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  1. Sunday, March 17, 2019

    Week 616 Weekly Menu

    Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We had a super fun and busy day, so just now sitting down to do the weekly menu.

    Week 616 Weekly Dinner Menu: Pesto Pasta, Mexican Rice Bowls, Egg Scrambles, Turkey Boursin Baguettes and Asian Chicken Salad

    MONDAY:
    – Chicken Pesto Pasta

    TUESDAY:
    – Mexican Rice Bowls

    WEDNESDAY:
    Roasted Vegetable Egg Scrambles

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    – Eat out night

    SATURDAY:
    Turkey Boursin Baguettes

    SUNDAY:
    Pat’s Asian Chicken Salad

    Your turn! Share your food plans for the week in the comments below. Thank you SO much and have a great week!


  2. Friday, March 15, 2019

    #51: Interview with Sustainable Agriculture Professor Megan O’Rourke

    Episode 51 Podcast Header: Interview with Megan O'Rourke, PhD, on Organic Farming

    In episode #51 of the podcast, I get the chance to interview Megan O’Rourke, professor of sustainable agriculture at Virginia Tech. If you’ve been following my Eat Well, Heal the Planet posts this year, you know Megan! She’s our resident scientist, providing all kinds of great info around food, farming and the environment. In case you missed it, yesterday we published a post with a quick guide for mindful food shopping as well as Megan’s thoughts on the current state of organic farming. Today’s podcast interview builds on that article. Megan is a fantastic resource and I am delighted to share her with you! 

    Shownotes:

    It’s easy to listen to the show!

    • Via the web: Click the play button below!
    • Via an app: Search “This Week for Dinner Podcast” on your favorite podcast app (iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, etc.).

    Other Stuff!


  3. Thursday, March 14, 2019

    A Quick Guide to Mindful Food Shopping Choices + Thoughts on Organic Farming

    For quite some time now I have purchased mostly organic food, my reasoning being that it was better for the environment and biodiversity. As I’ve started doing more reading about different diets and their impact on the environment, questions around organic food keep coming to mind. I turned to our resident expert, Virginia Tech sustainable agriculture professor Megan O’Rourke, and asked her what she thought about organic. That simple question led to several conversations, a podcast interview, and Megan writing her thoughts on organic for us, which I am sharing below in this post. The bottom line? Yes, organic has benefits, sometimes environmental. No, it’s not clear cut and as easy as saying that buying organic is the best choice. As with pretty much anything related to food and the environment, it’s complicated!

    As Megan and I talked, I asked her if it would be possible to make a quick reference guide for people who want to be mindful about what impact their food is having. Megan agreed and gave me an excellent list of things to think about. I turned it into an “If…Then…” list, which highlights a few values around food and some of the choices you can make to support those values. 

    Chart with "If, Then" statements, providing a quick guide to mindful food shopping choices

    Since there are no easy answers, for our family I’ve decided to concentrate on reducing our consumption of cow products (both meat and dairy), focus on more plant-based eating and buying our food as locally and seasonally as possible. Megan, as you will learn in her article below as well as in our podcast interview that will publish tomorrow, really likes to focus on buying food locally and growing foods that make sense for where she lives, thereby reducing the need for chemical interventions. As you look at the “If..Then…” list I encourage you to identify those values and choices that make the most sense for you and your family. If we are all making efforts where we can, we will make a difference! 

    Why organic? What is the real impact? Is there a real impact?

    By Megan O’Rourke, Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech

    There is a lot of confusion about organic agriculture, so Seufert et al. published a review paper in 2017 describing what science does and does not know about the real impacts of organic agriculture. They broke down the impacts into three broad categories: environmental, productivity, effects on farmers, and effects on consumers. They then subdivided these broad categories into 26 specific metrics of public interest and compared the relative impacts  of an acre of organic land to an acre of conventional land. Interestingly, the authors assert that we basically don’t know anything about 10 of the metrics of interest. These include effects on soil erosion, water use, pesticide leaching, and farm wages. In fact, we only have high certainty about a few things. Fortunately for consumers, most of our certainty revolves around organic produce quality, such as lower pesticide residues and higher phytonutrient, mineral, and vitamin content than conventional agriculture. Scientists are also pretty certain that organic land produces lower yields but higher profitability than conventional production, while improving the soil and providing habitat for wildlife.

    But, here’s the spoiler. While I am a sustainable agriculture researcher with lots of facts and figures at hand, I almost never buy organic myself. Why?  I have both rational reasons and emotional reactions to the current state of organic agriculture that guide what I do. Let’s start with the rational reasons. 

    With grocery store organic, I don’t really know what I’m getting. Grocery store organic is often far from the bucolic small farm dream we imagine. Organic produce is much more likely to come from a megafarm in California than from your local family farm, and these megafarms simply practice chemical substitutions. Any poisonous chemical derived naturally and approved by the National Organic Program can be used in organic production. For example, some heavy metals like copper, which accumulate in the environment, are used extensively in organic production. Other pesticides, such as pyrethrums extracted from chrysanthemums, are allowed in organic production while their synthetic cousins, pyrethroids, are not. Synthetic fertilizers are not allowed in organic production but organic fertilizer companies mine bat guano from Chile and ship it up to California. Bat guano has essentially the same chemical properties as synthetic nitrogen fertilizers. When it comes to organic meat, I find the rules about organic meat production unethical. Organic farmers cannot use antibiotics on sick animals without the animals being deemed nonorganic. This can cause animals to suffer and be culled early instead of being treated humanely (which, by the way, is allowed in European organic practices).

    Now on to my more emotional responses to the current state of organic. Perhaps one of my least rational reactions to buying organic produce is that I find it bourgeois. While I am solidly privileged middle class in reality, my gut feels like buying organic is spending money excessively. Furthermore, the scientific benefits of organic produce are not significant enough for me. For example, while organic on average has a higher nutrient content in side-by-side comparisons with conventional food, this health benefit pales in comparison to simply eating more vegetables and a greater variety of produce. Also, as a scientist, on the whole I trust the capacity of science to make life better for us. For example, there was a time when I was skeptical about genetically modified crops, but now after talking with countless farmers, I appreciate how GMOs (which are banned in organic foods) can improve farmer health and reduce their exposure to insecticides. I also think that pesticides used responsibly can be like tiny miracles. When we are sick, we go to the doctor and get medicine. When plants get sick, they need some medicine too. While pesticides can be overused, I don’t prescribe banning them. We use chemicals all the time to make our life better and easier, so why shouldn’t farmers be allowed synthetic products in their toolbox?

    Another issue I have with organic is the bureaucracy. Organic farmers need to pay money, keep extensive records, and allow regulators onto their farms to inspect every aspect of their operation. As a natural rebel, the idea of allowing a stranger to nitpick about my choices of production would drive me crazy. I’ve talked to farmers who can’t pass inspections because they used landscape cloth around their blueberry bushes as that was not considered organic enough. When my husband and I had a CSA farm years ago, we did not certify organic because of the cost and bureaucracy. If you have $5000 in gross sales or less you can claim organic; otherwise you cannot market with that label. We took the Northeast Organic Farmers Association “Farmers Pledge” to market under. We pledged to grow organically and to respect workers’ rights. The national organic standards say nothing about worker conditions, pay, or labor rights.

    For me, organic was great for learning about pests, which I love doing, but I will no longer farm organically at home starting this year. You can either stick to just growing what grows well in your area without spraying and watch your crops lose 50 percent plus yields, use organic chemical substitution, or use lots of physical barriers that create loads of trash (which only works for certain plants anyway). I now see no hope in growing an orchard on the east coast without spraying something. I saw total losses year after year. That’s my new challenge this year – to manage my new orchard well by picking a crop with as little pesticide as I think I can get away with.

    These are some of the reasons why I personally don’t buy (or farm) organic. For me, I would be most inclined to support organic if I perceived a substantial environmental impact, but I’m not convinced of this with the modern industrialization of the organic industry. If I were to prioritize my organic purchases to avoid pesticide residues, I would focus on organic versions of the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list: strawberries, spinach, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, sweet peppers, and hot peppers. (Click here for the Environmental Working Group’s 2018 Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.) For me eating as locally as possible and eating less meat makes a bigger difference, so that is what I focus on. We all have different reasons that are important to us when considering what food to buy and give to our families – having information can help us make the best choices to support our values and also make a positive difference in the world. 

    Quick Guide to Mindful Food Shopping Choices

    For Your Health and the Earth’s

    • If you do not want GMOs in your food, then buy organic.
    • If you want to reduce your personal exposure to pesticide residues, then buy organic or at least buy “The Dirty Dozen” organically.
    • If you want the most nutritions versions of produce, then buy locally and seasonally.
    • If you want the highest quality, most delicious produce, then buy locally and seasonally.
    • If you worry about the working conditions of migrant farm laborers, buy locally.
    • If you want to help conserve biodiversity, cut out or cut back on dairy and meat (shift from beef to pork to poultry).
    • If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, cut out or cut back on dairy and meat (shift from beef to pork to poultry).
    • If you want to reduce your carbon footprint, cut out or cut back on dairy and meat (shift from beef to pork to poultry).
    • If you want generally nutritious food at the best price, buy conventional produce and cook (this is better than eating processed organic food).
    • If you want off-season produce, buy conventional produce (there are many fraudulent organic imports).

     


  4. Wednesday, March 13, 2019

    Gluten-Free Vegan Cashew Butter Cookies

    In the last of my cashew butter cookie recipes, I wanted to provide a completely plant-based, vegan version. My regular cashew butter cookies and molasses cashew butter cookies both use an egg. Given my new year’s resolution, I wanted to see how these cookies would do with an egg alternative. It worked and so I definitely want to share this recipe for gluten-free vegan cashew butter cookies with you.

    Gluten-free vegan cashew butter cookies cooling on a rack with backlightingStack of gluten-free vegan cashew butter cookies on a blue plate

    The vegan version of these cookies come out wonderfully, but they do in fact have a different texture than the version with eggs. The cookies come out much flatter and are a little more “wet,” if you will (i.e. they stick to your fingers a little bit when you eat them). They taste awesome, however, and the texture is delicious, so if you want a plant-based alternative, these cookies are great. (See picture below comparing the two different versions of the recipe.)

    Top view of two racks of cookies, comparing two cashew butter cookie recipes - one made with an egg, the other made with ground flaxseed.

    In addition, if you want to add chocolate chips, go right ahead! And if you want to molasses-ize them, use the molasses cashew butter cookie recipe and sub out the 1 egg for the ground flaxseed and water, like you see in the recipe below. As with the other two cashew butter cookie recipes, these cookies are dairy free and gluten free. Enjoy!

    Side view of a stack of vegan, gluten-free cashew butter cookies

    Vegan Cashew Butter Cookies
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Serves: 12-16
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup cashew butter
    • ½ cup brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed (or flaxseed meal)
    • 3 tablespoons hot water
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla
    • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
    • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. In a small bowl, whisk together the ground flaxseed and hot water. Let sit for 5 minutes.
    3. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg then add all the other ingredients, including the flaxseed mixture. Stir well.
    4. On a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet or a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat, drop cookie dough balls, evenly spacing them like you would chocolate chip cookies. I used a medium (2 tablespoon) cookie scoop. The dough is quite wet and the scoop makes it easy to create the cookie dough balls. If you don't have a scoop, use a spoon and wet fingers to form your dough balls.
    5. Bake for approximately 11-15 minutes, or until the cookies are starting to brown lightly around the edges. They will look cooked, if you know what I mean - if there is cracking, the cookies should no longer look wet inside. (See pictures as a guide.)
    6. Let cool at least 10 minutes before eating.

     


  5. Gluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies

    This week is the parade of cashew butter cookie recipes! Once I figured out how to make a really good gluten-free cashew butter cookie, I had to start experimenting. The result was the recipe below for gluten-free molasses cashew butter cookies. These cookies are wonderful. Yes, they would be perfect for the holidays, but honestly I love them any time of year, especially with a nice cup of coffee or tea.  

    Gluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies Uneaten on Blue PlateGluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies broken open to show crumb

    When I first tried turning the cashew butter cookies into something that was reminiscent of molasses cookies or gingerbread, I wasn’t 100% sure it would work. But I’m really glad I tried because cashew butter cookies proved to be an excellent base for these spicy flavors. 

    Gluten-free cashew butter molasses cookies side view on panGluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies from above on pan

    Next up in the parade of cashew butter cookies will be a vegan version. And don’t forget the original recipe, which is especially tasty with chocolate chips! 

    Gluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies Uneaten on Blue Plate view from above

    Gluten-Free Molasses Cashew Butter Cookies
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Serves: 12-16
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup cashew butter
    • ⅓ cup brown sugar
    • 2 tablespoons molasses
    • 1 egg
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla
    • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
    • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
    • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • ⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
    • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
    • Granulated Sugar for sprinkling
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg then add all the other ingredients. Stir well.
    3. On a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet or a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat, drop cookie dough balls, evenly spacing them like you would in other cookie recipes. I used a medium (2 tablespoon) cookie scoop. The dough is quite wet and the scoop makes it easy to create the cookie dough balls. If you don't have a scoop, use a spoon and wet fingers to form your dough balls.
    4. Once the dough balls are on the cookie sheet, with wet hands, gently press each dough ball down a bit so they are a bit more disc like, rather than balls. Sprinkle each dough ball with granulated sugar, gently pressing the sugar into the dough.
    5. Bake for approximately 11-15 minutes, or until the cookies look set, with some cracking. If you peek in the cracks, the cookies should no longer look wet inside. (See pictures as a guide for what they should look like.)
    6. Let cool at least 10 minutes before eating.

     


  6. Gluten-Free Cashew Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chips

    I’ve known I have a peanut allergy for nearly 20 years but only recently discovered I also have a wheat allergy {cue sad music}. I’ve tried making my favorite chocolate chip cookies with gluten-free flour, but they just are not the same. Last December when my daughter Cate’s cello group was out wassailing with their cellos (yes, really, and it was awesome), one of the houses served us dairy-free, gluten-free cashew butter cookies. The cookies were divine, so first thing I did the next day was start researching gluten-free cashew butter cookie recipes. 

    Gluten-Free Cashew Butter Cookies on a plate, broken open to show chocolate chips

    The result of all my researching and testing is today’s recipe for gluten-free cashew butter cookies with chocolate chips. In addition to this recipe, I will also be sharing a vegan version and a molasses version. I’m basically a cashew butter cookie junkie now. 

    Top view of gluten-free cashew butter cookies on a panSide view of gluten-free cashew butter cookies with chocolate chips

    This recipe for gluten-free cashew butter cookies has chocolate chips, but they could easily be made without the chocolate. Sans chocolate would make for a reallllly good cookie. That said, these are excellent with some chocolate thrown in. In addition, if you are like me and finding yourself allergic to peanuts but really missing peanut blossom cookies, this recipe would be a great alternative and I know “cashew blossoms” would be just as tasty as the original. Maybe more so, Nate and I find we like these cashew butter cookies than peanut butter cookies, actually. With all the great new options that gluten-free cashew butter cookies have provided, I can truly say I’m not missing wheat-based cookies any more. It’s a miracle!

    Side view of gluten-free cashew butter cookies on a plate

    And, yes, the texture is like an actual cookie. And, no, there is no flour. And yes, it’s pure magic.

    Gluten-Free Cashew Butter Cookies with Chocolate Chips
     
    Prep time
    Cook time
    Total time
     
    Author:
    Serves: 12-16
    Ingredients
    • 1 cup cashew butter (other nut butters like peanut and almond would work in this recipe as well)
    • ½ cup brown sugar
    • 1 egg
    • ½ teaspoon vanilla
    • ¼ teaspoon baking powder
    • ⅛ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
    • ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips
    Instructions
    1. Preheat oven to 350º F.
    2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the egg then add all the other ingredients. Stir well.
    3. On a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet or a cookie sheet lined with a Silpat, drop cookie dough balls, evenly spacing them like you would chocolate chip cookies. I used a medium (2 tablespoon) cookie scoop. The dough is quite wet and the scoop makes it easy to create the cookie dough balls. If you don't have a scoop, use a spoon and wet fingers to form your dough balls.
    4. Once the dough balls are on the cookie sheet, with wet hands, gently press each dough ball down a bit so they are a bit more disc like, rather than balls. This will make for a nicer shaped cookie in the end, although this step is not critical to the success of the recipe.
    5. Bake for approximately 11-15 minutes, or until the cookies are starting to brown lightly around the edges. They will look cooked, if you know what I mean - if there is cracking, the cookies should no longer look wet inside. (See pictures as a guide.)
    6. Let cool at least 10 minutes before eating.
    Notes
    To make "Cashew Blossoms" (a peanut-free alternative to Peanut Blossoms), Once you place the dough balls on the cookie sheet and press them down a bit, sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Bake as directed. When the cookies come out of the oven, press a Hershey kiss into the center of each cookie.

     


  7. Sunday, March 10, 2019

    Week 615 Weekly Menu

    I’ve been doing a really good job the last few weeks of following my weekly menu to a “t,” which means every Sunday I sit down and have to come up with a completely new menu. No stealing from the week before! I know this is a good thing, but it feels lame. Stop being so responsible, Self. Anyway, I am so grateful for your menus every week to help come up with new ideas!

    Week 615 Weekly Dinner Menu, including turkey chili, pasta with cream sauce, island pork, vegetable quiche and green feast for st. patrick's day

    MONDAY:

    Chili (with ground turkey, cutting down on beef!)

    TUESDAY:

    Pasta and Broccoli with Simple Cream Sauce

    WEDNESDAY:

    Island Pork with Sticky Coconut Rice (going to re-vamp this recipe to really reduce the amount of sugar, I’ll keep you posted on any changes!)
    – Salad

    THURSDAY:

    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:

    – Vegetable Quiche (going to try a GF crust)

    SATURDAY:

    – Eat out night

    SUNDAY:

    – St Patrick’s Day! We’ll either cook something Irish (corned beef?) or eat a super green meal, plans TBD!

    Can’t wait to see all your menus! Seriously, they are so helpful each week when I sit down to plan. Thank you for sharing and have a great week!


  8. Friday, March 8, 2019

    #50: Awesome Avocado Tips

    Header for Episode #50 of the This Week for Dinner Podcast - Avocado Tips Today marks the 50th episode of the This Week for Dinner podcast! To celebrate I am sharing some of my most favorite kitchen tips and they all have to do with avocados. Over the years I’ve had the chance to visit some avocado groves and here from some avocado experts and along the way I have picked up some really great tips. In the show I cover the best place to check for ripeness on an avocado, strategies for storing them at peak ripeness, and how to get the pit out without cutting off your hand. These tips have been game changers for me and I’m excited to share them with you all on the podcast.

    Shownotes:

    Plastic refrigerator wine bottle holder used to store avocados

    It’s easy to listen to the show!

    • Via the web: Click the play button below!
    • Via an app: Search “This Week for Dinner Podcast” on your favorite podcast app (iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, Spotify, etc.).

    Other Stuff!


  9. Sunday, March 3, 2019

    Week 614 Weekly Dinner Menu

    Hey everybody. Another week, another menu…here goes!

    Week 614 Weekly Dinner Menu

    MONDAY:
    Indian Tacos with Masala Salsa

    TUESDAY:
    Buffalo Chicken Drumsticks (GF)
    – Salad

    WEDNESDAY:
    – Vegetable Soup
    – Bread from Prager Brothers

    THURSDAY:
    – Leftovers

    FRIDAY:
    – Homemade Hamburgers

    SATURDAY:
    – Eat out night

    SUNDAY:
    Chicken Gumbo with Tasso & Andouille Sausage (GF)
    – Salad

    Come on everybody, share your menus with us! Let’s see what you’ve got cooking! Thanks for sharing and have a great week!


  10. Friday, March 1, 2019

    #49: Interview with Rana DiOrio + Plant-Based Eating Hack

    This Week for Dinner Podcast Header for Episode #49 Interview with Rana DiOrio

    In episode #49 of the This Week for Dinner Podcast I get the chance to speak with Rana DiOrio. Rana is an entreprenuer, author, mom to 3 and life learner. Rana has an interesting background. She started out as a corporate securities lawyer and took a winding road through a few endeavors, eventually matching her values with her career by creating a publishing company for really cool children’s books. She is a great example of a working mom who cooks for her kids all the time. (You’ll find out in the episode what her kids thought of the time she tried a meal delivery kit service.) Rana and I talk about how her new book What Does It Mean to Be American? came to be, and of course Rana shares with us one of her favorite recipes and a great kitchen tip. You can follow Rana on Twitter @ranadiorio and on Instagram @ranedear. In addition to Rana’s interview I also share this year’s first plant-based eating hack. Enjoy the episode!

    Cover of "What Does it Mean to Be American?"

    Shownotes:

    Rana's Crock Pot Sausage & Peppers
     
    Adapted from The Spruce Eats
    Author:
    Ingredients
    • 2 pounds sweet or hot Italian sausage
    • 2 yellow onions, chopped
    • 1 orange bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch pieces
    • 1 red bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch pieces
    • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 2-inch pieces
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 (28-ounce) can of crushed San Marzano tomatoes
    • ½ cup dry red wine
    • 1 tablespoon dried parsley leaves
    • ½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves
    • 4 fresh basil leaves OR 2 Trader Joe's frozen basil cubes
    • ½ teaspoon salt
    • ¼ teaspoon pepper
    • Additional ingredients for transforming into a Puttanesca sauce:
    • 1 cup red wine (whatever you're drinking with dinner that night!)
    • Olives, chopped or sliced (Rana prefers green Castelvetrano, but any olives will work)
    • Handful of sun-dried tomatoes
    • Red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
    Instructions
    1. Over medium heat in a heavy skillet, cook the sausage until browned, slipping occasionally during cooking time. Remove skillet from the heat and set aside.
    2. Lay half of the onions in the bottom of a 4-quart crockpot then top with half of the bell peppers. Add all of the sausages then do another layer of the onions and peppers along with the bay leaves and garlic.
    3. Add the diced crushed tomatoes, red wine, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, and pepper to the skillet and mix well. Pour the tomato mixture into the crockpot
    4. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or until sausage is 165º F. Resist opening the lid until near the end of the cook time to check on the sausages.
    5. Once sausage is done, remove the bay leaves. Taste the sauce and add any additional spices to taste if needed.
    6. To adapt the above recipe to make a Puttanesca sauce:
    7. Once the sausage is done cooking, remove them from the slow cooker and slice into rounds.
    8. Add the additional 1 cup wine, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, red pepper flakes (if using) and the sliced sausages to the slow cooker.
    9. Simmer in the crockpot until you are ready to serve over the pasta of your choice.

     

    It’s easy to listen to the show!

    • Via the web: Just click play below!
    • Via an app: Just search “This Week for Dinner Podcast” on your favorite podcast app, such as Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Overcast and Spotify.

    Other Stuff!