Foodstuff for Foodies – recipes, health tips & more

Back to School with Good Health

Kids love to be of help. No, really—they do! And if we grown-ups can just guide them (or corral them) in the right direction, why, in no time everyone will be full-fledged contributors to the backyard home garden.

Half the battle is to understand how a child thinks. If we can draw our plans in line with their minds, we’re good to go. But what motivates a kid to garden?

The power of possession. As any parent knows, many times the first word out of a young child’s mouth is “mine!” No surprise, there. Like adults, children have a natural desire to control the environment around them. While often this is an impulse that needs curbed, it should be absolutely encouraged when it comes to the garden.

“Here sweetheart, this section of the garden is all yours. You get to grow what you like to eat.”

And you can take care of it all by yourself. But you save this little tidbit of information for later. You don’t want to ruin their excitement with a list of things they’ll need to do, do you?

Of course not. That should be introduced in bits and pieces.

“Time to feed your plants.” The child sprinkles worm poop throughout their garden.

“Now they’re thirsty.” Hand them the colorful water can and watch them drench their babies but good.

“Oh no, grab that weed before it takes over your baby plant’s growing space!” In no time flat, they’ll yank that stray green out before your very eyes.

Impressive. But then again, kids enjoy being productive—when it’s something they care about. So nurture this instinct, then watch them grow and blossom right along with their very own vegetable garden. Or herbs. It doesn’t matter what they grow, only that they do. And once they become authorities on the subject, stand back—they’ll even help you with your plants!

And don’t worry about harvest. That’s an easy sell. Swimming for potatoes is tons of fun, kinda like digging for buried treasure. Searching for hidden carrots works the same. Twisting cobs is simple. And if you promise kids they can keep the husks for weaving baskets, tying knots, or crafting corn husk dolls, they’ll be totally in! Talk about fun, kids will even trade the business of shucking beans for the prize of a bowl-full of dried beans—they’re the secret ingredients for making maracas and rain sticks.

Once in the kitchen, kids can be of big help, too. Peeling carrots is a job my son loves to perform. He likes to prove he’s a “can do” sort of kid, if you know what I mean. And my daughter is amazing when it comes to slicing tomatoes and squash for blanching—perfect for that healthy weeknight dinner.

Better yet, make a breakfast smoothie using their garden favorites. With enough fruit to cover the color green, you can even squeeze a few veggies inside. I call it the “Berry Green Smoothie.” Simply combine blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, chia seed and a bit of water in a blender and mix well. Steam broccoli for ease of blending and add a dash of honey for those with a sweet tooth. It’s really quite good!

When a child makes the connection between growing fruits and vegetables and the ones they see on their plate and in their glass, you’ll have a full-fledge gardener-extraordinaire in your midst. Vegetables never tasted so good to a child as the ones they grew themselves. It’s a fact—and the perfect beginning to a healthy lifestyle. Healthy living, one fruit/veggie at a time!

Simple Summer Pasta

During the summer months, my family looks for light dishes to sweep across their place mat come dinnertime and I wholeheartedly agree. Not a fan of what most “comfort dishes” do to my waistline, I celebrate the lighter fare of warmer weather. Besides, as a gardener, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate my garden harvest into the menu.

Voilá! This Simple Summer Pasta is the answer to my dreams! Tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, basil and olive oil plus a spattering of Parmesan and you’re off to the races. My husband needs the added spices of salt and pepper while I find the garlic and veggies sufficient to pleasure my taste buds.

It’s easy to make, too.

Simple Summer Pasta

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/2 sweet onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced (I LOVE garlic!)

6-8 basil leaves, chopped

3 TBSP olive oil

1/2 box spaghetti

Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to directions, adding 1 TBSP olive oil to the water. We prefer ours al dente, which means I cook the pasta about a minute or so less than standard instructions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking liquid. Place pasta back into pan and set aside. Heat 2 TBSP oil in a skillet and sauté the onions for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and garlic, cooking until just heated, or about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. Mix in basil.

Add some of reserved pasta cooking liquid to pasta, stirring to soften the spaghetti. Serve spaghetti in a bowl, top with tomato mixture and flavor to your taste with Parmesan, salt and pepper.

Great options include topping the dish with sautéed shrimp. You can sauté them in about 3-4 minutes using the same pan you cooked the tomatoes and onions, only you’ll need to add a bit more olive oil to keep them from sticking.

Serves 2-3

Juicing Peaches, Mangoes and Basil

With summer in full swing, I decided to try juicing the sweet fruits of the season, namely peaches and mangoes. Not only two of my favorites, these fruits are classic companions in the kitchen. Adding basil gives the juice a unique twist!

And it’s simple to do. Using a commercial juicer, the process only takes seconds. Don’t have a commercial juicer? No problem. This blend can be whipped up just as easily using a traditional blender.

Mango Peach Juice

1 mango, sliced, pit removed

2 peaches, sliced, pits removed

6 basil leaves

For best results when using a commercial juicer, add mango first, then basil, followed by the peaches. The reason? You don’t want your basil to get lost in the juicer blades. You want it in your glass!

Delicious. Simply delicious!

Added benefit: Basil is a wonderful digestive aid.

Let’s Can Peppers!

Wahoo~my Hungarian Wax peppers are ready to be canned!!  It’s the moment my son has been waiting for.  He can’t wait to get started harvesting–well, in between entertaining the neighbor girl peering at him through the chain link fence, that is.  In between introducing him to all 100 of her imaginary brothers and sisters, her fleet of horses, her real life dogs…

Well, you get the picture.  The boy was distracted, but still managed to snip this bounty of peppers.

Beautiful.  From red to yellow (and a few green we’ll chalk up to the distraction factor), my son has given me quite the beginning for a canning fiesta.  Mind you, he didn’t lug this basket up to the house himself.  I did.  He was busy impressing the young girl with his digging abilities, creating a hole deep enough to step in clear up to his thighs!  Needless to say, she was thrilled. More

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

If you live in the South, you’re probably harvesting potatoes and onions right about now. Okay, you probably have harvested your potatoes, but apparently I missed a few on the first go round of my harvest session. And the second.

Well, to be fair, my son was part of this process so it’s anyone’s guess how these babies were missed. But here they are, gorgeous and sumptuous as ever.

Potatoes and onions are good friends when it comes to cooking. These two root veggies blend well together morning, noon and night. I prefer mine layered with cheese–as does my family–so I decided to combine them for a side dish at dinnertime. I also prefer cast iron when skillet-cooking in the oven. Adds to flavor, I think. And the dish is definitely a crowd-pleaser. The applause you’ll receive when you pull the skillet out of the oven is wonderful. And well-deserved.

Skillet Potatoes and Onions

2 1/4 lb. potatoes, sliced

2 onions, chopped

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup butter

1/4 tsp. paprika

8 oz. shredded cheddar

salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP bacon bits, optional

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Melt butter in a 9″ cast iron skillet and sauté onions until translucent, about 4-5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Sprinkle with paprika and remove from heat.

Remove onions to a plate and wipe down skillet. Brush bottom and sides of skillet with shortening or butter. Arrange enough potato slices to cover bottom of skillet, overlapping slices. More

Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes

Ever wondered how to sun dry a tomato? I mean, the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes is exquisitely intense, wonderfully versatile–and I learned–the perfect addition to any raw diet.  It makes an awesome base for uncooked tomato sauce.

But I digress. Personally I never wondered about sun-dried tomatoes and how they were created. I figured the name said it all, right?  I imagined them splayed out across specialty terra-cotta baking stones in Italy or California, sunning until they reached crispy, crunchy chewy perfection (depending on how you like them!).

It wasn’t until I witnessed Mother Nature’s first sun-dried tomatoes in my garden that it dawned on me.  (Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, but who’s checking?) I planted these gorgeous Romas in spring and they dried by summertime, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

Nothing I like better than a vegetable that will grow itself or a child that will do his or her own laundry. It’s heaven!  But seriously, are these not feats to be coveted? At least respected, admired?  In my house they are and when my tomatoes began to sun dry themselves well, I celebrated.  Hip-hip-hooray!  We have sun-dried tomatoes!

For all of you cringing right now thinking, please no, tell me you didn’t actually eat those rotten things.  Rest assured, I didn’t. Who knows what may have tainted those shriveled beauties? Not me and I don’t eat anything from my garden without full certainty of its “wholesome goodness” prior to ingestion.  I have kids watching my every move. Never know which “moves” they may wish to emulate and trust me–rushing them to the ER is not on my list of things to do!

So how does one sun-dry tomatoes?

Easy. Same way you dry those herbs in your garden–set the oven to low (150-200) and bake them for about 4-5 hours, depending on the size of your tomatoes and the heat strength of your oven.  Cut them into quarters and push the seeds out (or not).

These are a mix of Roma style and regular.  (Is there such a thing as regular tomatoes?)  Next, spread them across a baking sheet.  I used this vented one for more even “drying.”

At this point, your best course of action is to monitor them throughout the process, turning when necessary. If this seems like too much work, you can always lay them out in the sunshine for a hot couple of days.  Mother Nature does know what she’s doing!

After about 4 hours, my small batch was ready; crispy-crunchy-ready.

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (like mine chewy), but these would still be great as a salad sprinkle.  The raw diet recipes we used during our challenge called for soaking the sun-dried tomatoes in water prior to use.  Good idea.

Tasty, toasty and easy, you’ll want to try this one for yourself!

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