Archive | April, 2012

Open a can!

30 Apr

Short on time?  A nutritious dinner can be made quickly with a little creativity and by opening a couple of cans.  Keep some good staples in the pantry as well as the freezer, and dinner can be a snap.  Grab the can opener and let’s go!

Here is a super easy pasta sauce.  Put the sauce together, get a big pot of water boiling, microwave some frozen broccoli, grab some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and some crusty bread.  Dinner is ready.  Here is the sauce recipe:

Amy’s Clam Sauce

  • 3 cans minced clams, drained
  • 1 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 8-12 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 t. red pepper flakes
  • 1-2 T. basil
  • 1 T. parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Also, 1 lb. fettucine, 1 large bag frozen broccoli, 1 loaf crusty french bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.  This serves my family of 4 easily.

Mix together all sauce ingredients except clams in large sauce pan over medium heat.  Turn heat to a low simmer after sauce begins to boil.   Stir occasionally.  While sauce is simmering, boil large pot of water for the pasta.  Cook pasta.  Slice bread.  When pasta is nearly done, add clams to pasta sauce to heat through and microwave broccoli.

Voila!  Dinner is served!  I serve crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dip the bread into, and sometimes sprinkle a little cheese onto broccoli while its hot.  This is a quick and easy dinner.  Try it!  Let me know what you think!  Bon appetite!

Stress-Its a Killer!

27 Apr

Stress, it has been proven, is a killer in the long run.  And it can really knock a person’s good health down a notch or two in the mean time.  Someone can have the best diet and a phenomenal activity level, but stress can come in and zap all of those good efforts.  Stress is subjective though, and can be a silent attacker.  What stresses one person out may not be a big deal to someone else.  What can roll off one person’s back can certainly raise blood pressure and decrease health in another.

Stress is not really a useful term for scientists studying it because it is so subjective.  Ask 10 people what their stressors are and you will get 10 different answers.  Stress is more of a pop culture term, but we all know what it means and how it feels.   While stress can be positive, mostly it is referred to as a negative.  Stress can cause the “flight or fight” response that dumps adrenaline into our bloodstream, altering body chemistry.  This can be used in a good way, for example, if we are trying to get out of a burning building or avoiding a car wreck.  Problem is, some of us can feel that  “flight or fight” response daily from other more routine stressors, causing our hormones to swing out of whack if we are not careful.  But we all know our own triggers.  Time to recognize them, turn away, take a deep breath, and focus on the Zen Zone.

Relax.  I know.  Easier said than done.  Finding time to relax in a busy life is challenging, Frankly, taking some “me time” can feel frivolous at times. Selfish.  But nothing is farther from the truth!  You can do it.  I had 3 babies in 4 years.  With children so young and so close in age, finding time to relax is a joke.  But I tried.

When my children were preschool aged, I sat them down and had a talk with them.  I told them mommy needed mommy time.  I needed a few minutes of peace and quiet to make me a better mommy.  Every busy mommy needs to rejuvenate.  They did not know how to tell time yet, but I taught them how to read a digital timer.  Or at least to recognize that when it was running and not yet to zero, it was mommy time.  Time to give mommy her space.   I asked the children not to talk to me for a few minutes.  I interacted, and still do, with my children all day long and loved and cherished every minute of it. My kids are the most important component of my happy world.  But a few minutes of peace and quiet is golden. And refreshing!

I think it is very healthy to teach our children that every one needs personal time.  When I was having mommy time, i did little more than lay on the couch for 30 minutes and read the paper.  But it felt good!  And I felt it was a very good lesson for my children to learn to put others first.  This was a way they could watch me put me first, even if it was only for 30 minutes.  They always respected the time that I took for myself.

Reducing stress sounds very cliché these days.  And ways to do it are everywhere you look.  Websites, magazine covers, pamphlets in our doctors office.  I will bypass the obvious, like increasing sleep, eating healthier, and slowing down.  I will break it down to adding beauty to your life.  That can reduce stress!  And it can be simple.  There are a million simple ways to do it.  Here are a few simple things that I focused on.

  • Flowers in a vase
  • De-cluttering a cluttered area, like a closet.
  • Taking a bath
  • Taking a walk, noticing and appreciating nature
  • Calling a friend and chatting/venting/listening/laughing for a few minutes
  • Using china or a pretty and festive table cloth for a meal

Simply surrounding yourself with beauty, and not “waiting” for a special occasion, is very rejuvenating to me.   My absolute favorite scent is from the flower Lillies of the Valley.  A few whiffs of that scent relaxes me.  Perhaps because I force myself to breathe the lovely scent in deeply, close my eyes, and really transport myself to a place of beauty.  It works for me.  What works for you?


22 Apr

Edawhat?  Edamame!  And it is time you try some!  Okay, so snobbish foodies are known for giving things fancy names.  Edamame is no exception.  They are simply green soybeans.  Or more accurately, young soybeans.  As asian staple for centuries, their popularity is picking up here in the good old US of A.  Which is great news for us!

Soy beans are a fruit that grow in a pod and considered a protein.  They are a legume. Besides soy, other legumes include peas, lentils, and beans.  They pack a wonderful nutritional punch.  And they are very versatile.  Soy beans, or edamame, can be prepared in so many ways!  But first, back to the nutrition.

Edamame can be beneficial to our health.  They are low in calories, and high in fiber.  Half a cup has about 9 grams of fiber (we should shoot for about 20-25 grams of fiber daily) and less than 8 grams of fat.  They are a good source of folate, vitamin k, manganese, and many other essential vitamins and minerals.  They are also low in sodium.  Fabulous news, right?

Now even more good news.  They can be prepared a million different ways!  They can be enjoyed “naked”, simply shelled and out of the package.  This is a fresh healthy way to eat edamame.  They can also be steamed with a little salt and used as a good plant protein for any meal.  Simple, quick and delicious.

Bring something new to your next get together.  Make a dip using edamame.  Introduce your friends to it, and become a hero with a savory new party food!  Alton Brown has a fabulous dip.  Here it is:

12 ounces shelled, cooked, and cooled edamame, about 2 cups, recipe follows
1/4 cup diced onion
1/2 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro or parsley leaves
1 large garlic clove, sliced
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1 tablespoon brown miso
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon red chili paste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons olive oil

Place the edamame, onion, cilantro, garlic, lime juice, miso, salt, chili paste and pepper into the bowl of a food processor and process for 15 seconds. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl and process for another 15 to 20 seconds. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Once all of the oil has been added, stop, scrape down the bowl and then process another 5 to 10 seconds. Taste and adjust seasoning, as desired. Serve with chips or crackers. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

I have played with that recipe a little, and it is yummy!  I have also made an edamame cold dish for a dinner party when I was having both “meatatarians” and vegetarians at the same table.  I like to have several protein as well as vegetable options at my parties.  And it is easy peasy!  Here it is:

10 – 12 ounces shelled edamame (I buy them in the refrigerated produce section)

1 roasted red pepper (I have used these from a jar to save time)

1/4 cup each olive oil and vinegar of choice (i prefer balsamic, but your favorite vinegar will certainly do!)

1 clove fresh garlic, minced

salt and pepper to taste.

Cut the red pepper into thin strips, and mix all ingredients together.  Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Enjoy!

Like roasted chickpeas, edamame is also savory when roasted and makes a great snack.  Thaw some frozen edamame, drain on paper towels, toss them on a baking sheet and sprinkle a little olive oil over the top.  Next, add your favorite spices (but don’t forget the salt and pepper), and toss into a 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, stirring 2-3 times during roasting.  Warning: these are addictive!

As you can see, edamame will make a great addition to your diet.  Go ahead.  Try it.  And let me know your favorite way to enjoy this nutritionally packed food!







Eat seasonally!

18 Apr

Try something new. Make a commitment to eat seasonally available foods. Eating seasonally means eating food, but mainly produce, that is in season. With our world wide market place, working farms, and food engineering, many foods are readily available all year long, such as apples, potatoes, and bananas. There are other items though, that are seasonal as well as regional. And they are worth waiting for.

Tomatoes, for example, are a summer fruit. We see them all year in the grocery, glossy and red. But they aren’t always the naturally ripe tomatoes of summer. When tomatoes ripen on the vine, the starch changes to sugar, the color changes from green to red, and the flavor peaks. Unfortunately, many tomatoes are now picked green and “gassed” or “sprayed” with a colorless gas to force ripening on their way to the grocery store. The gas stimulates the enzymes in a tomato to begin the ripening process. The cost of this process as far as flavor goes is huge in my opinion. The tomato is red, but the flavor, for me, falls a bit flat. So I usually wait to enjoy fresh tomatoes only in the summer months.

Variety, as you know, is an important part of healthy eating. And variation in the diet certainly contributes to food enjoyment as well. We all get in a rut and tend to get stuck once in a while. That is when it is time to open a cookbook, buy a new food magazine to flip through, and stroll through a local farmers market for inspiration.

Heading to a local farmers market will help you eat more seasonally,t thus enjoying a more flavorful product. The quality of food available in a farmers market or at a farm stand is fantastic. And the variety is fresh, crisp, and imperfectly lovely. It is also wonderful to get to know local growers.

I have enjoyed local honey, locally made cheese, local meats, and of course, local produce. All from my local farmers market, fresh, in season, and a wonderful way to enjoy the bounty of the season. The variety is outstanding, and it is a great way to get inspired to try something new.  It is also important to support your local community members.  Visiting and purchasing items from a local market puts money back into the local economy.  So important!  And strolling through a local farmers market, coffee in hand, is a great way to spend an early Saturday morning!

Flowers are also great at farmers markets and local farm stands. There is just something happy about a pretty vase with flowers gracing a table. Don’t wait for a special occasion to treat yourself to blooms and blossoms. Surround yourself with beautiful fresh produce and some lovely flowers. Spring is the perfect time to get into a new habit of hitting a couple of farmers markets on a regular basis. You will love the new freshness it will bring!

Mix it Up!

13 Apr

I love to mix it up.  Everything.  But especially my food.  And I always do it, like it or not.  I take a recipe, and add to it.  Change it up.  Add my touch.  I can’t help it.  I especially like to mix it up when making a little snack mix.  A snack mix is great to make because it is always adjustable, you can use what is in the pantry, and a few handfuls can really curb a craving!

What is in a snack mix?  Well, for me, nuts are a standard.  I like peanuts, cashews, almonds…they are all good.  And, of course, nuts are a great source of plant protein.  A healthy addition to any diet.  But they do have a high fat content and should be enjoyed in moderation.  They are also packed with  flavor,  so about 1/4 cup per serving is a good amount to use.

Tossing in some small pretzels is also great in a snack mix.  It adds a little salt, which in moderation, is also necessary in the diet.  Like the nuts, pretzels can satisfy a crunch craving.  But something chewy is good too.  Some dried fruit can add a little chewy sweetness, which juxtaposed with the saltiness of nuts and pretzels adds just the right touch.

A word about dried fruit.  When fruit is dried, the water is removed.  This is what makes dried fruit a little more “shelf stable” than fresh fruit.  Bacteria grows with the help of moisture, so taking the water out allows that food to be a little more portable.  This makes it perfect for a snack mix.  But beware-drying the fruit concentrates the sugar.  In addition to dried fruit having more sugar than its fresh counterpart, it also has approximately twice the calories.  So use dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries, but like the nuts, add in moderation.

What else gets tossed into the mix?  Perhaps a savory small cracker, like a little cheese cracker.  Or a little salt free sesame cracker.  A little added flavor like a small snack cracker always goes into my snack mix.  Now our mix is super crunchy.  Perhaps a handful of carob chips is the perfect finish to our mix.  Carob chips are a nice creamy addition tot he crunchy mix.   What are carob chips you say?  Let me fill you in!

Carob is an evergreen plant.  Carob chips may look like chocolate chips, but the taste is different.  And they are naturally caffeine free and don’t need to be sweetened.  Next time you see them at the grocery store, give them a try.  They are healthier than chocolate chips and a wonderful addition to any snack mix.  So take a little of this, a little of that, and make a sweet crunchy portable healthy snack mix!  How do you make a snack mix?  Let me know!



Dippers, dunkers, and spreaders

12 Apr

My family dinner table is a place of lively discussion.   Always.  And meals around my table can last for hours.  We are a clan of varied opinions.  We have so much to say.  We just don’t shut up either.  And my family and friends all seem to really enjoy lingering around the table before, during, and after a meal. Until a frisbee or football makes an appearance.  Then the table overflow leads to the yard for more lively discussion, debate, and passionate opinions.

One recent discussion was surrounding the art of the pancake.  Well, not so much as the art of the pancake as the art of the butter and syrup.  And the short stack.  Who knew such heated opinions surrounded a sweet delicate quick bread known as the pancake.  But heated and opinionated it was!  And it spilled over to french toast and waffles.  But I digress.

Back to the pancake.  We have dippers, dunkers, and spreaders.  Or at least that was a point of agreement in our wonderfully lively discussion.  Categories.  For eating pancakes.  And that was only after the heated debate over the consistency of the pancake was established.  Crusty edges and mushy center.  Ah, the perfect pancake.  With that finally established the true analysis, with stated pro’s and con’s, could begin.

A dipper is someone who, when eating pancakes, scoots the pancakes to the side of the plate and puts syrup on the other side of the plate.  Then the pancakes are cut and dipped into the syrup, bite by bite.  Cut, dip, eat!

A dunker takes the pancakes, cuts a bite, then dunks it heavily into the syrup.  A dunk and a sweep.  Every bite of pancake gets dragged through the syrup.  The syrup literally drips off the pancakes in a stream as one tries to get it across the plate and into the mouth.  A chin sticky with syrup is a bonus.

A spreader spreads the syrup over the top of the stack of pancakes.   Well, more accurately, pours syrup over the top of the stack of pancakes.  Again, more discussion.  Pour the syrup over the top of the stack?  Yup, but don’t stop there.  The consensus was to lift up every pancake in the stack and douse every one with syrup, not just the top one.  Syrup oozing down the side of a short stack is simply not enough for a spreader.  Each pancake must be graced with syrup.

On to the butter.  Does one butter the top pancake, or lift the pancakes up, one by one, to put butter on each one?   And do you dot or spread the butter?   Lots to consider!  One point of agreement though…butter is a must.  We also agreed that the butter must be spread over the hot pancakes so it can melt.  This was not a heart healthy discussion!

We didn’t even touch on syrup when this recent debate erupted.  Maple syrup or fruited syrup?  Again an area of agreement.  All folks present enjoy maple syrup.  I personally have enjoyed both maple syrup and fruit, but definitely prefer maple syrup.

So where are you on the spectrum?  Let the lively discussion begin!

Scratch made crispy tender pancakes

1 egg, beaten
1 c. milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 c. AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt

Mix beaten egg, milk and vanilla together in one bowl.  In another bowl,  combine remaining ingredients and stir into the egg mixture.  Whisk gently until slightly lumpy. Don’t over mix.
Pour 1/4 c batter onto a hot griddle spaced apart.  Allow them to cook until the tops of pancakes are bubbled and somewhat dry looking.  Turn with spatula. Cook just until the underside is lightly browned.

Enjoy both the pancakes and the discussion!

A Moanable Moment

9 Apr

Yes, that’s right. I said it. I love my “moanable moments”.  Okay, those of you that went there…get your mind out of the gutter!  I am talking about an aromatic moment.  One that inevitably leads to a fantastic flavor moment.  The anticipation created by that first aromatic shot makes the mouth water.  And a great one can cause an involuntary moan to slip out not matter where you are.  We have all had them.  Come on!  Admit it!

I grew up in the Chicago area.   Our local bakery had hardwood floors that were scuffed up and squeaky. The little blue haired ladies running the bakery had to have been 100 years old at least!  Shiny sparkling clean glass was the only thing separating the freshly baked sweets from anxiously waiting customers.  After choosing something from the huge trays behind the glass, treats we’re boxed up in a glossy white box and tied tight with twine. No sneaking goodies before that box landed in moms hands!

Entering that bakery as a child and walking in as an adult still produces that very same moment…a moanable moment.  One in which your head involuntarily tips back a bit, eyes slowly droop closed,  and you take a deep breath in.  The exhale is in the form of a moan.  The scents wafting through the air are just too good.  Words cannot describe the sweet aromas, the anticipation of a freshly baked cookie or cupcake, the absolute denial of all calories about to be consumed, free of all guilt.

Few things evoke this moment, but it is a thing of beauty.  A treat for the nostrils.  A thrill for the palate.  As a lover of food and wine, a passionate cook, and busy mom, these moments come most often in the kitchen these days.  A freshly grilled piece of lemon mustard chicken.  Decadent homemade pizza in the oven, bubbling away.  The fragrant bouquet after uncorking of a fabulous bottle of wine.  “Moanable moments” come in all shapes and sizes.  But each moment is terrific.  What is your moanable moment?  You know what it is!