Grateful Heart

Hi there, friends!  It has been some time since I posted to this blog.  I would say that I lost my steam over the summer, but it would be more accurate to say that the steam was directed elsewhere.  This is a blog about food, but this summer my energy went into making food.  And I don’t just mean cooking it.  Take a look.
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Petunias are not food.  Not that I’m aware of, anyway, but they were beautiful and colorful and they thrive in the heat.  So, while they’re not edible, they are a summer staple.  Side note: I have recently discovered edible flowers at my local grocery store.  Any tips on using them?

Now to the food.  I had a modest but productive balcony garden this summer.  I tried my hand at growing herbs again, with much more success, although it turns out cilantro is a wild and unpredictable beast.  Meals were incredible this summer, full of fresh thyme, rosemary, and basil, basil, basil.  I’m sad to report that after moving inside, my little potted herb garden died, but over the summer it was in full force.  I also grew cucumbers, a project that probably cost less than buying them at the grocery store.  They were not as large, but they were delicious and refreshing.
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Can you imagine how amazed and delighted I was to find this in the garden that I grew myself?  I squealed like a child on Christmas when I discovered the first tiny cucumbers growing and then again, louder, when I found this hidden under its big leaves.
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Not bad for a pack of seeds, some dirt, water, and sunshine. And love.  Lots of love.

Also bees.  (Save the bees – plant a garden.)

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And they were oh so refreshing! Cucumber water is one of my favorite summer beverages, hydrating and more cooling than anything else I’ve tried.
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I used my cucumbers mainly in salads and for fancy water, but the herbs did much more work, small and delicate though they are.  I’ve cooked dishes without salt and pepper because the herbs were that good.  I am partial to basil, especially since it grows like a weed, and two of my favorite uses were on pizzas, both regular and eggplant.
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In addition to planting things, I also learned more about regrowing kitchen scraps, one of my favorite things.  I’ve saved and regrown green onions before – talk about something that grows like a weed!  Below, I give you the results of saving and watering the base of a celery heart.  Yes, celery is inexpensive, but it’s the principle of the thing.  In this small way, my kitchen is self-sustaining.

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None of this was difficult to do.  It was fun, therapeutic, as they say, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to go outside to gather some of your ingredients for dinner.  After nurturing your plants, hoping and praying they make it, and finally bringing them into the kitchen, you can feel nothing but the most profound gratitude.  Toward the end of the summer, a gardener told me you can grow virtually anything in a pot on a balcony.  Look out, summer 2016! 

Zebra Print Frittatas

I am all about the breakfast lately.  I’ve written about this before, but when I get a good, healthy start to the day, it’s motivation for me to stay healthy all day.  Basically, I don’t want to have a great breakfast and then screw things up.  I normally eat yogurt with granola and nuts, oatmeal with a bunch of toppings, or those dandy little granola bars I made not too long ago.  But stepping away from the crunchy side of life for a minute, I’ve got another super quick and easy breakfast dish for you today: muffin frittatas.

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This doesn’t look easy, I know.  On early mornings, I can’t even mange to make oatmeal.  The trick to this breakfast, as with all great meals, is planning ahead.  And in this case, making ahead.  But even though there is work involved, they are pretty easy to put together.  I used eight eggs this time and got ten muffins.  I added in red pepper, red onion, scallions, mushrooms, and of course, cheese.

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This is already looking pretty good.

The first time I made these, I just diced, chopped, and stirred everything into the eggs.  They were good, but I started thinking about how much better they would be if I sautéed a few things first.  Now I’m convinced this is the only way to do it.  And what’s not to love about sautéed mushrooms and peppers?

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If you don’t make a mess, you’re not doing it right.

After I had my veggies prepped, I whisked up the eggs in a big bowl, added a tablespoon of baking powder (it makes all the difference – trust me), 1/4 cup of milk, a little salt and pepper, and the vegetables.  After lining the muffin tin with cupcake wrappers, I filled each one and topped with some shredded cheddar, making a fine mess of my tin in the process.  These went into the oven at 350 for about 25 minutes.

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Obviously, zebra print wrappers are a must.

And here they are – cute, delicious, nutritious, and ready to eat in the morning in no time.  All the qualifications of a brilliant breakfast!  They were really puffed up when they came out of the oven, but they deflated as they cooled; the final taste and texture is exactly what you want in eggs.  Try them out!

 

Muffin Frittatas

Ingredients

8 large eggs

4-5 scallions, diced (hint: use kitchen scissors)

1/2-1 red pepper, chopped

1/4-1/2 red onion, diced

1 8-ounce package sliced white mushrooms

1/4 cup milk

1/4-1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon baking powder

Salt and pepper

Cupcake wrappers

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees; line muffin tin with wrappers

2.  Sauté pepper and mushrooms over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes

3. While the pepper and mushrooms cook, whisk eight eggs with milk

4. Stir in mushrooms, peppers, scallions, red onion, baking powder, and salt and pepper to taste

5. Spoon egg mixture into lined muffin tin; top with cheese

6. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes

7. Let cool completely before removing

Word to the wise: if you use a cupcake wrapper with any kind of metallic lining, be sure to take that off before microwaving in the morning!

I hope you enjoy these!  I’m looking forward to experimenting with all different kinds of veggies, but this combo is working pretty well for me right now.  Happy cooking!

Lesson the Third: Make Dinner

Well, here it is, as predicted: the post on dinner!  Last night, I really didn’t feel like making dinner, but I’m glad I forced myself because 1) I have a fridge full of food thanks to my Friday night Wegmans adventure; and 2) I made cheesy potatoes.

Over the weekend (really since Thursday), I ate SO well.  I didn’t necessarily have anything exciting – there was mango guacamole, which, to be fair, is pretty exciting, black beans and rice, salads – but I ate a ton of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, and it felt great.  I surprised myself by going four entire days without eating meat.  I didn’t set out to do this; it was really just sheer laziness, but it felt good and got me eating other great stuff.

So last night, while we still had a pretty healthy meal, I decided to indulge a little.  I went BACK TO WEGMANS yesterday afternoon for two non-food things and left with potatoes, cilantro, avocados, mangoes, and artichokes. Oy.  I’d purchased some salmon Friday night that I planned to cook either Sunday or Monday for dinner, and when I saw the artichokes I thought they’d be a perfect side.  I wanted a little starch to go along with that, so I got 20 (I counted them when I started cooking, not in the store – I’m not completely nuts) small, red potatoes.  I was originally planning to cook them as I usually do, which is to cut them in half, boil them, and toss with butter and thyme, but I thought I’d try something different.  It’s been a while since I got creative.

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I decided to do a cheesy potato bake, so I knew I’d have to slice the potatoes thin – almost chip-thin.  I don’t know if I’m alone in this, but I have a really hard time getting potatoes to cook.  Baked sweet potatoes?  Forget it.  So I made sure these slices were skinny.  I sprayed the bottom of a round baking dish with olive oil and then just barely shingled the potatoes around.  I learned that term for layering food slices this year – pretty neat!

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Once the first layer was down, I salted, peppered, thymed, and parmesaned.

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I kept going for four layers – I had exactly enough potatoes – crazy! I topped the whole thing off with cheese and put it into a preheated 400-degree oven for 45 minutes, checking every 15.  Once a knife slide out easily, I knew it was done.

IMG_6544And done it was.  This was so good and such a great side dish for the fish.  Since fish is light, I like to balance it with something a little bit heavier.

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Meanwhile, I steamed the artichokes with some lemon (not the ones below – the steamed lemons turned to mush and were just for flavor and aromatics) and cooked the fish.  The whole thing took right around an hour, but it was so tasty and filling that it was worth every slice, every chop, and every dirty dish.

IMG_6620As you saw, the potatoes definitely took some prep work, and the artichokes did as well.  They’re not that hard to steam, though – you just have to snip the thorny ends off and open them up a bit.  The fish is ridiculously easy to cook – put on baking sheet, season, and put in oven.  Yes, there are fancier things you can do with salmon, but since I was going to town on the potatoes, I kept the rest simple.  Sometimes those are the best meals.  I’m so glad I didn’t skip out on cooking dinner last night.  It was filling, nutritious and fun to cook (and let’s be honest – fun to photograph).

Till next time! 🙂

 

Cheesy Potato Bake

Ingredients

20-30 red potatoes, thinly sliced

1/2-3/4 cup shredded parmesan

1-2 tablespoons dried thyme

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees; spray bottom of round baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray

2. Arrange a layer of potato slices on the bottom of the dish in a spiral, slightly shingled

3. Top potatoes with salt, pepper, and thyme, then sprinkle with a layer of cheese

4. Repeat layers until you reach the top of the dish or the potatoes are gone; finish with seasonings and cheese

5. Cover and bake for 45 minutes

Enjoy!

Gadget Drawer

You can sink a lot of money into a kitchen.  I’m always talking about how cooking meals at home saves so much money, but let’s be honest: with items like three-hundred-dollar KitchenAid mixers on the market, your cash can disappear faster than your leftovers.  And you only have to turn on Food TV for a few minutes to begin feeling like the big, fancy appliances are essentials.  But for those of us who don’t cook in the kitchens of our Hamptons homes, essentials might be, like our houses, a bit more modest.

Don’t get me wrong: I have big dreams for my kitchen cabinets.  I want them filled with a stand mixer, a NutriBullet, a big food processor, an espresso machine… you get the idea.  But until that happy day (right – like I’ll spend all that money in a day!), I wanted to write a post about the smaller treasures that already call my kitchen home.  In fact, they’re so small, they all share one drawer.

IMG_6428 IMG_64311. The Palm Peeler

I’ve used peelers before, but this one is far and away my favorite.  Because it’s designed to fit into your hand, you have much more control over it and can apply more pressure without accidentally sending it flying across the room.

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I bought this at Wegmans for around five bucks and use it all the time for carrots (if you notice an orange tint to it, your eyes are not playing tricks), zucchini, and even eggplant.  It’s small but sturdy and dishwasher safe, the real selling point!

 

2. The Garlic Press

Life. Changing. I always cooked with garlic powder or salt, and while they still have their place, cooking with actual garlic is incredible.  Nothing smells as good as that first whiff of pressed garlic mixing into your soup… stew… chicken.  It’s magic.

 

This press also came from Wegmans for fifteen dollars.  It’s not dishwasher safe but redeems itself by coming with a handy little cleaning brush that snaps into the inside.

 

 

3. The Apple Corer

This gadget helps me to eat the entire apple.  Biting into an apple can be messy, and I usually give up before I’ve really eaten the whole thing.  This makes it much easier by just removing the inedible parts and leaving you with slices that are great for dipping into peanut butter.

 

This is from Ikea for under ten bucks.  Bonus: it comes with a cover for the bottom so that you don’t accidentally core your hand.  I don’t know if it’s supposed to be dishwasher safe, but mine is. 😉

 
 
4. The Citrus Peeler

Raise your hand if you enjoy peeling oranges.  Yeah.  Exactly.  I got this gadget at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and for two dollars, I think it’s the cheapest thing in the store.  Again, it’s contoured to fit into your hand, which makes it really easy to use.

 

The idea here is that you can use the “blade” to make several slices along an orange or other citrus fruit and then easily peel it.  Sometimes it takes a little effort, but it’s much easier than using a knife… or your nails.

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5. The Juicer

Finally, there is the juicer.  This is also from Wegmans (are you seeing a theme here?) and cost around fifteen dollars.  Yes, this is the same kind Martha Stewart uses, although in watching her show, I’ve noticed that she has this in at least three different colors.  All you have to do here is cut the lemon in half and squeeze.  Super easy, no seeds, quick cleanup.

 

There you are – the VIPs of my gadget drawer.  Together they may not even add up to the cost of half a KitchenAid, but they make cooking much easier, and they’re fun to use!  So the next time you see a kitchen toy you want in the grocery store, treat yourself.  You might just find your new favorite thing.

Till next time!

Lesson the Second

In my last post, I talked about breakfast, and now it’s lunch.  I’m feeling a little bit of self-inflicted pressure to write about dinner next.

One of the most challenging things for me in eating well is eating away from home.  I’ve written about this before, when I went a week without restaurants, and in the process found that it’s not as impossible as it seems to eat well on the go.

Let me be clear: packing lunch is a pretty new thing to me.  Not since high school have I taken my lunch with me, well, anywhere.  And why would I when there are Paneras and Chipotles and Noodles and Cos. everywhere?  Well, for one thing, those ten-dollar lunches add up.  Fast.  So do the calories and grams of sugar in restaurant food.  But those things are easy to ignore or deny.  What really motivated me to steer clear of the lunch rush was going gluten free.  I was feeling so good that I didn’t want to risk running into something that would make me feel tired or sick, especially in the middle of a work day.

Even with such great motivation, lunch is a tricky thing because it takes planning ahead.  All meals do to an extent, but if I don’t have something ready for lunch the night before, I’m in trouble.  There are some days when I am home during lunch and could cook, but I’m usually trying to budget my time so that I can grade papers because a teacher’s work is never done.  But I have gotten into a pretty consistent groove of thinking and cooking ahead, meaning that I can simply open my fridge or my lunchbox and be eating in a matter of minutes.

In the interest of full disclosure, I must say that having my own kitchen has also made a huge difference in how much I cook and how prepared I am to pack lunch.  It can be difficult to navigate sharing a kitchen and fridge with multiple roommates who may or may not keep things clean and organized.  Say what you will about thriving in chaos, but for me organization matters.  A lot.  I’ve been planning a “tour of the kitchen” post for some time – stay tuned!

In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite lunch dishes that are easy to make and travel well (or sit in the fridge well) in Ziploc/Rubbermaid/Tupperware containers.  Some are vegan, all are gluten free.

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Mushroom stew (recipe from Forks Over Knives cookbook). Served here with salad and polenta cakes.

 

 

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Grilled chicken and rice with steamed carrots and broccoli.

 

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Gluten free spaghetti with grilled vegetables – zucchini, yellow squash, carrots, red onion.

 

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Salad – spinach, mushrooms, bell pepper, carrot, raisins, sunflower seeds, red onion, balsamic vinegar. Vegan and raw!

 

I also pack snacks to go along with lunch and to get me through the rest of the afternoon – usually raw veggies or a banana/apple/grapes and almonds or a combination of those.  When I’m eating like this, I don’t have the 2:00 sugar crash, I’m satisfied, and I have so much more energy!  And let’s be honest: it feels pretty good to go home at night and not have spent a dime the whole day. 😉

 

Lesson the First

I’ve learned a lot since I started eating better and particularly since I (most of the time) eliminated gluten: portion control, reading ingredients, planning meals, budgeting… the list goes on, and I’m quite sure I’ll elaborate on each item in more detail than you could want to know in the future.  Trying not to obsess, I’ve paid close attention to my eating habits.  I’ve learned that when I eat regular, healthy meals, I don’t have the afternoon crash; I’ve learned that I can cook vegetarian and even vegan meals that are filling and delicious; and, I’ve learned that if I start my day with a really healthy breakfast, I’m more likely to stay on track for the entire day.

I’ve taken to eating yogurt with granola in it, adding in various nuts and berries, but the granola has seven grams of sugar… and the yogurt has seventeen.  I don’t care for Greek yogurt, and my two options for regular, plain yogurt at the grocery store are non-fat and low-fat.  Granted, I eat a small serving, but still… all this sugar adds up. I would happily buy full fat, mainly because low-fat products tend to come with added sugar to balance out the taste if it were available (Ahem… Wegmans).  Until that happy day, I’ve decided to change up breakfast a bit.  Enter oatmeal.

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What a ton of ingredients, right?  I’ve always been a fan of oatmeal, but it usually came out of a packet.  (Yes, this oatmeal has a packet in a manner of speaking.)  But one thing I’ve discovered in my quest to eat well is that it’s almost always better to make things yourself.  I haven’t gone so far as to live solely off the land (saving that for retirement), but I’m making adjustments where I can.  This is the new normal, and if there’s a step beyond this, I know I’ll be better prepared to take it now.

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So what exactly is in my oatmeal?  Well, I started using Bob’s Red Mill Scottish Oatmeal, but it takes close to ten minutes to cook.  Not great for those early mornings.  I recently switched over to Bob’s Quick Cooking Oats, which are a little different in texture, but just as good.  The great thing about oatmeal is that, like any great meal, you can make it your own.  I add in chia seed, chopped walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, and honey.  Yes, there is still some sugar in this, but none of that pesky added sugar.  It’s nutrition-packed, warm and delicious, and keeps me full all morning.

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Breakfast is still not perfect.  I usually have half a glass of orange juice, which is loaded with sugar, but I do try to moderate it.  In fact, once upon a time I made my own orange juice, which was really a treat and something I want to do again.  One good thing I can say about my sugar consumption is that I’ve really cut down on it in my coffee, and my tastes have really changed there.  I put about a quarter or a third of a teaspoon of sugar in a pretty big mug of coffee now, something I wouldn’t have been able to drink a couple years ago.  I’ve heard that gradually cutting back is the trick, and it seems to be so.

As I said earlier, when I have a good breakfast like this, it sets the tone for the whole day.  First of all, I’m not having a sugar meltdown two hours later, and second, when I begin my day on the right track, I’m much more motivated to keep eating well and not screw it up by eating junk later.  It doesn’t always work, but so far the success rate is looking good.

Till next time – happy eating! ❤

 

Gluten-Free Valentine

Hey there, internet.  It’s been a minute (or, you know, six months) since I wrote a blog post.  But a lull is better than giving up, right?  So here we are.  Things have really been business as usual: trying to eat healthy, slipping a bit, getting back to it, and rinse and repeat.  Happily, I do have some food-related news to report – enough to kick me back into blogging.

A few months ago, I started researching symptoms of gluten allergies.  I always thought a gluten allergy meant digestive issues, but after talking to a few friends who have cut out the infamous protein to relive other symptoms, I wanted to know more.  In short, I found that even a gluten sensitivity can manifest in rhinitis, sinus issues, asthma, psoriasis, feeling tired (also known as “brain fog”), and much more.  I’ve had trouble with all of those things, but never in a million years would I have guessed they could be in any way connected to what I was eating.

Really, given everything I’ve read about food in the past few years and all the horrors I’ve discovered along the way, I shouldn’t have been so surprised.  After I cut out gluten for a few weeks, I stopped using my steroid nasal spray and inhaler, and my psoriasis calmed down considerably.  I was astounded, thrilled, and also a little bit angry.  Why had no one ever mentioned this to me?  All these different forms of inflammation and a medicine to treat each one separately.  That’s not how I want to roll.

I have eaten gluten since I discovered all of this, in part to test out how it made me feel, and while I don’t get seriously ill from a meal or two, I do get tired.  Dog-tired.  Unable-to-focus-or-function-tired.  Such is the “brain fog” they talk about.  Experiencing this made me wonder how I was ever able to accomplish anything with all the gluten I’ve ingested throughout my life.

Bottom line: I feel amazing when I cut out gluten.  Sadly, some people have told me they’re skeptical that this is a real thing, that I really could have an adverse reaction to something as ubiquitous as wheat, but I know how I feel.  I have energy, I sleep deeply, I breathe deeply, and my mind is sharper and more focused than I knew it could be.  To me, that’s all the evidence I need.  I’ve read a few different theories on why it affects people: a good, old-fashioned allergy to wheat, an inability to deal with the genetic modifications in wheat, and most interestingly, a reaction to the Roundup used on the crops.  Either way, my body is definitely telling me loud and clear to stay away.  Yes, I’ve missed certain things – bread, lemon pound cake, croutons – but that’s a post for another day.

And now, to last weekend.  Valentine’s Day!  It was a snowy, cold Saturday here on the East coast,  and I wanted something warm and rich of dinner.  One of my favorite comfort foods is baked macaroni and cheese – a dish containing pasta, bread crumbs, and flour.  I have the incredible advantage of a little place called Wegmans, and I thought I’d try to de-gluten it.

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I already had gluten-free flour (Bob’s Red Mill is just as incredible resource as Wegmans), and I’d tried the Ancient Harvest quinoa pasta before.  It’s hard to describe, but to me, this pasta doesn’t taste as sweet as regular pasta.  That may seem like an odd way to describe pasta, but if you were to side-by-side taste test, I think you’d see what I mean.  I’d read about gluten-free bread crumbs recently and found the Ian’s brand in the gluten-free section of Wegmans (yes, there is an entire section of the store devoted to me).

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Once I had all of my gluten-free replacement ingredients, I was able to follow the recipe exactly.  The only difference I noticed in cooking was that the roux thickened really quickly.  Everything else worked out just as it would otherwise.

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Like I said before, the quinoa pasta does have a different taste (other gluten-free pastas I’ve tried taste more like corn), but I’m calling this meal a success.  I enjoyed it, Steve enjoyed it, and on Valentine’s Day, that’s really all that matters, right?