Ask and ye shall receive…

Pasta Bolognese, green beans sautéed in olive oil and sea salt, and garlic bread. I was in a bit of a mood and decided that is exactly what I would make.

I did some poking around online and made a Bolognese concoction based on a few recipes I read.

365/42: Bolognese

All the recipes called for celery, which I didn’t have. Some called for tomatoes, some did not. I like tomatoes so I added a can in lieu of the water. Some called for heavy cream, some for whole milk…I had half and half. (You getting the idea?) Also, some called for dry white wine and others called for dry red. Since it was a meat sauce and I don’t particularly care for wine – I opted for a red. I ended up with a zinfandel by Ravens Wood was pretty tasty (even for a gal who isn’t into reds).

Bolognese_2

Carrot, onion, and garlic diced well (sautéed first in some butter and olive oil). Add a pound of ground beef (traditional recipes called for veal, but I don’t eat veal), a pound of ground pork, 1/4 pound of bacon (pancetta would be better and next time I would brown it first before adding it with the other meats) and cook until no pink left in any of the meat. Then, a teaspoon of fresh thyme, a can of diced tomatoes, a can of tomato paste, and one cup each of a dry wine and half and half. Simmer for hours until very thick and more meaty than saucy…

When you’re about ready to eat, boil up some pasta (I used penne).

Just before serving I made some garlic bread and sautéed some green beans – I used butter and olive oil (everything tastes better with butter):

Bolognese_3

And viola! A home-cooked meal made by yours truly.

Alaskan Salmon

I am a transplant to the The South (North Carolina to be exact), originally from the Pacific NW. I grew up eating tasty, wild-caught, Alaskan fish. I LOVE salmon! The greatest drawback to my move has been finding wild-caught/Alaskan salmon. I’ve finally found a few places that are excellent sources and thought I should share them with my friends down here…and when in doubt, ask! Your local fish monger should be able to tell you where to look in your area if he (or she) can’t get it for you.

Vital Choice (www.vitalchoice.com):
VitalChoice.com1

They have the best quality fish of any place found since I’ve moved. And because I travel a lot for work during the week, I need foods that are frozen or have a long shelf life. They also have options that include individual portions which are perfect!

VitalChoice.com5

Even more perfect? Their tataki fishes (seared salmon and tuna loins)…they are pre-seared fish that are ready to serve out of the package (once it has thawed, of course). If you like your fish more cooked, you can also choose to finish cooking them through before serving.

All of their fish (I believe – you should double-check on their website) is sashimi-grade. All is sustainable. And their other products (nuts, berries, spices, etc.) are organic. Their prices are somewhat higher than if you were to find the fish in a supermarket, but be aware that there is no shipping charge on orders over $99 and it comes second day on dry ice to your front door.

My personal favorites: salmon and tuna tataki, halibut, and any of their salmon varieties. Oh…and their smoked fishes make wonderful treats.

For the kids I get their salmon jerky dog treats.

Please go check out their website!

Other sources:
Costco:

  • Salmon filets
  • Canned salmon
  • Pre-packaged frozen fish (salmon burgers, tilapia, Alaskan cod, etc.)

If you have a Costco near you (and a membership) go check out their fish case back in the meats section (typically I find the fish in the cases in front of the meat counters). I came across Coho salmon filets there late last summer. Sometimes you might also get lucky with their weekend fish monger, though usually they tend to serve up more local seafood (great days to buy crab and clams!). Be sure to read the label on the canned salmon (found in the dry goods area…it keeps moving, so I can’t really give you a good idea of which aisle to look down). The Costco out here carries Bear & Wolf wild Alaska salmon (excellent stuff!) but they also carry a more inexpensive farmed Atlantic salmon (icky, nasty, avoid at all costs!).

Also check out their frozen foods and see what they’ve got there. I found some great deals on tilapia, Alaskan cod, and salmon burgers. But again, be sure to read the packages to see where the fish is coming from!

Harris Teeter (or other local grocery stores):

  • Salmon filets/steaks
  • Canned salmon

Harris Teeter (the local grocery store chain out here) often carries Alaska salmon in their fish department during the summer, however, it is definitely a seasonal item. I was also informed this morning by a friend that they carry canned Alaskan salmon.

The best advice here is to talk to the store fish monger and request Alaskan/wild-caught salmon. Even if they don’t carry it regularly, chances are they could order it in for you if it is available to them. Get to know the monger (and the meat guy!)…they are great sources of info about where they get their fish, how it is prepared, packaged, and shipped to them, etc.

Some notes about fresh bought fish vs. frozen:

The only problem I have with store-bought fish is that it should have been frozen prior to shipping (this is a good thing when you are talking about buying fish from the opposite coast) and then has usually been thawed at the store. Re-freezing it tends to give it an icky texture if you are wanting to buy it to store (which is why I like the Vital Choice fish…it is frozen at sea, stays that way through shipping, and when it arrives and I can keep it that way). Use the grocery stores for “per meal” shopping and order online or look in the frozen foods sections if you are looking to stock up.

Also, make sure you do not have a self-defrosting freezer if you are planning to store your frozen fish for any length of time. The warming cycles that keep self-defrosting freezers free of well, frost, are very hard on meats and fish. They will not last as long. I hit up Sears during a fabulous sale and purchased a chest freezer that I keep in my garage. The good news is that a non-defrosting freezer is less expensive, though, it will need a little bit of maintenance over the years.

And make sure to set your freezer really, really cold. 0 is good. You want your frozen meats and fishes to stay that way until you are ready to thaw and eat them.

Safe Fish/Seafood Recommendations:

Do your research when buying new varieties of fish. Many farming practices have badly damaged wild fish populations (I akin farmed salmon to processed foods like cheese) and the fish are usually not as nutritious as their wild counterparts. Also beware of overfished varieties. Many fish (orange roughy is an example that comes to mind immediately – we used to eat it all the time when I was a kid) have been over-fished and their populations are in danger of disappearing.

Monterey Aquarium Seafood Watch:

The Monterey Aquarium is a great resource for info about fish. The above link leads to their pocket guide options (including mobile apps). They are an excellent source of what fishes are good to purchase/eat and which are not (possibly due to over-fishing and low populations or due to the negative impact of the fishing method, farming practices are also considered). I use their iPhone app with my current location to give me targeted info on fish I am more likely to see out here. The list changes slightly when I go home to visit family in Seattle.

With all that being said, salmon of course is not the only fish on the face of the planet, but it is by far one of my favorites and I do what I can to encourage others to give it a try. A friend here used to tell me that she hated salmon. That lasted until Neil smoked some Alaskan salmon in his smoker…she’s decided that she does indeed like it and has been more adventurous in trying it in different preparations. Why the change? She was used to the nasty, mushy, tasteless farmed Atlantic stuff that is typically served out here. I must say, I am still hard-pressed to find restaurants out here that serve Alaskan salmon. Typically the menu will say, but if not, I ask before ordering. If they can’t tell me where it is from, I avoid their fish all together. And this happens even at the very high-end places around here.

Food

I find people (and by people, I mean people who are mere acquaintances or even perfect strangers…I find I have a different set of 'rules' for people whom I consider friends) who openly admonish another's eating choices to be interesting (in an annoying sort of way). This week while I was on the road, the manager of the branch I was reviewing caught me eating a Clif Bar for breakfast. She very quickly jumped into a diatribe about how much sugar they had in them and how I really ought to be eating something else. She then went to her office and came back with three different "protein" bars that she likes. 

Two were Special K bars…one was their meal bar, the other a smaller "snack bar"…and the third was an Atkins Advantage bar. What I had to explain to her was a) I wasn't eating the Clif Bar as a "protein" supplement or anything like that…that it was simply my way of getting some nutrition in me in the mornings when I am on the road (I really don't do breakfast…ever). And that b) though the Clif Bar maybe has more sugars and thus a few more calories in it, it has WAY less fat, more potassium and less sodium than any of the bars she was offering me (the Atkins bar is only 170 calories, but of that 100 are from fat…in my opinion, unless you are actually ON the Atkins diet, this is not really the way you want to be eating on a regular basis). Of course, my most adamant argument with all foods, was that my Clif Bar was made with "real food" ingredients…like organic rolled oats, organic soy beans, and sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and the other myriad of unpronounceable ingredients in her bars. And because my bar was packed full of real soy and rolled oats, it actually filled me up rather than me having to try to pretend I was full after eating a much smaller, much more chemical bar. I mean really, why does a protein bar need dye in it?
Anyway, I am sure she thought I was nuts, but in the end conceded that I did know about what I was eating and took her bars back to her office.
She is a nice enough lady and we got along great regardless of the crazy food incident, but it isn't the first time that has come up during my travels. I am also somewhat amused because she was telling me about her personal training sessions and how she is disappointed that she isn't loosing more weight with the work she's been putting in. I kept my mouth shut and just did the generalized sympathizing thing, but if I remember correctly, sugar is much easier to burn overall than fat is…and based on the way she told me she was eating these protein bars (like in between meals rather than as meal substitutes) I wasn't all that surprised that she wasn't shedding the pounds. 
I mean, it is all in moderation, right. If all I eat is sugar and no fat, I will still have issues. Whatever. You go do what you think is best for you, and I will go do what I think is best for me. Now, if we could just get an electrician to call us back so I could have use of my treadmill once again…

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Five Words Meme – Pacific Northwest & Food

This meme ended up getting posted in different parts because my answers got too long! The words are from Amanda…feel free to comment if you'd like me to give you five words to write about.
~ Pacific Northwest & Food (really, the two do go hand-in-hand!)
  
The first thing that comes to mind is "home". Though that isn't really very accurate since Charlotte truly feels like home to me now…it is just that my family is all back in the PNW. I love the area – having both mountains and sea right there and if you go far enough east, there is also high desert. If you like the outdoors, I can't think of a better place to live – there is no place like it anywhere. 
However, I do not miss the many, many grey and dreary days. Folks ask me if it "really rains that much in Seattle" and the answer is yes. But it isn't rain like most east-coasters think of…instead it is the misty, grey drizzle you might think of if you pictured London. I lived in the PNW most of my life. Moved to the Portland, OR area when I was four and then from there to the Seattle area when I was 16. I spent my college and adult years around the Seattle area until three years ago when I moved across the country.
I will always have a soft spot for Washington. In fact, my favorite place anywhere is the Bellingham/San Juan Island area. If I were to ever move back, that would be the place! I still need to go on a whale-watching tour up there to see the killer whale pods when they are migrating.

Of course the other things that come to mind…and segue into the next word (FOOD)… are salmon, seafood, Alaskan king crab. There is so much fresh seafood and fish available there. The sad thing is that I don't like most seafood. But I do looooooove fish; salmon in particular. I never knew what I would be missing until I moved out to the East Coast; it was the first time I ever encountered/ingested farmed salmon. Holy cow it is disgusting. In fact, a friend of mine who never liked salmon is coming to find out that she never liked FARMED salmon. I have introduced her to Alaskan wild caught salmon…my grocery store has even finally started carrying it. For the first couple years here I was ordering it online from a company in Washington and having it shipped. I probably still will order it because they have such great products and they come frozen in single serving sizes which is perfect for me with all the travel I do, but it is nice to know I can also grab some while I get other groceries if I need to. Even Neil, who doesn't particularly like fish in general, is growing on it. However, I did learn last night, that he does not like traditionally prepared fish dished (i.e. baked). He likes it grilled or smoked or pan fried. I think he likes the drier end result. Live and learn – next time I will grill it.
I am a firm believer in supporting my local farmers and buying fresh foods. When I can, I try to make it out to our local farmers market. I am also hoping to get some raised beds built this fall so that I can grow my own little garden. We'll see – the project is budget and time dependent. 

I think more people need to pay better attention to what they are ingesting. I think many of today's health issues are due to over processing of foods and the chemicals we absorb from them. Don't get me wrong…I still like my Dairy Queen frozen deserts from time to time. 😉 But homemade ice cream is SO much tastier. LOL

Neil was listening to a conversation on talk radio the other day about how 40 years ago soda was a treat, not something to be offered with every meal which got us to thinking about our own habits. Even when I was a kid, we only got soda on special occasions. We are trying to go back to those ways – Neil has committed to having only "one sugary drink per day". My will-power is not that strong yet, but I have stopped buying soda to keep in the house. Instead, I get flavored bubbly water (La Croix – usually in either lime or grapefruit). And sometimes I still buy some Jones Cola (it is made with cane sugar rather than corn syrup) – but at least it isn't a half rack of it every week! 
My other big push lately is to cook and eat more often at home. Personally, I am burned out on eating out all the time.  The travel associated with my job has sort of squashed the pleasure in it for me (haha squashed…get it? *groan*). Again, though, that is something that ought to be a special occasion thing, not an everyday thing. Tonight we are grilling kabobs (I think). My goal: sure, I really need to lose some weight, but more importantly to me, is getting healthier. The biggest part of that is eating better. (Yeah, yeah…I know, there is that exercise thing that should go in there too, but that wasn't a word given to me to write about. Thank goodness!)

Soon to follow:
~pets
~photography
~marriage

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Groceries…and home-cooked meals

Yesterday I restocked my fridge with food. I was out of everything…

In the process I got some kale. I think maybe I've had small amounts in a fall beef stew my mom used to make when we were kids, but I don't remember for sure. I don't think I have ever had it as an adult. I have a good recipe for pasta with sauteed greens, garlic, lemon zest, green olives, and feta cheese. We made this last week with spinach which was very good, but I also read a bunch of reviews where folks had used arugula and kale in it for the extra flavor. I love arugula…and kale is supposed to be really, really good for you. So…thought I'd give it a shot! We did chicken with it last time. I might do that or I might do it with the salmon instead.
The fish department had wild caught Alaskan salmon on sale…so I bought two nice chunks of that. Usually all I see there is the nasty farmed Atlantic stuff, so I told the butcher/fish guy how happy I was to see the Alaskan stuff there and that I hope they continue to keep it in stock.
Wednesday is going to be stir-fry night. Chicken with veggies and rice. Nothing too exciting, but hopefully tasty!
Thursday I am thinking kabobs… probably steak, maybe chicken. I am not sure yet.
Beyond that, I have no idea. I figure planning out three days is pretty good for me. Tonight I am going to make some chicken soft tacos. Mmmmm.

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Wine Dinner

I will start by saying I am not much of a wine drinker and rarely, if ever, do I drink red wines. That said…the first red wine we had (second course) was really quite tasty. I don't even know how to describe it other than I liked it. 

Now, to back up to the beginning…we started out with a nice Prosecco – I think they said it was also from the winery that was being presented, but I don't remember for sure. It was a last minute addition and wasn't listed on our menu or the order list.
The next wine was a fabulous white…made with some rare grape that I forget the name of, but I think meant 'pine nut' in Italian. (Oh by the way, they had the winery owner there too…he seemed quite nice and totally out of his element…they described his English and terrible. LOL Poor guy. The two guys from the distributor who imports his wine both spoke very good English, but were very clearly of Italian descent with heavy accents.) The appetizer course was fried mozzarella….MMMmmmmm!
Then came the red that I liked…sure wish I could remember the names. I think there was a menu listed online somewhere that I will try to find and link here. It came with the pasta dish…pasta was topped with a fresh tomato sauce of sorts. Again, VERY tasty,
The main course was roast beef stuffed with other tasty tid-bits. They served another red with this course…I didn't like it. It was a "big" wine. Full bodied, lots of 'flavor'…just not the kind of flavor I dig. Neil liked it, though.
Desert was a fabulous chocolate cake sort of thing. (I wanted more!) And a very traditional desert wine. It was white and way too sweet and heavy for me. While I like sweeter wines, I do not like 'sweet' wines. Ick. 
So, about 6 glasses of various wines later (they kept refilling glasses as they got low) we went home and this morning I woke with a nasty little hangover. Ugh. It seems to have lessened some and now I think lunch will help get rid of the last of it.
Dinner was fun, met some of Neil's friends from work and had a great evening chatting and laughing and eating…I might consider going to their next one. Who knew there would be anything there I would like!

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OP Update & Other Stuff

Last night the need for love and snuggles finally won out. I got to spend some time hanging out with the sweet boy. He is a lover! Petting and holding and snuggling seem to be the best things in the world (next to canned food). He got brave and explored the room…I think he even attempted to come out of the room a few times last night, but was immediately accosted by two very curious dogs.

Bonnie goes in there and hangs out with him…not too close, but not as wary as before, either. I think once the dogs lose some intensity to their interest in him, he will come right out. He is still not too sure what to make of Neil. That will come too, though.
Tonight Neil is taking me to our favorite Italian restaurant. They are hosting a dinner by (for?) Slow Food of Charlotte. The dinner will be made with local foods (meats, veggies, and I think even cheeses). I forget exactly what the menu is, but it doesn’t really matter since everything their chefs make is good!
Monday night we will be back there for a wine tasting/pairing dinner. I am not into wine much, but the menu looked divine and a couple good friends whom I never get to see will be there too (along with some of Neil’s other friends). Twice in less than a week…I must have done something that the universe likes!
Right now I am off to take Neil into the office so we will just have one car later tonight when we head to dinner. Then it is back here and back to work on my project stuff. (Work project stuff, not house project stuff…unfortunately.) Maybe OP will venture out of his room this afternoon while the dogs are napping.

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