it, we try to provide a habitat to each plant and animal that allows it to fully express its physiological distinctiveness.  When we respect nature of the Creator's deign enough to reverence the plow on the end of a pig's nose, the graceful beak on the front of a chicken, the earthworms gamboling around in the soil underneath the cabbages, then w  have a moral framework in which to contain our human cleverness.  

I highly recommend reading this book.  It has reaffirmed my decision not to buy meat from the grocery store and has empowered me to get educated and informed as I engage directly with farmers.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Homemade Easter Candy

Celebrating special occasions with special food is totally normal across cultures and human history.  However, in our culture of overly-abundant, overly-processed, subsidized, cheap-crap food, it's hard to keep things in perspective.

I've been thinking about Easter candy today and have decided to make my own candy for the kids this year.  I think it will be fun to make small batches of a selection of candies made from real food ingredients--enough of each batch to enjoy the treat, but not so much as to gorge ourselves.  Yes, it's still lots of sweet, but it will be free of artificial colors and flavors and highly processed ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup.

After roaming around my Pintererst boards and checking out all the treat recipes I've pinned over the past year, I was so overwhelmed I had to come and make a list:  a list to help me organize my ingredients and supplies so I can start experimenting.  Many of these should store well in the freezer, so I'll try to make them up over the next few weeks to avoid last minute stress.

Here's what I'm thinking . . .

Homemade Marshmallows--this recipe is honey-sweetened.  I may try to shape them into homemade peeps like Martha Stewart does with her marshmallow recipe.  Or we may just enjoy squares.

Bird's Nests--I want the final product to look like the traditional bird's nest cookies, but I'm thinking of swapping up all sorts of ingredients:  dark chocolate for the coating, homemade crunchy pretzels instead of chow mein noodles, and maybe peanuts for the eggs.

Peppermint Patties--I made these at Valentine's Day and they were a hassle to dip, but tasted great!

Homemade Peanut Butter Cups--I have two recipes in mind.  Not sure which way I'll go:  this one is made in a mini-muffin pan, which I have (with a poisonous non-stick coating); this one calls for a silicone mold which I'd have to buy or mini-muffin paper liners--not sure I'll be able to find those.

Mound's Bar--I'm not sure about this one.  My husband doesn't like coconut candy and I'm not sure if the kids will either.  It also calls for a mold I'd have to buy--or adapt.  No reason it couldn't be done in a mini-muffin pan  . . .