Archive | July, 2013

Ups and Downs

29 Jul

“Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue”.
Dilbert

We all have our ups and our downs. And both are necessary to keep things in perspective. After all, we could not appreciate the sunshine without the rain! But some days it is difficult to see the sun through the rain.

Some days are jam packed, and it can seem impossible to get ahead. Other days it feels like a bull’s eye is on us. No matter what kind of day it is, though, I try to focus on the positive things. I think keeping a healthy mind and spirit are critical to wellness, and wellness is an important value of mine.

As a mother, I think it is super important to keep healthy as a good role model for the children. As a manager, a positive attitude is critical for keeping a team running well. As a woman, we are a role model for many and must put ourselves first in order to serve others in a nurturing role. That may sound counterintuitive, but let’s face it. No one will give us permission to put ourselves first. We need to take that initiative in order to keep balanced.

Focusing on the positive is a good way to keep a cool vibe, a healthy spirit, a good attitude. That is critical for a happy life. I don’t remember who said these wise words, but it sure works: “If you aren’t happy, fake it, and before you know it you have convinced yourself that you are happy”. It also brings to mind one of my favorite Dilbert quotes, so noted above.

We all have days when we feel like the statue. But if we complain, we remain. We must rise above it. Mind over matter. Central to wellness. Balance. And happiness.

Salsa. Its not just for vegetables anymore!

21 Jul

That’s right.  I said it.  Hey, I love salsa and chips as much as the next guy, but with the bounty of beautiful summer fresh fruits, I just have to take my salsa recipe and change the ingredients from veggies to fruit.  I do this every summer.  My fresh fruit salsa is now a requested summer staple.  A salsa of any kind is usually raw cut or chopped vegetables or fruits.  Typically a salsa is used as a condiment.  It can also be used with corn chips as an appetizer or snack.

This fruit salsa is delicious with meats, but it is just great with corn chips too!  It has bold flavor, so a little goes a long way.  A flavorful salsa is easy to make, and extremely versatile.  It is easily customizable to suit your own personal flavors.  I make this fruit salsa with cilantro for a little kick, but I would substitute it if my mom was going to eat it.  She doesn’t like cilantro.  But that is the beauty of a recipe like this.  It is packed with flavor, has good nutrients, and is very colorful.  And so easy to alter to please your crowd!  Here it is.  But remember…I consider recipes a “jumping off point” if you will.  Recipes that I develop, like this one, can be changed to suit changing taste, available ingredients,  or budgets as often as your like!

Fresh Summer Salsa:

  • 1 cup chopped cantaloupe
  • 1 cup chopped honey dew melon
  • 2 freestone peaches, chopped
  • 1/2 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 bunch chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped jalapeno pepper
  • 1 lime cut in half
  • pinch of salt

Mix everything except the lime together. Stir. Squeeze the fresh lime over the top.  Give the salsa another good stir  This is best if it sits for a few hours in the fridge before serving.  I have used this as a topping for grilled pork tenderloin and with low fat corn chips as a starter.  Go for it!  Grab up some fresh summer fruits and make a delicious salsa of your own!

Chop up some melons.  About a cup of each should do!

Chop up some melons. About a cup of each should do!

Next, chop up 2 peaches, mix with the melons and add the black berries.

Next, chop up 2 peaches, mix with the melons and add the black berries.

Toss in some diced red onion and some cilantro.

Toss in some diced red onion and some cilantro.

Give everything a good mix.  Then squeeze the fresh lime over it.  Give it another good stir and into the fridge it goes!

Give everything a good mix. Then squeeze the fresh lime over it. Give it another good stir and into the fridge it goes!

Roasted Garlic! YUM!

18 Jul

I remember the first time I had roasted garlic.  It was many years ago at a sheshefoofoolala restaurant in my home town of Chicago.  The server brought a flat plate to the table along with roasted garlic, olive oil, and seasonings.  To my surprise, she smashed that roasted garlic with the back of a fork, added the seasonings, mashed it some more, then added some olive oil.  The server then invited us to enjoy this concoction with the fresh italian bread on the table.  Holy cow was that fantastic!  I became an instant convert.  Now I make it all of the time!  Good thing it is a snap to make!  Let me share it with you.

Take a bulb of garlic and cut the bottom off so that all of the cloves are exposed.  Place the bulb of garlic, cut side up, in a large piece of tin foil.  Drizzle some olive oil over it, and sprinkle a dash of salt and pepper on it too.  Seal up that foil pouch nice and tight.  Crimp the top.  Then simply toss it in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Take a whole bulb of garlic.  Chop the top off.

Take a whole bulb of garlic. Chop the top off.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil.

Place the bulb into the center of a large piece of tim foil

 

While that is baking, enjoy the rich nutty aroma filling the kitchen.  When it is done, pull it out of the oven and place on a heat proof surface.  Open the top and let the steam out.   This needs to cool a bit so you can handle it with your hands.  When it cools a bit just squeeze the cloves out of their paper wrappers.  Use it any way you choose.  The most difficult thing about roasting garlic is deciding what to do with it.  I have mashed it up and spread it on bread just like the first time I had it.  I have also added it to sauces, and it is absolutely outrageous in mashed potatoes!  I also use the oil that the garlic roasted with in the foil.  No need to waste even a tiny morsel of this!

That is all there is to roasted garlic.  Don’t you dare go buy one of those silly little garlic bakers.  First of all, I do not like kitchen utensils that can only do one little job.  Second, there is no need for one.  I have tried them, and tin foil works just as well as the little baker.  And by the way, my little baker cracked pretty quickly.

get that foil pouch nice and tight.  Then toss it in the oven!

get that foil pouch nice and tight. Then toss it in the oven!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!

Just look at this delicious roasted garlic!

 

A word of warning however.  This delicious treat may cause some gas.  Along with the breath thing, garlic has a little gas thing to deal with as well.  It may produce some methane in the lower GI system.  You may “make a little music” out the back end after having garlic of any kind.  (In my house we act surprised if a little backend music escapes and blame it on barking spiders somewhere in our vicinity).  This is fine is you are hanging around the house or with close friends after consuming this tasty treat.  But beware if you are heading out for a night of fun after eating this tasty treat.  I speak from experience…

We made the mistake of having roasted garlic, and lots of it, for Christmas Eve dinner one year.  We slathered it on the bread at our dinner table, and allowed the incredible flavors to overtake us…consuming way too much.  After dinner we toddled off to midnight mass in celebration of Christmas.  We grabbed our usual pew in the church…right up front.  Let’s just say that we spent the mass partially focused on keeping out butt cheeks pretty tight.  We never made that mistake again!

Don’t let a little gas stop you from this yummy treat.  Try it, and let me know what you do with it!  Let your creativity shine!

Dressings just aren’t that hard!

14 Jul

Its time to step up here.  Beautiful summer vegetables are bursting out of gardens and farmers markets.  They can be fixed a million ways.  Vegetables can be steamed, sautéed, roasted, grilled, blanched.  The list goes on, but as the summer steamy weather is also upon us let’s go for something cool and refreshing.  Many veggies can be prepared then chilled, or eaten raw.  When we prepare vegetables that way we can also add a nice dressing.  And they just aren’t that difficult to create.  So let’s get busy!

I have passed along to you my bleu cheese dressing recipe.  Now let’s just focus on a simple vinaigrette.  Vinaigrettes are fabulous on a salad, but also on cold vegetables.  Like cooked fresh green beans?  Try cooking them, cooling them and serving them chilled with a lovely home made vinaigrette.  Once you get the hang of this super easy dressing, develop your own relationship with it, and let it reflect your own personal taste, I promise you will quickly become an enthusiast!  Soon you will be dousing your cucumbers and cold carrots with a light vinaigrette to reflect the season!

First, a word about vinaigrette.  Generally, the base is one part vinegar to 3 parts good olive oil.  You can use a bold vinegar like balsamic, a mild vinegar such as apple cider, or get a little crazy with grapefruit infused vinegar!  But best to start slowly and let your flavors grow and develop as you get the hang of making this.  Also, you can add a little lemon juice to your vinegar. Here we go.

  • 2 T. vinegar
  • 1 t. lemon juice (optional)
  • 6 T. olive oil
  • 1 t. Dijon mustard or dried mustard (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of fresh herbs in season, or dried, such as  parsley, chives, or tarragon.

Put vinegar in a bowl.  Whisk the vinegar with a pinch of salt.  This is the time to add your mustard if you prefer it in your vinaigrette.  Whisk until salt is dissolved.  Add other ingredients and whisk until well incorporated.  Sometimes I make my vinaigrette in a jar with a lid and shake it.  That is all there is to it.  Budget friendly, delicious, simple and easy.  Start making yours today.  Dress your salad or cold vegetables and celebrate the season with this chilled refreshing twist!

Romaine-the free lettuce!

12 Jul

So I decided to try gardening this year.  Like in the ground.  I say that because I have tried, and had success, with container gardening.  This year ambition got the best of me.  I was ready for the transition from container to actual dirt, yard, and a little fence to keep the deer and rabbits away.  With planning done, seedlings planted, and yard placement decided I started to get excited.  I was very conservative with my garden knowing time is tight for gardening.  Just some herbs, peppers, and lettuces.  Easy.

Discussing the garden with my cousin’s wife Robin, a righteous gardener in her own right, she was only too happy to generously share some tips with me.  Her husband, my cousin Brian, owns Foothills Compost, the best natural and chemical free compost ever, so they know a thing or two about healthy chemical free gardening.  Having a natural organic chemical free garden is of utmost importance to me, so when Robin talks to me about gardening, I listen!

While Robin isn’t as cheap…I mean as thrifty…as me, she has lots of inexpensive tips.  My favorite tip so far is how to regrow romaine lettuce.  It is a snap, organic, and perfect for those of us on a food budget.  We each a lot of salads with a variety of flavorful and crisp lettuces, and romaine is usually in the mix.  I always cut lettuces fresh for salads, so the next salad I made, I kept the bottom of the romaines.  I used 3 heads for a family dinner salad, so that is where I began.

After dinner, I took the bottom section of the romaine, the section that I did not use for the salad and simply put them in a bowl.  I  added about 1/2 inch of tap water, and set the bowl on my sunny kitchen window sill.  Simple!  And the romaine quickly rewarded the impatient gardener in me by sprouting the next day!

That is all there is to it.  Conceivably, I may not have to buy romaine lettuce anymore.  If I get more heads of lettuce sprouting, I can have a continuous cycle.  I am thrilled with the results so far, and will keep you posted!  Let me know what happens when you try this fantastic tip.  And if you are gardening, ask your favorite nursery for Foothills Compost!

Day 2, already sprouting!

Day 2, already sprouting!

Day 3, more growth!  We are well on the way!

Day 3, more growth! We are well on the way!

Look how quickly the romaine sprouted!  Isn’t this fantastic?  So easy!  I am so excited!

Quinoa. Grain or seed?

10 Jul

Grains are nutritious, flavorful, and have been around for centuries.  They have been written about in a variety of literature, and I am not just talking cookbooks and magazine articles.  Grains are a featured food in the bible.   If you aren’t into them, they are worth a second look.

Some grains contain gluten, so if you suffer from Celiac disease or have a gluten intolerance, you have to be careful with your grain choice.  One grain that is gluten free is quinoa.  It is yummy and delicious.  I eat it, my kids eat it, and I bring it as a dish to parties sometimes.  It is a fresh and different side dish.  This summer I have been making it into a cold salad.  It has been a big hit, and a dish chock full of nutrients to put alongside the deviled eggs and potato salad.  But what is quinoa?  I will tell you!

Quinoa (pronounced kinwa) is considered a whole grain, but it’s actually a seed.  The history of this food dates far back.  It is documented that the Incas cultivated quinoa centuries ago.  It contains 9 essential amino acids, so it is a whole protein.  There aren’t very many grains that are whole proteins, so this is an excellent source of plant protein.  Quinoa is also rich in fiber, iron, vitamins and minerals.  And it is fat free unless prepared with fat.  Cooking quinoa is similar to cooking rice.  It can be eaten warm and freshly prepared, or chilled and made into a salad or chilled pilaf.  Throw in some vegetables, and you have an inexpensive and nutrient dense food.  That hits all the bells and whistles.

As I said, I have been preparing it chilled this summer.  This is my simple recipe.  It is easy to make, but even better, you can substitute your favorite vegetables.  Yum!

Amy’s Summer of 2013 Cold Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water or stock (vegetable or chicken are delicious!)
  • 1 T butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 peeled, cored and chopped cucumber
  • 1 small bag shredded carrots
  • 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces feta or goat cheese crumbles (optional)
  • olive oil
  • balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • salt and pepper to taste

Put a large saucepan over medium to medium high heat.  Add butter and allow to melt.  Add chopped onion.  Saute for 3-4 minutes, until the onion is translucent.  Add the liquid and quinoa.  Stir and allow it to boil.  When boiling, turn the heat down to low and let this simmer for 15 minutes.  Taste it to make sure it is tender.   It may need a splash of water and another stir.  It should be firm to the bite but not sticky or chewy.

When done, spread out in a large dish to cool, cover and put in refrigerator.  About an hour before serving, mix in the vegetables and cilantro. Sprinkle with vinegar, oil, and if desired, cheese crumbles.  Place back in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the quinoa out to cool quickly.  Pop it into the fridge until ready to use.

Spread the quinoa out to cool quickly. Pop it into the fridge until ready to use.

Vegetables to add to quinoa salad.  Lovely colors and packed with nutrients!

Vegetables to add to quinoa salad. Lovely colors and packed with nutrients!

Mix the cooled quinoa and the fresh veggies.  Mix some olive oil and balsamic vinegar in and refrigerate until use!  Yum!

Mix the cooled quinoa and the fresh veggies. Mix some olive oil and balsamic vinegar in and refrigerate until use! Yum!

Done!  What a colorful dish!

Done! What a colorful dish!