raw diet

Make Your Own 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 this spring 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 this 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!

Homemade Sun-dried Tomatoes, Peppers and More!

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 tomato sauce.

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 last spring that it dawned on me.  Actually, it was the scorch of summer and my lack of attention that did it, not to mention the horrid red paper experiment, but who’s keeping tabs?  These gorgeous Romas dried on the vine last spring and did so again this spring, all by themselves.  Don’t you love an independent vegetable?

tomatoes sun-dried on vine

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).

fresh tomatoes

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.”

dry tomatoes in oven

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.

sun-dried tomatoes in oven

I imagine if I immerse these in olive oil they’ll return to a more palatable texture (I 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 won’t want to stop here.  Why not “sun-dry” green peppers?  Would make for a nice intense flavor addition to any salad.

arrange chili peppers on baking sheet

And you can use this same process for making red pepper flakes, the kind you love to sprinkle over pizza.  Oh yes, simply lay them out whole (I used parchment paper so as not to lose any of the spicy seeds) and then slide them into the oven.

chili peppers

Once dry and crispy, pull them out, break off the stems, then gently crush until you have a pile of…

sun-dried peppers

Your very own flakes of red pepper!  Drying herbs works much the same way so get moving and put those babies to work in the kitchen!  (In my house, that means the kids. :))

Why French Gardeners Don’t Get Fat

Same reason other gardeners don’t get fat:  they eat a bunch of vegetables, right?  They eat nuts and berries, a few twigs, some tomatoes and lettuce, maybe and a handful of vitamins for good measure–and protein.  Am I close?

Well…sort of.  Loosely based on the bestselling book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, I think the concept is the same.  If you enjoy the process (good exercise) and enjoy the produce (healthy food) than you’re halfway there.  But there’s more to eating than mere consumption.  Concentrating on the depth of flavor in your earthly beets, the crisp sweetness of your corn, the buttery texture of your potatoes and oh-so-sweet onions, you begin to immerse yourself in the pleasure principle.

It’s like I tell my children.  “Everything in moderation.”  Now granted this is merely my way of letting them know it’s okay if Mom dips into the candy bowl.  It’s okay if she drinks a glass of wine (or two).  It’s okay.  Everything in moderation.  I find it’s a fabulous rule to live by because as an experienced dieter I can tell you:  denying yourself something you adore is not smart.  In fact, it goes against human nature—or feeds into it.  You know as well as I do that the minute you tell yourself you can’t have something—you want it.  You crave it.  All of a sudden, it becomes the most important thing you need to eat right now! 

Very bad as we approach bathing suit season.  Piling M&M’s into your mouth is not helpful to your figure, or your heart, your stomach…  So stop right now.  (No, not eating M&M’s.)  Stop denying yourself and give in to decadence!  Luxuriate in a glass of Cabernet, a handful of dark chocolate, a three-layer cake of dense delight, the sugary sweet frosting from a cupcake.  Enjoy it—leisurely.  Don’t rush.  Don’t get crazy.  Simply enjoy…….

You’ll find that once you remove the “desire triggers,” you’ll be able to eat what you desire AND remain slim.  I don’t know about you, but all veggies and no sweets make for a very dull girl.  And I don’t want to be dull!  I want to be delightful and happy.  Cause remember—when momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy.

It’s true in my household.  How about yours? 🙂

p.s.  Pssst….  Don’t tell anyone, but this chocolate mousse is actually GOOD for you.  Swear.  It’s made from avocados though you’d never know it from tasting it!  Follow this link for this and other delicious and healthy recipes.

And the Raw Results Are In!

Our raw challenge has come to an end and the results?  Well, to be honest, they’re mixed. Except for this chocolate mousse.  No question, this pudding was delicious!

In the beginning, going raw was exciting.  New and fresh, the kids and I had a great time perusing the aisles of our Whole Foods store, searching for the “never heard of” ingredients for the gourmet impersonations we were concocting, from our chocolate mousse and lemony cheesecake to our Italian pastas and Asian broccoli dishes.  Eating tons of fruit, we created some wonderful smoothies, too–one of the easiest way for my kids to go raw.

But by mid-week however, the excitement was wearing thin.  The kids were whining for cheeseburgers and my husband…  Well, let’s just say it’s never a good sign when you pick up the scent of meat on your husband’s collar during raw week.  (Oh, the horror!)  Makes me suspect he might have been having a cheeseburger “fling.”  Given the opportunity, the kids most definitely would have “flung” a few burgers into their mouths as well.  Unfortunately for them, they’re under my watch 24/7 whereas my husband is not and alas, I must confess, I think my husband cheated.  Only a little bit.  Only out of necessity, driving all day long, no fast food restaurants willing to ply him with raw delicacies and fresh bliss.  What about salads?

Seems they pose more hazard than sustenance, what with the risk of dressing on the chin, driplets staining his tie, smudged across the steering wheel…  Better he chance the sneak of an easy-to-eat burger than face his business customers with a slew of salad and sauce all over him!

Speaking of non-raw, I think my most coveted (craved) food this past week was bread .  Bread for my pasta, bread for our peppers, sandwiches, pancakes–bread is a major staple in our diet, albeit not a good one.  From gluten to migraines, extra carbs to extra pounds, bread doesn’t promote a healthy lifestyle.  But it tastes so good!  Cookies and cakes, crackers and crusts–I think I’ve found my problem!  I LOVE breadstuff.

What else have I learned?

When making ceviche, be sure to cut your fish into 1/2 inch pieces else your dinner may not be ready come dinner time.  And be adventurous!  Octopus makes for really interesting presentation.

My son can juice a mean dozen lemons in no time flat, all the while craving a plate full of eggs and bacon, Reuben to follow with a healthy cheeseburger for dinner. Kids.  But he loves yogurt and berries.  Eats them most every day.  He simply doesn’t want them for every meal.

Hmph.  Salads and soups will only take your husband so far as well.  At some point, apparently he needs something more “meaty” to fill his belly. Go figure.  And he’s the one who needs to eat healthy!  Me?  I’m fit as a feline and every so finicky–I mean, feisty.  Feisty is what I am.  After all, I am the gardenfrisk! 🙂

On an important note:  When using a blender, do NOT stick your spoon inside while it’s blending to “help things along.”  Yes, you’re sure you have it under control, you know the length of your spoon, you can gauge the distance quite well, thank you but don’t do it.  And don’t–especially don’t–decide to school your daughter in the finer points of blending safety, advising her against doing what you’re doing, because of what “could” happen.  Guess what.  It does.

All over the kitchen. Last thing I wanted to do at that moment was clean a gooey mess.  Not when I was so looking forward to this Lemony Cheesecake my daughter was preparing, nor when I wanted to retire to the sofa.  Nope.  But life throws curve balls at you that way (or sprays them across your countertops, your clothing, your floor).  Then of course, there’s the husband, standing there, staring at you with that barely suppressed grin of his that says, “that’s what you get for making me eat this stuff.” 

To his credit he laughed, made light of it with the kids–all at my expense, of course.  Lucky for him I’m a good-natured sort of gal or he’d have a heap of trouble on his hands!  The nerve of him.  And to think he implied he was counting the days until our raw challenge was over.  Like father like son…

Some of our successes?  (You mean, besides the 5 pounds I lost?) Our red sauce was excellent as was the Alfredo. 

The zucchini pasta needed to be spiraled for the illusion to be complete, though this passes for Pappardelle quite well, if you ask me.  Gazpacho made for a delightful summer soup.  Combined with a salad, it was definitely enough to satisfy my appetite. 

And this Asian style broccoli was another unexpected winner.  My daughter is a broccoli fan and chose to make this dish one night for dinner and the sauce was really good.  Had a nice spice to it.  We skipped the parsnip “rice” and enjoyed it as a side.

All in all would we do it again?  For a whole week?

Maybe not every dish, every day, but we did learn how easy it is to incorporate raw dishes into our normal diet for a healthy living lifestyle.  And healthy we do want to be!

One Week, All Raw — Ready, Set, Go!

Today we begin our week-long raw challenge.  Woohoo!  For our first day, we’re keeping it simple, gradual; fruit for breakfast, salad/greens for lunch, ceviche for dinner.  A gentle entre into our new venture is needed, because after a vacation eating everything and anything (like Pringles, beef jerky, cheeseburgers… you get the picture) we don’t want to shock the system. 

The kids are somewhat leery of our new adventure while my husband is plain skeptical–though he promised to order salads while out and about during his work day.  On the bright side, we have a wonderful harvest with which we can work wonders:  corn, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, okra,  peppers. 

Could we ask for a better menu? Gazpacho, marinated Italian peppers, zucchini pasta…  Bet you wish you were dining at our house this week, don’t you?

I can feel it already;  our skin is going to glow, our energy is going to burst, our minds will clear, our moods will soar…  Raw living will definitely provide a wholesome cleansing and a healthy turn, putting our bodies on the road to well-being.  How about you.  “Ready for a good cleansing?”

Raw Diet–the Possibilites are Endless!

Time to free that body of yours from processed junk and rid your diet of enzyme destruction — yes, the raw challenge is here!  (Well, the menu suggestions are going up.) Challenge begins in 2 weeks.  Are you ready?

How about, “Why bother?”

Theory holds that heating foods to temperatures over 115 – 118 degrees Fahrenheit destroys enzymes necessary for a multitude of chemical processes that keep your body healthy. In fact, humans are the only animals that eat cooked foods.  Duh.  Who let Captain Obvious into the conversation? 

Theory goes further to distinguish between alkalizing foods (leafy green vegetables and fruits) and acidic foods (animal proteins, dairy, processed food and white flour and sugar).  Raw food purists believe that a raw diet keeps the body more alkaline, which allows blood to absorb more oxygen.  We’ll delve deeper into the differences between alkaline and acid foods on Friday’s post, but for now, we’re simply talking raw–for which there is a another difference–vegan (no meat or dairy) and simply raw (uncooked).

Me?  I’m no vegan.  I adore sushi and feel nothing goes better with yogurt than blueberries, so this menu of mine will include fish and dairy options.  Can anyone say ceviche?  One of my favorite words.  Besides, according to the dictionary, raw is defined as uncooked, not refined or processed.  I’d say we’re good to go!

Okay, now that you’re excited and your appetite’s tuned in, what else are we going to eat, besides glorious bowlfulls of sashimi and ceviche?  

Ah…  You’ve come to the right place.  The following is a sample menu offering suggestions for a full week’s worth of meals.  These are all gourmet delicacies in some form or fashion–or someone’s opinion, I should say–and have one thing in common:  they’re delicious!  Taste was an absolute pre-requisite for this undertaking set forth (in stone) by my husband.  And we do want to keep him happy, so after a thorough search of the internet, here’s the list:

Shall we start with dessert?  Always my first choice.  I don’t know about you, but calculating how much room you need to leave for dessert allows for efficient meal management at my house.

Nudie Foodie offers this decadent recipe for Chocolate Mousse and with your eyes closed, you’d never know the difference between this and traditionally made.  She makes a mean Coconut Cream Pie, too.  Uncooking 101 has a list of gorgeous dessert items, like this Swiss Apricot Tart and Caramel Fudge Brownies.  Prefer cookies?  How about taking a look at this Chocolate Chip recipe–it’s totally vegan.  Lemony Cheesecake anyone?  Simple fresh berries and whipped cream are always nice–just keep your cream organic and as natural as possible. 

For dinner, your options are equally tasty.  For easy solutions, salads are obviously your best bet.  No prep, no time, 100% healthy and raw.  But what if your family demands more?  (After you give them the “eye” and mini-lecture about all you do for them), offer some of these delicious alternatives:

Lasagna, Zucchini Alfredo, Eggplant Ravioli, Spinach Manicotti  — Of course I started with Italian because I’m a Venettacci.  While these are somewhat involved, an easier method for achieving the coveted Italian flavor would be to Julienne your zucchini/squash (aka “raw” pasta) and smother it with a combination of crushed tomato, minced garlic, chopped onion, basil and olive oil. 

Tired of same old-same old?  How about some garden variety pesto?  Traditional pesto is made by combining (grounding to smithereens) basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic cloves, Parmesan and olive oil, but Southern Living magazine offers some wonderful spins on this classic–excellent alternatives for your “pasta” dishes. 

Not a fan of pasta?  Check out these recipes for Meatloaf, Chili and BBQ over at Awesome to be Rawesome!  In addition to these “meat” plates, they have a ton more recipes to choose from.  I do like a smorgasboard of options, don’t you?

Cold soups and salsa are a delightful way to consume your food raw, from my simple cucumber soup to this fancy gazpacho, you’ll enjoy every spoonful.  In fact, I plan to use my Cuisinart every day of this challenge to create carrot soup flavored with turmeric & ginger (discovered my kids like this combination), homemade humus and a spicy red pepper drizzle for my ceviche, compete with fresh avocado sides.   Mmmm…  Add a little black bean & mango salsa and lo and behold–it’s Carribbean night!  Pineapple, papaya…both would make wonderful variations.

I’ll bet you can’t WAIT to begin.  Well  hold on to your hat straps because we haven’t even discussed breakfast–the most important meal of the day!  Which is a tough one for me.  Unfortunately, my children do not eat anything remotely resembling fresh, raw and healthy for breakfast.  While I won’t go into the (embarrassing) details, let’s just put it this way:  this will be a tough sell in my household. 

However, smoothies of all flavors make for the perfect solution.  Blending berries, bananas and yogurt together will provide a healthy start for my kids and I’ve since learned, a great way to hide spinach.  Oh, yes…  If you opt for the darker shade of blueberries, the little ones will scarcely notice the color difference when blended together.  For more morning options, you might be interested in perusing the menu over at The Best of Raw Food.   As for my breakfast, I’ll stick with berries and yogurt topped with a bit of raw granola.

So there you have it.  With a plethora of choice at your keyboard fingertips, there’s NO excuse not to give the raw diet a whirl.  While we’ve offered a few suggestions, the websites above contain so many more delicious and nutritious recipes, you’ll eat to your heart’s content.  You’ll feel magnificent, look magnificent and who knows?  You might even go raw for good. 

Challenge begins June 13th, so get those shopping lists together and scour your local health food stores.  As you may have noticed, some of the “secret” ingredients to divine raw dining may not be available at your regular supermarket. 

Remember:  we want to hear about your experiences as we go raw together–so please, stop back and DO share! 🙂

Going Raw

Recently a friend of mine turned fifty, though you’d never know it to look at her.  She exercises and eats right.  Spends quality time with her family and friends.  You can imagine when it came to appetizers for her birthday get-together, healthy and fresh came to mind and of course, earning a reputation as gardener-extraordinnaire, I was assigned a vegetable dish! 

“Use whatever you have too much of in the garden.  Anything you might want to get rid of.”

Too much of?  Get rid of?

Not in MY garden!  Now that I know how to can and freeze, there’s nothing I have in excess.  I use it all — all that’s worth keeping, that is.  But the issue remained;  bring something healthy. 

The wheels began to spin.  Not the crazy ones, the creative ones.  (Perhaps I should have used the phrase “creative juices” instead?)  Well, I thought about my garden and what I like to eat.  Yes, I’m selfish that way.  Should have been what she likes to eat but oh no, when it comes to my garden it’s all about me, or more aptly, what I think I can conjure up! 

My grand idea?  Sweet red peppers.  Probably because I don’t have any in my garden.  Mine aren’t doing well, you see…bugs, humidity.  Not good.  But I love them and think they make a great addition to any party table.  And what better way to prepare them than with my new food processor? 

I’ve heard a lot about “raw” diets of late, the health benefits, the fresh taste, and decided they should be added to our dinner table.  Less cooking makes for better nutrient consumption you know.  And I am all about what’s best for the family.  It is my job to feed them.  But what?  How?  While there are a few recipe books on the market, I haven’t really found any that call out my name and shout, “Buy me!  Buy me!” 

Undaunted, I decided to go it alone and bought a food processor.  I enjoy experimenting and besides, if my raw food fad falls to wayside, I can always use a food processor, right?  So what does one do when faced with the perfect opportunity to practice?

They practice!  So away I went, combining all my favorite ingredients in one dish.  Caught in the rush of creativity, I whipped up this gorgeous flower presentation on the fly.  I am a gardener, you know.  Flowers are a natural for me.

And the best part — besides being delicious — it’s fairly simple to make.  Red peppers, garbanzo beans, basil and goat cheese served over top a fan of romaine lettuce.  I tasted it and thought, not bad.  Fresh, light, could use a little Parmesan, or maybe a drizzle of balsamic.  I’m no chef, but I do like to eat and these happen to be some of my favorite things.

Ready to go, I placed the tray on my lap and we headed down the street, whereby I learned a valuable lesson.  Rule number one:  when using a food processor with fresh vegetables, check for excess liquid.  Apparently, when you whir and chop at high speeds, the natural water from your veggies — in my case red peppers — tends to seep out of your lovely sauce, collecting at the bottom of your dish. 

And when your husband turns a corner, it spills over the edge — and all over your jeans.  Lucky for me, blue and red are close relatives on the color wheel and my attire wasn’t completely ruined for the evening.  Spotted, but hardly noticeable.  Now, carrying a dripping tray into the house….

That’s another story.  Nabbed!  But I still received all the ohs and ahs (friends are helpful that way) and proceeded to the kitchen.  At least my beautiful appetizer survived in one piece and with the help of a “hostess with the mostess,” the juice was drained and the food served whereby she promptly advised me to save this extra vegetable juice  in the future and use it for sauces or drink mixes. 

“Of course.  The perfect solution.”  Exactly what you’d expect from the woman who can throw a party together in a matter of hours, barely bat an eyelash over food detail, all the while her ambiance and decor glowing as though planned for weeks.  The woman’s entertaining might is legendary.

However, while impressed with my creation at home, it somehow tasted different to me at the party.  A little too fresh, if that’s possible.  Okay, who am I kidding.  It tasted like water.  Aghast, I looked around the room.  The pressure began to build.  Everyone was still mingling, but it wouldn’t be long before they made their way to the food table.  And of course all eyes and appetites would be on my pepper-filled petals. 

Then it hit me.  Standing feet away was a friend whose reputation for cooking rivaled that of “entertaining gal.”  Bingo.  He’ll know what to do!  Beckoning him over, I boldly asked for help.  I explained my latest adventure into the field of raw food prep, followed by my current dilemma.   “What do you think it needs?”

He tasted and quipped with a shrug of his shoulders, “Lemon or lime.”

Ping!  Of course.  That’s exactly what it needed!  Child’s play for a man of his culinary expertise and the perfect solution for my problem.  With the simple addition of fresh squeezed lime juice (the fruit more readily found behind the bar), my dish had been transformed into fresh sweet red pepper magnificence.  A heady moment indeed.  With that, he named it Margarita Sweet Peppers and the dish was a hit.  For the full recipe, check my recipe section.

So now I’m inspired.  I bought the food processor for this very purpose — add more fresh ingredients to my meals and keep them raw — and now I have my first victory to report.