Monday, December 31, 2012

For The Mamas & the Papas: Cranberry lime infused vodka

Two of my very best friends on this earth I have known since before we had driver's licenses. Our lives have taken us around the globe over the years, but we always manage to be in Ohio, together, for our annual Christmas party.  This year, I decided to be in charge of cocktails and got the prep work done while home over Thanksgiving. This project is very easy, it just needs some time to infuse.

I used a very sharp paring knife to remove pieces of lime peel from two limes. In a 1 quart mason jar (or any jar with a tight-fitting lid) I layered the lime peel pieces with fresh, whole cranberries. I poured plain vodka into the jar and closed the lid tightly - that's it!



When I came home for Christmas, the limes had faded so I was guessing that it was ready to go! For our Christmas party, I mixed the infused vodka with ginger ale and garnished the cocktails with some cranberries and a lime wedge. They sure looked pretty and they tasted even better!



Happy New Year! Enjoy the evening - please don't drink and drive.

You may also like my blackberry infused vodka - keep this recipe on hand for next summer when the berries are in season!

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Friday, December 21, 2012

{Recipe Redux} Gadget Gifts - Worm Tower Composter

Living lightly on the planet has been a main  focus of my life. I am fascinated by gardens and how plants grow, like playing in the dirt and am refreshed by time spend outdoors. The theme of this month's Recipe ReDux is kitchen gadgets. What is our favorite?

As an avid cook and foodie, picking a favorite kitchen tool feels akin to picking a favorite child. Yikes! There are some classic choices - a good, sharp knife that fits the hand of the cook is probably the most important. I use my kitchen aid mixer all the time and lately have been making a bunch of veggie-full pureed soups using my immersion blender. However, I wanted to write about something unique; a worm composter that helps my kitchen and home to be more green.

One year ago I bought a worm composter that I use in my Washington DC basement. I had wanted one for a long time - it makes me upset to throw away food scraps - but was moving too much to justify buying one. Now that I have had one for a year, I am happy to recommend it to you! As this is an unusual kitchen addition, I am going to enlist the help of Miss Guided to cover the basics of composting in the city and clear up myths and concerns. We last spoke with Miss Guided about cloth napkins and why we should use them daily, not just for special occasions.

Thank you to my brother, Chris, for being my photographer!

;

An Interview with Miss Guided: Worm Composting

Miss Guided (MG): Eww. Worms. Really? Why are you welcoming red wigglers into your house?
Holly Larson (HL): I am using a worm composting system because it can be done inside. Since I live in the city, some composting systems aren't appropriate to use outside in a city as they would attract mice, rats and other vermin. Another advandate of using worms is that they make the process very fast.

MG: What does your composting gear include? A gas mask? Snorkel? Hazmat suit?
HL: No! Surprisingly the system doesn't smell. This has been verified by friends, my roommates and my family. If there is something wrong with the system, it can smell. I chose to buy the above system from amazon because was much more hands off. You could also give making your own a try, but I was hesitant to paw through the worms too much.

MG: How long did it take you to dig up all of those worms?
HL: I actually bought them online too; they came in a cardboard box and I added them to the worm tower.



MG: Who cares about composting?
HL: I do, and we all should. The majority of garbage being buried in the landfill is compostable - this includes paper, cardboard and food scraps. Food waste in the landfill creates methane and contributes to climate change. By removing these things from the waste stream, you're building good soil for your garden and house plants and reducing use of fossil fuels to transport waste.

MG: What can you compost in your worm tower?
HL: There is a lot! Any paper or cardboard, egg and berry cartons, egg shells, leaves, fruit and vegetable scraps (avoid citrus), coffee grounds, tea bags, peanut shells, banana peels, etc.

Ready to compost!
MG: What things do you have to avoid when worm composting?
HL: The plastic windows in envelopes, coated paper, fats and oils, meats or dairy (worms are vegan). I've heard worms don't like onion peels, but I've put them in and haven't heard any complaints from the composting crew.

MG: So now you expect me to run to the worm composter after each meal?
HL: I collect scraps into a quart yogurt container and add it to the composter when it is full. It depends on how much my roommates and I are cooking, but it is usually 1-2 times per week.

The top newspaper is peeled back so I can add food scraps. Hello worms!
MG: Then what?
HL: The worm tower is a set of stacking trays that are perforated on the bottom - like your spaghetti colander. When you're setting up the composter for the first time, you set up a single tray and add damp bedding for the worms. This tray is called the working tray. The bedding and the working compost should be like a wrung out sponge - damp, but not too wet. You can use shredded paper (excellent way to prevent identity theft!), brown leaves or buy shredded cocoanut shells, called coir. The directions said not to use pine needles. The tower came with one coir block, but I haven't elected to buy any more since I have a paper shredder and that makes it easy and free. Under the bedding, you add the food scraps and your worms. Across the top you lay a whole piece of damp newspaper - this maintains the moisture level in the system and helps prevent bugs from finding your composter. When you have  more scraps to add, just put them in a different corner of the working tray, under the bedding. When your working tray is full, remove the solid piece of newspaper, or tear is up and mix into the working tray. Place an empty tray on top of the working tray and add fresh, damp bedding. Bury food scraps in the top tray and add a new piece of damp newspaper; this is now the working tray.

Tip: save the plastic bag from the dry cleaner for maneuvering your trays - lay the plastic on the floor and use is as a place to set the trays without dirtying the floor or dripping when you carry a tray to your garden.

Finished compost - white spot is an egg shells; just fine to add to the garden
MG: How many trays are there? What happens when you fill up the last one?
HL: You can buy towers with 3-5 trays. When your top tray is full, your bottom tray should be fully composted. You remove the bottom tray from the stack, admire the hard work of your worms, and then add this rich compost to your garden or house plants. The plant will thank you. There will probably be some worms in there but they'll be fine in your garden.

Finished compost - ready to add to your garden!
MG: What is that spigot for?
HL: That is the only other regular maintenance you'll need to do. As the food breaks down, they release water. After adding food to the composeter, I'll usually use the same quart yogurt container to drain any extra water - called compost leachate. Use the leachate to water your lawn. This is not the same thing as compost tea where you soak finished compost to "brew" tea. Leachate potentially has harmful bacteria and so you do not want to water your edibles with it.

Compost leachate - best thrown onto your lawn

MG: I don't have a garden. I don't have a yard. 
HL: It is never too late to start a love for gardening - you can choose to save the finished compost for a future garden, or you could find someone who would take your compost. Or, you could sprinkle around a tree or bush in your yard or in a local park.

Side dressing my basil plants with finished compost
MG: Have you had any problems with your system?
HL: One time I did have some kind of mold or fungus growing in one tray. I just threw away the contents of that tray, gave it a thorough rinse with the hose and reused. I haven't seen anything like it since. I do occasionally see flies, but they haven't been a problem. One tip I read was to keep one tray full only of shredded paper on top of your working tray because it is harder for the flies to get in and out of all that paper.


MG: ......it really doesn't smell?
HL: Really! It doesn't smell!


Reader poll: Do you compost? Do you live in the city, in a suburb or in the country? How is it working for you?

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Dinner in a flash: Enchilada Lasagna

Enchilada Lasagna. This was one of those dinner creations that came together with a bunch of hodge podge ingredients, trying to make something delicious with what was on hand and also using up a pack of corn tortillas that had been hanging around in my freezer for a few decades.

I love Latin food, but I think we can all agree that this is nothing authentic. Letting that go, we can be very flexible with the vegetables included here. I think that summer squash would be tasty, as would some leafy greens such as kale or spinach. Use what you have and pack those veggies in!

  • 1 tablespoon canola or olive oil
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and diced (optional)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1 16-oz can fat free refried beans - I used black beans, pinto would also be delicious
  • 12-15 small corn tortillas
  • 2-4 tablespoons taco seasoning
  • 16 ounces salsa
  • 4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
  • Guacamole, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 
  2. Warm saute pan over medium high heat and add oil. Cook vegetables for a few minutes or until softened. Add beans and taco seasons and heat until bubbly; stir to prevent sticking. 
  3. In the bottom of an 8 or 9 in square pan pour half of salsa and spread evenly over the bottom. 
  4. Using whole and half tortillas, make a layer on top of the salsa. It helps to pretend you're playing Tetris. Spread 1/3 of bean mixture on top. Repeat with tortillas and beans three more times, ending on tortillas. 
  5. Pour remaining salsa on top tortilla. Sprinkle cheese on top and pop the pan into your oven.
  6. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until bubbly and hot. Let rest for a few minutes and then cut into wedges. Garnish with guacamole.



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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Breakfast of Champions: Steel cut oats with berries and cinnamon

One cool thing about nutrition, cooking and food is that there is always more to learn! I have had the splendid opportunity to spend more time with my sister lately as we are in the same city. I have long been a fan of oatmeal, especially as baked oatmeal.I had never tried steel cut oats and she shared this great recipe me that you can make ahead!

Steel cut oats do take longer to cook - about 20 minutes - but they hold up really well to being refrigerated and reheated. Make this over the weekend when you can nail down 30 minutes in the kitchen and then you have breakfast for the week!

Most fruits are no longer in season - pears and apples are, but berry season has long past and they took peaches with them. This is a good time to take advantage of frozen fruit - freeze your own when it is in season (and way less expensive) or purchase fruit without any added sugar.

Shopping tip: Having trouble finding steel cut oats? They may not be next to the flavored packets of instant oats - look in the organic or natural foods section of your grocery store or check out the bulk bins of the natural foods store. 

Steel cut oats with berries and cinnamon
Makes four generous servings
  • 1 apple, diced (keep the peel; more fiber and less fuss)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup frozen diced peaches
  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed berries
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups plain soy milk
  • 1 cup water
  • Nuts and dried fruit for topping
  1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and add apple and brown sugar. Stirring often to prevent burning, cook for a few minutes. Add frozen fruit and cook for a minute longer. 
  2. Add oats, cinnamon, salt, soy milk and water. Cover, and bring to a boil. 
  3. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
  4. After 20 minutes is up, remove from heat and allow to cool for ten minutes or so. You can add more water or soy milk if you want the oats to be thinner. 
  5. For breakfast ease, scoop individual portions into glass jars and garnish with a few nuts. Refridgerate until ready to eat; microwave for a minute or three and you're ready to roll! Bring on the day :)





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Monday, December 17, 2012

Got problems? There's a bike for that.

Me, on the left, somewhere in between New York and Washington, DC


"They say money can't buy happiness, but it can buy a bike and that's pretty darn close"

I am a pretty big fan of bikes. I began commuting in DC on bike when I moved there three years ago. This spring I ventured into road biking and did a fabulous trip from NY to DC on my bike called the climate ride. While it is probably true that riding bikes can't solve all of the world's problems, it can help many.

1. I want to lose weight. Instead of trying to fit a trip to the gym into our busy lives, instead make your commute active. Many trips happen within a few miles of home and we can skip the car.


2. I want to save money. See above. Sure, you can spend money on a fancy bike, but even the fanciest of bikes is going to cost less than a fancy car. Allow some money for annual tune up and the occasional spare inner tube and you're all set. Check out craigslist for a deal and take it to a local bike shop to have a safety inspection and to ensure that the seat is at the right height for you and that your helmet fits well.

3. I don't want to be stuck in traffic. You aren't stuck in traffic, you are traffic. Hop on your bike and enjoy the freedom.

4. I'm buying too much crap. While I do like to challenge myself to see what I can carry on a bike, the reality is that it is never going to be as much as a car can carry. Making yourself evaluate if you really want to cart that splurge purchase home on your bike might save you money.

5. My kids keep borrowing the car. Send them out on a bike instead and keep the car in the garage.

6. I'm really upset. I'm sad. I'm having a lot of feelings. Nothing improves my mood like cruising down the street. The fresh air and physical activity help to clear my mind and to turn that smile upside down.

7. I can't sleep. Regular physical activity improves sleep.

8. There is no where to park. While we do need more bike racks, it is usually easier to find a bike spot than a spot for your car. To prevent theft use a U-lock and lock it through the frame and one wheel.

9. My family is stressing me out. Go for a bike ride together and see if you can get to the bottom of it.

10. I am craving ______ (insert junk food/alcohol here). Cravings are often tied to stress; use a bike ride to lower stress and see if your cravings recede.

Reader poll: what benefits keep you rolling on two wheels? Comment below!


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advice for dietetic interns

Part of becoming a Registered Dietitian is the completion of a supervised internship. This is similar to a residency for a physician in that you work for a short period of time in several areas - you get to put your theory into practice and see what area of the field you may wish to focus your career on.

The internship is an exciting time but also a busy time. Here is my best advice for anyone in or about to start their internship.

Treat every day like a job interview. Dietetics is a very small world and the job market is competitive. If your preceptor thinks of you as the one who was always late, the one glued to her phone or the one on facebook, is she going to recommend you for a job? Absolutely not. But if you're the one who is punctual, the one who did thoughtful work and acted professionally, you have an ally in your job search.

Be patient. Some people are better teachers than others, but coaching and teaching an intern is a big time investment for everyone. Also, keep in mind that many RDs don't have a lot of control over their schedule because often their day depends on their patient load. You have to roll with the punches. Help where you're able to make the days go smoothly. Their hours are your hours. If their day starts at 6, you had better be there by 5:55 ready to roll.

Be thankful. When you're done with a rotation, write a thank you card (no, not an email). If they write you a recommendation for your job applications, be sure to write a thank you card for that too.

Take notes. The dietetic internship is is a time to ask questions and to learn a lot. When your preceptor or some other health professional takes the time to teach you something, get out your notebook and write it down. 1) it shows you're interested in what they're saying and 2) prevents you from asking the same darn question the following week. Also, they're more likely to slow down so you have enough time to write it down. When they're done with the lesson or thought, read it back to make sure you got it right.

Take the initiative. Don't waste your preceptors time asking a question you could have answered by opening a book or getting online. There are plenty of things you are going to get stuck on, but get as much information independently as possible. I would much rather hear "I was able to look up this medication, but I didn't understand why someone couldn't take it if their kidneys aren't functioning well" than "what's this medication".

Don't gossip. Dietitians are people too, so some of us are more professional than others. If any of the dietitians are stooping to gossip, do not participate.

Dress the part. This ties back to the first recommendation to treat each day like a job interview. People who dress professionally are more likely to be taken seriously. Added bonus? This can also give you a boost of confidence too. Of course, if you're in an internship funds are likely tight, but I have found plenty of great duds at my local thrift store. If they're clean and pressed, no one will be the wiser. Maintain your nails and hair and don't go crazy with the jewelry or perfume.

Keep copies. Your case studies, pictures from the bulletin boards or menu you created are fodder for your next job interview. 

Have fun. Yes, you do need to work hard, but your internship is the culmination of four years of school. Enjoy how far you've come.

Good luck!

Reader poll: What other advice did you receive that was helpful? What do you wish you had been told?

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sweet Treats: Whole Grain Maple Oat Scones

It is kind of strange how often folks hear that I'm a dietitian and immediately get a look of guilt or fear, as though they have suddenly been arrested by the food police.  Far from it. I became a dietitian because I like to eat. We do feel better when we eat well, but everyone enjoys a good treat now and again. I found this great recipe that I adapted from Eggs On Sunday for a weekend treat. The original recipe said that it made 8 scones. Since scones are all about the butter texture and flavor, I didn't actually want to mess with fat lowering substitutions. Instead, I focused on portion control and made 16 instead. They were still quite large and satisfying. Very crumbly and delicious. 

These scones are made only with whole grain oats and so are gluten free. I do not need to choose gluten free, and so when I was rolling out the scones, I used wheat flour. If you do need to avoid gluten, grind up some extra oat flour and set it aside.


Whole Grain Maple Oat Scones
  • 3 1/3 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking), divided
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 8 tbsp (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup
For garnish:
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp oats
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Add lemon juice to milk and set aside. If you have buttermilk, feel free to use that, I never do so I use this mixture as a substitute.
  3. Place 2 cups of oats into food processor and grind until fine powder - you should have 1 1/3 cups oat flour. If you don't have a food processor, you'll need to buy oat flour. Use 1 1/3 cups. If you need to avoid gluten, grind some extra oats into flour and set aside for when you roll out the dough.
  4. Add remaining 1 1/3 cups oats, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking powder and baking soda.  and pulse food processor a few times. Having the more coarsely ground oats gives the scones great texture.
  5. Add butter pieces and pulse a few more time to chop butter.
  6. Add milk and maple syrup and run food processor until dough is mixed. It will be sticky.
  7. Place half of dough onto a board and roll into a circle. Use flour to prevent sticking. Use a sharp knife to cut into 8 wedges and place wedges onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with other half of dough.
  8. Mix milk and maple syrup and brush tops of scones using a pastry brush. Or, soak a paper towel or clean napkin. Sprinkle with a few more oats for flair and pop into the oven. bake for about 12-15 minutes or until browned on the edges and puffed up.
Note: I store baked goods in a pot to minimize use of plastic wrap.
Gather your ingredients
Action shot! Grinding the oats into flour
The course meal of ground oats, with the sugar and cinnamon added.
Add cold butter


Half of the dough, ready to roll out

Cut into cute wedges

Brush top with mixture of milk and maple syrup

Sprinkle with oats and pop into the oven
Ready to eat! Enjoy :)

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Decadent Dip: Caramelized onion hummus with balsamic vinegar

I'd like to dedicate this recipe to my dear friend Kelly - lover of all things with balsamic vinegar! She and I were roommates in DC two summers ago and had so much fun cooking up a storm all summer long. Now she is in California and I miss her, and so from one foodie to another, I dedicate this hummus you Kelly!


Caramelized onion hummus with balsamic vinegar
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 4-6 tablespoons water
  1. In a large skillet, warm over medium-low heat and add onions and olive oil. Saute for 30-60 minutes or until onions are golden brown and your kitchen smells lovely. Stir often to prevent burning, and add a splash of water to prevent sticking if needed.
  2. Once onions are very tender and golden brown, add balasmic vinegar and stir to unstick the little bits on the bottom of the pan - this is called deglazing the pan.
  3. Add chickpeas, onions, garlic, salt and pepper to food processor and blend. Add water, one tablespoon at a time, until smooth and the thickness you like. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. 

Served on sourdough bread from the farmer's market next to spaghetti squash and ground turkey sauce. Filling, delicious and nutritious.

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    Wednesday, December 5, 2012

    Dinner in a Flash: Buttercup squash saute

    Thank you to my dear friend Sarah at WhyFoodWorks for this delicious recipe! I got to try a buttercup squash for the first time. Sarah and I are both dietitians and both agree that peeling winter squash is a bit tedious...so this recipe just eats the whole squash! Open the squash with your biggest knife, scoop out the seeds (a great use for the ice-cream scoop!), dice and saute with apples and onions. you'll have dinner on the table in no time.

    I am of the opinion that almost anything can be topped with a "fried" egg and eaten for breakfast. This squash saute is no exception. I added a bit of extra-sharp shredded cheese and thought the sweet-savory-salty combination was divine. Let me know if you try it. The sharp cheese is great because with a small portion you get a big bunch of flavor and skip the excess calories.

    I love trying winter squash in ways "outside the pie". I love pie, but that needs to be a treat! Winter squash has that nice stick-to-your ribs quality of mashed potatoes, with significantly fewer calories.

    Buttercup squash saute
    • 1 buttercup squash
    • 1 apple
    • 1 onion
    • 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    • 1/4 cup apple cider, apple juice, water or broth
    To take it up an notch:
    • Shredded sharp cheddar cheese
    • 1 "fried" egg - over easy egg with minimal added fat
    1.  Give the squash a quick rinse and then carve into wedges using your largest knife. Proceed with confidence. 
    2. Use your ice-cream scoop or a hefty spoon to scoop out the seeds and guts of the squash (sounds gross, right?). Chop into cubes and discard any wonky bits.
    3. Core apple and dice - no need to peel. Dice onion (you do have to peel this one).
    4. In a large skillet, warm over medium-high heat and add oil. Cover with a lid and saute garlic, onions, squash and apple 20-25 minutes or until soft. Make sure to poke your fork through the squash peel to see that it is tender too.
    5. Add a splash of cider, salt and pepper and stir to evenly distribute. Serve as is, or with egg and cheese.
    Have you seen a buttercup squash before? Beautiful!
    A healthier use for your ice-cream scoop!
    Did you know that cooking in cast iron pans increases the iron content of your foods?


    Reader Poll: What is your favorite way to eat winter squash? Have you tried something other than pie?

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    Monday, December 3, 2012

    Scrumptious Soups: The Green Machine - Creamed Celery and Spinach Soup

    Here is a soup that shouts for your attention - it is a mixture of simple, tasty ingredients, but the color is bold! The potatoes make the soup have nice body and the flavors are soothing and comforting with the chilly weather. An immersion blender makes this soup come together in a snap, but it can also be pureed in a food processor (one that has a rubber gasket on the lid to prevent leaks) or in a standing blender.




    The Green Machine - Creamed Celery and Spinach Soup

    • 3 cups chopped celery (use the leaves too)
    • 1 onion, chopped
    • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
    • 2 tablespoons butter
    • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
    • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
    • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
    • 8 ounces frozen chopped spinach 
    • salt and pepper, to taste
    • Cream, yogurt or sour cream for garnish, if you wish
    1. In a large sauce pan, saute onion and celery in olive oil and butter until tender, about 10 minutes
    2.  Add potatoes, broth and seasonings and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking until potatoes are tender. Add spinach (no need to thaw) and stir until spinach is defrosted; about a minute or two.
    3. Puree soup using immersion blender until very smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper, if needed. If you would like your soup to be a bit thinner, add some more stock, water or milk until you think it is perfect. 
    4. Ladle into bowls and garnish if you wish.
    Tip: Pour left-overs into microwave safe jars (I like to use jelly jars) and you are on your way to having your lunch packed. Toss in a half sandwich, some fruit and you're all set. 

    Chopped celery - use the leaves too!
    Saute veggies until tender
    Add spinach and then blend!

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