Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are You Ready For The Summer?

As I type this, it is a rainy and gloomy Sunday afternoon.  We are working on a patio this weekend, hopeful that the summer-like weather will eventually show up.  It is still only spring here but it’s been a cool, rainy one here in New England.   The boys are out getting some vinyl rain gutters to install on the overhang that is above the future patio so I have a few minutes to myself.  I decided to take a peek at an email I received this past week from Good Guide about sunscreens.  I wanted to take a look to see what we had from last year so I can see if it’s still on the list at Good Guide and to see if I need to pick some up when I run out later for the few random sunny days Mother Nature is granting us.

I received a similar email last year and took quite a look at it.  During the summer we slather ourselves with sunscreens and it made sense to take a good look at exactly what it is we are covering our bodies with all summer long.  As I took a look at the list I was at first discouraged.  A lot of the brands were not readily available local and were expensive when I searched for them to order online.

However, there was some hopeful news as I scrolled down the list some more.  Neutrogena and Coppertone were on the list after some of the ones that just were not going to happen for us.  Last year we ended up buying Coppertone.  For the price and availability, it made the most sense for us.  I think we will be using up the last of the Coppertone we have from last year and I will check out the Neutrogena at BJ’s Warehouse Club when I go next time.  I noticed that BJ’s had Neutrogena last time I was there but it hadn’t even crossed my mind to pick some up with how cool and rainy it’s been.  I want to check prices as well.  Even though the Neutrogena is in a club pack at BJ's, it may still not be less expensive than Coppertone at a discount store.  The overall rating at Good Guide is so close between the two brands that I will end up buying what is less expensive.    

Here’s the link for Good Guide.  If you have some time, take a look around at the other areas of the site.  I found it quite interesting to look up some of the things that we use.  I will be doing another post in the future on taking the conscious idea outside of the kitchen and looking at what we use to clean our houses. For now though, at least poke around this sight and see what you think about the sunscreen you typically use and see if maybe you can make a healthier choice for yourself and your family.  We all know not using sunscreen at all is dangerous in and of itself but if we can make a more conscious choice about the chemicals we apply to avoid one problem, we can possibly prevent other problems down the line at the same time!

Friday, May 20, 2011

I Don't Like Chili...

…but I make it anyway.  My son and husband really like it, especially my son.  I usually just make the recipe out of the Betty Crocker cookbook I have that is about 25 years old.  They tell me it’s good, I take their word for it.

Last week I found myself poking through my cabinets looking for items to donate through the Post Office’s annual food drive.  We bought some big white cabinets to put in the garage recently for the overflow of what will not fit into the kitchen cabinets.  I shop, I cram the food in those cabinets and I forget what is lurking on those shelves.  While I was in there looking for donations, I saw that I had all the makings for chili.  I knew that in the freezer I also had some chopped onion and some pre-cooked ground beef.  Even with it being mid-May, I decided to make chili anyway.  It’s not like the weather is acting like mid-May.  It was kind of like big-bowl-of-hot-chili type of weather that day.  It was decided-the boys would be eating chili for dinner that night.

I wanted to try something different this time other than my go-to Betty Crocker recipe.  I love Betty and her cookbook shows how much I love her.  Its pages are stained and stuck together from drips and drops of this and that that have splattered onto them over the years.  Last week when I pulled it from the bookshelf the cover officially came off all the way, it’s been hanging for quite some time now.  Her recipes are basic and more times than not, come out very well so Betty has had a lot of use in this house.

I started searching online for a basic chili recipe.  While I had all the makings for chili, sometimes chili recipes do have a lot of things in them that are not standard pantry items in my kitchen.  Most of them had a couple of things that I did not have so I decided to mesh together what I did have and call it my own.

When Simon came home from school I had him taste what I had concocted.  He gave me an almost thumbs up but he felt it needed more “something”.  We added a few more things and he was about 99% there of giving me a total thumbs up…he wanted more spice.  I told him we’d hold off on more spice because his father may not want it THAT spicy and that he could always add some hot sauce to his own bowl if he felt the need.

I had not intended on including this in my blog as it was a last minute thing that came to me that afternoon.  I took no pictures as I was preparing it or after we served it up that night.  However, as I got to thinking about it, this was a healthy recipe in which I was able to use some conscious ingredients in.  (I don’t know what to call those ingredients-does conscious work for you?  It’s working for me right now but I feel like there should be a better word for them.)  On the day I was about to use the last of the chili for them for dinner that nite, I decided to snap a picture and post it here.  The chili is cold in the bowl and I didn’t want to put the cheese ON it because it would be hard to get it back off and if I left it on the cold chili, it would surely melt right into it when I warmed it up for them and I wasn’t sure how that would be.  That’s the story behind the picture…just thought I’d share that with you too!

Onto the chili….

The ingredients that were used in this that were more conscious were:

I buy this at BJ’s in a 2 pound package for $6.49.  It says it is antibiotic free and humanely raised.  I know there is no real official definition for “humanely raised” so to be honest with you, I don’t know how much that means to me on this package.  It does appear NatureSource is an entity of a big beef company but I at least figure that some of the initiatives that they claim to take are at least a step in the right direction.  The beef is 85/15 which is a higher fat percent than I prefer.  However, I use this beef when I need to brown beef for things like chili, tacos, lasagna, etc. because I can then drain off the fat that’s cooked out of it.  Also, while it’s still in the colander, I run hot water over it to rinse off any residue.  As the water is running over the beef, I stir it around to make sure that I get off as much as possible.  On page 2 of this document you can see some numbers as to how much you can reduce the fat by doing this technique.

I bought these at Price Rite.  I have to do a posting about Price Rite because on the surface it is a discount supermarket that one would never suspect they’d be able to find some conscious item in.  There’s not a lot but if you look hard enough you will find a few things there and save yourself more than a few bucks by buying them there  The can of tomatoes I had on hand also had organic basil in it as did all the diced or whole tomato products I found in my cupboard that day.  Since I do not eat chili I was not sure if basil was the way to go but I figured since I was doing my own thing anyway, my chili was going to have a hint of basil in it…it was either that or not make it and I already decided to make it.

I find this brand at a couple of local supermarkets, Trucci’s and Foodmaster for those who are close by.  It’s almost seems a sort of a generic organic brand, I guess?  Maybe not but it is usually less expensive than the more recognizable organic brands out there…at least that’s what I’ve noticed with the tomato and cereal products they offer. 

And finally, the recipe itself.  I suppose I need to give it a name?  That had not occurred to me until I just now came to the part of typing it out.  I suppose I will be real original and call it Court St. Kitchen Chili.  I know this will be a part of our kitchen though as my husband did tell me that it was the best chili I’ve made thus far.  So, that will be it…the chili that will be made in the kitchen at Court St. from now on.

Court St. Kitchen Chili

1 pound uncooked ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp crushed garlic (I used Trader Joe’s jarred crushed garlic)
1 28 ounce can tomatoes (use what you’ve got…it all cooks down anyway whether they’re whole or diced…you just have to help with whole ones along the way by mashing them down some)
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
1 1/2 to 2 tbsp chili powder (add to your taste)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cocoa powder
1 bay leaf
pinch of hot pepper flakes (add to your taste)
1 to 2 tsp hot pepper sauce (add to your taste)
salt and pepper (to your taste)
2 cans red kidney beans, drained

Brown ground beef in large pan over medium heat.  When it’s done you can drain it or drain and rinse it as I mentioned above.  Return the drained beef to the pan, add onion and garlic.  Cook until onions start to turn translucent.  Add the next 9 ingredients and stir to combine (everything excpet the beans).  Bring this mixture to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for about 90 minutes…do at least this, if you need to let it go a little longer, so be it. Stir this occasionally as it simmers.  Add both cans of drained kidney beans to the mixture, turn the heat up a bit and cook through until the beans have warmed through. 

This makes a fairly thick chili so if you’d like, you can save some of the drained kidney bean…hmmm…what would you call it…juice?!?  If you need to thin the chili down at all, add a tbsp or two at a time and get it to the consistency that you prefer.

We got about 6 servings so that made 3 meals for the ones who eat chili at our house.  It was great to have the leftovers in the fridge for a quick meal on the days that afterschool activities bring us home right at dinnertime.  Just make sure that you cover the bowl if you warm it up in the microwave as it spatters and makes a mess of the inside of the oven.    

Monday, May 16, 2011

The BBQ Chicken Pizza That Inspired The Blog

This is the very meal that motivated me to document our family’s attempts in the kitchen to be more aware of our food.  As I used each ingredient I thought about where it came from and how it fit into my current way of thinking about food.  This meal did not meet the challenge of being good in the sense of being lower fat but I feel like it was good in most of the other things I try to achieve while cooking. 

I sort of winged this recipe.  I pulled the crust recipe out of a no-knead cookbook I had borrowed from the library and then topped it with things that I’ve been making bbq chicken pizza with forever.  I usually do a honey wheat dough for bbq chicken pizza but was loving the idea of making a no-knead dough for it.  I took the recipe from a book called My Bread : The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.  The recipe was never intended to be crust but I made it into crust anyway.  I had all the other ingredients on hand so it was just a matter of waiting for the dough to do its thing and then throwing it all together to make a pizza. 

Below is what I used and how I prepared it.  After the “recipe” I’ve explained the components I used and what I was thinking as I was using them.  It felt like I had found that balance that I was looking for.  I was aware of the ingredients and why I chose them and while it was not exactly helping me with maintaining my weight with the cheese and the oil used to grease the pan, I was still able to work it into my food plan for that week. 

You will have to forgive my lack of exact amounts.  I didn’t write anything down but rather added until it looked “right”.  Start with the lower amount I’ve listed and if it doesn’t look “right” to you, add more!

1 batch pizza homemade dough

leftover rotisserie chicken or cooked chicken breast/thighs…whatever you prefer, 1 large breast or a couple thighs should be enough

1/4-1/3 cup barbeque sauce

4 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled up or cut up

6-8 ounces of shredded cheese, your choice but should be a good melting cheese (cheddar, cheddar/mozzarella mix, Mexican blend, etc.)

Preheat oven to 425

Grease a 15x12 cookie pan very well.  Press out dough to cover bottom of baking sheet.


Prebake crust until the dough has just started to set…it should not turn brown.  I would say it should take about 10 minutes or so, keep an eye on it and pull it out when the dough no longer looks wet and sticky.  (At this point you may want to check to make sure the crust is not sticking too badly to the pan.  Use a metal spatula to kind of lift the crust.  If it is sticking, very gently but firmly slide the spatula between the pan and crust to dislodge it and spray some cooking spray underneath the lifted curst to help ensure it does not stick during the second baking.)

Spread desired amount of barbeque sauce onto prebaked crust.  Top with desired amount of chicken and bacon pieces then start to cover with the cheese.  Again, start with a bit and put on as much as makes you happy.

Put pizza back into the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust starts to brown a little bit on the edges.  Depending on the amount of toppings you put in it, it could range from 15-25 minutes.  Again, keep an eye on it…I am going on my memory for these times!

Let it cool for a few minutes before cutting into it, you’ll want to let the cheese set up a bit so it doesn’t pull off as you drag the pizza cutter through it.  I cut this into 8 pieces but you can make them smaller if you’d like.

How this recipe got me thinking:

The Dough:
I made it from scratch so I felt like that was a better budget choice than buying pre-made dough at the supermarket.  The flour I used was King Arthur, which is a New England company so it almost felt “local” since I do live in New England.  I also like that they are an employee owned company.  I am not sure of the exact structure of that situation but somehow it seems that if you own a stake in the business for which you work, that the work environment may be that much better…maybe?!?  

The Chicken:
Usually when I make bbq chicken pizza I just make it with a cooked chicken breast but this time I did have some leftover rotisserie chicken to use.  I don’t normally buy rotisserie chicken mostly because I grocery shop early in the day and I feel it will not keep well enough for dinner time.  This chicken that I bought was at BJ’s Wholesale Club.  It was a Harvestland brand rotisserie chicken and there was a coupon for it in the monthly coupon booklet from BJ’S.  I think the whole chicken cost me about $4 and I managed to get about 3 meals from it.  This brand of chicken has no antibiotics in it so that fit into the conscious category.  I got 3 meals from it so I felt that budget wise, it was good.

The Barbeque Sauce:
The kind I used was Trader Joe’s Kansas City Style.  I felt good about this ingredient because there was no high fructose corn syrup in it.  I was really surprised at how many bbq sauces have this as their first ingredient.  Our old favorite, Sweet Baby Ray’s, has it and we decided to give it up, as much as we loved it.  Not only does the Trader Joe’s brand have a really good looking ingredient list, it tastes really good too.  Price wise, it’s about $2.50-$3 a bottle which is more than I used to spend on bbq sauce but the fact that there’s no HFCS in it and it tastes really good makes it worth it to me.

The Bacon:
I love bacon.  I love bacon a lot.  I can’t convey to you how much I love it but I can tell you that I eat it just about every day.  Because of how much of it that I eat, I started to be concerned about the nitrites/nitrates in bacon.  I have found “W” brand bacon at Trader Joe’s that is nitrite free and tastes really good.  On top of that, it’s about the same nutritionally as the center cut bacon I used to buy.   The price of this bacon is about $5 per package, a price I’d never thought I’d pay for bacon.  I was buying Oscar Mayer’s center cut bacon at BJ’s in a 3 pack for about $10-$11 but decided that with how often I use bacon that the price of this nitrite free is worth it.

The Cheese:
I used Cabot shredded Monterrey Jack cheese.  There are organic cheeses out there but I’ve yet to buy any.  I really like Cabot because they are another New England company and they are also employee owned in a sense with being a dairy cooperative.  I’ve checked their website and they have their farmers pledge to not use antibiotics or growth hormones in their milk.  When I can, I always choose Cabot over other brands because of these reasons.  I stock up on it when it’s on sale and have recently found a grocery store close by that has a really good everyday price on Cabot.

There it is.  The pizza that inspired me to blog. 

I tend to go in spurts regarding how motivated I feel to make better choices and as I pulled dinner together that night, it occurred to me that I didn’t even really have to go out of my way to make it happen for this meal.  I was already buying the bacon, the chicken was a good deal, I had been buying Cabot ever since we took a trip to VT in the fall and visited their stores, we happen to really like the Trader Joe’s sauce so we always have it on hand and I have been making my own pizza dough for years.

I do wish every meal came together like this did and I also wish it would have been a little friendlier for me and my weight issues.  I have made bbq chicken pizza on my pizza stone which requires no oil and also with reduced fat cheddar and it tastes just fine.  However, this no-knead dough could not be baked on my pizza stone due to its consistency and I did not have any reduced fat cheese in the fridge that night.  I know it could have been organic all the way but this is where I find my balance.  I chose things that were affordable for us and every ingredient that I used somehow fit into one of the areas that I am trying to be more aware of…local, antibiotic-free, homemade, and on and on. 

I’ll say it again-balance.  That is what I am trying to do here at court st. kitchen and this meal was, for me, a direct hit.      

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Rootbeer Birthday Cake

As I mentioned in my “Welcome” post, I have made a Root Beer Cake.  I knew this was what my son wanted but it seemed his birthday came up way too quickly and I was caught off guard.  A day or two before his birthday, I was hunting down what I needed to do to make such a cake and what I needed to get it done and I still really had no idea what I was going to do. 

I finally settled on using this recipe for inspiration:  Root Beer Float Cake II  I had already picked up a white cake mix in anticipation of making this cake so that is the main reason I settled on this one. 

As I read through the comments that were left by users, I spotted an incredible idea!  After the cake has baked, poke holes in the cake and drizzle a root beer glaze over the entire cake so that it falls down into the holes.  All of a sudden the uncertainty as to how I was going to make this cake disappeared.  I would make the cake as the recipe indicates but add some root beer flavor to enhance the root beer-y-ness of the cake.  As a super-duper bonus, poke this cake and add the root beer glaze because who doesn’t love sugary goodness dripped down into their cake?  Then, for the frosting, I would use a white frosting recipe that I love from King Arthur and enhance it with the root beer flavoring that I used in the cake. 

Viola!  The cake that I have been so unsure of was coming together in my head.  It didn’t quite live up to the expectations that I had for it but all in all, it was decent enough.  It was still cake after all and there are few cakes that I have not found worth eating!

Root Beer Cake
Adapted from:  Root Beer Float Cake II

1 box white cake mix
1-1/4 cups root beer
1/4 cup safflower oil
2 whole eggs
1/2 tsp. Lorann Oils Root Beer Flavoring

Mix the cake mix with root beer, oil and eggs as directed on the back of the box.  Bake the cake as directed on the back of the box.

Root Beer Glaze
Adapted from the comments at: Root Beer Float Cake II

1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup root beer

Whisk root beer and sugar together.  Add more root beer if needed to get a good consistency.  You do not want it too runny but also do not want it so think that it will not pour out and fall into the holes in the cake.

Root Beer Frosting
Adapted from:  Easy Buttercream from The King Arthur Baking Companion

5-1/3  tbsp butter
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1/8 tsp salt
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 to 1/3 cup root beer

Beat butter, shortening and salt together in large bowl until combined.  Beat in about half of the powdered sugar and mix until combined.  Add vanilla and half of the root beer and mix until combined.  Mix in remaining powdered sugar until combined and then add root beer by little bits and beat until you get desired consistency which should be fluffy and spreadable. 

Putting the cake together:

After cake has cooled, poke rows of holes about a ½ to 1 inch apart.  This doesn’t have to be fancy, just consistently spaced apart. 

Evenly pour the glaze over the entire cake so that it falls down into the holes.  Use an offset spatula if necessary to help the glaze along its way.

Top cake with frosting being carful as the top of the cake will be moist if you frost it right after the glaze step.  You don’t want it to start to crumble and get all kinds of crumbs into your frosting.  Well, you might want that to happen…who am I to say?  It will still taste just as yummy, that’s for sure!

I decorated the cake with root beer barrels.  I had also considered getting the Haribo gummy cola bottles to decorate with but as I unfolded my plan to my son, he suggested root beer barrels so that’s what I did.  I also picked up some glitter glaze to decorate the cake with.


As you can see, the cake is not fancy by any means.  I am not a huge fan of making cakes.  Let me correct that, I do like to make cake because I like to eat cake…very much.  I just don’t like all the tediousness of making them look amazing.  I don’t have the ability or patience to do so.  Just as I said the crumbs won’t do anything to the taste of the cake if you happen to get some in your frosting, a plain and very homemade looking cake will still taste just as good as one looks like it came out of a bakery.

The Good:  I used a few “better-for-you” ingredients.  The eggs come from a farm that is near my home.  The chickens run free around the farm so while I am not completely sure that they are organic because I do not know what the farmer feeds them, they are definitely free range.  I used fats that were non-hydrogenated and that were also non-solvent expressed.  I recently ran across the subject of solvent pressed oils and it kind of bothered me a bit. 

The Bad:  Cake mix with lots of ingredients that are not found in cakes you make from scratch.  Root beer with high fructose corn syrup.  Artificial root beer flavoring.  Lots of sugar.  Butter that is not organic or made from grass fed dairy.  I have not yet been able to bring myself to justify the price of that…yet.   Perhaps it will come down the line but for now, I am all right with regular butter.  The glitter glaze was a last minute purchase for the cake and I knew nothing glittery was going to be natural but bought it anyway.


Conclusion:  This was a once-in-a-while type of recipe.  I will not make this again for a very long time so with how often we will be eating it, I feel like the “bad” things are not that “bad”.  If I made this on a regular basis I would certainly take into consideration the cake mix, root beer, flavoring and butter.  For Simon’s birthday though, we enjoyed it…mystery ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, glitter glaze and all!!    

Friday, May 6, 2011

Welcome to Court St. Kitchen

I’ve been itching to blog for a while now and even made a feeble attempt at it last year here. I found that I enjoyed blogging but I was not quite sure of my direction as I did it. This new, and hopefully, improved blog is my attempt at blogging with a more distinct idea.

When I step into my kitchen I find myself pulled in many directions. I love to bake. I like to cook. I am trying to maintain a 65 pound weight loss. I want to be aware of where my food has come from and how it’s come to be in my kitchen.


The balance I try to maintain in the kitchen can be tricky. My love of baking and like of cooking is what lead to my need to lose 65 pounds. For the most part I make food that is better for us but I still love to bake and cook “real” versions of all the foods that got me into trouble.

My most recent concern is that of where my food has come from. This, I have to say, is even more tricky than balancing what I do in my kitchen to ensure that I do not gain back my 65 pounds. I often find myself in a complete “fail” when it comes to this but I have changed a lot of things that make me feel like I am at least making an attempt to be more conscious of my food and the road it’s taken to get to my plate.

I will explore all of this in my blog entries and share with you how I am trying to maintain this balance. I hope that you will bear with me as I hone my blogging and photography skills…neither are very polished but with practice, I hope that my blogs will become more and more enjoyable to read!

Thanks for stopping by and I hope that you will be back to see how I’m doing with my balancing act!

By the way….today I am making my son’s birthday cake. Last year it was a completely homemade chocolate peanut butter monster of a cake and it was something I was so proud that I made from scratch. This year, he wants a root beer cake. It’s SO the opposite of last year. A white cake mix, root beer with high fructose corn syrup…ugh.

However, for the frosting I am using Spectrum Organic Non-Hydrogenated Shortening that is made from mechanically expressed organic palm oil.  I am also using eggs that I purchased from a farm that is 1.16 miles from my house.  Oh yeah, I am also using expeller pressed safflower oil as well. This is an example of my balance. I could have made better choices overall and here’s what my thought process has been about this cake:

-I could make the cake from scratch but as I hunt for root beer cakes, most are based with a cake mix. I could have gotten an organic cake mix or one, like from Trader Joe’s, that didn’t have a lot of mystery ingredients in it. However, when I made my trek to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s last weekend it had not even crossed my mind. I’d have to drive 13 miles back to get there so it seemed like not the best idea since I was just there and I only needed a cake mix.

-I could have stopped off at the natural food section of one of the local supermarkets but the cost of their natural food items are ridiculously over-priced and I have a hard time handing over the money for them. I always walk through those sections when I go in there for something else and it really sickens me that with most items, they are MORE expensive than Whole Foods, who is of course notorious for their higher than average prices.

-The root beer bothers me because I have really tried to cut out high fructose corn syrup. However, the same thing applies. I could have used cane sugar soda but to buy it locally would cost way more than I care to spend and while I suppose my trip to WF’s and TJ’s would not only be for cake, but for root beer too, it still seemed an awful lot of travel for 2 items!

You can see that it’s a balance. I want to find myself in the middle. I cannot be that person who shops exclusively with all those buzz words…organic, non-gmo, grain-fed, etc. because of the sheer cost of it all. However, when and where I can…and apparently, when I happen to think of it as in the case of the cake…I try to make the “better” choice.

This cake is an example of what I try to do and I have to say that usually I do fare a bit better than the choices I ended up making. It won’t be good for me as far as watching my weight and the cake mix and soda are not my first choice in ingredients but I was able to at least pull out my “better” choice shortening to make the frosting with.

I will post some pictures of the cake after it’s made and we cut into it. I will probably do a post about the making of it. As bad “not-good-for-you” as it is, I am excited to be making it. I saw the idea at and knew as soon as I saw it that I’d use that as an inspiration to do my own thing with it.
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