Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Roasted Garlic Chicken Soup with Lemon and Farro

We thought we moved somewhere warmer, but we've been fooled!! It's been COLD! Apparently unusually cold. Go figure!

When the temperature drops, what's your comfort food? I automatically turn to soup. There's nothing like a bowl full of hot, savory soup to warm you up on a cold dark night.

So when the cold weather struck, soup it was!

But not just any soup; I wanted something rich and flavorful. I began with diced heirloom guinea hog bacon from a local farm for the base, and I used homemade chicken stock, which is a must! It provides both flavor and nutrition. And then there's the roasted garlic—two whole heads of it! But don't let the two heads of garlic throw you. Roasted garlic is soft, smooth and mellow. Roasting knocks out garlic's pungency and spicy kick, leaving a rich, buttery flavor in its place. In this soup it's the pureed roasted garlic that enriches and thickens the broth.

This Roasted Garlic Chicken Soup has got it all—creamy broth, chunky chicken, nutty farro, a hint of lemon juice, depths of flavor and just enough greens to know they're there but not too many that you wish they weren't.

We ate the whole pot of soup for dinner. THE WHOLE POT. It was phenomenal! A real winner of a recipe. I'm not quite sure how many times we at the table commented, Wow, this is really good!

Farro. So what is it? Farro is an ancient grain also sometimes called emmer. It's related to spelt and wheat, but it's really quite different in flavor, texture and look. It also happens to be uniquely delicious and my personal favorite cooked grain. Far more flavorful and toothsome than barley, it's a little bit like Arborio rice (the rice used traditionally in risotto) except that it is a whole grain. Farro can be found in most health food stores, and it's even appearing in regular grocery stores. A small package on the shelf will likely be expensive, so look for farro in bulk or try purchasing it from a co-op. If you can't find farro (or don't wish to use it), I'd recommend trying either barley or short grain rice in this soup.

Don't let the long list of ingredients or directions put you off. This soup is so worth it! And it really is simple and far from tedious. Making the soup is primarily comprised of just four basic steps:

1. Cook the farro.
2. Roast the garlic.
3. Dice and saute the veggies.
4. Put it all together.

The first two steps can be done ahead of time, or all four parts can be done simultaneously. Give it a try. You'll be so glad you did!

Roasted Garlic Chicken Soup with Lemon and Farro

Serves 6-8

2 cups farro (barley or short grain rice are good substitutes)
5 cups water or chicken broth/stock

2 heads (bulbs) of garlic
a drizzle of olive oil
2-3 cups leftover chicken, chopped into small bite sized pieces
8 cups chicken broth/stock
1 cup cooked spinach or other mild green like kale
1 small yellow onion
1 carrot
1 celery stalk
the juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper, to taste
optional: 4 slices bacon (or use 1 T butter)
parmesan for topping soup bowls

Preheat oven to 400. Slice the tops off the garlic bulbs. Drizzle a little olive oil over the exposed garlic cloves and sprinkle with salt. Place garlic on a cookie sheet and cover with foil. Place in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes until the garlic is very soft and lightly browned. When done, allow to cool until you can easily handle it.

Meanwhile, add the farro and 5 cups of water/broth/stock to a pot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down to low and simmer (covered) for about 30 minutes, or until the liquid is mostly gone and the farro is soft but still chewy.

Once the garlic is roasting and the farro is cooking, very finely dice the onion, carrot and celery. Give the cooked greens a fine chop as well, so that the greens are finely shredded. (Alternatively, if you have a food processor, you can pulse all the veggies quickly until finely diced/shredded.) Set chopped vegetables aside.

If using bacon, chop the bacon into a small dice. Cook bacon in a skillet until browned and crisp and the fat is rendered. Add the vegetables and saute for a 8-10 minutes, until soft and tender. If not using bacon, just add 1 T of butter to the skillet and saute the vegetables in the butter instead.

Add the 8 cups of chicken stock to a large soup pot. Squeeze the garlic out of the skin into the chicken broth. (It should squeeze out very easily.) Use an immersion blender to puree the roasted garlic cloves into the broth. Be sure to blend well.

Add the farro, vegetables and bacon, and chicken to the garlic broth. Thoroughly heat the soup to serving temperature, then remove from heat. Stir in the lemon juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Ladle in bowls and top with freshly grated parmesan.

If you liked this recipe, you may also like:
Coconut-Chicken Soup with Cabbage and Carrots
Healing Soup - A Spin-off of French Onion
The Easiest Way to Get Greens and Veggies in Your Kids (and You!)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The EASIEST way to get those veggies in your children! (And in you!)

If you're a mom or dad, surely you know how difficult it can be to feed your kids healthfully! For starters, we've got to figure out what's the best food for them—no easy thing to do amidst all the opinions and voices out there! Then we have to buy the food and prepare it.

But once we do all that, sometimes we forget to factor in our child.

Sometimes, no matter what we do to doctor up that fruit or veggie, our child will sit there and refuse to eat it.

While I highly recommend teaching your child to learn to eat healthfully (primarily by only offering healthy foods on a regular basis), this process can take a long time. Children have developing bodies that are ever changing, including their taste buds and their ability to handle various textures. 

We have to think long term. 

One awesome and EASY way I've found to get those veggies (and fruits) in my kids—and in myself and my husband—is by giving them Juice Plus. We've been taking Juice Plus for over 3 years, and I'm delighted to announce that just recently I became an affiliate of Juice Plus! Why I waited for so long, I'm not really sure because I've been recommending it people for years!

What is Juice Plus+?

Juice Plus is not a vitamin. It's a supplement. Not just any supplement, but a whole foods based supplement. It's vegetables and fruits. The fruits and veggies are juiced and then dehydrated and put into capsule form (adults) or gummy form (children).

Do you get your 8-10 each day?

We heard "8-10 servings of fruits and veggies each day" for a long time, but I think the current commonly recommended daily fruit and vegetable intake is actually 7-13 servings. How many of us hit that every day? Our kids? Yikes! I know I fall short of that more often than I'd like to admit. And that is why I appreciate having Juice Plus+ on hand. It supplements our healthy diet and helps to fill in some of the gaps that inevitably occur.

Why Juice Plus+?

What initially caught my attention was when my pediatrician (who didn't sell JuicePlus+ or profit in any way from it) told me that Juice Plus+ had at that point nearly 20 published research studies done on the benefits of their product. He had read nearly all of them and in his opinion they were well-crafted studies completed at reputable institutions and published in reputable scientific journals...all bearing fantastic results. And Juice Plus+ continues to research the benefits of fruits and vegetables on our bodies. (On a side note, my husband used to work in science—you can't just buy your way into journals. The studies have to be well-done and of value to be selected and published in journals.)

These research studies point to benefits for physically tangible things like an increased immune system (you will likely notice a decrease in sickness after taking Juice Plus+ for several months) and a decrease in inflammation in your body, all the way down to benefits you won't notice physically. These include protecting your cells from free radical damage and positive impacts on your heart and arteries.

Juice Plus+ is not a gimmick.

The other thing that initially caught my attention—and has kept us on Juice Plus+ for years—is the fact that Juice Plus+ is not crazy or gimmicky. It's not some rare incredible super food that cures all and does all. Nope. It's just plain old fruits and veggies.

And we know that we know that we know that fruits and veggies are extremely good for us! 

Many medical professionals support Juice Plus and recommend it to their patients. (And many moms recommend it to their mom-friends too!)

What about pesticides?

Juice Plus+ is committed to pure products—no GMOs and no pesticides.

How much does it cost?

Just about $1.50 dollar a day for an adult or about $0.80 per day for a child. Think about that for a minute. You can get nutrition from an array of 20 different pesticide-free fruits and vegetables for less than $1.50 (or $0.80) per day. Juice Plus+ is a good deal!

And furthermore, when an adult orders Juice Plus+ they can choose to receive a FREE children's order each month along with their order if they participate in a health study for children (a mailed survey). How cool is that?! The brief study you fill out every few months is definitely worth doing for the free product! Contact me if you are interested in participating in this study: christy.wfoab@gmail.com

Is there any more information you'd like to know about Juice Plus+? Any other questions you have that I didn't answer?

Please email me:  christy.wfoab@gmail.com 
I will be happy answer to any questions you have and discuss the benefits of Juice Plus+ with you!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Differences Between Heritage Pastured Chicken and Store-Bought Chicken

There are quite a few differences between pastured, heritage breed chickens and store-bought chickens. I should probably clarify what I mean by "heritage breed," "pastured" and "store-bought." Terms and labels are often thrown around and slapped on products, and many times we're left not quite sure just what they mean. But sometimes—despite all the terms and labels—the product itself speaks volumes.

Wow. Just take a look for a moment. Those are pretty different chickens...although they weigh nearly the same, both just over 5 lbs. They almost look like different animals. Sadly, there's such an incredibly rich variety to plant and animal life that's been nearly lost in our modern, highly commercialized food world. But there are small farmers everywhere who are trying to bring that vibrant richness back into our food world again!

So, back to the terms I mentioned above...By "pastured," what I'm referring to is a chicken that is raised on a farm where it is not simply "cage-free" but it is actively roaming around a roomy area, pecking at the ground, scratching dirt, and eating little bugs, snakes and whatever else she might find.

By "heritage breed," I mean an older breeds that used to be commonly raised on farms, homesteads and in the backyard before commercial production took over much of our food supply. These are not the current commercial breeds, which have been bred for plumper breasts, heavier egg-production or to be more confined, etc. to benefit commercial breeding.

By "store-bought," I simply mean the regular chicken you pick up at the store. It might be conventionally raised or it might be organic or possibly even pastured.

Heritage breed chickens, like the one above, require twice the amount of time to grow to maturity. The reason being, they spend the first half of their life developing their skeletal structure and strength in order to be able to forage and roam.

Did you catch that part about twice as long? Expect to pay more money for a heritage bird. The main reason being that the farmer is raising the chicken for twice as long. Additional costs do add up, especially when you're on a tight budget. But if you can splurge for the regular or occasional heritage chicken or turkey, I'd encourage you to buy them. Keep in mind that you will be eating a healthy, more natural, nutritious animal. Those are going to be some very good bones for a nutrient-rich broth! Furthermore, heritage breeds forage, meaning they eat from nature what they naturally love to eat. These chickens eat bugs, small snakes, weeds and plants, along with whatever feed the farmer provides. This creates a healthier animal, which in turn—as many believe—creates a better quality, more nourishing meat and carcass for broth. Furthermore, many rave about the superior flavor of heritage breed birds.

We've all heard the phrase, "We are what we eat," right? Well, I believe the same goes for animals.

Have you ever tried a heritage breed chicken or turkey? What do you think—worth the additional cost of not?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Our Monster Pumpkin

Look at this monster we picked at the farm for our front porch!!! Are we crazy or what?

We might be crazy, but my kids sure thought it was fun to bring home such a HUGE pumpkin! It really is huge (as in 2+ feet tall), and my poor husband nearly broke his back hefting it into the wheelbarrow and then into the minivan. (He's a patient soul and a keeper!)

You may be wondering just how much we shelled out for this baby—$40. Yep. BUT, as I told my husband, this pumpkin will not go to waste! We'll eat 'im. Yes, we will.

We will eat 'im in pumpkin pancakes, in Breakfast Quinoa, in hunks of pumpkin-cranberry breakfast cake and in smooth and sweet pumpkin butter. We'll eat 'im in pumpkin pie, pumpkin soup, savory pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pie smoothies and stirred into steaming bowls of overnight crockpot oatmeal.

Pumpkin is the easiest way to include a vegetable in your child's breakfast! 

We always cook down our porch pumpkins in November. No matter the type. There are all different colors and varieties of pumpkins—and we've tried every type we've ever found from blue hubbard to cheese to sugar to cinderella to this fellow of unknown origin who sits on our front porch.

What I've found is that if you want to make a really good pumpkin pie, be a bit particular about your puree. Make sure your puree is made from a pumpkin with flavor you really love (we especially like blue hubbard and cheese pumpkins), and be sure to let the puree drain for a few hours in cheesecloth to ensure that its consistency is "dry" and compact like canned pumpkin. With a pie, pumpkin is THE flavor. But for everyday cooking and baking, pumpkin is just imparting additional flavor. We've enjoyed all the different varieties we've tried. Some pumpkins are mild, others richer in flavor; some taste a bit "squashier," others a bit more "pumpkiny." Some make a more yellow puree and others a bright orange. But truly we've enjoyed them all.

So, don't throw those good porch pumpkins out! Cook them down and fill your freezer with pumpkin puree. It's easy to make. It really is! And it's super frugal to boot. Enjoy the easy-to-follow recipe I shared last year, and stretch your food budget that much further.

Now tell me all about the pumpkins sitting on your front porch! Big, little? Orange or blue? Stacked or on stairs? 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Do your kids eat weird food?

The other day, my mom pulled out a can of sardines. (We are temporarily living with my parents.) My toddler wanted to know what was inside, and my mom told her all about sardines as if they were the most fascinating thing in the world. My little one then asked if she could try some. I bit my lip—because I almost blurted out, "Well, you probably won't like them."

Have you ever heard those words come from your mouth? I have—more times than I care to admit. 

With all our emphasis on trying new foods, expanding our horizons and eating whole, natural, real food, sometimes I forget and out pop negative words.

When we tell our kids they probably won't like something, we are setting them up to probably not like it. Immediately they have a negative impression of that food. And, as we all know too well (and in many facets of life), that first impression often sticks.

My husband and I have purposed to let our kids—and even encourage them to—try any food they want. The only exception would be very spicy foods. (We don't let our little ones try those because we wouldn't want to burn their mouths. If our older kids want to try something spicy, we warn them but let them give it a go.) As far as most food goes, if they are curious we let them try it, and thus we've had a few toddlers who devour olives and blue cheese, among other "weird" things. In fact one of our favorite phrases we remember of our now ten year old daughter is of her as a two year old always asking for "schmoke-cheese" after eating smoked gouda one day.

We've always tried to be positive when it comes to food. Food is delicious! Food is good for you! There are many varieties of basic foods like lettuce, tomatoes or cheese. There are many kinds of food. There are various cooking methods and ethnic styles of preparation. Keep an open mind! Try anything, try everything! You never know what you just might like.

Back to the sardines...once my curious toddler was at the table trying sardines on a cracker, my other kids' each had their own curiosity spiked. One by one, they all ended up trying the sardines, and three out of four actually liked them enough to eat one or two on crackers.

So, what if my mom had never offered the sardines? Or explained to my curious toddler what they were? Or what if I had blurted out, "Well, you probably won't like them." I'm willing to bet that their natural curiosity would have been snuffed out. If any of them had ventured on to try the sardines, they probably wouldn't have liked them.

Now I don't anticipate my kids devouring sardines for lunch tomorrow or asking for them for snacks. But I'm proud of them for trying something nutritious and new and different, and yes, a little bit weird. Why? Well...do I really want their food choices to be defined by what's considered "weird?" The latest trend? TV commercials? The cool kids at school? What's culturally "normal?"

Not necessarily. I'd much rather my kids choose foods that they love that nourish and strengthen them. And I want my kids to be confident in and own their food choices, whatever they end up being. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Creamy, Dreamy Rice Pudding - A Good-For-You Breakfast, Snack or Dessert!

I love puddings and custards! Anything creamy. Pannacotta, whipped cream, cheesecake, chocolate pudding, lemon meringue pie, gelato...you name it, I love it!

So it goes without saying that I love rice pudding too. 

But finding a rice pudding recipe that I love has taken some time...as in years. I'd try one from time to time but it was never quite right. After determinedly pouring over a bunch of recipes one day, I finally realized that most recipes are missing the eggs; and, in my opinion, it's the eggs that give a good rice pudding its rich, creamy taste and texture. Kind of like ice cream vs. gelato.

Made with eggs, milk and rice, THIS rice pudding packs a punch of protein for a breakfast treat on chilly mornings. I have to confess that I don't often make this for breakfast, because it does require about 20 minutes to prepare. (I don't always have that time in the mornings!) But I got up a bit early and made it just the other morning when the temperature had dipped oh so cold that night. There's nothing like a fresh-made bowl of warm, creamy goodness to fill empty tummies on chilly mornings! My oldest son literally licked his bowl clean after two large helpings.

This rice pudding recipe is just lightly sweetened, as I've kept the sugar content on the low side. It's plenty sweet for us, but if you are just starting your journey toward healthier eating and are used to sweeter foods, you may want to up the sucanat in the recipe initially (try a generous 1 cup) and then slowly decrease it as you adapt to less sugary treats.

One of the perks of rice pudding is that you can make it with leftover rice. Using up all your leftovers can stretch your food budget quite significantly. Throwing away food is throwing away money, and it all adds up faster than you think! That leftover rice (white or brown) that's sitting in your fridge? Bring new life to it by making rice pudding.

Creamy, Dreamy Rice Pudding

Serves 8-10

Leftover cooked rice (about 6 cups)*
6 cups milk, plus 1 cup milk
6 eggs
2/3 cup sucanat 
Generous 1/3 cup organic cornstarch (I'd encourage you to buy organic to avoid GMO corn)
1 tsp almond extract or 2 tsp vanilla extract (or both!)
1-2 tsp unrefined salt, to taste 

To a heavy bottomed large pot (like a Le Creuset dutch oven or brasier), add 6 cups of milk. Turn the heat to medium-low to start the milk warming. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sucanat and cornstarch. Once whisked together, add the remaining cup of milk and whisk until well combined. Set aside.

Return to the warming milk and raise the temperature to medium-high, whisking the milk continuously while it heats. Heat until the milk is steaming vigorously then lower the temperature back down to medium-low. Scoop 1 cup of the hot milk out and slowly pour it into the egg mixture, whisking. (This is called tempering and helps prevent clumps of cooked egg.) Repeat with one more cup of hot milk. 

Add the rice to the hot milk and stir gently, allowing the rice to soften for a few minutes. Next, pour the egg mixture through a sieve into the hot milk, whisking. (The sieve will keep out any tiny bits of lumpy cornstarch or cooked egg.) Return the heat to medium-high and gently whisk the pudding while it heats and thickens. When the first sputter or bubble occurs, remove the pudding from the heat. As the pudding cools, it will thicken a bit more. Eat warm and soft (my favorite) or refrigerate and eat chilled.

* Don't be afraid to fudge the 6 cup number! Using up leftovers typically means we have random amounts, right? You'd be fine with as low as 4 cups and as high as 7ish cups, possibly even 8. The rice pudding will either be extra creamy or more rice-filled. Six is the "perfect" amount, but life isn't always perfect now, is it? ;)

** One more note about the leftover rice. It's best to use rice that's just a day old. As rice sits it hardens. If the rice is too old, it will be crunchy in your pudding—blech. 

If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also enjoy:

More delicious and healthy whole foods recipes like this are in my latest cookbook Whole Foods for the Everyday Cook, featuring over 100 recipes and even more photos!

How about an EASY way to get those good-for-you veggies in your kids every day! Sound too good to be true? Think again. 

Friday, September 26, 2014

On A Hunt for Quality Food

I am currently searching my area for quality food. Since we moved several states away recently, I need to find new farmers, co-ops and farmers' markets.

Currently, we are making do at the local grocery store as I cook my favorite recipes, but I sure do miss my old co-ops, farms and local produce!

I prefer to shop as much as possible from local sources for many reasons, but here are my top 3 reasons:

1. I know from whom I'm buying my food and from where my food is coming. I can get to know the farmers who produce my food personally, ask questions about growing/raising practices, understand how they raise their food and why, and I can see for myself how their farms are run. All of this brings me far more confidence than a grocery store label of "organic" or "cage-free," which can (and do) have loopholes. The more mass produced a food is, I've found it generally loses its quality; quality is often sacrificed in order to broadly increase production.

2. Local food is truly good for the environment. Smaller farmers generally have safer, more ecologically-minded farming practices which keep our land and water cleaner and safer. Furthermore, local food is not being transported across the US, countries or continents. It's just going "around the corner." Besides the savings of gas, transportation, packing, etc...you know what that means, right? It's FRESH! The fresher your produce, the more nutrients are in it and the better it tastes.

3. I believe smaller-scale, local farmers are vital to the health of our food system. I want to support them every opportunity I can.

So what exactly am I looking for?

  • Nearby farms to source regular items like grass-fed milk and truly cage-free (or pastured) eggs.
  • Farms somewhere in my region (up to 1-2 hours away) who are raising grass-fed beef, pastured chickens and some pastured, free-foraging pork as well. I'm willing to drive a distance if necessary, as these would be bulk annual orders. I'd like to purchase 1/4 cow, as well as stock my extra freezer with multiple whole chickens, and possibly a whole or half hog depending on breed.
  • Local farmers' markets where I can purchase safely-grown local and organic produce (and perhaps also milk, beef and more). I don't yet have a garden and won't get it going until the spring.
  • Ecologically-minded pick-your-own farms, where we can stock up on produce we aren't growing.
  • A new co-op where I can purchase grains, beans and other pantry staples.
  • Possibly a CSA or a local produce delivery during these months where I don't yet have a garden. 

And, of course, the food—from wherever I get it—must fit within my budget! That's why I'm doing a lot of research and following a lot of leads. This way I can find the best quality for the best price and find foods that will work in my budget.

Here is how I am finding these sources:

  • Using the internet and sites like Local Harvest and Eat Local Grown to find farms and co-ops in my region.
  • Networking via my new friends. I'm asking people that I meet what farms are in the area and other related questions. I've also asked these questions on a local facebook group I've joined. (By the way, that was also a great way to get advice on local doctors and dentists!) And I've just kept my ears open—for instance, just yesterday we were at a floor store choosing flooring for the house we are building, and the sales lady mentioned in the course of conversation that she lives next door to a farmer who sells fabulous local produce (her words). I immediately asked her for his name and address. 
  • Contacting farms via email, phone calls and visits (if they're close by), so that I can ask questions, check prices, meet the farmers and see the animals and how they are raised.
  • Visiting the area farmers' markets. I'm able to purchase food as well as meet farmers who sell there. I can ask questions and ask about bulk orders. If they can't meet my needs, farmers know farmers and so they often can pass on the names of other farmers who may have what I'm looking for.
Are you currently searching for quality food in your local area? Do you have any tips or resources to share with us today?