9/15/11

Eat your beans, help each other



I haven’t posted anything lately because I am busy organizing my temporary move to S. Florida from Plano. The whole idea of moving away has been pretty overwhelming and I have been going back and forth trying to decide what to bring with me and what to store for my return.

For a foodie, the idea of leaving behind “ my kitchen” is the hardest. I have a lot more than the normal apartment dweller. Should I take the pasta maker which I haven’t used in 18 years?  What about the multiple crock pots? They are super when used at my annual tree trimming party.  Do I take the blender or will the stick blender suffice?

These are difficult decisions and I have realized how much I depend on the “extras” that make my time in the kitchen easier and more enjoyable.

I thought I would try out living with just “the basics” for awhile before deciding. I have done pretty well but only because I haven’t cooked anything of substance but a piece of salmon. I have given up smoothies. The stick blender just didn’t sound right for that.

No more pitting olives or cherries, not that I did that much anyway. How do I French cut green beans without my green bean frencher? You might ask if I really use these devices and the answer is, yes, I do.  I love these little extras.

So cooking with “the basics” is…well…basic. My diet has gone to heck. Toast with peanut butter for breakfast, lunch is leftovers from last night’s dinner out, who knows what for dinner….cereal maybe?

What I have made that is not only healthy but benefits a great cause, is black bean soup. My friend Nancy gave me some soup mixes from the “Women’s Bean Project” in Denver. The non profit organization has been helping women gain self sufficiency and employment since its inception. http://www.womensbeanproject.com/whatwedo.html

I normally make my soups from scratch, so I wondered how this would turn out.  I must admit it was really easy to make and the soup is wonderful. I did find it needed a little umph…so I added some Picante sauce (I used Pace) to each serving, some shredded low fat cheddar and chopped avocado. That is all it needed.

So, I have been eating the soup for dinner and feel I have improved my “basics” diet considerably this way.

I would highly recommend you try the soups from the Women’s Bean Project. They make great hostess or holiday gifts too. 

You can “eat you beans” and help those women who have been chronically unemployed or living at the poverty level, to develop the skills and training to support themselves and their families. That should taste pretty good going down!

8/7/11

Relief for Breakfast Boredom


I don’t know about you, but I get pretty bored with the same old breakfasts. During the week I usually hit on a theme and go with it until the idea is a burn out. For a while it was Smoothies with different fruits and a supplement called Lean that my sister distributed. It was very addictive, filling and good on the waist.

She stopped selling it so I moved on to cereal until I went to the store and a box of cereal worth about a dollar now costs five. I refused to pay it.

Next I switched to grains, grits, whole wheat cereal, quinoa etc. made every which way. In the summer that is just too warming, so I moved on to yogurt or toast and nut butters.

On the weekends I am ready for something more interesting. My sister, Shirley often stays over on Friday nights. We have “our show” on TV or a movie. In the morning, I usually come up with an idea, make our favorite blueberry crumble coffee and while she “comes alive” with her first cup, I head to the store to get what ingredients I need.

Although the daily grind gets boring, breakfast is my favorite meal to have with others. I usually go to Fresh Market, a local gourmet grocery for my ingredients, mostly because it’s quieter than the groceries so I don’t have to “look alive” when I get there. Other times, I walk to the local Publix and pick up a paper to bring back with the needed ingredients.

One week I picked up a juicy, sweet Mango and some fresh baked Tropical Coconut Bread to go with some Liberte’ yogurt. That was pretty tasty but not all that filling.

One of the easier meals that we found surprisingly good was from a recipe in the cookbook, “The Good Egg”. 
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know, it is an egg recipe, Eggs with Beurre Noir (ok if you don’t have a handle on the French language, that is Black butter), Capers and Parsley.  Amazingly enough I had all the ingredients, no store trip required.

Another morning I decided to do the vegetarian thing and made a Tofu Egg Salad.  I know, I know you non veggies may balk, but I wasn’t too excited about the idea either. I am not a big Tofu lover. It turned out to be an easy breakfast, nutritious, and tasty, a nice change from the norm.

This week, I decided to get a little decadent. I found a recipe in a book I have “Breakfast in Bed” called Divine Filled Croissants. I am on a diet restriction now from food that is acidic or spicy, so this was something I could eat (for a salty, spicy, acid loving foods girl it has been a challenge!)

It is extremely rare for me to eat a croissant. I don’t love them. I once took a class on making croissants and after seeing them incorporate what looked like 10 pounds of butter, I figured it might not look good on my heart or hips.  The recipe looked interesting and the croissants seemed to be the best choice, so there you have it, croissants were on the menu.

I didn’t sleep well Friday night. Lots of things on my mind so I wasn’t the “Bright Sunshine” I normally am on the weekend. This time Shirley and I both went to Fresh Market for the ingredients, one of which was Monterey Jack Cheese.  I wanted to find it in a block but they didn’t have it. Not wanting to go from store to store, I bought packaged slices.

Upon arriving home and starting to prepare the ingredients, we noted that the cheese was supposed to be grated, but I had slices. Being the genius and iron chef I am I came up with the solution. I grabbed about 4 slices and rolled them together then tried to grate them. I actually didn’t expect the outcome to be too great, expecting the cheese to crumble, but it didn’t. It was grating just fine. 

I was so proud of my genius until I got about halfway through the cheese. It was at that point that I realized the reason the cheese stayed together so well. It had paper between the slices which I had so nicely grated in with the cheese! So much for my iron chef status! Lucky I had enough cheese to start over, this time throwing it into my mini food processor and crumbling it.

The breakfast was easy to make and it was a nice change. We used wild caught smoked salmon that was of very good quality.  The only change I would have made (besides taking the paper out from between the cheese slices) would be to add some spinach in with the eggs next time.
Today, I spent a little extra time at the gym, hopefully working off the added calories and fat.

Here are the 3 new breakfast ideas. I hope you will try and enjoy them!

Divine Filled Croissants-Serves 4
4 large croissants                    4 Tablespoons butter
8 eggs                                      ¼ cup milk
1 Tablespoon minced fresh
(best) Dill or 1 tsp dried          ½ cup finely chopped mushrooms
1/3 cup finely chopped
Smoked salmon                       ½ cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Optional: Spinach cut in small pieces

Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Warm croissants in oven for 5-10 minutes. Meanwhile melt butter in a medium skillet. In a bowl, beat eggs and milk together; add dill, mushrooms (spinach) and salmon. Pour into skillet and scramble until creamy.
Remove croissants from oven and slice lengthwise ¾ of the way through. Preheat broiler.
Fill the croissants with the scrambled egg mixture and sprinkle with cheese. Broil croissants open faced until cheese is melted. Serve immediately

Eggs with Beurre Noir, Capers and Parsley- Serves 2
4 tablespoons unsalted butter            4 large eggs
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice          2 teaspoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley (don’t leave                                                                 out!)
1 tablespoon small capers,
Rinsed and drained                             2-4 slices of good quality bread, toasted and buttered.

 Warm two plates in oven on the lowest setting (not that I did this!) Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium low heat. When the butter sizzles, break the eggs one at a time into a cup and slip into the skillet (or like me, just go for it and put them straight in!) Reduce the heat to low and fry until the whites begin to set (1 minute) Cover and cook until the yolks are cooked to the desired doneness, about 5 more minutes. Transfer the eggs to the warmed plates.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter to the skillet and heat over medium heat until the butter browns, about 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice and swirl to blend. Pour the sauce over the eggs, sprinkle with parsley and capers and serve with the toast. Yum!

Tofu Egg Salad-Serves 1

4 ounces firm tofu
1-2 tablespoons each, chopped celery and chopped onion
Mayonnaise (light, canola or olive oil is good)
Prepared mustard, dill, curry powder to taste
Chopped or sliced, avocado (optional)
1-2 slices a good grain bread toasted.

Dice tofu as you would hard cooked eggs for salad. Add the chopped celery and onion to taste (can add chopped green pepper if you like).
Add enough mayonnaise to make mixture creamy and season with any or all of the above seasonings or others of your choosing (I used mustard and a small bit of curry as I don’t love curry plus a little salt and freshly ground pepper)
Serve on toast topped with avocado if you like or with a slice of avocado on the side.

Have a great week and ….don’t forget to exercise!

7/13/11

Hummus and the Lemon Secret


You might assume since I am a vegetarian that I love hummus. Actually, I don’t always love it. In fact, had I not dated Sam, a Lebanese man, I could have done without hummus for the rest of my life. Garbanzo beans have never floated my boat.

There are some good things about Garbanzo beans, they are high in fiber. The beans are also high in molybdenum, manganese and folate. They have a healthy dose of of tryptophan an amino acid known, among other things,  for making you sleepy. Still, I wasn't much of a fan,
I find them somewhat grainy. In my opinion, there are much better tasting legumes than garbanzo beans

Then I started dating Sam. Both having family roots in the Mediterranean, we shared a love for similar foods, similar but not exactly the same. For instance, I love Kalamata olives. Sam had me try his favorite black olives. All I can say about that experience was, YUK.  I guess you just had to be Lebanese to really appreciate those salty and extremely bitter olives.

In spite of the olive experience, I agreed to try Sam’s hummus. He told me the secret was the lemon in it. Secret or not, it was delicious.  I dated Sam many years ago and since that time, I have tried a lot of hummus, but none that compares to his. Ziziki's in Dallas had some good hummus but the best part of it was the grilled and garlic buttered pita bread.

My mother and I stopped in a Greek restaurant in  Royal Palm Beach after shopping one day. With our meals, they served hummus as a starter and there it was, a hummus as good as Sam’s.

Now, let me mention that I have made more than a few attempts to make a hummus like Sam’s without much luck. One reason was that the hummus was never smooth, always grainy. Then there was the garlic. It was always too strong.

Since I tried the hummus at It’s Greek to Me, I have gone there many times with my sister. We both love the hummus. Interesting enough, when talking to the owner, he mentioned his secret was the lemon. There it was again, lemon!

I really wanted to make my own hummus that was as good as those I have liked. I spent a lot of time looking at other recipes, trying to find “the secret” to a smooth hummus.  I found a recipe that stated that when it was made from fresh cooked garbanzo beans rather than canned, the hummus was much smoother. I printed the recipe and tried it myself.

Now, as always, I didn’t really follow the recipe exactly. I only made a small batch of hummus and used the recipe as a template. I really loved it.  I didn’t use fresh garlic, but I did want some garlic flavor, so I added powdered garlic to taste.  The Himalayan salt is not really required. I happened to have some Pink salt, so I used it, but normal salt or kosher should work just fine.  Oh and one other change, I didn’t use paprika because I didn’t have any. What I did have was smoked paprika. It is very strong and smoky flavored so I just used a little bit. If you can find it, it does add some depth to the flavor of the hummus but I am sure the paprika will be fine too.

I bought some nice flat bread, chopped up some radish, grated some carrot, cut a few slices of avocado and sliced some romaine. I topped the flatbread with the veggies and hummus folded it over and thoroughly enjoyed eating it. Of course, had I had some Kalamata olives, I would have probably sliced some up and put them on the sandwich as well.

The garbanzo beans were not really hard to make after they were soaked. Rather than sit around for 2 hours watching the beans cook, I brought them to a boil in a saucepan with water, then dumped the whole batch into a small Crockpot and let it cook on low for hours until they were cooked.

Here is the original recipe. It costs very little to make and you will have a tasty healthy food and it’s lemony! I hope you will get the chance to try it. I am not sure where the recipe came from, so I am unable to give credit to the author.

Classic Hummus Recipe using Dried Beans

Hummus is one of the easiest snacks, appetizers, dips, or spreads to make. Just throw all your ingredients in a food processor and blend.  I love hummus and I make it using both canned garbanzos and dried garbanzo beans. However, if I have the forethought I always use dried because the hummus turns out smoother, fluffier and tastes better. It’s really not much more work than using a can, it just takes a little more preparation and advanced planning since you have to soak the beans overnight and boil them. Plus there isn’t any added sodium or preservatives when you used dried beans. The recipe has just a hint of spiciness and no garlic because I don’t like to have garlic breath, of course if you want garlic or more spice go ahead and add. Here’s the recipe:

6 oz organic dried garbanzo beans soaked overnight
1/4 cup organic cold pressed olive oil extra virgin
1/4 cup organic tahini (no salt added)
1 Tbsp organic ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp organic ground paprika
1/4 tsp organic cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp himalayan crystal salt
1 – 2 Tbsp fresh organic  lemon juice (~1/2 a lemon)
1/4 cup of water + more if needed

After you soak your beans overnight, bring them to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about 2 to 2.5 hours or until the beans are soft and tender (which is whenever I remember that they’re sitting on the stove). Turn heat off and cool slightly. Add beans to food processor with slotted spoon, add all other ingredients, blend until smooth. Add more water if needed. Serve however you see fit.


7/12/11

Chemicals in imported fish

In an earlier post, I mentioned my concern for eating fish imported from other countries like Vietnam.  Here is a recent article I would like to share with you. It is nice to know that fish that is banned in Europe is now being "dumped" on us!

http://www.tennessean.com/article/20110706/NEWS07/307060098/Banned-chemicals-found-tons-imported-fish?utm_source=streamsend&utm_medium=email&utm_content=14236927&utm_campaign=Food%20News%20Thursday%2C%20July%207

7/4/11

A fresh fruit and vegetable focused dinner


Happy Independence Day, everyone! Hope you are enjoying a fun weekend with family and friends. Today I decided to chill out and relax by going to the beach. Of course, just because of that it looks like it will rain. We need the rain so I can’t really complain about it.

Tonight I plan to watch the fireworks in Wellington. It has been a busy few days, starting with Ladies night out on Thursday, then driving to Miami on Friday to help my aunt celebrate her 89th birthday. I had my Independence Day BBQ yesterday at my mother’s house. I invited a date to join us so it was more than just family.

I decided to make a fruit and vegetable focused meal.  In that, I made a new salsa that I really liked for an appetizer. It was an Avocado Kiwi salsa served with Plantain chips from a recipe I found on Epicurious.com.

Kiwi is one of the super fruits. It seems like such a small unassuming fruit but in fact it has the highest density for any fruit of vitamin C and is higher in potassium than a banana or other citrus fruits. It is also rich in Vitamin A and E and the black seeds when crushed produce kiwi fruit oil which is rich in Alpha-linoleic acid, an Omega 3 essential fatty acid. They are also high in fiber.

I served the salsa with store bought plantain chips. I fudged some on this. Fresh plantain chips are the best, but due to time and my dislike of frying, I bought the healthiest store brand (which isn’t all that healthy!)

Dinner consisted of Shrimp, Pineapple and Vegetable Kabobs and a Brown rice and Wheat berry blend. I have mentioned both in previous blogs.

I wanted to do a red, white and blue dessert that was fruit based. In ice cream parfait glasses, I layered blueberries, low fat whipped cream (is that possible?) a little bit of shortcake (1 ½ shortcakes divided among 4 parfait glasses) raspberries layered with the other ingredients then topped with strawberries, a dollop of whipped cream and coconut on top. It was a nice, not too heavy ending to dinner.

After dinner my date and I went for a walk which ended up t be a 2 mile walk. Not planning to do that, I had sandals on. The soles of my feet now feel like someone took sandpaper to them! Still, it was a beautiful clear night and we enjoyed it.

Below is the salsa recipe. I have included the Fried Plantain recipe. In some areas it might be easier to find plantains fresh rather than the chips. You could use good old baked tortilla chips or less than healthy mixed veggie chips (yes, they have more fat than other chips!).

With all the fresh fruits available, I hope you will follow my lead and make a fruit and veggie focused meal this month.

Fried Plantain Chips
Ingredients:
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lime zest
1 1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
6 cups vegetable oil
4 very green plantains (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Directions:
In a small bowl, combine zest, salt and cayenne. Set aside. Line a baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels and set near stovetop.
Heat oil in a 5-quart pot set over medium to medium-high heat until a thermometer reaches 375º. While oil is heating, cut ends off plantains and use a sharp knife to score each plantain lengthwise 5 times. Place into a bowl of hot water and soak for 5 minutes before peeling. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the plantains into very thin (about 1/8-inch) strips. Fry strips 6 at a time, turning frequently, for 30 to 45 seconds or until golden. Remove using tongs or a spider and sprinkle immediately with salt mixture.
Plantain chips can be made several hours in advance. Cool completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature until ready to serve.
Adapted from Epicurious
Avocado Kiwi Salsa
Ingredients:
2 kiwis, peeled and roughly chopped
1 avocado, pitted, peeled, and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
salt and pepper, to taste
Directions:
Gently toss together all ingredients, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve immediately.
Note: Since I was making this for a party, I tossed together everything except for the avocado and added it a few minutes before guests arrived.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups