Friday, June 22, 2012

Cooking class: Roasted brussels sprouts and carrots!

Roasted brussels sprouts and carrots

Roasting is an excellent way to develop the natural sweet flavors in vegetables. It is simple, but sophisticated! The best part is that it is also flexible; you can roast in a range of oven temperatures, so if you're cooking something else, pop in a tray of veggies and roast them too!

A few general guidelines for successful roasting:
  • Chop your vegetables so that they're about the same size
  • Some vegetables roast faster than others; bell peppers and summer squash will be cooked much sooner than carrot and potatoes; choose vegetables that will be done at about the same time. Or, start the longer-cooking veggies and then add the quicker-cooking veggies part way through
  • Allow for air circulation around your veggies; if they're touching, the steam released from the vegetables will cook the vegetables and you won't get the nice browning and flavor we're looking for
  • Stir the vegetables around part way through cooking to ensure even cooking and browning
  • Just a tiny bit of olive oil allows your herbs, garlic and spices to stick to your vegetables nicely
  • If you don't want to wash another pan, simply line your baking tray with parchment paper
Good choices for roasted vegetables:
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Bell pepper
  • Eggplant
  • Potato
  • Cauliflower
  • Asparagus
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Winter squash (i.e. pumpkin, acorn squash, butternut squash, etc)
  • Many more...the sky is the limit!
General method; I had a bag of enormous brussels sprouts and one bag of old-ish baby carrots. I cleaned up the brussels sprouts, tossed the veggies with a touch of olive oil and seasonings and popped them into an oven set at 400. Anythwere from 350-450 is fine, match whatever else you're cooking. My vegetables took about 40 minutes to cook, if the sprouts had been smaller, or the oven hotter, it wouldn't have taken quite so long. Just keep an eye on your veggies and you'll get it right!

After the veggies are good, they are delicious tossed with balsamic vinegar, parmesan cheese, lemon juice or slivered almonds. Or all of the above :) You can even toss the nuts onto the tray for the last minute to develop their flavor a bit...but they will burn quickly, so don't walk away from the oven!
Happy roasting!

Trimming the ends and removing discolored leaves

Try to get all of the pieces about the same size

These carrots are a bit old for eating raw but are ready for a second life roasted!

Toss with a touch of olive oil, pepper, herbs de Provence and cayenne pepper

Quick stir half-way through; you can see the brussels sprouts turning bright green!

Perfect! Tender when pierced with a fork, crispy edges all around!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

From my kitchen: Red Pepper Frittata

Red pepper frittata topped with pico de gallo and fresh blueberries
From my kitchen: Red Pepper Frittata

If you've never had a frittata, you're in for a treat! What is it, you ask? It is pretty close to an open-faced omelet, but the vegetables and cheeses are cooked with the eggs rather than as a filling. Another benefit of a frittata is that one frittata feeds many folks, whereas an omelet is generally make for one person at a time.The general idea is to cook some veggies in the skillet, add the beaten eggs and cook slowly until the eggs are almost set. At this point you can either use a plate to help flip the frittata, or you can finish in the oven or broiler. Your choice! For the one I made today, I used the oven to set the eggs.

Red Pepper Frittata

  • 1 cup diced red pepper
  • 1 cup diced red onion
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup queso duro (I would have preferred goat cheese, but I didn't have any)

  1.  Heat your skillet over medium heat and spray well with nonstick cooking spray.
  2. Preheat oven to 450 (or if you're baking something else, use that temperature, this is flexible)
  3. Add the diced veggies, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes or until softened and edges begin to brown. 
  4. Crack eggs into a small bowl and beat well with a fork or whisk
  5. Pour eggs into cooked veggies and nudge vegetables around until they're evenly distributed throughout the eggs
  6. Top with cheese and leave on stove until eggs are almost set
  7. Pop pan into oven and bake for about 5-10 minutes or until done. When is it done? When the top has browned a bit, the eggs have puffed up and pulled away from the sides and if you stick a knife into the eggs, it doesn't look wet when you pull it out.
Saute your veggies!

Add garlic, salt and pepper

Break eggs into bowl and whisk!
Add eggs to your cooked veggies

Sprinkle on your cheese

Ready for the oven!

All done!

Serves four folks; try it with some fresh fruit!

I topped mine with pico de gallo; yummy!
Surprisingly, frittata actually reheats decently well. You could make this on the weekend for yourself and enjoy for breakfast throughout the week. Veggies for breakfast? Well done!

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Monday, June 18, 2012

Lovely legumes: Confetti Lentil Salad

Lovely legumes: Confetti Lentil Salad

Legumes, your humble beans, are quite the nutrition power house. They're loaded with protein and fiber, they have complex carbohydrates for sustained energy and they're low in fat. They are also a good source of B vitamins (important for releasing energy from food) as well as iron, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium (maintaining healthy bones, blood and more). And the best part? They're cheap!

So what gives? Many folks think that they don't like beans. Or they think they take too long to cook. Or they're afraid of certain, er, effects after eating beans. To this I reply; with the right recipe, beans are DELICIOUS! Some beans do take long to cook, but if you make good use of your slow cooker or use canned beans, you can get over this hurdle too. As for the gas? Just build up your intake of beans slowly. This too will subside.

Lentils are a great "gateway" legume because they're super fast to cook. They go from dried to cooked in 20 minutes flat! They're also tiny and cute, so they're easier to hide amongst your veggies for the bean-phobes in your life.

Here is a great recipe I adapted from the Biggest Loser website.

Lovely legumes: Confetti Lentil Salad
  • 2 cups cooked lentils (from 1/4 bag dried lentils, 4 ounces)
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2 cups chopped bell pepper
  • 1 cup chopped cucumber
  • 1 cup minced red onion
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup queso seco
  • 1-2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Prepare your lentils according to package directions; mine took about 20 minutes boiling to be tender. 
  2. Chop your veggies and add them to the mixing bowl
  3. Measure the cheese and add to the bowl as well, followed by your dressing. 
  4. Enjoy right away, or let the flavors merry overnight before the big feast!
This recipe is incredibly flexible. Don't like cucumbers? Skip 'em! Have some roasted or grilled veggies left over? Toss 'em in! Think carrots should join the confetti party? I do too! 

I made 1/2 of a bag of lentils (8 ounces). I used 2 cups for this recipe and am saving 2 cups in the freezer for another time! Cook once, eat twice!

2 cups of lentils, ready to go!

Love those veggies! Is your cutting board looking dull or cracked? Check out this posting about cutting board maintenance.

chopped red bell pepper

I like to remove the seeds from cucumber using a spoon, but that's up to you!

Saving the veggie scraps (except for the onion skins) for the worm composter!

Almost ready!

It is important to measure those high-calorie ingredients such as cheese and olive oil

If you don't have access to a Latin grocery store, try feta, Gorgonzola or sharp cheddar cheese instead

Adding the queso seco, garlic, salt and pepper, olive oil and balsamic.


This recipe is vegetarian. If you'd prefer vegan, skip the cheese or substitute some grilled or roasted tofu. This is also good for those of you avoiding gluten, or feeding gluten-free friends!

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Decadent dip: balsamic black bean hummus

Hummus, that fabulous middle eastern spread made from chickpeas (also known as garbonzo beans) and tahini is a great dip for raw veggies, whole grain crackers and pita as well as a tasty spread on sandwiches and in wraps. My gripe? Dried beans cost pennies while an 8oz tub of prepared hummus can cost three bucks! If you have a food processor, making hummus at home is a snap.

This is a twist on the classic version using black beans, and replaces the traditional lemon flavor with balsamic vinegar. Grind the beans and seasonings in the food processor until velvety and smooth and voila! You have a sophisticated appetizer for you and your friends (if you can bring yourself to share!).

Added bonuses? This appeals to vegetarians and vegans, and if you choose gluten-free dippers, you can feed this to your gluten-free friends too. Carnivore approved, as well :) 

This packs well for snacks and picnics on the road without risk of spoilage; there is no meat or dairy to worry about spoiling quickly!

Balsamic Black Bean Hummus

  • 2 16-oz cans of black beans, drained and rinsed (or half of one pound of dried beans, cooked until tender)
  • 3-4 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Load up your food processor with black beans

Add balsamic vinegar and olive oil

Pinch of salt and lots of fresh pepper...blend for a full 2-3 minutes or until very smooth

Serve with fresh veggies and whole grain crackers!
 I used dried beans to make this recipe. Total cost for about 16 ounces of dip? Less than a dollar! Woot!

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Kitchen Tips: Storing homemade bread without making trash

One of my New Years Resolutions was to bake my own bread this year; this gives more control over the ingredients used, minimizes weird ingredients and preservatives and also packaging. I get to add nuts and seeds to my hearts content and experiment with different whole grains. It is also way more delicious! My problem? Where to store those beautiful loaves!

Most of us aren't using those huge stock pots that are taking up precious cupboard space. Why not put them to good use? They're a great place to store bread, bagels and muffins without using plastic bags or plastic wrap. One of my bamboo cutting boards even fits into the pot, so I don't have to wash it each time I use it. Voila!

For information about maintaining your wooding cutting boards, please check out my earlier blog posting.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday to My Plate!

Happy 1st Birthday to My Plate!

It has been one year now since the USDA updated their nutrition recommendations, moving away from a pyramid to a plate. MyPyramid, released in 2005, had many good intentions, but turned out to be too abstract for most folks. I think MyPlate is more user friendly.

What are the main ideas? First of all, we need to use smaller plates. Fifty years ago, dinner plates were the size of our salad plates today! If your dinner plate more closely resemble serving trays, it is time to rearrange your cupboards to make those huge plates hard to get to. Use plates that are about nine or ten inches across. Smaller plates, bowls, cups and serving utensils can all contribute to reasonable portion sizes and a healthy weight.

We need to base our meals on produce; loads of fruits and vegetables! We can probably get away with not having vegetables at breakfast, but they need to be the star of the show at lunch and dinner. Go for a variety; a lot of what gives fruits and vegetables their color, also gives them their nutrition. Vary your color for a healthy meal! White onions, green broccoli and orange carrots all have different vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals to offer and have great flavor to boot!

Vegetable rainbow!

More fruit? All forms count (fresh, frozen canned, dried and 100% juice), but try to minimize your intake as juice. From the website, here are some tips for including more fruits throughout the day:
  • Keep a bowl of whole fruit on the table, counter, or in the refrigerator.
  • Refrigerate cut-up fruit to store for later.
  • Buy fresh fruits in season when they may be less expensive and at their peak flavor.
  • Buy fruits that are dried, frozen, and canned (in water or 100% juice) as well as fresh, so that you always have a supply on hand.
  • Consider convenience when shopping. Try pre-cut packages of fruit (such as melon or pineapple chunks) for a healthy snack in seconds. Choose packaged fruits that do not have added sugars.

Protein foods include red meat, chicken, pork and fish, but also beans and peas, processed soy foods like tofu tempeh and veggie burgers, seafood nuts and seeds. Proteins provide the amino acids your body needs to build and maintain muscle tissue, our red blood cells and immune system and more. Proteins also provide many minerals, such as iron, magnesium and zinc, as well as some B-vitamins. If you're selecting fatty fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines, you're also getting the benefit of the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Protein foods!

Most of us eat plenty of grain foods, (bread, bagels, cereal, rice, tortillas) but many of us could improve our level of whole grains. A grain is the seed of the plant and has three parts; the germ (food for the seed; loaded with nutrients), the bran (the hard outer coating; loaded with fiber) and the endosperm, what is left after refining a whole grain. Look for breads and crackers that have "100% whole grain" on the package, whole grain cereals and oatmeal for breakfast, and brown rice and quinoa with dinner. You can do it!

Lastly, on the side of the plate is a circle of dairy to represent a glass of milk, yogurt or cheese. Dairy is a good source of calcium, potassium and magnesium, all important for bone health. Dairy is also fortified with vitamins A and D. If you don't tolerate milk well, or chose a non-dairy alternative, that is a good choice too; just make sure that the soy or rice milk is fortified with these nutrients so that you're diet is well balanced!

On the website, I also really like their 10 Tips series for action oriented advice on various subjects like cutting back on sugary treats and adding more vegetables. Check them out!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Kitchen Tips: Maintaining your wooden cutting boards and spoons

Cutting boards come in all shapes and sizes; it is easy to find a board (or three) that is perfect for your needs in the kitchen. In order to keep your wooden and bamboo boards and utensils in tip-top shape, a bit of maintenance is required. Don't worry; this is easy stuff!

Just like our own skin, wooden and bamboo boards and utensils can dry out. If the board gets very dry, it is at risk of cracking. The simple fix? A regular slathering of mineral oil.

Oiled boards and spoons on left, board waiting to be oiled on right

Mineral oil is a petroleum based product that won't spoil. It can be found at fancy kitchen stores such as Williams-Sonoma. It can also be found at your local pharmacy; there it will be labeled as a laxative, but it is the same exact stuff.

What do you not want to use? Vegetable oils. The same unsaturated bonds that make canola and olive oils heart healthy also make them fragile. With time and exposure to oxygen, these oils will go rancid and ruin your boards!

See how dry it looks?
When you first purchase a new board, you want to oil it often; daily for the first week. Pending how often you use your boards, monthly or so for the next year. Whenever your boards looks dull and dry, time to reapply more oil!

This board wasn't oiled enough and so it cracked; this is a great place for bacteria to live
Other tips? Never put wooden items into your dishwasher; this will quickly pull oils from the wood and risk cracking them. Simply hand wash and towel dry.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Breakfast of Champions: Super Oatmeal

Oatmeal has a well deserved reputation of being a healthy breakfast. With the soluble fiber contributing to heart health and the whole grains keeping you satisfied, it is no wonder that people feel like they've gotten off to a good start when their breakfast bowl has oatmeal.

Since I like to tweak recipes to make them healthier and better, I have created a "super oatmeal" that is healthy and satisfying. 1/4 cup of oats may not seem like a lot, but when it is bulked up with fruit and nut butter, it is plenty!

Super Oatmeal

1/4 cup quick oats (cooks in 5 minutes)
1/2 cup water
1 medium apple, chopped
1 Tablespoon nut butter (almond, peanut, per your preference)
1 Tablespoon ground flax seed
1 cup low-fat milk or soy milk
Cinnamon powder and vanilla extract to flavor

1. Chop the apples and add to 1/2 cup of water in a small sauce pan. Cover, and bring to a boil.
2. Stir in the oats, cinnamon and vanilla and lower the heat to a simmer. Set the timer for 5 minutes and stir occasionally.
3. At the end of cooking, stir in the spoonful of nut butter and the flax seeds. Plop the thick cereal into a bowl and surround with your favorite milk. I like my oatmeal pretty thick, so I like this "island" approach with the cereal surrounded by the milk. If you prefer thinner oatmeal, you can either make with more water or stir in the milk. You choose!

This recipe is easily doubled or tripled to feed more hungry folks.

Interestingly, this oatmeal is actually good reheated. You can make enough for several breakfasts, reheat the single portion in the microwave and pour your milk in afterwards.

The flax seeds offer many benefits beyond their delicious nutty flavor. When ground up, the seeds offer fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids. The typical American diet is pretty low in omega-3 fatty acids and so we should embrace any opportunity to have more in our daily lives. Just make sure to grind the seeds before eating to have access to these benefits; our body cannot brake through the seed coat. Sprinkle on our foods and your body will thank you!

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