Another week of family dinner, and a recipe (sort of)

Well, I’ve been managing to keep up with my weekly meal planning so far, and even writing it down for you all! I sincerely hope some of you are getting some good ideas from it.  I’d love to hear what you are making too. We can all use some new dinner ideas once in a while (or all the time).  I’m working on taking some pictures too, for your viewing pleasure.  But don’t expect any fancy schmancy food styling with cute colored napkins or anything.  Ain’t nobody got time for that ’round here.  So without further ado, here are last week’s meals:

Sunday: Homemade turkey meatballs, penne pasta, jarred Sauce, roasted asparagus, carrot sticks, watermelon.

These were possibly the best batch of meatballs I have made in a while.  I should probably write down the recipe for you guys one of these days, but I think it comes out best when I wing it! I will try and give some basic instructions here and hope you can have great turkey meatballs too!  I think it had a lot to do with the pile of fresh herbs I put in..I am growing fresh herbs in front of my house, and they are doing well.  Maybe I do have a green thumb after all!

So I served a lot of choices this meal, which isn’t always the case.  I happened to have some carrot sticks left over from lunch, and watermelon that needed to be eaten up, so I put it out there, still in the containers from the fridge.  We’re not fancy, and sometimes a few extra choices are good for a picky little one.  Though this is one meal he’s pretty into.

Ok meatballs–1 or a little more pounds of ground turkey thighs, a big squish of tomato paste, 1 egg, about 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (I used Ians gluten free panko), about 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs (I used oregano, basil, parsley, and chives), some garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon.  Roll those puppies up and put them on a parchment lined baking sheet, bake for about 20 minutes on 375, turning occasionally.

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Look at this crazy purple carrot!

Monday: Mexican sweet potato and black bean bake, salad bar (green leaf lettuce, cucumber, bell peppers, shredded cheddar cheese, cherry tomatoes), guacamole, salsa, sour cream, blue corn chips.

This dinner did not work out so well.  I planned this without realizing that it needed to bake for about 50 minutes total, and didn’t get home until 5:50, and for some crazy reason, I was still determined to make it.  So we had some guac and chips and then had bath and hang out time.  The sweet potatoes were STILL not cooked, and I ended up having to cook the dish for an extra 30-40 minutes.  So we ate extra late and frankly I didn’t enjoy it that much, so I won’t share it with you here.  Lesson learned; don’t try to bake sweet potatoes into a casserole, roast or steam them first.  By the time they were finished the corn tortillas in the dish were dry in some spots and mushy in others, and the cheese in the dish was dried out.  Blah.  All that waiting for mediocre results.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some.  We still sat together and ate, so thats cool.

BUT I did find out that if you cut plain corn tortillas up into quarters and bake them at 375 for about 10 minutes, turning once, they get pretty crispy and delicious! Throw a little salt on them and you have a non-fried, non-packaged tortilla chip! I will definitely do this again, because I have an incredible weakness for tortilla chips, and can easily eat WAY too many in one sitting.  I haven’t gotten into making my own corn tortillas, though that is definitely on my radar…

Tuesday: Spicy Sesame Honey Chicken in a Crock Pot, Basmati rice, peas, strawberries.

This was great because it was all done when we got home.  However, I think it would have been better with the sesame and scallion garnish.  No time for garnish tonight.  Next time I would change the sauce up a bit I think; more honey, less tomato, add ginger, maybe a little mirin or sherry.  And if you have the option I would stick with the recommendation to cook 5-7 hours, I cooked 8 and warmed for a bit, because thats how long I was gone. And it was a tiny bit overdone.

Wednesday: Dinner out.

Thursday: Homemade burgers from the freezer, whole wheat buns from TJs, frozen french fries, not sure if there was anything else, but like to think there was a fruit or vegetable served. I work Thursday nights so I’m not home for dinner!

Friday: Scrambled eggs with fresh chives, bacon, toast, pepper jack cheese, salsa, avocado, sliced oranges, honeydew melon, cherry tomatoes, strawberries.

The fruits and veggies were all things that were already cut up and needed to be end-of-the-week eaten.

Where I have been! (and a week of quick meals)

Let me apologize for the long delay in keeping up with my blog.  I know some of you have come to enjoy and look forward to my posts, and well, I’ve been slackin’!  Where have I been??  Well, I’ve been busy and distracted in a few different respects, and I’m trying to make my way back here to my writing, because it is so good for me in many ways.

One big reason for my absence is that I started a full time job a few weeks ago, and have been transitioning into the life of a full time worker bee + mom + wife + house cleaner + laundry doer + dinner cooker etc etc etc.  Whew, it’s a lot.  But I am happy to have found a job that I truly love and feel blessed to get paid to do it!

What is this job, you ask? I am managing a Farm to Preschool grant for the Child Care Council of Nassau. Yes, I get to work with kids and farmers and food every day, and a bunch of nice people too!  I am going to be running 3 farmers markets beginning in July that will be located at 3 child care centers during dismissal times, when the parents are coming to pick up their children. We are focusing on underserved areas of Long Island, and hoping to not only increase access to fresh, local produce for the families and staff of these child care centers, but also to help them increase their consumption of fresh produce by making it as affordable as possible, and at the same time educating them on how to cook new vegetables.  I am so thrilled to be able to head up this project.

2014-05-28 10.50.02

Another part of the project involves gardening with the children at each center and I spent 3 mornings last week at Home Depot purchasing soil and other various garden tools.  Now, gardening is definitely not my strong suit (I have killed many a plant in my day), but I’ve just been flying by the seat of my pants as I figure it all out.  I have been stumped several times, like when I opened up the packet of lettuce seeds and realized how SMALL and how MANY of them there were!  How many to put in each hole?? Certainly not just one?  How many can you plant in a 2 foot by 1 foot space? Hmm, no idea.  Well, since I was planting with 4 year olds, and there were only moments to spare to answer all of these questions, they all ended up in the ground, and I guess we’ll see what happens!! It is great fun to be able to share this experience with the children, and I can’t wait to see what comes up.  I hope something comes up, and I sure do hope they will eat it too!

2014-06-17 11.12.16

I’ve also been doing a little nutrition counseling with adults these days, and many of my clients have asked me for resources to help them create healthy, quick meals that their children will eat too.  So I had an idea.  Since I’ve gone back to work, I’ve found that making a plan and shopping on the weekend is the only way to get dinner on the table each night in a short amount of time.  Since I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at new recipes and trying them out, I thought it might be helpful to share my weekly plans with you all, along with the results, good or bad.

SO here goes.  First you should know that I use an amazingly wonderful website called Plan to Eat.  It is a subscription service, but I think it is worth every penny.  The site has an online recipe book so I can save any recipe I find on the web right to their site, organized into categories.  Then there is a drag and drop weekly planner where you can drag recipes from your list in the sidebar right onto the day you want to make it.  There is also a shopping list, which I don’t use but probably should, and you can access the whole site through an app on your phone.  It’s really great in helping me get organized, as well as be able to view a recipe easily while out and about.  Anyhow, you can plan every meal and snack if you like, but I just plan out the main dishes and sometimes side dishes for dinner.  Usually I just wing the side dishes if it will just be a vegetable roasted or steamed, or salad, or fruit, or sometimes I leave that part open and see what needs to be used up.  Since it is farmers market season now too, it is good to leave the sides a bit flexible so I can just pick up what looks good at the market.  But having at least the main dish planned is essential.  I also have to say that my crock pot (a recent purchase) has become incredibly helpful in getting food on the table fast.  Crock pots are all the rage these days too, and you can find tons of real food crock pot recipes online.

So without further ado, this was my plan from last week, and how it went:

Monday: Black beans and rice, guacamole, salsa, blue corn chips, cut up cucumber, carrots, bell peppers.

The black beans were from a crock pot black bean soup recipe I made for Cinco de Mayo and froze.  They were delicious.

Tuesday: Flank steak on the grill, seasoned with Spike (do you know about Spike? It’s a great seasoning blend), frozen french fries, steamed green beans.

The green beans were a fiasco, they were TJ’s non-organic bag of green beans and they smelled and tasted like maple syrup once cooked, and looked super weird.  One of the only times I told my son NOT to eat a vegetable.  They got tossed.  I think I had some sliced cucumber in there too.

Wednesday: Whole chicken in a crock pot, Annie’s mac and cheese, sauteed kale with red onion, watermelon.

This chicken is a great recipe from 100 Days of Real Food.  I’m a big fan of the blog, check it out if you haven’t.

Thursday: Dinner out.

Friday: Creamy chicken and wild rice stew,  bread, butter, salad.

Yum, this soup was delicious.  I will definitely make it again.  Super quick, prepped everything into the crock the night before (did this also with the whole chicken on Wednesday) with the exception of the leftover cooked chicken, then all I had to do was pop it into the cooker in the morning.  My husband added the chicken when he got home and turned the cooker back on high for about 20 minutes.  I also used homemade broth which I cooked all day on Thursday with the bones I had leftover from Wednesday’s chicken.  If you check out the whole chicken in a crock pot recipe, she explains how to do this.  It works, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and nutritious.

This is one meal I felt certain my 4 year old would not eat.  I mean, he likes chicken, rice, and the occasional soup mostly of the chicken noodle variety, but it was creamy and smelled a little ‘interesting’ from the wild rice.  I kept that idea to myself of course though, and sure enough, he agreed that he would like to try some in his bowl.  I put in a tiny bit and he tried and said he liked it.  He asked for more, which I gave him, but he didn’t eat it.  Oh well, it’s a good start, so maybe next time he will actually eat a bowlful, or 3 bites.

 

Raw nut flour!

Hopefully I have inspired some of you to make your own nut milk at this point. I was surprised and delighted when even my brother in law (definitely not the nut-milk making type!) asked me for the recipe!! I have used all types of nuts so far; cashew, almond, pecan, and hazelnut to be specific.

At first I was throwing away all the pulp that I strained out with my nut milk bag.  But it seemed like such a waste, and I had read that you could save it and use it elsewhere.  So I started tossing the wet chunks into my food dehydrator for 24 hours or so and they came out looking like this:

IMG_3288

You should know that I have a super cheapy Ronco food dehydrator, which actually works quite well.  But your dehydrating time may vary.  You could probably also do it on a very low temp in the oven, but I haven’t tried it.

I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to do with them all, but I just kept chucking them in this container every few days.  Today I was finally inspired to make my favorite chocolate chip cookies that call for blanched almond flour.  I put the dehydrated nut pulp chunks into the dry canister of my Vitamix and whizzed it all up until it made nut flour. Raw almond/pecan/hazelnut flour!!

IMG_3338

 

That had hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and maple syrup from the nut milk mixture.  It was delicious and came out pretty finely ground. I did take the skins off the almonds after soaking because I don’t like how they flavor the milk.  So this might have made the texture of the flour a little finer, not sure.

My son and I made these cookies and they were deeee-licious.  Not so FODMAP friendly because they do have a little honey and coconut flour, but so so good.  Maybe I will try to make them over without those ingredients one of these days..

IMG_3339

In the meantime, save your nut pulp and make flour. It’s amazing! And nutritious! Some people have a beef with nut flour because it is such concentrated protein and fat, but I say eat the treats made with them on special occasions and only in moderation, and you will be just fine!

I’d love to hear what you do with your nut pulp!!?

 

Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Milk

Hello to all, and apologies for not having posted in a while! I have taken some much needed time to rest and rejuvenate over the past few weeks. First, I attended an amazing meditation retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and highly recommend getting there if you ever have the opportunity.  After that I spent a few days warming up in beautiful Puerto Rico, and experiencing some incredible nature in the rainforest.  I am back in the freezing cold now, and back in my kitchen, which I am grateful for.  There seemed to be a serious lack of fruits and vegetables in the parts of Puerto Rico I was in, and It will be a long time before I eat another fried plantain!

IMG_0346

A while back I posted about making my own cashew milk, which was incredibly delicious.  Well, since then I have embarked on a new diet to help improve my digestion.  I have been dabbling with the low FODMAP diet, and have read this book about it.  It was very informative, and though I haven’t been really strict with it, I have found that avoiding certain foods that are high in FODMAPs has been beneficial for me.

Unfortunately, both cashews and dates are high in FODMAPs, so I had to revamp my nut milk recipe.  I had previously tried almond milk but found it to have an unpleasant bitterness to it.  I have since discovered that removing the skins from the almonds seems to eliminate the bitterness.  I also tried pecan milk, which was good, but there was a lot of pulp to strain out.  So I wanted to share my latest almond milk recipe.  I have found that the addition of cinnamon is fantastic too.  After soaking the almonds, the skins slide off very easily.  It is a bit of a tedious task, but I think it’s worth it, especially when you have this guy helping you in the kitchen!

IMG_3287

Cinnamon Vanilla Almond Milk

(gluten free, dairy free, grain free, low FODMAP friendly)

3/4 cup raw almonds

1 teaspoon sea salt

4 cups filtered water

1-2 tablespoons maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

In a glass jar or bowl, soak the almonds with sea salt in filtered water for 6-8 hours or overnight.  Drain, rinse well and and slip the skins off of the almonds if desired.  Combine almonds, 4 cups of filtered water, maple syrup, cinnamon, and vanilla in the  blender and puree for 1-2 minutes until a smooth consistency is reached. Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday filled with family, friends, delicious food, and laughter.  We actually ended up staying home from our celebration, as my son was sick AGAIN!  He is all better today, but we’ve been in the house a lot with little ills more often than I would like to admit. I’ve been cooking up chicken broth, and we’ve been taking probiotics and elderberry daily too.  I know it’s helping, but little kids just seem to be susceptible to every little germ out there!!

Do you know about the wonderful Elderberry?  So first of all it is a berry, so of course contains antioxidants, which are great for warding off cancer and various other diseases. It has long been used to treat respiratory diseases such as cold and flu, and some evidence suggests that elder may help reduce sinus swelling and nasal congestion.

Studies have also suggested that the little elderberry has some amazing powers, such as possibly reducing the duration of flu by 3 days as well as reducing flu symptoms.  One study even showed elderberry extract actually killing the H1N1 flu virus in a test tube!!?

elderberry-bsp

So I’ve been buying a prepared Elderberry Syrup for years that I think has been effective in helping us fight the flu. But this year I decided to get crafty and try making some myself.  The original recipe I used was too sweet for our liking, so I reduced the honey a bit and it came out just great.  We have been using it once a day for prevention and more frequently when sick or trying to fight something off.  We have been taking 1 tablespoon a day for adults and 1 teaspoon a day for children (skipping a day at least once a week) and up to 4 tablespoons a day for adults and 3 teaspoons a day for children when sick or fighting something. This syrup has several other immune boosting and anti-bacterial herbs and spices, and is also really delicious.  I usually put some in the freezer too; the honey keeps it from freezing too hard and it is so yummy to take frozen. And do use raw honey if you are able, it is full of live enzymes and good stuff that gets killed in the pasteurization/heating process of typical honey.

It should be noted that raw elderberries have a chemical in them similar to cyanide, so need to be cooked to make them safe for ingestion.  Anyone on medications or with special issues should speak to their doctor before using elderberry.  And please remember not to give this syrup to any child under 1 as it contains honey, which can be toxic for little ones.

If you are sensitive to honey, or want to give this remedy to your littlest ones, stay tuned for an updated post soon.  My next batch will be made with maple syrup, as I have embarked on a new diet to help with my IBS, a low FODMAP foods diet, but more on this later!

And here it is, I know you’ve been waiting for it, another use for the nut milk bag! When the syrup is done it needs to be strained, which can be done through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or, you guessed it, nut milk bag! I used my nut milk bag last time and was really pleased because I was really able to squeeze all the elder-goodness out at the end.

IMG_3047

Homemade Elderberry Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

Ingredients

1 cup dried elderberries

4 cups filtered water

2 inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

3/4 cup raw honey

Add all ingredients except honey to a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and let the mixture reduce by half, about 30-40 minutes. Remove the mixture from the heat and strain through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag. When the mixture has cooled but is still warm (118 degrees F or less) whisk in the honey and store in a glass jar in the fridge, or in the freezer.  The mixture should keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

I’d love to hear what you use to keep your family healthy during cold and flu season!

Chicken Enchilada Soup

My 4 year old surprised me the other day.  Not to say that he doesn’t surprise me every day in some way, but there have been very little surprises or branching out lately in the food and eating department.  But I just keep on keeping on, following Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding and knowing that he will come around eventually.

He had not eaten pesto, or anything on his noodles but butter in probably a year.  SO when I made fresh pesto the other night tossed with pasta, leftover chicken, and green beans, I also put out plain noodles, chicken, and green beans.  When my son sat down at the table for dinner he said, “What’s in the pot??” When I told him, he exclaimed, “I like pesto!!”  I almost fell over but didn’t let on for a minute as he proceeded to gobble it down and have seconds.  I was jumping for joy inside, but remained calm and cool so as not to encourage him either way.

I was hoping that we had entered into a more adventurous stage of eating finally, so I had high hopes for last night’s chicken enchilada soup. He likes chicken, rice, chips, cheese, and avocado, so I thought this one might be a real hit.  Well it certainly was for the rest of the family, but no such luck with our little friend.  He ate chips, cheese, and avocado for dinner.  Oh well, maybe next time, or the next, or the 10th or 20th time, because there will be a 20th time.  It’s that good.

Also, I don’t know about you, but I roast a lot of chicken around here and am always looking for new ways to use up the leftover chicken meat.  I mean I love chicken noodle soup and all, but it gets boring.  And I always have extra rice hanging around too.

IMG_3040

I was inspired by a recipe I saw online and she made these amazing looking crispy tortilla strips from scratch for topping the soup, which I was all set to do, until I discovered MOLD on my tortillas!!! So we had to settle for good old corn chips as topping until next time, and you can get the recipe for those from the link below.  I changed it up a bit, so here’s my version:

CHICKEN ENCHILADA SOUP

(gluten free, dairy free option)

  By Dana Youkilis

Serves 6

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 large onion, diced

1 medium carrot, diced

½ cup red bell pepper, diced

1 Tbsp chili powder

½ tsp cumin

2 Tbsp fine ground yellow corn meal or masa harina

1 quart chicken stock

1 14 oz can fire roasted diced tomatoes

1 cup cooked, chopped chicken meat

1 ½ cups cooked rice

3 Tbsp heavy cream (optional)

Sea salt to taste

For garnish: chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn chips or homemade crispy tortilla strips (get the recipe from All Things Health), anything else that floats your boat

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the oil and sauté the garlic and onions until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes.  Add the carrot and bell pepper and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add the chili powder, cumin, corn meal and ¼ cup of stock and continue stirring until the stock is mostly evaporated, about 1 minute.  Add the rest of the stock and tomatoes.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and let the soup simmer about 20 minutes.  Add the chicken and rice and cook until heated through, about 5 more minutes.  Season to taste with sea salt, add the cream and remove soup from heat.  Garnish with your choice of toppings.

Nutrition Facts (per serving not including toppings): Calories 251; Total Fat 8g; Saturated Fat 3g; Cholesterol 35mg; Sodium 504mg; Total Carbohydrate 30g; Dietary Fiber 2g; Sugars 8g; Protein 14g

Homemade Nut Milk

For years and years I have been buying and drinking non-dairy ‘milk’ of different sorts, as I have never been able to digest regular milk.  First it was soy milk; sweet, thick and delicious.  After some time I stopped being able to digest soy, so switched to rice milk.  It was thinner and decidedly not as delicious, but I made do with it for many years.  Then came the news about rice and arsenic, and though I still have my reservations about whether this is really a threat, I couldn’t keep feeding my boy something that could potentially harm him.  So we switched to almond milk, and had been enjoying it for a while now.  Lately though, I have been reading about carrageenan, a thickener in many non-dairy milks that has shown in some studies to have a detrimental effect on some individual’s GI tracts (read more about this here and here…and now I just found out it’s in my sliced turkey too. DOH!!).  Well no one needs any extra inflammation in their lives, and anyone who knows me knows I certainly do not need any extra GI irritation.  Now, you should know that carrageenan is still on the FDA’s list of approved organic ingredients, but personally, I don’t really have a whole lot of faith in the FDA and their many lists.

Anyhoo, I have been seeking out milks that do not include carageenan for the past few months, and some have proven to be better than others, but then I started to wonder about these other ingredients too.  Take a look at this:

IMG_3028I’m pretty OK with cane sugar and salt…but Locust Bean Gum?? Gellan Gum?? What are these and why do we need them?

So I’ve been hearing how easy and amazing it is to make your own nut milk, and also how beneficial it is to soak your nuts and seeds before consuming them.  So I finally gave it a shot.  I do own a Vitamix, so all I really needed was a nut milk bag (everyone seems to hate this particular combination of words so I’ve been trying to throw ‘nut milk bag’ into my conversations as often as possible lately).

I started with almond milk, and it was good, but there was a bitterness that comes with raw almonds that I just couldn’t get past.  So this week I tried cashew milk..HELLO!  It is so creamy and delicious and SO easy to make, I don’t think I will ever go back to that stinky boxed milk again.  I am excited to experiment with other nuts and seeds so I will keep you posted.  But for now, here is how cashew milk goes.  It’s still somewhat experimental right now, so just go with what feels right to you, you can’t really go wrong with cashews.

IMG_3026

Cashew Milk

(Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Dairy-Free)

Adapted from The Shiksa in the Kitchen

3/4 cup raw, unsalted cashews

4 cups filtered water

1-2 dates, pitted (optional)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

pinch of sea salt (optional)

Soak cashews in filtered water for 4-6 hours, no longer.  Apparently cashews can be finicky when it comes to soaking ; most “raw” cashews have been heat treated and  can become a bit slimy if soaked too long.  Drain and rinse well. Combine cashews, water, dates, vanilla, and sea salt if using in the blender and puree for 1-2 minutes until a smooth consistency is reached.

IMG_3023

Strain milk through a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth, or nut milk bag.  Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

IMG_3025

This is the only downfall that I can see of homemade nut milk. It doesn’t last as long.  Also, I have to say that with the cashews I don’t even think I needed to strain it, as there was barely an sediment left in my nut milk bag.  But that will probably depend on the blender you use and how smooth you like it. Also, you could sweeten with honey or maple syrup too, or not at all if you like it that way or plan to use it in a savory dish.  I was wondering if I could make an unsweetened version and freeze it to use in dishes when I need it.  I’m not sure how well it will freeze, so I will keep you posted on that too.

But don’t you worry, I have found some other uses for my NUT MILK BAG, which I will let you in on soon!  In the meantime, I’d love to hear about anyone else’s nut milk adventures and how they turned out.  Here is my first smoothie made with homemade nut milk, spinach, banana, and peach.  YUM!

IMG_3027

Healthy Holidays

Well, with all the hustle and bustle of getting it all done before holiday travel, I didn’t get this post up in time for you to read it before your Thanksgiving meal..but I think a lot of these tips apply to the whole darn holiday season, whether it be Chanukah, Christmas, or Festivus.

Hope everyone is enjoying time with loved ones, and that no one is feeling too nauseous at this point.  If you are, I have to recommend the homeopathic remedy Nux Vomica.  Put a few of those little pills under your tongue whenever you feel like you’ve overdone it, and see how you feel in about 10 minutes.  Chances are probably a little better, unless you’ve gone way overboard.  It has saved me and my sensitive stomach many, many times.

Tonight I am feeling very thankful for my home, my family, and all of my amazing friends near and far.  I am truly lucky to have come upon such goodness in my life, and I hope you are too.  Here’s to filling your bellies and your souls with pure deliciousness..

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zw...

Sunflower (Helianthus annuus L). Słonecznik zwyczajny (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The holidays are upon us, and trying to get it all done can be very stressful on both our bodies and our psyche.  Taking the time to take care of yourself at this time of year can make a world of difference.  Here are some great tips for staying healthy through the holiday season, both physically and mentally:

  • Take a short time for your self each day.  Whether it be a 15 minutes yoga session, a short afternoon nap, or just a few minutes to read or veg on the couch, it is important to just let go of all the “things” for a few minutes each day.  Taking this time to rejuvenate can actually help you check things off your list at a faster pace.

    yoga

    yoga (Photo credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS)

  • Don’t give up on cooking meals.  From purchasing the perfect gifts to planning that special holiday meal, there may not seem like there is enough time in the day to cook meals.  Do your best to keep up on the cooking as much as possible and let some other things fall aside…keeping on your Facebook feed or watching your favorite TV show perhaps.  Fresh, nourishing meals will help to keep your body healthy in the chilly weather, and will also keep you going much longer than a greasy take-out meal.
  • Plan your holiday meals well in advance and rely on the help of others.  Ask a few family members to bring a side dish and order some pies from a local baker.  Prepare as many foods in advance as possible and reheat them an hour before the meal.  This will leave you free to actually enjoy the meal and your family and friends.
  • Boost up that immune system.  If you are getting on a plane this holiday season (or even if you’re not), prepare your immune system in advance for the challenge.  Ramp up your intake of garlic and onions, which are full of natural bacteria fighting compounds.  Consider adding anti-inflammatory herbs such as garlic and ginger to your dishes.  Already popular for the holidays, cinnamon and clove have lots of anti-microbial action too.  Elderberry is also a great immune booster and flu fighter and can be found in delicious syrups or lozenges.  I even bought whole dried berries this season and made my own elderberry syrup.  Yummy!  It is so delicious I think it would even make a nice holiday gift.

elderberry-bsp

  • Speaking of gifts, don’t get crazy with the gifts.  People get REALLY stressed out about holiday shopping and getting the best deals.  Try thinking a little differently this holiday season. Is there something you could make or bake at home that would serve as a great gift for most people on your list?  These types of gifts are usually inexpensive to make and mean more because they are homemade.  And you don’t have to be super crafty to bake mini banana breads and wrap them in red cellophane!
  • Drink alcohol in moderation.  Sure it’s nice to enjoy a spiked egg nog or a few glasses of wine, but excessive drinking along with all that heavy food is sure to leave you feeling awful the next morning.   Have a glass of water in between each drink and pace yourself.  Holiday meals are usually day-long events, and if you spread your drinking out over the day, you will not only feel better, but also be able to remember the whole day and enjoy the next one too.
  • Allow yourself to indulge in holiday favorites without feeling guilty, but don’t starve yourself all day and the day before just so you can go nuts.  Eat a balanced meal before going off to your gathering.  Doing this will help keep your blood sugar steady and keep you from getting too hungry and eating everything in sight right when you get there.
Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin.

Pumpkin Pie from a *real* pumpkin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Listen to your body’s cues!  Eat slowly and enjoy all the delicious food.  Take small portions and then go back for more if you are still hungry.  Stop eating when you are full, and try to get out and take a walk in the fresh air after your meal.  This will not only help to burn off some of those calories, but also aid in digestion.

Lastly, remember what the true meaning of the holidays is.  Whatever holiday you will celebrate in the coming weeks, it is not about the best gifts, meals, or outfit.  It is about being thankful for what we have and enjoying the company of wonderful friends and family.  I wish everyone a safe, relaxing, and joyful holiday season filled with laughter and love!

So the farmers market got cancelled this week due to horrid weather, so I never got to make this recipe, Sauteed Red Cabbage with Raisins from Martha Stewart.  But it looks like it would be a nice addition to a holiday meal, and I am always looking for things to do with cabbage other than cole slaw.  If anyone gets around to making it before I do, let me know how it comes out.

Turkey Safety

A few years ago when I was in school for nutrition, I took a course in food safety.  We happened to be learning about proper thawing and cooking techniques for turkey right around Thanksgiving time, and one of them involved the possibility of food poisoning from stuffing cooked inside a turkey. Most of us had not heard about this, and sure enough, when we returned from the Thanksgiving holiday, one of my classmates had gotten food poisoning from the stuffing at her relative’s meal!

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S....

A roast turkey prepared for a traditional U.S. Thanksgiving meal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

No one wants to make their guests sick, and of course no one would do this on purpose.  But there are a lot of food safety protocols for cooking turkeys that just aren’t widely known.  Many people learn from their mothers, who learned from their mothers, and so on.  Well, the meat was probably a little cleaner and safer back then, and unfortunately in today’s world, we need to take some extra precautions to make sure our turkeys are handled safely.  Here are a few turkey safety tips, and a wish for a happy, healthy, and very delicious Thanksgiving holiday.

  • Turkeys must be kept at safe temperatures during thawing. The danger zone for food is between 40 and 140° F.  Food that is kept between these temperatures for any period of time run the risk of bacteria multiplying rapidly, and the food becoming unsafe to eat.  There are 3 safe ways to thaw a turkey:
    • In the refrigerator.  Allow 24 hours for every 4-5 pounds of turkey.  Place the turkey in a container so the juices do not drip on other foods.  A refrigerator thawed turkey may remain thawed in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before cooking.
    • In a cold water bath.  Place the sealed turkey in a large container of COLD water and change the water every 30 minutes until the turkey is thawed.  Allow about 30 minutes per pound, and cook the turkey as soon as it is thawed.
    • In the microwave.  Follow microwave instructions for thawing a turkey.  The turkey must be cooked immediately after microwave thawing because some areas of the turkey may have gotten warm in the thawing process.  I DO NOT recommend this type of thawing except in an emergency because microwave cooking is so uneven.
  • Prevent cross contamination.  I know I talked about this a couple of weeks ago but let me reiterate.  All hands, cutting boards, knives and other surfaces that come into contact with raw meat or poultry should be washed thoroughly with soap and water before contacting any other foods.
  • Keep your stuffing safe.  It is optimal to cook stuffing in a dish outside of the turkey.  If you choose to cook stuffing inside your turkey, place the stuffing inside the turkey just before cooking, and use a food thermometer to ensure that the center of the stuffing reaches at least 165° F.  Any part of the stuffing that does not reach this temperature carries a risk of bacteria that can cause food poisoning.  This is serious and how my friend from school got sick!!
  • Cook safely.  Make sure the turkey is completely thawed, and set oven temperatures no lower than 325°F.  The meatiest parts of the turkey should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165°F.  Let the turkey stand for 20 minutes before removing the stuffing and carving the meat.

IMG_2765

The recipe for this week comes from Chef Ann Cooper.  These Cornmeal Apple Griddle Cakes were yummy little pancakes, and I even used gluten-free flour and they came out great.  They were delicious with our Vermont Maple Syrup on top, but I didn’t feel like they were apple-y enough.  Next time I would probably add some cinnamon or apple pie spice to the mix.

Naturally SWEET

Natural sweeteners are definitely big news lately.  From classics like molasses and honey, to new fangled agave and stevia, every week seems to bring about a new favorite, each touting its own unique ‘health’ benefits.  Sure, some natural sweeteners contain more nutrients than white sugar, while some digest a little more slowly, thus causing a slower rise in blood sugar levels.  But the fact of the matter is that these foods are all still sweeteners, and most of them break down to the same molecules as plain old sugar, and are digested in the same way.  Therefore, we should still use moderation with sweeteners, no matter which ones they are.  This is especially true for those who need to keep watch on their blood sugar levels.

 

One of the most classic ‘natural’ sweeteners is honey, which comes in many varieties that all lend slightly different subtle flavors.  Raw honey, which you can find for sale here at the market, contains a host of enzymes, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants along with natural sugars.  Raw honey is nutritionally superior to pasteurized or processed honey because many of the beneficial properties are lost when honey is heated.  There is also some evidence that eating locally produced raw honey, which contain local pollen spores, can help alleviate seasonal allergies by acting to build immunity much like a vaccine would.  Unfortunately, there are no studies yet to back up this belief.

 

Med u saću

Med u saću (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Honey is also a natural humectant (something that attracts and retains moisture), so it can help to keep a dish moist when used in a recipe, or retain moisture in the skin when used in a skin care product.  Honey is also known to soothe and coat a sore throat, and one study has shown that buckwheat honey provided better relief for nighttime cough in children than an over the counter cough medication!   However, please note that it is not considered safe to give honey to children under 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism poisoning.  Honey may naturally contain spores of Clostridium Botulinum, a toxin which adult digestive systems can easily fight off, but could sicken a young child.

 

Another classic is of course maple syrup, which has it’s own wonderful and distinct flavor.  Recent research shows that maple syrup is high in polyphenols, an antioxidant that helps ward off inflammation as well as supplying the minerals manganese and zinc.  Maple sugar has become very popular lately too, and is made by boiling down maple syrup until all of the liquid has evaporated.  It should be noted that maple sugar is about twice as sweet as regular sugar.  It is recommended to use ¾ cup of maple syrup for every 1 cup of granulated sugar called for in baking, and reduce the amount of liquid in the recipe by 3 tablespoons for every 1 cup of maple syrup used.

 

When substituting honey for sugar in baking, Heidi Swanson, author of Super Natural Cooking, recommends substituting ½ cup honey for every cup of sugar, reducing the liquid in the recipe by ¼ cup, and increasing the baking soda by ¼ tsp. It is also advisable to turn down the oven temperature by 25 degrees to prevent overbrowning.

IMG_2932

The recipe for this week, Sweet and Sour Braised Fennel, was simple and so warming and delicious.  Especially on a VERY cold and windy day at the market.  The weather conditions made the stove a little hard to deal with, but the result made it all worthwhile.  I of course substituted honey instead of the sugar that the recipe called for!