Friday, September 28, 2012

Decadent Dip: Spiced pumpkin hummus

Fall is here! My favorite season for so many reasons; the trees putting on a firework display in slow motion, the crisp weather and of course, the delicious seasonal foods available. For this mild and flavorful hummus, I used my prepared pumpkin puree that I made from the pumpkins I picked at Green Truck Farms. Of course, you can also whip this recipe up in a flash using canned pumpkin. Either way, it is delicous, fast, and way less expensive than store bought hummus. And, what store sell pumpkin hummus anyway?

Here are directions for cooking fresh pumpkin in the microwave, slow cooker or in the oven. 

Spiced Pumpkin Hummus
Makes about two cups
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of apple juice (or water, but I like the hint of sweetness that balances the heat from the cayenne pepper)
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • dash of cayenne pepper (to taste)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • Pumkin seeds, for garnish - roast the seeds from your fresh pumpkin or find in a latino market - in spanish they're called pepitas and come without the shell
  1. Rinse and drain the beans and place in the blender. Add pumpkin, apple juice and seasonings. Pulse to blend. 
  2. Add olive slowly while the food processor is blending and continue blending until very smooth. 
  3. Scoop into your serving vessel, garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve with pita chips, crackers, or raw veggies. 
This would be a great dip for your Halloween party!

Toss everything in the food processor...
...and blend until smooth. Yum!
You may also like:

Pizza Hummus
Pad Thai Hummus
Roasted Carrot Hummus a l'Orange

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cooking class: the principles of pumpkin

How do you eat seasonably in the winter?

You store the produce when it is ripe. Today's lesson: cooking pumpkins!

Last weekend I spend a glorious Sunday with three friends picking apples at Green Truck Farms in Markham Virginia. Four girls, one zip car, an iPod full of tunes and before we knew it, we were taking in the glorious weather amongst the apple trees. I had never used the picking tool that we were provided, but it did make it easier to reach the fruit! But... I also had to climb the trees too (of course!)

The farm was not limited to apples - throughout the season they have blackberries and raspberries and the owner told me that they just planted 18,000 (eighteen thousand!) strawberry plants which will be producing fruit this spring. They also had a HUGE pumpkin patch with all sorts of pumpkins and other winter squash. I was originally scouting the field for a pumpkin to carve until I realized just how many different kinds of squash they had...and then my thoughts wandered to the kitchen.

I met Brian, the farmer, and he was able to help me distinguish between the carving pumpkins (edible, but not tasty) and the different "food" pumpkins - pie pumpkins are the little baby pumpkins, the reddish, disk shaped ones in the back are called Cinderella pumpkins and the bluish one is called a jarrahdale. All are winter squash, meaning their skin is tough and they will store well, as is, for several months. This is in comparison to summer squash, like zucchini and yellow squash which spoil quickly. 
As pretty as they are to look at on my table, I am thinking with my stomach and can't wait to try eating them. I tried three different ways to cook the pie pumpkins and have them documented to share with you.

I was curious just how many pounds of pumpkin I had purchased (when my friend dropped me off, she looked in the trunk and gasped.."tell me those are not all your pumpkins!", yes?)  but when I plopped  the small pumpkins on my bathroom scale they didn't register. So, I used the trick that comes in handy when you're trying to weigh a wiggly toddler - I weighed myself, weighed myself holding the pumpkin and subtracted the difference.

For any of these cooking methods, the start is the same. Wash off any dirt with water (no soap needed). Using a serrated knife, hack the pumpkin in half using a sawing motion. This is a good workout for arms, and a good stress reliever if you pretend the pumpkin is that person's head. You know who.

Using a heavy ice-cream scoop or a spoon, scoop out the seeds and guts until the cavity of the pumpkin is smooth. The seeds can be saved for roasting (healthy snacks!) or if the pumpkin is an heirloom variety, they can be saved for planting next year.

Method 1: the microwave

I cut the pumpkin into small wedges and tucked them into a large, glass, microwave-safe casserole dish with a lid. This felt like tetris getting all the pieces to fit. (If you don't have a casserole, try a large microwave safe bowl with a plate on top; should work just as well. But, keep your eyes peeled at the thrift store or garage sales for your own casserole dish). I added 1-2 cups of water and microwaved (with lid on) for about 20 minutes or until the pumpkin was very soft when poked with a fork. I checked the pumpkin after 10 minutes and added on 5 minutes at a time until it was soft. Let cool until you're able to handle.

Method 2: the slow cooker

Take your pumpkin wedges and arrange in the slow cooker so that you can get the lid on. Add 2 cups of water, or enough to have about 1/2 of an inch of water in the bottom. Cover, and cook on low for 4-8 hours, or high 2-4 hours or until very soft. Every slow cooker is different, and it will depend on how thick the pumpkin flesh is and how big the wedges are. Poke with a fork - when very soft, they're done; spread out on a plate to cool.

Method 3: roasting in the oven.

Take large wedges and slice into smaller, more manageable slices. Using a very sharp chefs knife, cut the peel off the outside edge of each piece of pumpkin (you can also do this after the pumpkin is cooked - your choice!). Place on oiled cookie sheet and roast until soft. I added some salt and pepper to the roasted pumpkin (not to the slow cooker or the microwave). Your oven can be anywhere from 350-450. When are they done? You have three clues:
  • texture: the pumpkin is very soft when poked with a fork
  • smell: your nose will tell you something magical is happening in the oven
  • sight: the edges will brown a bit
My wedges that were about 1 inch wide took about 35 minutes in a 400 degree oven.

Roasted! I tried peeling when raw and roasted and prefer cutting the raw pieces.

So you have some cooked what?

I pureed my pumpkin so that I can use it instead of canned pumpkin. I used a soup spoon to scoop the pumpkin flesh into a large bowl and then tried a potato masher and an immersion blender. If the pumpkin is really soft, the potato masher works just as well. If the pumpkin is a bit or firm, or is a bit stringy, the immersion blender works better. If you have a food processor or regular blender, those are good choices too. When the pumpkin is smooth, it is ready to be used in recipes or can be frozen for future use. I portioned 1-cup of puree into labeled zip top plastic bags. Expel any air, seal and stack. They take up minimal space in your freezer.

Another option? Baby food: freeze in an ice-cube tray and you have baby-sizes portions to thaw out for your little one.

Was cooking pumpkin three different ways super fast? No, but I enjoyed it. I was listening to the new Mumford and Sons album, hanging out with my roommate and thinking about my weekend on the farm. I'd spend my time in the kitchen instead of in front of the TV any day. Just think: if we cancelled our cable, used that money to buy vegetables and spent the spare time cooking, how much healthier would we be? 

Reader question: Do you have any ideas of how to store pumpkin puree without making more trash? I don't love using plastic bags, but these take up the least amount of space.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sparsely sweet: lowering added sugars

Use fresh fruit in place of jam
Sugars are certainly on the national radar - NY passed a ban on over sized sodas - and the chopping block - schools are banning bake sales and the vending machines are getting the boot.

While added sugars are not helping the obesity epidemic we face in this country and around the world, I wouldn't advocate for a sugar free eating pattern. Why not? Sugars are naturally packaged with some  healthful foods - milk and fruit. If you tried to follow a sugar free diet, you'd be missing out on those two nutritional power houses.

What is sugar? Sugars are six-carbon molecules that usually occur as a pair (aka disaccharides) in certain foods, like lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, or as much longer molecules to form starches, fibers and the kinds of carbohydrates we find in white bread, wheat bread, rice, quinoa and potatoes. Yes, white bread "breaks down to sugar", but so too does any other starch. Sugar isn't the culperit, the problem is what the sugar is packaged with (or without).

Food is a mixed bag of many things; the calories come from whatever fats, proteins and carbohydrates are in the food. You also find vitamins, minerals, water, phytochemicals, and alcohols may be present too. There is also the possibility of added colors, preservatives, herbicides, pesticides, "good" bacteria (i.e. probiotics - yogurt) and "bad" bacteria (i.e. food poisoning) and even yeast (bread and beer) and fungi (mushrooms - yum, or spoiled food - yuck).

While we're most comfortable with a food being labeled as "good" or "bad", most things with nutrtion are more gray; the poision is in the dose (thank you Paracelsus). Some foods containing sugars are healthy, like fruit and milk, but these days we are seeing too many added sugars.  While they're the same molecule, adding sugar doesn't increase the nutritional value of the food - it just adds extra calories.

If you look at a food label, how do you know? Unfortunately, you don't. Sugar is usually listed as a portion of the total carbohydrates, but from that information alone you don't know if it was a part of the food originally, or added somewhere down the processing line. What you need to browse is the ingredient list; if sugar was added, and you know what the key words are, you'll find them!

Besides "sugar", here are some other sneaky ways to mean sugar:
Hint: most sugars end in -ose

· Agave Nectar
· Barley Malt Syrup
· Brown rice syrup
· Brown sugar
· Corn sweetener
· Corn syrup, or corn syrup solids
· Dehydrated Cane Juice
· Dextrin
· Dextrose
· Fructose
· Fruit juice concentrate
· Glucose
· High-fructose corn syrup
· Honey
· Invert sugar

· Lactose
· Maltodextrin
· Malt syrup
· Maltose
· Maple syrup
· Molasses
· Raw sugar
· Rice Syrup
· Saccharose
· Sorghum or sorghum syrup
· Sucrose
· Syrup
· Treacle
· Turbinado Sugar
· Xylose

Some foods contain only naturally occurring sugar (apples or milk), other contain only added sugars (sweet tea, chocolate chip cookies, pancake syrup) and some contain both (sweetened apple sauce, fruit flavored yogurt, chocolate milk, raisin granola). The best advice is to minimize added sugars in you daily routine and to enjoy them as treats once in a while. If you practice eating mindfully, you'll enjoy that treat for longer.

How to do this? Get started with these delicious recipes:
  • Use fresh or dried fruit in place of jam
  • Instead of sugary store bought cake, try these less-intensly sweetened Chocolate zucchini cupcakes
  • Instead of syrup on your pancakes and waffles, try my berry-ful fruit compote.
  • In place of calorie-laden peanut butter cookies, try the nutrient-packed energy bites . Not low-calorie, but loaded with healthy nutrition to keep you moving!
  • Replace your sugar-drenched "fruit" yogurt with a delicous fruit parfait.
  • Flavor your morning coffee with spices intead of sugar.
  • Instead of hitting the bottom of a pint of Ben and Jerry's, try my strawberry banana"ice-cream"
  • Remake old favorites - most banana bread recipes are really just cake by another name. Try this (best) banana bread recipe and enjoy actually tasting the banana!
What is the sweet summary? Sugar, when found naturally in foods like fruit and milk, is a healthy part of a balanced eating plan. Too many added sugars, usually founds in sweet drinks and treats, should be kept to a minimum.

Reader poll:  Are you checking food packages for the ingredient list? Did anything surprise you?

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Black bean and corn veggie burgers

My sister has been raving about this burger recipe and she and her boyfriend (neither of whom are vegetarian) make it often. It is filling and satisfying. I made is for a few friends and it got rave reviews. The original recipe is adapted from from Eat Live Run but I tweaked it to make it my own. 

Black bean and corn super veggie burgers
Makes 8-10 burgers
  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tablespoons ground flax seeds  mixed with  6 tablespoons water (or substitute two whole eggs)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped
  • 1 small onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (or substitute 1/2 cooked rice for gluten-free option)
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup corn (fresh or frozen and defrosted)
  • avocado, cheddar cheese and BBQ sauce, for topping
  • olive oil (or canola oil)  for frying burgers
  1. Place jalapeno and onion in a food processor (or high speed blender) and mince finely.
  2. Add one can of beans to the jalapeno/garlic mixture and pulse to combine. Add cumin and salt and pulse until mixture resembles chunky black bean dip.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the ground flax and water. Let sit for five minutes.
  4. To the large bowl, add the mixture from the food processor and stir in the bread crumbs, tomato paste, corn and remaining black beans.
  5. Heat a little olive oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Form black bean mixture into patties and fry for about 4 minutes per side, until golden and crusty brown.
  6. Serve burgers with avocado slices, cheddar and BBQ.

Use food processor to quickly mince onion and jalapeno
Add one can of black beans and seasonings and pulse food processor
Pulse food processor until black beans are blended, but not quite smooth
In a large mixing bowl, mix ground flax with water and let sit five minutes. Add pureed black bean mixture, whole black beans, bread crumbs and corn and mix well.
Form into patties and cook 4-5 minutes per side
Serve with cheddar, avocado and BBQ (or ketchup, or hot sauce) - I had this salad on the side. Yum!

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Kid friendly cooking: Breaded tilapia

Crispy and delicious
Eating fish can provide many nutritional benefits; it is a good source of protein, depending on what you buy it can be inexpensive and it is also delicious. If you use fatty fish such as tuna or salmon, you're getting a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. White fish, such as tilapia, are nearly fat free and low in calories. With this simple recipe, you can have dinner on the table in no time flat.

For a guide to minimizing your mercury exposure in fish, read here.

For a brief introduction to MyPlate (and to follow Michelle Obama and Sam Kass' lead), check out this post.

Breaded Tilapia 
Serves 4 - recipe can be easily doubled or halved
  • 4 tilapia fillets, thawed (about 1 pound total, 4 ounces each)
  • 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs (substitute corn meal if you're avoiding gluten)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon pepper flavored Mrs. Dash
  1. Preheat oven; temperature is flexible. Are you baking anything else? I served my fish with baked sweet potato fries, so I used the package temperature of 425. Anything from 350-450 is just fine.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix egg and Mrs. Dash with a fork. 
  3. On a pie plate or large dinner plate, toss together bread crumbs (or corn meal) with Parmesan cheese. 
  4. Dip tilapia into the egg mixture and then dip and press into breading on both sides. Place onto a cookie sheet and coat the rest of your filets. 
  5. Bake in the oven until the coating is crunchy and the fish is cooked through. How do you know? Poke a fork into the filet and check the color; cooked fish is opaque, underdone fish looks a bit clear. Twist the fork; cooked fish flakes apart easily, underdone fish holds together tightly.  My fish at 425 took about 10-12 minutes. If your oven is cooler, or the filets larger, it may take closer to 20 minutes to cook through. 
Cooking the fish at home (versus buying packaged fish sticks) significantly reduces sodium. Using Mrs. Dash for flavor lowers the sodium further. 

Egg wash of one whole egg and Mrs. Dash
Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs - easy breezy!
Ready for the oven!
Nutritious and delicious for kids of all ages!
The fish would be good served with roasted veggies; get the veggies in the oven first, then prepare the fish and pop them in the oven too. 

You may also like my cold Pesto Tuna Salad Recipe to take your fish with you to work (without stinking up the office!)

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Decadent Dip: Pizza hummus

Have you tried making hummus at home? It is really simple if you have a food processor. Rinse off a can of chickpeas, add flavors and blend until smooth. Healthy, quick and versatile. This is a good "gateway" hummus to get your kids on the hummus bandwagon (or eating beans at all bandwagon), and a sneaky way to get them having more whole grains and raw veggies if you use those as your dippers.

Pizza Hummus
This recipe is adapted from the Food Network 
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 16-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or one tablespoon fresh basil)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (or one tablespoon fresh basil)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon Mrs. Dash extra spicy seasoning blend (or dash of crushed red pepper)
  • 1 tablespoon tahini
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Place chickpeas and all seasoning into a food processor and puree until smooth and creamy. If hummus is too thick, add a bit more water until you reach the desired consistency. 
  2. Serve with raw veggies and whole grain crackers to dip, or as an alternative to mayo on a sandwich or in a wrap. Store extras in the fridge.  
I like to use the squeeze tubes of tomato paste so that I don't waste the rest of the can - look in the pasta section of the grocery store, I didn't find this with the rest of the canned veggies.
Add the oregano, basil and the rest of the seasonings and blend until smooth
Serve pizza hummus with whole grain crackers and raw veggies!
Do you have a food processor? It is a great tool for the home cook; you can easily whip up batches of hummus and pesto, use the grater disk to grate all kinds of veggies or firm fruits (like apples). I have an ancient Cuisinart that is still king of the kitchen - it is an investment. The food processor below is well reviewed and is Amazon prime eligible.

Have you checked out Mrs Dash lately? There are so many blends available and the best part is that they're all salt-free. These blends are a great way to add gobs of flavor without adding a nick of salt. This is the one I used in the above recipe. 

You may also like my recipe for Pad Thai Hummus, Balsamic Black Bean Hummus or my Roasted Carrot a L'orange Hummus. Hooray for hummus!

Question for the reader: What crazy flavor of hummus would you like to try? Leave a comment below and thanks for visiting my blog. 

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Mindful Eating - Efficiency isn't always so efficient

Figuring out what to eat is all we need to know for good health, right?
Wrong: learning when, and how, we eat has a profound impact on health too.
Efficiency is an attribute that many of us strive for in our daily lives, especially with those things that just don’t seem as important to us. For most tasks, including meal preparation, this is great - efficiency allows us to breeze through the mundane without too much fuss. Using a list to shop for groceries, having a meal plan to know what you’re going to eat throughout the week or knowing how to quickly chop a carrot into even slices is easiest if there is a quick system in place.
efficiency allows us to breeze through the mundane without too much fuss
But when it actually comes to eating, being too efficient can backfire. When we gobble our food, eat while working on the computer or watching TV, snack while we walk or sip while we drive, the mind is distracted from the meal. If the normal pace is “vacuum cleaner,” it’s time to slow down and eat mindfully.  This is something that doesn’t come naturally to many adults; even health professionals can be guilty too!  Taking smaller bites, not eating so fast and making the meals the singular activity (instead of multitasking while eating) can help. It takes plenty of focus to do something differently, but the benefits are many.
If the normal pace is “vacuum cleaner,” it’s time to slow down and eat mindfully

Eating more slowly allows your stomach to get the message that it is full of food - a message that takes 20 minutes or so to deliver. Focusing on each bite as you eat lets you be more satisfied with the meal. Taking the time to enjoy the meal leaves a positive break in your hectic day and leaves you ready to run for your next tasks.  
Take this mini quiz to see if you need to focus more when eating:
·         What did you have to drink yesterday?
·         What was the best thing you ate yesterday?
·         What foods did you eat between meals?
·         Did you hit the bottom of a snack bag without realizing it?

If you’re having trouble putting the bites together, it could be a sign that you aren’t paying enough attention while you’re eating.
Need some strategies to slow down? Give these a try:
•       Put down the fork or spoon between each bite
•       Set a timer and see how long it takes you to eat your lunch or dinner. Are you surprised? Try to make the next meal last for two minutes longer.
•       Take a sip of water in between bites
•       Eat only at the table
•       Turn off distractions (TV, computer, phone)
•       Set the table - this lends to a sense of occasion
•       Eat at regular intervals
•       Stop nibbling throughout the day or going for hours and hours without eating; both are detrimental to your metabolism

It takes time to build new habits. But if you take the energy and focus to be present when you eat, your health (and waistline) can benefit.
Main Message:  the dining room table is not the place for multitasking, and your computer desk, car and couch shouldn’t replace the dining room table. Sit down at the table and focus on the meal. Enjoy the pleasure of a small break, and move on to your next task feeling recharged and refocused.
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Question to the reader: what strategies to you use to be present at the table? 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Super sandwiches: Pesto tuna salad

Fish is a good source of protein and can be a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, depending on what you choose. Tuna is one of the cold water fish, like salmon and sardines, that is a rich source. Worried about mercury? White tuna is higher, light tuna is lover. For more information about selecting fish, read this post.

Pesto Tuna Salad
Serves two
Recipe adapted from The Curvy Carrot
  • 1 5-ounce can light tuna packed in water
  • 3 tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons Basil Pesto
  • 2 tablespoons non-fat plain yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Drain tuna and place in small mixing bowl.
  2. Add all other ingredients and stir together. Serve on whole grain bread, whole grain crackers, as dip for raw veggies or on top of a salad...or, if you're feeling inspired, try stuffing tomatoes with the tuna salad! See below for instructions.
Drain light tuna and place in bowl
Add pesto, parmesan cheese, yogurt and dried tomatoes. Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper and serve!

Want to try stuffing tomatoes with the tuna salad? Here is how to do it:

Cut around top of tomatoes to make this cone shape
Cut tiny slice off bottom so tomatoes don't roll around
Use a little spoon (do you have a grapefruit spoon?) to scoop out the middle of the tomato
Fill 'er up with the tuna salad
Now, are you really going to tell me you don't like fish with something that looks so delicious?

Looks like it is time to oil my cutting boards - they're looking dry in the pictures! If your wooden or bamboo cutting boards are looking like they have dry skin, read this post for information about bringing them back. 
Note: Light tuna is lower in Mercury than White Tuna. For more information about selecting fish, read this post.

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