Sun 1 Apr 2012
Recently I renewed my commitment to eat healthier; not necessarily in the caloric sense, but in that I would try to shop locally and eat as much wholesome foods as possible. The less packaged food, the better.
Due to our busy work schedules, I’d gotten quite lazy of late and found myself relying solely on Tesco deliveries for our groceries. Despite the fact that something was almost always wrong in the order – rotten onions, missing items, food with expired “Sell By” dates – it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I finally decided take back control of my weekly food shop.
The “ah-ha” moment came one evening when I was making sandwiches for Mountaineering Man to take to work the next day. As I ripped open yet another package of sliced chicken sandwich meat, I took a good look at it and realized how disgusting it was. Pinkish, shiny, not a trace of texture and clearly plugged up with salt water and gelatin, it was not nourishment – it was manufactured, God-knows-where-it-came-from processed foodstuffs.
The following weekend, I grabbed my shopping bags and headed straight to Honest2Goodness market in Glasnevin. There I bought fresh produce, homemade sourdough and spelt breads; handcrafted cheeses, pasta sauces and curries; organic milk; and beautiful meats from the butcher. I even got some staples like tinned beans and brown rice there, as they also offer pantry goods. Later that day I got some fresh, sustainable fish from our local butcher shop, which has a small but excellent fish section.
That week we enjoyed the bounty of goods from our grocery shop – but I have to be honest and say that it was a lot more work and effort to do so. After returning home from the farmers’ market, I had to re-package all my veg for storage in the fridge. I rinsed, dried and carefully placed them in large Ziplock bags. Instead of pre-sliced bread in a plastic bag, I sliced the bread myself and wrapped them with paper and cling film. And rather than the weird, pink chicken sambo slices, I baked a whole ham and sliced it every day for MM’s sandwiches.
What a difference it made. MM raved about his sandwiches, and one night as we sat down to a simple supper of veggie pasta, we both remarked at how peppery the green bell pepper tasted. We eat bell peppers every week, but this was the first time in ages that we actually tasted the unsullied, green taste of a simple pepper. The butternut squash was sweet, the bananas tender and golden, and the spinach firm and leafy – nothing like the wilted, tasteless, pre-washed spinach from Tesco that always has a bit of black slime at the bottom of the bag.
I realize this may all sound like obvious observations; of course food from a farm is always going to be better than store-bought. I knew this, but still fell into the big-box grocery chain routine in recent months because we’ve been so busy and it was more convenient. Cost-wise, we’re spending the same. The first time I returned to the farmers’ market a few weeks ago, I took our typical grocery budget with me and that’s all I spent. It’s been the same ever since.
Yes, it costs more in time and effort. Just yesterday after successfully scoring a parking space at St. Anne’s Red Stables market after a 10-minute wait, I realized I had no cash on me. I got back in the car, drove to the ATM and came back, cursing the whole way. And shopping at these types of markets requires flexibility. The producers are selling what’s in season, so if you go with a list you’ll likely leave disappointed. Personally I love the challenge of making something great out of whatever I can find, and I relish the process of looking over my market booty and planning a menu based on what’s there. Sometimes, I have to Google an odd-looking veg I bought on a whim as I’d have no idea what to do with it!
So what are we eating? Irish buffalo mozzarella, tomato and basil pizza and a potato and Irish cheddar pizza with spinach, both on homemade gluten-free crusts; stuffed Portobello mushrooms with a side of roasted purple carrots and baked kohlrabi chips; grilled rainbow trout with mixed greens and baked sweet potato cubes; pinto bean and rainbow chard tostadas with homemade salsa and feta cheese; and a leftover vegetable tart with a spelt crust – our incredibly satisfying dinner at the end of the week. The tart marked the last of our week’s veg, which means nothing was thrown out or wasted. I love that. We’re also getting far beyond our 5 a day.
MM’s lunch sambos in recent weeks have included baked ham on spelt sourdough with English mustard and apple relish; roasted turkey breast on seeded wholegrain with Dijon, cranberry sauce and greens; and this week he’ll be getting chicken & stuffing on sourdough with a yet-to-be determined relish. I just took the chicken & stuffing out of the oven and also finished a big pot of spicy pinto beans, which I’ll pair with some spinach and brown rice for my lunches this week.
I don’t know that we’ve ever eaten so well.
Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms
Though we both do eat meat, we’re generally vegetarian and fish eaters during the week. With such beautiful produce available at the farmers’ markets, it’s easy to be veggie and we really enjoy it. This is one of our favourites.
4 large Portobello mushrooms
1 tablespoon sunflower oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped into small dice
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped into small dice
1 red chili, chopped into small dice
1 yellow onion, chopped into small dice
2 garlic cloves, chopped into small dice
1 large egg, beaten
50 grams of natural yogurt
45 grams of crumbled, feta cheese
125 grams homemade breadcrumbs (I used the leftover spelt sourdough & pulsed in food processor to make the crumbs)
Salt & pepper to season
Preheat the oven to 190 C.
To prepare the mushrooms, remove the stems and using a small spoon scrape out the gills under the cap. Do not throw this away – simply chop al the stems and mix in with the scraped gills. Set both the caps and stems/gills aside.
In a large saute pan, heat the oil over medium setting. Throw in the bell peppers, chili, onion and garlic and cook until soft – about 5 minutes – seasoning with salt and pepper as you cook. Now add in the chopped mushroom stems and gills and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Some moisture will come out of the stems so try and let that cook off. Set mixture aside to cool for a few minutes.
Put the cooked veg mixture into a large bowl. Add in the egg and yogurt, and mix until combined. Now add the feta cheese and 100 grams of the breadcrumbs and mix. This is the filling.
Take the mushroom caps and lay them top side up in a baking dish. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper inside each cap. Divide the filling separately into the four caps. Sprinkle the top with the remaining breadcrumbs and place into the oven for 25 minutes.