Yet Another Healthy (?) Green Courtesy of Poke Salad Annie - The Gators Got Yer Grannie

I love foraging. However, one doesn't always know what's good and what can kill you. Often when I'm hiking with a group, I’ll point out mulberry trees, pick berries and then chomp on a few, which always makes someone in the group yell "Don't eat that!" The seven year old in me just loves that response.

Recently I was wondering about this plant with the pretty purple berries for a while. I see some birds eating the berries, but somehow I just knew they were way too pretty to be good for me.

Image in hand, I asked Ms. Google what the heck it was and she said: "Okay. According to Wikipedia, (can't you just hear her mechanized AI voice right now?) Phytolacca Americana, the American Pokeweed . . . ".

Pokeweed! I know that! I heard that song back in the day and wondered who ate it and why.

It ends up this 'Poke Salad' (one of many spellings and pronunciations), is native to the eastern United States and has been enjoyed in the American South for years. It also happens to be a bit on the poisonous side.

No one eats its leaves or berries raw. According a video posted on the Southern Foodways Alliance site, someone died within days of just eating 8 of the berries. Poke Sallet (yup, another version of the name) is boiled several times with the water thrown away after each boiling. It is also recommended that you only choose young plants before they seed, because it hasn't accumulated as much poison as when it has flowered.

Some say the shoots taste like asparagus and it is cooked with green and white onions to make a savory and nutritious side dish. I've seen it all over my area in Maryland and also growing wild in parks and farms. However, I think I'll wait until next spring before I try my hand at it. Yeah. Maybe I'll combine it with a little puffer fish as an appetizer.

Obviously, this is real soul food and I've got to try it. Besides, I really did dig this song when I was twelve. Something about the line "The gators got ya grannie (Chomp, chomp, chomp)" that just resonated with my sick prepubescent brain. Oh, and he (Tony Joe White) grunts a lot.

Primal. :)
Another article:

Squash It! Part Deux

October . . .
Candy and

Or should I just say squash? Acorn, butternut, crookneck, the mighty scary pumpkin. It's all here now and you have got to take advantage of this great harvest.

Believe me, its not all about sugar, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg. Squash can be savory, sweet or both. It is absolutely versatile and the is at least one dish in the cucurbita universe that you love or will learn to love if you only give it a chance.

Which brings me to two of my favorite food icons - Mario Batali and Mark Bittman - showing how positively fast and easy it is to throw together Gnocchi with Butternut Squash. I'm hungry just thinking of it. Only a few ingredients involved, so I think even I could do it in less than 30 minutes.

Ingredients List:
  • Russet potatoes (riced)
  • Flour
  • Egg
  • Butternut squash
  • Tomato paste
  • Jalapeno Pepper
  • Red Onion
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil
  • Parmigiana Reggiano

The only problem I have now is that I never bought a ricer. Hmm . . . seems like a trip to Sur La Table is in order.

If the video does not appear above, use the following link:

Passover, Easter and Bangers & Mash???

Most of my growing years saw some sort of lamb dish in the mix come Passover. Could be chops or shoulder, but somebody's sheep wasn't coming home that night. Lamb was the easiest because Roman Catholic grandma could eat it and it made moderately Jewish mama happy. Dad just wanted to cook and get it over with, especially when the two holidays fell on the same weekend.

Personally, I just wanted to eat and run because I knew this was going to be a long, churchy weekend starting with services at sundown Friday and ending after Easter mass with the aforementioned paternal grandma. I would always get 'high holy day-itis' except when it was time to eat. My age was in the single digits, so the old arguments over what religion to raise the children under had been over for a while (but still simmered enough for snide remarks when ham was served).

It also didn't help that I seemed to have a strange allergic reaction to pork, which was a telltale sign of what I ate when left over at Nana's babysitting service. Me scratching and vomiting after returning home was just the tip off needed for that lovely mother-in-law/daughter-in-law tug of war. Ah, memories.

Which brings us to the present. Nana has been gone for over forty years, so I never had to fake that body and blood of you-know-who again. I stopped attending church when I was 16 and never looked back . . . except for holy days and grub - and the people.

I always loved Passover. Maybe because it was my mother's favorite holiday. I suppose it was fitting that she died on the day before Passover eleven years ago. Since then, March has been an invisible month for me. Largely ignored because my father also died in the month of ides, on St. Patrick's Day. What was it with my parents and holidays anyway?

I've had my issues with it and just chose to wait March out by skiing the month away to avoid the depressing thoughts. So much so, that a colleague suggested a few years back that perhaps it would make me feel better if I just lit a candle for mom at the beginning of the Sabbath. I thought she was insane, but I tried it and it worked - sort of.  I could at least admit that Passover still existed without reaching for a Prozac cocktail.

So what to do? Well, you know me . . . I'm gonna eat!  So in honor of all of those I loved during those wonderful holidays, I'll have a sip of the infused vodka/lime basil apertif I made last year as a belated St. Paddy's day nod and I'm going to lamb it up with a quicky paleo-friendly dish that may or may not be kosher, but it will be lamb-i-fied.

Bangers and Onions in cast iron skillet
The lazy cook that I am had to make this a quick, one pan meal. I remembered I had frozen lamb bangers from the Glasbern Inn, an excellent country inn not far from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. I also had the last of my Clagett Farm sweet potatoes. Hence, Nouveau Bangers and Mash was born. This took an hour to make and the sausage was out of this world. Of course, you can use any sausage you choose, but the seasonings made the dish. I think there was a hint of  nutmeg - oh, so gorgeous.

I love this brown, then bake method. The onions are perfectly caramelized. Normally, bangers and mash have a gravy. I did not make one even though the scrapings off of this pan were so flavorful. I just needed it to be a gluten be gone day. I thought about bringing out the arrowroot for a quick sauce, but that seemed like it was going to be such a 'thing'. Too complicated.

Nouveau Holiday Bangers and Mash

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Use a medium sized cast iron pan or any pan with a handle that can be placed in the oven. Serves 4.

1.5 pounds of Lamb Sausage (or any alleged said sausage or near sausage or never sausage of your choice)
1 large onion, sliced
2 large Sweet Potatoes, washed
1.5 Tablespoons Olive or Avocado oil
Pumpkin Spice (Substitute with a little ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg)
Salt & Pepper to taste
2 cups raw spinach or other raw greens.
Optional: 1 Tablespoon unsalted Butter

  • Brown sausage on both sides in cast iron pan with olive or avocado oil, 
  • Add sliced onion, cook for 1 minute
  • Season with crushed garlic, salt and pepper. 
  • Cover the pan with a lid or foil and place into the oven.
  • Take a few drops of olive oil and rub across the entire potato skins 
  • Place the sweet potatoes on the rack in the oven. 
  • Bake for 1 hour. 
  • Mash potatoes to your ideal 'lump to smooth' ratio (I'm a lumpy lover)
  • Season with a few shakes of Tumeric and Pumpkin spice.
  • Optional: mash in the unsalted Butter
  • Serve the sausage and sweet potatoes on a bed of raw spinach.

Easy, right? One pan, no mixing, easy ingredients and fast. You can shove this in the oven and then rush to waste an hour playing Tribal Wars or catching up one back episodes of Jane the Virgin or Gotham (just saying).

The pumpkin spice was a combination recipe of my own, but you can find it premade anywhere. Check your local farmers markets for purveyors of lamb sausage. By the way, I slipped in the tumeric because I'm in full 'Food As Medicine' mode and I'm all about integrating good, useful stuff into everyday meals.

So, I lit a candle for Connie, then had my nontraditional traditional holiday meal. My way - the bitter herb was the watermelon radish I pickled last fall.

And yeah, I took a sip from Elijah's cup too. Dude never shows and who wants to waste good liquor?

No Nut Problems Here

You got problems eating peanuts,
I feel bad for you, son. 
I got 99 problems, 
But a nut ain't one.

Sorry, Jay-Z. Of all of your raps, that's the one I steal from the most. 

And I do - feel bad, that is - for those who cannot consume the humble peanut. What do they eat when there is nothing in the fridge but old 7-grain bread, boysenberry jam and peanut butter? 

I don't know about you, but I'm seriously rockin' that sammich tonight. Toasting the bread, but not too much or it will burn those yummy sunflower seeds on the crust; slathering on the organic peanut butter (no extra sugar and extraneous stuff, you know), and topping it off with some slamming boysenberry jam I carted back from an outdoor market in Minnesota - who knows when.  Hey, sugar never rots.

PB&J luv right here.
That's right. 
I know how to live. 
I might just get crazy and whip out the dark chocolate and almond milk for a nukin' good hot cioccolata (yeah, taking Italian classes now). 

Besides the fact that I'm too darned lazy to cook anything of import on a late Dr. Who watching Saturday night, the peanut and its other nutty chums have served me well in the past three years as I lost a good sized 12 year old in excess weight. For years I had laid off eating peanut butter, or chomping cashews because the alleged said nutritional powers that be said they were too fatty for normal consumption. Funny, I still gained weight eating the supposedly right things.

Too much Google research later I found that the wonderful combination of fruit and nuts were a much better whole food snack choice than the usual chips, dips and crackers. Nuts fill that 3pm, 'lunch is so gone' void quite nicely. 

The perfect combination of fats and protein make eating an ounce or two of nuts when you are feeling 'peckish' one of your best weight loss tools. I started carrying around a small pack of nuts that I'd chew on whenever I got the urge to grub. After a while, I noticed that it took me a day or so to eat an entire 2 ounce bag. Not bad. 

I would occasionally combine the nuts with berries, or as a once or twice a month treat - with raisins. That takes me back to my high school days when my best friend Pamela introduced me to the beauty of hot, fresh roasted peanuts and bags of raisins fresh off from the markets on Mulberry Street in Newark. We would munch that stuff as if it were the food of the gods. Who knew? We were right.

My absolute favorite nuts are cashews and pistachios. My mom loved them and bought them all of the time. I remember not wanting to eat pistachios as a child because they turned my fingers red. I'd wait for her to crack them open and then move in for the yummy kill. I was well into adulthood when I found out that they added dye to the nuts. What strangeness was that? 

It seems the 'stachios of old were imported from the Middle East and handpicked. This left stains on the shells which the purveyors were sure would turn off customers. Red and green were the dyes - double yuck. Now most of our pistachios are grown in California (yea!) and probably harvested by Terminator robot rejects, so no need to dye 'em (double yea! Buy Americano).

Any who, nuts are mega good for you . . . as long as you don't constantly combine them with the sugary stuff that I'm piling on my nut butter as I type (and I wonder why my keyboard is always so sticky). Keep them in your diet playbook and you can't go wrong. 

Now for a little PB&J eating music (with a baseball bat?):

Corny As It Seems . . .

It's corn time at the organic CSA farm (Clagett Farm) I volunteer at and its early and sweet. What is not so sweet is the ever present silk. Sure, you can buy the little do-dads at all of the kitchen gadget coveting stores or even use a simple brush.

However, one of the best solutions I've seen in a while comes from Barbecue Tricks. This I would only use if I wanted to nuke the corn and not season it first, as I do when I roast it on the grill.  Take a look at the video below:

Best bonus ever? No dishes were harmed in the filming of this story. No need to break out the soap to save their dirty, little lives.

One day soon, I'll try a similar method when roasting, just to see if any cooking unshucked provides the same results.

Quick photo recap

The Lazy Cook Eats: Easy One Dish Meals - Yams, Green Beans & Pork

I know, I know you are thinking "Yikes! Pork! Fat-a-rama!" Really though, the other white meat has come a long way on the road to leanness and if you choose the right cuts and do not overcook it (something I'm guilty of on multiple counts), it can be part of a healthy meal.

Last night's dinner was a colorful mix of yams, green (and yellow) beans, red onion and boneless pork chops  that I copped at Costco. The chops are usually nine to a package and I repackage them - 2 each in freezer zip locked bags for quick meals.

This all started when at 6:30 pm I realized I was starving and as per usual, did not want to cook. Desperate, I found a lone large sweet potato, some fresh frozen green beans, half a red onion and the last packet of chops.

It was all assembled in an oval 2 quart casserole dish, covered with foil and baked for approximately sixty minutes. Seasonings included fresh garlic, ginger, five spice powder (magnificent on the yams) and peppers: cayenne and black.

My new 'go-to' omega rich oil is Avocado Oil, which of course, I score at the mighty, mighty Costco. It can cook at a way higher temperature than virgin olive oil and doesn't add odd flavors to the taste of the dish. You've got to try it. I sprinkled about 2 tablespoons across the top of the collection.

I quickly covered it in foil and shoved it all into a 400 degree oven for one hour and by eight o'clock I was full with only one dish to clean. Yea!

Grocery List to serve two:

1 large Sweet potato(or yam)
1/4 - 1/2 lb Green beans,
1/2 large, red onion
2, 4 to 5 ounce Boneless pork chops
1 clove of garlic
1 1/2 Avocado Oil
1/4 teaspoon Five Spice Powder
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
Black and cayenne pepper to taste

I also gave a little sprinkle of my favorite Everyday Seasoning from Trader Joe's (just love that grinder), since I don't add salt to most dishes unless it's in a medley of sorts.

Optional sauce added after cooking
This turned out great and was way too easy not to try again. If you are feeling
indulgent and can stand the extra sugar grams that day, add 2 tablespoons of Robert Rothschild Farm Hot Pepper Raspberry Chipotle Sauce to the chops. Outstanding.

Yes. I'm am an unrepentant Costco junky. Everything is not always in packs of 2000, you know. When you are eating green, or a bit lazy like myself, you will want larger packages of veggies. Don't hate, just know that I spend a lot less on healthy food than you. ;-)
My Costco list from this meal was: 

  • Boneless pork chops
  • Avocado Oil
  • Robert Rothschild Farm Hot Pepper Rasberry Chipotle Sauce

A Classy, Simple Dinner

Last week I was at a birthday celebration at my sister-in-law's home and I was extremely happy with the menu. It was simple and delicious. The big bonus was there was no birthday cake or obligatory sweets to sway my head and raise my glucose levels.

The kids were snacking on raisins and sunflower seeds and ate everything we ate.

The menu:

Fillet of Sole
Brown rice

The seasonings:
A little lemon
Olive oil

I loved the fact that she baked everything - even the broccoli, and it was fantastic. I'm going to do that more often.

She bought the sole for the children so they could avoid the bones, but being the big baby that I am about fish bones, I was eating right alongside the little ones. Except of course, when we finished off with a nice red wine.

Simple is always best . . .
Especially when you cook it.