Foodstuff for Foodies – recipes, health tips & more

New Year, New Food

Every year, many of us make the new year’s resolution to eat healthier and exercise more. It’s a worthy goal to be sure. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about making well-meaning resolutions, it’s the fact that resolutions without staying power won’t succeed. Not even with the best intentions.

What do I mean by staying power?

Simple. Have you chosen a method of exercise or diet with the allure of holding your attention? Your desire? If not, don’t bother wasting the effort. It won’t work. One look at any gym membership contract should convince you. They don’t offer you a month-by-month deal for a reason. Most people don’t enjoy going to the gym. Pay for the year, attend for a month or two. Why? It becomes tedious, monotonous, and a chore in and of itself.

No good. Despite my teenage son’s conviction that “Mom loves chores” — I don’t. No one does! But I do like to dance (a GREAT way to get the heart pumping and the calories burning). I also like to eat. Chocolate, cheese, and of course, ice cream. Fortunately for me, I also like salads, vegetables, hummus, juice–I love it all!

So this year I’m going to share some of my secrets to staying slim and healthy. First and foremost, look for something you enjoy doing–dancing, walking, jogging, gardening–and do it. Just do it. Every day, every other day, start small and work your way up to bigger and better workouts. For me, cranking up the music and dancing around my house for a half an hour works wonders. In fact, I enjoy it so much, I’ll keep the music playing and clean the house. Check mark: chores!

When it comes to food, I eat what I want–chocolate, cheese, ice cream–but I do so in small increments throughout the day. The key to eating smart is to eat early and eat often. Eight small meals a day will serve you better than 3-4 big meals. Why? Because you’re eating all of the time so you’ll NEVER feel deprived–an important aspect when it comes to changing dietary habits. You’re also avoiding the pitfall of fighting a hungry belly. Eventually, your stomach will shrink in size and feel full sooner. A good thing!

What should you eat?

Good question. Below are a few of my favorite healthy alternatives, beginning with my ever-popular belly-cleansing ulcer-easing juice recipe, Cabbage-Carrot-Apple juice.

A bowl of yogurt and berries works wonders for your digestion, too, including a powerful punch of antioxidants. Did you know that raspberries have one of the highest content of fiber among fruits? They do!

As does a freshly-plucked salad from the garden. I love chickpeas–for protein AND regularity.

Speaking of chickpeas, homemade Roasted Red Pepper Hummus is always a winner with me. I devour mine on the end of a pretzel stick, celery stalk or cracker.

Tomato Sauce will please the entire family at dinner time…

I like a healthy dose of pesto, as well.

Garlic is good!! And with all the tomatoes bursting in my garden, I need to find LOTS of ways to consume them.

Need more ideas? Check the Heart Healthy tab of my recipe section. Surely there’s something with staying power for you to enjoy. Happy New Year!

Christmas Food Faves

During the holiday season, people eat. (At least I know I do!) They gather around the kitchen and bake together, stuff turkey together, whip up potatoes and pies–or any wonderful mix of dishes that bring comfort and cheer. And this time of year, some of my favorite vegetables are in season and ready for harvest. At least in Florida.

Compost sweet potatoes make for the most delectable side dish. Even better when topped with marshmallows!

top sweets with marshmallows

 

Brussels sprouts and bacon add intense flavor to any turkey meal.

Savory Brussels Sprouts

My husband prefers corn with his turkey. Why not spice it up and roast it with those last jalapeno peppers from the garden? There’s one good thing about warm weather in December. Tomatoes and peppers enjoy a prolonged harvest season!

roasted corn

Me. I like mashed potatoes and stuffing with my turkey. I also like pie. Pumpkin pie or sweet potato pie–they both work!

sweet potato pie

Speaking of pumpkins… I miss my little wee-one!

kids love pumpkins

She’s a teenager now, but I remember this day in the pumpkin patch like it was yesterday. **sigh** She used to let me buy her clothes, drive her around town and snuggle. But alas, things change. Hug your loved ones. It’s that special time of year…

Merry Christmas!

Pesto Perfection

I love pesto–on most anything. From bread to pasta, cheese to chicken, its sharp distinct flavor and powerful punch makes me reel with delight. Even in the garden, it’s one of my favorite herbs to grow. One simple “brush” with this plant, and I carry its fragrance for hours.

pesto-toast

And for you garden and foodie enthusiasts, it’s very easy to grow. Sunlight, tad bit of fertilizer, well-drained soil and you’re off to the gourmet section right in your very own kitchen. If you grow it out in the garden, basil prefers to be near its “bestie” the tomato plant. Basil is said to improve the flavor of your tomatoes. Love it!

basil-and-tomato-companions

Making pesto is easy. Basil, Parmesan, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, DONE. (I don’t use salt, but it’s definitely a classic addition for this recipe.)

pesto-ingredients

My Cuisinart makes the process of preparing pesto all the more simple, though you can use any blender, really.

pesto-blend

Which is about all you need to do. Basically, you blend everything until a smooth paste forms. (Told you it was easy!) Better yet, you can make this recipe 1 day ahead. A tip for preserving its freshness: cover the top of your sauce with a 1/2 inch layer of olive oil before chilling.

Next, enjoy–over warm pasta, fresh bread, or that boring chicken you needed to spruce up. Or dare I say…turkey?

No worries. It’s all good!

Classic Pesto Sauce

4 cups fresh basil leaves (about 3 large bunches)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 pine nuts

2 garlic cloves

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

1 tsp coarse kosher salt (I like Himalayan salt!)

Combine basil, olive oil, pine nuts, and garlic in a blender. Blend until a paste forms. If your basil flies up the sides of your blender, gently push it back down and encourage assimilation with the other ingredients. Add cheese and salt and blend until smooth. Transfer to a small bowl and enjoy!

pesto

Variations abound for pesto sauce, including choice of nuts, choice of greens, choice of cheese. For example, walnuts can provide an omega-3 advantage while your cheese can be a combination of Parmesan and Pecorino Sardo, Asiago–have fun with it! How about adding parsley leaves to the mix? Maybe a cilantro version? Mint? Feel free to experiment!

Infusing your passion for gardening with the joy of cooking…

Maple-Orange Pumpkin Granola

This time of year, I love everything pumpkin–coffee, cupcakes, bread, bagels, and now, granola. Yep, granola. Healthy granola, too! Sort of. Everything but the maple syrup, anyway. And really, can’t a girl splurge during the holidays? (My holiday season officially begins when the pumpkin-fall menus enter the scene.)

fall pumpkin granola

I would have to answer, yes, I believe so. This granola is so delicious, you’ll want to eat it with ice cream, yogurt, or straight out of the pan. And while it’s high in fat, it’s mostly healthy fat, I can rationalize it as healthy, because pumpkin and flax seeds are so good for you. Really good.

So how do you make decadent pumpkin granola? That’s also easy. Simply mix oats and seeds, add some of what I call “granola glue” — the stuff that makes granola clumps — and bake.

Decadent Pumpkin Granola

pumpkin granola2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup pumpkin seed, natural, not salted or roasted

1/4 cup ground flax seed

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup melted butter

1 tsp orange zest

1/2 tsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup raisins

Preheat the oven to 300°F. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, pumpkin and flax seed. Mix well. For the granola glue, mix together maple syrup, melted butter, orange zest and vanilla extract. Whisk well and pour over oat and seed mixture. Mix all ingredients until well blended. Note: this might be easier done with your hands. If you like the orange zest, go ahead and add some more. It’s a nice compliment to the maple syrup. More

Harvesting Eggplant

I love eggplant. Not only delicious, but it’s easy to grow and beautiful to gaze upon. From the delicate purple blossoms accentuated by bright yellow centers to the sleek black bodies of fruit, I love everything about eggplant.

eggplant-blossom

Unfortunately, I’m the only one in my family who enjoys this robust fruit, hence the reason I only have one plant in my garden. One, lone plant, tucked away within the rows of its close family member, the tomato.

eggplant-and-tomato-friends

Both part of the nightshade family of plants, eggplant and tomato can thrive planted alongside one another, however, beware of allowing them to follow one another in your crop rotation. Not a great idea, because verticillium wilt fungus that infects tomatoes one season can live in the soil for years and likely infect subsequent crops. Peppers and potatoes are also members of the nightshade family so consider these four plants as one unit when it comes to crop rotation.

A few varieties of tomatoes are resistant to this fungus, ie. Carnival, Celebrity and Santiago. I happen to grow Celebrity and Beefsteak, so I’m half-resistant! Just another example of why crop rotation is so very important in your organic garden.

first-eggplant-harvestAnd since I’m both gardener and chef in my household, I grow and enjoy eggplant as much as I want — serving it up sautéed golden brown with tomato sauce, or layered in lasagna.

sauteed-eggplant

Simply delightful! Check out my recipe section for Sautéed Eggplant full details.

Perfect Pizza Topping

As a budding Italian (I married into the family), I continually strive to improve my culinary talents with regard to all things Italian. Tomato sauce, gnocchi, homemade pasta, pizza dough… There is an art to creating these dishes and of course, success depends on which Italian is tasting the final results. Never one to shy away from a challenge, I’ll admit that pizza dough is tough one. It’s an endeavor my daughter and I tackled a few years back and the finished product looked good…

pizza!

But it wasn’t my favorite. The red sauce was delicious, the crust only so-so. And if you’ve ever met an Italian, they are VERY particular about the pizza dough they prefer. Everything else is simply sub-par. Hmph.

One recipe we have been working to perfect is our peppers. Mixed with oil and spices, these are wonderful served on a slice of fresh bread or–as I prefer–on pizza.

fill pepper jars to the brim

Normally I grow Hungarian Wax peppers for this purpose, however, lately we’ve expanded our selection to Sunset peppers. They look the same, taste nearly identical and work like a charm when it comes to pizza topping. Now there are some who will turn their nose away at my detour from the classic Hungarian style pepper, but me? I go with what works, what’s available, and what tastes good. I’m easy that way!

And canning peppers is easy. All you do is harvest, rinse, slice and remove seeds, cover with salt overnight to dehydrate the peppers, then rinse and dry the next morning, fill your jars, seal your tops, boil for 15 minutes and allow to cool. Done! For complete instructions, check my recipe page for Hungarian Wax Peppers.

Low in Iron?

If you’re a vegetarian, the answer might be yes, putting you at risk for anemia, a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. Symptoms include feeling tired and weak, rapid heartbeat, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, pale skin, leg cramps. Generally speaking, women are more at risk for anemia than men, but take heart. If you’re lacking a proper amount of iron in your diet, the “absorption factor” might be to blame.

Did you know that eating plant sources for iron are more difficult for the body to absorb than meat? They’re considered nonheme iron and not well-absorbed during the digestion process. One way to increase absorption is by consuming excellent sources of iron — like spinach — with foods rich in vitamin C — like strawberries. Eat these two together and you help your body to increase its absorption of iron up to sixfold. Peppers, cooked tomatoes, papaya, kiwi and citrus fruits are also high in vitamin C.

spinach and strawberries

However, while vitamin C helps the body absorb nonheme iron, eating beans, grains and rice will inhibit the absorption. Which makes me sad, because I normally love the addition of chickpeas to my salad (also high in iron), but not if chickpeas work against my nutrition goals. These sources contain a substance called phytic acid which binds to the iron and prevents absorption. Caffeine and calcium-rich foods can also inhibit the absorption of iron. And to think they want us to eat our fortified cereal (great source of nonheme iron) with milk. Hmph.

Chickpea Salad

Another thing to consider when organizing your meal plan is that heme iron increases the absorption of nonheme iron. Add chicken, beef or salmon to that spinach salad and you’re golden.

roasted corn

Other great sources of iron include oysters, clams, chicken liver, beets (and their greens), soybeans, potatoes, black-eyed peas, artichokes and pumpkin seeds. The list continues, but start here and you’ll be on your way to a healthy level of hemoglobin. And don’t forget to power-boost your absorption with the above tips!

Potatoes Are Popping!

My potatoes are nestled all snug in their beds…

potatoes nestled in hay

Bursting with joy as spring finally arrives! They’re gorgeous, aren’t they?

white and red potatoes

And quite content. After surviving a few frosts, the girls are popping. This is a mix of white and red potatoes and will be ready in another few weeks. I could harvest them now and walk away with “new potatoes” for my next meal, but I prefer to wait. There’s nothing better than fresh from the garden potatoes. They’re buttery and creamy and unlike anything you’ll get at the grocery store.

rosemary potatoes and parmesean

I might roast them with fresh rosemary or bake them with cabbage. (Recipes for both can be found in my recipe section!)

potatoes and cabbage steaming hot out of the oven

Either way, garden potatoes are a treat. And no issues with my 2016 crop–woohoo!

Spring Dessert

Looking for the perfect dessert this Easter? This carrot cake is perfect and differs from most in that it’s light, fluffy and kid-friendly—from the making to the eating! Not only can they help by harvesting and shredding the carrots, they’ll love to decorate this spring treat (bunnies, anyone?).

bunny cake

While this recipe calls for cream cheese frosting, a bit tangy for some youngsters, it would also be great with a creamy white/vanilla frosting, too.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake

2 cups self-rising flour

2 tsp cinnamon

1 ½ cups vegetable oil

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

3 cups freshly grated carrots

½ cup raisins (optional)

½ cup walnuts, finely chopped (optional)

pre-made fondant for decorations

Preheat oven to 350°F. 

Grease or butter 9 x 13 or 2 8-inch round pans. In a large bowl, combine oil, eggs and sugar and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour and cinnamon. Add dry ingredients to wet and blend well until creamy smooth. Fold in grated carrots, followed by any optional items of your liking!

Pour batter into pan and bake for about 35-45 minutes or until knife inserted into center comes out clean. Serve with cream cheese frosting (even plain, this cake is so good).

Approximately 1 large or 2 8-inch cakes.

light and fluffy slice

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. cream cheese, refrigerated

2 TBSP unsalted butter, softened (at room temperature)

1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar (depending on how thick you like your frosting!)

1 tsp vanilla extract

dash of grated orange zest (optional)

Combine cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract and blend until smooth. Add sugar gradually, 1/2 cup at a time, beating until blended. Stop when you have reached your desired consistency. For stiffer frosting, use more sugar. For creamy frosting, use less. Stir in optional flavorings at end. Spread (or drizzle) frosting over cake and enjoy!

You can purchase packages of pre-made fondant at most major craft stores (Joann’s Fabrics, Michael’s…) and forming your figures is easy. We used a tube of green cake decorating color for the greens on our carrots—for a more feathery effect. Don’t forget the pre-made flowers and sprinkles—talk about EASY! You’ll have a stylin’ cake in no time!

Starting Strong (And Curried!)

Like everyone else, I’m “cleansing” this month. I’ve dropped the libations and decadent sweets–

What? You’re NOT cleansing the body of toxins this month?

Oh, wow, you must be one of those who doesn’t let it slip during the holiday season. You walk by the dessert table without blinking, pass on the wine and champagne, and don’t miss a single day of exercise. Not me. Unfortunately, the dessert table shouts my name as I walk by–occasionally grabbing my arm and chaining me close until I over-indulge. The bottle of bubbly whispers my name, winks, then insists I should celebrate with another glass of its delightful contents! And exercise? Who has the time?! I’m at the mall, at the office, the party–I don’t have time for walking, biking and dancing.

Oh–wait a minute. Dancing? I always have time for dancing! Maybe I DID exercise after all!! **sigh** Guess I fall prey to whim. But it’s probably because I know January will soon roll around, and I can hit the reset button. And have. Just look at this delicious breakfast I prepared this morning!

Curry Spinach Chickpea Egg Scramble

Spinach and chickpeas sautéed in olive oil with a few dashes of garlic and curry powder, plus a healthy dose of pepper. (Sautéed fresh garlic would have worked, too.) Add one egg over easy and you have yourself one healthy meal to start the day. Yum. I could have eaten two servings, but then again, I’m “cleansing” the recent addition of five pounds to my midsection and can’t afford the extra calories. Good thing I still have lunch to look forward to!

I only wish my garden spinach was growing well enough to have included it in the pan, but alas, Florida has been much too hot this winter for spinach. How about you? Any resolutions or dishes you’d like to share?