Friday, July 30, 2010

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

I've rediscovered my love of the humble spud.  I spent quite a while shying away from potato based meals.  I'm sure most of it was my misguided low carb years.  There is nothing wrong with a potato.  In fact they are quite good for you!  A sweet potato has only 180 calories-I'm sure that varies by size-but gives you over 700% of your RDA of Vitamin A!  Plus it has 7 grams of fiber-assuming you eat the skin, and you should, it's good for you.  It also packs a healthy dose of Vitamin C inside each tasty bite.  Last night I wanted a simple, yet filling meal, so I turned to my stash of sweet potatoes. 

I baked them at 400 degrees for about an hour until they were nice and soft.  Now, I like them plain, with just a little Earth Balance and sea salt but last night I wanted something a little more.  So I made a topping/stuffing for them.

1/2 red onion, diced
5 good sized mushrooms, diced
2 pieces of cooked bacon (you could use uncooked, I just happened to have two left over from breakfast that I'd already cooked)

Heat up a saute pan with some Earth Balance (or butter if you use it).  When it's nice and warm add the red onion to the pan and cook until softened.  Add the mushrooms in the pan next, when they're soft, add the cooked bacon.  A pinch of salt, to taste, if needed and let it cook together to get the flavors blended and the veggies softened.

Split each potato down the middle and add the topping.  Round out the meal with a nice green salad and you're ready to go.  A healthy, nutritious, and very filling meal featuring the humble sweet potato. 

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Baby bok choy

Let's face it, baby veggies are cute! I bought a package of these little cutie pies last week with no real plan in place for getting them out of the fridge and into our bodies.

I like bok choy, but it can easily become too slimy for my gag reflex if steamed, sauteed or boiled.  So I decided to try grilling them.  I love grilled veggies.  The grill makes just about any vegetable disappear quicker!

Last night I washed them well, removed any blemished outer leaves and cut them lengthwise.  (Leave the tough stem intact, that way your bok choy won't fall apart on the grill.)  With a drizzle olive oil on the each half and a generous seasoning of sea salt and they were ready for the heat.

When my meat was close to flipping I added the 6 bok choy halves.  (The bok choy leaves can burn easily so keep an eye on them.)  Once they were nicely charred I flipped them for another couple minutes.  Really, they probably take less then 2 minutes per side.  I removed them from the grill and when it was time to serve sliced off the tough stem on each and cut up the white part for the boys-yes they both ate it.  I ate the leafy green part too but I like charred veggies.

Some variations: you could use sesame or peanut oil instead of olive oil.  You could also season with some garlic, dip or drizzle some soy sauce after cooking or make a nice ginger sauce to marinate them in.  Hmmm, a spicy ginger sauce, that has potential! 

So what is the nutritional benefit for this little gem?  It will give you a good dose of Vitamin C and a decent hit of Calcium and also has Vitamin A all wrapped up in one itty bitty veggie.  As an added bonus, it tastes great! 

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Creamy pasta salad

I ventured into the land of Quinoa pasta last night.  Since Paulo is wheat free for the next couple of months I had to break out of my usual pasta rut.  I've been a whole wheat pasta Momma for years, I've seen the quinoa pasta but had no reason to try it, until now.  It's a hit!  We tried the Ancient Harvest brand, I couldn't tell a difference and neither could Paulo. 

Creamy pasta salad

One zucchini, julienned
Two roma tomatoes, chopped
One jar of marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped
1/4 cup chopped mixed olives, I used both greens and kalamata olives
2 scallions, both white and green
1 small head of broccoli, chopped
1 box of Ancient harvest Quinoa pasta
1/3 cup Veganaise
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon raw honey
Dry oregano, basil and garlic powder, to taste
Pinch of sea salt

Combine the first four ingredients in a large bowl.

Boil the pasta, according to the directions.  In the last 3 minutes add the broccoli and allow to cook with the noodles.  Drain and rinse and add to the bowl with the veggies.

Combine the last five ingredients in a small bowl and whisk well to combine.  Pour over the pasta and veggies and toss well to combine.  Serve immediately.

Paulo and I ate this for dinner last night with a side of cantaloupe and sliced mango.  His first words were "mmm! I like it!"  High praise when feeding a child and trying something new.  You can double the sauce ingredients if you like things a little creamier, which is what I did last night.  Paulo has asked me to make the sauce again and serve it over just plain noodles, yeah, skip those pesky veggies Mom!  Paulo has always preferred his pasta with just butter and Parmesan, both of those things are off the menu now, so I'm glad I could create something that would sub in for that, at least for the time being.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Eggless options

My son started an elimination diet Sunday.  For eight weeks he can eat no dairy, no wheat and no egg products.  It's been an eye opening educational process to say the least!  There's a recipe that I've had in my queue to try for months.  I found it inside a book called Quantum Wellness-a book I highly recommend to anyone who wants to explore health and wellness from a total package perspective, there's so much more to it than just what goes in your mouth.

Last night we had an after dinner meeting with our Life Insurance/Retirement company so I needed a very quick and easy dinner for the boys.  They all had wrap sandwiches containing some variation of chicken.  I wanted to try out the eggless salad recipe I've been holding on to for months.  My hope was that Paulo would try it, like it, and have another lunch time option for him.  He did try it, he seemed to like it, he'll see it again.

Eggless salad recipe (from Quantum Wellness)
8 ounces firm tofu, drained
2 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons vegan mayonnaise
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1 tablespoon minced dill pickle
1 teaspoon mustard
salt and pepper to taste

Mash the tofu and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Serve on a bed of lettuce or whole grain bread.

I opted to serve mine in a red cabbage leaf and roll it up, I like the crunch of raw cabbage.  I think next time I will reduce the parsley a bit, and make sure I mince it better!  There was a bit too much parsley leaf left over but I think that was operator error not the recipe.  Also I added more dill pickle than the recipe calls for.  We love our dill pickles!  Yes I could tell it was tofu and not egg based but it was really good and I will definitely make it again.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

Dinner salads

We're finally experiencing the high temperatures that the rest of America have been getting for months.  This past weekend topped out over 90 here in Tigard.  Couple that with feeling very full from the indulgent brunch I hosted for our family and come dinner time I was a looking for something light and healthy, and that would use up a lot of my veggies. 

Enter the big salad!  I made an enormous dish of this salad yesterday for dinner.

Let's deconstruct:  To a base of mixed greens I diced up red cabbage and mixed that in.  I steamed a couple of heads of broccoli and roughly chopped them.  I added two roma tomatoes.  One zucchini, raw, quartered and then thinly sliced and one English cucumber, cut the same way.  I had left over pinto beans that I cooked Saturday, I drained and rinsed those.  I also took some frozen corn out and thawed that, rinsed it with warm water and tossed that in the mix.  I dressed it with a homemade avocado dressing, recipe to follow.  I added shredded chicken to the boys dish but omitted it from mine, I felt like I'd eaten enough meat this weekend!  Plus it didn't really need it to feel satisfying.  The kids added some corn tortilla chips to their plates and this was dinner, and as an added bonus is also lunch today. 

We eat salads almost nightly but they're usually the side kick not the star of the meal.  This one was defiantly the star!

Krista's avocado salad dressing:
1 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 avocado
1/4 cup cilantro
2 tomatillos with husks removed
salt to taste

Put all the ingredients into a high powered blender and blend until smooth.  Add more oil if you want it thinner. 

Friday, July 23, 2010

What is in your drawers?

There is a blog I read, written by a particularly brave teacher.  Now I think all teachers are brave but this woman goes above and beyond, she's taking on the challenge of eating the school lunch for 100 days.  100 days, just the thought gives me a stomach ache and saps my energy.  Let's face it, hot lunch for kids is not what it used to be!  It's just one of the reasons I'm grateful my little one goes to a charter school and hot lunch is not even an option, it's one less argument to have as I navigate the journey with him.  I simply do not believe they fill our child's nutritional needs.  I know, by USDA standards they do, but not by mine.  When my oldest was young he could choose one hot lunch a week in grade school.  He didn't always do it, but that was our compromise.  I know I myself was particularly fond of wiener wrap day and tried to find an excuse to join him on that day, only to find by the time I got up in the line that all the wiener wraps were gone....I was devastated, I still am.

If you have not read Mrs. Q's blog, run, do not walk (cyber speaking of course) over there, the links on the right.  It's a noble thing she's doing, shedding light on a problem that we all know is there but we don't experience first hand, she's making it real.

A couple of days ago she posted a thread about her crisper drawer-yes, I like that word too, I don't use it nearly enough.  She bravely posted photos of her drawers and asked that we, her readers, do the same on our blogs and link them back to her.  Here goes:

Let's see, we've got a bag of kiwi in the left front, a lonely lime left over from a party a few weeks ago.  An assortment of citrus fruits, one big, huge, sweet grapefruit on the right front mixed in with a couple little tiny oranges.  My fresh bag of oranges on the left rear and my fresh bag of lemons on the right rear.  Why so many lemons?  I juice them.  I like to make "green lemonade", essentially greens like kale and celery, or cucumber, juiced with lemon and ginger.  Don't wrinkle your nose, it tastes good!  You can add a little stevia or agave to sweeten if you need it. 

Here we have my head of red cabbage, about to be turned into slaw for crunchy tacos tomorrow night, in the right rear.  A head of broccoli, begging to be steamed and eaten, in the left rear.  A few left over zucchini in the left front that will soon be grilled.  Some baby bok choy in the right front that will soon be steamed.  And we have beets, I juice those or I roast them.  I think there's a few little Serrano chiles left over in there too somewhere. 

My greens, like spinach for my smoothies, take up too much space to go in the drawer so they've taken over the majority of a middle shelf.  I've also got apples hiding somewhere and until I consumed it all yesterday I had a cut watermelon.  It was really, really good!

There you have it, a glimpse into my produce.  This has reminded me though that there are a few things I didn't get a chance to cook this week-my youngest had a track camp every night from 6:30-8:30 so our dinners were all picnic style.  So this weekend will have an interesting array of side dishes!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Breakfast of champions

And no, I don't mean Wheaties!

We are an over fed and under nourished society.  Which is sad considering the abundance of food we have available to us.  It's everywhere we turn.  The sheer volume of options we have to wade through at the grocery store is mind boggling.  We have 1000's of items to pick from, yet we continue to pick things that do not offer our bodies the nutrition it needs to thrive, we shoot ourselves in the proverbial foot. 

We know that we should eat the rainbow, but how?  How can we make it quick and easy and something that we can easily maintain?

Enter the wonder of The Green Smoothie!

Start your day with a pitcher of this and you are well on your way to proper nutrition and a healthy body.

A dear friend of mine directed me to a while ago when she knew I was looking for ways to improve my family's diet.  Since that time I've drank this concoction more days than not and I noticed an improvement in my energy and my mood almost immediately.  When I drink my green smoothie I feel upbeat, positive, energetic, at times when I was first starting out I feel a little too energetic!  I just wasn't used to feeling great.

So, what's in mine?  Let's dissect!  Two cups of water are put into the blender and to that I add baby spinach up to the top.  Word of caution, when you're starting out on green smoothies, use the baby spinach, it's mild, it blends well, it's a great way to get started.  After you're used to them then you can branch off and use kale, collards, mustard greens, whatever you might feel inspired to use but for now, stick with baby spinach and definitely stick with that for the wee ones!  I add 1/2 of a pitted avocado to the blender, our brains need that healthy fat, and flip that bad boy on for about a minute.  Once the greens are well blended I open the top and start dropping in my fruits.  For this particular smoothie I used what I had on hand.  I had 1/2 of a nectarine left over from making Paulo's lunch.  I had 1/2 of an apple in the fridge too, cored that, and tossed that on the plate.  I peeled an orange-leave some of the white stuff on it does have a lot of good vitamins.  I had frozen blackberries and frozen pineapple and a banana.  One by one add each fruit until it's well blended and looks like this:

Yeah, I know, it's not green.  That's because of the blackberries.  You can use whatever fruits you have on hand.  Blueberries are really good in this-but I ran out.  Mango, peeled and frozen is delicious too!  Frozen cherries are amazing.  This is a great way to use up fruits that are close to being too ripe.  When the bananas get brown, peel them and freeze them.  When the big tub of baby spinach is getting close to the expiration date, put it in a bag and freeze that too.   Since it's blended and not juiced you have a greater leeway with using frozen foods-and your smoothie comes out even better.  This is a great breakfast drink for gluten free/dairy free/egg free kids-like mine has to be for the next eight weeks.  I typically have a medium sized glass of this for breakfast then I take the leftovers to work with me and drink more mid morning and then the rest mid afternoon.  I often go to the gym after work, I notice a difference in my energy level if I've had my afternoon green smoothie. 

How long does it take me?  Between five to ten minutes, including the clean up of my blender.  How much does it cost?  I have no idea.  I have not sat down and analyzed the cost of my smoothie because I know the rewards are so great and the cost to my health of not drinking them is even greater.  Do I buy all organic?  No.  I do buy organic spinach, even my trusty low cost market Winco has that.  I do buy organic stone fruit and berries-frozen or fresh.  I also buy organic apples.  I base my decisions on the "Dirty Dozen" list.  There are some things that my family eats a lot of, and we eat the skins that cannot really be cleaned, those are the things that are non-negotiable in my book for buying organic.  I know it is not a realistic goal for me to buy 100% organic produce, I really wish it was, but for me the decisions come down to:

  1. How much of a certain fruit do we eat.  For instance apples, we eat a lot of apples.

  2. Can I peel it or does that remove a great deal of the nutrition?  Mangos, pineapple, avocados, etc., we eat a lot of but we don't eat the skin and the pesticides can't get through the tough skin.

  3. Where does it fall on the dirty dozen and the counterpart, clean dozen, list? :a link to just one of MANY articles about it.  Google dirty dozen, read about it, and make the choice that is in your family's best interest, both financially and health wise.
Try it out, make a blender full.  A word of warning, is you're making this part of your lifestyle, get a high powered blender-especially if you want to use any of the other tougher greens as your base.  A cheap blender will do well with baby spinach but not with kale!  Trust me, that was one nasty batch of smoothie!  Seriously though, try it, tell me what you think.  Your health is worth the 10 minutes in the kitchen. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Getting saucy

We all know that veggies are vital for their development.  Children need to eat from the rainbow, no I don't mean Skittles!  Getting them from the plate to their mouths though can sometimes feel like a battle.

What's my secret weapon?  A little homemade sauce!

If your son is like mine and he likes things a little on the tangy side, this sauce is perfect for you then!  It's very simple, takes minutes to prepare, and will magically make veggies disappear.  He's particularly fond of this over his broccoli, oh yeah, he eats his broccoli!

Cut the lemon in half and squeeze all the day's frustration, I mean juice, out of it.  To that add 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard and whisk while adding another tablespoon of olive oil.  Finish it off with a pinch of sea salt and you're ready to drizzle over steamed veggies or overa plate of quinoa and sauteed veggies.  It also works great as a dip for cut, raw carrot sticks in.  You can adjust the amounts depending on how much sauce you want to make and also how tangy you like it, just add more dijon if you want more tang or if you need a thicker sauce, decrease the oil to mustard ratio.

Getting those veggies from the plate to the lips might feel like a huge chore, a struggle, a battle between the forces of good *YOU* and evil *processed foods and advertising* but with a few tricks and tips up your sleeves it gets easier.  Let's face it, there are not many who think that broccoli in its pure and natural state is the bomb, we need to sauce it up, but make sure the sauce you use doesn't eliminate the good vitamins you're trying to get into their growing bodies. 

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Take back the kitchen!

My friends, we are under attack and our survival as a species demands we fight back.  I look around at the grocery store, restaurants and on the streets and I am saddened to see what we've done to ourselves.  We're literally eating ourselves to death.  Human beings will become extinct if we stay the course.  Dramatic?  Perhaps, but simply true as well, and so very preventable.  Would it happen in my lifetime?  No.  Would it happen in my children's lifetime?  No.  But if we continue this path we will eventually become too big for our own survival.  How sad to have eaten ourselves to extinction.  Normally it's the opposite, the absence of food, that causes animals to die out.  Here we could literally eat ourselves into extinction. 

So my challenge to you is this, take back your kitchen.  Take it back from the big processed food manufacturers.  Take it back from heat and serve "meals".  Take it back from drive thru windows.  Take it back.  Get back in that kitchen Momma-and Daddy too.  Your children need you to.  You need you to.  Cooking real food is the simplest and most effective way to turn the tide around.  Right now we're playing defense against the onslaught of poor quality "food" that has overrun our grocery stores.  These things you see wrapped in plastic, packaged up in boxes, with shelf lives that last longer than Lost, these things are not food.  Food provides nourishment.  Those things simply provide calories.  It is not enough to simply provide your children calories, they deserve nourishment.

Yes I get it, we're busy women now.  But too busy to survive?  Really?  I don't think so.  We've been conditioned to believe it is ok to simply heat and serve our family food filled with preservatives and dyes, loaded with fat and sodium.  We've been conditioned to believe that it isn't our responsibility to provide food for our families anymore.  We're working Moms now, we deserve that conveniently packaged food.  We've earned it!  I say no.  We deserve to be healthy.  Our children deserve to be healthy.  It is our responsibility to provide real, healthy, food to our children.  If we don't who will?  Look, I know there are plenty of Dads who cook too, but frankly, this blog will be written from a Momma's perspective, because that's what I am.  I'm a 36 year old working mother.  It's not easy to balance the workload of running a business and running a home, and my husband does not cook-at all.  He doesn't know how and he's not interested in learning.  OK, I don't take out the garbage-ever. We've been married for over 8 years now and we divided up some of those duties a long time ago and cooking is my responsibility.  I plan the meals, I shop for the food, I prep them and cook them.  It is my job.  Back at the beginning when we first created our little family I relied on boxes of pasta mix and rice mix, quick and easy packaged food.  What happened all those years ago?  My previously very fit husband gained a lot of weight.  He felt unhealthy.  I felt unhealthy.  I'm quite sure his son also felt unhealthy but he was just a little dude and wouldn't know how to describe what he was feeling.  I quit the crap and learned how to cook.  I learned how to make a nice pork tenderloin or baked chicken.  Learned how to make spaghetti sauce or cheese sauce from scratch.  Perfected my ability to steam veggies.  At that time I used Cooking Light as my Bible.  I loved their quick and easy work night dinner sections-although I must say I never got them on the table in the 20 minutes they think they should take!  Still I discovered that I enjoyed cooking real food.  I liked knowing exactly what we were eating.  I liked watching my family try these new dishes.  I liked that some of that weight came off.  I haven't gone back since to the mindset that I'm too busy to cook, and neither should you.  You are not too busy to live are you?  If you are not cooking real food then you are saying you don't want to live, and you're ok with your children saying the same.  It is not ok.  They deserve better.  We deserve better.  But first we must take back the kitchen.

The kitchen is the soul of the house.  It is the gathering place.  It is the place the radiates love.  If I love you I feed you.  I cannot serve my family processed foods day in and day out because that would mean I no longer loved them.  I love them enough to want them to be healthy and thrive.  Not just survive, but thrive.  It's a constant battle though.  I do battle every single day against the advertising onslaught from sugary cereal makers, granola bar manufacturers and soda ads.  It's a war I take seriously.  Not long ago my 6 year old son begged me for some new cupcake cereal.  Yes, because cupcakes are so obviously a breakfast food right?  I said no every time he saw the commercial and fixed his big brown eyes on me, begging, and batting his insanely long eyelashes.  Why?! He'd cry!  Because it's not good for you, I'd say.  Finally we were in the grocery store cereal aisle and he spied them.  It's like a beam of light broke through from the heavens, it was practically a spiritual moment for him!  He grabbed the box and made one last ditch effort to convince me that yes, cupcakes are a breakfast food.  So I took the moment to show him the label.  I broke it down for him.  A serving of this cereal is less than 1 cup I told him.  In that 3/4 cup of cereal there is 12 grams (if memory serves me) of sugar.  If my memory is right, I told him, there's 4 grams to every teaspoon.  So I told him I wanted him to imagine taking a teaspoon, the one you eat soup with I told him, now I want you to imagine filling that spoon with sugar and eating it....three times.  How does your tummy feel now?  His eyes got big and he said to me "but they said it was part of a healthy breakfast!"  Yes, my son, that's how advertising works.  They make a lot of claims that are not true.  I also tried to explain, in terms a child would understand, how the lack of fiber and protein in this 3/4 cup serving (and really, who eats less than 1 cup of cereal for breakfast!?) would leave him feeling famished inside of an hour, so that by the time he's supposed to be sitting in his classroom ready to learn all he'd be able to focus on would be his rumbly tumbly.  He put the box back.  I was proud.  I'm his first line of defense though.  Because nothing comes into my kitchen that I do not purchase.  It's a big responsibility and one that I take very seriously. 

I've started this blog because I'm passionate about food.  I'm passionate about cooking.  I'm passionate about providing the very best start possible for my family.  I will use the forum to discuss recipes, kitchen tips and nutritional information.  I hope you will chime in with questions, comments and ideas, whether you're just starting out on making a healthy lifestyle part of your daily routine or you've been at this for years.  Make no mistake though, Mommas, we are at war.  Are you ready to go to battle and defend your family?  Take back the kitchen, that's where it all begins.