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It’s (Still) Soup Season!

2 Mar

Step up kids. It’s time to get the soup on. Lets do this! Today we are putting together some tomato basil soup. We will also toss in a couple of roasted red peppers for a special touch. Tonight we have soup, tomorrow we use leftovers for a sauce. But first things first. On to the soup.

To get things going let’s start with flavorful mire poix. What is that you ask? It is a combination of vegetables that are gently cooked. A mire poix is a great base on which to start layering your flavors. I diced up some green onions, celery and some carrots. I also diced some garlic, but that needs to be added in later. First things first.

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Its okay to give these veggies a rough chop. We will smooth this out in a bit. Get your big soup pot out and heating up over a medium heat. After it warms up for a few minutes add some good quality olive oil.

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When your oil is heated up toss your veggies into the pot-but hold off on that garlic for a bit-it burns easily so we will ease that into our soup later.

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Give the vegetables a good stir. Add salt and pepper. I like to have a salt and pepper mix close by when cooking.

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The vegetables will soften and become fragrant. Let them cook for 4-5 minutes and then add the garlic. (Garlic is lovely when roasted but when it burns-well not so much, so it needs to be added right before the tomatoes). Keep stirring gently, and let the garlic cook for about 2 minutes. Now we will add good Italian tomatoes and some roasted red peppers.

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Add the entire contents of the tomatoes to the vegetables in the soup pot. With the peppers, take them out of the oil before adding to the vegetables.

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Keep the heat at medium, stir this all up, and enjoy seeing this bubbling goodness come together. The fragrance filling your kitchen will give you a reason to stand there and do some deep breathing. Yum. Let this simmer for 20 minutes or so, stirring every so often. Then get ready to add another layer of flavor to your soup.

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Now we add the chicken broth. If this will be a vegetarian soup, feel free to add vegetable stock instead. The soup will delectable either way. Also add parsley and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. I like a little heat, so I also add red pepper flakes, but that is optional. The winter soup delight is coming together perfectly.

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Time to add the basil. I grow basil in my summer herb garden, but since it is winter I bought some. Fresh basil is worth it in this soup so get it fresh if you can.

 

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Pull the leaves gently off of the stalks and give them a rough chop. We will use an immersion blender to cream the soup later, so don’t worry about your knife skills. Add the basil to the soup and stir.

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Grab your immersion blender. Don’t have one? Invest in one. I use mine for everything from smoothies to vinaigrette to soups and sauces. This kitchen tool is essential. Put your immersion wand into the soup and blend away. Be mindful of the hot soup and do not allow it to splatter.

You can also put the soup in the blender to smooth out, but be very cautious, go slowly and do it in batches to avoid burns and accidents. I using a blender pour the soup back into the pot. Let the soup simmer while you get your soup bowls out. Fill your bowl up, garnish with fresh parmesan cheese and basil, then get ready for tasty greatness.

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Keep your eye out for my next blog. We will explore ways to use your leftover soup-if you have any!

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Breakfast in Scotland

27 Jun

Breakfast.  What does it mean?  When we sleep, we are fasting, meaning we do not eat.  Breaking the fast, or breakfast, is the first meal of the day.  We are often told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  This is a topic of great debate in nutritional circles and beyond.  As for me, well, it’s not a meal that I skip.

There really isn’t uniformity with breakfast.  Depending on lifestyle, culture,  socioeconomic status, and time constrains, breakfast food varies.  If I have a morning workout, a protein packed breakfast is my go to choice.  If it is a lazy weekend morning, a chewy toasted bagel and some fresh fruit can be wonderful.  And, of course, if there are leftovers around, those also work at times.

Since I like to eat regionally, I enjoy all meals that reflect the personality and culture of the surroundings.  Recently I was in Scotland.  The food was spectacular.  And the breakfast was not only filling, but a very interesting combination…and one that I would not have put together.  But I loved it nonetheless.

As my beloved partner Denis and I steeped ourselves in the people, history and food of Scotland, we noticed that this breakfast was pretty much a staple in every region of the country.  The flavors varied slightly, reflecting the region of the food, but when we ordered the “standard” breakfast, it was consistent.

Breakfast consisted of bacon (it looked and tasted like ham to me, but it was called bacon), potatoes, an egg, a roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, and a sausage. A basket of breads also accompanied the plate.  Sometimes beans and back pudding were present too.  This meal started us off on the right foot.  Daily breakfast left us with a full belly of warm food on which to set out for the adventures that each day held for us.  Breakfast was sustaining, culturally reflective, and delicious.

So the next time you are off on travels, depart from your comfort zone.  Be open to local culturally rich experiences, including culinary.  Break your fast in the way that is right for you, but notice local flair. Scotland held many delights along our travels, and breakfast each morning started our day off just right.  Go out there and have fun. Let me know what you find.

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Snap

13 Jun

Want dinner in a snap?  I think it is possible to put a healthy dinner on the table in less time than going to the drive thru.  Yes, a healthy dinner can be on the table in about half an hour.  With planning.

Sure it takes planning.  But that can be done while standing in line, waiting for a dentist appointment, or waking up with that morning cup of coffee.  It can be as simple as jotting down notes.  I use my smart phone to make my grocery list, and that advance planning helps me get through the store in a snap.

Sometimes planning is just a simple trip to the freezer to pull something out in the morning to cook in the evening.  Let me tell you how simple planning helped me with a healthy home cooked meal last week.

In the morning, I pulled some chicken out of the freezer and popped in the fridge.  By the time I came home from work, the chicken was thawed.  I fired up the grill, lightly seasoned the chicken, ans tossed it on the grill to cook.  The chicken breasts were thinly cut, so I knew they would cook quickly.

In the meantime, I put a pot of water on the stove for some pasta.  Angel hair pasta cooks quickly, so I pulled that from the pantry. It would be perfect with the leftover pasta sauce in the fridge  I took some frozen asparagus from the freezer, and thought it would round out dinner nicely.

The pasta cooked in about 5 minutes.  I also tossed frozen peas (I warmed them with the sauce) into the pasta for a little color. The chicken was done in about 20 minutes.  I let it rest for a few minutes, then sliced the breasts thin.  (Culinary side note:  meat is more tender when allowed to rest.  I time my proteins to be done 10 minutes before everything else.  I then drizzle olive oil over the meat, cover with foil, and let rest). The asparagus went into the microwave.

With a little planning, I had a healthy dinner on the table on a weeknight in about 30 minutes.  what can you make with little time on a weeknight?

Dinner in a snap.  Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus.  YUM!

Dinner in a snap. Grilled chicken, angel hair pasta with cheese pea sauce, and asparagus. YUM!

No Labels Please.

22 Jun

Labels. I loathe and reject them! They are so limiting. The smart one. The athletic one. The workaholic. The baby of the family. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. That’s right. I hate labeling everything including meals. Boring! And limiting!

Breakfast does not have to be oatmeal. eggs, toast, bagel, or cold cereal. These foods can be eaten any time of the day. And if it’s last night’s leftovers for breakfast who cares? There is nothing wrong with chicken, rice, and broccoli for breakfast. If that is what sounds good, go for it.  Dinner has to be a big hunk of meat and a couple of side dishes?  Nope.  Not in my book.  Sometimes a bowl of cereal is perfect for dinner. Sometimes eggs and toast work. My youngest son’s favorite dinner is breakfast! For many years his special birthday dinner request was breakfast, or what some would label as breakfast food.

I am going to tell a story through pictures. It is the story of a meal. But I will not label it. And I will not reveal what time of day I enjoyed this meal (which, by the way, features several servings. I only had one!). I will toss a caveat in saying that it is not a story for the faint of heart. It is of adult nature….it features…dare I say it….bacon and bacon fat. Totally obscene! Outrageous! But it is moderation in the use of the fat that allows my conscience to let this dirty little secret out.

Fresh!  Beautiful!

Fresh! Beautiful!

Lucky for me I have friends who have what I lack…namely a green thumb. This bowl is full of fresh peppers and tomatoes. I was the lucky recipient of this lovely fresh bounty, and I let it inspire me. It took me to a very unexpected place.

Bacon.  Decadent!

Bacon. Decadent!

I began my homage to these fresh ingredients by frying up some bacon in my beloved old cast iron skillet. While the bacon was crisping, I started cutting up the peppers and tomatoes.  When it was done, I scooped out the bacon to drain on  paper towels and disposed of most of the bacon fat in the skillet.  I  left a bit of the grease in my skillet though. The aromas in my kitchen started deepening, layering. Man, was I hungry now!

Pepper mania!  yes!!

Pepper mania! yes!!

I tossed those fresh peppers and tomatoes into that bacon fat. Yes, that’s what I said. Right into the fat. Well here is where I kind of compounded the naughty factor. While the peppers were frying up I went to the fridge and hung on the door. Hunting. Digging. Then I popped to the pantry. Nope…nothing there…went back to the fridge. Here comes more of the naughty…I was seriously misbehaving with that bacon grease!

Peppers to the side...eggs in front!

Peppers to the side…eggs in front!

I pushed the veggies aside and tossed in eggs. Frying eggs in bacon fat. Yup…I warned you! Totally obscene! And completely delish! But my conscience would not allow this dish to be totally devoid of some sort of nutrition. So I made some whole grain toast. No butter.  Next I just  tossed eggs, peppers and tomatoes on the toast. The bacon was on the side.  Fabulous!

YUM!

YUM!

I will not label this meal, nor will I reveal the time of day that this meal was consumed. Let me just say that it was amazing! I cook with bacon grease maybe once or twice a year. I love great food cooked in different ways. And in moderation, I think that everything can be enjoyed. As I said, I only cook with bacon fat occasionally. This dish was certainly worth the wait..and totally label free.

 

Healthy Choices

9 Jun

I love cooking at home.  In my opinion, home food preparation with the freshest ingredients that the budget will allow is key to good health.  But for me, it is also a way to express my creativity as well as my commitment to wellness.  Most days, I find pleasure in going to my kitchen and creating a lovely healthy meal for my family, even after a long day at work.  But lets face it.  As a single mother of 3 kids, it just isn’t always feasible.  So what do I do then?

Sometimes when I don’t have time to cook or grab leftovers,  I go out and make some poor choices with food.  Lack of time means fast food wins at times.  And that’s okay.  Occasionally.  That’s the life of a busy american family nowadays.  We often get the kids off to school, zip to work, run from work to a school meeting, a sport practice, or to run errands.  Time, for most of us, is our most precious commodity.

Recently though, I made a decision to eat healthy even when I ate out.  Actually, I wanted to see if it was possible, especially on my tight family budget.  I am happy to report that it was challenging, but doable.   Not only that, it was enjoyable, flavorful, and satisfying.  What in the world do I mean?  Let me explain.

Have a breakfast meeting?  No time to make a lunch to take to work?  Is the family schedule and soccer practice making cooking at home impossible today?  Well I have good news.  A family can eat healthily at a restaurant.  Last Friday night I met friends out for dinner.  I ordered a hamburger and opted for sautéed veggies instead of french fries.  And this was at a “sports bar” type of restaurant.  I ate my hamburger without the bun with the veggies and it was delicious.  True confessions…Yes, I had a beer too.  But that is a good natural beverage, right?  I mean, hops are all natural flowering plants after all.  I am just saying…..

Back to the food!  A few days ago I went to out breakfast with my daughter.  I was able to have a fresh fruit cup with an egg white sandwich on whole grain bread.  It was a well rounded breakfast that held my tummy till lunch.  (Nothing bothers me more than my stomach “growling in the late morning!”).  Upon seeing my order and how delicious it looked, she also ordered a low cal fresh fruit cup and a nutrient dense sandwich to go with her fruit.  It is entirely possible to have healthy meals out and continue with a commitment to wellness!  When you can’t make a good home made meal, what change can you make today to eat a little better when you go to a restaurant?  Let me know!

A fresh fruit cup from a restaurant.  Eating out in a healthy manner!

A fresh fruit cup from a restaurant. Eating out in a healthy manner!

bar food and leftovers

19 Aug

We are busy.  Kids, careers, appointments, and life in general keeps us busy.  As a nutrition professional, I get asked what I eat all the time, and how to eat healthy when time is tight.   Like I am some kind of benchmark for perfect eating habits.  Or always ready to dispense advice.   Um, I like to get away from my job too.  It’s true that I enjoy healthy food and an active life style.  But hey, even I get tired, cranky, and just want to cheat a little with my meals every once in a while.

It’s no secret that I think leftovers are fantastic to have around.  I like leftovers because they can either be a quick meal or a starter for something else great.  Leftover chicken can be eaten by itself or added to some other dish to create something else, like a chicken veggie pasta dish (healthy) or a quesadilla (bar food).  Either way, leftover chicken, or any leftover protein, is great to have in the fridge.  That is why I cook big and try to keep leftovers handy.

I usually try to have extra’s in the fridge or freezer to get a meal together in a snap.  Staples are a must, and by staples, I mean a well stocked pantry.  That leaves the option of then taking one or two fresh things along with leftovers and easily creating something great.  Sometimes leftovers stand alone, sometimes they becomes something else, like bar food.

By bar food, I mean eating something that is not quite a complete meal.  It’s a nibbler, but more filling, and is great for when you are just too exhausted to put a whole meal together.  Sprinkled into a healthy diet, it isn’t all that bad.  Moderation is key.

It happens to be Sunday evening.  This weekend was not particularly, well, rejuvenating.  My busy week carried over to a very busy weekend.  So tonight it is bar food and leftovers.  We have leftover chunky horse radish spread.  Slap it  on bread, add some cheese, pop into a pan and it’s a little grilled cheese.

Next comes a few bites of leftover melon.  Using fingers.  No utensils to wash.  Then a handful of salt free almonds along with a big glass of refreshing ice cold water.  Yum.  Next, a small portion of leftover spaghetti with a tomato vegetable sauce goes in to the microwave for a quick heating.

That’s it.  A little of this, a little of that.   Not ideal, but for a tired mom, this works every now and again.  True confessions…it’s okay to piece together a meal every now and again.

What’s for Dinner?

9 Apr

My friend  Beth hates this question.  I love it.  For me, it is the creative ending to my busy day.  A chance to express my artsy side.  Hanging out in the kitchen is a time for family to connect after a long day.  Sometimes I will stop at the grocery on the way home from work if I want to make something fresh, like fish.  But usually, I just head to my fridge, freezer and pantry.  Then I unleash the creative juices!

So last night, this is what I pulled out for dinner.

  • Fresh leftover veggies including tomatoes, mushrooms, and yellow squash.
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • Penne pasta (dried in the box)
  • Italian bread, 1/2 loaf pulled from the freezer
  • 1/2 cup leftover pesto
  • a hunk of parmesan cheese

And that, my friends, was dinner.  I started with the chicken.  I seasoned the meat simply, with salt, pepper, and herb de Provence.  After starting the grill and letting it get hot, I plopped the chicken on there to cook.  Meanwhile, I started a pot of water to boil, and then cut the veggies up.

When the chicken was done, I brought it back inside and tented it with some tin foil.  It is a perfect way for meat to stay hot and juicy, and meat should always “rest” for 10-20 minutes prior to serving.   Then I tossed the pasta into the water for its 10 minute boil time and sautéed the veggies in a bit of olive oil.  I seasoned the veggies with a bit of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and some basil.  Simple.

These are the veggies that I sauteed for dinner!

These are the veggies that I sautéed for dinner!

As the pasta finished cooking,  my son set the table.  It was, after all, Manners Monday, so we talked about table settings and appropriate dinner conversation topics.  In my home, while I cook the other family members (and even guests!) are helping to get the meal on the table.  Meals are, after all, a family affair, and all should be present and participating.  Setting the table, pouring water, placing napkins out…these are all necessary prior to the meal coming to the table.  Everyone pitches in.   And to keep the mood light and joyful, I always have music playing.

Okay, so next I drained the pasta, chopped up the chicken, finished sautéing the veggies and tossed it all together back in my big stock pot that the pasta cooked in.  Conserving dishes is important on most work nights!  We loaded up our plates and to the table we went.  Quick, nutritious, homemade, and voila!  A family meal, and moment, came together.  Try it.  What’s in your fridge?  What are you making for dinner?

Dinner!  Pasta and veggies with pesto, and crusty bread! Yummy and easy!

Dinner! Pasta and veggies with pesto, and crusty bread! Yummy and easy!