Posts tagged ‘cooking’

Cooking with Color

It’s encouraging to see so many articles, films, pintrests and youtube videos dedicated to healthy eating, especially those that advocate consuming a mostly plant based, whole foods diet. Hopefully this is a trend that is enduring, not another short lived fad. I’ve long felt that if more people were introduced to quality  fresh produce (instead of canned and/or frozen),  there wouldn’t be so many veggie haters out there. My mom used to make creamed  spinach from a can, canned peas, canned corn and canned asparagus, frozen broccoli and frozen Brussels sprouts. Lucky for me, she preferred fresh, but the family budget only allowed for seasonal fresh ingredients. Frozen produce is fine in a pinch, and in some dishes, like soups and casseroles, it’s hard to taste a difference. A couple veggies are actually better frozen because they’re processed so quickly from the field. Petite frozen peas are most notable, so good just defrosted from the freezer and thrown in a salad or a flash reheat in the microwave, no added water.

Fast forward 30 or 40 years, and the market is a whole different story. Nearly every variety of fresh produce is available year round. I would venture to guess that the average consumer doesn’t think about what’s in season, other than noticing price fluctuations. It makes cooking a never ending adventure, especially if you try to add color to every meal. When life gets too busy I do use occasional canned ingredients, like beans and tomatoes, but I generally try to plan ahead and avoid them all together.

Following a trip to our local farmers market (at a flea market), the house is filled with a variety of fresh produce, allowing for a virtual rainbow of color on the dinner plate.

Cooking with Color

Here I concocted a sweet potato hash with sliced organic chicken-mango-jalapeno sausage (no nitrates or other  preservatives), peeled and cubed sweet  potatoes, purple onions, and broccoli with a, side salad of beets, mangoes, avocado and goat cheese over arugula drizzled with walnut oil and orange juice. No real recipe needed, just start sauteing and add as you cook, soft vegetables last. I threw the broccoli at the very end for a little extra crunch and color.

Last night, we wanted a light dinner and the produce was getting low (it’s a weekend thing), but by perusing the pantry and fridge, I came up with plenty of color. I thoroughly drained and rinsed a can of black beans (organic and rinsed extremely well), chopped an orange sweet pepper, a couple tomatoes, half of a Bermuda onion, corn and avocado and tossed in some lime juice, olive oil, cayenne pepper and salt, and put it in the fridge to marinate.  Also from the pantry I found 2 cans of Wild Alaskan salmon which I mixed with the other half of  the onion, whole wheat bread crumbs from 2 slices of bread, 2 eggs, half of a diced pablano pepper, 1/4c lemon juice, 2t dijon mustard, and salt/pepper to taste. If I wasn’t out of it, celery would be in there too. I heated up the pan, added enough olive oil to coat the bottom, and grilled four patties until golden brown on each side.

Salmon Patties and Black Bean Salad Over Greens

After flipping them, I topped with soft goat cheese, covered the pan, and let it melt/soften while the second side cooked. Since the meal already had plenty of carbs, I mixed up some baby spinach and arugula, and served everything on top. The result was a beautiful color combination and delicious meal!

Part of the trend towards fresh produce is a move away from processed grains and towards more greens. Almost any dish can be served over greens, especially spinach, which “cooks” or wilts perfectly when hot food or soup is place over the greens.

Grilled Salmon, Steamed Cauliflower, Saute’d Green Beans over Salad

Think out of the box – instead of using rice, potatoes, pasta, as a base – use greens. The possibilities are endless…

Turkey Burger Topped with Manchego and Raspberry Vinaigrette over Blanched Broccoli and Greens

Stuffed Pablano Over Greens

Rotisserie Chicken Salad with Mango and Avocado


Roasted Swiss Chard Salad

In a perfect world, I would blog nearly every day. It’s been months since I’ve been to this page, and multiple recipes and meals are photographed and ready to share. Life happens. But with the seasonal change, my inner cook emerges in a big way. Moving from summer to autumn is my favorite time of year to be in the kitchen. This year the Wall Street Journal provided a couple of recipes for Thanksgiving that are new favorites. I’m starting with the Swiss chard because greens are a favorite food and one that Americans eat far too little of. What I like most about this recipe is the use of every flavor – bitter, sweet, salty, spicy, and sour – all in one dish. If Swiss chard is unavailable, kale or collards can easily substitute. Also, roasted walnuts, pepitas, or pine nuts would be an excellent addition to this salad, best served warm.

Roasted Swiss Chard Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups fresh cranberries
  • 2 cups stemmed seedless red grapes
  • 1.5 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2t fresh ground sea salt
  • 1/2t red chili flakes
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 t fresh rosemary
  • 2 large bunches Swiss chard, washed, dried, destemmed

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Toss together the cranberries, grapes, olive oil, salt and chili flakes. Spread the mixture in a shallow, foil lined roasting pan. Scatter the garlic and rosemary over the top. Place in oven and roast until fruit has softened and begins to break down, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven, stir in the chard and roast for an additional 2-5 minutes, until the chard is wilted. Transfer to large bowl, toss with salt/pepper to taste. If adding roasted nuts, toss them in as well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

A Light Autumn Meal

August Has Arrived!

Where did July go? I’m feeling a little down on myself because I basically held the line this month, no forward progress. Well, that’s not all true. I did manage to stick to my goal of working on core everyday, and I am seeing a difference, now it’s the muscle tone in my back, not something you look at much, but was trying on bras the other day and did see a difference. It was funny, the lady who was helping me was checking the fit and commented “if only we could all look like that in a bra.” So I must not be looking too bad, but I want the back fat completely gone! I think the push ups are helping. I’m now able to lower myself pretty deep – I make sure the tops of my quads and my nose touch the floor before I come up, and am concentrating on that part of your back sort of in the center and below the shoulders. The minimum count each day is 4 sets of 15, so I guess I should be seeing a difference! Also, on the exercise front, I notice my squats are a lot deeper, and when I do the step-throughs on the meltdown, I can now easily step all the way through without catching myself in the middle. When I first started these my legs were shaking pretty bad, and I definitely had to put a foot down midway. So yes, progress in the strength department.

Not so much in the weight department… No news to anyone, but I’m calling July “Fig Month.” I know those morsels have been part of my demise. But I shouldn’t be too down – I read this the other day: “The Egyptians, being preoccupied with their digestion, had a habit of fasting. The fig, having mild laxative properties, appealed to them as food which was delicious as well as good for them. Figs are rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Vitamin C and the B group vitamins are also present in small quantities. They are also high in fibre. Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. A 40 gram (1/4 cup) serving provides 244 mg of potassium (7% of the DV), 53 mg of calcium (6% of the DV) and 1.2 mg of iron (6% of the DV). Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free.” OK, so they are healthy, but once again the trump card is, too much of a good thing is still too much! Last night we began the filtering of the fig experiments. One disappointment is that figs are apparently very absorbent. We used a 2 liter bottle of vodka, which granted, we had a couple drinks from, but it only made a little over a liter of fig vodka. But let me say, this ambrosia is nothing short of amazing. The color is beautiful, rose hued, and the taste is…. tantalizing. Even my daughter, who is not big on alcohol – especially straight up, sipped a shot last night, at room temperature no less, and her eyes lit up, and she said “this is really, really good.” She thinks I need to go into business!  So I bottled it up and stored it in the back of the freezer. It’s going to be saved for special days, namely Christmas, and a certain race this March! We also did rum, and it is very good, but nothing close to the vodka, perhaps because rum already has a certain sweet flavor, while vodka is pure. I did notice that the fig vodka I see for sale on the internet is clear though – “triple distilled” – seems like some of the flavor would be lost.

Also on the agenda is kombucha brewing. I’ve been meaning to start a batch for months now, but it was too easy to just buy an occasional bottle. With GT’s being pulled from the shelves because of alcohol content increasing over the lifespan, I decided that now is the time. I had some ginger paste in the fridge, which I added to the green tea, and today was harvest day (takes a week to brew). It turned out great, although it is best when you seal it and put in the fridge for a week or two, as the bubbles become intense.World Market made out well on me the past couple weeks as I purchased several self sealing jars and bottles for the brewing processes. But they are good forever, and I’m actually thinking about buying a few more since I got a great coupon from them. Kombucha is a drink you either love or hate, and the health qualities are debatable. I really can’t say why, but I do feel good after I drink it, more energized. It is great after a workout, although my daughters like it about an hour before. Funny too, the two younger girls used to hate it, but now think it’s just the best.

In the cooking world I’ve tried a couple new things. One dish, a simple black bean dish, is pretty much a cheat, as I opened 4 cans in order to make it – 2 cans of black beans, 1 can of tomatoes and 1 can of green chilis. I really don’t like to use canned goods, and made an observation that has me wondering. Check out this photo: click on it to see a larger image. The 2 cans in the back were organic black beans while the 2 in the front are conventional tomatoes and green chilies.  With all the discussion about BPA lining our canned goods, I made this observation – the black beans, 2 different brands, did not have the seam you can see on the other two cans, and were not so shiny. It has me wondering whether organic products also have different packing standards than conventional? I know the evidence is still being gathered, but this chemical has been used in food production for the past 50 years, and I am always pondering what is causing the dramatic increase in cancer rates in our country. I’m sure it’s a combination of environmental factors, but anything we can avoid seems like a sound idea until the studies show one way or another that the product is safe. Anyway, I’m not going to completely do away with canned goods, but I am going use fresh ingredients whenever possible.

Lastly, a couple fun dishes have been whipped up in the kitchen lately. One I used to make regularly, but forgot all about it – mashed cauliflower. You thoroughly steam the cauliflower until it is tender. In the blender combine 1/2 cup of almond milk with a half cup of raw cashews and blend until smooth. Add the cauliflower in batches with salt and pepper, blend until smooth. This dish tastes surprisingly like mashed potatoes with a carb count that is practically nonexistent, a great alternative to the poor potato! The other dish came from a recipe in the Whole Food Market Cookbook. I was looking for something to do with chicken and spinach and found “Picatta Chicken Florentine.” The only adjustment I made was that I could not force myself to add 2t of salt to any dish, let alone one that already called for Parmesan and/or Romano cheese. Thank goodness I only used about 3/4 of a teaspoon, because it was pretty salty as it was. But, it was very good. You finely chop the spinach and mix it with eggs and seasonings. You dredge the chicken through the mixture, brown each side a couple minutes over a high heat and finish by baking in a hot oven for a few minutes. I really didn’t think it would stick to the chicken, but it did, probably because of the 3 tablespoons of olive oil used. Fortunately, a large percentage of the oil remained in the pan when it was complete. If you have the cookbook, this recipe is a keeper.

The last thing on my blog agenda is to share my husband’s sunflower garden. It makes me smile every time I pull up in the driveway. We can’t grow food in the heat of Florida summers, but the sunflowers seem to love it. He picks one for the kitchen table, and it lasts for about a week in a vase. I’m not going to lie though, what I really love here is the fact that my sweet daughter is home safe and sound from Honduras… have a happy, sunny day people!