Archive | October, 2012


28 Oct

It’s getting chilly.  Fall is in the air.  Time to have evening bonfires in the back yard.  The smell of an outdoor fire is amazing…and it represents fall for me.  The kids have a blast.  There is something about a hot crackling fire juxtaposed with the chilly fall air that is exhilarating.  A fire glowing on everyone’s face, kids sitting in chairs wrapped up in fleece jackets, and s’mores.  Yum!  S’mores are a campfire staple.  It’s a shame that you need a campfire to enjoy them.  Or do you?

Okay.  Picture it.  Perfect fall day.  Sun is shining, and the temperature is in the 40’s.  Nice and cool.  Perfect hiking weather.  So after getting Saturday morning errands done early, we set out on a fall hike.  And it was beautiful!  The trees were turning a million shades of red and orange.  Looking upward, the blazingly colorful leaves looked beautiful against the blue Carolina sky.  The scenery was beautiful and the hike felt so healthful!  After a couple of hours of solid hiking, we headed home.  And we were starving!

When we got home, we needed to eat, and fast!  Snacks on the trail were not holding up at this moment.  Although we worked up a sweat on the trail, a shower and “destinkifiying” was going to be second to having lunch.  So I went about grilling up a couple of sandwiches.  And we wolfed them down!

A shower was imperative at this point.  It’s true a skunk can’t smell himself, but I knew that the sweat I had worked up on the trail wasn’t resembling Chanel No. 5!  Off to clean up!  Then we snuck in a late afternoon catnap while catching up on our college football.  After the nap it hit me.  The craving.  So I cheated…and took a huge shortcut.

I had a craving for something sweet. The morning was filled with physical activity, and even though lunch was relatively healthy, something was missing. A trip to the pantry was in order. I foraged through the shelves, and came up with the winning answer.

Jumbo marshmallows, a chocolate bar, and graham crackers. There it was. The trifecta! This was going to lead to something naughty for sure.  I started down the road with reckless abandon.  Here comes my shortcut.

I pulled a bamboo skewer out of the kitchen drawer.  I announced, to no one in particular and with a slight air of haughtiness, that I had just found the most perfect marshmallow roasting stick out in the yard. Everyone knows that a stick from the yard is the only way to start lining up marshmallows for s’mores, but I was already on my cheating road. A skewer was my quick fix.  I loaded that thing up with 4 jumbo marshmallows and set it on the counter.

Next, with a bit of a mischievous feeling, I unwrapped an entire chocolate bar and set it ever so gently on a graham cracker.  I set another perfect graham cracker by its side.  The rich scent of chocolate was almost too much.   I had to sneak a tiny taste and let the chocolate melt on my tongue.

Next, I fired up a burner on my gas stove.  My mouth was beginning to water.  I hate that I was cheating with my s’more…there was no campfire in sight.  No blankets, no crackling fire glowing on the faces of the campers.  Just a gas stove and a craving that had to be addressed.  But I foraged ahead.

I roasted my skewer full of marshmallows on a gas burner.  A bit of a guilty feeling was creeping up, but I pushed it down as the scent of burning marshmallows began wafting through the room.  Oh yes, I roasted my mallows until they had that perfect brown color with some areas of charred burnt sugar.  They were beginning to slip off the skewer.  Time to rush those bad boys onto my chocolate covered graham cracker.

Oh yeah.  I laid those roasted marshmallows down on that chocolate and picked up another graham cracker.  With many years experience driving this culinary delight, my expertise was evident as I ever so gently laid that second graham cracker on top of the marshmallows and slowly slid the skewer out of the middle of the mallows.

A moment to pause in the s’more process here is critical.  The marshmallows have to smoosh.  The chocolate has to begin melting.  This is a work of art in the making.  Then comes the first bite.  Oh so good!  The crunch of the cracker, the creaminess of the chocolate, the dripping oozing marshmallows.  This is a solid 10 on the old “yummy meter”.   Yup, this shortcut was paying off big time!  That nasty craving was quickly disappearing.

A post script here.  This is not a first date food.  This is not even a food that should be eaten in the beginning of any relationship.  It is just impossible to look cute on a date with food falling from your mouth and strings of marshmallow hanging across your chin.  And of course a giggle is inevitable, which opens up the possibility of more food falling out of your mouth.  So make sure your relationship is rock solid before attempting this decadent treat with your person of significance.

So go ahead.  Get a solid campfire going.  Get graham crackers, chocolate and jumbo marshmallows ready.  Celebrate fall with some smooth creamy s’mores!

Pumpkin. The new bacon.

18 Oct

Wow!  That sure got your attention, now didn’t it?  Pumpkin is the new bacon?  You bet.  I read it on the internet so it must be true (insert sarcastic tone and indignant faux cough with a hair toss here).  Seriously though, it’s an interesting culinary perspective don’t you think?  When sharing this statement with a friend, he became certain that this is a conspiracy at work here. He says nothing could ever be the new bacon!

What, exactly, does this mean…the new bacon. Well, I am not sure.  I took it to mean that pumpkin is the new “must have” ingredient that everyone is trying.  So not to be one left in the dark, I decided that pumpkin was MY new bacon.  I became determined to begin cooking with pumpkin.  But first, I delved into the nutritional facts.

First, pumpkin is a vegetable but called a “pumpkin fruit”.  Ironic, but not when you consider that food is often classified in many ways.  Pumpkins date back centuries in our history, and for good reason!  They are delicious, moist, have loads of health benefits, and are a heart healthy food.

Second, we recognize that most varieties of pumpkin are orange.  Color is important in the food we eat.  The pigment has “non nutritive” health benefits.  Pigment in food contributes important antioxidants to our diet. In other words, it is super beneficial to our cells relating to oxidation, a reaction similar to “rust” as we see on metal.  Same basic principle.  The bright orange color means that pumpkin is bursting with antioxidants!  And antioxidants keep our skin elastic and healthy looking.

Another great point to consider is that pumpkin is a great source of beta-carotene, which our bodies convert to vitamin A.  They are low in calories and sodium free.  Pumpkin is also a great source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.  It is a heart friendly food too.  Studies show that canned pumpkin has all of the health benefits that fresh pumpkin does, so there is no reason not to jump on this bandwagon!

Okay, now on to the fun stuff.  Recipes!  Oh, I looked at them all!  Appetizers, desserts, pumpkin dice, pumpkin pureé, pumpkin seeds.  At first I was amazed that pumpkin is so versatile.  Thrilled, in fact, by the possibilities.  But in the end I followed my affinity for grilling and pizza to my very own pumpkin heaven.  Yup.  I made grilled pumpkin pizza.  And it was delish!

I did two pizzas.  One pizza with pumpkin puree as the sauce, and a second with pumpkin chunks as a topping.  Here is what I did.

I bought 2 “sugar” pumpkins, or pie pumpkins.  They are a smaller variety. I cut them in half, took out the seeds and strings, placed the cut side down on a baking sheet, and roasted them in a 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  I pulled them out, turned them open side up, and let them cool.  I could then easily cut the skin away.

2 small sugar pumpkins, roasted and cut out of their skin.

Next, I cut the meat of one pumpkin into a small dice, and the other one I used for the puree.  The puree was intended to be a pizza sauce, so I wanted it thick.  I blended the pumpkin meat with a little butter and milk until it was the consistency I desired.  I also tossed in some salt and pepper.  That is it. Simple!

I made my basic pizza crust on the grill.   But I must digress for a moment for the sake of accuracy.  I certainly had a partner in crime for this event.  Denis was the partner by my side to discuss toppings, seasonings, flavors, and technique.  So I say I, but certainly mean we.  These recipes are the genius of both us.  Now back to the recipes!

I pulled the 2 pizza crusts off the grill and met Denis at the island in the kitchen.  We had a blast loading up our pizza pies!  For the toppings, we decided on goat cheese, grilled ham, and pesto to add to our pumpkin.

Pumpkin pizza. This pizza has half pesto sauce and half pumpkin sauce. Next, we threw some savory toppings on!

The other pizza had diced pumpkin on it.  We did not have a sauce, just the pizza crust and toppings.  Two pizza toppings, 1 with pizza sauce and one with pizza chunks as a topping.  Very different consistencies, mouth feel, and taste sensations.  Both were very pleasant, and had the essence of fall in the flavors.  Fantastic!  These pizzas certainly elicited some moanable moments while being taste tested!

Now it’s your turn.  Get some pumpkins.  Cook them up.  Develop your own recipes,  Mix diced pumpkin with pasta, puree with bread.  Pumpkin risotto.  Pumpkin pancakes.  How many other things can you think of?  For me, this is simply a jumping off point with so many places to go with pumpkin.  Denis is a genius at soups, so I know that an amazingly delicious pumpkin soup is in our future.  Any way you make it, you will be enjoying a fantastic nutrition packed food.  Keep in touch and let me know where pumpkin takes you!

Breakfast for dinner!

2 Oct

Why not have breakfast for dinner?  Every one that knows me knows that I despise labels.  They are limiting.  And to me life is limitless!  I apply this philosophy to life, as well as to food and meals.  This includes the traditional breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  Yes, cereal and eggs are for breakfast.  Sandwiches are for lunch.  Dinner is a big hunk of meat and a couple of side dishes.  Right?  I say forget that!

My youngest son loves breakfast for dinner. So much so that he has chosen breakfast for his birthday dinner more than once.  Leftover chicken and rice for breakfast?  Sure!  Why not!  A good diet is all about balance.  There is no specific order here…no labels.

Listen to your body, and give it what it asks for.  There is a reason you might crave a bowl of cereal for dinner or pasta for breakfast.  After all, isn’t pasta categorized as a grain just like breakfast cereal?  Yes, it sure is.  So dig in when your body asks you to!

A healthy diet is balanced with grains, dairy, protein, fruits and vegetables.  The order of intake really doesn’t matter for most of us.  The exception might include a professional athlete that needs to eat certain things at certain times to maximize training.  The rest of us can pretty much each our daily intake in any order we want.  I love the freedom of that.

As a nutrition professional, I am very aware of what I eat, and what my children eat.  I actually prefer to “front load” my meals.  In other words, I like to eat heavier earlier in the day.  I like to lighten up as the day goes on.  This works for me most days.  Find what works best for you!

For snacks, an easy way to think about them is for snacks to “fill in the blanks”.  By mid afternoon, if I haven’t had enough of my fruits and vegetables, I try to snack on, for example, fruit and yogurt.  It is a sweet afternoon “pick me up”.  If I feel the need to crunch, I have 1/4 cup of mixed nuts with perhaps some dried fruit.

So as I mentioned, I am not a person that likes labels.  Nor am I a morning person.  With that in mind, taking a few minutes in the evening to plan meals and snacks for the next day helps me balance my intake and keep it healthy.  I portion food on weekends or in the evening so that healthy food is a quick grab in the morning.  I get snacks ready and fill up plastic ware and sandwich bags with portable foods.  In the morning I can grab and go.

Take some time, leave the labels behind, and balance out your foods.  Don’t get all caught up in the order and start listening to your body.  And do a little planning ahead of time.  When you come home from the market, that can be a good time to get your food ready to grab out of the fridge.  Put your portable produce, your grapes, your berries, your celery sticks, into sandwich bags.  That makes it super easy to grab a bag in the morning, head out the door, and assure yourself that you have healthy food options for your day!