Monday, January 30, 2012

Chinese Green Beans

We tried green beans in black bean sauce at a Chinese New Year dinner last weekend. They were amazing. This week we received green beans in our bountiful basket so it just seem appropriate to try to recreate the dish. I just happened to have black bean sauce in my pantry. I bought it years ago and then could never remember why.
The green beans weren't identical to the dish from the dinner but they were good.

Chinese Green Beans
2 pounds fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 bulb garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp ginger powder
2 TB oil
2-3 TB jarred black bean sauce with garlic
Heat oil in skillet. Add green beans and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and fry until the garlic is tender. Add ginger powder and black bean sauce. Stir to coat the green beans. Let cook until the beans are tender, stirring frequently so the sauce does not burn. Serve warm.

Friday, January 27, 2012

What to post?

Some times finding a recipe to post here is like trying to decide what's for dinner. I come up with an idea and I've already posted it (or if cooking, lack the ingredients). Some weeks we are so busy that cooking becomes more than a chore - it's dreaded. We don't always have the opportunity to go out even though that happens now and again.
We often turn to spaghetti. Boil noodles, open a can of sauce, and hope we have parmesan in the refrigerator.
Sometimes that's just not going to happen. So what sort of recipes do you turn to? What sort of recipes do you want to see here?
I promise that next week I'll be better, not perfect I'm writing a cookbook which is harder than you would think.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


My husband loves hushpuppies and I just don't make them but I have decided they are worth the effort. These are deep fried in oil but we want to experiment with making them in the abelskiver pan which would reduce the calories and fat but I didn't have enough dough to experiment with when I came up with this recipe.
Normally, hushpuppies are made with baking powder but I was out that day and since I was using yeast for the beignets I thought it would be easy to make them with yeast. The result was awesome.

1/3 cup onion, diced
1 cup cornmeal
4 TB flour
1 TB yeast
½ cup buttermilk (whey)
1 TB sugar
¼ teas pepper
Cooking oil
Heat buttermilk to about 100 degrees. Add yeast and sugar and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile add onions, cornmeal, flour and pepper to a medium sized bowl. Add buttermilk. Mix gently until completely wet. Pour oil into cast iron skillet, about 2-3 inches deep. Heat to 375. Form 1 inch patties and cook until golden.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


With winter here, I have been craving fried foods like crazy. I think it has to do with the perpetual chill that has settled over our home and lives. Fried foods are little bits of joy. Beignets are the most perfect food. Traditionally, they are served as a dessert with powdered sugar but there is nothing in this recipe that demands they have to be a dessert. We eat them with soups and sauces like biscuits. Pieces not eaten with dinner are often covered with butter and honey. They are not unlike Indian Fried bread except that this particular recipe uses yeast instead of baking powder. I make small pieces but you can easily make larger ones to use in place of bread for sandwiches or for tacos.

1 cup milk
1 TB yeast
1 egg
2 TB sugar
2 TB oil
3 ½ - 4 cups flour
Cooking Oil
Heat milk to about 100 degrees. Add yeast and sugar. Let sit 5-10 minutes. Add egg and oil, beat well. Add flour ½ to 1 cup at a time until the dough is firm but still sticky. Remove from bowl and lay on floured surface. Knead in more flour until the dough is no longer sticky and still pliable. Roll out to ½ thickness and cut into squares. Heat 2-3 inches of oil in a deep skillet to 375 degrees. Fry until golden.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Winter Mint Julep

I'm working on a home spa party book. It's been a project near and dear to my heart for years. I thought it was finished and decided to change how I did the food part. Because of this, I had to experiment with some dishes so I could offer complete meal ideas. My biggest problem is drinks. I'm really a water or tea drinker. I've never liked punches and I'm really picky about juices. As a kid at class parties I would beg the teacher to let me just drink water. I never have liked those punch drinks parents bring to kid's parties. Sunny Delight was like poison to me. I hated it. As an adult, I still can't stand most drinks. I'm very basic - water, tea, cocoa, and coffee. I can make great presentations and variations of those (except I have developed a sensitivity to coffee). The idea of creating punches just makes me crazy.
Well, when writing a menu for a party it's important to offer drink ideas. Not so easy for me. I make a lot of Southern/Cajun/Creole dishes and thought a party centered around these foods would be fantastic but then I had to find at least one drink idea. Mint Juleps are the stereotypical dinner party drink for the South. I've never had nor made a Mint Julep so I did a search.
Then I hit another problem. I do grow mint but mint's not available in January, not here in my Washington home. I came up with an idea that resulted in the most amazing drink I have ever had in my life. I don't know if Mint Juleps are always this tasty but I found me a keeper. Starting with a syrup made with Spearmint Essential Oil (make sure you use a food grade variety or I bet you could substitute with an all-natural mint extract like Watkins sells).
We tried the syrup in a variety of alcohols. For whiskey, I used Jack Daniels. That was awesome. We tried some tequila and that wasn't a great blend. Then we tried Irish Cream which made a nice drink but I preferred the whiskey. We wanted to try rum only to find we were out. I put all the stuff in the freezer before dinner so it would be nice and cold when it came time to mix the drinks. Alcohol can be stored in the freezer but the syrup should be stored in the fridge.

Winter Mint Julep
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
20 drops spearmint essential oil (in summer use 6-8 mint sprigs, let sit overnight)
Combine water and sugar. Bring to boil and let reduce slightly. Add mint. Will be overpowering.
Add ½ oz syrup to 1 oz whiskey. Best served ice cold.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Pancake Mix and Baked Pancakes

I used to make pancake mix and then didn't for awhile which is how things are in our house - I go through cycles. The last pancake mix we had was Mama's Gluten Free Mix which was a great pancake mix. I had 2 bags of her almond blend to use up and thought replacing the pancake mix was a great way to do so. Mama's Gluten Free Almond Blend is the only gluten free flour I have used to make this pancake mix - this is not a gluten free recipe but can easily be altered.
If using gluten free flours - add 1-2 teaspoons of xanthum or guar gum (I use guar gum because it's half the cost of xanthum gum).
I have made this mix with soy milk powder and powdered milk - you can not tell the difference except in the mix its self (soy milk powder is softer than powdered milk).

Pancake mix
8 cup flour
2 cups milk powder
½ cup sugar
2 tb + 2 teas baking powder
4 teas baking soda
Mix together and store in an airtight container

To make pancakes:
2 eggs
1 2/3 cup water
1/3 cup oil or butter
2 ½ cups mix

This weekend, my son had his cousin spend the night. They wanted pancakes for breakfast and requested cinnamon to be added to the batter. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to use up some of the bananas in my freezer, especially since we are currently out of eggs. I freeze bananas in their peels so I don't have to really think about them. To peel them, I run them under hot water and remove the peels. Sometime the inside of the peel sticks to the banana and I use a knife to scrap it off. Because the bananas were frozen I stuck them in the microwave to thaw them after peeling.
So the recipe:
3 bananas
1 1/3 cups or so water
1/3 cup oil
2 1/2 cups mix
1 teas cinnamon
Mash the bananas, add 1 cup water and the oil. Mix in the pancake mix and cinnamon. Add remaining water a little at a time to make a pourable batter.
Now here comes the tricky part - I could not get the batter not to stick to my pan. To matter what I did the pancakes would not turn out. We were running out of time to eat breakfast before church so I turned the oven onto 400 degrees and poured the batter into a non-stick baking sheet that I rubbed with butter. About 10 minutes later I changed the oven to broil and let the top get a little golden. I'm not sure the broiling really made a difference.
Then I rubbed butter on the top before cutting into pancake sized squares. We ate them with peanut butter to find these were the best pancakes ever made. Each serving was perfectly cooked. I did slightly miss the crispy edge of fried pancakes but they were so good. So much so that my family asked me to continue baking them every time.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is based on the Polka Dot Cookies from Guittard. I made it with their mint chips and the result was fantastic. They are almost a cross between a brownie and a cookie. At first I was a little worried that the cookies would spread but they don't so pile on a good tablespoon of dough (I use a tablespoon cookie scoop). I list chocolate chips in the recipe - feel free to use any type of chip. These cookies were great with the mint but would be equally awesome with peanut butter or butterscotch or even just chocolate to double the chocolate punch of these cookies. They definitely need milk and are perfect for these wintery days (we're having snowmaggedon here in Washington).

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
1 ¼ cup sugar
3 eggs
2 teas vanilla
1 cup cocoa
½ teas baking soda
1 ½ cup flour
2 cups chocolate chips
Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well. Add cocoa and baking soda, slowly mix until smooth. Add flour ½ cup at a time. Mix in chocolate chips. Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Au Gratin Potatoes

Our potatoes came out amazing last night. Not a scrap was to be found, we did save some of the extra milk left-over to be used in gravy tonight. The cheese browned beautifully leaving a soft underbelly. The flavors were slight but perfect contrast to the rich steak we served with it. This recipe is so simple, feel free to tinker.

Au Gratin Potatoes
3-4 cups sliced potatoes
1 1/2 cups whole milk or light cream
1/2 cup lemon cheese
butter or margarine
Heavily coat your 8x8 baking dish with butter. Layer in the potatoes to prevent them from sticking together. Pour over the milk and crumble on the cheese. Bake at 350 for 1 hour or until the potatoes are tender. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dairy Products

Sorry about missing yesterday - three day weekends make me lose Monday. I'm not complaining - I love having two Sundays. It gave me a chance to experiment with lemon cheese again.
I got to thinking about dairy products lately. After all the holiday baking and cooking our cupboards are looking rather bare. I spent an extra $45 stocking the house with produce (two bountiful baskets and 1 box of tangerines). But I still had only $90 to do the bulk of the shopping. That meant restocking and planning back on budget. We'll be looking for a little extra cash here and there to stock some other essentials but I still was limited.
Dairy products are big in our house. My son is drinking a gallon of milk a week and begging for cheese. Milk is about $2.50 a gallon and our powdered milk supply is dwindling (not that he really drank it straight but it still was going). Cheese, on a good day, runs about $5 for a two pound brick. We, also, buy yogurt at $1.85 for a large container of plain whole yogurt.
I got to thinking - could I use a gallon of milk and have the products cost less? The answer is yes. I made a batch of crock pot yogurt - super easy. I filled my crock pot with milk (supposed to be 1/2 gallon), heated on low for 3 hours then turned it off for two. I added about 1/2 cup of plain active culture yogurt (I keep this stocked so not an additional expense), wrapped the whole thing in a thick towel and let it sit overnight (it was overlooked so sat for an extra 8 hours). The end result was the equivilant to 3 large yogurt containers. The texture was different but the taste was the same. The great thing is I have yogurt and a substitute for sour cream.
I put together a batch of lemon cheese. A gallon of milk gave me a 32 oz container of cheese plus about 10 cups of whey. The lemon cheese is a great substitute for ricotta or cottage cheese. We will be experimenting to see how it does as a cheddar sub in recipes. It's a great snack cheese. The whey I used to oatmeal and can be subbed in baked goods so there's no loss of use there. For those 10 cups it's like I still have milk. I will say the oatmeal was a little bland but I think it's because I didn't use as much molasses this time. It was still tasty.
Tonight I am making au gratin potatoes using the lemon cheese. I can't imagine it won't turn out wonderful and I'll post the recipe tomorrow.
Personally, buying 4 gallons of milk vs buying 2 gallons, yogurt and cheese saves money. Granted I have less variety of cheese except I have all the control. I can make it savory or sweet. The homemade yogurt can be any flavor I decide. I've been eating it with just cinnamon, today - it's canned plums. I plan on trying to recreate some "dessert" flavors. I have apple pie filling in my fridge (fully canned) that might make a great addition to the yogurt. It's perfect to add to the oatmeal.
I promise tomorrow - I'll be back to recipes and save all the talking for another time. I'm really enjoying 2012 and have already lost 2 pounds. Maybe next week, I'll share my diet plan.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Fast Food Friday

I have been toying with this idea for months. I wasn't sure what sort of conflict a weekly post on fast food would be for a blog that promised good food. However, there are just some deals out there that I really felt were important to share. Some of long term deals and some come and go in a month.
Every family eats out, at least once in awhile. There's something about having a quick inexpensive meal for your family. It's often feels like a luxury. Not all fast food is bad and not all of it is cheap. Planning ahead really helps.
We have managed to find deals to feed our family of three (does a 14 year old boy really count as one - he eats enough for several people and doesn't gain weight), often for around $10 without feeling hungry.
The trick is to stick to the deals and set a budget.
So today's post is sharing some pizza deals.
Our favorite pizza is Little Caesar's. This came about when we discovered their $6 pizzas. Every evening you can pick up a ready made cheese or pepperoni pizza for $6. This month, they dropped the price to $5. There's nothing to indicate how long the pizzas will be $5 but going up $1 is not a big deal. The other thing we found is that you can order 2 bags of breadsticks for $2.50. Don't get the sauce! They charge $0.75 for a little container of sauce. If you really need some, get a jar of spaghetti sauce at the store. Walmart has cheap sauce for $.75 but you get a jar not a little takeout container. Personally, I found the breadsticks are so good, they don't need sauce.
We found that 1 pizza and 2 breadsticks was enough to make a meal, especially when we added a salad or other vegetable at home. (total cost $7.50 plus tax).
If you want something more substantial - they have specials through the week but I can't tell you from experience what they are.

Lately, I've been eyeing the Dominoes commercials. They are offering 2-topping medium pizzas and cheesy bread for $5.99 each but you have to buy 2. The cheesy bread looks amazing and comes in 3 flavors - cheese, spinach and feta, and bacon and jalapeno. Might be worth trying if I remember to stop by there instead of Little Caesar's.

Pizza Hut often has carry-out specials. Currently, they are running their popular $10 any size, any toppings. This is a great deal for those who just aren't satisified with pepperoni only.

Last pizza I want to touch on, just because I think they get overlooked, is Papa Murphys. We love Papa Murphy's pizza but it's not convientely located to our home and always has a line. They always have great specials and lots of coupons for low cost pizza. They freeze wonderfully and for those on a really tight budget, they accept food stamps. We always try to get their Valentine's Day special because who doesn't want a heart shaped pizza for the day.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fruit/Vegetable Preservation

Before the days of refrigeration, food had to be consumed quickly or preserved in one of 5 ways - drying, salting, pickling, fermenting or canning. Canning is actually a fairly new technique but the idea of making jams and syrups is not since sugar acts as a great preserver.
Vinegar, salt, sugar and oil help retard spoilage. Removing the moisture from a food also prevent spoilage. These are not 100% perfect since spoiling can still occur but our ancestors often ate the food anyway. It was often a choice between eating something or starving.
With refrigeration, we have reduced food preservation into a way to make ingredients. We still use them to preserve the harvest but freezing has taken a good deal of the need away.
Today, we worry about too much salt so preserving through salting, pickling and fermenting have lost their popularity. There was a time these were standard. I have been slowly rediscovering the art of pickling. At first it was just "pickles" - pickled cucumbers. I pickled zucchini once but the recipe was not tasty. Then one year, my aunt asked me to make pickled watermelon rind. I did and it was good but what do you eat it with? From there I pickled beets (which is still somewhat popular)and carrots. This year, I pickled pears. I have to tell you - I love them. Still haven't figured out what to do with them aside from eat them as a snack.
Pickling makes for great "junk" food. The sweet, tangy, salty flavor of the foods is like having potato chips (salt and vinegar are my favorite so this is an easy transition for me). The best part is that the treat is still low calorie and no fat. I'll be working on some ideas for how to serve pickled foods but in the meantime, try some unique pickles.

Asian Pickled Carrots
1 pound baby carrots
1/4 cup peeled and julienned ginger
3 whole allspice
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 whole cloves
4 whole peppercorns
in saucepan, cook carrots in small amount of boiling water for 3 minutes until crisp-tender. Drain and place in jar. Add ginger and allspice to jars. In saucepan, combine remaining ingredients. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Pour over carrots and process jars.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Fruit preparation

Fruit comes in four basic ways - fresh, dried, canned, and frozen. More often than not, we eat fruit as it comes or treat it like an ingredient. It's not a bad thing but it does start to limit our preparation. Because fruits are sweet they often become a dessert but they can become a rather nice addition to a side dish or even a main dish.
Fruit can easily be turned into a sauce to accent meat. In the past, I have cooked cherries or blackberries whole in a pot until they were tender (add a fine layer of water on the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking until the fruit releases it's own juice) then run through a food mill to create a sauce. Sometimes I add a thickener like cornstarch but I find it takes away from the flavor. I season with cinnamon or Indian spices. More often than not I serve fruit sauces with pork or chicken but they can easily be used on fish or beef. Lamb is another choice that often is paired with fruit but it's not affordable in my area.
Dried fruit is easily tossed into stir fries and vegetables. Dried cranberries are wonderful with cooked carrots.
As I sit here, I realize that cooking with fruit is difficult to talk about. Not because it's taboo but because the words are just not there. Fruit has more water than most vegetables so you don't steam them. I don't saute then as a rule and roasting is not something I think about.
Roasted apples are amazing but they seem like work - why? I don't know. I have poached pears once but I wanted this post to be about making fruit as something other than a dessert.
We've eaten a fair amount of fruit this week but we too, feel into that trap. I ate apples and blackberries with my oatmeal but grapes, oranges and more apples were just eaten fresh. We love fresh fruit but I wanted to learn to be creative with them. I love eating at ethnic restaurants and getting lamb roasted with plums or fruit stuffed pork. However, they are not dishes I make at home. Which makes this post more and more difficult.
I am at fault for turning fruit into dessert. But I want to visit the more savory side of fruit. I may just have to get back to you on that one. It gives me something to work towards.
Tomorrow I am going to talk about preservation techniques and pickling. Pickling fruit is one technique I did pick up this past year but I haven't found really good ways to use the fruit pickles aside from just eating them, which is really nice.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


Fruit gets a bad reputation because it's sweet and often used in desserts. The truth is fruit is part of a balanced diet. I will note here that the definition of a fruit/vegetable is speculative. There is no 100% criteria for determining what is a fruit and what is a vegetable so you may find that your viewpoint is different from mine. Controversial foods include avocados and tomatoes.
I'm sticking with the more traditional view - apples, pears, peaches, grapes, bananas, etc.
The interesting thing about fruit is the variety of color. There are some vegetables that hit the various spectrum but fruit has more. It's that spectrum that we need to concern ourselves with more than the number of fruits and vegetables we eat.
If you have not heard of eating the spectrum, it's also been called eating the rainbow. The colors are red, white/green, blue/purple, yellow/orange, yellow/green, according to my favorite chart. The idea is to eat 2-3 items in each color each week for the most balanced diet. However, if you eat in season this becomes more difficult especially for those in the North, like me.
Strangely, we opt to eat fruit raw more so than any other food. There's something wonderful about fresh fruit but that doesn't mean it won't make a nice warm addition to a meal.
I like to add fresh fruit to oatmeal for my morning meal. On the weekend, I take the time to make the oatmeal on the stove instead of instant. This is easy - 3 1/2 cups milk to 2 cups oatmeal. Heat the milk on the stove over med-high heat stirring constantly. Add the oatmeal and cook until tender and most of the milk is absorbed. I like pouring in molasses to give the oatmeal a sweet flavor but no extra sugar. We serve with a little milk to cool the surface (I often reduce the milk to 3 cups for cooking so I can add extra to the top) and fresh fruit. If I'm serving apples then I top with cinnamon. If I serve with berries, I top with a teaspoon of sugar to cut the tartness of the berries. You can add the fruit to the pot while cooking but I prefer them fresh.
Add fruit to dinner by tossing in some with your dish. Rice is great with dried cranberries and some nuts. Slice apples over your pork dish while baking.
There are several ways to cook/prepare fruit and I will go over some of those as this week progresses.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vegetable recipe ideas

I have a number of vegetable recipes - some I have shared here. However, many feel like there's not enough of a recipe to justify it as an entire blog post. So I thought I'd throw out some ideas. Vegetables are one of the hardest parts of a healthy diet. We get so used to opening a can and heating it that we forget that there are some amazing ways to prepare a healthy and flavorful vegetable dish.
This past week, we picked up a bountiful basket. We came home with a wonderful assortment - broccoli, spinach, cucumber, radish, lettuce, tomato, avocado, clementines, asian pears, blackberries, grapes, fuji apples. Nothing is more inspiring than a beautiful assortment.
Last night we had a huge salad and steamed broccoli in lemon and garlic with our dinner. It reminded me of all the flavors and varieties of vegetables out there.
Making an interesting vegetable dish does not have to be difficult.
For the broccoli, we steamed it tender then melted 3 TB butter in a skillet, added 2 teas minced garlic and 3 TB lemon juice. Mix in the broccoli and let sit for just a moment. After everyone was dished up, all the broccoli was gone and people were looking for more.
Butter is a great flavoring agent for vegetables but if you want to avoid the extra fat - season with herbs and spices. As I have said before - dill weed is a favorite but not the only option. Curry powder adds nice heat and flavor to vegetables - try it on cauliflower. Lemon juice and garlic blend nicely. I was amazed at the flavor. Lemon is a great addition to most green vegetables (maybe all, I can't be sure until I have tried them all).
Heat leafy greens in a skillet with garlic and stock.
Speaking of stock - that's a great simple way to add flavor to steamed or boiled vegetables.
Tomorrow, I will start on fruit. I can't wait to share some of the ideas we have used to increase our fruit intake.
(hmm, somewhere I need to talk about pickling - I love pickled fruits and veggies.)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Sauteed Vegetables

The last big technique I use for making vegetables is sauteing. The technique is quite simple - heat an oil in a skillet and "fry" the food. The trick is to use high heat and add the vegetables to hot oil. I don't use much oil, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. That is, unless I am using butter or Nucoa, then I add a bit more.
I use cast iron pans and the trick to making them non-stick is to coat the bottom and sides in oil, heat the skillet up and then add the food. I often wait until I get a slight smoke from the oil, not a burn but something to tell me it's hot. If you add too much oil, it will spatter and can cause burns so it's best to use as little as possible but still coat the bottom. With butter/Nucoa I use about 2 TB. Butter doesn't spatter like oil because it has a water content. That doesn't mean you won't get spatter but it's less likely.
Add the vegetables to the oil. If you stir constantly, you will get tender vegetables. If you layer them in the bottom of the pan and let them sit for 30 seconds or so, you will get golden fried vegetables. This will depend on your taste and the vegetable.
Sauteing does add fat but it's not a bad thing. Many vegetables need the fat to increase absorption of vitamins. And if you keep the oil to a minimum and use healthy oils such as canola oil then you're not harming your diet. Butter adds flavor and might make the vegetable more appealing so don't discount it. Using a bit to saute the vegetable actually adds more flavor than dumping some on after it has been cooked.
High starch vegetables such as potatoes absorb the oil and require more to prevent sticking to the pan. This can be offset by adding water to prevent sticking but it prevents a good golden crust. One trick is to pre-cook the vegetable in water or the microwave to reduce cooking time and then use sauteing to just create the crust.
Stir frying vegetables is the same as sauteing. The big different is that stir fries are exclusively done with oil and often with peanut or sesame oil as a flavoring.
Seasonings can be added to the end of the sauteing and can vary as much as you like. My favorites are - soy sauce, dill weed, garam marsala, kosher salt, Old Bay Seasoning. I'm sure there are others we throw in but at this time that's what we use.
Vegetables we saute/stir fry - onions, garlic, peppers, mushrooms, potatoes, sweet potatoes, snow peas, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, cucumbers (yes, cucumbers), carrots, cauliflower, broccoli. I know there are more but that's what I can think of. Sauteing and Stir Frying are often more popular because of ease of cooking and the ability to throw in other foods such as rice and meat. We make the occassional dish using bacon and it's leftover grease (I drain off excess).
Next week, I'll share some recipes that use these techniques to create interesting and tasty vegetable dishes.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Steaming Vegetables

A great no added fat way to make vegetables is steaming. Beware that steaming can turn perfect and nutritious vegetables into a pile of goo if not properly done. I believe it's over-steaming or boiling vegetables that has given them a bad rap.
Steaming doesn't require much - you can pick up a steaming insert for just a few dollars. Inserts look like flat metal flowers with lots of holes when opened. I used one for ages until it died. During that time, my husband bought me a pot set that came with a double boiler and steaming pot so when my insert died I didn't replace it with one.
I have seen the inserts at grocery stores so they shouldn't be hard to come by. They have little legs so they can be set at the bottom of a soup pot. To use them, add about an inch of water (depending on the height of the legs, you do not want the water to come up the holes), layer your vegetable on the insert, put on the lid and turn the stove on high. Be careful that do not boil all the water out of the pan. When the water starts to boil, you can reduce the heat as low as medium. I like to keep things about medium high.
The vegetable should be tender. It should easily hold on a fork. The density of the vegetable determines how long. Start checking after 5 minutes and see how it's going. Over time you'll be able to judge the perfect steaming for your family.
The water that remains is great for plants after it has cooled or can be added to sauces or what not that you are making with dinner.
You can also steam in the microwave but it's not as easy. Add a little water to a bowl and add your vegetable. Cover with plastic wrap and heat in the microwave. I will tell you that there is a lot of controversy about microwaving with plastic wrap. I, personally, do not use plastic wrap because I feel it's a waste. You can try steaming without plastic wrap if you have a fairly small microwave but the trick is to keep as much steam in the microwave (and it will cause particles from the top of the microwave to drop into the food if the microwave is not clean).
Overall, I prefer using a pot and the stove.
You can add flavor to the vegetables by adding stock and seasonings to the water but the flavors will be faint so this is best to do with a more light flavored vegetable.
Vegetables to steam: broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, carrots, greens (which can be steamed in a skillet), peas, green beans.
I know there are so many more but this week has made me realize how narrow my own vegetable view is. Now I need to start looking at new vegetables.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Roasting Vegetables

I mentioned yesterday that we like roasting vegetables. The technique is rather simple and doesn't add fat to the vegetables. Personally, I believe this makes for some of the best tasting vegetables since the heat carmelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables.
I haven't roasted all vegetables so I don't know what wouldn't work with this but so far it's been nothing but success.
Over the weekend, I roasted sweet potatoes with a little salt and dill. The result was a vegetable that almost was eaten before it made it to the table. My son would sneak a "chip" as he found more and more excuses to come into the kitchen.
With sweet potatoes, I peel the outer layer and then slice into "chips". Layer them single layer on a baking sheet and sprinkle with seasonings. I sprinkle lightly because the seasonings are there to accent the vegetable not cover the flavor - maybe as much as a full tablespoon of dill and salt for 3 sliced sweet potatoes. Put in a 350 degree oven until tender. The time frame will depend on the thickness of your slices. I believe it took less than 20 minutes to cook my sweet potatoes and I had expected it to take longer.
Other vegetables to roast:
potatoes (wash well and slice)
Brussel sprouts (roast whole or quarter if larger)

Sadly, that's all I can think of that we have roasted. It will just encourage me to try more. I think we'll try cauliflower and eggplant. I bet those will be just great.

I have roasted corn on the cob but with a slightly different technique. I leave the husk on the corn and set it on the rack in the oven at 350 (can roast them over a fire as well this way). You may want to remove the hair to prevent them from catching fire. I haven't had a problem in my oven but they burn every time over a fire.
This makes for a tasty vegetable but my family hates trying to peel the hot husk from the corn.
We've roasted different vegetables over a fire than in the oven: mushrooms, zucchini, onions, peppers. They make wonderful toppings to roasted meat.
Tomorrow, I'll talk about steaming vegetables. One thing to remember with either technique - they work best with fresh vegetables but that shouldn't limit you from trying to roast frozen. We have roasted frozen brussel sprouts without a problem. Canned vegetables have too much water for roasting.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Vegetables get a bad rap. Growing up I learned to be suspicious of sauces. I love gravy and cheese sauce but they often were tools to hide food. It's how we do it - if the kids won't eat something cover it up with something yummy. Two problems emerge - the sauces are often high in fat and sodium which outweighs the nutritional value of the hidden vegetable and the eater doesn't develop a taste for the vegetable as it is leading to a life of avoidance without sauce.
I am guilty of this. I was one who hid cauliflower in my son's mac and cheese with the hope that he wouldn't notice. The thing about my son is you can't fool him. He always knew when I was hiding something in his food - always. Sometimes he would let me get away with it, waiting until the meal was over to inform me that he knew I had put xyz in his food. Other times he would declare that the food was tainted and he wasn't eating it.
It made me realize that hiding vegetables was not going to be a strategy I could use. So I started a new rule and a new plan - I gave my son more control over his food but he had to eat some of everything I offered. Another rule we instilled was that he didn't have to eat everything on his plate (after taking at least a bite or two) but he couldn't have seconds until his plate was cleared.
I still made cheese sauce because it made the vegetables go down easier but my son could choose how much sauce.
Eventually, I realized we needed to cut calories. Cheese sauce could not be a staple and making a low fat cheese sauce was just not satisfying. So one night, I decided I didn't want to make the sauce and offered shredded cheese with the vegetables. The cheese alone had fewer calories and fat than the sauce. What I didn't expect is that the cheese allowed us to open up to the flavors of vegetables. A little cheese is like a crutch that taught the vegetable to stand on its own. Soon, my family was exploring new vegetables with excitement because they actually liked them.
However, there are a few tricks that make the vegetables taste better. Overcooking vegetables not only ruins the nutritional value but it ruins the taste and often creates a horrible texture. I buy frozen when I can, except for peas and green beans. Frozen corn, cauliflower and broccoli (amongst many other vegetables) are quick and easy to make. I do buy fresh when it's less expensive. I steam the cauliflower and broccoli in a steamer basket until it's just tender.
Would you believe that my son actually asks for brussel sprouts and asparagus? He prefers them roasted with just a bit of salt. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars in the vegetables.
I have learned to keep the vegetables as close to natural as possible. This makes them more nutritious but strangely they taste better. When you let the natural flavors since through it makes a difference. However, start small and slowly shift the family thinking.
This week and into next, I will share some recipes that will open up the doors to re-invisioning vegetables. Don't let yourself get into that same 'ole rut. Don't be afraid to try. You may get some complaints but don't complain back. This is a new year and you are brave. You want to eat better for so many reasons and you can do it on a budget.
Now my last tip of the day - get the family interested. When you're at the store, ask them if they want to go on an adventure with you and try something new. We do this now and again - just pick a fruit or vegetable we have never tried before. I will say that the majority of them have been wonderful additions, some have been hideous (cactus was not a family favorite). You can start with something safe like a persimmon or pomegranete. Ask your kids for ideas or your spouse/significant other what vegetable dishes they liked from their childhood. Work together as a family and you will be more successful.
I know it's hard - right now my son thinks I am obsessed with measuring my food because I did it last night at dinner. I tell him it's because I want to eat better and make better choices. He can understand that. He can also understand that by measuring my food and entering it into the computer allows me to have more snacks during nighttime tv because I know exactly how much I have eaten during the day (and if mommy snacks, he gets a snack too).

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year Resolutions

Most people start the new year off with resolutions. The majority of resolutions fail. I saw a statistic today that says only 12% of resolutions actually make it to the end of the year.
I don't make resolutions - I make goals. This year I determined 3 goals: to lose weight, improve my income and better my health. To clarify I wrote out the goals - To lose 1-2 pounds a week, To get published and increase my income, and To improve my health/well being.
With each of those, I broke down the goals further into mini-goals that would allow me to meet my big goals. I gave parameters where I felt I needed them and left others more ambiguous so that I can offer myself the greatest chance of success. You will see that my weight loss goal is a weekly goal not a yearly goal. For the next 52 weeks, I have a weekly goal to lose 1-2 pounds. This is considered healthy weight loss. In the end, I could lose up to 104 pounds. But if I set my goal at 104 pounds I wouldn't make past January because that's not a manageable goal to me. I would want to lose the weight all at once because I like instant gratification as much as the next guy. That would be setting myself up for failure but making it each week then I have a chance to pick myself up if I have a bad week. My diet cannot fail because every Monday it starts over again.
Will it be successful - only time will tell. For now, I am hopeful.
My diet sub-goals will work well with this blog - I plan on increasing my vegetable/fruit intake, adding whole grains and looking for ways to increase my nutrition without increasing my calories.
This week I will start offering my interesting vegetable ideas. I have managed to slowly change my family's eating habits and they love vegetables now. I will share these techniques with you and soon your family will be begging for more.