And, along came Easter. You know, the celebration of when the Son of God defeated death and sin? When the tomb was found empty because God had found a way to get us all “get out of jail free” passes by sacrificing himself? That day.
You might not recognize Easter as that though. You might know it better as “National Indulge Our Collective Societal Addiction To Sugar Day.” Because for WEEKS leading up to today my kids have been getting plied with candy every place they go. It’s impossible to escape.
So, how does a sugar-eschewing Mom handle a day like today? I’ll tell you: It’s all about knowing your kids. Knowing what sorts of things (besides candy) make them happy and makes them feel that you know and think about them.
Talk about comfort food…who doesn’t love macaroni and cheese? And this particular recipe is my absolute favorite. My kids are pretty good eaters in general, but this is one thing that they ALWAYS scarf down. Creamy cheese sauce mixed with pasta, and topped with a melty layer of cheddar and colby jack and browned buttery breadcrumbs. Mmmm. Hungry yet?
In writing up this recipe, I realized that it sounds really complicated. But, it isn’t really. Once you get used to making the cheese sauce, it’s easy. And all the cheese sauce is, is milk thickened with flour, and with onions, spices, egg, and cheese thrown in. I put a lot of detail in the post for those of you who aren’t used to making a sauce like this, but don’t be intimidated. After you try it the first time, it’ll be easy!
For his birthday, my husband requested (as usual) lemon cake. I went through this whole thing of trying to figure out how to make a lemon cake like he used to have, only with better ingredients. The problem was, I didn’t think I could use a whole sweetener like coconut sugar or honey without really throwing off the lemon flavor. I also thought that with all whole-grain flour it would never achieve the light and fluffy texture I needed.
So I compromised. Big time. I used organic white sugar and fooled myself that it really wasn’t THAT BAD because, you now, it was organic. That was what I told myself to feel better, anyway. I also used 3/4 white spelt flour and only 1/4 whole grain.
What resulted was lovely. It really was.
I wrote up this whole blog post about it, even though it really isn’t something any of you should be eating.
And then I went on to see if I could turn the recipe into something healthier. I thought that maybe I could find a way to make it into something acceptable…just not something birthday cake-ish. I thought I’d have the unhealthy version as the special occasion birthday cake thing, and the healthy one for other times.
I used all coconut sugar, and half whole grain spelt and half almond meal. It was brown and rustic looking. And, guess what?
Everyone liked it BETTER than the birthday cake version! “It’s so moist!” they said. “It makes my mouth happy!” they said. “Make this one instead of that other one next time,” they said.
So! I no longer have to share the unhealthy version of this cake, but can just go straight to sharing the better-for-you version, because it also happens to be delicious!
I thought I’d make a few posts about some new ingredients that I’ve found particularly useful. Things you might not think of on your own, but that I’ve really enjoyed. And for the first one I’m going to talk about cacao nibs!
You may have never heard of cacao nibs before. I’ve never seen them in my regular grocery store, so they aren’t so common. You can find them in health food stores, and I got these at Whole Foods.
Plain and simple, cacao nibs are unprocessed chocolate. It’s cacao beans that have been roasted and prepped right up to the point in which they’re used to make chocolate, but instead they’re chopped up and sold as is.
Cacao nibs are really high in magnesium – an important mineral most of us are deficient in. There are 272 mg of magnesium per 100 grams of cacao nibs! And they have higher levels of antioxidants than blueberries! They’re also good sources of tryptophan (which elevates mood), chromium (which stabilizes blood sugar and controls appetite), theobromine (which boosts energy), flavanols (antioxidants which improve circulation), and monounsaturated fats (which raise healthy HDL cholesterol levels.)
They’re not super sweet, so I don’t necessarily like them on their own, but they have a super-duper crunch and chocolate flavor that goes REALLY well with other things!
Paired with something else that’s sweet, these add really great texture. And I’m all about the texture! In particular, I’ve liked these on top of spelt cakes or banana bread covered with Homemade Chocolate Peanut Butter.
Stick some banana slices on there too, and between the crunch of the nibs and the sweet creaminess of the Chocolate Peanut Butter and the bananas it’s heavenly!
I’ve also liked them on top of homemade ice cream. We recently made a batch with fresh strawberries for strawberry ice cream, and these were really good on top! Nice crunch with a hint of chocolate, but not overwhelming.
Now, I’m NOT saying these are the same thing as eating a handful of chocolate chips. They’re not! They’re not at all as sweet. But pair them with other foods that could use a chocolatey crunch, and they’re great! I find that they provide that something extra that I’m sometimes craving, and help fight back urges to eat things I shouldn’t.
I almost didn’t want to share this recipe, because it’s very similar to the Hungarian Beef Stew recipe I shared in the fall. I took this recipe, combined it with my mother’s Hungarian goulash recipe, and got Hungarian Beef Stew! So, there really are only a few differences between that and this.
BUT…It’s so good. And maybe you wouldn’t have thought of this variation of the recipe on your own, and you’d miss out on the goodness? I couldn’t have that on my conscience. I just couldn’t. So I’m sharing it!
And just in time for St. Patrick’s Day too! What could be better?
So. Get yourself some stew meat, or a chuck roast that you cut up. Heat some olive oil in a large pan or dutch oven and brown the meat. When it’s mostly browned, add in the chopped onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup of whole grain spelt or whole wheat flour.
Add the beef stock, tomato paste, thyme, and bay leaves.
And this is where it gets good: an entire bottle of Guinness (or another dark stout ale) and 3/4 cup of red wine. Don’t be afraid of the alcohol content. Yes, alcohol is inflammatory, but it all cooks out so no worries!
Turn down heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for at least an hour, stirring occasionally. The longer and slower it cooks, the more tender the meat will be!
After an hour, melt butter in another large pot, and when hot, add in the potatoes and carrots. You can really use as much as you want. The more vegetables you use the further the stew will stretch – something that comes in handy when you’re using more expensive (but healthier) grass-fed meats! Continue to sautee until they’re nice and browned and caramelized.
Besides the alcohol, this step is probably the most important one that makes this stew so good! So don’t skimp on the browning!
When the vegetables are golden – after about 20 minutes – add them in to the stew. Cover, and allow to simmer until the vegetables and beef are very tender (about 45 minutes).
Dish into bowls, and eat! It’s great with some yeasty rolls (whole grain, of course.)
So now you know what you’re eating on St. Patrick’s Day, right?
3 + lb potatoes cut into ½ inch pieces (peeled if not organic.)
2 + cups ½ inch pieces carrots (peeled if not organic)
Salt and Pepper
Swirl enough olive oil to cover the bottom of a large pan. Heat the pan over medium-high heat, and when hot add in the beef. Brown on all sides, and then add in the onions and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle on the flour and stir in.
Stir in the beef stock, beer, wine, tomato paste, and spices.
Turn the heat down to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for an hour.
Heat the butter in another large pot until frothy, and then add in the potatoes and carrots. Sautee until they're browned and caramelized, about 20 minutes.
Add the vegetables in with the meat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the vegetables and beef are all very tender.
Spaetzle. It is NOT pronounced spayt-zel, like so many people say. I even heard a chef on a cooking show say it that way! For shame! No, it’s SPETZ-leh.
Now that we have that out of the way….
Spaetzle is basically homemade German noodles, and is the perfect (and requisite, in my book) accompaniment to Schnitzel. It does require a bit of specialized equipment, but in a pinch you can use something you might already have in the house.
Every time I hear about schnitzel, the first thing I think of is this scene from “Hoodwinked.” (you might need to reload the page and disable any ad-blockers to see it.)
“Schniiiiiiiitzeeeeelllll!” “Ooooo, the Schnitzel Man!” (We think this is hilarious. I don’t care what that says about us.)
And the second thing I think of is my husband.
Not that my husband resembles a schnitzel or anything. I think of him because schnitzel is his all-time favorite meal, having grown up eating it because his mother is German. His birthday was on Saturday, and so, as usual, he requested Wienerschnitzel and Spaetzle for his birthday meal. Along with asparagus and lemon cake and strawberries. Mmmmm. I have to say, it was an easy request to fulfill!
My mother and youngest niece were visiting too, so it was a great day with some of my most-loved people!
You might not know what Wienerschnitzel is. (pronounced VEE-ner-shnit-zel) The name is all exotic and complicated sounding, but schnitzel is nothing more than breaded and fried meat.
Every culture has their own version of fried meat, and this is Germany’s. I’d never had it before I married into the family, but now I can say that it’s most definitely one of my favorites too! We always call it “wienerschnitzel” when we make it, but technically wienerschnitzel is made with veal. (“Weiner” = veal.) We usually make what should be called Hühnerschnitzel, actually, which is chicken, but for some reason we always call it Wienerschnitzel. I have no idea why. I do it because my in-laws do it, and most people don’t know the difference anyway.
(Correction: 3-12-13 My mother in law informed me that Wiener does NOT mean veal, like I (for some reason) thought. It just means someone from Vienna. Kalbsfleish does. So it’s perfectly okay to call it Wienerschnitzel I suppose!)
Whatever meat you use, the technique is the same. And you can call it whatever you want.