Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Undone Lamb and Rice Stuffed Grape Leaves

This week I wanted to make something savory, healthy, delicious and interesting. I went looking for a recipe for something I have never made before.  What I found was recipe for Lebanese Stuffed Grape Leaves in the current issue of Eating Well magazine.  Now this is something I have never made before!

One slight problem though, I live in a fairly rural area.  Our local Winn Dixie doesn't exactly stock grape leaves.  Not to be deterred I decided to modify the recipe.  Instead of stuffing and boiling the grape leaves, I pan sautéed the filling and served it with naan (which is available at my local grocery store).  

The results was delicious!  In case you have never had lamb, it a naturally flavorful meat much more flavorful than ground beef.  The lamb and spice blend flavored the brown rice and lentils beautifully.   I served my Lebanese lamb,and rice dish with naan and a side of cool creamy plain yogurt.  I didn't miss the grape leaves at all!

The other modification I made to the Eating Well recipe was to add some lentils.  I really like lentils in dishes like this.  Not only are they a tasty edition, they also reduce the amount of meat in a portion and add in a healthy dose of protein, fiber, and other healthy nutrients.  

Lebanese Lamb, Rice and Lentils
Prep time: 8 minutes
Total time start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes
Makes: 12 1/2-cup servings

1 lb ground lamb
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown rice
1/2 cup lentils
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons dried mint (or 2 tablespoons fresh minced mint)
1 tablespoon dried marjoram leaves
2 teaspoon s ground cinnamon
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
lemon wedges for serving
plain yogurt for serving

COOK brown rice and lentils according to package directions. 

PLACE ground lamb, rice, lentils, parsley, mint, marjoram, cinnamon, cumin, salt, pepper and allspice in a large bowl.  Use you hands to fully MIX the ingredients.

PLACE lamb and rice mixture into a large skillet on medium high heat.  Brown meat until fully cooked, stirring fairly often to help the mixture cook evenly.

SERVE the Lebanese lamb, rice and lentils hot with lemon wedge and yogurt on the side if desired.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hanging Out with Food Bloggers for the Weekend

Last weekend I attended BlogHer Food in Atlanta.  It was my first blogging conference and I was thrilled to meet a bunch of women and a few men who share my passion for food and food writing.  The bloggers at the conference ran the spectrum.   There were some very well-known established bloggers, newbies who had written only a couple of posts and everything in between.  There were professional chefs and new cooks; food activist and food connoisseurs; the diet conscious and those who savored more indulgent kinds of food.  It was a glorious experience. 
first day at the conference

I sat in on many great break out discussions.  Two of the ones I found most relevant to me were about getting your family to eat healthier.  (I’ll talk about that more in a future blog post.) 

One break out discussion I wished I had attended was Food Blogging for Change.  This one featured “Mrs Q” who writes Fed Up with School Lunch.  Mrs Q apparently works in a school and is simultaneously doing a little undercover reporting on the state of school lunches while advocating for change.  I like her already!  Her latest triumph was reforming the daily lunch menu at her son’s daycare.  Go Mrs Q!
Mary Eva indulging my need for between session chocolate

At the conference I learned about many great new food blogs like Devil and Egg by Caroline Campion and Black America Cooks by Donna Pierce.  In fact I learned about so many great blogs that I could make this post just one long list of yummy food blogs.  Instead though, I am going to savor them slowly and then making individual postings about the interesting food I find along the way.

Katie and Jenna at dinner at the Terrace

Of course it was not all work and discussion groups while I was in Atlanta.  There was also some pretty good food to be had too.  On my free night I went with a friend to The Terrace, a farm to table concept restaurant in the Ellis Hotel.  It was awesome.  From the scrumptious mushroom pate with a hint of garlic to the perfectly cooked lamb with smashed potatoes and mint Greek yogurt, the meal was excellent!  If you are ever in Atlanta, I highly recommend it.
the menu with food sources listed to the right
my fabulous lamb and smashed potato dinner

The last day of the conference we took a field trip to Sweet Auburn Curb Market as a group.  The market, which had its origins in the 1920’s, was a bevy of fresh greens and freshly cut meat.  
Loved the sign - "Buy your whole pig here"!

bins and bins of fresh veggies

one more look at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market

It was a shame I couldn’t do more shopping since I was flying out later that day.  At least I had a delicious lunch at Afro Dish while I was there.  This restaurant serves up authentic Caribbean and African cuisine.   I had the jerk chicken with plantains and rice served up to me by the owner himself, Ralph Sarpong. 
a great find at the market
Not a great picture, but my lunch was delicious!

So that was my first food blogging conference.  A big thanks to Katie Williamson and MaryEva Tredway for palling around with me in Atlanta.  It was a great experience. Now that I am back, I am looking forward to trying out some new ideas in the kitchen and checking into some new-to-me blogs on line. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Avocados and Hummus

Toddlers are tricky little beasts, aren’t they?  Last Sunday my little pumpkin loved avocados.  He scarfed down all that I gave him and then asked for more from my plate.  Today he took one look at the luscious perfectly ripe green chunks on his plate, shook his head vigorously and declared, “No like it ….no like it.” 
“Please take a bite, Logan.  You do like it!”
With slight giggling (at silly mommy) then more vigorous head shaking my 2 year-old declares, “No like it, mommy….Noooooo like it!!”  (audible sigh from mommy) 

Two year-olds are tricky beasts indeed.
Every week or so Logan picks a new favorite food.  Last week the favorite was almond butter.  He wanted large spoonfuls of almond butter as his meal and snacks.  He was only mildly interested in other foods if I smeared them heavily with almond butter.  
This week he has moved on from almond butter and his new love is hummus (which he pronounced “tumus”).  He wants copious amounts of hummus at every meal including breakfast.  So much for the food diversity I had in mind!  
Having a favorite food though isn’t all bad.  It has turned out to be a great carrot to hold out to get Logan to at least take a bite of the other foods on his plate.  I dole out the favored food of the day in smallish spoonfuls.  Before he gets the next spoonful he has to take a bite of another food on this plate.  For the most part it is working reasonable well, but only if I sit with him and keep suggesting (or insisting) on alternating food bites.  Bottom line is getting a 2 year-old to eat healthy is generally a lot of work no matter how you do it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Changing the World Starting with Dinner

I am a new mom with a beautiful 2 year-old son, named Logan.  I have been thinking a lot lately about what are the “right” foods for a healthy growing toddler and how I get my precious boy to eat them.  I want my child to grow up with a healthy love of real food but I will admit as a full-time working single mom it can be a challenge to get healthy food choices to the table every night.

60 years ago moms stayed home and cooked from scratch.  Dinner time was sacred family time.  But today moms work full time jobs and dinner is shoved in between a flurry of after-school and social activities.  As a nation we cook less therefore the skill of cooking is growing weaker with each generation.  Our only choice in our harried lives seems to be relying on convenience foods which generally are over processed and under nutritious.  What are the consequences of placing such low value on the food we put in our bodies?  A national obesity crisis and sky rocketing health care cost.  I shudder to think what we will look like as a nation 20 years from now.     

I want to change things.  I want to raise my child with a love of food, healthy balanced eating habits and the ability to live and eat in the modern world.   I also want to see our nation develop a healthy relationship with food again.

But the national food problem is so large and so pervasive (and we are just too busy to cook up a solution) it is hard to get motivated to tackle the problem head on.  It is easier to rock back on our heels, complain and throw the blame.  Because clearly it is the fast food industry’s fault or the food manufactures who are to blame for our societies growing waistlines and lack of will power.  It couldn’t possibly be our faults for over-scheduling our lives and demanding ever cheaper convenience food items could it?  

So what do we do now to solve the toxic relationship we have developed with food?  Lobby congress to change food regulation?  Run for congress and write new laws?  Change the school curriculum to include food education?  Pressure school districts to take junk food vending machines out of schools?  Boycott fast food establishments?  Go organic? Go vegan?  When so many things are wrong it is hard to know where to start.

For now I am going to start by with my own family.  I pledge to keep family dinner sacred and to do my best to cook real foods.  I am still a working single mom who has not magically found extra hours in the day to make all my food from scratch.  It is going to be a balancing act.  I don’t have the ability to farm my own vegetables or buy all organic meat at this time, but I can certainly start cooking more food that is unprocessed or at least minimally process.  I will do the best I can starting with small changes and work my way up to bigger ones, one meal at a time.