Comfort-able foods

  • Vegetarian Kale and White Bean Soup
  • BBQ Lentil Loaf
  • Potato, Cauliflower, and Spinach Mash
  • Applesauce

Cooler weather has me thinking of heartier fare but there is no reason your favorite comfort foods can’t also be lighter in calories. Here are some highly satisfying recipes I’ve tried recently.

Vegetarian Kale and White Bean Soup

Raw kale can take some getting used to but I have always enjoyed it in soups.  I started with this recipe for Vegetarian Kale Soup, from Allrecipes.com that packs a lot of nutrition into every bite.

Winter vegetables are still plentiful at our local farmer’s market.  I bought kale, carrots, turnips, and brussels sprouts there this week.  I used both the kale and the greens from the turnips in my soup.  That’s a lot of greens but as you can see here in my before and after shots they wilt down to almost nothing. The second picture was taken after only 2-3 minutes of cooking with lid on.

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I made a few substitutions and alterations to the original recipe in addition to the turnip greens. I substituted fresh chopped tomatoes for the canned and chopped bell pepper for the jarred roasted pepper. I also made my own vegetable broth for the first time using this recipe.  I am looking forward to eating this soup for supper for a few days!

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BBQ Lentil Loaf

There are few foods more comforting than meat loaf. I make a pretty darn good one but I wanted to try a plant based version.  I know, I know, lentil loaf sounds like a total vegan cliche but trust me, you will be surprised by this recipe from one of my favorite sources; Brandi Doming’s “The Vegan 8”.

Her blog and website feature recipes with only 8 ingredients or less and she achieves tons of flavor with a minimum of ingredients. Her BBQ Lentil Loaf did not disappoint. I really like the barbecue flavor and the use of cornmeal and corn.  Lentils are one of the easiest legumes for cook from scratch because they do not require soaking but I think you could use canned lentils if you wanted to skip that step.

Speaking of skipping steps have I mentioned that I hate doing dishes?  Here is one trick I use that minimizes clean up.  After sauteeing the onion and garlic I just added all the remaining ingredients to the saute pan to mix. Brandi’s advice about lining the loaf pan with parchment paper also make clean up a little easier!

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Here’s the finished product served with the potato, cauliflower, and spinach mash recipe that follows.

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Potato, Cauliflower, and Spinach Mash

I will sometimes make a quick meal of mashed potatoes with wilted spinach.  It’s not much of a recipe.  I just wash and cube a potato and steam the cubes for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes I throw a couple of handfuls of baby spinach on top, cover and steam for an additional 5 minutes.  Drain the mixture and remove the steamer insert.  At this point you can mash with a little milk and add salt and pepper to taste. You can add or substitute cauliflower – just steam the florets along with the potato. Sometime I will also add some feta cheese or nutritional yeast.

To take this to the next level you can use this recipe for Kale and Cauliflower Casserole from Paula Dean’s son Jamie.  I tried it a couple of weeks ago, using green onion in place of the leeks.  I skipped the oil, sauteed the onion and kale in water, and used soy milk. My husband didn’t know the difference and said I could make it again.

Crockpot Applesauce

Apples were on sale this week so I grabbed a couple of bags to make homemade applesauce.  This is so easy to do especially if you leave the skin on the apples as I do.  They add fiber and nutrition.

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I don’t add any sugar to my applesauce. My “recipe” consisted of one 3 lb. bag of Honeycrisp apples cut into cubes, 1/2 cup of water, and the juice of one lemon. Combine everything in the slow cooker and cook on high for about 4 hours.  Then use a potato masher (I like this handy tool that I bought from Pampered Chef) to mash to the consistency you desire.

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The cooked applesauce will keep for about a week in the refrigerator or you can freeze up to several months. You can add cinnamon or other flavoring if you like but I left mine plain because I may use it for baking later – applesauce makes a great substitute for oil in muffins and quickbreads.

Hope you enjoyed these recipes.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments.

 

Are You “Sugar Sensitive”?

I recently read about a woman who drop kicked a birthday cake in the grocery store because she was unhappy with the way it was decorated.  She was already in trouble for a separate incident; she slapped the clerk at an ice cream establishment because they ran out of her favorite flavor.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both occasions involved sugary desserts.

Dr. Kathleen DesMaisons, author of “Potatoes Not Prozac” and “The Sugar Addict’s Total Recovery Program”, studied brain chemistry and discovered that some people are born with low levels of the mood regulating chemicals serotonin and dopamine. Low serotonin levels are tied to depression, aggression, poor attention, and poor impulse control. Low levels of dopamine are linked to addiction, low self-esteem, violence, and anger.

The foods we eat change the level of serotonin and dopamine in our brain. Sugar and refined carbohydrates (highly processed foods and things made with white flour) change the levels quickly because they are quickly digested.

Of course what goes up must come down. Dr. DesMaisons found that people with low levels of serotonin and dopamine experience extremes of this cycle. She says these extreme lows and highs manifest as diabetes, fatigue, moodiness, feeble concentration, and emotional outbursts.

Whether they realize it or not, these people use foods containing sugar, simple carbs, and caffeine to regulate their mood.  Dr. DesMaisons was once an addictions counselor and recognized the same patterns that she had seen with other substance abusers. She coined the term “sugar sensitive” to describe it and developed a step by step approach to help people to heal from their addiction.

Dr. DesMaison doesn’t suggest going “cold turkey”. As with any addictive substance sugar withdrawal symptoms can be fierce. She focuses first on behaviors that help to normalize blood sugar levels. The first step in her approach is simply to get in the habit of having breakfast every morning.  She also offers an online support network and weekly newsletter called Radiant Recovery for people who are working through the steps.

Anyone can become “hangry”; a term that describes crankiness resulting from low blood sugar. But if you experience mood swings, turn to sweets and junk food when you are upset, or if you can’t control your consumption of these foods it might be worth investigating further.

I can say from personal experience that you will be surprised by how good you feel with less sugar in your diet.

It’s Chili in Here!

If you are a purist who believes that chili should be made only with ground beef and tomatoes you may wish to stop reading. But, if you have an open mind and are willing to accept that chili might be defined as any hearty stew spiced with chiles in fresh or dried form, then follow me as I broaden your chili horizons.

  • Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili
  • Vegetarian Chili Verde

Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili

I love the combination of southwestern spices with the sweet flesh of pumpkin, squash, and sweet potato.  I chose to make this chili with butternut squash but it really could be made with any of the three.

Preparing a butternut squash can be daunting.  I usually just split them in half, clean out the seeds, roast the whole thing in the oven, and then scoop out the flesh. For this recipe I wanted to start with raw squash so that required peeling. I started out by trimming each end of the squash with a heavy knife so I had flat surfaces to work with. Set the squash upright with the heavy end at the bottom.  Start the knife at the top and use both hands rock the knife back and forth, working it down the length of the squash. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds.

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Now you can lay the flat side down on your cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to remove the rind.  Once that’s done it’s easy to cut into cubes. This was a huge squash so I had more than enough for chili.  I roasted a portion in the oven (about 40 minutes at 375 degrees) for a lunch side, saved another portion that I steamed and mashed later in the week, and still had enough left to stick in the freezer for another time.  What a bonanza from a $2.00 farmer’s market purchase!

Here is the recipe which I adapted from Cookie and Kate, one of my favorite sources:

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3-4 banana or bell peppers, chopped (I used a combination of yellow banana peppers and bell peppers from my garden)
  • 1 small butternut squash (1½ pounds or less), peeled and chopped into ½-inch cubes
  • 4 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chipotle pepper in adobo
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 cans (15 ounces each) black beans, rinsed and drained, or 3 cups cooked black beans
  • 1 small can (14 ounces) diced tomatoes, including the liquid
  • 2 cups vegetable broth (divided)
  • Salt, to taste

 

In a 4- to 6-quart Dutch oven or stockpot over medium heat, warm 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth until simmering. Add the onion, bell pepper and butternut squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are turning translucent.

Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the garlic, chili powder, chopped chipotle peppers, cumin and cocoa powder. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the black beans, tomatoes, and broth. Stir to combine. Cover and cook for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Taste and add salt if needed. I topped this with some chopped avocado which complemented the heat nicely!

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Vegetarian Chili Verde

Remember the green salsa I made back in August? I still had a couple of jars left in the freezer and it gave me an idea. A few years ago I tried a chili recipe that used jarred red salsa in place of tomatoes and I wondered what would happen if I used my stash to create a Chili Verde? I found this recipe at The Washington Post website and adapted it to fit what I had on hand.  Here is my version:

  • 2 large poblano chili peppers; seeded and diced
  • 8 ounces red potatoes cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups green salsa (this is where all the heat comes from so choose according to your taste.)
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups no-salt-added vegetable broth
  • 2 cups frozen corn, thawed
  • 2 cans (14 or 15 ounces) no-salt-added white cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

Heat 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the poblanos, the potato, onion, green salsa, and garlic, stirring to combine. Cover and cook until the onion is tender, about 8 minutes.

Stir in the cornmeal, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper, then add the remaining broth, the corn and the beans, stirring to incorporate. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook until the potatoes are tender and the chili has thickened, 10 to 20 minutes. Taste, and add salt as needed.

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The best thing about these recipes is that they are both made with things that are easy to find and not too scary for the meat eaters in your household.  No tofu or TVP just fresh, frozen, canned vegetables and spices from your pantry.

 

 

 

Is Orange the New Pink?

There’s a whole lot of “pink” going on in October in honor of breast cancer awareness but orange may be a better color choice for women who want to reduce their risk.

Orange is the new

“Orange is the New Pink” is the theme of the breast cancer prevention campaign recently launched by The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine. This organization of physicians and other health promoters would like to change the way we treat chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer by focusing on prevention rather than drugs and surgery. Their goal is to teach people how to take control over their own health through better nutrition.

The “orange” in their message refers to the color of some vegetables and fruits containing carotenoids, specifically beta carotene, which are potent cancer fighters. Beta carotene is found in foods like carrots, butternut squash, pumpkin, and sweet potatoes so it’s easy to see why orange was chosen as the theme color. Beta carotene is also present in in dark, leafy greens (spinach, kale) and in red fruits and vegetables like bell peppers and tomatoes. (Maybe red and green will be the new pink for the holiday season?…)

Research shows that women who consume the most carotenoid-rich fruits and vegetables may reduce their risk of breast cancer by about 19 percent. According to The Institute of Medicine consuming just 3 to 6 milligrams of beta-carotene each day reduces the risk of breast cancer. One medium sweet potato contains two to three times the recommended intake.

To decrease the risk of breast cancer even further women can follow the advice of the American Institute for Cancer Research. Breast cancer risk was reduced by 60% in women who met at least 5 of their “Ten Recommendations for Preventing Cancer”.  The recommendations are as follows:

  1. Be as lean as possible without being underweight
  2. Be physically active for 30 minutes every day. Avoid being sedentary.
  3. Avoid sugary drinks.
  4. Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes (beans).
  5. Limit consumption of red meats and avoid processed meats.
  6. If you consume alcohol; limit to one drink per day.
  7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with sodium.
  8. Don’t rely on dietary supplements to prevent cancer.
  9. New mothers should breast feed exclusively for the first 6 months.
  10. Cancer survivors should follow the recommendations (#1-8) for cancer prevention.

 

Unfrosting the Pumpkin

Pumpkin is an incredibly healthy source of carotenoids which may help to prevent cancer.  In fact, as we raise awareness about breast cancer during October the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine has declared “Orange is the New Pink” in an effort to educate the public about the cancer protective properties of orange/red/dark green fruits and vegetables.

Orange is the new

But pumpkin is not so healthy for us if we turn it in to pumpkin pies and pumpkin cakes and of course pumpkin bars with cream cheese frosting. Here are some recipes using pumpkin that are savory or naturally sweetened.

  • Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin Black Bean Soup
  • Pumpkin Pie Chia Pudding

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

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I love adding fruit to my morning oatmeal.  Blueberries, bananas, peaches, apples; they’re all good so it’s not that much of a stretch to consider adding pumpkin.  About 1/3 cup of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) and 1-2 teaspoons of pumpkin pie spice stirred into cooked oatmeal is a great place to start.  You can also add some chopped pecans, a little maple syrup…you get the idea.

Pumpkin Black Bean (Anti-Oxidant) Soup

I don’t remember where I found this recipe so I can’t give proper credit but it’s one that I make every year at about this time. Because of all the vitamins and minerals present in the beans, pumpkin, tomato, and spices, I’ve rechristened it “Anti-Oxidant Soup”!

Ingredients

  • 2 cans (14-15 oz.) black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes or 2 c. fresh diced tomatoes
  • 2 c. canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 c. red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon each kosher salt, cinnamon, allspice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 3 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Baked pumpkin seeds, for garnish (optional)

Place red onion, garlic, and seasonings into large pot. Add about 1/4 cup of the vegetable broth and cook on low-medium heat until red onion and garlic are tender.

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In blender, puree the beans and tomatoes with half the remaining broth.  Add to the pot. (Or here is what I do. I add the tomatoes, beans, and broth to the the onion spice mixture and use my stick blender to puree.  Saves on dishes!)

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Add pumpkin and remaining broth to pot and stir to combine – a wire whisk works well for this. Simmer uncovered until thick, about 40-45 minutes. Before serving, stir in balsamic vinegar. Garnish with pumpkin seeds if desired. I also like to add some cooked brown rice to make this a complete meal.

Pumpkin Spice Chia Pudding

There are many recipes like this out on the internet. Some have several steps and multiple ingredients, toppings, etc.  I opted for this simple version from Green Evi.  I made it even simpler by combining all of the ingredients together at once and letting them chill together overnight. While this would make a great dessert or snack I opted to eat it for breakfast.

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So skip the sugar and the frost(ing) on the pumpkin to take best advantage of this highly nutritious seasonal food.

 

 

Own Your Health

Note: This appeared in the Sauk Valley Newspapers under the title “A Cure for What Ails You: Healthier Living”.

I work with some very dedicated and caring medical professionals and our organization as a whole has been recognized for quality care in many areas. We do our very best to fix whatever illness you might have but we should all realize that modern medicine has its limitations.

If you come to your doctor’s office or the hospital with symptoms of disease your physician will treat the symptoms according to established standards of care.  They will use medications and/or procedures to lower your blood pressure, control your blood sugar, improve your lung function, reduce your cholesterol numbers, unclog your arteries, etc., etc. Most of the medications prescribed will have unwelcome side effects and all surgical procedures come with some degree of risk. And unfortunately, these treatments do not address the underlying cause of the illness.

The top 10 causes of death in the United States are: heart disease*, cancer*, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder)*, stroke*, accidents, Alzheimer’s, diabetes*, pneumonia*, kidney disease*, and suicide. At least 7 of these (the ones with asterisks) are related to our own unhealthy behaviors.  Smoking, poor diet, and lack of physical activity are the primary contributors.

We may not like to accept the responsibility for our poor health. We’d like to blame our parents or our genetics but science is showing that what we do with our fingers (smoking), forks (eating), and feet (exercise) can turn “on” or “off” the genes that might predispose us to cancer, heart disease, and other illnesses.

As an example I refer you to the work of Dr. Dean Ornish, one of the pioneers of preventive medicine.  He has done clinical trials with heart patients and with prostate cancer patients.  In both groups he was able to show a reversal of symptoms with a lifestyle related prescription.  Patients consumed a plant based diet, participated in regular physical activity, and were taught how to manage stress.  Another very famous physician who has had great success in reversing existing heart disease is Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn of the Cleveland Clinic. I encourage you to look into their research.

While drugs and procedures can address symptoms of lifestyle related diseases, we can’t expect our illness to go away if we continue to practice unhealthy behaviors. Most importantly we should realize that we can prevent, and in some cases even reverse, most of the diseases that kill us before our time.

 

The Last of the Tomatoes

Tomato season is definitely winding down but if you are like me you may still have a collection on your counter in various stages of ripeness.  A friend last week asked me what to do with all of her end of season tomatoes so thought I would share the same ideas with you.

  • “Fried” Green Tomatoes
  • Oven Roasted Tomatoes w/ Garlic
  • Bruschetta

“Fried” Green Tomatoes

This is the same recipe that I featured a few weeks ago as a way to cook eggplant slices.  Simply cut green tomatoes into thick slices crosswise, brush both sides with mayonnaise, and dip both sides in seasoned bread crumbs.  Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes; turning once halfway through.  Serve with a topping of marinara or you could top with the following oven roasted tomatoes.  Tomatoes on top of tomatoes.  That’s a good way to use them up!

Oven Roasted Tomatoes w/ Garlic

This is a great way to use up those overripe, bruised, and dented grape, cherry, and plum tomatoes.  I don’t grow cherry tomatoes but I rescued a bag full from the informal “Farmer’s Market” at our employee entrance a couple of weeks ago. (And by the way, thank you to whoever it is that leaves those offerings!)  You could use larger tomatoes also but I would squeeze some of the excess juice and seeds out of those before cooking.

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Wash tomatoes and cut larger ones in half.  Try to get them all about the same size.  Take a few cloves of garlic (again this is to taste – use as few or as many as you would like.)  Remove the husk from the garlic clove and slice thinly.  Spread tomatoes on oiled or foiled baking sheet and sprinkle with the garlic slices.  If you would like to add additional oil at this point you can drizzle it on and toss everything together then spread the mixture evenly over the baking sheet again.

This is not so much a recipe as a method because the quantity depends on how many tomatoes you have on hand.  Try not to crowd them too much on the baking sheet because you want them to roast and dry out a bit.

Bake in a slow oven, about 300 degrees for 60-90 minutes.  Again, this will depend on the size of your pieces but you want everything to be very soft and much of the moisture to have evaporated.  At this point you can add some salt and pepper if you want to.

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The finished product can be served immediately over things like pasta or the fried green tomato recipe above.  This week I ate the last of mine over some fresh green beans.  You can store in the refrigerator for up to one week or freeze for use in any recipes that call for sun dried tomatoes.

Bruschetta

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Bruschetta (brew-sketta) is an Italian dish that is basically toasted bread with toppings. One classic topping includes tomatoes with olive oil, vinegar, garlic and basil. It’s something I could eat every day during tomato season.  It’s also the signature dish of one of my book club friends and we force her to make it every year when it is her turn to host.

  • 1 Loaf French or Italian bread cut into 1/2 inch thick slices
  • 2-3 cloves garlic; husks removed
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (I like plum tomatoes but you can use any variety.  Larger tomatoes should be squeezed to remove extra juice and seeds…see pic below)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (I like balsamic or red wine)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Chop tomatoes into bite sized pieces and combine with olive oil, vinegar, and basil.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Toast both sides of bread on grill or under broiler.  Rub one side of each slice of toasted bread with garlic cloves.  (The cloves will “melt” into the bread). Serve bread beside the tomato mixture so people can spoon it on for themselves.

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And last, but not least, you can use up those fresh tomatoes by substituting them for the canned variety in your favorite recipes.  I made this skillet baked bean recipe from The Vegan 8 last weekend that called for pureed tomatoes. The tomato you see me squeezing in the above picture got cut into pieces and zipped in my personal blender.  Voila; pureed tomatoes!

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A Few of My Favorite Things

I had a birthday recently so I thought I would share recipes for some of my very favorite foods with you.

  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
  • Gazpacho
  • Swiss Chard Pesto

Green Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I absolutely love salsa verde and I can’t believe that I never tried to make it for myself until recently.  It’s easy, saves money, and you can make it without all the sodium that is present in commercial products.

Salsa verde starts with tomatillos, an ingredient you might not have used before.  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes but they are actually related to the gooseberry.  To clean them just hold the tomatillo under warm running water and pull off the husk. They tend to be a bit sticky so this helps to wash the stickiness away, too.

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Here’s what you’ll need to make approximately one quart of salsa:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. tomatillos (I try to get them all about the same size so they will roast evenly)
  • 1-2 jalapenos to taste; stems removed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 white onion, cut into quarters
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Everything goes on a sheet pan. I covered my pan with non stick foil.

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Preheat your broiler to high and move the rack to the highest position so that the vegetables are only 2-3 inches away from the heat.  Broil for about 15 minutes, turning everything over halfway through.  You want some roasted black spots on everything but the garlic.  The tomatillos will soften and change color.  I usually babysit closely in the last few minutes; removing what looks done and returning the rest to the broiler until everything is done.  The garlic cloves need to be removed from their skins (just cut off one end and squeeze) and then everything goes right into the blender.

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Use the “grind” or “chop” setting on your blender to keep some texture and blend just until there are no large pieces left.  At this point you can add some salt, pepper if desired, and sometimes I add the juice of a lime.

Green salsa is great for serving with tortilla chips or as a topping for enchiladas and grilled meats. Try stirring some into mashed avocado for a different kind of guacamole, too.

Gazpacho

This a perfect time of year to make this cold soup that features the ripest tomatoes from the garden. I started with this recipe for  Classic Andalusian Gazpacho from Epicurious.  While the addition of cucumber is not necessary I had one so I threw it in. Since I planned to freeze a portion of this soup I did not add the bread but I can do that before I serve it.  I also did not add the oil or strain the solids from the soup.

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This couldn’t be any easier. There is absolutely no cooking involved. Just some chopping, blending, chilling, and you’ve got a refreshing warm weather meal.

Swiss Chard Pesto

A classic pesto consists of basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated parmesan cheese.  I grow basil every summer and this is my absolute favorite way to use it.  There are many variations. I’ve made pesto with baby spinach, artichoke and olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Since I have quite a bit of chard in the garden this year I’ve made this version several times.  Here is my recipe:

  • 6-8 large leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts may also be used)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I substitute nutritional yeast to make this vegan)
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or use more water if avoiding oil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cut chard into ribbons and steam for about 5 minutes.  Removed from steamer and cool.  Put the cooked chard, basil, nuts, cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and water into food processor or personal blender and pulse until the mixture begins to break down and come together. Add olive oil to the mixture and pulse a few more time to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto has many uses. I made an awesome sandwich last week by spreading pesto on a baguette and topping with grilled vegetables and sliced fresh mozzarella.  It’s good dribbled over sliced tomatoes and can be served hot, warm, or cold as pasta sauce or for dressing pasta salads. I also use it to flavor mashed potatoes.

All of these recipes are great ways to use summer produce and I think it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite foods taste best at the time of my summer birthday.

 

 

Pay Attention to Artificial Food Colors

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You may have seen television commercials recently for kid’s cereals proclaiming that artificial colors have been removed from their products.  Another current commercial for a popular brand of macaroni and cheese makes the statement “Earlier this year, we started quietly selling Kraft macaroni and cheese with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. And guess what? It still tastes like Kraft macaroni and cheese.”

Why are food manufacturers removing these ingredients from their products? And maybe the better question would be why were those ingredients added in the first place?

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, artificial colors are added to foods in order to “offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; (and) provide color to colorless and “fun” foods”.

While manufacturers believe that they are making foods more palatable there is evidence that the chemicals used to create artificial colorings contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity in children.  Some are also linked to allergic reactions. The first studies on this were actually done in the 1970’s but there have been at least 8 analyses (comparing data compiled from multiple studies) done since 2011 that show that eliminating artificial food dyes reduces hyperactive behavior in some children.

How much artificial coloring does it take to create a noticeable difference in behavior? In one study it took as little as one serving of a beverage containing artificial coloring.

Artificial coloring is present in a wide variety of packaged food.  It is obvious in some; things like candy, cereals, and fruity beverages, but also surprisingly present in things like pickles, yogurt, frozen dinners, and flavored oatmeal. Because these colorings are so prevalent in our food supply an average child will consume multiple foods in any given day that contain artificial coloring.

In a perfect world we would cook our own meals using whole fresh ingredients and we would not need to artificially enhance the color or rely on chemical flavorings and preservatives.  But the fact is that most Americans will buy at least some processed and packaged foods.  To avoid these chemicals the best advice is to read labels.

Artificial colors are listed in the ingredient label as the color and a number, i.e. red 40, yellow 6, etc. Other additives may also be listed, things that do everything from increasing shelf life to artificially increasing fiber and vitamin content.  Look for foods that contain the fewest ingredients possible and preferably ingredients that you recognize.

Eggplant Three Ways

When it comes to growing eggplant I was something of an overachiever this year. My 5 plants yielded half dozen or more fruits each.  That’s a lot of eggplant for a two person household.

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My husband is content to slice eggplant, brush it with oil, and throw it on the grill but I prefer to use it in other types of dishes. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes and a new one I tried recently:

  • Caponata
  • Easiest Eggplant
  • Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

Caponata – #1 Favorite

Caponata is a sweet and sour relish that can be used as a bruschetta topping or served over pasta.  I use this recipe from Epicurious.com. In the past I’ve varied the ingredients by using fresh tomatoes in place of the canned and adding additional vegetables like zucchini and peppers.  It’s a great recipe for this time of year for that reason. Here is my pan full of fresh ingredients and the finished product served over toasted slices of whole wheat baguette.

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A few years ago I worked on a garden project with a local summer day camp and we grew eggplant in the garden.  I made caponata for the kids to taste and one young man told me it was “better than candy”.  Therefore, I can confidently say this recipe is kid tested and approved.

Easiest Eggplant – #2 Favorite

Eggplant Parmigiana may be the one eggplant dish that most people are familiar with.  It’s usually prepared by breading and frying the eggplant and then covering it with loads of tomato sauce and lots of melted cheese.  Here’s a healthier alternative. I’ve also used this recipe with sliced green tomatoes. The original recipe comes from Allrecipes.com.  This is my version:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 4 tablespoons (or less) mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I put a slice of bread in my mini food processor)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with non stick aluminum foil. Combine the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and parmesan in a shallow dish. Coat each slice of eggplant on both sides with mayonnaise. Press into the bread crumbs to coat.

Brushing and breading on both sides can get a little messy but I figured out a neater method. Lay the eggplant slices on a cutting board and brush them with the mayonnaise on one side.  Flip the mayonnaise coated side of each slice into the bowl with the bread crumb mixture and press down to adhere the crumbs.  Brush mayonnaise on the top, flip the slice over with tongs and press down again.

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Place coated eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Flip slices over, and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to brown the other side. I top each serving with some of my homemade marinara sauce.  So good!

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Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

I found this recipe in the “Nutrition Action” newsletter published by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  The CSPI is a non profit organization that focuses on improving the health and safety of the U.S. food supply.

Each issue of Nutrition Action focuses on food ingredients in packaged and restaurant meals and how they affect our health.  They also throw in a few recipes using whole, fresh, ingredients and this one caught my eye.  I think you could use any kind of cooked grain or small pasta with good results (i.e. rice, quinoa, couscous).  I used kasha which is bulgur that has been toasted.  This comes together quickly so would be a good weeknight meal:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup bulgur (or substitute one cup of another cooked grain product)
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant (1/2 lb.) cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup no salt added crushed tomatoes (I used chopped fresh plum tomato)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil and/or parsley leaves, chopped (I used a combination of both)

Soak the bulgur in 3/4 cup hot water for at least 10 minutes.  (Bulgur is a quick cooking grain; if you substitute something else you will want to cook your grain according to it’s own package directions.) Meanwhile in a large non-stick pan heat oil over medium high heat.  Saute the eggplant, turning occasionally for 5-8 minutes until it browns on 2 or 3 sides.  Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes.  Simmer an additional 3-5 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Stir in the bulgur and cook until any liquid is absorbed, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs.  Season with salt if desired. This serves 4 people; 180 calories per serving.

You could serve this as a side dish; I added chickpeas to make it a complete meatless meal.

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Hope these recipe will inspire you to try this underappreciated vegetable.